What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. The White House Press Office. I’ve never been a public affairs officer. I haven’t even pretended to be on at the behest of our wealthy uncle. Still, in my bones I know that setting up my principle with over a dozen phone interviews with a journalist who hates his living guts is probably not going to end well even if my guy is the most articulate bastard to ever give on the record remarks. You can make what you will of the president’s recorded statements, but whatever staff puke from the press office decided an interview series with Bob Woodward was a good idea gives staff officers a bad name… and that’s saying something.

2. Questions. Look, if there’s a point of contact listed and it’s not me, there’s really absolutely nothing I’m going to be able to tell you about whatever topic is on your mind. Maybe you should just go ahead and read to the end of the message and send your question to the person who’s actually running that program. You still might not get a good answer but it will be miles better than anything I’ll send you… and even if it wasn’t, going direct to that person would have kept you from making me take the time to drop you back in the proper lane. We all win, when you read the goddamned memo.

3. Risk. People, as a group, do a really shitty job of assessing risk. The way we respond to natural disasters like fires, floods, hurricanes, and tornadoes seem to bear that out. For as long as I can remember, summer in the west has been “fire season.” It’s also “hurricane season” along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. In the long history of humanity, fire has scorched the western sections of the North American continent. Water has always run downhill, occasionally turning normally babbling brooks in the valley bottom into torrential rivers sweeping all before them. Every time a fire or a flood or a hurricane hit, we collectively look around shocked that such a thing could happen. Except none of us should be shocked at all. We built our communities in dry areas historically prone to fire, or we built them along the coasts or in bucolic valleys that are prone to flooding. We built there because the scenery was nice or because there were local jobs – but almost never because the area represented a relatively low risk to life, health, and safety. As soon as the smoke clears or the water recedes, we’ll go right back to building up the same areas and then being “surprised” the next time the worst happens… because we do an amazingly shity job of assessing risk.

Scorn and Derision or: The Importance of Knowing Your Amendments…

For the entirety of my lifetime, the 1st, 2nd, 4th Amendments* have gotten somewhere around 95% of the total air time of anyone discussing the Constitutional Amendments in any context. The other five percent is given over to the taxation is theft crowd, celebrating the repeal of prohibition, and everything else. The last three years, something of a historical outlier, have also included not insignificant discussions of the 25th Amendment as well. 

After listening to President Trump’s claim that “When somebody is president of the United States, the authority is total,” it appears that we’re going to spend some amount of time in the near future pondering the Tenth Amendment.

The president is right that we do need to develop a plan for putting the country back to work. Sooner or later, we’re going to have to start opening up the economy. Great Plague or not, there’s a limit to how long people are going to tolerate sitting home, watching their livelihoods crumble, and seeing no obvious end in sight. Beyond the statement of fact that the economy needs to be opened, his argument that it’s a decision to be made by the federal executive branch alone is, in a word, wrong. Other words that could have been used here are: asinine, nonsense, bunk, hokum, or bullshit.

Just as the timing and decision to curtail all but essential business was made by state governors across the country, the governors will also establish the timing and criteria by which business is allowed to reopen. It may be done in conjunction with advice from the federal government, it may be backed up with federal resources, but the decision on timing and “how to” resides with the governors.

Given the 10th Amendment’s reservation of powers not delegated to the federal government to the states, there simply isn’t a lawful mechanism by which the president may issue a blanket decree that state and local government, businesses, and educational institutions are open for business. Anyone who tells you otherwise is lying. Anyone who insists that the president does, in fact, have this authority, is attempting to empower the executive branch far beyond anything envisioned under the Constitution – and deserves the scorn and derision of those who have grown and prospered under that protection of that great charter. 

Constitutional Amendments Quick Reference Guide:

  • 1st Amendment – Freedom of speech, religion, and the press
  • 2nd Amendment – Right to keep and bear arms
  • 4th Amendment – Freedom from unreasonable search and seizure
  • 10th Amendment – Reserves powers not granted to the Federal government to the states or the people
  • 16th Amendment – Allows Congress to levy a national income tax
  • 21st Amendment – Repeals prohibition
  • 25th Amendment – Clarifies the rules of presidential succession

On being final…

It will come as a surprise to no one who really knows me that I stayed as far away from math and science as possible during my four years as an undergrad. I could muddle through the work and scrape through with C’s, but I had no aptitude for it, no talent. Turn me loose in Dunkle Hall for History of Whatever or Guild for political science and I was in my element.

Increasingly it feels like many of the old maximums of political science I learned 20+ years ago don’t really apply to the study of politics in 21st century America. Despite the formal education and a few decades of reading I find myself feeling like a stranger in a strange land more and more often.

Still, though, some of the old truisms were true for a reason. While lecturing on the role of the Judiciary, Dr. Simpson was fond of reminding us that “the Supreme Court isn’t final because they’re right – They’re right because they’re final.” It’s one of those deeper truths wrapped in a easy to understand package. For good or bad, short of amending the Constitution, there’s simply no mechanism to allow for appeal beyond the Supreme Court.

Listning to the talking heads today, many of them seem to forget that the same is true when the Senate sits as a court of impeachment. That body has sweeping latitude to set the terms of the trial and the outcome belongs to them alone to decide. What the House thinks, or the president thinks, or what the latest polls show is a bit of interesting, but not particularly relevant detail.

In cases of impeachment, the Senate is right simply by virtue of being final. If you don’t like the results, if you don’t like how you’re being represented in this republic of ours, then the onus is on you to secure different representation at the ballot box… but running around whimpering that “the Senate got it wrong” makes you sound like a schmuck.

It’s not the Illuminati (probably)…

You’d have to be living deep in the wilderness not to at least catch some of the reporting on the ongoing drama in Washington. I tune it in and out, mostly interested in keeping informed of the broad strokes of who’s up and who’s down. Even if you’re not paying attention, the coverage is hard to miss – no matter how hard you’re best to stay out of the day-to-day details.

Given the nature of of our representative republican form of government, the simple fact is the biggest chance I have to influence national-level policy direction and political questions happens every two years. Getting myself twisted around each news story doesn’t accomplish much other than raising my blood pressure. I have no interest in spending my days picking fights on social media or plotting to storm the damned barricades. We’re watching a political process unfold between the two political branches of our national government. Standing around waving a sign is about as influential as standing on the front porch waiving my fist. I’ll take a pass, thanks.

The one thing I know for sure is that the ongoing battle between the executive and legislative branch is sucking just about all the available oxygen out of the room. It makes the more cynical and jaded part of my brain wonder what’s not being reported. It makes the paranoid part wonder what slight of hand is being carried out while we’re all collectively busy following the drama that surrounds talk of impeachment.

I don’t think this is some grand Illuminati plot or anything, but stealing the lawn tractor out of the backyard shed is a hell of a lot easier when everyone is busy trying to figure out why there’s smoke coming out of the house. It would be a good time for all of us to remain vigilant.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Lack of attention to detail. Someone on post is advertising a very nice, newly renovated town house for rent at $1700 a month in the Bel Air school district. It looks like a lovely place to live. The only problem is whoever is trying to rent it out has fat fingered my office phone number onto their flyers and I’m now fielding more calls about real estate than I am actual things related to my job. If I were trying to get $1700 a month for something you can be damned skippy that I’d make sure I had the right number… as it is, now I have to tell a lot of disappointed people that the place has already been rented. After enough of those, I’m assuming someone will start wondering why they still don’t have a tenant.

2. Policy matters. I read an article this week that urged voters to remember that the 2020 election is a referendum on President Trump and reminding them that “policies don’t matter” as long as someone else wins. I think it strikes exactly the wrong tone. See, I’m not some kind of moralistic crusader from the right wing. I don’t care if you’re on your third wife and like screwing porn stars. I do care if you support a strong national defense, preserving the Second Amendment, and enforcing law and order on the border. I care if you want to explode income tax rates upwards to pay for a grab bag of “free stuff” promises. Implementing policy and enforcing the law are precisely why we elect a chief executive in this country. Pretending that policy doesn’t matter because you’re desperate to unseat someone who says mean things doesn’t pass my common sense test. Want to win my vote? Start talking about policies I can get behind. It really is that simple.

3. Waking up. I’m mostly over the crud that victimized me for the last three weeks. Everything is back to near normal… except the very tail end of my sleep schedule. Instead of the usual and customary 5AM, my internal clock is now waking me pretty consistently between 4:15 and 4:30. Another few days of it and it may just be easier to start going to be earlier and living with it as the new normal.

My own agenda…

I use to treat the State of the Union Address like my own version of the Super Bowl – an excuse to eat, drink, and be merry while consuming the massive amounts of information being beamed directly into my head from the well of the House and a few well-selected news sites. It was good times, even with the understanding that what was being delivered live on television was, at best, a wish list of ideas rather than any definitive statements of policy.

Politics for the most part has joined the increasingly large number of topics that I mostly lack the interest in dealing with on the wholesale level. Yes, there are a few areas I care passionately about and pay close attention to, but the broader discussion of how many times a speech is interrupted by applause, or who did something stupid 25 years ago, or gods forbid, said something that someone, somewhere might find in poor taste. I’m sorry, but the field in which I grow my fucks is desolate and barren. I have not one more to give on “issues” like those.

So, like the actual Super Bowl that preceded it, I will not be tuning in to hear the president’s remarks on the State of the Union tonight. I know I can rest assured that by the time I wake up tomorrow morning Twitter will be sure to tell me exactly what I’m supposed to think about it. I’ll read the highlights. Probably.

Congress and the president have their own agendas and I have mine. Between the three, I’ll let you be the judge of which one I think is the most important. 

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

In an extraordinarily rare edition of What Annoys Jeff this Week, I present the following five items without comment.

1. Donald Trump, the President of the United States of America.

2. Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives.

3. Kevin McCarthy, the Minority Leader of the United States House of Representatives.

4. Mitch McConnell, the United States Senate Majority Leader.

5. Chuck Schumer, the United States Senate Minority Leader.

A simple proposal to end the current shutdown fuckery…

I’m not an expert on parliamentary procedure or a scholar of the arcane rules of the House or the Senate. With that being said, I think I’ve struck upon a simple and entirely constitutional solution to ending this government shutdown fuckery in which out elected representatives are engaged in up to their beady little eyeballs.

My proposal is simple: Take the President of the United States out of he loop. No, I’m not talking about impeachment or something more extreme. I’m talking about a procedure that’s so simple I taught it to high school freshmen way back in my past life as a civics teacher.

The thrust of my proposal is in remembering that Congress doesn’t actually need the president to pass a bill into law. A unified congress – or at least a Congress that is 2/3 unified can override a presidential veto. So what we do is pass an omnibus spending bill with a line item forbidding spending appropriated funds on a wall, but appropriating $4 billion for enhanced border security. The president will veto the bill. Congress then votes an override and *poof* the government opens over the objections of the president. 

This proposal has the added perk of affirming centuries old prerogatives of the legislative branch and has the effect of reign in unfettered executive power that has grown too vast over the last three decades. If congressional leadership could pull it off, their collective approval rating might even climb out of single digits .

The problem, of course that would require congressional Republicans and Democrats to play nicely for a few days days. It means they would have to do what congresses have done for 200 years – compromise. If our “leaders” are too far gone to put the good of the people over party politics, perhaps we can sweeten the deal by enhancing the power of their own office.

My problem with Trump…

My friends on the left like to opine regularly that President Donald Trump is some combination of crazy, evil, a nazi, morally bankrupt, criminally corrupt, beholden to the Russians, or all of the preceding. In the same breath they want to believe he is simultaneously dumb as a stone as well as the mastermind of the greatest con in the history of the republic.

My actual problem with Trump isn’t any of these things, though. From my wheelhouse, I agree with a fair number of his basic policies. Even here in over-taxed Maryland I benefited from his tax reform plan. I believe the we ought to have tight control over who is allowed into the country and a strong defense on the southern border… and the northern border… and at all the air and seaports in between. I think the federal government would best served by getting out of the education policy business – funding schools through block grants to the states if we collectively insist that the federal government absolutely has to be involved in some way. 

By the same token I soundly disagree with his approaching the State Department and international diplomacy as an afterthought. I question his positions on when and how to employ the mailed fist of the US military. Unlike some people, though, I somehow manage not to slobber all over myself while articulating what I believe.

At the heart of it, I suspect that’s what I find most troubling about the age of Trump. He’s a man with no indoor voice and no filter. There are ways to get most of his agenda accomplished – or there were when his party held all the reigns in congress. Most of those ways, though, required some deft maneuvering, horsetrading, and not saying much – basically old school political wrangling.

I never found Donald Trump a particularly appealing candidate. His approach to politics is boorish and largely ineffective and that’s my biggest problem with him. You’d think The Art of the Deal would have included a chapter on subtilty, keeping your own council, and the value of working the system behind the scenes. As for the shrill crowing of the “progressive” left, well, I discount a fair amount of that noise as more or less what they’d be casting at any candidate who dared not share their particularly skewed view of the world.