Shutdown prep…

Years ago, the federal government was touted as stable employment, promising a career that wouldn’t make you rich, but ensured that you wouldn’t die poor. It was a guarantee of a solidly middle class lifestyle during your working years and a comfortable retirement when the time came. The trade off, for such stability was forgoing the big salaries that could sometimes be had for similar work in the private sector. Those salaries, of course, came with risk that the contract that paid so well could disappear overnight.

Stable is a relative term, of course. Over the last fifteen years I’ve worked through hiring freezes, furloughs, and more government shut downs than I can really remember. That’s not the hallmark of a particularly stable employer. Then again, when I look at the elected officials who the people, in their questionable wisdom, have sent to Washington to represent them, “stable” isn’t a world I’d choose to use for many of them – both the politicians and the electorate.

So here I am, with the next government shut down hovering in the wings, once again preparing to defer or stop payments and dramatically reduce the scope and scale of operations at Fortress Jeff.

I’ve got enough years on me now to ride out a run of the mill government shutdown if I must. Still, planning for a few weeks or months without pay does make you question going with the “stable” choice all those years ago. If you’re going to be planning how to cut spending down to the bone every couple of years anyway, maybe some of those contract jobs would have been better in the end.

Our elected representatives are increasingly incapable of acting like grown adults, but then again, the same is true of the people who elect them. The curse of democracy is we continue to get exactly the kind of politicians, government, and society that we deserve.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Opinions. Having an opinion is a fine thing, but it’s helpful to remember that not all opinions are created equal. I don’t know at what point we decided the ideas of random cranks on social media carry equal value with the opinions of those who have spent a lifetime studying medicine and health policy, but here we are. It’s just the latest bit of the long thread of anti-intellectualism that weaves its way through American history. At some point, though, it would be really nice if we could hold dumbasses up to public ridicule and shame rather than lionizing them as telling secret truths “that no one wants us to know.” 

2. Joe Biden. In an interview this week, President Biden defensively maintained that there was no for American forces to get out of Afghanistan “without chaos ensuing.” Having spent a fair amount of my early career working in various emergency response activities, I’ll admit that they are often messy… but the heart and soul of managing through a crisis is having a sense of what to do after you get hit in the face with a shovel. The answer shouldn’t be telling American citizens to get to the airport while in the same breath warning them that the US Government has no plans to ensure their safe conduct to the airport from other locations in Kandahar – let alone any poor bastards stuck elsewhere in the country. That’s before we even get into a discussion about the responsibility we have for Afghan nationals who worked with and for us over the last two decades. The handling of this last gasp of American power in Afghanistan heaps shame and ignobility on the President of the United States, the State and Defense Departments, and the entirety of the United States of America.

3. Bandwidth. That’s it. That’s all the bandwidth I’ve got for this week. Between the continued rise of misguided opinion over verifiable fact and the absolute debacle in Afghanistan, I simply haven’t had room to process anything else this week. I’m sure there were a million other points of annoyance I walked right past, but there’s only so much anyone should be expected to process in a single sitting.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. The office. There’s nothing like being back in the office to really drive home the absolute absurdity of basing employment in the information age solely on the ability of / requirement for someone to sit in a specific geographic space for eight hours five times a week. I’m sure there are some jobs where “being there” makes an actual difference in how well or swiftly the information flows, but in my little corner of the bureaucracy, this week has stood as stark evidence that where work is location agnostic, corralling people into an office just because it’s how we did things in the before time isn’t so much strategic decision making as it is acquiescence to organizational inertia.

2. The end of an error. The fact that a serving Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and other unformed officials were put in a position to actively ponder how to counter the possibility of a coup d’état in the United States isn’t so much annoying as it is horrifying… but I’ve been thinking a lot about it the last 36 hours or so. I suspect that as history sorts the wheat and chaff from January 2020 the details will be far more horrific than anything we know in the present. That so many among us still think the end of the Trump Administration was “business as usual” or it was somehow the victim of a vast and unprecedented left-wing conspiracy is both heartbreaking and infuriating.

3. Renovation. With multiple proposals now in hand, I’m edging dangerously close to becoming a broken record that says only “That’s almost what I paid for my first condo” or “I could buy a new damned pickup truck with that.” Evaluating the proposals shouldn’t be hard since they’re all within 8% of each other. I suppose technically that’s good news insofar as it means that’s probably a reasonably accurate estimate of what it’s going to take to put a new bathroom in this place. The hurdle I’m trying to get over, is that across the range of proposals, we’re about 50% over my original planning factor and into a point where cash on hand isn’t going to get the job done. Logically I know home equity loans can be had near lifetime low rates, but it all begs the question if I’m willing to pull a loan because I’m tired of schlepping down the hall to get a shower in the morning. 

Cartoon villains…

If I had any standing left as it is with the Republican Party, I’m sure I’d lose it when I confirm for you that despite my disagreement with him on many policies, I don’t hate his living guts. That, of course, doesn’t mean that I’m in any way looking forward to listening to him address a joint session of Congress later tonight.

In part it’s because I just can’t imagine anything like break news happening during a tightly scripted prime time speech. I’m also not sure I have it in me to sit through another lengthy diatribe against anyone in the country who has the audacity to have more than $37 in their pocket.

Sorry, I’m just not going to be the huckleberry who buys into the notion that class warfare is the solution to any problem beyond the abject jealousy some people feel for those who have more money. At this stage of the game it doesn’t seem likely that I’ll ever break into that currently demonized group of “households earning more than $400,000 a year,” though I know a fair number of people who are… and I don’t see any reason why I should support Uncle Sam jamming his hand further into their pockets than I would my own.

Elections, as they say, have consequences. There’s nothing to say that I have to be happy with them. As long as this old body of mine is sucking air, I’ll be on the side of keeping as great a portion of every dollar I earn as possible – and I’ll extend that same courtesy to everyone else… even if the Biden administration wants me to think of those “others” as cartoon villains with top hats and monocles.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Objections. You know when the best time is to raise objections to something? Before it happens, that’s when. You know, during the weeks you’ve had to review it while it’s passing through the Byzantine approval process that involves you and 67 other people and organizations. There’s plenty of time to fix things while they’re trundling towards final approval. The time not to raise objections is a day after the thing is published for public consumption… when making a fix involves absolutely herculean efforts for everyone else involved. Whoever originated the phrase “better late than never,” was an absolute moron.

2. Facebook. Facebook keeps telling me that various people and organizations have scheduled events that “you may be interested in.” I have no idea what kind of impression I’ve given Facebook over the years, but I just can’t believe that it would include that I’m the sort of person who’s interested in events. I didn’t like crowds in the Before Time. I certainly didn’t do events in the Plague Year. Now that the world is waking up, I have no idea what would have given Facebook the notion that I’d suddenly be the kind of person who was chomping at the bit to go places and do things. I can take some comfort, I suppose, in knowing that despite all their efforts at data collection, big tech still doesn’t get me at all.

3. Executive Orders. Thanks to the Biden Administration, I’m out of pocket for membership in two more pro-Second Amendment organizations as of this afternoon. No, I can’t outspend the federal government as it attempts to further tighten the screws on those who legally own and use firearms, but I can damned well put my money where my mouth is and make sure I’m at least in the fight. 

Everything old is new again…

I didn’t vote for Joe Biden (Don’t worry, I didn’t vote for Donald Trump either). Say what you want about the president, but I’m finding him a refreshing throwback to the era when I had a vague understanding about how politics worked in this country. For the last 60-ish days is been chasing the same basic policies that mainline Democrats went after from 1980-2000. I don’t support the lion’s share of those policy ambitions, but they’re predictable and after four years of the Trump administration, I’ve come to appreciate that kind of predictability in a politician.

The throwback goes even further than domestic policy, though. We’re back to antagonizing China and the USS… errrr…. Russia. I mean the Russians are so annoyed they recalled their ambassador. For a cold war kid, it’s the kind of international fidgeting that feels almost like home.

Over the last four years we managed to forget one of the few truisms of our political culture – that although we treat it as a life and death endeavor, a single presidential term is long enough only to tinker around the margins and the results will be nowhere near as good as we hoped or as bad as we feared. Sure, at some point the administration is going to start poking at something I’m personally interested in and I’m going to have to get my dander up. Just now, though, I’m happy to spend a few months being only tangentially interested in politics and appreciating the renewed interest in poking about in international affairs.

What Annoys Jeff This Week?

1. Tucker Carlson. Tucker staked out a patently absurd position on his Fox evening entertainment program last week. I know, I know. I should be more specific because most of his positions come across somewhere on the absurdity spectrum. I know it was absurd because some of the most serious thinkers in DoD responded more or less instantly to rebut Tucker’s asshattery. They’re not generally people who feel compelled to stake out public positions, except in this case, ol’ Tuck decided to opine about things that are, by definition, these particular leader’s area of expertise. No one “attacked” Tucker. They simply had the audacity to tell him that he’s a moron and explain why that’s the case. No one violated the damned Hatch Act. Having a professional opinion doesn’t undermine civilian control of the military. Differing opinions are only dangerous when you’re so thin skinned or your position is so badly placed that you can’t defend it rationally. In this case, it seems Tuck and his supporters fall into both categories. As usual, the “leading lights” of right wing kook media have left me embarrassed to be an actual, practicing conservative.

2. Higher taxes. They say Joe is working on a new tax bill and it’s likely to be the largest tax increase since 1993. I see lots of people saying they don’t mind paying more taxes. Good on them. With or without a higher tax rate imposed by the government, they’re free to send as big a check as they want over to the treasury. They can do that. No one would stop them. But it seems what people mean when they say they don’t mind paying more tax is they don’t mind so you should pay more too. “But,” they’ll argue, “it only applies to people who make more than $400,000 a year – the ‘absurdly rich.’” Right, I think, because every tax that ever was started out as a tax on “just the wealthy” until our political machine needed a few more dollars over time and the “absurdly wealthy” became most every working sucker in the country. So, please, write as big a check to Uncle as you’d like. Feel free to give of your own income until it hurts. That’s your right and privilege. I’ll be over here fighting tooth and nail to keep every penny I’ve earned and distribute it how I see fit.

3. I spent today doing exactly the same things that I did yesterday. I answered emails, entered information in a fancy database, and generally moved electrons around from Point A to Point B as needed. The only difference between today and yesterday was where I was physically sitting when I did those things. Yesterday I was parked in the sun room with two dogs snoring in the background and today I was in my designated cube with seven or eight conversations humming in the background. Plus, today added an extra 80 minutes to the day since I had to drive to my cube and back to do exactly the same things I did yesterday from the comfort of my home office. “But we need to have a presence in the building,” is the most patently farcical reason I can think of to justify the construction, maintenance, and daily running cost associated with a modern office building. The argument against remote working forever is effectively that we need to have people in a special geographic spot because we happen to have a special geographic spot. As far as I can tell it has absolutely nothing to do with productivity or whether the work in any way depends on unique geographic positioning.

A political house fire…

Immigration policy has been a house fire of a political issue for at least the last forty years.  In 1986, then President Ronald Reagan signed the unimaginatively named Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986. In part, what that law did was offer amnesty for three million foreign nationals who entered the United States illegally before 1982. That was the proverbial carrot. The stick, however, the sanctions that should have fallen on businesses that encouraged further illegal immigration and the border enforcement that should have vastly reduced the number of illegal crossings, either never materialized or was rarely enforced. 

The net result overall, is that after reforming the immigration system 35 years ago the boarder is still inexplicably porous and there are nearly five times as many foreign nationals illegally residing in the United States as were granted amnesty way back in 1986. Even by government standards, the IRCA doesn’t feel like a shining example of successful policy implementation. 

The departed Trump administration could be called lots of things, but soft on illegal immigration generally isn’t one of them. The Biden Administration now appears determined to run as far as they’re able back in the other direction. From my seat of judgment, it feels distinctly like both parties are more interested in continuing to have immigration as a wedge issue, fundraising opportunity, and all-around political football than they are in actual immigration reform or securing the border.

My friends on the left will wrap themselves in tear-jerking stories of hardship and mistreatment, wanting to pull up the gates, and open the doors to all comers. They’re kind people, with big hearts, but I wouldn’t trust them to secure the local lemonade stand. It’s great to pass a bunch of laws (or sign a bunch of executive orders) that give everyone a warm fuzzy, but until the Biden Administration gets serious about border security to go along with its liberalized immigration policies, the president isn’t tackling the more difficult, and far more dangerous, part of the equation. The results of that are entirely predictable.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. But the rioters! Look, no one called out the rioters more than I did over the summer. Rioting is bad. Burning cities is bad. I don’t have any sympathy or offer any support for anyone who engaged in those activities. Bad as those things are, though, attempting to subvert the lawful transfer of executive power by engaging in a seditious attempt to overthrow the Congress is worse. Far worse. I have no idea how that’s so very hard for some people to understand. Believe me when I tell you it’s entirely possible to loath the actions of both rioters and seditionists without excusing one or the other in any way.

2. They were mean first! My Facebook timeline is filled with posts saying something like “Well, Democrats said mean stuff about Trump so I’m saying mean stuff about Biden.” Ok. That’s a fine argument if you’re either five years old or know nothing about American political history.  Republicans definitely didn’t talk shit about Obama. And Democrats absolutely didn’t talk shit about George W. Bush before him. Way the hell back in 1800, partisans in favor of Jefferson labeled Adams a “hideous hermaphroditical character, which has neither the force and firmness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman,” while those who support Adams railed that Jefferson was “a mean-spirited, low-lived fellow, the son of a half-breed Indian squaw, sired by a Virginia mulatto father.” That’s what happens in the heat and battle of a campaign… but you’ve got to be an unbridled idiot to think that’s the way anyone can be expected to actually govern. 

 
3. Fight them on everything! My Republican friends seem to want to double down on their electoral loss. The reality is, the Democrats now hold the presidency have the majority in both houses of Congress. That just the mathematical fact of it. We Republicans can either work with them in an effort to moderate some of their more extreme notions, or we can stand on the sidelines and stomp our feet for at least the next two years. If you’re not a wild eyed partisan who can’t imagine a world in which you don’t always get your own way, this is the time for working out the best deals we can to protect Republican priorities. Failing to play ball isn’t a show of strength. It’s a concession that we’re afraid our ideas can’t compete – and one that will allow the Democratic majority to run the table without so much as consultation with the opposition party. But hey, if you want to spend the next two years watching a Democratic Congress jamming through everything they want, with precisely the language they want, on a strict party line vote, feel free to keep being obstinate for no good reason.

Taking stock…

With less than 18 hours left to run in the Trump administration, it’s time to take stock. 

Besides firing off tweet-storm broadsides and creating a few new words, what’s to be made of this president’s time in office?

– Appointed a shit ton of vaguely originalist judges not just to the Supreme Court but across the federal bench

– Ended American participation in the appeasement of Iran

– Asserted that a rapidly strengthening China is an increasing threat to America’s global interests

– Entered into a new and improved free trade agreement with Canada and Mexico

There are more, but those are fine exemplars of the modest improvements, mostly around the margins, that we can attribute to the Trump Administration. The question, then, is what was the cost?

– Abandoning the centuries old traditions of American political life by subverting the electoral process and attempting to raise and insurrection

– A general foreign policy legacy best labeled “America only” that badly damaged relationships with our most important global allies and empowered some of our most bitter enemies

– An inexplicable failure to respond to the dangers of a new and deadly pandemic as it swept the globe and the United States

– Ratcheting up government spending and driving up the national debt to unprecedented and unsustainable levels

Even leaving out the sedition, historians would have eventually filed this administration away as inconsequential at best and a failure at worst. There was simply too little forward motion on priority efforts when weighed against how much was guided so badly off the rails.

The damage done to America’s standing in the world and the mortal division of our internal politics will be the work of generations to patch up – if the job can be done at all. The alternative, though, is simply unthinkable, so let us begin.