The Supremes…

The Supreme Court is getting one of its periodic moments in the sun and I’d be foolish not to take advantage of that built in level of audience engagement to talk about nominations to the high court.

So, here’s the thing about Supreme Court nominations…

Presidents can have a short list of nominees that scratch every itch and check off the right boxes proving their conservative or liberal credentials. The talking heads can know with perfect certainty what the nominee will do once they’re confirmed by the Senate.

The catch is, once a Justice takes the bench, with a lifetime appoint to the last job they’re ever going to have, well, what we think we know means absolutely nothing.

Sandra Day O’Conner was nominated by Ronald Reagan and was supposed to be a vaguely right of center anchor for the Court who became a regular swing vote. Eisenhower nominated Earl Warren as Chief Justice and the Warren Court became one of the most liberal incarnations of the Supreme Court in American history. Harry Blackmun was a Nixon nominee who went on to write the majority opinion in Roe v. Wade.

The story of Supreme Court nominees turned Justices is filled with disappointed presidents who didn’t get what they expected.

I’m not in any way pretending that a nominee’s history of jurisprudence is irrelevant, but I am saying that past is not always prologue. Justices sit on the bench for decades. Expecting their judicial philosophy to remain static over twenty or thirty years is patently ridiculous. How many of your own beliefs have grown, been refined, changed, or moderated over the last twenty years? 

The story of the Supreme Court is filled with men and women on both ideological sides who “grew into” their position at the pinnacle of the Judicial Branch. I can’t imagine why future nominees would be any less “surprising” once they’ve been seated.

Pox Americana…

It’s convention season… whatever that means here in the belly of a plague year. When I was a kid, I’d watch both party’s conventions from gavel to gavel, utterly fascinated by the process. I still have a morbid fascination with how we go about formally selecting our candidates, but the chances of me watching more than the highlights reel this year are stuck firmly between slim and none.

It’s not just that this year’s conventions are going to be devoid of the flash and show that are typical. It’s more that there’s just not that much new to learn about the parties or the candidates.

I’ll hate every tax increasing, gun grabbing, self-righteous woke-ism spewed from the Democrats. I’ll loath and despise the Republicans for every step they take away from the small government, low taxes, and anti-deficit positions that use to define the party. 

For the two weeks of political infomercials, I expect to see almost nothing that would convince me to vote for a candidate instead of a litany of why I should vote against the other guy. Maybe I’m too cynical a man in too cynical an age, but I’m going to need more than that if anyone wants me to get excited about politics again.

Feel free to ring me up when they start talking about any of my issues. Until then it’s a pox on both their houses.

Friendly reminder…

I don’t get too wrapped up in it, but I do keep a partial ear towards the ongoing coverage of this year’s election. I feel like I’m going to repeatedly deliver a reminder to everyone that despite what they may think they learned in their freshman civics class, we don’t have a national election for president in this country.

We have fifty state elections for president – or more technically we have 50 state elections to select the electors who will, in turn, vote for president. 

This is why I grit my teeth every time I see some news prognosticator talking about who’s up or down in national polls. How a candidate is playing across the vast sweep of the American continent is interesting to know, but mostly irrelevant to telling us who’s most likely to win election as president. 

The fact that election to the highest office in the land currently requires winning the majority of electors and not the majority of votes on election day is the crux of the argument for those who want to abolish the Electoral College in favor of a direct national vote for president. Those have been the “rules of the game” the dawn of the republic. While the average citizen may not be clear on that point, no one who seriously follows politics has any confusion about how the system works.

The Democratic Party managed to dominate elections through large swaths of the 20th century – while playing by those long-established rules of the game. In the 21st century their party platform has been structured in such a way as to consolidate strong support in costal and urban areas – while largely doing nothing to speak to their historic rural and rust belt bases of support. That runs the total number of votes up in these stronghold areas without broadening the base of support in any meaningful way. The Republican machine, not being operated by political idiots, crafted their message to pick up as many of those formerly Democratically leaning voters as possible. Republicans have had a decade or more of running the table in areas that would have been a no contest win for the average Democratic candidate of yore. 

So, here’s the thing. Instead of pitching a hissy fit that the same rules everyone has played under for more than 200 years are suddenly no longer fair, maybe take a look at the party platform and figure out why you’re mostly attracting voters along the coasts and in the big cities while finding little support in the other parts of the country. The problem isn’t the rules – it’s a failure to connect with voters “out there” in flyover country and to gather up some of the electors that go with them.

If the goal isn’t to win elections by appealing to a broad subset of voters then the crusade to abolish the Electoral College is far more about gaining power than it is about the sanctity of the electoral process. At least have the stones to admit it.

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

Towards a new federalism…

Change is coming. It’s so palpable that if you’re not too fried by the endless stream of immediate and pressing news you can almost feel it. In the long history of this republic, huge, sweeping change has never come in the good times. There’s no incentive towards structural change when the good times roll.

Over the last hundred years, the biggest changes in this country occurred following economic catastrophe and war, specifically the Great Depression and World War II. It’s probably too easy to assume that once we come out on the other side of the Great Plague we’re likely to see considerable changes coming to how healthcare is delivered and a host of changes surrounding the financial sector – strengthening unemployment insurance (and associated processing systems) at a minimum. Some of the changes will inevitably be of such scope and scale that 30 days ago they’d have been laughed out of the room rather than rushed through implementation. What would have seemed radical under the old version of normal could fairly easily become the new normal of the near future.

Those changes are coming – and no politician who’s interested in reelection will dare to stand against many of them.

Where the social compact that undergirds the republic regularly changes over time, the bigger change I suspect we may see is an unprecedented whipsaw in how we view the “federal” aspect of our federal republic. Since the Civil War, the government in Washington has increasingly centralized the powers of government. The pendulum swung so far that direction that some even argued that we had evolved beyond the need for states; Perhaps that we would best be governed in super-state, regional arrangements. 

What we’ve seen on the last three weeks in New York, California, and my native Maryland (among others), is activist governors leading the response to a health emergency in the absence of clear guidance from the federal government. In some ways, they’re the governors who understand the basic theory of emergency management – Local response is supported by the state while the states draw resources from the federal government when their own resources are exhausted. In this case, though, the federal resources barely seemed to get off the ground and governors were left to coordinate between themselves and directly with industry in an effort to fill requirements – while shaming what resources they could out of the administration. 

I wonder if this isn’t the first step towards a new federalism – one that reverses some of the 160-year long aggregation of authority to officials along the banks of the Potomac. There’s plenty of examples of state governors getting their response to this thing exactly wrong, though, so management at the state level is no guarantee of better results. Still, there’s part of me that thinks anything that reduces the authority of the federal government outside the scope of its “core business,” the better off we’re likely to be in the long run. I’ve been confounded lately by the people who with one breath screech “Trump lies” and then with the next weep bitter tears that the president hasn’t issued a nation-wide order confining citizens to their homes. Personally, I get a little nervous when any president or chief executive – puts on the mantle of “emergency powers” only to be laid down again when he or she decides the crisis has passed. History tells me that rarely ends well. 

In any case, there are changes coming. I’m not smart enough to tell you exactly what they’re going to be… or where the law of unintended consequences is going to jump up and bight us in the collective ass.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Nextdoor. My neighborhood is one of many that have elected to use the Nextdoor website and app to take nosy-neighborness to the next level. The current conversation that seem to be monopolizing everyone’s time is focused on barking dogs, the causes, and what can be done about it. Participants are divided into two broad camps by this discussion. Without spending time recounting the dozens of posts, I fall pretty firmly into the camp that says that even though the lots here are large, we do, in fact, live in a neighborhood. That means we all have to endure a certain amount of fuckery we find personally obnoxious from neighbors (and their dogs). Yes, I’ve heard the occasional barking dog – and from time to time, mine have contributed to the cacophony. In the grand scheme of obnoxious shit neighbors do, the dogs aren’t even close to the top.

2. The House of Representatives. A few weeks ago, at least according to leaders in the House, the President of the United States represented a clear and present danger to the republic. Hearings had to be conducted and a vote held with all possible haste. Since then, though, the leaders of the House have spent weeks sitting with their collective thumbs up their own asses while refusing to deliver the charging documents to the Senate. Since they seem to be in no rush to get the trial underway, I can only assume House leaders no longer think President Trump is a pressing threat to the country. If he were, surely they would have pressed for a trial to go forward as quickly as possible… unless, of course, these fearless leaders of the House are more interested in political theater than actually standing upon their dire warnings for the future… and dealing with the fallout from their actions.

3. Doing for others. I’m generally open to lending a hand, or taking on a project, or generally at least attempting to make myself helpful. What I have consistently resented the hell out of over the course of my career are the things that land on my desk that could have been done by someone else faster or with less explanation required than pushing it over to me with a laundry list of instructions. I’ll be the first to admit I don’t know the details of everyone’s workload, but I’m willing to bet that if I walked the halls I’d be hard pressed to find someone with more ash and trash cluttering their inbox than I’ve had this week. The fact that so much of it is stuck there by “trusted professionals” who could handle it themselves isn’t surprising, but it is annoying as hell.

What I learned this week…

Judging from the ill-informed eruptions across social media, the consensus seems to be that impeachment by the House of Representatives is precisely equal to removal from office. That, of course, is not true and I can only assume that the cheering masses on Twitter and Facebook have now discovered that impeachment is the first step in a two step process outlined by the Constitution for removing an elected official from public office.

So, what did I learn this week? Basically that despite the best efforts I made many years ago and that a veritable army of civics teachers are currently making, the American public is woefully uninformed about how their system of government is supposed to operate. I refer them to the Constitution. I mean it’s the basic operator’s manual, so go ahead and start there and then we can assign some more detailed reading.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. President Trump. Say what you want about Europe and the NATO alliance, but they represent most of our oldest and strongest allies. Maintaining strong working relationships there is a key element of American national security. If ever there was a moment for the president to reign in his normal impulse to ratchet up the drama, it would have been this week’s London summit. Pitching a hissy fit in the face of mean words isn’t a good look internationally.

2. Impeachment. The House of Representatives seems to have the votes to move forward with articles of impeachment against the president. The Speaker is a good enough politician not to bring the vote if she didn’t have the numbers. Soon enough the whole thing will be thrown over to the Senate for trial… where I can only assume the Majority Leader will manage the case every bit as politically as the Speaker has done laying the charges. Prediction: The president remains in office while Republicans and Democrats retrench and emerge more divided than ever.

3. Lyft assault accusations. About a million years ago when I was growing up, we were all consistently warned about the dangers of getting into cars with strangers. Now, here in the oh so advanced 21st century we’re suddenly surprised when bad things happen when you get into cars with strangers. It’s the kind of thing we use to call having some goddamned common sense.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Short term memory. Since the weather was set to turn frosty, I made a giant pot of chicken barley soup Sunday afternoon. I enjoyed exactly one bowl of it. Then I cleaned up, put the soup on the counter to cool before sticking it in the fridge, did some evening reading, and then promptly went to bed while my lovely soup sat out at room temperature for the better part of 14 hours. Could I have eaten it and not gotten violently ill? Probably. Even so, the soup is now feeding the wildlife across the fence line in my backyard woods and I’m utterly disgusted by my apparent inability to remember one simple thing to do.

2. Standard time. It’s my rant every fall, but it needs to be said. When you work in a room without windows, it’s pretty irrelevant to your life how early in the morning the sun comes up. Even if I did have a window, what it’s doing outside is of fairly limited significance. It could be dark until noon and it wouldn’t change my typical day in any meaningful way. But sure, I guess there are people who for no explicable reason put a premium on driving to work with the rising sun directly in their eyes. Personally I’ll take my daylight in the evenings when there’s a chance I might actually be able to do something with it. Maybe I should just work a deal with the boss to spring forward and fall back my work schedule periodically since we can’t seem to stop fiddling with the actual clock.

3. Impeachment. We should all, regardless of party, be deeply embarassed at how the House of Representatives impeachment hearings are being covered. The impeachment of a sitting official is the real “nuclear option” afforded by the Constitution. Far from a moment of deepest gravity, both parties have inevitablely contributed to the breathless media coverage that has given the whole process thus far a carnival atmosphere. We should all be embarassed that this is the best the elected representatives of the world’s oldest continualy operating republic and the professional journalists who cover them can muster. We should be embarassed, but we shouldn’t be surprised.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Getting in through the back door. Every time I hear one of the Democratic primary candidates wax philosophical about one of their wealth redistribution schemes by confiding to the camera that “it’s a tax on Wall Street,” I look around and wonder how many people really believe that. My reading on their collective plans is that this chimera of making the “big banks and hedge fund managers” pay is ultimately a tax on every working person who has a retirement account. Your 401k, 403b, IRA, or TSP can’t help but be taxed under these plans, because at heart these accounts are nothing more than fractional shares that get traded on a regular basis to keep the fund balanced… and these funds are the definition of big players in the financial market. The Democratic candidates know they’re going to have to tap into huge sources of capital for their plans. I just wish they had the stones to admit that getting it done is going to require levying this backdoor tax on every man and woman in America who’s bothered to make an effort to save for retirement and not just the guy in charge of running the fund.

2. When you can’t even half ass the work. I worked on three things today. Simultaneously. All were a priority of effort… at least to someone. What that really means, of course, is each of them got exactly the level of effort and attention you’d think they got. Instead of half assed efforts, the very best they could hope for was being third assed. It’s a hell of a way to run a railroad. You’d think after 17 years I’d have started to get use to the idea that most days good enough just has to be good enough. Then again some days don’t even rise to that paltry standard.

3. Facebook memories. I’m pretty sure I’m going to have to disable Facebook Memories, because every morning I open the damned app I’m met with the picture of a bulldog doing something alternately ridiculous or endearing. Jorah has done quite a lot in the last six months to patch up the sucking chest wound Winston left behind, but those pictures every morning still catch me directly in the feels. Despite the myriad of issues, vet bills, and costs, I don’t think I’ll ever really get to a place where I don’t miss such a good dog.