What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Schedule. I’m deep in the weeds of designing a schedule for a three-day event where, at best, there’s one day of real content. The inevitable result will be a proposal that nobody likes – but that everyone will eventually go along with because no one else wants to come up with a better alternative. It’s just another week in the belly of the bureaucracy as an event planner, I suppose. Thank God there’s no real-world events taking place globally that would be a better place to allocate limited time and effort.

2. Joe Biden. I get it, he’s not Don Trump. At some point, though, that has to stop being enough reason to give the guy a pass. I never had particularly high expectations for a Biden Administration, but setting aside our policy disagreements on the proper role and function of the federal government, the first year has been less successful than even I expected. From the bungled evacuation of Afghanistan to rampaging inflation to failure to ramp up testing for COVID, most of what’s come out of the White House in the last 365 days has felt botched in many greater or lesser ways. Maybe it’s just me, but I expected more polish and poise from an administration who are largely old hands inside the beltway.

3. Google. About a decade ago, I set up a “Gmail for Your Domain” account to support jeffreytharp.com. It gave me up to 50 “branded” email address overlayed on the gmail.com platform and some other nice integration features. At the basic tier, that was a “free” service provided by Google (presumably for giving them the right to data mine your various inboxes). For a long time, it’s been a totally painless experience. They’ve just announced the end of this as a free service and now I have to decide if $6 a month is enough of an annoyance and pain point to motivate me to find an alternative and migrate to it between now and May 1st. Otherwise it’s a matter of abandoning tens of thousands of emails and other records in place and starting fresh with a new provider. Stupid Sophie’s choice.

Weak in size and spirit…

The occupant of the White House is a member of the Democratic Party. Members of the Democratic Party also constitute the majority, though a slim one, in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. This week they’ll be struggling mightily to pass monumentally large spending bills, not crash headlong into the debt ceiling, and keep the lights on at federal departments and agencies across the country.

One thing I think we’re going to have to give up now is the illusion that our legislative process is broken because one party or another is made up entirely of obstructionists who live to say “no.” When one of those parties holding all the reigns of power is still struggling or fails to get their agenda passed, the fiction of blaming the opposition party is awfully hard to sustain.

If the party in power fails to pass signature portions of their own president’s agenda or fails to gin up the votes for their own spending priorities, or can’t manage that most basic of Congressional functions – passing the federal budget – that tells me not only is the majority weak in size, but also weak in spirit. If the Congressional Democrats can’t get the job done when they hold all the reigns, they’re ripe to be picked off in the 2022 election cycle.

So as it turns out both of our dominate political parties are bad. One because it will cheerfully burn the republic to the ground if it means they get to hang on to power and the other because they can’t find the matches with both hands and a flashlight.

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. Grass seed. One of the inevitable spring and fall tasks here, thanks to the resident dogs, is regularly reseeding the back yard to patch up half a year of wear and tear. Everyone likes to pretend we’re oh so advanced sitting here in the 21st century. If we’re so damned advanced here in the future, why is it I still have to wait between 14-21 days to find out if I’ve grown grass or just created a deeper mud pit?

2. The Biden “infrastructure” plan. Mentioning a few roads and bridges in a bill doesn’t make it a bill about infrastructure… especially when those features account for a minority of the overall appropriation. What the president has really given us is the first of two absurdly large revenue bills – a plan not so much about infrastructure as about jamming the federal government as deeply as possible into all manner of economic areas… and, of course, finding new streams of revenue to feed its insatiable maw. There are already hints that the administration will back off their promise that no one making under $400,000 a year in taxable income will see a penny of new federal taxes due. But, I suppose, telling people up front that in your first 60 days in office you’ll be proposing a massive bill to raise taxes isn’t really something advised by the successful politician’s handbook. So, call it an infrastructure plan, of course, because everyone likes infrastructure. Call it French toast if you must, but you and I will both know it’s a tax by any other name… and this administration’s hunger for more tax dollars is just getting warmed up.

3. Anticipation. This Friday is going to be the first day I’ve taken off since the glorious two-week weekend stretching across Christmas and New Year’s. Thanks to various federal holidays it won’t be the first long weekend of the year, but it feels like the first one in months… which it is. With every hour that ticks by, it’s in increasing distraction to even thinking about getting productive work done… and though I’ve got no defined plans, the anticipation is absolutely killing me. 

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. The MVA. Maryland’s Motor Vehicle Administration keeps spamming me with notices that I’m “almost” due for my next emissions inspection. Look, I already consider the emissions check an unqualified inconvenience and a blatant grab for an extra $14 a year in taxes disguised as service fees. If there were something really wrong with my four-year-old vehicle, it’s a fair bet that the onboard computer would know about it and fire up an idiot light long before I’m due for a helpful state mandated inspection. Also, it’s just a little bit hinky that they cancelled my original due date eight months ago due to COVID, but now, when cases are significantly higher, it’s suddenly ok to trundle on over to my local inspection station. If the message is stay home, minimize trips outside your home when possible, but then making it mandatory to go do something as completely useless as an emission inspection under penalty of government sanction for non-compliance, it feels just a little bit intellectually disingenuous.

2. Executive Orders. Executive Orders, even ones that direct the federal bureaucracy to do things you don’t like, are not prima facie evidence of “tyranny.” The Congress remains free to craft legislation that would circumscribe or override an Executive Order, essentially rendering it moot. The courts are likewise free to rule against Executive Orders, thereby enjoining the Executive Branch and bureaucracy from enforcing them. Unless you’re going on to specify which one of your constitutional rights a particular Executive Order violates, maybe replace “tyranny,” with “doing stuff I don’t like.” It lets you express an opinion without sounding like an idiot. 

3. Kevin McCarthy. The House Minority Leader is schlepping to Florida to have a meeting with a former president who a) Lost the White House; b) Cost his party the majority in the Senate in 2020; c) Cost his party the majority in the House in 2018; and d) Incited a seditious insurrection against the United States. I’m trying hard to imagine another circumstance in the long history of our republic where a sitting member of a party’s congressional leadership team was so quick to seek out the advice and blessing of a recently defeated candidate for president – especially one that in his final days in office worked so hard to sunder both his country and his political party. I never imagined I’d miss the good old days when you hid your failed candidates away like the drunken uncle at Christmas dinner, but here we are. 

Disorienting but comfortable…

I’ve lived through the four presidential transitions as an adult. They all come with the same basic features – mostly the victorious and defeated parties trying to figure out the shape of their brave new world.

What I wasn’t mentally prepared for in 2021, though, was just how quickly Donald dropped off the radar (unless you’re steadfastly tuned in to “alternative news” sources).  After hearing his steady drumbeat for 4 years, waking up each morning and scrolling Twitter before my feet hit the floot to see what batshit crazy thing happened overnight, the last few days have been a remarkable return to politics being just politics. 

It’s like having walked through a foggy landscape only to emerge, unexpectedly, into a bright, clear upland of well-known surroundings; disorienting, but comfortable.

I’ll be railing against President Biden’s agenda soon enough, but I’m kind of determined to take the weekend and really just appreciate the wonder of how completely different it feels.

Catching my breath…

I had the privilege of attending two inaugurations in person during the opening years of this century. It’s an experience – one I’m glad I had when I was younger and more tolerant of crowds, necessarily intrusive security screening, and standing around for hours in the cold with no access to coffee and limited availability of restroom facilities. It’s a bit of unique Americana I recommend everyone do if they’re able at least once in their life.

Today’s inauguration of President Biden looked different, even from the toasty warm vantage point of my home office. As it turns out, during the Great Plague era, even pomp and ceremony ain’t what they use to be. I suppose whatever poor bastards were stuck planning the thing did the best they could within the confines of virus-constrained procedures. I’m happy beyond measure for their sake that the big show is over. The Treasury doesn’t have enough cash on hand to convince me to want their job. 

Here we are on day one of the Biden Administration. I could try waxing philosophical, but honestly, I’m just trying to catch my breath a little after the last two weeks, so I’ll just congratulate, again, our new President and Vice President… and we’ll just have to pick up with any necessary ranting and raving tomorrow. 

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.  

I’m a sucker…

I looked in on the news this morning. We’re apparently having a national fist fight about paying for the Department of Defense and sending out bigger and better stimulus checks. 

This is where my old fashioned small government, fiscally conservative roots will undoubtedly show. 

Having lived as a very small cog in the vast machinery of the Department for the best part of two decades now, I can tell you that it is vastly over funded in order to account for the unimaginable sums that are pissed away on pet projects, systems that don’t work, or things that have absolutely nothing to do with maintaining or improving the national defense. I’d cut the budget with an ax if someone made me king for the day… but since we don’t have time for that, just override our goofy-assed president’s veto of the National Defense Authorization Act and move on. 

Next up, we want to chuck another $500 billion onto the $900 billion second round stimulus that’s already been approved. Sure, the cause of giving “everyone” another $1400 is a feel-good story, but holy hell. I know that no normal person really grasps just how big a number a billion is, but sweet little baby Jesus, that’s a shit ton of real money that we have to borrow from somewhere (or call into being from thin air) when we’re already $25 trillion in debt. At some point, even good (or feel-good) ideas become unaffordable, right? Right.

In the last decade, we’ve bailed out everyone – banks, home owners, the auto industry, renters, big business, small business, state and local governments. Soon enough they’ll tell us that we have to throw billions more at anyone with a student loan. We have to save everyone and everything from every possible negative consequences and to hell with the price.

I’m the dumbass who took tens of thousands of dollars to the closing table so the sale would go through when his house was underwater. I lacked the foresight to just make minimum payments on my student loans forever in hopes that someone else would just pick up the tab. The tax man didn’t even have the courtesy to send me a picture of whose $3200 stimulus I’m carrying the freight on since momentarily being “rich” after selling the condo last year disqualified me from getting my own cash back. Sally Struthers use to do that if you sponsored a child for “less than the price of a cup of coffee a day.” Getting the same treatment from Uncle doesn’t feel like too big an ask.

So yeah, I’m apparently one of those suckers born every minute. At least that’s something I know now.