What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. New food. I’ve got maybe 18 or 20 basic meals that I can make with my eyes closed. They’re reliably tasty and lead to plenty of leftovers. The trouble is, at some point, a guy gets tired of eating the same 20 basic meals and then tries to branch out with new recipes. In and of itself that’s not a bad thing. The real injury comes after the cooking, when you sit down and the dinner table and realize that although the meal may be nutritious and even edible, you just don’t like it. I think the biggest reason I keep falling back on the tried-and-true meals that I’m a bit burned out on is that the other side of the coin is that two out of three new meals attempted turns out being something I’ll choke down because it’s hot and ready, but the remainder of which ends up being tossed into the woods when I clean out the refrigerator. With the cost of groceries and the time investment to actually cook, new and different increasingly feels like a high-risk venture.

2. Alternative Pay. The president has issued his alternative pay proposal for fiscal year 2023. At 4.6%, it’s the biggest yearly raise I’ve seen in 19 years of service. It’s a number that would feel impressive if it weren’t just half of what the official rate of inflation was this year. Having lived through the years of furlough and pay freezes, I’m not looking a gift horse in the mouth, but given the prevailing circumstances of the overall economic situation, I’m also not going to hire a brass band to celebrate the “generosity” of the Biden administration.

3. Bicyclists. I don’t have any intrinsic problem with bicycles. Some of the people who ride them, however, are deeply suspect. The two who decided to cross the Susquehanna River at 4:15 on a Friday afternoon obviously had no regard for their own health and safety. Yes, what they did was nominally legal, but it seems to me it’s a case of knowing the difference between the things you can do and the things you should do. Taking up a full lane of a heavily traveled and narrow bridge during peak commuting time was patently dangerous to them and to everyone who had to unexpectedly try to avoid them. The only positive I could see from when I finally managed to shift lanes and get around them, is that the look on their faces made it abundantly clear they were aware of having made a seriously questionable life choice.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Blame and credit. OK, it’s fashionable to blame Joe Biden for interest rates and inflation and gas prices and whatever else anyone believes is going off the rails at any given time. Fine. Taking the blame is an occupational hazard of being president. I think, though, we’re missing some of the up side of the current economic environment – namely that gas prices and generationally high inflation levels have apparently made backyard fireworks a budget line item that was ripe to dramatically decrease or be cut out completely for people in 2022. With only a few individual outliers, personal fireworks displays within earshot of the homestead were constrained almost exclusively to between 9:00 PM and 10:00 PM on Independence Day and were dramatically smaller and less intrusive to the general peace and tranquility of the evening than they have been in previous years… so, thanks, Biden. I mean if we’re going to blame him for global economic forces at work, he might as well get some credit for the good stuff he doesn’t have any control over.

2. Time. The standard work week lasts approximately 375 hours. A week of vacation time wraps up in just short of one hour and 26 minutes. I know here are psychological reasons why we perceive the passage of time differently under various conditions, but that doesn’t make the fact any less annoying – particularly when your most recent batch of days off is quickly diminishing. It this case, perception is stupid and I hate it.

3. Religion. I’ve covered it before, but it bears repeating: I’m under no moral, ethical, or legal obligation to follow the tenants of your religion. I don’t care if you follow the old gods, the new gods, the Greek pantheon, Sol Invictus, Vishnu, Buddha, or Jesus Christ himself. Your beliefs govern the way you live your life. The minute you turn your faith into a belaying pin to cudgel others about the head and neck, no matter what peace and love you preach, I’ll oppose you loudly, at length, and with whatever force is necessary to get you to cease pummeling others with your interpretation of faith and goodness. You’d think in the year of our lord two thousand and twenty-two we might have left some of this medieval fuckery in the rear view, and yet here we are. 

Detached from reality…

Donald Trump lost the 2020 election. It wasn’t a fact blatantly obvious at the close of election day, but one that became rapidly inescapable as absentee or mail in ballot totals were added to in person vote totals over the next few days. Certainly, by Friday of that week, the trend – and outcome was clear. I knew it. You knew it. The media knew it. The political class knew it. The overwhelming majority of American people knew it. 

Hard as Trump and his people might spin tales of election fraud, the claims were not reflected by the evidence – a fact that court after court found as one ruling was handed down after another, while other, wilder claims were thrown out as having no merit on their face. It seems that everyone except Donald Trump and perhaps his inner core of true believers was well aware of the state of play.

Bill Barr, in his testimony before the select committee appointed to investigate the January 6th insurrection, asserted that when then President Trump went before the cameras claiming theft and fraud, “he was detached from reality.” Let that phrase sink in. That’s a man who has twice served as Attorney General of the United States observing that the guy we’ve entrusted with the nuclear launch codes was having a hard time telling reality from make believe. 

I’m increasingly convinced that on January 6th we stood a hairs breadth from an American chief executive, gotten high on his own supply, refusing to leave office. How close we came to overwhelming the creaking, 200+ year old Constitutional safeguards that have always been more than enough to guide better men who held the office, is absolutely horrifying to behold. 

 If seeing these facts and patterns of behavior laid out now, when not caught up in the heat of the moment, doesn’t give you even a moment’s pause, I don’t have any idea what would. We got incredibly lucky that the American system, under incredible and unprecedent pressure, worked. We’d be well served to never run it that close to the red line ever again, because I fear being delivered safely out the other side had a lot more to do with luck than skill. 

Joe…

Let me say it straight from the shoulder… I’m not a big fan of Joe Biden as president. From spearheading America’s flight from Afghanistan to the current conflicted economic environment the administration is determined to cheer as rosy, while simultaneously decrying as hard times and painfully inflationary, it feels like the presidency is his in name, but that the hard work of the office remains, somehow, out of his grasp. 

I’ve never met him, but maybe he’s a nice enough old man. I’d be willing to go so far as to say he’s probably well intentioned. He might even be successful his role as head of state (à la Elizabeth II) where the main function is unveiling plaques, making proclamations, and waiving at crowds. I have to believe that even those who supported him during the election have found him wanting when exercising his awesome constitutional role as head of government. His performance when it comes to the hard stuff could, charitably, be called something between mixed and abysmal.

I’m certainly not advocating for a return to the batshit crazy administration of Donald Trump and his band of merry insurrectionists, but the fact that Joe was popularly recognized as the best available option really should concern every one of us. The best thing he could possible do would be to, as soon as the midterms are over, go on television and announce that he won’t seek a second term. I’m sure I’ll still hate the next contender’s policies, but the job deserves someone more engaged and energetic. 

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.