Grains of truth…

I live in a reliably Republican voting county in a blue-voting state. Being one part interested in what’s happening in the community and one-part nosy bastard, I’m a member of several “community based” Facebook groups. Nowhere I visit online is more politically charged than most of these groups. Both the free shit for everyone lefties and Trump is the best president in history crowd are well represented. I think both sides there are idiots, but that’s not my point here.

If you’re anywhere on social media it’s probably impossible to miss the people who are rabidly clamoring to “open now.” Their argument almost universally is centered around some variation of “Well, if you don’t feel safe just stay home” and/or “Small businesses need to start making money.” Take away the vitriol with which those sentiments are spewed across the internet and I fully understand the argument. 

Small businesses, having largely been shuttered for two months, are absolutely in danger of never opening their doors again. The “open now” crowd wants desperately to believe proclaiming businesses open will restore the world to the way it was in February. When the doors to all these businesses finally fly open, this sub-section of people will, I’m sure, crowd in. The other, and I presume larger percentage of people, will not be part of the swarm. This second group are those who don’t feel safe and, on the advice of the first group, have opted to “just stay home.” Sure, they may loosen their self-imposed restrictions a bit, but it won’t be with the free-for-all, madcap, devil-may-care embrace that the “open now” crew advocates. 

Even here in reliably red Cecil County, I have a hard time imagining businesses small and large filled anywhere even close to capacity again any time soon. Business can be all the open they want to be and if people don’t show up in mass, they still won’t make their margin. No one wants to hear this nugget, but my take is that whether open or closed here in last third of May, hundreds of thousands of businesses that were going concerns at Christmastime will be shuttered permanently by Independence Day… and there’s virtually nothing that’s going to stop it from happening.

I don’t take any pleasure in even thinking it because there’s a laundry list of businesses, both small and large, that I patronize, or I use to patronize, fairly regularly. I may be tempted back to a few of the used book shops sooner rather than later – as often enough I’ve had those places to myself even before the Great Plague. But sitting down in a restaurant, packing in shoulder to shoulder at a concert, or even wandering the aisles at the average retail establishment? Yeah, that’s a no from me for the foreseeable future. 

The grain of truth in the “open now” argument is that yes, I will do my own risk assessment and keep my ass at home until I determine (based on the advice of scientists and not politicians) that it’s reasonably safe to do otherwise. Then again, no one has ever had to encourage me to stay home, so maybe I simply lack the impulse that inspires other people to need to pull up a stool to their favorite bar in defiance of basic logic and common sense.

Endangered species…

I’m almost universally indifferent to rules, regulations, and policies about people. Mostly I’ve grown up with and still believe that in the absence of special situations or circumstances, most grown adults should be able to tend to their own needs. It’s one of the defining characteristics of being a fully fledged adult across all the vast animal kingdom. Put another way, when bad things happen to people, you’ll rarely find me batting an eye.

There are easy ways to gin up my ire, though. This morning, the Department of the Interior managed it in spades when announcing rollbacks of key provisions of the Endangered Species Act.

Taking a hatchet to the regulations emplaned to protect our most threatened species and their habitat is one of those issues that will get my attention every time. It should get yours too. It should be hard to delist a species. It should be hard to encroach into protected areas. Determining what species and geography are protected and to what degree that protection extends should be an act of science, not an administrative policy decision carried out with little oversight and even less understanding of its consequences. As a professional bureaucrat, I can tell you from hard experience letting the scientists have a say is going to be better.

I want to say this one time, loud and clear, so there is absolutely no doubt about my position: If you are making decisions based on “left” policy dreams or “right” policy desires, you’re a bloody idiot. Make the decisions based on the best science we have available… and when, somewhere down the road, we have a better scientific understanding of the world, change again.

The cattle industry supports this deregulation effort. There are ways to protect critical habitat that won’t undermine the beef industry. The oil industry also supports reducing the effect of the Endangered Species Act. Here too there are ways to regulate that allows the United States to reap the benefit of it’s underground treasure without relegating species to museum pieces. I don’t oppose all regulation on spec, but I do oppose stupid, one size fits all regulation – just as much as a oppose stupid, once size fits none deregulation.

The best approaches are almost never an all or nothing proposition. Pretending that we can’t protect the environment and grow this economy makes you sound like a damned fool. Arguing that we can’t build another house for fear of killing every animal alive makes you sound like a hippy lunatic. There’s a middle way and we can find it.

My credentials as a meat eating, 4×4 driving, gun toting, flag waving Republican are beyond reproach. It’s why I have no compunction about splitting with the party on individual issues. My pro choice stance already makes me anathema in some fair number of Conservative circles, so standing apart on one more issue is hardly a deal breaker for me

I’ll fully endorse any legislative effort to “tighten” up the language of the Endangered Species Act to roll back these new policy changes and to make such changes harder to publish in the future… though I don’t hold out much hope of the current dysfunctional collection of representatives to get that job done any time soon.

The never-ending presidential election cycle…

It’s January 2018 and as far as I can tell, 47 people have already declared themselves candidates for president. For the 2020 election cycle. For an election that is still 21 months away. 

I would honestly rather be kicked in the testicles once a day from now until November 10, 2020 than listen to any of these hopefuls spend the next too many months screaming “look at me, look at me” in their pursuit of their fifteen minutes in the national spotlight. 

It’s not that I’m disinterested in politics, it’s just that in January of the year before a scheduled election, I’m not interested in paying attention. No one giving their stump speech to a sparse crowd in the depths of an Iowa winter is going to convince me to change policy positions I’ve held my entire life. What on earth do I have to gain from listening to them at this point other than a few extra points the next time someone decides to take my blood pressure?

For an election on the national stage, I’m not paying all that much attention until about a month before the Maryland primary. The candidates still in the race at that point are the ones who might have a chance of being my party’s nominee, whose positions I will actually need to consider before casting my ballot. 

There’s no way you’re ever going to convince me that the ones out there jibber jabbering now are out to do anything more than hear themselves talk. With the limited time and attention I have available, I can promise you I won’t be spending it on indulging them.

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. 

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Running out of time. Even as I grudgingly accept the fact that it’s necessary to work in exchange for money which I can then exchange for goods and services, I cannot quite shake off the feeling that I’d rather be safely tucked into Fortress Jeff with an endless supply of hot coffee and a mountain of books to read. Mentally preparing myself to go out and rejoin the world is, in a word, traumatic. It’s times like this I can see how one might just get suckered into the fool’s gold appeal of something like a “universal basic income” scheme.

2. January finances. As a professional adult head of household, January has always been a budget buster of a month for me. It’s the month when my biggest bills come due for the year – car insurance, home owner’s association dues, paying off Christmas gifts and travel expenses, the start of the winter heating season, and a few others. No matter how well the year is budgeted, January always comes around like a swift kick in the teeth and throw in one more large dollar item than I was projecting. It’s like the new year giving you a rabbit punch just to remind you that just because it’s a new year doesn’t mean it’s anything more than business as usual.

3. Congress and the president. If you thought having the executive and legislative branches run by the same party put the “fun” in dysfunctional, just wait until you see the magnificent shitshow that Washington devolves into this afternoon when Democrats assume power in the House of Representatives. To all those who scream “false equivalency” or who want to blame one side or the other, I’ll simply say go fuck yourself. A pox on both their houses. No one sitting in our hallowed halls of power is an innocent.

Stupid hillbilly…

As a fiscal conservative with mostly libertarian social leanings, I’m regularly amused/annoyed by the classic liberal argument that runs along the lines of “conservatives are stupid hillbillies who have never picked up a book.” I can only assume when I hear that that what they really mean is “Mine is the only opinion that matters and if you disagree with me you are Satan/Hitler and I’m going to put my fingers in my ears so I’m not forced to listen to or attempt to comprehend dissenting opinions so I can go on trying to make myself look big by making others look small.”

Yes, I am a moderately conservative American raised in Appalachia. I suppose that, in and of itself, earns me the “stupid hillbilly” title in some eyes. You should know, thought, that I’ve also read Plato, Locke, and Rousseau. I’ve read the Constitution and the Federalist Papers. I’ve read Aurelius’ Meditations and St. Augustine’s Confessions. I’ve read Atlas Shrugged, too, and the Bible, and more biographies of great leaders of the 17th, 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries than I want to list. My economics shelf covers everything from Smith’s Wealth of Nations to Marx’s Capital. History? Yeah, those shelves are groaning under the weight of volumes ranged from ancient Greece and Rome, the religious wars of Europe, to the space race that I’ve read and synthesized to help inform my view of the world. I won’t bother to deep dive the fiction that’s passed through my hands over the years. Suffice to say that Dickens, Twain, and a couple hundred others are on the list.

I say all that to say this: If you want to have a frank discussion on policy or the proper role of government, I’m usually all in. If you come at me with some version on “All Republicans are…”, well you should feel free to immediately go fuck yourself. I have neither the time nor the inclination to engage in the social media shitposting that would inevitably follow. It’s enough for me to know that by insisting in dealing in absolutes and arguments that rely on painting “all” of one group or another with a particular brush, you are far bigger part of the problem with the social discourse in this country than this stupid hillbilly could ever be.

A Maryland Republican…

I’m a Maryland Republican. In most places in the middle part of the country that would make me all but a Democrat. With the reliable rift of blue stretching down from Baltimore County through the suburban counties south of DC, Maryland is effectively a one party state – but one that allows for an occasional quirk of electing Republican governors.

I’m not the biggest fan of Larry Hogan. There are issues he’s given up on that I would dearly like to see him fight for – though in a state where the Democratic controlled legislature can overwhelm any gubanatorial veto easily, those fights would be barely more than a gesture. He’s actually done better than I expected and that earned him my vote for a second chance at the big chair.

Even knowing the long odds of any Republican running for state wide office here in the Old Line State, I schlepped to my polling place after work. In reliably ruby red Cecil County, there were plenty of races where my vote will make a difference. Unlike the state offices, for local races here at the upper edge of the Eastern Shore, the Republican primary basically makes the general election a foregone conclusion.

I’ve done my bit to make sure the state has a fighting chance of not getting lost into single-party hellscape of forever higher taxes, runaway spending, and increasingly invasive government “services.” Maybe we can’t hold the line indefinitely, but I’ve got another 16 or so years before I can bail out for somewhere where the state government doesn’t seem determined to be all things to all people so I’ve got to do what I can when I can.

Someone to vote for…

I did something stupid this evening. I waded into the middle of a Facebook post in which the basic premise is “If you don’t hate Trump you’re a filthy bastard.” Normally I don’t weigh in, but despite the lead in, most of the comments were reasonable and well considered. Of course we’ll see how long that lasts now that I’ve showed up.

To revises and expand on my comment there, let me start by saying I didn’t love candidate Trump nor am I a dyed in the wool fan of President Trump. Still, I voted for him. It’s a statement of fact that I wont hide from or be ashamed of.

In a discussion that swirled around the topic of “how did this happen, I offer offered this thought:

The real issue is’t just in President Trump. The issue is with the whole slate of candidates. If the best we can put up here in a country of 300 million citizens was reflected in this past election I don’t know how to go about fixing the root of the matter.

I’m a Republican who has voted across party lines for local, state, and federal offices when I thought the Democrats had a better candidate. In my mind, then and now, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders were never candidates I would be able to get behind.

If you want better results give us better candidates.

Put up a Kennedy Democrat who isn’t threatening to tax more money out of my pocket or repeal the Second Amendment and I’ll give them every chance to earn my vote. As long as both parties are trying to swing themselves the extreme edges, there’s a vast unrepresented swath in the middle that’s crying out for someone to vote for instead of turning out to voting against.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Non-final decisions. Should I ever find myself deified and empowered to pass judgement from high atop Olympus, the cardinal sin that would earn my condemnation would be indecisiveness. If you’ve got the charter to lead, then by God, lead. Make a decision. Do something. Or just keep deferring any kind of actual decision until the diminishing number of hours available in which to act precludes all but one possible course of action.

2. Partisan politics. When Party A goes to the wall screaming about what Party B is doing, I mostly tune it out. I know my mind and no amount of rending of Congressional garments for the cameras will change that. When Party A spends the day screaming about something that Party B is doing and it’s exactly the kind of procedural jackassery Party A did when they were in the majority, well lord, I don’t know why anyone would ever think we could have a functioning legislative branch. I’m sick to death of politicians and people in general who only find something objectionable when it’s done by someone else, but perfectly fine when they do it.

3. Lack of marketable skills. My particular skill set is pretty closely tailored to work on the inside. There just is’t a lot of call for someone who can slam together a 150 slide powerpoint briefing, plan a party for 55 of your closest friends without breaking federal law, or estimate how much ice or water you might need after a hurricane (and know how to order and ship it). I’ve been on the inside so long now I wouldn’t even know how to apply for a gig outside. Of course there’s too much now tied up in retirement and benefits to really consider a wholesale change – especially when the jobs that sound even remotely interesting would lead directly from professional bliss to personal bankruptcy. I’m feeling just a little bit trapped and that makes me fantastically edgy.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. “Emergencies”. We’ve been over this before, but it bears repeating. The way people throw around the work “emergency” in the contemporary office is basically laughable. No one is bleeding. No one is about to start bleeding. The word you’re probably looking for most often is “embarrassing” as in you’re about to be embarrassed due to something you did, were supposed to do, forgot about doing. ​Alternately, you might be about to get blasted because of poor decision making skills. In any case, those things might represent a legitimate personal emergency to you, but to the rest of us it’s really just a shrug and a so what. Let’s try to leave the talk of “emergencies” to the times when there really are barbarians at the gate or brass hitting the floor, ok?

2. County taxes. The proposed Cecil County budget for FY18 includes increases in both the real property and income taxes. It’s made all the more noxious because it was proposed by a Republican county executive who ran less than a year ago on a platform of fiscal accountability and no tax increases. I know, lying politician isn’t exactly breaking news. Still, though, I’m left to wonder why at some point it isn’t perfectly acceptable to say that we have X number of dollars to spend against Y number of services and when there’s no additional revenue for new or existing services, some things need to be cut. The politicians first response is always to borrow or tax their way into all the revenue they need instead of being required to live by an actual budget in which they can’t always purchase all the goods and services they’d like to have. In the end the bastards always end up with their hand just a little deeper in our pocket. I suppose that’s just what you get when every level of government desperately wants to buy the love and affection of the voters and seeks ways to be all things to all people.

3. Keeping my head in the game. I’m probably expending at least as much energy just trying to keep my head in the game as I am actually doing any productive work. That doesn’t feel like something that’s going to be sustainable over the long term. It’s easier some days than others, but for the most part by the time mid-afternoon rolls around I’m dumping every bit of available effort into just staying awake and some delusory productive activities. Believe me when I tell you that you don’t want to read some of the written products that fly off my desk after 2PM. Unless I absolutely can’t avoid it, I hold them as drafts and then clean them up the next morning when I’m still relatively fresh. It’s a hell of a way to run a railroad.