What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Data mining. Every time I start thinking that data mining is becoming too invasive and privacy becoming too fragile, the interent reminds me that it’s still pretty far away from going Skynet and killing us all. You see, I know this because companies that specialize mining “big data” keep feeding me ads about how to find and finance the “perfect engagement ring.” I’ll admit to having a passing interest in gemstones, but I can’t claim a need or interest in actually buying them. I have neither the inclination or reason to do so… and I’ve never once searched the internet for one. The cloud might know our reading tastes and hold the secrets to our collective perversions in our search results, but in many ways it doesn’t feel like the interent knows me at all.

2. Domestic enemies. All newly hatched federal employees take an oath of office. The one I took isn’t too far different from the one taken by a typical Army officer or even the one sworn by members of Congress. Unless I missed an unprinted annex or codicil, though, my oath to support and defend the Constitution didn’t include an oath of poverty and it certainly wasn’t an oath of unpaid servitude. That there are near on 400,000 people who swore an oath to support and defend the Constitution against enemies foreign and domestic currently fulfilling their oath without pay is an embarrassment – made all the worse because each day they bring back more an more “unpaid help” in order to avoid inconveniencing anyone. Excuse me? It seems that if you’re going to have a shut down of something the whole point is to make it as inconvenient and painful as possible. And these twatwaffels are sure as blue hell “inconveniencing” the people they expect to pay out of their own pockets for the privilege of coming to work. I blame President Trump. I blame the leadership in both the House and the Senate. I blame every single member of Congress who uses this as an opportunity to grandstand. And I increasingly think I know who the “domestic” enemies are that our oath featured so prominently. 

3. Blood. Blood as a rule doesn’t bother me. I can see people bleeding and not flinch. The rivers could run thick with the stuff and I’m not sure I’d notice… but let me be strapped into a chair at the local doctor’s office and have someone start sucking vials of my own precious life-sustaining fluid from my veins and I’m apt to go all cross-eyed and pasty. I just feel like medical science should do us a favor and step beyond the age of leeches here.

A simple proposal to end the current shutdown fuckery…

I’m not an expert on parliamentary procedure or a scholar of the arcane rules of the House or the Senate. With that being said, I think I’ve struck upon a simple and entirely constitutional solution to ending this government shutdown fuckery in which out elected representatives are engaged in up to their beady little eyeballs.

My proposal is simple: Take the President of the United States out of he loop. No, I’m not talking about impeachment or something more extreme. I’m talking about a procedure that’s so simple I taught it to high school freshmen way back in my past life as a civics teacher.

The thrust of my proposal is in remembering that Congress doesn’t actually need the president to pass a bill into law. A unified congress – or at least a Congress that is 2/3 unified can override a presidential veto. So what we do is pass an omnibus spending bill with a line item forbidding spending appropriated funds on a wall, but appropriating $4 billion for enhanced border security. The president will veto the bill. Congress then votes an override and *poof* the government opens over the objections of the president. 

This proposal has the added perk of affirming centuries old prerogatives of the legislative branch and has the effect of reign in unfettered executive power that has grown too vast over the last three decades. If congressional leadership could pull it off, their collective approval rating might even climb out of single digits .

The problem, of course that would require congressional Republicans and Democrats to play nicely for a few days days. It means they would have to do what congresses have done for 200 years – compromise. If our “leaders” are too far gone to put the good of the people over party politics, perhaps we can sweeten the deal by enhancing the power of their own office.

And we’re back…

Assuming I keep up with it so long, I think I can safely say that this blog will expire on or about the day I retire. It turns out that when I don’t have the job sucking every ounce of fun out of five days each week, I really just don’t have that much to say. That explains the spotty schedule of posting I maintained over the last couple of weeks. Not only didn’t I have much to say, but I had virtually no interest in sitting down and writing up whatever was rattling around in my head. It turns out you don’t need much catharsis when you don’t have something agitating the hell out of you on a regular basis.

The good news, or bad news, depending on your perspective is that the days of not needing to vent my spleen on a regular basis are still far off in the future. Now that we’re back on the normal schedule, I have a feeling that my notebook will soon be refilled with all manner of angst-causing stories just begging to be told.

Look, I’m thankful for the pay check – and glad I’m not one of those poor bastards at State, or Treasury, or Homeland Security either working for nothing or stuck sitting around waiting and wondering when the next direct deposit is going to hit. That shouldn’t put anyone under the delusion that there’s nothing I’d rather being doing than clearing two weeks worth of emails from my inbox while scouring them for the one or two nuggets that might need some actual attention.

We’re back… and that’s probably a good thing in that long march out towards the back half of this career… but don’t think for a minute I’m not missing the long, lazy days when a few critters and a good book was more than enough to fill the passing hours.

Remaining silent…

I’m taking a brief pause from writing this evening. I’ve opted instead for warmed leftovers and a movie I’ve seen at least two dozen times.

Frankly the things I have to say about our elected representatives and my employer’s apparent lack of planning for how to handle a shutdown in a efficient and orderly manner would sail dangerously close to treason and insubordination. So I’ll just sit here and avail myself of my right to remain silent.

Your tax dollars (possibly) not at work…

This isn’t my first government shutdown. I remember the one brought about by the clash between Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich in the 90s. I sat at home through most of the 2013 shutdown. The reality is a “shutdown” of the federal government is something of a pantomime. No president or member of Congress is quite mad enough to threaten to really shut things down – to send the troops back to their bases, close the country’s airspace, and dismiss the people who send out Social Security funds. Maybe they should, because shutting down the US Government is stupid – and stupid should be painful.

There’s plenty enough blame to go around when Sam runs out of money. Since funding the government is one of the very few specified tasks assigned to Congress, I tend to lay the blame squarely at their feet. They really only have a handful of “must do” items every year – the rest of the things they spend their time doing is grinding personal axes or chasing their party’s stated objectives. We the people, however, are the ones who vote for members of Congress – so in my estimation their failures are our failures as well. We make the decision to keep sending the same useless asshats back to Washington year after year. Perhaps we’ve finally gotten the government we deserve.

I’m one of the 800,000 “unessentials” whose furlough will start tomorrow in the absence of an appropriation. In one of the great moments in which I realize the universe has an odd sense of humor, if the Senate manages to remember their duty and tomorrow is just another Monday, I’m scheduled to stay home and telework. If they screw the pooch and let the shutdown run its course, I actually end up having to go to the office tomorrow. If the fact that I’m headed to the office if we don’t have money, but staying home if we do tells doesn’t tell you all you’ve ever needed to know about the appalling strangeness of federal employment I don’t know what will.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. The driveway. Actually it’s not the whole driveway I find annoying. It’s the twenty feet or so of it that stays shady and snow covered even when temperatures reach on up past 40 degrees. That would also be known as the part that reaches out and trips unsuspecting people that are just trying to walk to the mailbox. If I ever find myself in a position of needing to replace this driveway, it’s a safe assumption that I’ll be taking a hard look at having heating units installed and just being done with shoveling, blowing, or otherwise dealing with snow in any way.

2. The federal budgeting process. As I write this, we are about 30 hours away from what the media calls a “government shutdown.” The reality of it is the lack of an appropriation could result in what might more legitimately be called a partial shutdown, with many portions of the government carrying on as if it’s just another day at the office. Still, though, it occurs to me that as long as I have worked for Sam, the Congress has failed to actually pass a normal budget on time and in regular order. Yes, in fifteen years I’ve never worked a day under what once upon a time was considered the “normal” federal budget process. I’m not saying we can trace all the problems of government back to their failure to do one of the few things that Constitution specifically expects them to do, but it seems like getting that fixed would be a decent enough place to start doing things the right way.

3. Baltimore. A monument to the Star Spangled Banner, the national anthem of our country, was desecrated this week. This act took place, in the very city where Francis Scott Key penned the words of what would become our song. It took place in Baltimore, in a city that should be filled with pride at being the home of the anthem and home to the long ago night in which the flag that inspired Key’s pen flew over embattled Fort McHenry. This is actually the second monument related to Key and the anthem that’s been vandalized in the last six months. There’s no geography on earth I love more than my native state, but gods help us, Baltimore is a cesspit.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Protocol. Apparently over the last week we’ve had royalty in America. The reason I know this is because on several occasions, I ran across articles written to advise my countrymen on the proper manner of bowing before the future English sovereign and his future queen. Don’t get me wrong, I love the Brits – their television, their sense of humor, and yes, even their quaint old fashioned notions of nobility… but here in the States, we’re citizens rather than subjects. On points of procedure for when it’s appropriate for an American to bow to the future monarchs of a foreign power, even one with whom we have a long and special relationship, the correct answer is simply “it isn’t.” We’re Americans. We don’t dip our colors and we don’t bow to royalty (or anyone else for that matter).

2. Sweats. In conversation many months ago a friend was shocked when I mentioned something about not having worn sweat pants since some time in the George H. W. Bush administration. She was shocked – possibly appalled – at my lack of concern for issues of comfort. In an effort to show that I do occasionally try something new, I picked up a pair recently and was duly impressed by their level of comfort compared to my usual Wrangler jeans. I supposed the biggest problem is I’m not exactly the type to go through the day just lounging about. Generally I’m doing something even if never leaving the confines of historic Rental Casa de Jeff. My real problem was what the hell you’re supposed to do with all the ephemera that usually ends up in my pockets – a pen knife, my phone, keys, etc. Sure, they were plenty comfortable, but I found myself trying to reach into pockets that weren’t there for objects that over the course of the day ended up scattered all over the house. As far as I’m concerned that level of inconvenience is too high a price to pay for a stretchier pair of pants.

3. The 113th Congress. The honorable members of the House of Representatives once again are spending the dying hours of a continuing resolution haggling over what amounts to peanuts in terms of the federal budgetary process. While no one is seriously talking about another shut down at midnight tonight it’s a possibility at the outside if they can’t find their way clear to passing a CR to cover the next few days while they rehash the omnibus spending bill before them. That they finish this way sums up the totality of this Congress nicely – even unto the end they’re collectively incapable of exercising one of the very few responsibilities entrusted to them in the letter of the Constitution. How very typical. Asshats, one and all.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

Note: Usually this space is reserved every Thursday for three of the week’s petty annoyances. Breaking with that tradition, tonight’s post features the one big annoyance we should all be feeling. Tonight I want to talk directly to the blogiverse about the problem with claiming victory.

I’ve seen a lot of articles, Facebook posts, and general commentary claiming last night’s vote to raise the debt ceiling and restart those parts of the government that remained shuttered as a victory. Some say it was a victory for Democrats, others the Tea Party, others hail it as a personal victory for Senator Cruz. They’re all wrong. Last night was no victory. All sides who claim victory are celebrating over ashes – the ashes of dysfunctional Congress, the ashes of a more than $17 trillion national debt, and the ashes of our apparent inability of the great American people to govern themselves at all, let alone do it effectively. Last night’s vote was a failure of our politics, not a victory.

Eventually there will be an unavoidable reckoning that government can no longer afford to do all things for all people. The sooner we make the hard decisions about entitlements, government overreach, and a bloated defense budget, the sooner we’ll have a real victory… but that will never be achieved by men and women who are satisfied holding their breath, stomping their feet, and congratulating themselves when they simply manage to turn the lights back on and kick the hard decisions down the road for another few months.

There must be a grand discussion of national priorities – and nothing can be held off the table. The sacred cows of the left and right must be equally available for slaughter. We, as a country, need to evaluate the role we want government to play in our lives and in the world and then budget and spend accordingly. In his message to Congress on December 1, 1862, Lincoln states, “The dogmas of the quiet past, are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country.”

Lincoln didn’t save the Republican Party, the Democratic Party, the Tea Party, or the Toga Party. He saved the country. That’s serious work for serious people, not the work of the raving ideologs on the lunatic extremes. Still, it’s work that needs done. It’s work we must demand of those who claim to represent the people. It’s work that every American voice should cry out for today… that is unless we’re collectively satisfied with increasingly hollow victories and the slow descent of the nation to the status of a second tier power.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Semantics. Listening to the news over the last few days, I’ve been surprised (shocked and appalled), to hear the talking heads from the party of fiscal responsibility saying that even if the debt ceiling is not raised, the US Government won’t technically be in “default” as long as it continues to pay the interest and principle on the existing national debt. And while it’s true that in that sense, the government won’t default on its sovereign debt, it would absolutely default on a host of other payments – to include veteran’s benefits, Social Security, salaries, and contracts for goods and services. I’m the first to admit that words and their meaning are important, but to say that the government will not be in a state of de facto default if the debt ceiling is not raised is a little like making a differentiation between dying of dysentery and dying of the dehydration caused by having dysentery. Either way you shit yourself to death, the rest is just semantics.

2. Obamacare. I’ve never pretended to be a fan of this first step in the headlong rush towards nationalized healthcare. While having access to affordable medical care is definitely a good thing, I’ve always been of the opinion having the federal government step into the fray adds nothing more than unnecessary layers of bureaucracy between a person and their doctor. Despite the best efforts of the right wing nutjobs, we’ve got it now, so c’est la vie. What really annoys me more than having this program foisted on the taxpayer is the fact that they had three years to design a website and couldn’t manage to do that correctly. If I were launching the capstone initiative of my administration, you can be damned sure I’d make sure it worked properly before it saw the light of day. The fact that the average guy with a “Websites for Dummies” book, a DSL line, and rented space on a server can set up and host their own website and my kindly old Uncle Sam can’t does not fill me with an abundance of confidence when it comes to letting him help me make decisions about my health. I’m screwing that one up just fine on my own, thank you very much.

3. Sports talk. I don’t know quite how to phrase this other than being blunt. If you come at me talking about last night’s baseball game or this weekend’s football lineup, you’re going to be met with a blank stare and a fairly blunt, “I don’t follow sports.” Then I’m going to disengage from the conversation. I’ve tried being a good trooper and faking my way through these conversations, feigning an interest, but I think I’m over that now. If you want to have a conversation about technology, science, history, current events, or occasionally the foibles of pop culture icons, I’m your huckleberry. You want to talk batting average and passing yards, you’ll need to look elsewhere. In this one, small segment of life, I’m just tired of pretending to care which group of millionaires are better than which other group of millionaires.

Survey says…

Two days after calling the vast bulk of the Department of Defense workforce back from our legislatively imposed furlough in the dead of night, some unmitigated asshat at echelons above reality decided it was a good time to launch a “command climate survey.” For those who don’t speak bureaucrat, these surveys are conducted a couple of times a year and are supposedly designed to gage employees feelings about leadership, their work environment, colleagues, managers, and get a general sense of the survey-saystemperature of the organization. At the best of times I’ve always thought these surveys are of questionable value. A week after being told by my political masters that I’m nonessential, well, my immediate response was a stream of under my breath swearing and a resounding facepalm.

After six days of furlough this summer, four days of furlough last week, a sequester that means reductions in defense personnel are matter of when and not if, and a political class that’s bound and determined to undermine the long term stability of the nation, you really want to know how I feel about my job? You have absolutely got to be shitting me.

Morale? In the crapper. Opportunities for advancement? Nonexistent. Faith in our leaders? I won’t even dignify that one with a response. Work area has sufficient light? Well, at least you’ll get good marks on that one. They’ve managed to keep the electricity flowing to the building. I suppose under the circumstances, that’s a milestone achievement.

Walk around the building and you’ll learn all you need to know about the “climate.” We’re frustrated and we’re angry. We’re exhausted from being loyal pawns in some half assed urination contest… and we’re more than a little sad to see the strength of the nation being pissed away for no purpose other than the misguided self-aggrandizement of those we elected to lead.

If they’re dumb enough to asked how I feel, I’m just hostile enough these days to tell them how it is. Now they know. Now you know too.