What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Deficit spending. If reports are to be believed, in the first four months of FY 2020, the US government took in a single quarter record amount of tax dollars – some $1.18 Trillion. It also had record quarterly expenses of $1.57 Trillion. In the first four months of this fiscal year, the government ran a deficit of approximately $444 Billion. In a budget where millions of dollars are effectively rounding errors, I’m left to wonder if the problem isn’t so much that taxes are too low as it is that we collectively just spend too damned much money. Once upon a time there was a subset of Republicans called deficit hawks who raged against borrowing money to finance the operation of the government. They’re long gone, of course. No one in the elected levels of government has any interest in slowing down the gravy train. Having seen the inner workings of government, I find it absolutely laughable to think that in the last 90 days we’ve put $1.57 Trillion to its best and highest use. The percentage of it that’s been wasted would be staggering to behold if anyone was able to do the accounting. The first order of business should be slaughtering the sacred cows. Until that happens, I’ll stand firmly on my platform of not one more penny in new taxes.

2. The pall of ambivalence. I’m kicking off a 4-day weekend and the last couple of weeks have cast such a gloom on the proceedings that I’m, at best, mostly indifferent. Maybe my mood will improve a bit after a string of days allocated to hanging out with the animals and reading. It usually does… but I’m not optimistic about how long the restorative effects of that brief interlude will last.

3. Out of office messages. As a “professional” I understand that out of office messages are supposed to contain brief, helpful information such as the date you should return or an alternative point of contact people can reach in your absence. As such, I can’t shake the feeling that they really don’t convey the more subtle message that the sender is conveying. For instance, instead of saying something trite and derivative like “I will respond to email and voice messages as quickly as possible when I return,” I feel that the more frank and honest out of office message might read something like “I’m burning off a day of vacation time in an effort to hold on to the one small shred of sanity I have left. I’m not checking my office email or voicemail. If you call me at home or send me a Facebook message asking about work stuff, I’ll ignore you and do whatever I can, whenever I can to make your life less pleasant. Whatever the issue is, as far as I’m concerned it’s more of a “next week” problem and not something I’ll be spending any time thinking about between now and then.

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.

Playing what if…

Note: This started as a response to an old friend who poked me with a pointy stick in response to last night’s post. Because I often can’t resist poking back, you get what we have here, which is a far longer response than is strictly necessary, but one that I think was worth the effort to write down all in one place.

Two years ago I decided a change was in order. To make the change a reality, I papered the countryside from southern New Jersey to the Carolinas with just shy of 600 resumes. So when someone tells me that I don’t know what the job market is like out there, I’m not quite sure how to respond. Out of that pool of 600 jobs, I got maybe 12 interviews, six follow-up interviews, and one firm offer of employment. It took the better part of a year, but I was still able to get from Point A to Point B. Trust me, I know the job market ain’t what it used to be.

Given the impending draconian cuts in defense spending that will be enacted in January if Congress fails (once again) to do its job, there’s the outside chance that my gig will be on the chopping block just like everyone else’s. Yep, that sucks, but it’s reality. Uncle Sam promised the opportunity to work. He didn’t make any promises of a job for life. If the budget ax falls and I’m on the wrong side of it, well, that means I’ll be looking for work (again, just like everyone else). I like to think that my unique set of knowledge, skills, abilities, education, and training make me marketable across a respectably wide swath of potential employers… but I don’t think any combination of those things is a guarantee that I’ll be able to land exactly the job I want, when I want it, with the pay that I’d like to earn. That, of course leads to the inevitable question, “What happens if you don’t get anything close to the job you want or are qualified for?”

The best answer is I’d do whatever I needed to do to make ends meet. First the non-essential spending goes away – cable TV, booze, eating out, movies, horse racing, the things that are fun, but don’t do anything other than take money away from the bottom line. In a pinch, I sell the truck in favor of something more fuel efficient, take on a roommate to help balance the cost of rent and utilities. None of these are things I want to do, but they’re the things that need done when funds have to be prioritized.

I spent five years flipping burgers at a time when minimum wage was a hellofa lot less than it is now. I did it before and I’m not too proud to do it again if needs be. When the chips are really down common sense tells me that having some money coming in is better than no money coming in at all. When I wasn’t asking if someone wanted fries with that I worked sporadically as a valet. That job paid tips and a hot meal at the end of the night. In the summer I baled hay on a local farm and shoveled shit when it needed shoveling. Lord knows that wasn’t glamorous or high paying. For a while I was even directed traffic and took admission tickets at the county fairgrounds. I spent days most summers cutting grass for anyone who would throw a $20 my way. More often than not, I was working one or more of those jobs on the same day. And if all of those things weren’t a sufficient lesson in thrift and humility, I taught civics to high school freshmen. Anyone who does that job deserves some kind of medal.

I’m not here to tell anyone they suck or that they’re not working hard enough and I rarely espouse any political belief other than my own. Lord knows there’s no major (or minor) party that’s perfectly aligned with my way of thinking. I make observations based on my own experience and adjust my thoughts accordingly. I see plenty of problems with the world and how it’s operating, but I still don’t see a system that’s hopelessly broken. No one promises that life is going to be fair. The Declaration itself calls for the pursuit of happiness, not the guarantee of happiness. Life isn’t fair and sometimes that just sucks. I’d love to have the body of a young Brad Pitt and the voice of a Pavarotti, but those weren’t the gifts I got… yet I still go to the movies and enjoy listening to a tenor sing. Somehow I don’t see any benefit of shuttering the theaters and concert halls just because I can’t have what they have.

Come at me with concrete, realistic ideas about what can be better and how to achieve it and I’m all ears, but don’t expect me to join a crusade just to burn down what we have now. For all its warts, I dare say our system is still a far better operation than what our friends in Syria, Iran, Egypt, and dozens of other countries enjoy at the moment. I’m not willing to throw it over because hey maybe the next thing we try will be better.

Playing the numbers…

With the collapse of deficit reduction “supercommittee”, once again the inestimable Congress of the United States has failed to do, well, anything at all. Since their collective approval rating hovers around 9%, you’d think that almost every member of the House and 1/3 of the members of the Senate would be looking for work after the next election. The fact is that over the last twenty years, House members seeking reelection are victorious well over 90% of the time. For their re-electable colleagues in the Senate, that number is closer to 80%. Still better odds than you’ll ever get in Vegas (unless you’re the house, of course). Using some roughly accurate statistics, that’s a long way of saying that unless something dramatic changes between now and the election, the Congress we have now is largely going to be the Congress we have after the election. If that doesn’t make you queasy, you’re probably not paying much attention.

Partisans on the left and the right will tell you that this is the perfect reason we need term limits imposed on elected officials. I submit that it’s not so much an issue of term limits being needed as it is a clear message about how engaged electorate is. Cycle after cycle, a small percentage of eligible voters go to the polls and select the guy whose name they’ve heard before, or the one who has the prettiest yard signs, or the one who had the nicest looking piece of direct mail. In doing that, the voters just don’t stop to ask if their particular senator or representative is part of the problem. If that person is currently serving, here’s a hint: He or she is the problem and needs to be replaced. Two years from now, if that new individual has become part of the problem, they need to be replaced. And again until voters stumble on someone responsive to the needs of the country and who’s putting national priorities above regional benefits or party politics.

Until that happens, we’re going to continue to get the kind of government we deserve. That is to say a government that is hopelessly dysfunctional. Elections are won based on who shows up. If all most people do is bitch and complain and let the same 20% who always show up to vote have their way, well, we’ll get the same level dysfunction we’ve all come to know and loathe. If you’re pissed off, if you want something different then it’s on you to get educated, make smart decisions, and actually go to your polling place. If you can’t be bothered to do even that much, then you’re a bigger part of the problem then the asshats we keep electing.