A love letter to Iowa…

Grumble grumble Trump. Grumble grumble impeachment. Grumble grumble senate. Grumble grumble State of the Union. Grumble grumble Brexit.

In this, the winter of our discontent, the Iowa Democratic Party and the state’s quirky method of awarding primary election delegates, steps into the breach and mutters, wild eyed, “Hold my beer.”

For my entire life, Iowa has been the “first in the nation” to express their choice in the primary cycle. It’s a valuable piece of electoral real estate and has always given Iowa an out sized importance during election years.

If the Iowa Democratic Party didn’t single handedly end both the state’s first in the nation role and ye olde caucus method of casting votes, I’ll be amazed. The first story from the heart of primary season is of a party and an entire slate of candidates in disarray. The campaigns and the DNC can’t be happy that the biggest story of the election isn’t an impeached president, but rather a relatively small Midwestern state’s inability to count the 147 people or so who live there and report back who they caucused for in something like a timely and efficient manner.

It’s the kind of thing that basically writes it’s own Republican ad. It’s not hard to imagine the tens of thousands of mailers coming out of print shops even now asking “If the Democrats can’t be trusted to hold their own caucus in Iowa, how can you trust them to run the federal government.”

Accurate or not, fair or not, reporting on the debacle in Iowa will be red meat for the opposition. The fact that it appears that figuring out how and where Iowa Democrats came flying off the rails is going to take well over 24 hours is just embarrassing… especially when receiving precinct reports and tabulating totals feels like something that could be achieved over the phone using a pretty basic Excel spreadsheet without all that much fuss. It really, really shouldn’t have been a heavy lift.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Getting in through the back door. Every time I hear one of the Democratic primary candidates wax philosophical about one of their wealth redistribution schemes by confiding to the camera that “it’s a tax on Wall Street,” I look around and wonder how many people really believe that. My reading on their collective plans is that this chimera of making the “big banks and hedge fund managers” pay is ultimately a tax on every working person who has a retirement account. Your 401k, 403b, IRA, or TSP can’t help but be taxed under these plans, because at heart these accounts are nothing more than fractional shares that get traded on a regular basis to keep the fund balanced… and these funds are the definition of big players in the financial market. The Democratic candidates know they’re going to have to tap into huge sources of capital for their plans. I just wish they had the stones to admit that getting it done is going to require levying this backdoor tax on every man and woman in America who’s bothered to make an effort to save for retirement and not just the guy in charge of running the fund.

2. When you can’t even half ass the work. I worked on three things today. Simultaneously. All were a priority of effort… at least to someone. What that really means, of course, is each of them got exactly the level of effort and attention you’d think they got. Instead of half assed efforts, the very best they could hope for was being third assed. It’s a hell of a way to run a railroad. You’d think after 17 years I’d have started to get use to the idea that most days good enough just has to be good enough. Then again some days don’t even rise to that paltry standard.

3. Facebook memories. I’m pretty sure I’m going to have to disable Facebook Memories, because every morning I open the damned app I’m met with the picture of a bulldog doing something alternately ridiculous or endearing. Jorah has done quite a lot in the last six months to patch up the sucking chest wound Winston left behind, but those pictures every morning still catch me directly in the feels. Despite the myriad of issues, vet bills, and costs, I don’t think I’ll ever really get to a place where I don’t miss such a good dog.

In support of natural consequences…

October 1st in Maryland is notable for really only one reason I can think of – a shit ton of new laws come into effect on this day every year. 2019 is no exception. As usual, there’s at least one of these new laws that leaves me baffled and vaguely annoyed.

Starting today here in the great State of Maryland, you have to be 21 years old to buy cigarettes. That’s fine. I suppose if you’re going to have an age limitation you have to set it somewhere, but let’s not pretend that setting it at 21 is anything other than arbitrary.

So, you’ve got to be 21 buy your pack of Marlboro’s or enjoy a cold beer. You can start working at age 14 (with a permit). You can get a driver’s license (provisional) at 16 years and six months of age. The state’s age of sexual consent is 16. You must be 18 to rent a hotel room for the night and 21 years old to rent a car.

At 18 a person is legally considered an adult. They’ve had 12 years of education made available to them. If the individual in question happens to be male, they’re eligible to be drafted into military service. It’s the age when we’ve collectively decided people are legally responsible for their own actions. It’s also the age we’ve decided that people are smart enough to begin voting.

Fundamentally I believe the question is whether we believe an 18 year old is an adult, capable of making responsible decisions, or do we not. As the age for “rites of passage” in our society slowly marches later and later into life, perhaps we should re-evaluate the definition of adulthood altogether since 18 is clearly arbitrary and we seem to be determined to surround the little darlings in bubble wrap, except when it’s time to decide who to fuck or whether they get to go to Southeast Asia to fight Mr. Nixon’s war. At exactly the time when we appear determined to defer adulthood well into people’s 20s, there’s a nascent move to lower the age of majority in order to allow even younger people to vote.

I find it the height of hypocrisy to believe an 18 year old (or someone younger) should be entrusted with the most valuable jewel of citizenship, yet also allowed to extend their childhood in almost every other meaningful way indefinitely into the future. People are either an adult, with the accompanying rights and responsibilities, or they’re not.

Creating a system in which people are adults for some purposes but not for others feels like creating an increasingly fractured and nonsensical universe out of something that really just shouldn’t be that damned complicated. Some people make shitty decisions whether their 18 or 58. Removing the natural consequences of those decisions isn’t doing any of us a favor.

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.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Home security. I’ve made a point to have an alarm system in ever house I’ve ever owned. Over the years and moving from house to house the systems have become progressively more complex, evolving from a few simple sensors towards something that’s constantly monitoring and able to show me the health and safety of the homestead in real time. In all my years of using a home security system, though, the only thing it’s ever actually alerted me to was various problems with the security system itself. It’s probably a good problem to have and I’m certainly glad it’s not constantly alerting me to real world problems at home… but I could have done with a little less time spent running diagnostics and troubleshooting earlier this week.

3. Better late than never. Ten minutes before 3PM, the powers that be expressed their concern about the weather and sent everyone home “two hours early.” That’s a fine gesture, of course, except that I would have had to travel back in time to take advantage of this generous offer. On my own authority I dumped in a leave request and departed the area at 2:30. It’s a safe bet to assume that I value my own neck a hell of a lot more than any of the aforementioned powers do anyway. My commute home took twice the normal amount of time and would have easily taken 3x as long had I waited around for others to make a decision and found 20,000 other people all trying to make a break for it at the same time. Thanks to the vagaries of the federal personnel system, though, even though I only took 90 minutes of leave and the powers subsequently approved a blanket 2 hours, I’m still out the 90 minutes I asked for because it was on file before the blanket leave was approved. Maybe it’s an even trade since I’m not stuck sitting on the road somewhere between here and there. Still, it’s just a helpful reminder that Uncle doesn’t put much of a premium on free thinking despite whatever lip service may be paid doing an “individual risk assessment.” That said, I regret nothing and will always use my own best judgement where issues of life, health, and safety are concerned – even if that means putting my money or my leave balance where my mouth is. It would just be nice if we didn’t play the same stupid game and win the same stupid prizes every single year.

4. Florida. I’ve mentioned the Sunshine State once already this week, but they can’t seem to keep themselves out of the news. I just find it mind boggling that all these years after the contested 2000 election any county in Florida has this much trouble counting little pieces of paper even when given the benefit of large and powerful electronic tools to do so. Surely if we line up enough Floridians they can account for enough fingers and toes to do the damned math, right?

Eight hours under gag…

As an employee of the Executive branch, I’m covered by what’s commonly known as the Hatch Act of 1939, otherwise known as An Act to Prevent Pernicious Political Activities, or Public Law 76-252. The intent of the Hatch Act is fairly straightforward, even if the means and methods by which it is enforced are somewhat murky. The act, essentially, says that as a federal employee, I cannot seek election to a partisan office for the duration of my employment and more importantly that I can’t use my official position or government time and equipment for purposes of campaigning, fundraising, promoting, or engaging in political activity while I’m “on the clock.”

Old Man Hatch had a pretty good idea about establishing and keeping the core of the civil service reasonably non-partisan as we transact the day to day business of government. Personally, I’ve I’ve never seen an employee willfully undermining the executive branch while on the clock in my tenure serving under both Republicans and Democrats, but I don’t know if that’s because of the Hatch Act or because we started killing off the spoils system in 1883 with the Pendelton Act. Of course how “non-partisan” the bureaucracy is when it comes to which parties and candidates it supports in our spare time is wide open for debate.

The Office of Special Counsel, supreme adjudicator of all things Hatch Act, has a number of laundry lists filled with what various types of executive branch employee may or may not do. What most of them boil down to is “don’t advocate for a particular candidate or party on government time.” It seems like a reasonable rule. It’s why you find me posting at all during the typical weekday it’s a funny, funny meme or a news article. I try very hard to live within Hatch’s spirit and intent as well as within its letter.

I do, however, want the record to show that being Hatched makes sitting quietly on social media on days like today a monumental exercise in self restraint. Something for which I don’t think we get nearly enough credit every other November.

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.