Towards a new federalism…

Change is coming. It’s so palpable that if you’re not too fried by the endless stream of immediate and pressing news you can almost feel it. In the long history of this republic, huge, sweeping change has never come in the good times. There’s no incentive towards structural change when the good times roll.

Over the last hundred years, the biggest changes in this country occurred following economic catastrophe and war, specifically the Great Depression and World War II. It’s probably too easy to assume that once we come out on the other side of the Great Plague we’re likely to see considerable changes coming to how healthcare is delivered and a host of changes surrounding the financial sector – strengthening unemployment insurance (and associated processing systems) at a minimum. Some of the changes will inevitably be of such scope and scale that 30 days ago they’d have been laughed out of the room rather than rushed through implementation. What would have seemed radical under the old version of normal could fairly easily become the new normal of the near future.

Those changes are coming – and no politician who’s interested in reelection will dare to stand against many of them.

Where the social compact that undergirds the republic regularly changes over time, the bigger change I suspect we may see is an unprecedented whipsaw in how we view the “federal” aspect of our federal republic. Since the Civil War, the government in Washington has increasingly centralized the powers of government. The pendulum swung so far that direction that some even argued that we had evolved beyond the need for states; Perhaps that we would best be governed in super-state, regional arrangements. 

What we’ve seen on the last three weeks in New York, California, and my native Maryland (among others), is activist governors leading the response to a health emergency in the absence of clear guidance from the federal government. In some ways, they’re the governors who understand the basic theory of emergency management – Local response is supported by the state while the states draw resources from the federal government when their own resources are exhausted. In this case, though, the federal resources barely seemed to get off the ground and governors were left to coordinate between themselves and directly with industry in an effort to fill requirements – while shaming what resources they could out of the administration. 

I wonder if this isn’t the first step towards a new federalism – one that reverses some of the 160-year long aggregation of authority to officials along the banks of the Potomac. There’s plenty of examples of state governors getting their response to this thing exactly wrong, though, so management at the state level is no guarantee of better results. Still, there’s part of me that thinks anything that reduces the authority of the federal government outside the scope of its “core business,” the better off we’re likely to be in the long run. I’ve been confounded lately by the people who with one breath screech “Trump lies” and then with the next weep bitter tears that the president hasn’t issued a nation-wide order confining citizens to their homes. Personally, I get a little nervous when any president or chief executive – puts on the mantle of “emergency powers” only to be laid down again when he or she decides the crisis has passed. History tells me that rarely ends well. 

In any case, there are changes coming. I’m not smart enough to tell you exactly what they’re going to be… or where the law of unintended consequences is going to jump up and bight us in the collective ass.

The trouble with Washington’s Birthday…

Look, I’m as big a fan of federal holidays as anyone in the country. There’s a problem with Washington’s Birthday, though. Well, technically it’s not a problem with the day itself. It’s more of a problem with what comes after it… which is a long, monotonous, fifteen week slog through spring to the next officially recognized holiday.

Fifteen five day work weeks in a row. Hell might be other people, but that long stretch between holidays gives it a yearly run for its money as far as I’m concerned.

There’s nothing to be done about it, of course, except remember that I have a small mountain of annual leave I have to burn off before the end of the year that I can tap into if things get dire. I’ll do it if I have to, but those days never feel quite as good as the freebies.

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.

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.

Mixed emotions…

The Pope is coming to the District tomorrow. I saw the previous Pope in his natural habitat the last time I passed through ye olde Eternal City. It’s quite a spectacle. It’s hard to beat St. Peter’s as a backdrop and you can well imagine that a two thousand year old organization has mostly worked the kinks out of its pomp and protocol. Even for a mostly non-religious guy like me it’s something to see. My inner historian eats it up.

Seeing a Pope in Washington, though, strikes me as something akin to seeing a jelly doughnut in health food store. It’s still tasty and good, but it’s not quite right. Frankly I’m not sure I trust my countrymen, particularly the Members of Congress, to avoid making asses of themselves on the international stage. If there was ever a chance to ramp up your notoriety in the press, heckling the Pope from the 17th row of the House of Representatives would rank right up there.

As religious leaders go, I like Francis well enough. Clearly I don’t agree with all of his messaging and I find his political bent deeply suspect, but among world leaders he feels like a good man trying to do an insanely difficult job. I’ve got mixed emotions when it comes to this Pope. I’m probably more a John Paul II guy when it comes right down to it – Democracy good; Communism bad. Simple and to the point. I’m not so sure Francis would so much stand up to a Soviet Union as he would give them pointers on creating a more perfect socialist paradise.

Even if I disagree with the man on issues of faith and politics, I fervently hope we can at least manage to avoid embarrassing ourselves for 48 hours. It’s a big ask, so say a prayer, or cross your fingers, or do whatever it is your supposed to do to bring on a bit of good luck.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Boxes. I’ve moved five times in the last 15 years and I always, always grossly underestimate the number of boxes it’s going to take to get the job done. Sure, the planned upcoming move clocks in at just three miles on the nose, but that doesn’t mean I want to spend three weeks shuffling crap back and forth 20 boxes at a time. This is the operative definition of wanting to work out a one-and-done situation. I’d settle for two or three, but the heavy lifting is going to get done in one shot. In the meantime I guess I’ll have to live with the every growing mountain of cardboard that’s slowly taking root in each room.

2. ISIS. I think I’ve made it clear that I harbor no love for ISIS and those who adhere to it. I guess you can chalk the fact that they’re currently busy grinding historic artifacts that have survived thousands of years into powder because they’re “heretical” and go against the teachings of Islam as just another reason. Since these artifacts were created a few thousand years before anyone bothered to come up with the tenets of the Islamic faith, I guess they’d pretty much have to be. If setting people on fire and cutting off heads wasn’t enough of an indicator that we’re dealing with savages, the fact that they want to ignore every part of the vast sweep of human history that doesn’t agree with their crackpot view of the world is a pretty good sign that they shouldn’t be allowed to exist in the modern world.

3. Legalization. If the people of the District of Columbia want to legalize, regulate, and tax, marijuana I say God bless. Yes, I know, it’s a federal district granted limited home rule by the Congress, but just for the sake of argument I’m going to go out on a limb and say that the US Congress has more important things to do than legislate whether John Q. Pothead is entitled to smoke up. As long as we’re a nation that likes its cigarettes, beer, whisky, and prescription meds (and we’re ok making enormous amounts of money taxing those things), I’m not buying the argument that mary jane is a gateway to anything more dangerous than a late night snack.

Blood pressure…

The president will deliver the State of the Union address tomorrow night. Thanks to the 24-hour news cycle, we mostly know the broad strokes of what’s going to be in it – I’m sure it’s not nearly as suspenseful as waiting for a president to send his hand written evaluation up the Hill once a year, but asking the cable news channels to adhere to an endearing 18th century standard of practice is surely too much to ask.

That means tomorrow evening I have two choices. First, I could watch the speech live and make myself crazy ranting and raving at the television in real time and ensure I’m too aggravated to get anything close to a good night’s sleep. Option two involves ignoring the live broadcast and catching the meat of it in dribs and drabs over the next few days, which would lengthen the duration of annoyance but likely reduce the intensity of my expected opposition to nearly everything I expect to hear.

In any case, it’s a safe bet that my blood pressure will be off the rails for the next couple of days. Under the current circumstances it seems the best I can hope for is avoiding a heart attack, ulcer, or throwing the remote through the screen. That doesn’t say much for my evaluation of the current state of our Union.