What Annoys Jeff this Week?

Electronic License Plates. My beloved home state of Maryland is launching a program to test “electronic license plates.” I have no earthy idea why bits of stamped tin that have been good enough and dirt cheap to make for more than a century needs to be made electronic – and more expensive, and trackable, and more prone to being damaged and needing replaced. It can’t possibly be as a means to make some state service less expensive or the process to receive it less onerous because God knows that’s not how we do things in here in Maryland.

Sleeping separately. Over the last ten years you can count on maybe all your toes and fingers how many nights I haven’t slept in the midst of dogs – some in the bed, some in crates, some loose on the floor, but always close enough to hear every snore and snort. With Maggie’s second accident in as many nights, though, I banished both dogs to the laundry room and their crates in wee small hours of the morning. They didn’t like it. I didn’t like it. I’m fairly sure the cat was fine with the arrangement, though. At least for the time being, this will have to be the new order of things. The alternative is planning to scrub the bedroom floor every night between 2 and 5 AM, which feels like a complete nonstarter for any number of reasons. Since we don’t have a definitive diagnosis yet there’s no way of telling if this is the short term fix or the long. In either case, it’s annoying and displeases me greatly.

Landlording. I bought a condo back in about 2001, fresh into my first professional job and figuring I’d be there for the long haul. Two years later, I was pulling up stakes for greener pastures and I’ve been renting the place out ever since. I’ve never been at risk of retiring off the rents received – once the property manager and inevitable repairs are paid for, it’s a break even proposition most of the time. I got a call this week that my property manager was winding down his business and I think that means it’s probably time for me to settle up, take back a little bit of equity, and finally let the condo go. There’s no one thing that’s really getting me out of the landlording business, but the steady drumbeat of needing to find new tenants, make repairs, replace appliances, and now the prospect of needing to learn to work with the quirks of a completely different management company are all combining to tell me it’s time to accept that the capital gains tax isn’t going to get any lower and move on.

On a future without the car…

I read an article today that prognosticated the death of personally owned vehicles and the internal combustion engine within the next 20 years. It made many fine points projecting how much safer, more convenient, less expensive, and environmentally conscience eliminating the traditional family car would be. We could all hail them like an Uber, let them drive us to our destination while sleeping or fidgeting with our spinner, and paying a “nominal tax” for the maintenance and upkeep of this new and exciting public service.

It’s an interesting concept, to be sure. Then, of course I look at how well we’ve managed to maintain the current generation of public infrastructure and wonder what madman would willingly give up his clean and well maintained personal vehicle in perpetuity for the joys of the sights, smells, and sounds of public transportation in automobile-sized formats? I’m thinking of the guys I’ve seen taking a leak on the DC Metro and the noxious mix of whatever it is that makes taxi floors so disgustingly odoriferous. Add in the part that one of these marvelous transportation pods might not be available when and where you need one, and it sounds like a real winner of a plan to me.

Look, maybe it’s the kind of thing that would make some flavor sense for someone living in a dense urban environment or those consciously deciding to forgo privately owning a vehicle – a group that already seems largely served by things like trains, buses, taxis, and ride sharing schemes. For those of us who made the conscious decision to live in a rural part of the country, I have no idea how something like this makes sense. The density of pods needed just to get people in my rural county to and from work would seem to be prohibitive at first blush. Then add in the times you need to have something like a pickup truck to haul trash, or furniture, or firewood, or just to make a trip to the garden center and the plan frays even further around the edges. Are there going to be special freight pods that come with even less unit density than the normal passenger pods and how much inconvenience are people as a group going to tolerate to make this concept work?

It’s an interesting notion, but for the foreseeable future is going to be a hard no from me. I like knowing I have a machine only a few feet away that I can climb into and, with a reasonable amount of maintenance and upkeep, transport myself anywhere on the continent at the time and route of my own choosing. I have no intention of giving that up that level of freedom and convenience to feed someone’s nightmare hellscape dream of a “future without cars.”

Fight like hell…

In an interview with CBS yesterday, Donald Trump’s comment that “I fight like hell to pay as little as possible” when it comes to taxes has apparently stunned the internet.

Uhhh… Really?

I’d have been alarmed and suspicious if he said he loved writing million dollar checks to the IRS, or that he paid more than he had to, or that he thought Government was a bastion of effective and efficient financial management. Am I supposed to hate a guy who says he doesn’t like paying taxes and uses the avenues available to him to decrease his yearly tax liability?

While the scope and scale is decidedly different, I do the same thing. I’d have to be a certified lunatic to hand back the savings from mortgage deductions, property depreciation, charitable donations, and tax deferral mechanisms… and because I’m not a tax or accounting expert, I pay a guy to find those savings for me and make sure I’m within the bounds of the law. If you’re filing anything more complicated than the 1040EZ, you’d be a fool not to at least consider some expert advice. Bashing a guy, especially one in business, because he employees lawyers and accountants just makes you sound like a moron.

But, but “Taxes are the price we pay for civilization” and everyone needs to pay their fair share. Sure. That’s fine. I like civilization and I’m absolutely open to a discussion of what it means for everyone to pay a “fair share.” But that dialog needs to start by accepting that having half the population whose cut of the fair share is $0.00 is patently ridiculous.

The internet, HuffPo, WaPo, and a host of other outlets may find his statement outrageous, but damned if his stock didn’t go up a few points in my book.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Unintended consequences. I read an article this week decrying the fact that so many fuel efficient cars on the road are causing the federal highway trust fund to go broke. All I could do is sit back and wonder if this is something that should have come as a surprise to anyone when they were laying on tax incentives and pushing people towards higher efficiency standards and cute matchbox car looking vehicles. Less fuel used, but definition will lead to lower revenue if all else is held equal. Now of course the writers of this article lead that into the discussion of whether we should raise the national gas tax or lay an entirely new tax based on miles driven or some other calculus. I noted with much annoyance that prioritizing funds and making due with what’s available, leaning out the highway construction and repair process, or privatizing antiquated infrastructure weren’t even part of the discussion. It troubles me to no end that a goodly proportion of people in this country only ever look at the revenue (and how to increase it) side of the equation rather than first looking at how we reduce costs and gain efficiencies using what should be a massive economy of scale that Uncle could generate if he were spending judiciously rather than just chasing the next dollar. If they didn’t think the problem past the “fuel efficiency is good” phase, why on earth should anyone trust them with even more money?

2. Being wrong. Remember back six months ago when I was complaining about the polar vortex? I have a confession to make. I think I may have gotten that one wrong, because quite frankly putting on another layer felt way better than reaching the point where modesty, social convention, and the county sheriff say you can’t take any more layers off. But don’t worry, wait six months and you can be sure I’ll be right back to complaining about being frozen right down to the bones. Wash, rinse, and repeat as needed.

3. The “working lunch.” There’s no such thing. Either I’m working or I’m at lunch. They are, in my mind, mutually exclusive activities that have no business occurring simultaneously. Lunch, for purposes of this discussion is defined as a 30-minute period of not work dividing the four morning hours of work and four afternoon hours of work during a standard business day. Dragooning everyone in the office into a conference room, “asking” them to bring food, and then talking about “work stuff” for an hour is a thinly disguised meeting. The only reason it has a passing resemblance to lunch is that there happened to be food in the room while it happened. As for me, I need my 30 minute break in the middle of the day to help prevent my brain from melting and leaking out my ears. I think we can all agree that’s something we should all try to avoid if we can.

Taxation (with representation)…

The sales flyers and ads on TV will tell you that today is Presidents Day. Title 5 of the United States Code, subsection 5103(a) defines it as Washington’s Birthday, and for my purposes, Washington’s Birthday is what I’m going with… Mostly because he was field commander who led the nation-in-waiting in a bloody war of independence at least in part over taxation without due representation. Despite his heroics, George Washington goes into the modern history books simply as a southern aristocrat. Most people don’t know much more about him than he owned slaves and may have been president at some point. That’s a shame, because Washington was basically America’s first badass action hero. He could have been king, but he laid down his sword and went home. What kind of ridiculous self control does it take to say no to a crown?

As usual, none of that is really the point. The point, dear friends, is that I’ll be spending a good chunk of Washington’s Birthday gathering my tax information and preparing to render unto Caesar. Washington’s war of liberation may have ensured that we’d have representation, but the taxation part is still completely out of hand.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Springing forward. For the last 100+ years, we have jiggered with the time in the spring and in the fall. Maybe that made sense when everyone was a farmer (and maybe it didn’t), but in the 21st century there’s really not much of a practical reason to spring forward or fall back since our activities are more or less standardized to the clock rather than to the relative position of the sun in the sky. I say ditch the time change nonsense. Pick one, stick with it, and move on. It’s just one small pain in the ass that we can all agree belongs in the 19th century?

2. Follow-through, or failure thereof. I’m a simple kind of guy in a lot of ways – like when I tell you that I’m going to do something. Excepting completely unforeseen and unavoidable circumstances, when I say it’s going to get done, it will be done on time and to standard. My frist mistake is probably expecting the same from other people. At a minimum it would be nice if they had the common decency to let a brother know they’re going to let him flap in the wind and look like a douche canoe. Really, how effing hard can it be to throw together some PowerPoint slides and send out an email? Apparently, it’s of a scope and scale that exceeds preparing for the Normandy invasion… I’m pretty sure those jokers got their slides on time.

3. Truth in advertising. The Dear Leader of our beloved People’s Republic of Maryland wants to raise the gas tax this year, except he wants to do it without calling it that. So instead of ending up with a proposed bill to raise the gas tax, we end up with a bill to reduce the gas tax this year and then supplement that reduction by phasing in a sales tax on gasoline over the next three years. Oh look, he’s reducing the gas tax! Sigh. I know most people are either dumb as a box of rocks or not paying attention, but if the Dear Leader wants to jam his hand even further into my pocket and take more money from my magical shrinking pay check, I wish he’d have the fortitude to stand up and at least call it a tax.

Emissions Inspection…

One of the things that apparently changed here in the great state of Maryland while I was gone is a requirement for a regular vehicle emissions test. Since I’ve never seen a smoggy day here in Cecil County, I’ll assume that little gem and its $14 fee is one of the governor’s non-tax taxes. I’m not even going to go into the general ridiculousness of needing to get an emissions test on a vehicle that passed the invasive state vehicle inspection less than a year ago and that’s only 2 years old with less than 40,000 miles on it to begin with. I’d honestly feel better about it if the MVA would just send me a letter saying send us $14 or we’re going to suspend your license. Admitting that the state wants money for nothing would at least be honest, but that’s probably too much to expect when it’s so easy to just give the illusion of doing something productive. According to the print out, I’m good now through August of 2014, or until they decide they need to look at some other pointless thing and bill me $20 for the privilege.