What Annoys Jeff This Week?

1. Grass seed. One of the inevitable spring and fall tasks here, thanks to the resident dogs, is regularly reseeding the back yard to patch up half a year of wear and tear. Everyone likes to pretend we’re oh so advanced sitting here in the 21st century. If we’re so damned advanced here in the future, why is it I still have to wait between 14-21 days to find out if I’ve grown grass or just created a deeper mud pit?

2. The Biden “infrastructure” plan. Mentioning a few roads and bridges in a bill doesn’t make it a bill about infrastructure… especially when those features account for a minority of the overall appropriation. What the president has really given us is the first of two absurdly large revenue bills – a plan not so much about infrastructure as about jamming the federal government as deeply as possible into all manner of economic areas… and, of course, finding new streams of revenue to feed its insatiable maw. There are already hints that the administration will back off their promise that no one making under $400,000 a year in taxable income will see a penny of new federal taxes due. But, I suppose, telling people up front that in your first 60 days in office you’ll be proposing a massive bill to raise taxes isn’t really something advised by the successful politician’s handbook. So, call it an infrastructure plan, of course, because everyone likes infrastructure. Call it French toast if you must, but you and I will both know it’s a tax by any other name… and this administration’s hunger for more tax dollars is just getting warmed up.

3. Anticipation. This Friday is going to be the first day I’ve taken off since the glorious two-week weekend stretching across Christmas and New Year’s. Thanks to various federal holidays it won’t be the first long weekend of the year, but it feels like the first one in months… which it is. With every hour that ticks by, it’s in increasing distraction to even thinking about getting productive work done… and though I’ve got no defined plans, the anticipation is absolutely killing me. 

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. The MVA. Maryland’s Motor Vehicle Administration keeps spamming me with notices that I’m “almost” due for my next emissions inspection. Look, I already consider the emissions check an unqualified inconvenience and a blatant grab for an extra $14 a year in taxes disguised as service fees. If there were something really wrong with my four-year-old vehicle, it’s a fair bet that the onboard computer would know about it and fire up an idiot light long before I’m due for a helpful state mandated inspection. Also, it’s just a little bit hinky that they cancelled my original due date eight months ago due to COVID, but now, when cases are significantly higher, it’s suddenly ok to trundle on over to my local inspection station. If the message is stay home, minimize trips outside your home when possible, but then making it mandatory to go do something as completely useless as an emission inspection under penalty of government sanction for non-compliance, it feels just a little bit intellectually disingenuous.

2. Executive Orders. Executive Orders, even ones that direct the federal bureaucracy to do things you don’t like, are not prima facie evidence of “tyranny.” The Congress remains free to craft legislation that would circumscribe or override an Executive Order, essentially rendering it moot. The courts are likewise free to rule against Executive Orders, thereby enjoining the Executive Branch and bureaucracy from enforcing them. Unless you’re going on to specify which one of your constitutional rights a particular Executive Order violates, maybe replace “tyranny,” with “doing stuff I don’t like.” It lets you express an opinion without sounding like an idiot. 

3. Kevin McCarthy. The House Minority Leader is schlepping to Florida to have a meeting with a former president who a) Lost the White House; b) Cost his party the majority in the Senate in 2020; c) Cost his party the majority in the House in 2018; and d) Incited a seditious insurrection against the United States. I’m trying hard to imagine another circumstance in the long history of our republic where a sitting member of a party’s congressional leadership team was so quick to seek out the advice and blessing of a recently defeated candidate for president – especially one that in his final days in office worked so hard to sunder both his country and his political party. I never imagined I’d miss the good old days when you hid your failed candidates away like the drunken uncle at Christmas dinner, but here we are. 

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Assessments. I made the mistake of opening my property tax assessment on Sunday morning. I was having a perfectly nice day up until that point. Look, I mean it’s great that the county thinks I’ve picked up that much equity over the last three years, but that in no way means I’m happy about throwing more money to the Cecil County executive and council to piss away buying up even more land for regional parks that seem to be accessioned specifically to provide a place for people to go overdose. 

2. The new normal. I’m looking forward to getting started on the Biden presidency and the conclusion of the Trump impeachment trial. I, for one, am sick and tired of finding myself siding with things members of the Democratic Party are saying and look forward to getting back to opposing 60-70 % of their policy agenda. I’m tired of living in a world turned upside down.

3. Stats. If this week has taught me anything, it’s that my blog readers either a) don’t want to read about insurrection, politics, and all that or b) the zone is so flooded with posts that things aren’t getting through. Views are more than 50% off where I’d expect them to be in a normal week. This, of course, has been anything but a normal week. I’m going to keep doing what I do, even if it’s just me shouting into the void.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. New and improved. Last week the powers that be implemented a new procedure that was aimed at speeding up the time it takes to get people through the front gate. As far as I can tell all it’s succeeded at doing is creating a cluster fuck of the traffic pattern and made the wait time even longer. Forty years of experience tells me that “new and improved” rarely is… and mostly exists because someone needed a big box checked off on their annual performance appraisal.

2. I’m not particularly chatty at the best of times. When I have Post It notes stacked up like cordwood and a ten page handwritten list of shit to do, I’m even less inclined to want to chat about, well, anything, really. Sorry if the blank look on my face while you’re talking to be about a radom sportsball team I have no interest in at the best of times seems rude, but I have a limited amount of bandwidth. I’d really like to use it to make sure as many of the bits of paper on my desk are on someone else’s desk before the close of business. Unless what you’re telling me is something that’s going to make my life easier, it’s best for both of us if you bugger directly off until I’ve dug out from under the clusterfuck of the day, week, or month.

3. Maryland E-Z Pass. Let’s forget for a moment that until recently tolls at roads and bridges in Maryland were sold to the public as something that would be dropped “as soon as the cost of construction was paid off.” E-Z Pass is one of the ways that many states, including Maryland, have offered up to make their ongoing extortion backed by the full authority and power of the government less obvious to the average citizen… and I only say less obvious because the other option is handing over a fistful of physical cash money every time you drive through a toll plaza. If the state is going to continue to extort money from its citizens for things that have been long paid for and depreciated, it feels like the least they could do is make sure the back office is keeping the books right and not generating a daily email threatening to cut off your account for having a low balance when a quick look at the customer facing website shows there is very clearly both money in the account and a valid credit card from which to siphon more money as needed.

On Taxes and why I won’t vote blue…

The good news is that I’ve now sold my condo and the proceeds have been deposited. The bad, but not unexpected, news is that thanks to the money grubbing politicians in DC and Annapolis, I get to keep a whopping 50% of the profit from the sale.

I’ll say this slowly for those whose response to every issue is “tax the rich:” Capital gains taxes are taxes on the middle class. They’re taxes on every man and woman who has used a little bit of their already taxes income to invest in their own future. 

If you want to know why I’m firmly in the #NeverVoteBlue camp, it’s the fact that they’re the party of more taxes even when government revenue is already at an all time high. It’s the fact that after 20 years of paying property tax, tax on rental income, and generally trying to look out for my own future, the state and federal revenue agents feel like they’re entitled to get another bite of the apple. It’s almost as if they’ve got beef with someone who’s trying to take care of their own future rather than accept a subsistence level life doled out monthly and overseen by political hacks.

Enough already. Unless you’re planning on giving me a handy, keep your damned thieving mitts out of my pockets.

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.