Seven months…

About a week ago, I surpassed the point where the total amount I’ve socked away towards my defined contribution retirement plan (think 401k) this year finally outstripped the amount of federal taxes I’ve paid over the same period of time. For seven full months of every year, there’s more deducted towards the maintenance and upkeep of the federal government than there is for my own maintenance and upkeep in old age. By the end of the year, I’ll have stashed away about $600 more in my 401k equivalent than will be deducted in federal income tax.

If you extend this mental exercise to include Social Security and Medicare, the numbers get even more egregious since the reasonable assumption is to expect the big-ticket entitlement programs to either see payouts reduced, be means tested, or go extinct between now and the time I’ll be eligible to tap them as a source of income / benefits. It takes an awfully big leap of faith for someone in my age bracket to think of either Social Security or Medicare as anything other than an additional tax drag for which we’ll never get back out what we put in.

Uncle Sugar knows his flagship entitlement program is running out of cash. Social Security was “saved” in the 80s using a combination of accounting gimmicks and changing the “terms of service.” It’ll have to be “saved” again sometime between now and 2035, when the most recent projections say it will no longer be able to pay out its full promised benefit. Coincidently that’s right about the time I’ll otherwise be eligible to walk out the door after a 33-year career, so I have more than a passing interest in what fuckery our alleged leaders will get up to in order to avoid grabbing the political third rail with both hands.

It seems to me that we have a system intentionally designed to encourage reliance on big government generosity rather than personal responsibility and savings. God knows I’d be in a far better position now if every nickel taxed away under the FICA withholding had been invested conservatively in a broad market index fund rather than converted into a Ponzi-esque promissory note. Encouraging people to invest their own money responsibly, though, doesn’t keep them beholden to Uncle for doling out a meager old age pension. It’s easier to tax their income at the state and federal level, tack on a bunch of various “withholdings,” and make it incredibly challenging to carve out enough income over and above day-to-day bills to generate a credible, independent nest egg. It’s a sure way to guarantee people will scream bloody murder if they’re told their entitlements are in danger.

However it’s “fixed” in the future, I operate from the assumption that none of the changes will be to my benefit no matter how much cash I’ve poured into the machine over my working life. Like most games, this one is rigged in favor of the house and at this point, I just take it as a given that the money taxed away is lost and gone forever. The only advice I’ve found that feels applicable is to shelter what you can, stash as much as you can of what you can’t shelter, and accept that in all likelihood you’re going to need to self-finance your last act. It’s annoying as all hell, but once I accepted it as reality, it got a whole lot easier to plan for that particular future instead of just being pissed off… but rest assured it’s going to chap my ass every single time I see a pay stub and the reminder what’s going where and how deeply the political class have their hands in our collective pocket.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. “Don’t Say Gay” Bill. Ah, Florida. How is it not surprising that it’s Florida? Let me be blunt here: Some guys like dick. Some girls don’t. Pretending that simple fact goes away because legislation prevents people from mentioning it is ludicrous. Not “agreeing” with someone else’s lifestyle isn’t sufficient reason for the state to censor them. Your flavor of religion calling something sin isn’t sufficient reason for the state to censor them. Getting up in your feelings because someone says words that make you sad isn’t sufficient reason for the state to censor them. I wish to hell these right-wing snowflakes would try reading the Constitution instead of just wrapping themselves up in it like day old fish. 

2. Intellectual inconsistency. A year ago, there was a group Black Lives Matter activists who, on several occasions, blocked up traffic in North East, Maryland. The local Facebook groups raged about them hindering commerce, being a danger to public safety, and generally being a pain in the ass to anyone just trying to get home from work while they filled the crosswalk. Now that same Facebook group is cheering wildly for the Canadian truckers blocking off whole interstates and downtowns. The truckers, of course, are heroic freedom fighters. Intellectual consistency is far too big an ask in our dumb 21st century. Personally, I think the worst way to convince people of the rightness of your cause is by making a general nuisance of yourself. It’s a stupid way of trying to win over people who largely don’t give a single shit about what you want them to care about. It doesn’t make a bit of difference to me if you’re BLM, a bunch of Canadian truck drivers, or the inevitable Americans who decide we need our own road closing protests. If I had my way, we’d read out the Riot Act and clear the rabble so the rest of us could continue on with our business. On that position, I’m absolutely consistent.

3. Taxes. I’m beginning to assemble the sea of paperwork required each year to file my taxes. The sheer complexity of it, even while filing single, is probably more rage inducing than annoying if I’m honest. This is just the grievance before I even find out the total butcher’s bill for 2021. I’m not one of the oddball “taxation is theft” types. I like living in a country whose military has more bits and bobs than the next ten countries on the list… combined. For now, it’s just the fact that I have 20 or more bits of paper (with more yet to come in), that all need to be coordinated before I can even send the whole mess off to the guy who actually understands how it’s all supposed to fit together and save me from handing over one more thin dime than is legally required.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. I missed out on the mortgage and rent relief in 2008 and 2020 because I pay my bills and don’t over extend my line of credit. I missed out on stimulus because I spent a decade from age 23-33 moving around the country following jobs that increased my take home pay. I missed Maryland’s vaccine incentive lottery because I got my jab from the first available source – directly from the feds. Now, the Biden Administration wants to give a fresh new hundred-dollar bill to any of the holdouts that show up to get their shot. My question is: At what point, if ever, will doing the right things and making good decisions be specially rewarded? I only ask because the underlying message I’m seeing pretty consistently is “You’ve made good choices and done the right stuff… so sit down, shut the fuck up, and cheerfully fork over those tax dollars so we can pay out and reward people that didn’t.”

2. Personal liberty. I’m a big believer in personal liberty. My position is often best explained in the notion that my rights are inviolate right up to the point where they violate the rights of someone else. Put more colloquially, my right to swing my fist ends at the tip of your nose. I suppose that’s why I’m confused by so many Republicans and Libertarians who are intent on decrying vaccinations, particularly mandated vaccination, as some kind of violation of their personal liberty. My understanding, and I’m quite sure the logic of the Constitution will bear me out on this, is that we have no protected individual right to spread communicable disease while there is a compelling government interest in reducing the spread of an illness that has proven to be a clear and present threat to public health, the overall economy, and body politic at large. To argue that we do have such a right makes you sound like a goddamned idiot.

3. The World Health Organization. The WHO has decided that America shouldn’t even consider giving anyone COVID-19 booster shots; demanding instead that all doses be funneled out of the country. I don’t mean to put too fine a point on this, but since the WHO dropped the ball back in the early days of the Great Plague by not demanding full disclosure from Communist China, I don’t feel like we need to put all that much stock in what the choose to demand now. Americans are a generous people for the most part. We’re exporting hundreds of millions of doses of the various vaccines – every one of which the American taxpayer footed the bill to research, develop, and produce. We rented the hall and engaged the band, so I have no earthly idea what gives the people from the WHO the absolute stones to think they should be calling the tunes.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Pennsylvania roads. With a tax base that includes two of America’s biggest cities and metric shit tons of New York City commuters, I’m never entirely sure why the roads throughout the commonwealth are so utterly appalling. Maryland is a tax happy, liberal paradise, and as annoying as the endless road work throughout the state is, at least the worst of the pot holes get filled. I mean a bit of decent infrastructure feels like the minimum one should expect from a state government with their hands so deeply into everyone’s pocket… but not Pennsylvania, though. They seem determined to let even their biggest highways turn back into dirt tracks and cow paths.

2. Bait and switch. You lured us into accepting a meeting request with promises that “lunch will be provided,” but suddenly the day of the meeting it ends up moving to 9 AM and there is no food. In any other context that’s plainly a bait and switch tactic and illegal in many contexts. I’m not saying you should never trust management, but a bit of good, healthy skepticism is always in order.

3. In recognition of a newly annointed federal holiday scheduled for tomorrow and noting the 14 working days that the creation of this lawful public holiday slashes from the number of days I’ll be in the office during the balance of my career, there is no third thing that annoys me this week.

Cartoon villains…

If I had any standing left as it is with the Republican Party, I’m sure I’d lose it when I confirm for you that despite my disagreement with him on many policies, I don’t hate his living guts. That, of course, doesn’t mean that I’m in any way looking forward to listening to him address a joint session of Congress later tonight.

In part it’s because I just can’t imagine anything like break news happening during a tightly scripted prime time speech. I’m also not sure I have it in me to sit through another lengthy diatribe against anyone in the country who has the audacity to have more than $37 in their pocket.

Sorry, I’m just not going to be the huckleberry who buys into the notion that class warfare is the solution to any problem beyond the abject jealousy some people feel for those who have more money. At this stage of the game it doesn’t seem likely that I’ll ever break into that currently demonized group of “households earning more than $400,000 a year,” though I know a fair number of people who are… and I don’t see any reason why I should support Uncle Sam jamming his hand further into their pockets than I would my own.

Elections, as they say, have consequences. There’s nothing to say that I have to be happy with them. As long as this old body of mine is sucking air, I’ll be on the side of keeping as great a portion of every dollar I earn as possible – and I’ll extend that same courtesy to everyone else… even if the Biden administration wants me to think of those “others” as cartoon villains with top hats and monocles.

What Annoys Jeff This Week?

1. Tucker Carlson. Tucker staked out a patently absurd position on his Fox evening entertainment program last week. I know, I know. I should be more specific because most of his positions come across somewhere on the absurdity spectrum. I know it was absurd because some of the most serious thinkers in DoD responded more or less instantly to rebut Tucker’s asshattery. They’re not generally people who feel compelled to stake out public positions, except in this case, ol’ Tuck decided to opine about things that are, by definition, these particular leader’s area of expertise. No one “attacked” Tucker. They simply had the audacity to tell him that he’s a moron and explain why that’s the case. No one violated the damned Hatch Act. Having a professional opinion doesn’t undermine civilian control of the military. Differing opinions are only dangerous when you’re so thin skinned or your position is so badly placed that you can’t defend it rationally. In this case, it seems Tuck and his supporters fall into both categories. As usual, the “leading lights” of right wing kook media have left me embarrassed to be an actual, practicing conservative.

2. Higher taxes. They say Joe is working on a new tax bill and it’s likely to be the largest tax increase since 1993. I see lots of people saying they don’t mind paying more taxes. Good on them. With or without a higher tax rate imposed by the government, they’re free to send as big a check as they want over to the treasury. They can do that. No one would stop them. But it seems what people mean when they say they don’t mind paying more tax is they don’t mind so you should pay more too. “But,” they’ll argue, “it only applies to people who make more than $400,000 a year – the ‘absurdly rich.’” Right, I think, because every tax that ever was started out as a tax on “just the wealthy” until our political machine needed a few more dollars over time and the “absurdly wealthy” became most every working sucker in the country. So, please, write as big a check to Uncle as you’d like. Feel free to give of your own income until it hurts. That’s your right and privilege. I’ll be over here fighting tooth and nail to keep every penny I’ve earned and distribute it how I see fit.

3. I spent today doing exactly the same things that I did yesterday. I answered emails, entered information in a fancy database, and generally moved electrons around from Point A to Point B as needed. The only difference between today and yesterday was where I was physically sitting when I did those things. Yesterday I was parked in the sun room with two dogs snoring in the background and today I was in my designated cube with seven or eight conversations humming in the background. Plus, today added an extra 80 minutes to the day since I had to drive to my cube and back to do exactly the same things I did yesterday from the comfort of my home office. “But we need to have a presence in the building,” is the most patently farcical reason I can think of to justify the construction, maintenance, and daily running cost associated with a modern office building. The argument against remote working forever is effectively that we need to have people in a special geographic spot because we happen to have a special geographic spot. As far as I can tell it has absolutely nothing to do with productivity or whether the work in any way depends on unique geographic positioning.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Historical context. Despite having featured prominently in an Obama Administration read across America event in 2015, Dr. Seuss is now, apparently, the author of racist content. The guy was born in 1904 and did his most prominent work in the mid 20th century. Expecting that his writing would reflect whatever ultra-woke orthodoxy is in vogue here in the 21st century is patently ridiculous. If we’re going to judge every writer who ever put ink on paper by modern standards, the allowed reading list is going to be awfully restricted. If your goal is to only allow approved, untroublesome content that supports your philosophical notion of how the world ought to be on your shelves, I suppose it’s a good position to stake out. Personally, I’ll go ahead and keep a wider range of books on my shelves. Then again, I’m not the kind of guy who’s afraid of a little historical context seeping in around the margins. Being shocked that people are products of their times and don’t exist in accordance with contemporary beliefs would be adorable if it weren’t so incredibly dumb.

2. The US House of Representatives. The House is closed for business today because of the threat of a follow-on insurrectionist attack. That sends exactly the wrong message. It speaks to fear and intimidation – that the rebels of January 6th were at least partially successful. Holding up the business of the republic out of fear of common rabble is nothing more than a missed opportunity. Better keep on, draw them near, and then crush them utterly. 

3. Taxes. I got my prepared tax return back from the accountant’s office this week. Seeing the gory details all there in black and white is just about enough to make me gag. As my favorite for instance, in 2017 the top 50% of income earners in this country paid 96.9% of all income taxes (with the evil 1% paying 38.5% of all income taxes collected). We’re not just taxed on income, of course. Individuals also face payroll tax, capital gains tax, property tax, a whole universe of excise taxes, and more. You’ll never convince me that the problem is that we’re not being taxed enough in this country. We’ve got a veritable orgy of spending that’s been getting worse regardless of what party holds the whip hand, but as long as votes can be bought with dollars from the treasury, I can’t imagine ever getting it under anything approaching control.  

Tax stuff…

Presidents Day is more than just a federal holiday. Historically it’s the day I sit down and pull all my “tax stuff” together so it can be sent off to my friendly semi-local accountant. Yeah, I know, I’m not in any way a creature of habit.

Put another way, Presidents Day is my own personal day of rage as I start getting a sense of just how much of the last year I spent working just to avoid being thrown into state or federal prison for non-compliance with an extortion racket backed by the full force of government. 

Then I start to ponder the fact that the national debt will crash through $28,000,000,000,000 in short order… and realize that it would take more than 1.5x the current Gross Domestic Product to pay off our current dept.  I have no idea how that level of debt is sustainable over the long term, unless, of course, we adopt some wildly confiscatory tax scheme. That comes with its own inevitable pitfalls too. 

I’ve heard it said that “taxes are the price we pay for civilization,” but as I’m sitting here looking at sheets full of numbers, I can’t help but wonder how much longer we can reasonably expect the government to carry the full freight of those costs. Given the profound ineptitude of our elected officials, I’m even more incredulous about why we’d even want them involved in all the nooks and crevices where they’re currently spending our tax dollars.

According to some random website, 71% of people surveyed currently disapprove of how Congress is going its job. Allowing an organization that more than 2/3 of the country believes is doing the wrong thing to walk around with an open checkbook and cheering while they spend feels like the height of absurdity. 

I’m a sucker…

I looked in on the news this morning. We’re apparently having a national fist fight about paying for the Department of Defense and sending out bigger and better stimulus checks. 

This is where my old fashioned small government, fiscally conservative roots will undoubtedly show. 

Having lived as a very small cog in the vast machinery of the Department for the best part of two decades now, I can tell you that it is vastly over funded in order to account for the unimaginable sums that are pissed away on pet projects, systems that don’t work, or things that have absolutely nothing to do with maintaining or improving the national defense. I’d cut the budget with an ax if someone made me king for the day… but since we don’t have time for that, just override our goofy-assed president’s veto of the National Defense Authorization Act and move on. 

Next up, we want to chuck another $500 billion onto the $900 billion second round stimulus that’s already been approved. Sure, the cause of giving “everyone” another $1400 is a feel-good story, but holy hell. I know that no normal person really grasps just how big a number a billion is, but sweet little baby Jesus, that’s a shit ton of real money that we have to borrow from somewhere (or call into being from thin air) when we’re already $25 trillion in debt. At some point, even good (or feel-good) ideas become unaffordable, right? Right.

In the last decade, we’ve bailed out everyone – banks, home owners, the auto industry, renters, big business, small business, state and local governments. Soon enough they’ll tell us that we have to throw billions more at anyone with a student loan. We have to save everyone and everything from every possible negative consequences and to hell with the price.

I’m the dumbass who took tens of thousands of dollars to the closing table so the sale would go through when his house was underwater. I lacked the foresight to just make minimum payments on my student loans forever in hopes that someone else would just pick up the tab. The tax man didn’t even have the courtesy to send me a picture of whose $3200 stimulus I’m carrying the freight on since momentarily being “rich” after selling the condo last year disqualified me from getting my own cash back. Sally Struthers use to do that if you sponsored a child for “less than the price of a cup of coffee a day.” Getting the same treatment from Uncle doesn’t feel like too big an ask.

So yeah, I’m apparently one of those suckers born every minute. At least that’s something I know now. 

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Expectations. Facebook is filled with people who can’t wait for this year to be over. As if they expect someone to wave a magic wand and January 1, 2021 will magically recreate the world as it was in December 2019 – The before time.  2020 wasn’t great for most people. I get it.  Will 2021 be better? Maybe. Maybe not. It will simply be different. Spending weeks and months believing it’s going to be the pinnacle of good times, or even in any significant way different than today feels, in a word, delusional.

2. Republicans. Every idiot coming out of the woodwork to cry “fake news” or “stolen election” is systematically working to suppress the number of Republicans who come out to vote in the Georgia special election for two open Senate seats. If you’re a Republican and not laser focused on holding a firewall in the Senate, you’re letting your teenaged girl-like infatuation with one person get in the way of seeing the whole board. You can stan Donald Trump as much as you want, but he lost. Period. We’ve got a chance to save the Senate and through that body temper the more extreme legislation being pushed from the extreme left wing of the Democratic Party. If you’d rather litigate history than get suited up for that fight, honestly, I have no idea what you’re doing here other than wasting your damned time.

3. Pay freeze. I see that the White House has joined the Senate in calling for an FY21 pay freeze for federal employees. Trump, Obama, Republican, Democrat. Party doesn’t matter as they’re both happy to implement pay freezes during their tenures in office. In a year that saw a $2.2 trillion COVID-19 bailout and individual cash payments of up to $1,200 per person (if you didn’t have the audacity to sell a property in 2019 and be ranked in the 1% for the 15 minutes between closing the sale and paying off the mortgage), pleading governmental poverty feels like a stretch… especially when the original proposal called for an already austere 1% increase and the federal government (despite the virus) is on track to receive a near-record amount of tax payments.