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.

What Annoys Jeff this week?

1. The US Postal Service. I probably shouldn’t say this out loud while my taxes are in transit, but they should have arrived at their destination by now. Emphasis on the “should have.” In any case, I’ve just received a Christmas card. It was postmarked on the 20-somethingth of December and delivered to me here on the homestead just in time for Valentine’s Day. Maybe I should award points for it getting here at all based on some of my other recent experiences. Increasingly the expectation that products and services should work as advertised feels like something that’s just too much to hope for.

2. Baltimore. One of the perennial joys of living in the State of Maryland is the unending shitshow that is Baltimore City. In a state with some of the most restrictive gun laws in the country, we somehow are home to one of the world’s largest live action shooting ranges. Year after year the legislature pours ever increasing amounts of money into the city, because surely that will fix all the problems. Let’s not get hung up on the fact that when asked, the city government generally doesn’t seem able to tell anyone where the money they’ve already been given went or what improvements were made as a result. For my entire adult life, Baltimore has been governed by increasingly feckless “leaders” whose sole purpose in life seems to be finding new and more ridiculous ways to convince Annapolis to give them mountains of cash. The city government either needs to get its house in order or the state should step in and get the city into line. Allowing it to continue to swallow prodigious amounts of tax dollars without showing even the most marginal of improvements feels downright criminal.

3. Mind reading. It’s worth repeating from time to time that mind reading is not among my many varied talents. If you tell me you want something, I’m going to proceed from the assumption that you know what you want. I’m going to do my best to give it to you – not some version of what you requested, not something with the flavor of your request, but the honest to God thing you asked for to the best of my abilities and within the time allotted. If it turns out what you end up with isn’t what you want, I can promise you that the issue is almost always with the description of the requirements, not with my being way out off the edge of the map somewhere.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Deficit spending. If reports are to be believed, in the first four months of FY 2020, the US government took in a single quarter record amount of tax dollars – some $1.18 Trillion. It also had record quarterly expenses of $1.57 Trillion. In the first four months of this fiscal year, the government ran a deficit of approximately $444 Billion. In a budget where millions of dollars are effectively rounding errors, I’m left to wonder if the problem isn’t so much that taxes are too low as it is that we collectively just spend too damned much money. Once upon a time there was a subset of Republicans called deficit hawks who raged against borrowing money to finance the operation of the government. They’re long gone, of course. No one in the elected levels of government has any interest in slowing down the gravy train. Having seen the inner workings of government, I find it absolutely laughable to think that in the last 90 days we’ve put $1.57 Trillion to its best and highest use. The percentage of it that’s been wasted would be staggering to behold if anyone was able to do the accounting. The first order of business should be slaughtering the sacred cows. Until that happens, I’ll stand firmly on my platform of not one more penny in new taxes.

2. The pall of ambivalence. I’m kicking off a 4-day weekend and the last couple of weeks have cast such a gloom on the proceedings that I’m, at best, mostly indifferent. Maybe my mood will improve a bit after a string of days allocated to hanging out with the animals and reading. It usually does… but I’m not optimistic about how long the restorative effects of that brief interlude will last.

3. Out of office messages. As a “professional” I understand that out of office messages are supposed to contain brief, helpful information such as the date you should return or an alternative point of contact people can reach in your absence. As such, I can’t shake the feeling that they really don’t convey the more subtle message that the sender is conveying. For instance, instead of saying something trite and derivative like “I will respond to email and voice messages as quickly as possible when I return,” I feel that the more frank and honest out of office message might read something like “I’m burning off a day of vacation time in an effort to hold on to the one small shred of sanity I have left. I’m not checking my office email or voicemail. If you call me at home or send me a Facebook message asking about work stuff, I’ll ignore you and do whatever I can, whenever I can to make your life less pleasant. Whatever the issue is, as far as I’m concerned it’s more of a “next week” problem and not something I’ll be spending any time thinking about between now and then.

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.

A dark and rainy Friday…

As I was sitting here on a dark and rainy Friday morning seething quietly after cutting a check for a $1825 special assessment from my condo’s governing HOA, I realized it’s been a few days since I posted anything. What can I say, rage, it seems, beings out my inner soul as a writer – or maybe it’s just the catharsis I need after getting gang banged by a homeowners association board who must have been holding on to a shit ton of proxies when they voted.

I’m always curious about those who see rental income as a surefire pathway to wealth. Maybe it is under certain circumstances – if you’re local and can do many of the repairs yourself, if you paid cash and aren’t using at least a portion of the rent to make the note, or if you aren’t governed by an HOA that’s at least as good at spending other people’s money as the United States Congress. I’ve been renting out this condo since 2003 and I’ll admit that there have been a few good years – those years when nothing breaks and there’s no damage to be repaired. Those years are the rarity. Far more often it’s a break even proposition where you’re lucky to be about $500 into either the black or red by year’s end. Then, of course, there are those years where you end up pouring your own cash into the place hand over fist. No one talks about those years when they tell you what a great idea it is having a rental property.

At least the bastards got the bills out in time to use the whole damned mess as a 2018 deduction instead of having to wait an additional year to recoup a few pennies on the dollar. When your “bright slide” is consoling yourself that you have something to help offset the decreased federal deductibility of state and local taxes, you’ve really got to rethink the whole plan from start to finish.

This dark and rainy Friday is going to largely be about resisting the temptation to drive down there and nail a for sale sign to the door and being done with the whole bleeding mess.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Looking busy. During an average year there are plenty enough times when the number of requirements arriving over the side are large and numerous enough to swamp you before you ever get a chance to close them out. The few days before Christmas are not, generally, one of those times. The real issue now is no matter how important the thing is, the people you need to provide the answers, aren’t around. Sure, you’ll make an effort to close out those things that can be closed out without needing a lot of outside input, but with that done, you’re left largely with either make work projects or simply trying to make yourself look busy. At least when I get back after the first of the year, I’ll have a beautifully set up file system already built for all of those new 2018 emails. You can’t see it, but I’m rolling my eyes.

2. CNN. The day after a bill passed out of Congress giving most Americans an income tax cut, CNN’s website lead off with the banner headline “Enjoy your tax cuts while they last.” They go on to concede that “a lot of households… will see a lower tax bill in the next several years.” The article largely focuses on the expiration of many of these individual cuts by 2027 – a decade hence. The thing is, though, Congress can pretty much do whatever it wants. Tomorrow they can pass a bill making these cuts permanent. The next day they can pass a bill that changes the date they expire to a week from Tuesday. Sure, I would have loved to see the individual tax reduction provisions made permanent in the original bill, but I’m damned if I’ll reject a reduction now when balanced by what might be a decade in the future. A decade is a hell of a long time in politics – more than enough time to apply maximum pressure to our duly elected representatives to ensure the cuts they’ve made now are made permanent or replaced by better alternatives… and bird in the hand and whatnot.

3. The shortest day. We have the solstice over with now, but it’s a long, dark climb back to a point when we don’t exist as a race of mole people, traversing to and from home each day in utter darkness. I’m sure some people will wax poetic about the majesty of the shifting seasons, but I’d be happy enough stuck on high summer with its ready supply of daytime in big, beautiful 15 hour blocks.

Death and taxes…

Depending on your news source of choice, you’ll hear a lot about the tax bill that just passed through Congress being the best tax overhaul in a generation or the worst catastrophe to ever befall the republic. The line I heard today that most sticks with me, though, is that “the tax bill does the most for the people at the top of the income ladder.”

Um, well, yeah. I guess it does. Those are the people who are paying most of the income taxes collected by the federal government. It seems that any changes at all to the tax code would likely impact them more than it does the 43% of the population who currently pay no income tax.

In a quick review of the discussion, I found that “A Pew Research Center analysis of IRS data from 2015, the most recent available, shows that taxpayers with incomes of $200,000 or more paid well over half (58.8%) of federal income taxes, though they accounted for only 4.5% of all returns filed.” Drop that income level down to $100,000 and it accounts for 80.6% if all federal income tax receipts but only 16.8% of tax returns filed with the IRS.

Let that sink in for a moment. About 17% of those filing their taxes carry more than 80% of the burden of paying income taxes. This doesn’t even account for people who for whatever reason aren’t required to or don’t file with the IRS. I’m not now nor have I ever been a math major, but the numbers do seem to indicate pretty strongly that a small percentage of the population is doing a very large percentage of the heavy lifting when it comes to the overall income tax burden.

Knowing all this, when the discussion comes around to who needs to pay their “fair share” or how wrong it is that the people who actually pay the vast majority of income taxes should benefit from a reduced tax burden, I honestly have no bleeding idea what you’re talking about.