Time To Shut It Down

It has been almost 6 months since I posted on this blog.  I could say I just don’t have time to blog, but that is not entirely accurate.  I believe people will make time for the things that are important to them.  My inactivity on this blog is evidence that it is not particularly important to me at this time.  I would, eventually, like to get back to writing on a weekly basis, but this is simply not high enough on my list of priorities right now.  As such, I am officially declaring an end to DC Spill Man.  To those of you who followed my blog, thank you for letting me share my thoughts on various issues.  I hope it wasn’t too painful of a read.  Although it is both cliche and corny, I leave you with the following Irish blessing:

May the road rise to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face.
And rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the hollow of His hand.

Stop Hating on My Generation

A friend recently brought this opinion piece by cartoonist Matt Bors to my attention.  Mr. Bors is member of Generation Y (as am I) and has apparently had his fill of media coverage of “lazy millennials.”  I encourage you to view the entire piece, but the gist of the message is that perhaps my contemporaries’ choices to “delay adulthood” has a lot to do with the circumstances created by Generation X.

Millenials aren’t marrying, buying houses, and having kids later than previous generations because they’re sitting around trying to beat a video game.  They’re “delaying adulthood” because the job market is the worst it’s been since the Great Depression.

Boom.  While I do believe there is rampant laziness affecting a large number of Americans, I agree with the idea that many members of my generation are also hindered by the circumstances they grew up in.  Some 20 (or early 30) somethings really are just ill equipped to live on their own two feet.  Others, however, are victims of the current economic situation (the economy, stupid).

We were raised to believe college was necessary for success (which is mostly true).  We then went into massive amounts of debt to earn our degrees.  To pay off the debt, we either need well-paying jobs or very low expenses.  Expenses can’t get much lower than moving back in with Mom and Dad.  I was lucky enough to find gainful employment after college (enough so that I was able to go to law school at night) and actually make it on my own.  Other are not always so lucky.  Bors makes this point with a witty nod to one of the ridiculous things our generation truly is guilty of.

Stop hating on millenials.  We didn’t create this mess.  We came late to the banquet and were served up crumbs…which we will Instagram before we eat.

Well played Matt…well played.

Simplifying the Tax Code Isn’t So Simple

Tax-is-Robbery

One of the first big news stories in Washington this week is that Congress called for Apple CEO Tim Cook to testify before the Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations to discuss his company’s tax practices.  Specifically, the Senators wanted some explanation for  Apple’s use of technicalities in Irish and U.S. law to pay little or no corporate taxes on $74 billion over the past four years.  While an earlier Senate report shows that Apple has done nothing illegal, the issue brings up important questions regarding U.S. tax policy.

Unlike many other countries, the U.S. taxes companies for profits made in other countries, if and when those profits come back to the United States.  This has led many U.S. corporations to park those international profits in shell companies overseas, to avoid getting taxed twice on the same profits.  While this isn’t illegal, it certainly upsets a number of lawmakers.

“Apple has sought the Holy Grail of tax avoidance,” said Senator Levin (D-MI). “Apple is exploiting an absurdity, one that we have not seen other companies use.”  

While the Senate doesn’t have any legal grounds to compel Apple to change its policies, the hearing highlights just one of the many needs for reform in our nation’s tax code.  Just as with entitlement reform and government spending, both Republicans and Democrats see a need for change but are unable to agree on the type of change that is needed.  Both parties want a simplified tax code, but they have different end results in mind.  Democrats want to ensure that any tax reform includes increased revenues from corporations and the wealthiest Americans while Republicans want a tax policy that encourages businesses to stay in the U.S. and spur economic growth.

“Everyone hates the IRS and corporations not paying taxes,” said Stan Collender, a budget expert at Qorvis Communications, a Washington consulting firm. “That may gin up a little bit of the intensity level. But I don’t think it changes the politics of this at all. I’m still telling clients that tax reform is still three years away.”

Personally, I think Stan’s three-year estimate is too generous.  Reforming the tax code is an incredibly daunting task.  How do you balance the different issues in the most efficient way?  We want to make sure that people and corporations are paying the appropriate amount of taxes, but we also do not want a tax code that scares away more businesses and ships more jobs overseas.  I am neither an economist or a tax expert, so I don’t claim to have any answers here.  Sadly, the various economists and tax experts out there can’t seem to agree on the proper solutions either.

There is no shortage of ideas on simplifying the tax code.  The Sunlight Foundation issued a report that looks at how 2,221 organizations in 336 sectors spend an estimated combined $773 million to hire 6,503 different lobbyists to advocate on 1,454 bills in a single two-year Congress.  Wow.  But which proposal is best?  The CATO institute issued a report that favors a consumption-based tax base that taxes income but excludes investment.

Consumption-based taxation would be far superior to the current income tax for both growth and simplification reasons. A consumption-based tax—such as the Hall-Rabushka flat tax—would get rid of two of the most complex parts of the current code—capital gains and the capitalization of investment (which involves depreciation and amortization).

The Hall-Rabushka flat tax is an interesting place to start, but it doesn’t address the specific rate at which individuals are taxed, and it does not specifically address its applicability to corporate taxation.  Just thinking about all of the different proposals that could be debated gives me a migraine.  Of the few proposals I have reviewed, I am still not sure which one is the most efficient.  What about you?  What do you think is the best option for tax reform?

Is There Any Hope For Congress?

April 2013 Gallup Poll

April 2013 Gallup Poll

Last week, the law firm I work for hosted our annual Spring Forum with over 400 school administrators in attendance.  While a majority of our conference focuses on specific federal grants management concerns, we also offer a legislative update that covers Congressional issues as well as federal agency matters.  To open the session, our Legislative Director spoke for a few minutes about the current Congressional approval rating.

The most recent Congress (112th) passed the fewest laws of  any Congress before it, looking back as far as 1948.  Unsurprisingly, this inability to get anything done has earned Congress an abysmal approval rating of 15% as of April 2013.  Public Policy Polling released a poll earlier this year detailing how Congress is less popular than cockroaches, Nickelback, colonoscopies, and root canals.  Congress is even less popular than the NFL replacement refs from the 2012 season.  Ouch.

Its not that previous Congresses were so productive, its just that since 2011, Congress has been especially unproductive.  Lawmakers came so close to allowing government loans to default in the Summer of 2011 that our nation’s credit rating was lowered.  After that near miss, Congress gave itself the opportunity to bounce back by creating the Deficit Super Committee.  This super committee was intended to craft a bipartisan deficit reduction plan.  It ultimately failed.  This failure prompted automatic spending cuts, known as “sequestration.”

Meanwhile, annual spending bills are consistently passed well after the start of each new fiscal year, the two parties cannot come to terms on a fix to sequestration, and there are countless reauthorizations that remain unfinished.  I work in an area of law that focuses on federal education and job training programs.  In this field, some major pieces of legislation have been waiting at least 10 years to be reauthorized, but Congress cannot agree on the terms of those reauthorizations.

Because I live and work in the DC metro area, many friends and family members back in the Midwest always ask me why Congress can’t get it together (as if I have some inside scoop).  The sad truth is that the most useful tool for an elected official to get reelected is to convince voters that the opposition party is either wrong or unwilling to compromise.  This is effective mainly because it is the extreme right and/or left members of the voting public that are most involved in the political process.  As such, there is little motivation to reach agreements on any legislative issue.  It is easier to blame the other side for logjam than it is to defend legislation that compromises between two (or more) different sets of ideas.

Will things ever get any better?  Not unless we have another national tragedy/emergency.  Looking at the last 12 years, the only times the two parties have come together is after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, and the economic downturn in the Fall of 2008.  In both cases, the unity between the parties only lasted as long as it was convenient.  As sad as it sounds, our national leaders are only willing to compromise when circumstances dictate that they have no other viable options.  So who is at fault?

Democrats believe Republicans are to blame.  Republicans believe Democrats are to blame.  While both parties are culpable, the real blame lies with the voters.  If the voting public was truly informed and involved, it would be nearly impossible to have a Congress with a 15% approval rating.  Instead, American citizens either fail to exercise their Constitutional right to vote or cast their vote without really understanding the candidates they vote for or the issues those candidates will face.

Unfortunately, there is no external cure for this.  Many non-profit and other groups exist with the sole purpose of informing voters on the issues.  I believe the old adage is “you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.”  Until the moderate majority of the country decides to educate themselves and get involved, the current hyper-partisan environment will remain unchanged.  If anyone has intelligent solutions, I am all ears.

Newtown Debate: Losing Perspective

Associated Press

Associated Press

Last week, a crazed gunman killed 27 people, including children, teachers, and his own mother.  The only word to accurately describe this is tragic.  Amid the overly depressing media coverage, we have also seen vigils and memorials held in honor of the Newtown victims all across the country.  Unfortunately, we have also seen the 24 hour news networks, online new sources, and social media sites bombarded with statements and statistics related to gun control in the Unites States.  I do not mean to say that gun control is not an important issue, but I would rather spend my time praying for those families that are going to ring in the new year without their son/daughter/brother/sister/friend/parent.

I usually encourage political discourse, so long as people keep things in perspective.  The important thing to realize here is that life is fragile and it is short.  People should take this time to take stock of their own lives.  Let your friends and family know how much they mean to you.  Call that old college buddy that you haven’t spoken to in awhile.  Tell your parents you appreciate all the sacrifices they made to help you have the life you have now.  And if you have them, for the love of God, hug your children.

Once you have done that, take a breath and approach the gun control debate with an open mind and a desire to make your country better.  As with most political issues, people on both sides of this argument are convinced of their side’s infallibility.  Instead of coming together to debate an important topic at a time when the country needs unity, we get into pissing contests on Facebook with friends and family who happen to think differently than we do on this subject.

I hate to break it to you, but this is one of those gray areas in life where there is no absolute right or wrong opinion.  Would stricter gun control laws have prevented a disturbed individual from attacking a school?  Not likely.  Would a ban on assault weapons have kept the body count lower if the man had attacked without his Bushmaster rifle?  Maybe.  Would the lunatic have been able to kill fewer people if teachers had been armed?  Maybe.  Notice a pattern?

My point is that regardless of the gun control laws in this country, no one can say with absolute certainty what might have happened at Sandy Hook Elementary last week.  Both sides have valid arguments, and the debate would be much more productive if people would acknowledge that.  As an attorney, I make it a point to try and understand the opposition’s argument.  Knowing what the other side believes and why they believe it often helps me to understand and refine my own argument.  Instead, it seems that we would rather boil things down to either “guns are evil” or “don’t touch my 2nd Amendment rights.”  This will get us nowhere and it distracts from the underlying question.  How can we try and make our country safer?

Until people are willing to try and find an honest answer to that question, I will try and ignore the background noise while I continue praying for the families of the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary shootings.  In the meantime, I encourage all of you to take time this holiday season to show your friends and family how much you care, help those less fortunate than you, and decide what you can do to make your world a better place.

At the risk of being politically incorrect, I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and, in case I am not back before then, a Happy New Year.

Election Day

Wow.  I followed up being “freshly pressed” by not posting for 2 months.  I would love to say that I had more important things to do, but the truth of the matter is that I simply put other things higher on my priority list than this blog.  Sorry.  Besides, its not like we really needed another talking head going on about the elections.  As such, I will keep this brief.

I voted this morning in Alexandria, VA.  Because I am in the process of moving to a different city within the same Congressional District, I only voted on the National and State races.  I didn’t think it would be very ethical to vote for mayor and city council when I would be relocating immediately after voting.

For only the second time in my life, I voted for all Republicans (Romney, Allen, Murray).  And I expect all three of them to lose.  Oh well.  Romney has a chance at winning Virginia, but its a very slim one.   It is even worse for my brother and my sister, both of whom voted for a candidate that has no chance of winning in the state in which they voted.  Despite this, I was adamant that everyone in the family needs to vote.  Whether your candidate wins or loses, I see voting as a civic duty.  We have a freedom that is not enjoyed by everyone, so it is an insult to those who are without if we ignore our opportunity to be heard.

My two cents: Romney will win Florida and lose Virginia.  That makes Ohio a necessity for the Romney-Ryan ticket to even have a chance at the White House.  While it should be close, I predict Ohio will go to Obama.  The Republicans will maintain the majority in the House, and the Democrats will pick up a seat in the Senate (thanks primarily to Indiana Republicans believing Mourdock was a better option than Lugar).  Time will tell.

The important thing to remember is that no matter what happens tonight, the world will keep turning tomorrow.  Try and keep things in perspective.

Nothing to Get Excited About

I had originally hoped to follow up my “Freshly Pressed” success with another thoughtful article last week.  Unfortunately, on Thursday, I had all four of my wisdom teeth removed.  As such, I was out of commission for the end of the week, and have spent the last few days trying to catch up at work.  Excuses aside, I am really just having a hard time finding a topic I am passionate about.

For example, today was the first day of high profile speeches at the Republican National Convention.  The only details I have stumbled across have been the thoughts and reactions of people on Facebook and Twitter.  During the day, I was too focused on various proposals and pending cases at work.  This evening, I spent some time with a group of friends I had not seen for a few weeks.  Just 4 years ago, I was trying to soak up as much information from the RNC as I could.  What has changed?

I don’t know if I am simply getting more cynical, or if there really is just less to get excited about this time around.  As a fiscal conservative and a social moderate, I really can’t find anything about Mitt Romney to get excited about.  At the same time, I am not the President’s biggest fan either.  But I don’t dislike his administration enough to passionately support his opponent.  Are both candidates truly that uninspiring, or am I too jaded to really care anymore?  I would be lying if I said that my current state of apathy wasn’t a little disconcerting.

During my “recuperation” period following the tooth extraction, I spent a few days watching reruns of Law & Order and The West Wing.  One of my favorite episodes of The West Wing is the season 2 premiere (In the Shadow of Two Gunman).  There is a flashback scene where Presidential hopeful Jed Bartlet is asking Leo McGarry why the latter wanted the former to run for President.  Here is McGarry’s response:

Because I’m tired of it: year after year after year after year having to choose between the lesser of who cares. Of trying to get myself excited about a candidate who can speak in complete sentences. Of setting the bar so low, I can hardly bear to look at it.

I think that hits the nail on the head, don’t you?  Again, I have to ask, am I just being too cynical?

For those of you that would like to see the speeches that have already taken place, you can view the highlights and the live feed on You Tube on the RNC 2012 Site.

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