Saturday, January 17, 2015

It Begins

I'm three days into another tax season sitting in Walmart, and I'm ready to start punching people. Things did not get off to a good start; on my very first day, as I'm walking into Walmart, I get smashed into by a People of Walmart type going out the entrance. She looked drunk, stoned, or possibly both, sporting some serious bed-head, and was dressed in pajamas, a bath robe and bunny slippers.

As I walked in the door. On the very first day. Not good.

Our tax booth is located in the same prime real estate: across from the bathrooms. That's good, because bored men waiting for their women to emerge from the restroom are easy sales targets. It's bad because it seems every woman in Pasco county turns into a screaming harpy every time Walmart tries to clean the bathroom. Understand that, thanks to the lawyers, they have to close everything down anytime they mop until the floor is completely dry. Do the screaming harpies care? Nah. So the entire time (we're talking 15 to 20 minutes), they stand outside the restroom, sometimes alone, sometimes in a giant harpy chorus, screaming profanity three feet from where I'm trying to do people's taxes.

FYI, ladies; when you act like that, this is what every man around you is seeing.
Lovely. Simply lovely.

I also fully expect, sometime before the end of tax season, to have my lifeless body pulled from the rubble that was once our tax cubicle. I can't go five minutes without some blind old dude smashing one of those electric shopping cart things into the walls, or a texting hipster walking into the side of the thing. Listen up, people; it's a temporary structure and ain't exactly what I'd call sturdy.

[As a side note, a little tip for purse and/or baby snatchers: outside your local Walmart's women's restroom is a target-rich environment. And Walmart even helpfully provides comfy benches for you to sit on that have been placed in the most advantageous spots for you to ply your trade. Better yet, they don't seem to mind if you camp on one of them all day. You can even bring drinks and snacks if you wish.]

As far as actual tax preparation, we got off to a bit of a slow start, but yesterday things seemed to pick up. I managed to complete a half dozen returns over my eight-hour shift in spite of constant glitches. That whole "we can download your W-2's" thing is an even bigger fiasco than in prior years. For example, the only way to download a Walmart W-2 is to type in a special code. That is only printed on the employees W-2. So we still have to have the physical W-2 to download the electronic W-2. So what is the point, exactly? It doesn't save me any time. After I go through all the crap to download the electronic W-2, then type in all the numbers to confirm that the W-2 downloaded correctly (which means I also need the physical W-2 to do that step), I've spent more time than it would take me to type in everything manually from a physical W-2. It doesn't mean that clients can file their taxes earlier. In order for electronic W-2's to be available for download, the employer has already done all the necessary year-end work and has likely printed the physical W-2's. Which I need in order to download your electronic W-2 anyway. The whole mess sounds like yet-another rent-extraction scam by outfits like W2Express that "facilitate" (for a fee, I'm sure) all this unnecessary "work".

Sort of like the tax preparation "industry".


Speaking of beginnings, I'm going to call it. The fracking bubble has popped:

Layoffs are cascading through the oil and gas sector. On Tuesday, the Dallas Fed projected that in Texas alone, 140,000 jobs could be eliminated. Halliburton... axing an undisclosed number of people in Houston. Suncor Energy... will dump 1,000 workers.... Slumberger... will cut 9,000 jobs.
Larger drillers outspent their cash flows from production by 112% and smaller to midsize drillers by a breathtaking 157%....
California Resources... watched [shares] drop to $4.33 by today....

Its junk bonds... were trading at 79 cents on the dollar today....
Samson Resources... junk bonds... traded at 26.5 cents on the dollar today....

Halcón Resources... saw its shares plunge 10% today to $1.20.... Its junk bonds slid... to 72 cents on the dollar.

Hercules Offshore... [is] trading for $0.82 a share.... In mid-October, its 8.75% notes due 2022 traded at 66 cent on the dollar. Yesterday they traded at 45.
Today, Paragon’s shares trade for $2.18.... Its junk bonds are now down to 58 cents on the dollar.

Swift Energy... stock, now at $2.37... saw its junk bonds shrivel another eight points over the week to 36 cents on the dollar.

Now you're probably saying to yourself, "Self, it's OK. I don't own any of that stuff." Don't be so sure. For example, it's a safe bet that your pension fund has some of this crap, or derivatives based on it, just like it had bunches of derivatives based on crap mortgages back in 2008.

And although you would never know it from the media, this isn't just about oil:

On Thursday, the Swiss franc rose a staggering 30 percent against the euro, and the Swiss stock market plunged by 10 percent.... Meanwhile, the euro is in greater danger than ever.... With this move by Switzerland set off a European financial crisis?
And one of these days, another extremely important currency peg is going to end.  Right now, the Chinese have tied their currency very tightly to the U.S. dollar.  This has helped to artificially inflate the value of the dollar.  Unfortunately, as Robert Wenzel has noted, someday the Chinese could suddenly pull the rug out from under our currency, and that would be really bad news for us…
So keep a close eye on what happens in Europe next.

It is going to be a preview of what is eventually coming to America.

Hong Kong is also pegged to the dollar and they may become impatient with us more quickly than China.

Are we having fun yet?

Sunday, January 04, 2015

Welcome to 2015!!

OK; so I'm a few days late. Sue me.

We managed to make it through 2014 without becoming homeless nor did we kill our moron neighbor and bury her body in the woods. Yet. It was a close call on both of those, but we somehow snuck through by the skin of our teeth. Those two items were our only goals for 2014 and given our present situation, will likely remain our only achievable goals for 2015. We'd like to be able to set other goals for ourselves like eating healthier, exercising more, saving money, but heh; who are we kiddin' here?

We have made modest progress towards getting our trailer a bit more livable with the new closet and shelves in the Florida room. We'll probably make a bit more progress over tax season assuming I can fit it in time-wise. It seems like it's taking us forever to get anything done, but all we can do is keep picking away at all the projects we have around here. We figure by the time we finally get everything the way we want it, we'll sell the place and move.

One thing we finally did get done this year is planting something edible outside. People keep giving us ornamental plants which seem to do OK, but every attempt we've made at growing food has not really done well, other than the rosemary bushes that are trying to bury our porch. This time, we used a bunch of containers with real dirt in them instead of trying to grow anything in the sterile sand around our place. We are having modest success. We have some lettuce that seems to be doing well, and a few tomato plants that are beginning to put on, along with a couple different kinds of basil, sage and parsley. So far, thyme and oregano have been no shows, but I'll just keep trying and see if I can make anything happen. At least down here, we can plant pretty much anytime we want so if something fails to germinate, we just keep replanting until something grows.

Politically, 2015 is off to a surreal start, with the New York police on what amounts to a work stoppage following the assassination of two police officers while the mayor was perceived to be siding with the anti-police protests:

Furious at embattled mayor Bill de Blasio, and at what Police Benevolent Association chief Patrick Lynch calls a "hostile anti-police environment in the city," the local officers are simply refusing to arrest or ticket people for minor offenses – such arrests have dropped off a staggering 94 percent, with overall arrests plunging 66 percent.

If you're wondering exactly what that means, the Post is reporting that the protesting police have decided to make arrests "only when they have to." (Let that sink in for a moment. Seriously, take 10 or 15 seconds).

So either two-thirds of what the police in New York City do every day is a waste of time, or the city will quickly plunge into utter chaos. I don't follow the news very closely these days, but I've not heard of much in the way of chaos yet.

And we have the now-infamous hack of Sony by North Korea. Except it now appears that the FBI was working backwards from the Whitehouse-ordained conclusion that the perpetrator was North Korea rather than the disgruntled ex-Sony employee(s) who actually did the hacking. But never mind; as we learned from W. and Iraqi WMD's, modern presidents never change course no matter what the facts show:

US foreign policy just jumped the shark: a few days after both the FBI and the US State department were humiliated when it was revealed that it wasn't North Korea but a disgruntled, laid off Sony employee that was responsible for the "hack", and when the best possible course of action would have been to simply let this latest embarrassing incident fade from memory, moments ago Obama - currently not working out next to a rainbow or flashing his support of "Shaka" -  just signed his first executive order of 2015, imposing even more sanctions against North Korea.

Ye gods and little fishes.

As for the economy, the fracking bubble may have not yet popped, but it's certainly leaking air faster than a week-old birthday balloon. Like the housing bubble, there is a great deal riding on it other than the fortunes of a few drilling companies. Pension funds, in an attempt to win back the loses from 2009, are up to their eyeballs in fracking-related junk bonds and derivatives. So are the banks, although we already know that the taxpayers will once again bail them out and guarantee Jamie Dimon and Loyd Blankfein will be paid their multi-million dollar bonuses. But anyone on a pension can expect to once again get the shaft. By any honest measure (meaning statistics generated by pretty much anyone other than our government), the working and middle class continued to get hammered in 2014 by any and every means possible, while the one-percenters piled up more wealth than they and the next dozen generations of their descendants will ever need. I don't expect that to change in 2015, although our government will continue to produce all sorts of numbers and graphs trying to convince you that what is happening to you isn't.

Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Merry Christmas!!

A dual-purpose post: First, does Blogger's scheduling thingy work (and do I know how to work it), and to post my traditional Christmas videos:

Merry Christmas!!!

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Run, Run, Run

December is our traditional crazy month with a bunch of stuff all happening at once, and not just Christmas/New Years. This is supposed to be Debbie's slow time, but she just set a new personal and office-wide record for the most cabins sold in a pay period (and week, and day, and probably hour). [Correction: I've been informed that this was not a record for a pay period; Debbie sold 80 cabins in a pay period back in February while this time it was "only" 72. It was, however, a new record for one week: 52.] I've been doing more security gigs, plus taking on more up at the Moose Lodge, plus cranking out CPE and trying to get ready for tax season.

Then because we're not already having enough fun, our crazy neighbor decides to go off her meds and start harassing Debbie every chance she gets. She always been nuts, but up to this point it was the harmless kind of nuts. Then she decided she was going to screw with Debbie, and, well, that ain't going to fly. I called the park manager, which as usual accomplished nothing. So I unloaded a whole truck-load of my kind of crazy on her wrinkled ass and it's been relatively quiet ever since. (I don't think it will come as any surprise that the only person in the park who doesn't think she's batty is a certain other "person" who decided my parents were fair game last spring. If you're thinking of involving yourself in my business again Dickhead, I seriously suggest you re-think.) Have I mentioned lately how much I hate Carefree?

Anyway, the other project this week is Christmas cards. Debbie has made four dozen or so cards, which ought to cover us for this year. We're only sending to close family and a few people here in the park. We just don't have the cash this year for card stock, envelopes and postage to do all 200+ names on our mailing list. Sorry. Maybe we should do a Kickstarter campaign. Debbie is mostly done with her part (making the cards), so now everything is waiting on me to clean up the address list with all the changes/additions since last year, print labels, and prep and stuff envelopes. I should be able to get step one completed today. Maybe. It's another Moose night, and I'm doing this instead of that, so....


Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Big Five-Oh.

Yep. Half a century. Got my AARP card in the mail. More years behind me than in front. Hit the local CVS for a walker and some Geritol. Blah, blah, blah.

The reality is, of course, that I am exactly one day older than I was yesterday. But Western Civilization loves its anniversary dates almost as much as it loves its "old people talk" about pills and pains and procedures, so here we are.

In more important news, it's cold. The "polar vortex" (which is, in fact, nothing new but gets people all worked up thanks to a rather silly movie from a few years back) is knocking our temps out of the 70's and 80's for the next few days. I'll probably move our plants that are in pots into the shed or up onto the porch snuggled up against the trailer. The stuff planted in the ground is on its own. If this plays out like it usually does, our little micro-climate we have back here in the corner will stay up close to forty and it will be no big deal. By Friday we'll be back into 70's territory, and everyone will be talking about how we survived the Great Polar Vortex of November 2014. Ya know, it used to be that people were too busy surviving for real to waste time blowing perfectly normal weather events into an endless series of apocalypses that we "survived" by the brave expedient of putting on a sweater....

We were busy last weekend making more changes to the trailer. We installed some shelves in the Florida room that will also serve as a partition between the "living" area and the spot for the laundry, hot water heater and a small, upright freezer. We put twelve-inch shelves facing front to replace the monster book shelf we currently have taking up one entire wall, and sixteen-inch shelves facing the back that will hold the vacuum, folding chairs, laundry and cleaning supplies, etc. The long-term plan is to move Debbie's work space into the Florida room, and move the TV and my computer into the actual living room in the trailer itself so we can seat more than one guest at a time. We will also be able to set up a better space for Debbie's card-making operation out in the Florida room once we've shifted everything from the Monster Bookcase to the new built-in, and ditched ol' MB someplace. We'll probably donate it to the park library or some such. That's all a bit further down the road. I want to get the paneling up in the Florida room before we get too anxious shifting things around.

Anyway, some pictures:

The "before" shot.

A view of the rats nest we had to relocate.

Sorting through the boards. Typical of the Crapification of Everything, lots of damage and defects to hide.

The back of the first shelf unit in its place.

The front of the deep shelf unit.

And the finished project before it gets filled up with shelves and books.

I still need to cut the shelf boards to fit, which will likely wait until the weekend, then we can check another thing off the to-do list. While adding three more. But we don't talk about that.

We inherited a couple rose bushes that someone else was killing. I'm not sure how it happened, but we've become the park Plant Doctors. We've been receiving a steady stream of dying plants from people who hear that we can "fix" them. Our "miracle cure" generally involves re-potting in an appropriate-sized container and placing the plant out of full sun. (Almost nothing, including plants sold as "full sun" plants can survive Florida full sun.) Not sure how that makes us plant whisperers, but apparently it does around here. Anyway, the rose bushes. We got our first blooms. Just in time for them to be knocked off by the cold tonight. But there will be more:

I was going to say something about economics again, but with the gloomy weather, it seemed like piling on. So instead, here's a few links for those readers who aren't depressed enough by the cold and the rain/snow:

The Crapified Magic of the Obamacare Marketplace

It’s the crapification that gets me: We’ve got, on the very same continent as our own, a single payer system that covers everybody for a boatload less money — those wacky Canadians call it “Medicare” — and the best we can do in this exceptionally great country, this shining city on a hill, is normalize a program that still leaves 41 million uninsured, that has gross defects in its construction, and that is a full of traps for the unwary that will cost you bucks to some unholy number or needed treatment for a vital organ, whenever you look at it sideways or put your foot down in the wrong place. Because markets.

Japan Is Dying and We Still Don't Get It

What is it with us? Don’t we WANT to understand? Japan announced on Monday that its economy is in hopeless trouble and back in recession (as if it was ever out). And what do we see? ‘Experts’ and reporters clamoring for more stimulus. But if Japan has shown us anything over the past years, and you’re free to pick any number between 2 and 20 years, it’s that the QE-based kind of stimulus doesn’t work. Not for the real economy, that is....

Japan’s stimulus has achieved the following: banks get to pretend they’re healthy and stocks rise to heights that are fundamentally disconnected from underlying real values. On the flipside of that, citizens are being increasingly squeezed and ‘decide’ not to spend (not much of a decision if you have nothing to spend). Since Japan’s ‘consumer’ spending makes up about 60% of GDP, things can only possibly get worse as time passes. If ‘consumers’ don’t spend, deflation is the inevitable result – and that has nothing to do with the much discussed sales tax, it’s been going on for decades.

The Instability Express

Plummeting oil prices are a symptom of terrible mounting instabilities in the world. After years of stagnation, complacency, and official pretense, the linked matrix of systems we depend on for running our techno-industrial society is shaking itself to pieces. American officials either don’t understand what they’re seeing, or don’t want you to know what they see. The tensions between energy, money, and economy have entered a new phase of destructive unwind.

Two Detroits, Separate and Unequal

That Detroit is a more than 80% African American metropolis makes the idea of its rise from bankruptcy with second-class status all the more problematic. As Hammer explains, the plan for Detroit bears an eerie back-to-the-future resemblance to the famed Kerner Commission report of 1968, issued by a presidentially appointed panel in the wake of the urban rebellions that were then sweeping the country. Its findings were that the nation was moving toward two societies: black and white, separate and unequal.

“That was viewed as a call to action, as unacceptable in 1968,” comments Hammer. Nearly a half-century later, he adds, it’s portrayed as progress. The vision of a future Detroit as a sprawling second-class black city with a small, wealthy downtown and a few elite neighborhoods surrounded by thriving white suburbs will, he projects, bring the 1968 finding to life. “The truth is, what [bankruptcy] Judge Rhodes will do when he approves the bankruptcy plan of adjustment is ratify that conclusion as prophecy.”

If anyone needs me, I'll be curled up in my blanket escaping reality by reading about fictional murder and mayhem.