Sunday, January 01, 2012

Happy New Year!!

It's 2012 and I'm actually sitting in the exact same spot as last year. It feels kind of good to be able to say that. As expected when you don't relocate to another part of the country, it doesn't seem like we really did all that much over the last year other than work and keep our heads down. The year didn't totally suck like the last couple; staying in one place has at least allowed us to catch our breath financially. We know we don't want to make this place permanent, but it will serve its purpose in spite of the drug dealers, human traffickers, incompetent office people, and whichever of our neighbors has really noisy sex every night with their bedroom window open.

The 2011 tax season for me ended up going pretty much as one would expect working in a ghetto tax office. I won't be back even if they call, and I seriously doubt they will. I had planned on becoming an Enrolled Agent and opening my own office when lightening struck and I ended up with a paying job at the library where I've been volunteering. I love the pretty colors Plans make when they explode on contact with Reality. I'm still working on the Enrolled Agent thing with my final test scheduled for Friday the 13th (yes, I enjoy tempting fate), but for now, renting office space is off the table. While part time, at least the library job is predictable and as permanent as any job can be considered these days; something I haven't had in over five years.

Debbie is still working at the same job, for now at least. The owners' actions over the last year smell like desperation to me; the business model is a pure race to the bottom similar to what happened with car dealerships a decade or so ago. The internet removes middle men by reducing what they can add to the price of whatever they are selling to zero. The days when you can simply wet your beak without adding perceivable value are long gone. I just hope these guys figure that out, for their sake and for ours.

I've stopped following news and markets (highly recommended, by the way), so I don't have any deep insights into the world. In general terms, the US stock market ended 2011 almost exactly where it ended 2010. I'm sure people made money, especially the brokers who get a cut of every transaction regardless, but retail investors made nothing, just like anyone with money in the bank. The places where one can earn the requisite 8% yield that will allow us all to retire at 55 into a life of golf and 4pm dining grow fewer by the day. The rest of the economy still seems stuck at slow idle with no movement in real unemployment, housing, retail. Early reports are that Christmas shopping was up over 4%, but that seems to be the case every year. I'm not convinced that any increase, assuming it isn't a complete fabrication, isn't being more than offset by decreases at other times of the year, just like increases in online shopping are coming at the expense of physical stores. And if that figure isn't adjusted for inflation, Christmas sales were either flat or down 2% or so (depending which inflation figures you believe).

The real story of 2011, which will continue into 2012, is the slow-motion train wreck formerly known as the European Union. If nothing else, we'll get to see how long the politicians there and here in the United States can keep the plates spinning before it all comes crashing down. While hardly the Mayan Apocalypse, it will prove interesting from a number of perspectives, not least of which is the complete evaporation of whatever confidence is left in governments. I seem to recall the US getting sucked into some sort of kerfuffle in Europe the last time the people there lost faith in their leaders.

2011 will also be noted for what didn't happen: no one is yet in prison for the massive fraud engineered at the nation's too-big-to-fail banks and investment houses. Matt Taibbi is about the only person to keep hammering home that, contrary to what our president insists, much of the grift that lead up to the financial crisis was not legal. Certainly, many of the dirty deals that put multi-million dollar bonuses into the pockets of Jamie Dimon, Lloyd Blankfein, et al were legal (the primary reason no one in the middle class should be in the stock market), but many were old-school pump-and-dump scams that have been illegal for decades. Maybe someone should check in on the Obama Justice Department and make sure they haven't committed mass suicide and gone off to live with the Space Brothers.

2011 also saw the last launch of Americans from American soil. Like the loss of the Saturn V, the capability will never be recovered. In the meantime, we hitch rides from our former sworn enemies to a destination that serves no real purpose. On the upside, Cassini is still returning drop-dead gorgeous images from the Saturn system, Opportunity is still chugging away doing science, and an all-new probe, Curiosity, is on its way to Mars.

I won't make any predictions for 2012 other than these: The economy in general will continue to sputter along making a small number of people wealthier than anyone ever in the history of the human race. Meanwhile, the rest of us who don't have politicians on our personal payroll will watch the slow erosion of our standard of living. And speaking of the Mayan Apocalypse, John Michael Greer has suggested that we call December 21, 2012 Nothing Happened Day. I think it's pretty safe to assume that the day everyone expects the world to end on will be the most extraordinarily ordinary day anyone can remember. The universe has a sick sense of humor.

I think I'm going to cut this off here and watch the House marathon. Everyone have a happy/productive/sexually satisfying (that's mostly for our noisy neighbors)/whatever-kind-of-year-you-want 2012!

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