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!