Archive for Common Cents

Lending again

Another small business I have opted to assist financially:

They’re seeking ten grand, as follows:

•$2500.00 — For the purchase of the new equipment for our Point of Sales inventory system, a new laptop for launching an online sales component and to increase our social media presence

•$3000.00 — To sustain our current employees’ salary. This will help our business maintain the current position for our employee. This position allows us to provide a job for a local community member and maintain our excellent customer service

•$3000.00 — To Increase inventory by adding additional product brands. Being able to increase our inventory will help us to fulfill requests from our loyal customers and will assist our store in being competitive with neighboring competition.

•$1500.00 — Marketing promotion expenses and flyer printing. Mailers and professional business flyers will include promotions, discounts and our new product offerings. This will keep our business relevant, increase awareness of our presence in our local community, and give our customers reassurance as to why time and time again, they choose our store for their immediate beauty needs.

Does “South Central” include north Long Beach? No matter.

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Glass sunroof

Apparently being female isn’t enough to silence complaints about fat-cat CEOs:

One of Britain’s best-paid female bosses has been slammed by critics over a £29million bonus.

Avril Palmer-Baunack runs British Car Auctions, which owns We Buy Any Car, the car-buying website known for its catchy jingles.

The vast sum, 59 times her normal salary, is the result of an incentive plan drawn up four years ago to grow the firm.

Oh, and her normal salary went up a bit as well:

On top of the £29 million bonus, which is linked to an increase in the share price, she also got an eight per cent increase to her basic salary to £525,000. The company defended it by saying it needed to pay a “competitive” rate.

But in a report to investors, influential advisory firm Glass Lewis called the £29 million payout to Palmer-Baunack “exceptionally disproportionate.” It said the increase in the value of BCA may have been boosted by broader swings in stock market prices “rather than company or management performance.”

Kim du Toit laughs at that, as he should:

Well, guess what? “Broader swings” in the stock market are a result of shareholder confidence in the market’s activities and results — and if the company and its boss benefit from that, it’s called “good luck.” I should point out once again that if the market is tanking and it takes a company down with it — through no fault of the company boss, mind you — the boss may well get fired anyway because at the end (and please note this, because it’s important), executive management is responsible for one thing, and one thing only: growth in the value of the shareholders’ investment. How it gets there is irrelevant (except in the Land Of Wealth Envy). When they say, “The buck stops here,” that’s precisely what it means: the ultimate responsibility for shareholder value lies with the executive manager, and with this comes either termination or reward, as agreed by the shareholders.

Glass Lewis may be “influential,” but they have no actual power; she’ll be getting her bonus, all $37 million of it. And I’d say she should be rewarded handsomely for phasing out advertisements like this:

That one alone is worth several million.

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Schools cost money

Even some Oklahoma politicians are coming to realize that.

Joe Sherlock tossed out this little statistic this past week:

Tuition at St. Joseph’s Prep, my old high school, is now $23,900 per year, not including fees (books, retreats, sports, transportation, etc.).

Which sounds like a lot, though public schools in Philadelphia, in 2015 anyway, were spending $12,570 per student, and it’s almost certainly gone up since then.

So I dialed back to my own old high school, which, if your family qualifies as parishioners in the Diocese of Charleston, is charging a mere $9,600 a year. (If not, it’s $14,100.) This is about twenty times what it was when I was there, fifty years ago, but the only things that haven’t gone up at that rate are the things the government uses to calculate the inflation rate.

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Malcolm beclowns electric

Syndicated columnist Malcolm Berko on the idea of investing in Tesla Motors:

TSLA is not the kind of common stock in which one invests money. It is not an investment that belongs in pension plan accounts, nor is it a stock for orphans, widows, widowers, the illegitimate children of widowers or conservative investors. In fact, TSLA is not an investment at all; rather, it’s a screwball speculation like penny stocks, oil and gas partnerships, and maps of the Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine. Tesla is well-known for missing deadline after deadline and constantly falling short on production numbers. Some watchers believe that Elon spends more time in his world than he does in the real world.

So, not a strong buy, then?

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Expect the quest to break your heart

The goddamn baht, man:

For reference, 2500 baht is about $75 US.

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Biggest Apple

Yesterday, Apple Inc. stock, traded on the Nasdaq, closed at $207.39. This turns out to be a milestone and then some:

Apple has become the world’s first public company to be worth $1 trillion (£767bn).

The iPhone maker’s market value reached the figure in New York on Thursday and its shares closed at a new record high of $207.39.

The stock has been rising since Tuesday when it reported better than expected results for the three months to June.

There’s a lot to be said for a small market share, if your customers are fiercely loyal. (I’m considering an iPhone for myself, if only because it will be relatively immune to Google.)

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Quote of the week

From The Manual by The KLF (1989), some thoughts on money:

Money is a very strange concept. There will be points in the forthcoming months when you might not have the change in your pockets to get the bus into town at the same time as you are talking to people on the telephone in terms of tens of thousands of pounds. Some of the following might seem contradictory but in matters of money they often are. We spoke earlier of how being on the dole gives you a clearer vision of how society works. What it doesn’t do is give you a clear idea of how money works.

After you spend any time on the dole you either resign yourself to the economic level your life is at and cope — or things start to slide. The rent gets into the arrears. The electricity goes unpaid. The gas board threatens to cut you off. When this starts happening a paranoia begins creeping in telling you modern society is geared to working against the individual and YOU in particular. The late eighties reaction to this is invariably to realise that the only way out is for you to become suddenly very rich and none of this will matter any more. You will start to fantasise about becoming very wealthy and how very shortly it will happen to you. You only have to make the smart move, find the right key, make the right contact, be discovered for what you are. Your fantasy will be fuelled by everything.

Nobody wins the pools. There is no such thing as a fast buck. Nobody gets rich quick. El Dorado will never be found. Wealth is a slow build, an attitude to life. I’m afraid the old adage that if you look after the pennies the pounds will look after themselves is always true. That said, you must be willing to risk everything — that’s everything you haven’t got as well as you have got — or nothing will happen.

Nothing much has changed in three decades, has it?

Then again, as we were told, time is eternal:

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You just aren’t broke enough

The subtext of this CNBC article seems to be “Why aren’t you taking advantage of this wonderful opportunity to go into debt up to your ears?”

U.S. homeowners today are getting richer by the minute, but they are less likely to cash in on their newfound wealth than during previous housing booms. As home values rise, home equity lines of credit, often used to tap home equity, are flatlining, and the overall amount of money people are taking out of their homes is shrinking.

The collective amount of so-called tappable equity, which is the appraised value of a home minus the 20 percent most lenders require borrowers to keep as a safety net, grew by 7 percent in the first quarter of this year compared with the previous quarter, according to Black Knight, a mortgage software and analytics company. That is the largest single-quarter growth since the company began tracking it in 2005. It is up 16.5 percent compared with a year ago.

Homeowners now have a collective $5.8 trillion in tappable equity, the highest volume ever recorded and 16 percent above the last home price peak in 2006. The average homeowner with a mortgage gained $14,700 in tappable equity over the past year and has $113,900 available to draw. This is the amount over and above 20 percent of the value of the average home.

Yeah? Tap this, pal. The only debt I have is what I still owe on the house, and that amount has begun to visibly decrease. Yeah, I suppose I could get my hands on five figures’ worth of cash if I wanted to go to that much trouble, but why would I want to?

Pater Grant thinks even less of this scheme than I do:

[I]t’s bricks and mortar, frames and siding, foundations and roof. There are only two ways to convert that into cash: sell it (in which case one has to find somewhere else to live, probably at greater expense) or borrow against it. The latter is what the banks and economists would love us to do; borrow against our assets, go ever deeper into debt, to fund greater expenditure and grow the economy some more. The fact that the USA is already neck-deep in debt, collectively and individually, is ignored. That’s merely an inconvenience. The important thing, as far as they’re concerned, is to goose us into greater debt to fund greater spending — so that they can make more money out of us.

Emphasis in the original. The current operation of the economy — A buys something from B, but C skims off any profits to be had — is not something I’m willing to borrow money to support.

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The price of loneliness

The pure, unadulterated blankness of my dance card, as my therapist is fond of pointing out, surely costs me something. But trying to do something about it has a price tag of its own:

Over a 10 year span, there have been increases in the cost for singles to mingle, with the rise of inflation for in-person dates (i.e. movie tickets, meals, etc) and the popularity of paid relationship models, like Match.com or eHarmony. The average cost of dating has gone up about 52 percent — and that’s before you pay to swipe.

Truth be told, when I saw that phrase “paid relationship models,” I thought of, um, something else.

eHarmony and Match cost approximately $39.95 per month for a 6-month contract, not including coupons. In 2008, it cost approximately $50 to take someone on a date, and in 2018 it’s about $101 — which is a 52 percent increase, not even taking into account monthly membership fees or higher costs of living.

The average dater spends $239 a year just to be on dating sites, many using promotions and coupons to subscribe. That means if you’re going out on 4 dates a month, you’re looking at over $5,000 a year to search for love. Then, once you’ve found the person you want to promise forever to (or not), you’re looking at a total price tag of $72,000 from “hello” to “I Do.”

I am forced to conclude that the hermit, pain in the heart notwithstanding, comes out better on this deal.

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Industrial?

The most recent change to the Dow Jones Industrial Average is next week’s replacement of General Electric, the one stock that had been part of the DJIA since its inception in 1896, by Walgreens Boots Alliance, a worldwide pharmacy operation that runs the drug store down the street. If this sounds a little bit less than, well, industrial, there’s probably a reason for that:

[GE’s] ouster is an indication of the continuing decline in importance of heavy manufacturing in the U. S. economy. The only manufacturing companies left in the Dow 30 will be Caterpillar, United Technologies, and, arguably, Boeing.

Meanwhile, the Average rolls on with the likes of Pfizer, Walmart, Coca-Cola and Verizon.

I don’t believe that the United States can maintain a vibrant economy on the basis of finance and pharmaceuticals, both heavily subsidized sectors, but that’s the direction in which we’re heading and the departure of GE from the Dow is another milestone along that road.

Yep. We’ll be the world leader in hedge funds and lattes, but not much else.

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Perhaps grudging satisfaction

Nobody, I suspect, really likes property taxes. But some folks have a greater tolerance for them than you might think.

There are about 330,000 parcels of land in Oklahoma County. The Assessor’s office puts out fresh valuations every spring; once they’re out, there’s a 30-day appeal period, and under the law, any property owner may file an appeal. Few do:

The Oklahoma County Assessor’s Office said Monday that it had a record low number of appeals of property values set by the office this year — fewer than 150, or a rate of 0.0007 percent of nearly 200,000 property owners with a change in value.

Average county appeal rates range from 6 percent to 12 percent, “and it appears Oklahoma County has the lowest rate of appeals in the more than 3,000 counties in the U.S.,” said Larry Stein, chief deputy assessor.

It doesn’t hurt that there are strong cap laws in place, to keep valuations from jumping upward at the expense of longtime owners, and that the county in recent years has kept actual tax rates from rising more than a few mills; my tax bill has been within a grocery bag of $900 for several years, and is not likely to change much this year.

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$911 a yard, or something like that

Tam pries open the bill for an ambulance trip, and perhaps wishes she hadn’t:

Literally a hundred times more than I’ve ever paid for an Uber going twice the distance. Hell, I could have Uber’d back and forth between Indianapolis and Lafayette every day for a couple of weeks for that money.

Next time, no matter how much I’m writhing on the floor and screaming in pain at 0300, just tap me behind the ear with a hammer and throw me in the car.

Undoubtedly this was discussed in a boardroom somewhere:

“How much would this trip cost via Uber or Lyft?”

The new kid begins, “Well, it varies with how busy they are. Something called surge pricing.”

“We can’t do that. Bad optics. Find the average and multiply it by 200.”

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Because booze

I have to assume that this passage from the Instacart Help Center was put there for legal reasons:

Terms for Free Delivery

Offer valid on one order made through Instacart of $35 or more per retailer. Offer expires on the date indicated in the user’s account settings or displayed in the offer promotion. Orders containing alcohol that qualify for a free delivery promotion will be charged a $0.01 Alcohol Service Fee per delivery.

Because God forbid anyone should get anything liquor-related for nothing.

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Going on the Instacart

After reading up on the Instacart service, I decided that an operation that actually brought groceries to my door was probably something I should check into.

Instacart in the OKC shops at Whole Foods, Sprouts and Homeland. I opted for the latter and spent the next 15 minutes or so running through the item listing. Pricing was about where I’d expect it to be.

1:25 pm: Completed order (9 items, $36). Noted fees ($2 service, $5.99 delivery). Added 20-percent tip to total.

The Instacart app has a nifty little progress indicator, which even works on the Web version. Stage 2 (in progress, no further changes) began at 1:44 pm. Someone named Kelley was assigned to do the shopping. By 2:35 the order was marked as In Transit; at 2:53 Kelley rang the bell.

[Scheduled time of arrival: 2:25 to 3:25 pm.]

Were I going to use this every week, I’d sign up for the Instacart Express plan, which is sort of like Amazon Prime: two-hour shipping, no charge, $149 a year. I’m not sure I’m ready for that just yet.

I note that they have Uber-like surcharges for “busy” periods, whenever those may be. Okay, I’m fine with surge pricing as a rule, and Instacart Express customers are apparently immunized against it.

So: AAA would buy again. It’s still a tad cheaper to drive out to Walmart, but there are some things the Waltons can’t or don’t do. Yet.

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Explosive plastic

I have two credit cards and two debit cards; three different networks are involved. This doesn’t mean I’m immune to this predicament, but I’d probably survive it better than some:

Millions of people have been left unable to pay for goods and services in shops, petrol stations and railway stations across Britain and Europe after an unprecedented crash in Visa’s payment system.

Shoppers and travellers were unable to use their debit and credit cards when the meltdown began at around 2.30pm on Friday across Europe.

Visa issued a statement saying it was experiencing “a service disruption,” without identifying the cause.

Major retailers confirmed that card purchases were failing, as queues built up at petrol stations, with frustrated drivers unable to pay after filling up.

As close as I’ve come to this lately was last month, when I pulled up to my usual filling station, did my usual painful exercise to get myself out of the car, and only then discovered that the card reader was inoperative. None of my cards would save me in this case. Rather than go through a second round of contortions, I pulled the Walking Appliance out of the back seat, wheeled myself into the store, and peeled off three twenties. This of course necessitated a second trip into the store to retrieve $17 or so in change, but it demonstrated pretty clearly who rules, and it’s not Visa or Mastercard or even American Express. Cash is king.

(Via Bayou Renaissance Man.)

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As another closes

I’ve never met Caleb or Jessica Hill, and I have no reason to think they’re at all related to me. But by some weird bit of cosmic timing, I got to see their names twice in the paper this weekend, under the same heading: Land Sales.

First:

Whitney Fisher and Randell C. Fisher from Caleb and Jessica Hill, 3308 Oak Hollow Road, $740,000.

Quail Creek Golf and Country Club is sort of a horseshoe shape, open at the east end; this house sits on half an acre close to the middle of that open end. It was built in 1966, and this is still considered one of the better northside neighborhoods; the Hills arrived in 2012 for just about half the price they got for the sale. Nice return if you can get it.

But maybe they don’t need the space as much as they did. Here’s the second listing:

Caleb Hill and Jessica Hill from Traci D. and Jeff D. Turley, 6116 NE 105, $465,000.

Never been out to Oakdale Valley, where this home is located; I know from Oakdale School, a highly regarded PreK-8 school in its own little district, but there’s not a whole lot out there nearby. Then again, 73151, at the far northeast of the OKC ZIP code map — cross Hefner Road, three blocks to the north, and your mail goes to Edmond — might be the wealthiest ZIP in the entire range. This house sits on a smaller lot (0.31 acre, barely bigger than mine), and is smaller than where Caleb and Jessica used to live. Let’s see what Trulia had to say about it while it was on the market:

Entering through the double doors into the spacious entryway and dining area you will feel right at home. The living area is charming with a cathedral ceiling, floor to ceiling stone fireplace and windows that light up the room. You will enjoy cooking in the kitchen with a gas cooktop, ample counter space, and lighted custom cabinets. Wind down after a long day in the master suite, Jacuzzi tub or a steamy shower. Each of the 3 large additional bedrooms have bathroom access and are on the other side of the house. The upstairs bonus room is the place to be for fun and entertainment. The view on the patio is just beautiful. Exquisite landscaping designed by Oakleys. Oakdale Valley is a fantastic neighborhood that offers a gated entrance, community pool, clubhouse with exercise facility, greenbelts, fishing, rolling hills and acres of trees.

And, five will get you ten, a Homeowners’ Association. (Addendum: I got my ten.) I have to wonder if “gated entrance” was a major factor in the buying decision.

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An earlier Standard

A little family history from Warren Meyer:

My older readers will know that my dad was President of Exxon from the early 70’s (a few weeks before the Arab oil embargo) until the late 1980’s. In that job he never had to do analyst calls, but he did about 15 annual shareholders meetings. I don’t know how they run today but in those days any shareholder with a question or a rant could line up and fire away. Every person with a legitimate beef, every vocal person who hated oil companies and were pissed off about oil prices, every conspiracy theorist convinced Exxon was secretly formulating chemtrail material or whatever, and every outright crazy would buy one share of stock and show up to have their moment on stage. My dad probably fantasized about how awesome it would be to just get asked dry financial questions about cash flow. And through all the nuts and crazy questions and outright accusations that he was the most evil person on the planet, dad kept his cool and never once lost it.

If you asked him about it, he likely would not have talked about it. Dad — who grew up dirt poor with polio in rural Depression Iowa — was from that generation that really did not talk about their personal adversity much and certainly did not compete for victim status. He probably would just have joked that the loonies at the shareholder meeting were nothing compared to Congress. My favorite story was that Scoop Jackson once called him to testify in the Senate twice in 6 months or so. The first time, just before the embargo, he was trying to save the Alaska pipeline project and Jackson accused Exxon of being greedy and trying to produce more oil than was needed. The second time was just after the embargo, and Jackson accused Exxon of being greedy and hiding oil offshore in tankers to make sure the world had less oil than it needed.

Good old Scoop. Remember when he was the sane Democrat?

Through all of this, the only time I ever saw him really mad was when Johnny Carson made a joke about killing the president of Exxon (he asked his audience to raise their hands if they thought they would actually get convicted for killing the president of Exxon) and over the next several days our family received hundreds of death threats. These had to be treated fairly credibly at the time because terrorists were frequently attacking, kidnapping, and bombing oil company executives and their families. We had friends whose housekeeper’s hand was blown off by a letter bomb, and I was not able to travel outside of the country for many years for fear of kidnapping. (For Firefly fans, if you remember the scene of Mal always cutting his apples because he feared bombs in them from a old war experience, you might recognize how, to this day, I still open packages slowly and carefully.)

And that was during the Age of Carson, a largely apolitical comedian — yet the nitwits spun their way out of the woodwork with frightening speed. Today, no thanks to the current corps of synthetically edgy talkers and their reinforcement from the echo chambers of social media, there is no longer any such thing as a rhetorical question; it’s always a cry for a rally.

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Beyond mere hyperinflation

P. J. O’Rourke once explained Mexican currency this way: “One peso is worth 100 centavos, and one centavo is worth nothing.” God only knows what he would have said about the Venezuelan bolívar, which has sunk to a level that can only be described as surreal:

How worthless is the bolívar, Venezuela’s currency? You’d be better off investing in fictional currency from a video game.

The virtual gold in World of Warcraft, the online role-playing game, is now almost seven times more valuable than real cash from Venezuela, whose economy is in shambles.

As the South American country suffers an economic crisis due to extreme inflation, the value of bolívar has cratered. One US dollar today is worth 68,915 bolívares, according to the black market exchange rate the locals use. The black market rate is considered more trustworthy than the official rate, because the Venezuelan government has lost credibility among many of its people.

Who knew? (And no, you won’t see the S-word in this piece.)

Meanwhile in Azeroth:

By contrast, an official token, or in-game credit, in WoW is worth $20. Tokens also are sold to other players for gold, and their value changes through worldwide auctions. According to a WoW token price tracker, a token is currently worth 201,707 pieces of virtual gold.

Which means a single dollar trades to 10,085 gold pieces in WoW. This makes the fake money used in Azeroth, the mythical world of the game, about 6.8 times more valuable than the Venezuelan bolívar.

If you prefer Monopoly money, you can get $20,580 for a mere $14.99. And O’Rourke notwithstanding, the Mexican peso is holding steady at about five cents Estados Unidos.

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Bank error in your favor (4)

It wasn’t so long that a giant Korean conglomerate inadvertently paid out billions in “accidental” dividends. The Germans, perhaps miffed, figured they could do the same:

A routine payment went awry at Deutsche Bank AG last month when Germany’s biggest lender inadvertently sent 28 billion euros ($35 billion) to an exchange as part of its daily dealings in derivatives, according to a person familiar with the matter.

The errant transfer occurred about a week before Easter as Deutsche Bank was conducting a daily collateral adjustment, the person said. The sum, which far exceeded the amount it was due to post, landed in an account at Deutsche Boerse AG’s Eurex clearinghouse.

The error, which took place in the final weeks of former Chief Executive Officer John Cryan’s tenure, was quickly spotted and no financial harm suffered. But the episode raises fresh questions about the bank’s risk and control processes, which Cryan had boasted of improving before his ouster.

As they say at Fark, we need one more for the trifecta.

(Via Bayou Renaissance Man.)

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Bank error in your favor (3)

Oh, yeah, Monopoly, like that ever really happens.

Wait, what?

Samsung Securities Co. said Sunday that it will make amends to all those that have been affected by the mistaken dividend payments to its employees.

In a statement released by CEO Koo Sung-hoon, the brokerage said it will do its utmost to regain the confidence of its customers and take firm action against moral hazard cases involving its workers.

On Friday, the company had planned to pay dividends of 1,000 won (US$0.93) to its employees under a stock ownership plan, but it mistakenly paid over 2.8 billion shares by processing the wrong figure and making a computation error. This caused the firm’s stock price to plunge by more than 11 percent during the trading session to 35,150 won, although it recovered to the 38,000-won range before the market’s close.

A whole ninety-three cents? So generous of them. Then again, they probably can’t afford to pay out $75 billion just now.

Although no details have been provided, some employees reportedly sold off their stocks before the problem was fixed, with one even offloading 1 million wrongly gotten shares for at least 35 billion won. The brokerage said it has determined that 16 employees sold over 5 million shares on the market.

Quelle surprise.

(Via Fark.)

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It’s so EZ

Sunday afternoon, I did my taxes, not so much because it was Easter, but because it was April Fools’ Day. (And why hasn’t that been moved to the 15th?) Last year, I tried out one of the FreeFile providers listed on the IRS Web site, and it went well enough for me to use them again, especially since I made about $6000 less this year; I’d been trimming my work hours a bit, but the major factor here is that I withdrew nothing from my 401(k) plan in 2017.

For the first time in 15 years or so, I had no reason to itemize deductions: property tax was about the same as 2016, mortgage interest went down several percentage points, and the standard deduction was widened a whole fifty bucks. I am, for the foreseeable future, a short-former.

As was the case last year, I got a small sum back from the Feds, and had to send a somewhat larger sum to the state. Remarkably, that small sum arrived yesterday afternoon, one day faster than last year’s. Being the petty person I am, I’d set two different direct-deposit destinations, the faster of the two being the one that actually received a deposit.

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Never swallow COLA

Peter Grant supplies a data point:

[E]ven five years ago we could eat out as a couple in a “normal” restaurant (pizzeria, meat-and-three, burger joint, the local Thai eatery, whatever) for about $20-$30 for the two of us. Today, we’re lucky to get away with less than $40 for the same meal, and it’s frequently close to (or even over) $50. Auto tires? The last tires I bought for my pickup truck cost me less than $130 each, which I thought was expensive, even though they were a premium brand and I bought them from a vendor known for low prices. Today, just four years after I bought them, you can make that $200 per tire from the same vendor. That’s an increase of about $70 per tire in four years, or an average of $17.50 per year.

The Consumer Price Index? Don’t make me laugh:

In 2016 I did a detailed two-part study of inflation, which highlighted the problem, looked at the alternate inflation figures provided by Chapwood and Shadowstats, and described the reality of our current position. If you didn’t read them then, or don’t recall them, I strongly urge you to do so. They’re brutally factual. I defy anyone to contradict the points I made there, because they’re all based on reality and on actual evidence — not government meddling. I pointed out, in the second article:

“Our incomes are being reduced in purchasing power by approximately 10% per year (the real rate of inflation, as discussed yesterday). If I earn $50,000 per year, and receive a 1% increase this year to compensate me for the official rate of inflation, this is worse than meaningless. In reality I will suffer a 9% decrease in my purchasing power. Next year, my income of $50,500 (including the previous year’s 1% increase) will be worth only $45,450 in terms of this year’s purchasing power. That decline will continue, year in, year out. I have to plan accordingly, and expect that my money will buy less and less as time passes. Unless I can somehow find extra money from somewhere, I’m going to be in serious financial difficulties in due course. (Many people already are.)”

The Chapwood index is based on the actual selling price of a basket of 500 products in Americs’s largest cities. According to Chapwood, here in OKC, prices have been going up about 9 percent a year for the last five years. The CPI, ostensibly a nationwide index, reflects the actual rate of inflation in no nation on the planet.

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The value of a free market

There aren’t a lot of truly free markets anymore — government at various levels likes to meddle, and occasionally someone in the private sector attempts to tilt the playing field — but sometimes we get true price transparency:

When Hillary Clinton spoke at Rutgers University Thursday night, she was paid $25,000, which is $7,000 less than MTV reality star Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi received from an appearance at the university in 2011, according to NJ.com.

Clinton appeared at Rutgers to discuss “politics, American democracy and her role in shaping women’s political history.” Polizzi, on the other hand, was paid $32,000 in 2011 to speak to students about studying hard, but partying harder.

One might argue that Snooki, as a resident, is of greater interest to the Garden State, and Rutgers is the state university, but it may simply be that the school is calling them the way it sees them:

Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison made $30,000 in 2011, and former White House press secretary Bill Moyers received $35,000 to speak in 2015.

We will not discuss the $110,000 check the University of Oklahoma wrote to Katie Couric back in ought-six.

And this seems awfully tone-deaf of HRC:

“I was really struck by how people said that to me — go away, go away,” Clinton told the audience at Rutgers. “They never said that to any man who was not elected.”

Poor old Al Gore, already forgotten, and deservedly so.

(Via @Liberal Heretic.)

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Did anyone ever use this?

A note from the guys at PayPal:

As we continue to evolve and improve your PayPal experience we’ve decided to remove the Pay After Delivery payment method. After April 18, 2018, this will no longer be a choice when you check out with PayPal. If you’ve made a Pay After Delivery purchase that is scheduled to be billed after April 18, 2018, we’ll still complete the transaction as scheduled (10 days after purchase for domestic transactions and 14 days after purchase for international transactions).

I mean, if I need to pay over time, there are credit cards. Even PayPal has credit cards. But maybe this is just a reflection of my own predilections.

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Oh, by the way

A really dreadful gurney-side manner, this is:

Laura Cameron, then three months pregnant, tripped and fell in a parking lot and landed in the emergency room last May — her blood pressure was low and she was scared and in pain. She was flat on her back and plugged into a saline drip when a hospital employee approached her gurney to discuss how she would pay her hospital bill.

Though both Cameron, 28, and her husband, Keith, have insurance, the bill would likely come to about $830, the representative said. If that sounded unmanageable, she offered, they could take out a loan through a bank that had a partnership with the hospital.

I got hauled to the ER twice in 2016. The first time, an underling who came off like Truman Capote’s taller brother let me know that I was facing a hundred-dollar copay, and would I like to take care of that now? I was sufficiently conscious to nod assent, and dug out my debit card.

An hour later, part two of the Truman show: “They’re telling us you haven’t met your deductible yet this year.” I shrugged, handed over the plastic, and signed for a thousand. Shortly thereafter, I was wheeled to an actual room.

[P]romoting bank loans at hospitals and, particularly, emergency rooms raises concerns, experts say. For one thing, the cost estimates provided — likely based on a hospital’s list price — may be far higher than the negotiated rate ultimately paid by most insurers. Sick patients, like Cameron, may feel they have no choice but to sign up for a loan since they need treatment. And the quick loan process, usually with no credit check, means they may well be signing on for expenses they can ill afford to pay.

I suppose I was fortunate in that I actually had $1100 in the bank. Not everyone is in such a position.

Here’s an option I heartily endorse when possible:

If you should find yourself in hospital unexpectedly, and confronted with this sort of aggressive approach, I suggest you tell them to talk to your significant other, or ask them to wait until you’re in a proper mental and physical and emotional state to make such decisions. If they persist, tell them what they can do with the paperwork. After all, they’re in a place where it can be extracted once they’ve done that!

Damn straight.

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Didn’t notice a thing

Email received from American Express:

We sincerely apologize for any inconvenience you may have experienced over the weekend when using your Card to make a purchase or withdraw money at an ATM. We experienced high transaction volumes
and some intermittent disruption to our services. Because of heavy call volumes, we were unable to provide you with the level of service that you should expect.

We are working quickly to resolve any lingering issues, including correcting any unexpected pending transactions that you may see on your account.

That last bit is perhaps a little scary, but I noticed no such transactions, and went back to check just to make sure.

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What’s yours is mined

Nearly half the electrical power in Iceland is going to create cryptocurrency:

Iceland is facing an “exponential” rise in Bitcoin mining that is gobbling up power resources, a spokesman for Icelandic energy firm HS Orka has said.

This year, electricity use at Bitcoin mining data centres is likely to exceed that of all Iceland’s homes, according to Johann Snorri Sigurbergsson.

He said many potential customers were keen to get in on the act.

“If all these projects are realised, we won’t have enough energy for it,” he told the BBC.

Johann’s figures are startling:

[H]e expects Bitcoin mining operations will use around 840 gigawatt hours of electricity to supply data centre computers and cooling systems, for example.

He estimated that the country’s homes, in contrast, use around 700 gigawatt hours every year.

Iceland has a population of about 350,000, not quite as many as Bakersfield, California.

(Via Fark.)

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Don’t let them leave home without it

Warren Meyer says that if your kids are traveling, you should make sure they’re traveling with American Express:

I am a flaming hypocrite on this topic, because my company does not accept Amex, but for travel, particularly if it is a shared family card you are giving your kids, don’t use Visa or Mastercard. Most banks have systems now that are simply hair-trigger in freezing an account if they see a charge they don’t expect, which generally means a charge in a new city, i.e. when you are traveling. It is merely irritating on my own card, as I have to call and get it turned back on (which can be a pain in certain foreign lands) but it creates a real problem for my kids. Twice my son has been traveling and twice they have immediately shut down his card. When he called, they would not talk to him so he had to find me somewhere and I had to call them to verify a charge. But since I did not make the charge I have to call my son back and then call the credit card company back… In my experience, perhaps due to their background as a travel company, Amex is far, far less likely to have travel to new lands trigger these sort of pre-emptive account shutdowns.

I think I’ve had only one such incident with American Express, and they made a point of actually calling me before taking more severe action. What’s more, since then they’ve designated a couple of customer-service people to keep an eys on Twitter, not quite 24/7, but it’s better than a telephone tree.

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Pocket now better lined

Anyone who listened to the yammering — “debate” just doesn’t describe it — over the Trump administration’s insistence on a tax cut of some sort would be eminently justified in asking “Yeah? How much?”

I clearly don’t know how you did, but here’s how I came out. Despite my allegedly lofty position on the org chart, I am paid on an hourly basis. Over the past two years, I’ve cut those hours back somewhat, from 94 or so every other week to more like 84. The first order of business, therefore, was to find a pay period pre-Trump that, in terms of hours and bennies, matches my first post-Trump check. Only had to go back to October ’17. The difference in take-home: $32.05. Over a year’s time, this comes to $833. One could legitimately say that this is not a huge sum. On t’other hand, it’s more than my house payment. (Keep in mind that I have yet to see a proper Form 1040 or its instructions.)

The (at one time) Loyal Opposition has pointed out that these cuts, as enacted, will expire in ten years. Then again, I can reasonably expect to expire in ten years, if not sooner.

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A credit to the species

Bark M. has a long talk with a subprime auto-lending specialist, and he asks one of the questions I most wanted to have answered:

“So who are your very best customers, then?”

“Drug dealers. No question.” She’s very definitive on this point. “They pay on time, every month, in cash at the office. They’ll even pay extra money toward the principal — I’ve explained how that works to a few of them, and they really love the idea. Of course, the money smells like weed and makes the office reek for the whole day. Great customers. Horrible people, yes, but great customers.”

You’d almost wonder why they’d go shopping subprime if they’re such careful, um, money managers.

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