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The Price Of Oil

The Peak Oil Crash: Eight Ways to Survive the Coming Hard Times

What to Be Doing When No One Seems to Be Doing Anything

While the 2008 political candidates argue about whose ads are dirtier and whose friends are more suspect, while Obama bowls badly and Hillary knocks down Jello shots and McCain forgets who is fighting whom in Iraq, ordinary working Americans are losing interest and are instead quietly freaking out.

Americans have good reasons to be freaking out.

The price of oil breaks a record every other day, literally. Gas is nearly unaffordable and is beginning to spike the cost of food. A worldwide food shortage is well underway and haunts the news nightly. Costco shoppers are already hoarding so much rice (entire pallets in some cases) that Walmart is now rationing large bags of rice to one per customer per visit at its Sam’s Club outlets. They warn that flour and beans could well be next if people don’t knock it off.

How did this happen? Why isn’t it being talked about more directly? It might surprise you Continue reading The Price Of Oil

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100 Tips for Recycling Your Useless SUV

Gloat? Who, me?

A couple of weeks ago I was walking Rocket, our Malamute dog, which is pretty much what I do every day after I get home from my slave shift at the cube farm. Looking both ways at the four-way stop at corner of the suburban block on which we live, I confirmed the way was clear and stepped into the intersection.

Immediately a HUGE SUV jolted to a stop inches from me and the dog. Where did it come from? Who knows! Where do any of them come from? I stopped too, right there in the middle of the street, and stared right into the dull, dead eyes of a well-dressed young woman talking on a cell phone. She barely registered the fact that she had nearly killed me and my dog, and continued to talk on her cell phone as if nothing had even happened.

Then I said a really bad word that described her and her mother in an unflattering, even vulgar way. Continue reading 100 Tips for Recycling Your Useless SUV

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Top 10 Most Annoying Office Traditions

Annoying Office Traditions

Annoying Office Traditions
Annoying Office Traditions

Fix Yourself Up Will You?

Today at work we all got one of those e-mails–or more accurately, about six of those e-mails–about an impending visit by a corporate manager, reminding us of the time and date of the visit and insisting that everyone be on their best behavior, have their desks spotless, and be dressed up. In other words, don’t be yourself, be some other anal, overdressed person for a day or two, and then once this guy leaves we’ll let you know.

Don’t you just hate that?

I got to thinking about how many times I’ve received an e-mail like this one over the course of my working life, and I realized that this particular e-mail is only one of a number of office traditions that just really chap my ass. I thought laying them all out would make a good hub.

Hopefully I can think of ten of them. Here goes:

(Feel free to add any of your own favorites.)

#10 Quick, Everyone Act Professional

You know, if you have to alert your staff a day in advance to tell them to dress correctly, clean the yogurt off their keyboards, put away the Office Space posters and defaced photos of the CEO, and remember to wear shoes, then chances are you aren’t really fooling anybody anyway. If, on the other hand, you already have a professional, hard-working staff, why insult their collective intelligence by sending out a notice instructing them all to please keep their fingers out of their butts for a given day so you will look better to Mr. Fancypants?

If you are the sort of manager who sends out this kind of memo, you can be sure that no one cares if you look Continue reading Top 10 Most Annoying Office Traditions

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How China Provoked the Fannie Mae Freddie Mac Bail-Out

Fannie Mae Freddie Mac Bail-Out

China Bail Out Money
Fannie Mae Freddie Mac Bail-Out

China’s Place in Our Economic Ecosystem

Today the thing that we were assured would never actually happen, happened: The U.S. government took mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac into conservatorship–a fancy way of saying that U.S. taxpayers are now on the hook for as much as $500 billion in bad debt.

Wall Street responded with relief and a rally of 2% in one day. How long-lived this rally will be remains to be seen. Wall Street has been nothing if not volatile this year: Up 2% one day, down 3% the next. Whatever happens next, expect to hear the phrase “Fannie and Freddie were just too big to be allowed to fail,” lots of times in the coming weeks from all sorts of public figures as they pat themselves on the back and reassure a jittery public that this is absolutely the right move and it absolutely had to be done.

What you might not hear quite as often, if at all, is an explanation of precisely why it Continue reading How China Provoked the Fannie Mae Freddie Mac Bail-Out

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Lehman Brothers, AIG, Wamu, Merrill Lynch: Get in Line, Folks, Here We Go

Lehman Brothers Expected To File for Bankruptcy

As I write this, it is Sunday night on Wall Street, but most of the major players in that neighborhood are having a less than restful weekend. After calling an emergency meeting of the heads of major Wall Street investment firms in a frantic attempt to get them to pool their resources and thereby broker a sale of the troubled investment firm Lehman Brothers, Federal Reserve Chairman Benjamin Bernanke has so far failed to pull another rabbit out his hat. No more bail-outs, no more rabbits: that hat is so empty you can hear the wind whistling through the graveyard if you put your ear to it.

It looks like Lehman will be going belly up tomorrow.

That’s a problem. It’s a problem because the U.S. government just took over the two largest mortgage firms in history: Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac; in an effort to reassure jittery foreign investors who were starting to pull out of U.S. mortgage backed securities thus causing a global slowdown. No sooner were foreign investors calmed, than things went sour again.

Fannie and Freddie, it turns out, were cooking the books even more flagrantly than suspected. The amount of bad debt that American taxpayers have to shoulder will almost surely be much bigger than anticipated. In spite of that fact, the Bush administration made the controversial decision today not to include the Fannie/Freddie mess in the national debt, which is already twice Continue reading Lehman Brothers, AIG, Wamu, Merrill Lynch: Get in Line, Folks, Here We Go

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Can You Trust the News?

Can You Trust the News?

Can You Trust the News
Can You Trust the News

Propaganda & the Corporate Agenda

Does the mainstream media use “moral panic”, “truthiness”, and “the wisdom of repugnance” to press an agenda? If so, what agenda? Is this propaganda?

Over the past ten or fifteen years, the U.S. economy has witnessed a feeding frenzy of corporate mergers and acquistions. We’ve seen this trend in the banking and financial services industry with regional banks changing ownership every year or two, and we’ve seen it in the telecommunications industry with all the Baby Bells being eaten up by AT&T after AT&T was first broken up into, well, all the Baby Bells.

Many companies that used to be locally owned no longer exist, bought up or driven out by corporate interests. Bookstores are a good example of this. Ten years ago a few independent bookstores were still holding onto their status by selling products that were not books. Now most of them are long gone, eaten up by Barnes and Noble or just boarded up and out of business.

Book distribution centers also used to be locally owned. Now only a couple of corporate players remain nationwide, and only two main distribution centers exist: one west of the Mississippi and one east of the Mississippi. These huge distribution centers give deep discounts to corporate retailers, thus making competition by small, local players impossible.

Not only have the major distribution centers driven out most of the small bookstores, they have also drastically reduced the power of small presses to distribute lesser known authors and titles. First, almost no small bookstores remain to buy these titles directly from the small presses that would otherwise print them. Second, the two big distribution centers offer the best deals and deepest discounts only on titles that major publishing houses consider to be potential best sellers, effectively cutting out the viability of small presses altogether and reducing variety.

So, while you can sip a latte while browsing books at Barnes & Nobles, what you can’t do is find the variety and unique selection that used to be available at smaller independent bookstores. At B & N, you will find books Continue reading Can You Trust the News?

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Top Ten Least Publicized Financial Bail-Out Ideas

Top Ten Least Publicized Financial Bail-Out Ideas

Please madam, can you spare a few hundred billion?

Brainstorming the Big Rescue

Now that the $700 billion bail-out package proposed by Henry Paulson has been not passed and then passed by Congress, and not supported and then supported and then not supported again by almost everybody else; it has become increasingly clear that that bail-out package no longer even matters anymore.

That bail-out package is so two weeks ago!

Since that first frantic plea by Paulson to, “Give me $700 billion NOW or the economy gets it!” the economy has, well, gotten it.

Bang!

Two trillion in stock market losses in just two weeks.

So governments around the world are now on to bigger and even crazier bail-out plans, even as I write this. For instance, just a few days ago Ben Bernanke quietly pumped $500 billion directly into the banks and gave another $39 billion to AIG. Congress (while nobody was paying any attention) gave $25 billion to the Detroit auto industry. John McCain promised to give $300 billion to rework individual mortgages by buying them high and taking a loss when moving them low (thanks taxpayers!) but only if he gets elected, and the U.S. government recently announced that maybe it will just take over the banks. It isn’t sure yet; it’s just a thought…

And we’re just gettin’ warmed up!

Not to worry though. The original $700 billion rescue package is still in the works, and eventually Hank Paulson and his team of intrepid Wall Street investment bankers really will get around to buying up some toxic securities at some kind of price, we don’t know what kind or when or how–but we do know for sure that once he starts doing that, something will happen or it won’t.

The thing is, we have to trust him. He’s on it.

Meanwhile, Rome seems to be burning and no one has even fired up a fiddle yet.

So I thought it would be cool, in the spirit of good old Yankee ingenuity, to list some of this week’s most popular and least publicized economic bail-out ideas. I mean it’s clear that whoever is in charge of this show has temporarily lost the remote control, so maybe we can all help get the country (and the world) back on track by pitching in. What are YOUR ideas for a good bail-out?

Here without any more delay, are ten of mine. Feel free to add your own.

Your country needs YOU!

I like long walks on the beach and wads of money!

#10 The Virtual United States of America

People are so judgmental sometimes. “You can’t run an economy on debt alone,” they complain, and “People in the U.S. spend money they don’t have,” and “The war in Iraq has already cost us nearly a trillion dollars and we aren’t one whit safer as a result.” And so on and so forth.

Bitch, bitch, bitch…

You know, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with being completely delusional about money and life and consequences, you just have to do it online!

If the United States joined an internet dating site, it would have it made in the shade. Debt could be profit, up could be down, war could be peace. You just have to keep it all virtual.

The U.S. doesn’t have to bail itself out, it just has to create an online profile for itself in which it is slim, prosperous, witty, and well-dressed. The United States will be blonde in this profile, and it will have the goal of, “…helping other nations to achieve world peace and also learning sign language and working with underprivileged children.” The United States will smile a lot and wear lipstick.

The United States will get lots of e-mails from 50-year-old lechers in stained t-shirts who don’t shave and are unemployed. But, it will look totally hot.

#9 The US of MLM $100K a Day Passive Income Bail-Out

I don’t really understand how Wall Street got us into this mess with tricky investments when any fool can just slap up a website and make $100K a day while playing Grand Theft Auto and eating Ding Dongs. I mean, geez, do we have to teach these stockbrokers everything?

The United States should take that $700 billion and buy up 700 million domain names, then slap up 700 million longtail keyword niche articles with good product placement, and before the day is out, they will be delivering Continue reading Top Ten Least Publicized Financial Bail-Out Ideas

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Critical Thinkers Make Lousy Consumers

Critical Thinkers Make Lousy Consumers

Over the course of the past twenty-five years the U.S. economy has shifted from a manufacturing base to a consumer base. In other words, people my age (I’m 55) grew up in a United States that produced most of the world’s steel, automobiles, and small electronics, as well as a good deal of the world’s food and oil. That manufacturing base made us one of the wealthiest nations on earth for over 30 years, and thanks to labor unions, it also created an affluent, educated, and active middle class.

Today, the U.S. imports most of its goods and even many of its services from other countries. Globalization and a trend toward corporate mergers and acquisitions has led to the relocation of most manufacturing operations to other countries where labor and raw materials are cheap. The fact that we now import almost everything we need is often disguised in the phrase “consumer economy” or “consumer driven economy,” as if consumption itself were a marketable commodity. How can buying things be a commodity?

Buying things can become a commodity if you can market debt, and you can, and we do. In reality, the biggest U.S. commodity right now is debt. People who used to make enough money to make cash purchases now borrow money to buy the things they need (which are produced elsewhere) and the interest on their debt creates profit, which can then be sold as a commodity (often, ironically, to other countries). The loss of good manufacturing jobs has gone hand in hand with the increased availability of easy credit, and it is that credit debt and its profit that we sell in the form of securities.

The truth of the moment is that if Americans don’t keep borrowing and keep Continue reading Critical Thinkers Make Lousy Consumers