Cynical Synapse

Mon, 29 Sep 2008

Did You Miss Your Bailout?

Filed under: Business, Economy, Life, Politics, Profiteering — cynicalsynapse @ 10:20 pm

Look at everyone crying crocodile tears for the failed $700 billion Wall Street bailout! No one ever bailed me out of a bad loan decision. I’ll bet you never got a bailout, either

Let’s consider how we got into this crisis. In the interests of “less government,” regulatory oversight was relaxed or not applied to “innovative” financing. As credit became easier and easier to obtain, people bought—or rather committed to buy—more and more things at greater and greater prices. How else do you explain 3 and 4,000 square foot houses with 3+ stall garages, snowmobiles, quads, and all the toys? And lenders were only too happy to oblige, anticipating big returns on investment.

The old saying, “if it looks too good to be true,” came home to roost. You see, it wasn’t a housing bubble that burst. It was a greed bubble. Enron was the start; housing is the next victim because that’s the biggest investment most individuals make. I fault first the borrowers who went way beyond their means to buy more house than they could afford. But I also fault the lenders for taking far more risk than they ever should have and for getting as “creative” as they could to approve such loans, all in an effort to rake in ever-increasing profits.

Aimply put, the problem is greed! Personal greed for more stuff fueled corporate greed for more profit, which was just fine with stockholders whose greed wanted higher dividends. Now their damn house of cards is collapsing in the wind and they want the taxpayers—you and me—to bail them out. I say screw them all; I’m glad the bailout failed. There are alternatives that don’t suck the lifeblood out of the rest of us.

Congressman Mike Rogers said, “this is still the same bailout bill, written by a Wall Street guy with a Wall Street solution to a problem created on Wall Street.” Let the big guys feel some pain for a change. Similarly, Obama said, “It must not be designed to reward particular companies or the irresponsible decisions of borrowers or lenders.  It must not be designed to enhance the personal gain of CEOs and management.  The recklessness of some of these executives has helped cause this mess, even as they walk away with multimillion dollar golden parachutes while taxpayers are left holding the bag.”

The whole mess is not simple. Like Thoughtful Conservative said: more questions than answers.

Fri, 26 Sep 2008

Mustard PTs and Jacked Focuses

Filed under: Behavior, Cars, Driving, Life, People — cynicalsynapse @ 6:30 pm

My drive today included seeing a PT Cruiser in a Dijon mustard color. How bizarre is that? Would you pay big money for that color? Like those chromate-green Saturns and Pontiac Vibes, seems you really have to wonder what people are thinking to pay good money for such ugly-colored cars.

Jacked up Ford Focus

Jacked up Ford Focus

Besides the Dijon Cruiser today, I also encountered thia jacked-up Focus. Forgive me, but did I miss when the Focus became part of the sub-culture? I’m surprised it didn’t have some big-ass spoiler and those big-pipe mufflers that make cars whine. Is that high-pitched noise supposed to somehow represent a mean machine?

Mon, 22 Sep 2008

What’s Up With Today’s Campers?

Filed under: Behavior, Camping, Economy, Life, Rants, Travel — cynicalsynapse @ 9:05 pm

Popup tent camper with air conditioner

Popup tent camper with air conditioner

The whole concept of a popup tent camper with an air conditioner seems rather bizarre to me. Think about it–walls made of canvas but the trailer has a fricking air conditioner! It’s no wonder the rest of the world hates us.

When I was a kid, we camped for most vacations. I imagine the main reason was to save money over the cost of motels. We were always tent campers and considered travel trailers as not really campers. It was a radical step into modern society when we took along a portable TV for the first time.

One of the other reasons for camping was to enjoy the surroundings and nature. We spent a couple weeks in the Smoky Mountains and did some hiking. While we camped, I did some fishing. And we usually camped in wooded campgrounds, not just open fields with electric and water hookups.

So, if camping is supposed to be a return to nature, what does an air conditioner have to do with it? And how appropriate is an air conditioner in a wooded setting, interfering with anyone who might hope to have a serene setting? Does it make sense to air condition a canvas-sided room?

If camping is supposed to be about saving money, then consider the number of 5th-wheelers and bus-sized motor homes. Those things cost $150k to $300k and more! If a campground is $30 and a motel room is $80, how many nights’ camping does it take to make up the difference? Don’t forget to include the reduced mileage of the big-ass truck to haul the trailer or the low mpg of the motor home.

Thu, 18 Sep 2008

An Apple A Day…

Filed under: Behavior, Business, Economy, Gas Prices, Oil, Profiteering — cynicalsynapse @ 10:51 pm

Many bloggers—at least those I seem to run into—tend to be conservative, free market types. I’m okay with that in general. But we seem to find discord with Big Oil profits and the recent gasoline price hikes following hurricanes Gustav and Ike. I should note that 2 dozen US refineries remain closed or are just starting up following the hurricanes.

It is simple supply and demand economics, therefore, that gas pump prices are up. This is largely a factor of panic at the pumps. Following many blogs and news stories over the weekend, there were very few shortages due to Ike. Localized problems were the result of a frenzied, “chicken little” types reminiscent of reaction to the War of Worlds radio broadcast in 1938. Wild rumors and media hype made people act like frenzied sharks after chum.

When people overdrive the available supply and ability of the distribution system to keep up on the local level, the impact of what would probably have been slightly higher prices with little or no noticeable shortages will now have longer consequences. I understand that. I also appreciate consumer choices—in this case, a “me first” rash purchase, sometimes even personal hoarding—resulted in a run on gasoline supplies. Apparently nobody remembers the effect the run on banks had in 1929 that led to a little thing called the Great Depression.

But, the extremely high profits of Big Oil put them on a prove your innocence footing with me. It’s hard for me to accept they still need their drilling incentives. It’s hard for me to accept they need the higher profits. It’s hard for me to pay higher prices, knowing the station operator doesn’t get but a small amount of that, while Big Oil reports record profits every quarter. I’d be far more tolerant if they’d “share the suffering,” even just a little bit. Say, maybe, 5 cents a gallon. I’ll bet they could still enjoy record profits, but think of the customer good will!

Since I make no bones about distrusting Big Oil, I don’t rule out the possibility they had some small role in the shenanigans since last Friday. It may be innocuous, informing the media that refineries in Ike’s path will be shut down. It’s just that I think the media is very predictable and Big Oil sophisticated enough to manipulate the unknowing media. Either way, the media created a lot of attention—I’d call it hype—that generated increased purchases. This led to some increased prices which begot rumors. Next came higher prices, fear-buying, lines, fights, and some localized sell-outs. There are, after all, only so many tanker trucks and drivers to keep the stations supplied. The sell-outs didn’t mean there was no gas. But by then, the Martians had landed, if you know what I mean.

Lots of people started using the G word—gouging. I visited a blog the other day claiming $6 plus prices in one area. But, a quick trip to cityxgasprices.com told me the prices for that Saturday were never anywhere near $6, not even within $1.50 of that. That doesn’t mean some stations weren’t profiteering. Michigan’s Attorney General is investigating 16 gouging allegations. That’s not Big Oil, however. That’s station operators.

Another popular argument against those who “have it in for Big Oil” is the claim other industries have higher returns on investment or higher profit percentages. Rich’s comment on this blog said those differences were like apples to oranges, hence the title of this block entry. A common choice for comparison is software companies, a euphemism for a Washington state-based operating system and productivity suite developer and marketer.

An apple a day?Here’s where that analogy fails, however. You see, I don’t need that operating system or office suite. There are competing commercial products as well as open source products. Even Big Software’s web browser has competition. So, while I may need to use software, I have options. Another market segment cited for high ROI is pharmaceuticals. Bear in mind, now, that pharmaceuticals is, essentially chemicals. To be honest, I could climb on this bandwagon because I think the Big Pill people are raping us, too. But, again, I have choices. Generics are available for a number of medications. There are alternatives for some of the big sellers (how many different allergy, blood pressure, and cholesterol meds are out there?) and others are not essential, such as the hair loss and ED pills whose commercials I really detest.

With oil, however, I don’t have much choice. I can pick between brands or go with “no name” brands, but the price is usually pretty close. And, while I won’t buy from ExxonMobil (because of their disgustingly high net profits) and Citgo (because they’re Venezuelan-owned), I realize the gasoline I buy could come from any of the refiners and the crude that went into it from any oil region on the globe. So, even the minute choices I have are actually rendered virtually non-existent. I work 87 miles away from where I live, so bicycle is not an option. I don’t have a mass transit choice. Petrol is it and it’s not discretionary. Without employment, there’s no food on the table.

Ok, pharmaceuticals, software, and petroleum might be like trying to compare peaches to oranges to apples. But all the varieties of apples are still apples. And the apples I gotta have.

Mon, 15 Sep 2008

Is Big Oil the Victim?

Filed under: Business, Gas Prices, Oil, Politics, Profiteering — cynicalsynapse @ 11:11 pm

I suppose in the blogosphere, mine is a “baby blog.” It should be no wonder, then, I get excited at any comment. I especially enjoy the thought-provoking ones. Such as with tsfiles‘ comment on Fact or Fiction—Obscene Gas Prices.

Disclaimer: I admit Big Oil, and gasoline prices, is a sore spot with me. I drive 174 miles round-trip to work each day. I could move closer to work, but Michigan’s economy and housing market is in the shitters. And, there’s precious little mass transit, so that’s not an option either. Today, car companies are bragging about 30 mpg; my Hyundai SUV gets 26, so I’m in the ballpark. But I digress.

Here’s my reply on tsfiles’ blog:

I’m afraid I didn’t keep track of the sources, which is why i didn’t link to them in my reply. I’ve visited a lot of blogs since Friday on the topic of gas prices. However, I googled fuel supplies today and Flordia and Knoxville (which, by the way was one of the hot “gouge” complaint areas) are two examples.

That doesn’t mean we didn’t have stations run out of gas because of idiot consumers. Stations have to wait their turn for resupply. Nor does it mean there won’t be a tightening in supply. As you said, two dozen refineries are down, along with some of the major pipelines.

I don’t disagree that political interference is not helping the situation. But I suspect politicians no longer represent their constituencies. Rather, they represent special interests, including Big Oil. I think that’s why the pointless investigations you refer to haven’t yielded anything substantive. They’re just a way for politicians to make the public feel good.

You’re right: petroleum is what drives our economy. I don’t disagree that environmentalist agendas have restricted expansion of nuclear power and made new refineries and even new conventional coal-fired power plants less economically attractive. I’d be interested, however, to see the comparison of oil company taxes with revenues, write-offs, expenses, tax incentives, and profits. I don’t believe their taxes are as high as they might want us to think.

Oil companies can’t be left to conduct business as they see fit. Citgo, for example, was judged guilty of criminal violations of the Clean Air Act and has consented to emissions cleanup. Oil companies are not the best corporate citizens, no matter what their websites say.

I never said any profit was obscene. Oil companies are certainly entitled to profit; that’s what they’re in business for. I’m not the economic expert or the all-knowing guy to decide where the division is between high, but acceptable profits, and profits that are too high. But with the pundits constantly talking about recession and with unemployment on the rise in 43 states, things like ExxonMobil’s record-breaking $11.68 billion profit are kind of hard to take. That’s what’s obscene.

Not being a petro-economist, I’m not sure who’s making the big money on the current situation. The spikes in gas prices we’ve seen are largely driven by stupid people who seem to think this is their last chance to get gas before the world ends. But I’m suspicious that it begins with Big Oil hinting there will be disruptions in supply. The media snatches that and launches their hype. Before you know it, you have a self-fulfililng prophecy. In some cases, the money-maker is the immoral, profiteering station operator.

And yes, we’re all hostages of this, because oil is entwined into every aspect of our modern economy.

I don’t think Big Oil is the victim here. I think OPEC and Big Oil are trying to get all they can because they know they’ll be used up has-beens in the next 50 or so years. They’re trying to get big money, just like professional athletes, because their time in the spotlight is limited. If there’s a victim here, it’s us, the ordinary folk.

Sun, 14 Sep 2008

Profiteering From Your Neighbors

Filed under: Behavior, Economy, Gas Prices, Oil, People, Profiteering, Rants — Tags: , — cynicalsynapse @ 5:40 pm

McLeansboro’s Weblog brings us an example of two stations in one area with a price difference of 76 cents per gallon (86 cents for credit purchases). Obviously the higher price does not reflect the actual cost of the product being sold. Nor does it represent the effect of demand on supply. It’s just plain greed and taking advantage.

How can the ROC station owner live with himself for raping his neighbors like that? It’s bad enough the oil companies and wholesalers jack up prices unnecessarily. Usually I’m sympathetic to the station operator, whose margins are normally a slim few pennies per gallon. Not when they do this, however. If I lived there, I’d never go to that station again.

digg story

Fact or Fiction—Obscene Gas Prices

Filed under: Behavior, Economy, Gas Prices, Oil, Profiteering, Rants — Tags: , , — cynicalsynapse @ 12:34 am

Friday morning, I was out on an errand and the radio station said gas prices were going to go up 30 cents by afternoon because Texas refineries were shutting down for Hurricane Ike. It’s always been a source of contention for me when some “issue” between the oil fields in the Middle East and the refineries here has immediate upward impact on pump prices. It’s gotta take at least a day for refineries shutting down to result in empty pipelines from Texas to Michigan. And how long does it take to empty those million-gallon tanks you see near every population center?

My biggest complaint is how stations raise prices based on the news, not the product in their tanks. If the station paid $3.75 per gallon for what’s in the tank, then the pump price should be $3.80 or $3.85 per gallon until the next damn delivery! The stock already in the tank is bought and paid for, isn’t it? Who gets the extra profit from the price jump? The station or the damn oil companies? Isn’t the collusion obvious to government when all stations in an area charge the same price and change their prices at the same time? Hello! Don’t tell me you’re on the lookout for gouging when anyone with at least one good eye and a brain can see otherwise.

Knoxville prices jumped a whopping 85 cents! That’s truly obscene! Toronto consumers saw a meager 45 cent increase in anticipation of Ike’s effects. I bought gasoline Friday at $3.789 per gallon. By Saturday, the same station’s price was $3.899, but prices in the region were as high as $4.399, with an average of $4.179. Unlike Knoxville’s apparent shortages, that doesn’t appear to be the case here. So, why the big price jump? And why the unusual 50 cent spread in pricing? Prices usually tend to be within a dime.

Imagine my distress to see an Exxon station with $4.199 regular and, across the street, a Mobil station with $3.999 regular. ExxonMobil is the Great Satan in my book and the fact one is 20 cents cheaper than the other at the same intersection is truly mystifying. One blog referred to the situation as temporary and urged restraint on the part of consumers. That makes sense to me: don’t play into the oil companies’ manufactured hysteria.

Sat, 13 Sep 2008

Boycott Citgo to Keep Chavez from Holding Us Hostage

Filed under: Behavior, Caesar Chavez, Economy, Life, Oil, People, Politics, Rants, Take action — cynicalsynapse @ 6:45 pm

Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez has been a little wacky for several years. His anti-US sentiment led me to informally boycott Venezuelan-owned Citgo stations. Now I’m adding Citgo to the formal list along with record-profit-mongering ExxonMobil.

Thursday, 9/11, Chavez expelled the US ambassador to Venezuela, giving him 72 hours to leave the country. In a televised speech on Patriot Day. Chavez said

“los Yanquis de mierda se van para el carajo!”

Loosely translated, Chavez’ remark means “The shit Americans can go to hell.”

No matter your position on either South American politics or the policies of the current administration, be aware that Chavez is not the “white knight” he purports to be. Venezuelan officials support terrorism and Chavez has invited the Russians in. You know, the same guys that invaded Georgia.

Just say no to Citgo

Just say no to Citgo

Saying “Go ahead and squeal, Yankees,” Chavez has threatened to cut off Venezuelan oil for the US. He’s already working on seizing foreign oil interests in Venezuela.

Chavez’ insulting words on September 11th should enrage anyone who cares about those who died in the attacks of 2001. And we should all find it unacceptable that some two-bit South American leader is trying to hold all of us hostage by threatening oil deliveries. Let’s tell him he’s just a common street thug. Boycotting Citgo stations should send a pretty clear message.

Fri, 12 Sep 2008

Crazy Drivers Endanger Everyone

Filed under: Behavior, Driving, People, Rants, Safety — cynicalsynapse @ 5:03 pm

The guy in this video doesn’t care about who he’s putting at risk because he’s trying to get away from the police. But there are some drivers out there who are crazy, mentally deficient, inept, not paying attention, or just plain self-centered to the point of being morally reprehensible.

I think the last one is the case of a driver I saw last week. Just like in the video, he passed a car on the right shoulder! Fortunately, he didn’t lose control or sideswipe anybody. I was in the left of the 2 lanes, but probably would have ended up in the debris field if this maniac had caused an accident. What really has me confused is traffic was moving along at highway speeds. Dude! What’s so super critically important that you have to be a menace to society?

Thu, 11 Sep 2008

Lest We Forget

Filed under: Heroes, holidays, Patriotism, Uncategorized — cynicalsynapse @ 11:00 pm

September 11 is Patriot Day in the USA, a day to remember the 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. On that day, we lost nearly 3,000 brethren. Many were US citizens, but 90 or more countries lost citizens that day.

On the seventh anniversary of the attacks that resulted in the Global War on Terror, let us remember those who died, innocently going about their daily routines, oblivious of an evil no less sinister than Hitler’s so-called Final Solution. To the initial roll of the dead, we must add 4,729 military losses (as of Sep 6, 2008) in Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom. Of these, 7 were Michigan Army National Guardsmen. I didn’t know any of them personally, but one is from the city where I live. Regardless of our views on the war, we owe them, and their families, a debt of gratitude.

I personally know about a half dozen Soldiers in theater right now and another half dozen at mobilization stations preparing to deploy to Iraq. I work with at least another dozen that have already been there. I have interacted with Soldiers getting ready for their second, and sometimes third, deployment.

For me, this war is personal. Seven of my comrades are no longer with us. My biggest concern, however, is the lack of engagement I perceive. A lot of people, even military people, have settled back into their routines. The Global War on Terror has become just part of the way things are. It’s a topic of conversation, not unlike the weather, for many people. In government, it’s just one of the things we deal with. There’s an unstated effort to bureaucratize mobilizing our friends and neighbors to make it less personal and more, uh, normal. I agree we should standardize the process and make preparing for deployment the best it can be. At the same time, I think treating mobilization as just another task depersonalizes our Soldiers.

We all have thoughts and memories from 9/11/01. Remember the victims and remember those who sacrificed after them. Neither asked for the initial attack. Nor did they have a voice in decisions made that day or afterwords. But they fulfilled their duty on our behalf. For that, we should be grateful. That’s what Patriot Day is about, whether you agree with the War on Terror or not.

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