Thursday, April 28, 2011

Wal-Mart Shoppers Running Out of Money

Our economic collapse continues, talk of "recovery" notwithstanding, judging from this article.  What really jumped out at me was this part:

"Wal-Mart shoppers, many of whom live paycheck to paycheck, typically shop in bulk at the beginning of the month when their paychecks come in."
The only people who I know of that get checks at the first of the month are people on welfare and public assistance.  I'm guessing even the writer of the article is acknowledging that that makes up most of Walmart's customer base.  

Monday, April 25, 2011

Toyota: A Case Against Just-In-Time

Toyota, the world's currently top auto maker, has stated that due to the massive disaster in Japan which has resulted in parts shortages, that their global car production won't return to normal until the end of the year (November or December).  Due to these parts shortages and Japan's problems with keeping the lights on, all their factories are running at half-capacity, and in some, even worse. 

In a way, this might be a preview of things to come for many companies.  Obviously, it likely won't be due to such natural disasters such as the one that's inflicted so much pain and suffering in Japan.  But anyway, I am getting ahead of myself.  First, let me explain what "just-in-time" means.

Just-in-time (JIT) is a business strategy in the means of production, that is supposed to reduce onsite inventory and thus save on carrying costs.  In order for JIT to work, there must be quick notification from one person/group to another that a certain stock in their inventory is either low or totally gone, so that a new supply of the stock can be ordered.  This saves on warehouse space and leaves more space for other things.  Although there is much more to it than that (Wikipedia's page is very good, IMO), what I just told you is the general gist of JIT.  

Ironically enough, Toyota is known as the pioneer of the JIT system.  Which it now seems to be a hostage to.  But many, many companies use it, including mine (a big-box chain of stores).   Although there are many upsides to such a system, one of the flaws of the JIT philosophy/strategy is that there's an unspoken assumption that things will always run smoothly.  That there can never really be a breakdown, somewhere down the line, in the vast supply chain that gets these things from where our natural resources come from, to where they're processed and manufactured, and to where they are sold (of course, this is a very simplified view of a supply chain).  Japan is just one event that could throw this strategy on its head, and maybe Toyota is learning something now.  But then, maybe not. 

Which brings us to the future.  As our new oil crisis plays out (okay, not exactly a "crisis" but it's getting there) as a result of global production peak and the rapidly decaying value of the U.S. dollar (among other things), this can pose a serious challenge to JIT.  Companies may end up having to pay more for what they order (in contrast to just storing it), as a result of the higher fuel prices (as these rise, many trucking companies put an additional fuel surcharge on the delivery bill) and the higher prices of the items that are being delivered themselves.  And this is assuming that this doesn't play out into supply disruptions of oil, where even if money is no object, you still can't get the gas for the truck to deliver its goods.  Of course, this would put any company, no matter how prosperous, in a serious bind.  By then, corporations may not be merely questioning their delivery strategies, but struggling for their very survival.   

Friday, April 22, 2011

Striking Pictures From India

I stumbled upon this.  It's an article by a Chinese tourist on a trip that he took to India.  India (and many bordering countries, including China) are filled with people in abject poverty that I will never be able to relate to or understand.  None of us will.  However, you never think it's really that bad until you read an account such as this.  The place is literally full of shit.  Many villagers, even people in Indian suburbs, defecate in public areas, including beaches.  A lot of this sewage ends up flowing into the Ganges river, where a lot of people wash themselves.  Scroll below, you will see corpses floating in the river, and the living just going about things, not even noticing or caring.  And yet, the author of this piece (and I'm assuming, also the photographer) stated that he received the most spiritual enlightenment in this country.  There are also many expats who have visited often or even made their homes there. 

Thursday, April 21, 2011

U.S. Corp and the Impending IMF Merger

This is a great and brief history of the IMF, and how it was born out of the ashes of WWII and became a tool/weapon of the U.S. in the ensuing decades.  This blogger ends with the point that the U.S. Dollar is approaching its endgame, and that there is a strong possibility that the IMF will step in and take our debt away.  In exchange, the dollar would no longer be tied to commodities, chiefly oil.  This means that we can no longer print debt at will.  Anyway, the article is excellent.  Analogizing the U.S. and other nations as corporations somehow made it a lot easier for me to understand. 

New Wave of Brazen Attacks in Afghanistan

What struck me about this article was the increasing daring and plotting of the Taliban forces in getting close to our soldiers or those allied to us, and then being able to carry out these assassinations.  These men are disguising themselves as Afghan troops, down to their uniforms, and once they succeed in bypassing security, either start shooting or detonate the explosive that's strapped to them.  These are all recent events, happening in the past week or so.  Of course, this is being minimized and shrugged off by U.S. and Afghan officials, with them saying that having to resort to these assassinations is a clear indicator that rebel forces are no longer capable of launching large-scale attacks against our forces.  This might be somewhat assuring, if they weren't so successful at it. 

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Sarah Palin Finally Says Something I Can Agree With

I find Sarah Palin to be one of those batshit luminaries on the right, in the same company as Michelle Bachmann, Ann Coulter and many others (including a newcomer, hotel tycoon/host of The Apprentice, Donald Trump).  She has said many ridculous and outrageous things, although I think it's dangerous to dismiss the impact she can have on the country if she runs next year.  However, in this article outlining the potential GOP candidates' stances on marijuana legalization, she finally said something on the topic that makes a lot of sense, and that I can agree with.  I do not expect her to maintain this position while formally running for president though, or even holding the office.

"If somebody's gonna smoke a joint in their house and not do anybody else any harm, then perhaps there are other things our cops should be looking at to engage in and try to clean up some of the other problems that we have in society...and not concentrate on such a relatively speaking minimal problem."

Monday, April 18, 2011

U.S. Credit Outlook Cut by S&P on Deficit Fears

This could be big.  S&P have not yet cut our credit rating (which is AAA, the highest) but they have signified that there is a 1-in-3 chance of that happening in around the next two years.  For now, they have switched their outlook on our long-term credit outlook from "stable" to "negative".  I have a lot of feelings about this.  The key reason is, obviously, the growing inability of our "leaders" in Washington to deal with our consistently ballooning deficit.  It has become a big political game, with each side having its respective targets.  I blame the Republicans more than the Dems, since they have long held the mantle of being "fiscally conservative", although their actions put a lie to that.

I'm reminded of Bill Maher's show on HBO, which I religiously watch every week; in fact, it's the closest thing to a news program on television that I watch regularly.  Anyway, he has been talking about the budget lately, due to the government nearly shutting down a few weeks ago.  He has a neat way to show his feelings on it.  He shows a mock dinner tray, with big helpings of fried chicken, macaroni & cheese, and mashed potatoes.  On the margin of the tray, is a little thing of paisley or some kind of vegetable, it's barely visible.  The big helpings of chicken, mac & cheese, and potatoes are meant to symbolize the big three government programs: Social Security, military, and Medicare/Medicaid.  Maher's point is that the Republican Congress refuse to touch any of these big programs, even consider cutting them.  Instead, they go after the little vegetable design on the side of the tray; the little vegetable is supposed to symbolize things like Planned Parenthood, the EPA, the NEA.  In short, NPOs and federal agencies that Republicans hate, but yet take up a tiny sliver of federal spending, especially compared to the Big Three programs.

Obviously, a downgrade in our credit rating by S&P would further degrade our status as an economic superpower.  I think this news will make it clear to Washington that it is time to get serious and make some real cuts.  There is no more time for political bullshit.  This brings up two nasty and undesirable choices.  First is making deep cuts to the Big Three programs; I expect that the so-called "entitlement" programs (SS & Medicare) will take the brunt of it, with military spending left largely unscathed.*  Cutting these benefits will be nothing short of catasphoric; any possibility is on the table, including riots, attacks against the government, you name it.  The other alternative is really putting us into uncharted territory and might be even worse: a sovereign superpower defaulting on its debts.  The coming attractions in this scenario might include hyperinflation and much-needed resources (yes, I'm looking at you, oil) being withheld by exporting countries.  Or...they could just do neither and keep printing.  Yeah, I think that's actually more likely than the first two scenarios.  I don't think these people know how to do anything else.

Another development listed in this article that gave me pause was that PIMCO, the world's largest bond fund, sold all its U.S. treasuries.  Their chief finance officer stated that he feels that the U.S. will eventually lose its AAA credit rating.

What also caught my interest, and makes me rethink the motives of these ratings agencies (albeit slightly) was that just last week, a U.S. congressional report was published that blamed ratings agencies like S&P for triggering the financial crisis by giving inflated credit ratings to places like AIG.  This could be a way of payback from S&P but I kinda doubt it. 

*I don't intend this statement to mean that I'd welcome a cut in military spending.  Don't get me wrong, it's much needed  But the outcome would still be undesirable.  Closing bases and sending troops home would result in an even larger pool of unemployed people.  A large group of disenfranchised, jobless soldiers would be a very dangerous thing, indeed.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

New Photo

I just uploaded a new photo of myself (although you'll hopefully agree that I look nearly the same, my last photo was very old ) that I took with my 3DS portable game system.  Although it isn't an ideal camera, it is something, and better than the one on my phone, so I'm hoping to take more pictures in the future.  I also moved it to the top right of the page, whereas before it was mired in the middle. 

Typically Uninformed Comment Made in Newsday

I just got up and was glancing through the Newsday newspaper we have delivered.  I get most of my news online, but this is good for local stuff, since it's a Long Island newspaper.  Anyway, I read an article on how the spike in gas and food prices is raising inflation.  The last paragraph, which a lot of people probably wouldn't read, was kind of a whopper, and really typical of most people's opinions on energy, as well as in their hypocritical nature (even if it's unconscious). 

It was a quote from a carpenter filling up his vehicle at a gas station.  Since this article had quotes from people at think tanks, I guess the reporter felt that it needed one from the man on the street as well.  The man said, in response to the rising prices, "the oil companies are gouging us."  The vehicle he was filling up?  A Ford-F150 pickup truck.  This is a prime reason of why we are where we are: a series of increasingly poor decisions on the part of our government (starting with the building of the interstate highway system, leading us to become a society utterly dependent on car travel) as well as individuals (like the gentleman quoted in the article, who buy these vehicles that quickly bleed gas and then rage at the oil companies). 

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

New Look (And an Autobiography Page)

I figured it was time for a new look for the blog, so I picked one of Blogger's preset templates.  I really like it, it gives it a more basic look and it's easier to read, at least from my eyes.  I'm looking to custom-make something that looks even better, as well as add new features to the blog, but this is a good start.  According to the Wikipedia page on blogs, there are over 156 million blogs in existence.  Wow.  One of my goals as creator of this particular blog is to have more eyes on this blog rather than on someone else's, or some company's.  I guess we'll see if that comes to fruition or not, I know a large part of that depends on me. 

I also have a new "autobiography" page.  It's a brief (but not too brief) look at yours truly, in my own words.  I've never done this before, so I tended to ramble and forget some things.  But it's something, and I hope to update and add to it as I see fit.  You can find it directly on the home page.  

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

A Clusterfucked Clean-Up Effort in Fukushima

This is an excellent piece in the German periodical Spiegel, about the clusterfuck that is the response to the nuclear disaster in Japan by TEPCO and the Japanese government.  The beginning of the article is especially striking, in which it's mentioned that a French nuclear company has made robots available.  These robots can be sent into highly radioactive areas that are simply too dangerous for humans to venture into.  However, the robots are still wrapped up and waiting for shipment at a French airport.  Why?  Because they're coming from a private company, whereas the Japanese government feel that the French government should have offered them instead.  These bureaucrats in Japan are causing many people to go into harm's way by interfering with acts of generosity and kindness like this.  Who cares where it comes from?  This is like Katrina, where Bush was turning down offers of aid from nations like Cuba, and all the while, our government was proving itself to be incompetent on a massive scale. 

This article contains many other interesting bits of information, most notably the abominable working conditions of the people tasked with saving Japan's collective asses.  They are sleeping on the floor, and are going without radiation suits and clean underwear.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Just Added a "Search" Feature

I just installed a Search Feature, at the upper right corner of the page.  If you're interested, you can search for any word or term, and the engine should punch up any blogs I wrote with said word instantly. 

Radioactive Water to be Released Into the Pacific!!

The Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) has announced that they will soon dump 11,500 tons of radioactive water from the Fukushima plant into the Pacific Ocean.  This is to clean out the damaged nuclear plants.  Representatives and talking heads claim that these tons of radioactive water will be easily diluted, but I'm skeptical, to say the least.  Dumping radioactive waste onto the global food chain is crazy, regardless of the reason.

It's also interesting how this incident is starting to mirror the Gulf Spill of last year in some ways.  Now, Tepco workers are trying to plug the Fukushima leak with things like cement and shredded paper; while last year, BP was using things like golf balls to plug their spill (this was termed "junk shot").  This gives me an idea.  Has anyone heard of Katamari Damacy?  It's a game series where you roll this ball that picks up increasingly larger objects until it becomes big enough to be a star.  Well, instead of launching the ball into space (as is done in the games), we can take a ball, roll up enough stuff (be it mountains, people, phone lines, etc.), and use that to plug their leak.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Blowing Green Smoke

The central idea in Mr. Obama's speech is that we will reduce our oil imports by one-third in a decade. This is a gross distortion of reality.  The truth is that our oil imports will be reduced automatically, whether we like it or not.
--Jim Kunstler

I used to read Jim Kunstler's blog religiously every week, along with many of the reader comments.  I recently stopped, because a lot of his columns read the same, and the reader discourse veers wildly off-topic, into subjects of race, and well, race.  It also took up too much time.  But I found his latest blog via a link, and it's a great summation of the mistaken assumptions that many of us have about alternative fuels or so-called "green energy."  The problem isn't so much that they don't work, but do they scale?  What's meant by that is that while it may work well as a "science project" (to steal from Mr. Kunstler), would it work as well on a larger scale, like with millions of consumers using the fuel?  That's where it gets muddy.  The fact is all the alt-fuels that people usually think of just do not pack the punch that a barrel of oil does.  They might work to provide energy, but not on the scale that we're used to.  Anyone thinking that we can have Walmart and Disney World in a green energy economy will likely be sorely disappointed. 

He also brings up what is known as the "export land model".  What that means is that the countries that export oil to us are using much more of their own supply, even as their production is peaking and entering depletion.  As the lowering production rate becomes more clear to these nations, do you think they'll still export oil to us and tell their own populace to go screw off?  I doubt it.