mm461: The world of work at $4.199/gallon

August 7, 2008

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© Tara Carlin | Dreamstime.com

MUDGE’s Musings

The new reality of $80 fuel fill ups has begun to penetrate the consciousness of this nation’s employers, many of whom are responding to their employees’ pain in a variety of intriguing ways.

nytimes

The New Workplace Perk: Gas

Life’s Work | By LISA BELKIN | Published: August 7, 2008

IN Washington State, Microsoft has leased three large office complexes miles from company headquarters in recent months to shorten the commutes of about 7,000 employees.

In San Francisco, Citigate Cunningham, a public relations company, now encourages workers to stay home whenever possible, providing laptop computers and BlackBerrys to enable telecommuting, and reimbursing them $40 a month for high-speed Internet connections in their homes.

At Rejuvenation, a lighting manufacturer in Portland, Ore., employees skip one day of work completely. The company has gone to a four-day week, with each workday being 10 hours long. Alysa Rose, the president, also gives away a free bicycle to an employee every month.

Increased telecommuting, or working from home, suddenly is not only tolerated, but actually encouraged by many forward-thinking managers who suddenly are experiencing attrition of valued staff for reasons of excessive commuting expense. And, as an electronic collaboration professional, I can’t help but be heartened by this trend, since tools such as web conferencing allow dispersed workers to interact most productively.

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mm454: It’s going to take a liberal quantity of BOLD

July 31, 2008

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© Michaeljung | Dreamstime.com

MUDGE’s Musings

We observe the first anniversary of the tragic collapse of the I-35W bridge in Minneapolis (August 1, 2007) with some sadness, and furious anger.

Sadness due to the thirteen lives lost, and 100+ injured.

Anger because the danger embodied in this country’s aging and dilapidated bridges, highways, levees and schools is criminally no closer to alleviation than 366 days ago.

Meanwhile, the economy is faltering: banks are failing, foreclosures are at record highs (three million empty houses!), the ranks of under- and unemployed growing apace.

What is it going to take to repair this country’s infrastructure osteoporosis?

What is it going to take to kick start the economy, to get people working and once again able to meet their mortgage obligations, perhaps even afford that $4.299/gallon gasoline?

It’s going to take a liberal quantity of bold.

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mm451: Goodbye, old blue, you’re worth more to me dead than alive

July 28, 2008

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© Mel Gama | Dreamstime.com

MUDGE’s Musings

Old cars. If they’re old enough (in most states, more than 25 years old), they’re vintage, even antique, and perhaps worth the extra effort it takes to keep them running.

If they are 15-25 years old, they are usually just basic transportation, and a basic pain.

The body parts not rusted are crumpled. The driver’s window no longer winds down (maybe the entire door is rusted shut), so paying a toll, or dining at a drive-through fast food establishment, is yet another hassle.

You prefer to drive at night, because the black exhaust cloud isn’t as obvious.

And then the usual litany:

Will it start?

Will it stop??

What’s it going to cost me to fix it for the third time this year???

And the planet shares your pain.

How sensitive of the planet!

Princeton University economist Alan Blinder, whom I fondly remember as a columnist for Business Week years ago, a side job while vice-chairing the Federal Reserve and holding down the Princeton gig, would like to take that beast off of your hands.

Because that black cloud trailing behind you isn’t unique. The state of California estimates that cars 13 years and older account for 25% of miles driven overall, but an astonishing 75% of all passenger automobile generated pollution.

nytimes

A Modest Proposal: Eco-Friendly Stimulus

Economic View | By ALAN S. BLINDER | Published: July 27, 2008

ECONOMISTS and members of Congress are now on the prowl for new ways to stimulate spending in our dreary economy. Here’s my humble suggestion: “Cash for Clunkers,” the best stimulus idea you’ve never heard of.

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mm446: Clueless in America, and Michael too

July 21, 2008
mccainbush From Daniel Kurtzman, About.com

MUDGE’s Musings

Frank Rich of the NYTimes eviscerated John McCain over both his supposed area of expertise, military affairs, as well as Sen. McCain’s admitted area of weakness, matters economic. It wasn’t pretty.

nytimes

It’s the Economic Stupidity, Stupid

Op-Ed Columnist | By FRANK RICH | Published: July 20, 2008

THE best thing to happen to John McCain was for the three network anchors to leave him in the dust this week while they chase Barack Obama on his global Lollapalooza tour. Were voters forced to actually focus on Mr. McCain’s response to our spiraling economic crisis at home, the prospect of his ascension to the Oval Office could set off a panic that would make the IndyMac Bank bust in Pasadena look as merry as the Rose Bowl.

“In a time of war,” Mr. McCain said last week, “the commander in chief doesn’t get a learning curve.” Fair enough, but he imparted this wisdom in a speech that was almost a year behind Mr. Obama in recognizing Afghanistan as the central front in the war against Al Qaeda. Given that it took the deadliest Taliban suicide bombing in Kabul since 9/11 to get Mr. McCain’s attention, you have to wonder if even General Custer’s learning curve was faster than his.

Mr. McCain still doesn’t understand that we can’t send troops to Afghanistan unless they’re shifted from Iraq. But simple math, to put it charitably, has never been his forte. When it comes to the central front of American anxiety — the economy — his learning curve has flat-lined.

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mm443: Don’t you feel like this guy?

July 18, 2008

 

MUDGE’S Musings

Can anyone still doubt our national (perhaps global?) economic distress? Runs on the banks. A tank of gas edging toward Benjamin territory. Someone you know (or mayhaps many someones you know) out of work and/or looking. Or giving up looking. Starbucks (Starbucks!) closing 600 stores.

Let’s have a show of hands: How many of you (U.S.) readers believe that this Spring’s tax refund “stimulus” could have been an order of magnitude larger (that’s 10 times), and still not been enough?  Two orders (that’s times 100)? smile_sad

It doesn’t go away, our concern with the dire state of the economy.

Paul Krugman, economics professor and columnist of the NYTimes has been consistent in identifying our present financial dismay, and he has some grim news — it’s not going to get better very quickly.

nytimes

L-ish Economic Prospects

By PAUL KRUGMAN | Published: July 18, 2008

Home prices are in free fall. Unemployment is rising. Consumer confidence is plumbing depths not seen since 1980. When will it all end?

The answer is, probably not until 2010 or later. Barack Obama, take notice.

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mm433: McCain’s ultimate vulnerability: the economy

July 8, 2008
mccainbush From Daniel Kurtzman, About.com

MUDGE’s Musings

We’ve spent the past month or so watching the candidates come off their primary paces, attempting to rejigger their respective approaches to the general election, and taking some hits for the resulting adjustments.

The mishandled wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been top of mind for many voters since the pointless charade of “Mission Accomplished!”

Paul Krugman reminds us, however, of another paramount issue in this election, the economy, and what its dire condition means to John McCain.

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mm428: Upbeat words from the Fed

July 3, 2008

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© Ketian Chen | Dreamstime.com

MUDGE’s Musings

We begin this Independence Day celebration in the U.S. with a rather gloomy attitude.

We’re still losing good men and women to the misguided and mishandled Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Fuel and food prices seem to be climbing as we watch. Once my monthly bills from ExxonMobil, my gasoline purveyor of choice (the reason why this is so is worthy of a post of its own — soon!) were under $100. Now, maintaining the same or less driving, as I try to mitigate the costs of commuting with more days working from home, I’m relieved if that bill is under $200.

What we hear of the economy (job losses, inflation rate) and its thermometer (the Dow Jones Industrial Average) is disturbing. Aren’t we officially in recession?

Every one of us knows someone, or more than one, job-seeking.

And the news from the world outside our parochial boundaries is not much better. War news from Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan remains grim. The president of Zimbabwe, certain that he’d lose in a fair election, murdered thousands of opposition supporters, and sent his opponent fleeing to the Netherlands embassy for shelter. Israel seems to be seriously considering a preemptory attack on Iran’s nuclear bomb facilities. Gazprom, the Russian petroleum/natural gas giant, has its sights set on becoming the largest corporation in the world before long. How can any of that be good by any measure?

Well, a couple of chieftains at the Federal Reserve Bank have decided to show us a glass half full version of the part of the story they influence, the economy. And, it makes for some attention-grabbing reading.

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mm417: Sunny promises collide with black thunderclouds

June 21, 2008

MUDGE’s Musings

Outside the rarefied world of election campaigns, real life grinds on relentlessly.

washingtonpost

Big Promises Bump Into Budget Realities

New President Won’t Have an Easy Time Paying for New Initiatives, Fiscal Experts Say

By Lori Montgomery | Washington Post Staff Writer | Saturday, June 21, 2008; Page A01

On the presidential campaign trail, Democrat Barack Obama promises to “completely eliminate” income taxes for millions of Americans, from low-income working families to senior citizens who earn less than $50,000 a year.

Republican John McCain vows to double the exemption for dependents and slash the corporate income tax.

To which the folks who monitor the nation’s financial situation can only say: Good luck. Because, back in Washington, tax collections are slowing, the budget deficit is rising, and the national debt is approaching $10 trillion. Whoever wins the White House this fall, fiscal experts say, is likely to have a tough time enacting expensive new initiatives, be they tax cuts or health care reform. …

President Bush, who seems to be spending his last year in office trying to create a legacy, has already done so, indelibly. He’s going to leave the nation with greater fiscal obligations, and fewer means with which to meet them, mainly due to his Iraq needless nightmare, than ever before.

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mm403: Blast from the Past! No. 26

June 7, 2008

MUDGE’s Musings

We embark this weekend on a business trip to a conference in Boston. As conferences usually take up a great deal of uptime, without the downtime associated with a normal schedule, we will probably cover many of our daily blogging deadlines with Blasts from the Past!

The conference itself, designed to illuminate the social networking phenomena in the context of business and corporate conduct, may provide the opportunity to blog, as blogging in the corporate environment is one of its key topics. So we may be able to mix business interests and responsibilities with our avocation in this space. Should be interesting!

There’s most read, and then there’s favorite. This is a post which yr (justifiably) humble svt is, regrettably, but not regretfully, not at all humble about.

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Blast from the Past!

A post we really, really loved to write, and read, and re-read…

From last summer, originally posted September 10, 2007 and originally titled “China – Two interesting aspects”.

MUDGE’S Musings

China is always in the news. Two stories from the past few days illuminate why in some interesting ways.

First, from the LA Times, a look at how we have become victim’s of our unlimited appetite for everyday low prices.

latimes_thumb2

Analysts expect prices in the U.S. to creep up as safety standards are reevaluated. Buyers and retailers may share the impact.

By Don Lee and Abigail Goldman
Los Angeles Times Staff Writers
September 9, 2007

SHANGHAI — Get ready for a new Chinese export: higher prices.

For years, American consumers have enjoyed falling prices for goods made in China thanks to relentless cost cutting by retailers such as Wal-Mart and Target.

But the spate of product recalls in recent months — Mattel announced another last week — has exposed deep fault lines in Chinese manufacturing. Manufacturers and analysts say some of the quality breakdowns are a result of financially strapped factories substituting materials or taking other shortcuts to cover higher operating costs.

Now, retailers that had largely dismissed Chinese suppliers’ complaints about the soaring cost of wages, energy and raw materials are preparing to pay manufacturers more to ensure better quality. By doing so, they hope to prevent recalls that hurt their bottom lines and reputations. But those added costs — on a host of items that include toys and frozen fish — mean either lower profits for retailers or higher prices for consumers.

“For American consumers, this big China sale over the last 20 years is over,” said Andy Xie, former Asia economist for Morgan Stanley, who works independently in Shanghai. “China’s cost is going up. They need to get used to it.”

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mm396: It’s an oil spill!

May 30, 2008

MUDGE’s Musings

Oil prices. A very hot, very sticky, very crude topic. We’ll look at four versions of reality.

MUDGE‘s reality: $4.259/gallon at his neighborhood Shell.

From the mosaic, we can hope that some kind of truth emerges.

No question that we are living in interesting times.

“May you live in interesting times”

mm381: Crime’s up. Economy’s down. Next question?
mm380: The return of cheap gasoline
mm370: How can you tell our president is lying?
mm347: It’s official, we’re depressed — er, recessed
mm344: Welcome to interesting times
mm337: Dare we trust the guys who got us into this mess?
mm335: Are you prepared for interesting times?
mm334: Rearranging deck chairs
mm333: “Great people shouldn’t have a resume”
mm331: Obama at Cooper Union: Lincoln?
mm328: Today’s economics lesson: Depression 101
mm309: The news Bush really hates you to hear
mm289: Recession: Paying the price for our power
mm285: Mayor Mike tells some hard truths
mm263: This man -so- wants to pull the trigger…
mm257: The R-Word – Not that racy television show
mm256: I don’t hate big corporations, either

Oil spill no. 1. How high is up?

$200 a barrel petroleum. If you think your world is changing around you, buckle up.

theamerican[4]

Will Oil Really Hit $200 a Barrel?

By Desmond Lachman | Friday, May 30, 2008

Rudi Dornbusch, the renowned economist, once said that he did not understand how Mexico’s central bank board members could make the same mistakes time after time. Looking at the ongoing frenzy in the global oil market, one appreciates what Dornbusch meant. Once again, many market participants appear to believe that oil prices can only go up. It seems that the painful lessons of the 2001 dot-com bust have been forgotten, as have the lessons of the much more recent U.S. housing crash.

In their state of forgetfulness, many pension funds and insurance companies have built up very large open positions in the oil futures market. These positions are now estimated to total over $200 billion, roughly the equivalent of a full year of Chinese oil demand. They have contributed to the recent spectacular run-up in oil prices.

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