Bloggers for Gravel

A relatively old, white haired man from Alaska, who many people had never heard of one week ago, has become an instant hit with bloggers across the internet. Mike Gravel, former Senator from Alaska, made a fiery appearance at the Democratic primary debate on MSNBC last week. The difference between Gravel and all of the other candidates is that Gravel said what everyone deep down wants to say, but is scared of the negative implications. His speech was not pre-written by some elite public relations firm and he was not afraid to call out the other candidates for being fake tools of the political system. Go over to digg or reddit today and you'll see that members of these social networks have made a clear endorsement of Gravel for president in 2008.

Mike Gravel struck a chord with bloggers because he stands for everything that politics in the United States today is not. For example, during the debate he made this comment about getting the nomination:

What will make a difference in this campaign is not money, it's not celebrity,it is a person who is prepared to tell the American people the truth. The people are fed up and as president I will do a 180 and move this country in the opposite direction.

My experiences with politics would normally tell me that this is ridiculous, money and fame are just about the only things that matter in elections today. Nobody from California should be able to keep a straight face when they say that Arnold Schwarzenegger was the most qualified candidate for the governors office, for example. Nevertheless, the 2008 election will be the first presidential race since the advent of Web 2.0. Ten years ago a candidate like Gravel wouldn't have had a prayer of making it past the Iowa Caucus; sure the internet existed, but information moved slowly and too many people didn't understand the subtleties of the web.

CNN, who is scheduled to host the next Democratic primary debate, has not invited Mike Gravel to join in the fun. Petitions demanding that CNN let Gravel speak are making their way to the top of digg and reddit and links to email CNN are posted everywhere. Whether or not Gravel gets invited to the CNN debate in June is going to be the first real litmus test in determining how powerful Web 2.0 is in determining political outcomes. Howard Dean exploited the pre-web 2.0 internet in 2003 and 2004 and barring the noise he made, almost got the nomination. The internet is the only way to bring real democracy back to this country, so that we can start to elect candidates not because of their celebrity status or bank account, but because of what they stand for.

Digg my article

Media Circus

Without a doubt, The Daily Show and Colbert Report are the smartest political shows on TV. Maybe its because the shows are hilarious... or maybe its because the hosts are fun loving guys. My opinion is that these shows tell stories in an entertaining, funny and accurate way. I was extremely happy to see John Stewart do a story about the media re-action to the Virginia Tech shooting and how poor their coverage really was.

There you have it. The perfect compilation of clips demonstrating exactly how bad cable TV news in the United States really is. The problem? They think they did a great job, and are likely to continue providing us with the same, terrible coverage far into the future.
Bill O'Reilly is up to no good again. On last night's episode of the O'Reilly factor Bill takes so cheap shots at acclaimed journalist Bill Moyers. O'Reilly claims that he was unfairly portrayed in a documentary Moyers made about the Iraq War and US foreign policy. The irony is that O'Reilly has little credibility to make the argument that he is being unfairly portrayed, since the premise of his show (and network for that matter) is to do exactly that. when journalism professor and Fox News contributer Jane Hall disagrees with O'Reilly he goes absolutely crazy.

My favorite part of the video is near the end when O'Reilly says, "you don't justify bad behavior by pointing to other bad behavior," because in essence, that is exactly what this little rant seeks to accomplish. O'Reilly is trying to boost his own credibility by making himself look like a victim of the "secular progressive far left." The truth is, Moyers is a respected journalist who wins writing awards because his books, columns, TV show, and movies are all well-written and well-produced and he makes intelligent arguments. O'Reilly, on the other hand, is a hothead who's books and TV show are about as professional as anything Michael Moore has ever done. Maybe O'Reilly found a single instance where his comments were taken out of context, but I could spend days blogging about all of the unprofessional things O'Reilly has done on his show. There is a good reason O'Reilly hasn't won any journalism awards - and that isn't likely to change.
Fox News has done a lot of outrageous things over the years, and when you think it can't get any worse, it does. Bloggers over at Think Progress broke this story yesterday morning and thanks to websites like digg and reddit it has proliferated like crazy. Last week in Maine middle school students students played a dirty prank on a group of Somalian Muslims by putting a ham steak next to them in order to offend them. The school filed a report calling the incident a hate crime since it was targeted toward a specific group of people based on religious and cultural grounds. Blogger Nicholas Plagman wrote a satirical parody about the situation which was posted over at Associated Content. He completely fabricated all quotes and details, changing the ham steak into a ham sandwich and discussing the school's plan to create "an anti-ham response plan."

On Tuesday morning Fox and Friends reported on Plagman's satirical article and presented it as real news, showing offensive pictures and making lewd comments. Obviously anyone with half of a brain (even Fox viewers) might think this story was a little out there, so the hosts remind us many times "we are not making this up." Take a look:

After the story aired, the school district received a barrage of angry phone calls and emails. People from across the nation accused the school district of over-reacting to the situation and demanding that they scrap the anti-ham response team. Fox's presentation of satire as news is usually a victimless crime, but in this case, an entire school district is under fire from the entire country. The real crime here is that Fox reported this story without doing a real fact-check. In fact, I find it hilarious that at the end of this story one of the hosts says it must be true because, "I've looked it up on a couple of different websites up there." This is not a situation that should be taken lightly. As long as Fox News is allowed to get away with garbage like this they will, so long as it boosts ratings and advances their political goals.

Everybody Loves Hillary

After seeing the first Democratic primary debate on MSNBC yesterday, it became clear why Hillary Clinton is the front runner in the Democratic primary and why she is a real force to be reckoned with. Not only does Hillary have a huge competitive advantage with Bill Clinton at her side, but she is picking up some extremely valuable endorsements from outside of the beltway. Consider the following, Brian Williams asked Clinton this question toward the end of the debate: Overall, is Wal-Mart a good or bad thing for the United States of America? And the Senator's response:

Well, it's a mixed blessing... when Wal-Mart started, it brought goods into rural areas, like rural Arkansas where I was happy to live for 18 years. And it gave people a chance to stretch their dollar further. But as they grew much bigger, though, they have raised serious questions about the responsibility of corporations and how they need to be a leader when it comes to providing health care and having safe working conditions and not discriminating on the basis of sex or race or any other category. Brian, this is all part, though, of how this Administration and corporate America today don't see middle class and working Americans. They are invisible. They don't understand that if you're a family that can't get health care, you're really hurting. But to the corporate elite and to the Administration and the White House, you're invisible. If you can't afford college, you're invisible. So I think we need to get both public sector and private sector leadership to start stepping up and being responsible and taking care of people.

Hillary Clinton probably didn't score any points with Wal-Mart's board of directors, but she certainly made a connection with labor unions and a growing number of Americans who have a negative view of Wal-Mart (In a 2005 Zogby poll, 56% of Americans agreed with the statement Wal-Mart is bad for America. It may provide low prices, but these prices come with a high moral and economic cost.). In the past, appealing to unions and appealing to Wall Street was a zero-sum game, and candidates had to pick one or the other; but Hillary seems to have succeeded in winning over both sides of the isle.

John Mack, CEO and Chairman of Morgan Stanley, officially announced he is endorsing Hillary Clinton for president in 2008. Mack is a lifelong Republican who raised at least $200,000 and endorsed George W. Bush for president in 2004. CNBC reported earlier this afternoon that Lloyd Blankfein from Goldman Sachs, Richard Fuld from Lehman Brothers, and Jamie Dimon from JPMorgan Chase are also leaning toward a Clinton endorsement for 2008. The significance off all of this is that Wall Street (traditionally libertarian by political standards) is making the switch from backing Republicans to backing Democrats. In a lot of ways, this makes sense. Republicans have traditionally been known as the conservatives, fiscal hawks, and tax cutters; and Democrats have been known as the liberal tax and spenders. However, over the past several years fiscal conservatives in the Republican party like Newt Gingrich and Grover Norquist have been replaced by Neoconservatives like Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld and by the Christian Right nuts like Sam Brownback and John Ashcroft.

The reality is, our country was a whole lot more fiscally responsible when Bill Clinton was president than we are now under George W. Bush. The neocons in the Bush administration like to go on a lot of imperial crusades, which tend to be extremely expensive, and the Christian Right is so concerned with screwing around with other peoples lives and wasting time spewing about abortion and gay marriage that there isn't much fiscal conservatives can do anymore. Hillary Clinton has struck an important chord with both Wall Street billionaires and middle-class working folks. If she can continue to walk this fine line I have no doubt we will have the Clinton dynasty back in the White House next year.

Supply Squeeze

Wall Street has not been a fan of Wal-Mart over the past several years, and the company's poor stock performance reflects it. Maybe Lee Scott is a poor manager, maybe Wal-Mart has run out of room to grow, or maybe anti-Wal-Mart lobbies have caused the company to take a big hit. Regardless, investors have another reason to hate Wal-Mart. Doing business with the world's largest company is a double edge sword. On the one hand, Wal-Mart squeezes every penny out of its suppliers in order to pass the savings onto the consumer, so suppliers see their margins get crushed; but on the other hand, Wal-Mart is so massive that suppliers make up for the small margins through volume.

Research published by Forbes now confirms exactly how suppliers are affected by their relationship with Wal-Mart. Unsurprisingly, the more that a company does business with Wal-Mart, and the more Wal-Mart exploits that supplier, and the lower their average profit margins are. Based on the research from Forbes:

With this kind of squeeze, small companies with weak brand names are having a hard time finding investors who will tolerate their low profit margins and inability to do anything about it. People invested in Wal-Mart suppliers are losing money hand over fist, and the value of supplier companies is tanking. In fact, of the 333 suppliers that Forbes used in its research, only 25 of them beat its sector gross margin. In extreme cases (most notably Rubbermaid and Vlasic) Wal-Mart drove highly respected companies straight into the ground. With numbers like this, a smart investor is better off sticking his/her money in a retail tracking exchange traded fund, and I don't blame them - its much lower risk and higher reward. The debate over whether Wal-Mart is good or bad will go on forever. But when it comes to specific issues like the prosperity of suppliers, I think the verdict is out: be careful who you do business with, you never know what you might get.
After numerous unsuccessful tries, Bill Frist was able to pass his Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act by sneaking it into a port security bill that had to be voted on. Frist had so many problems getting UIGEA passed because all of the Democrats, and enough Republicans thought he was wrong. In fact, the only explanation for Frist's obsession with online gambling is his opposition on moral grounds. Think about it... corporate lobbies loved Frist because he had a nearly-perfect voting record on big business. He voted against a bill that would take away tax breaks for companies that outsource and he voted for the controversial bankruptcy bill in 2005. Frist also loved free trade. He voted for free trade agreements with Central America, Oman, Singapore, Chile, and just about everywhere else where it was proposed.

The thing about online gambling is that it is a multi-billion dollar industry - and all of that economic activity takes place outside of the United States. Since online gambling is legal in the EU, a lot of gaming companies are headquartered in the United Kingdom and their stocks trade on the London Stock Exchange. A lot of privately held gambling companies are headquartered in Antigua and Costa Rica where the beaches are beautiful and taxes are low. When Frist passed the UIGEA he absolutely crushed the European gambling companies. Neteller Plc, a company that does the banking for gambling companies, dropped from over 700 pounds to under 200 pounds; and 888 Holdings Plc, which owns several gambling companies, tanked from about 250 pounds to 125 pounds.

Given Frist's record on big business, it seems absurd that he would want to single handedly destroy these companies. And with his record on free trade, it seems absurd that he would want to cut off financial transactions between the US and countries like the UK, Costa Rica, and Antigua. In fact, thanks to the World Trade Organization (which Frist championed) Antigua has sued the US several times in the WTO for violations in free trade, and the WTO agrees.

With Frist finally out of Congress and Democrats in control, we finally have the opportunity to find the best solution for online gambling. Today, Barney Frank (Democrat, Massachusetts) introduced a bill that would allow credit card companies to fund accounts on online gambling websites. Speaking about the UIGEA, Frank told the Washington newspaper The Hill:

“It’s a terrible idea and there are a large number of people who think it is a terrible idea, I don’t know how it ends. The worst that happens is that enough anti-gambling busybodies will be less inclined to interfere in people’s lives.”

Frank's logic is that gambling is legal in 48 states (either through lotteries or casinos) and that Frist's gambling ban has done nothing to decrease gambling activity. Instead, people who want to gamble are being pushed underground and looking to the local bookie or gambling websites run by organized crime. Before this year's Super Bowl, Peter Sanders wrote the following article for the Wall Street Journal:

No one thinks that American gamblers' appetites have waned either. Last year, about $94.5 million was legally wagered on the Super Bowl in Nevada casinos, the only place in the land where it's lawful to bet on sports. Illegally, the American Gaming Association -- a casino-industry trade group -- figures that Americans bet between $5 billion and $6 billion each year on football's marquee event.

"The likely impact is that people who previously wagered on legal, regulated sites ... will now call a local bookie or bet on an unregulated site," says Alan Feldman, a spokesman for casino giant MGM Mirage.

It's true that many of the publicly traded online-gambling sites have pulled out of the U.S. market since last summer. Some have folded entirely. And the Justice Department served subpoenas to a number of investment banks that allegedly helped underwrite foreign public-stock offerings for some of the companies.

But as the kickoff at Super Bowl XLI in Miami gets nearer, the overall picture of Internet gambling has only gotten muddier. It's not just that local bookies are taking bets over the Internet. For every established Internet-gambling company that has stopped accepting bets from the U.S., others have cropped up to fill the void.

"The online-gambling ban should be renamed the Sopranos Support Bill," says Wayne Allyn Root, an outspoken professional sports handicapper in Las Vegas. "All of this money has moved to brand-new, privately held companies [that] opened overnight and [are] run by criminals engaging in fraud and organized crime."

"The crackdown has taken the online bets out of a fairly transparent set of companies and put them into companies that aren't transparent at all," adds Sue Schneider, president and CEO of River City Group, a St. Charles, Mo., Internet-gambling consultancy. "Players could be more at risk."

Frist's online gambling ban is the epitome of a law with good intentions and terrible unintended consequences (although whether Frist's intentions were good is in the eye of the beholder). The City of Cleveland likes to make the argument that our city is missing out on all the gambling proceeds that are being spent in cities like Detroit and Windsor, and the logic is exactly the same for online gambling in the United States (although casinos in Cleveland are still a bad idea for other reasons I won't discuss). Bodog, a company operated out of Costa Rica, says that half of its business comes from the United States, and the other half from the rest of the world combined. Smart countries are taking in gobs of money that the United States should be collecting as tax revenue.

There is also the issue of safety. With identity theft now the second biggest crime the FBI fights after domestic terrorism, anything that can prevent more ID theft should be undertaken. Instead of having to sign up for accounts with banks in the UK or the Caribbean, Americans should be able to use existing bank accounts and credit cards - not handing out social security numbers to foreigners. And since people love to make the argument that online gambling corrupts children and that ten year olds will ruin their lives by running up outrageous credit... think about this for a second. Legally, a minor cannot open a bank account or line of credit without parental consent. So to think that your kid is going to walk into Bank of America, sign up for a Mastercard, and then run up thousands of dollars in credit is a little silly. Once they turn 18 they are legally allowed to buy lottery tickets, and if they want to gamble online they should be able to do that too.

Few people learn anything from history. But less than a hundred years ago we had another type of prohibition which failed miserably. Sometimes the enemy is too big and too powerful to fight. In fact, online poker players recently claimed credit for Jim Leach's stunning loss in an Iowa congressional race that only Las Vegas gambling could see coming (ironically). According to exit polls, 15% of voters who knew about the UIGEA voted against Leach because of his strong support for it. Numbers like that make people like Karl Rove drool - the fact that a single issue can drive turnout like that is a rarity in politics. The fact is, the government's war on gambling is a failure, and its good that Barney Frank is doing something about it.

Its All Oil

I found a disturbing article today. I knew Americans were pretty ignorant when it came to the economics of oil, but I didn't know things were this bad.

CAMBRIDGE, Mass.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--According to a nationwide online survey released today, 72 percent of the American public does not know that conventional plastic is made from petroleum products, primarily oil. The survey was conducted by national online market research firm InsightExpress for Telles(TM), a joint venture of Metabolix, Inc. (NASDAQ: MBLX), a company using bioscience to provide clean solutions for plastics, fuels and chemicals, and Archer Daniels Midland (NYSE: ADM), one of the world's largest agricultural processors and the world leader in BioEnergy.

Anyone who has seen An Inconvenient Truth probably remembers the cartoon propaganda that oil companies used to use to show Americans all the wonderful things that can be made from oil, everything from jet fuel to cosmetics. Yes folks, your cosmetics are made from the same material as the gasoline in your car. But now it seems like the oil industry wants to keep us in the dark; they've already go us hooked, so why tell us anything more? Even worse, from the same article:

The survey also revealed a misunderstanding about another important characteristic of traditional plastic - it never goes away. Despite the fact that petroleum-based plastic will never biodegrade, 40 percent of respondents believe that it will biodegrade underground, in home compost, in landfills, or in the ocean. Plastics will not biodegrade in any of these environments. In fact, the only way to rid the planet of existing plastic is by incineration in those cases where it can be recovered.

Are you kidding? People actually think that plastic biodegrades? Granted, there are companies that produce biodegradable plastics, but since it is more expensive than making it from oil, its difficult to find. The biggest problem with biodegradable plastic is that it screws up traditional methods of recycling when it is mixed in with regular plastic; and given how ignorant Americans are on this subject, I can't imagine people correctly separating their plastics correctly for recycling. Awareness might be the best way to go, but given these numbers, we still have a long way to go.
This is a pretty old clip from the Colbert Report, but it makes a good point about the telecom industry in America today. Even though these companies want consumers to believe that consolidation leads to lower prices for customers (which may or may not be true) it also leads to worse service and worse support. Anyone who reads Consumerist regularly knows that there are a handful of companies that are on there every day: Verizon, AT&T, Comcast, Sprint Nextel, Time Warner Cable and a couple of banks, airlines, and all three credit reporting agencies. The point is... the telecom industry has become so consolidated that consumers are starting to feel the pain. The next time Verizon screws up your bill, what are you going to do? Switch to AT&T, Sprint, or T-Mobile? Its not as if any of those companies offer outstanding service or support either. And by the way... if consolidation reduces costs for consumers so much, why is Comcast increasing cable rates at the fastest pace in history?

Death to Europeans

Anyone who is still wondering why US/EU relations are abysmally poor should watch the testimony that Dana Rohrabacher (Republican, CA) gave during a Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Human Rights last Tuesday. Rohrabacher basically makes the argument that in times of war, rule of law can be broken if it means protecting a lot of lives. When a conservative member of the EU parliament asks Rohrabacher if the ends always justify the means, the Republican responds by saying that he hopes the families of those who disagree with him suffer from a terrorist attack.

How good does this make us look to the Europeans? We are telling them we want to break the law and we wish death on them for disagreeing with us. Not good.
Hillary Clinton is getting a big boost by an unlikely politician... George W. Bush. The current president's approval rating is at rock bottom and Americans are ready to see him go. In fact, Americans are so sick of George Bush right now that have told pollsters that they miss former President Bill Clinton. People tend to have short-term memories, and thinking about the country a decade ago gives a lot of us a warm feeling inside. It might be hard to remember, but Clinton's approval rating was high - so high, in fact, that he was more popular when he left office than when he took it in 1993 (extremely rare for presidents).

Hillary Clinton is now starting to exploit her husband's popularity. Recently, she said that she would appoint him as "ambassador to the world" if elected president. In this position, Bill would have the privilege of traveling the globe and making friends with all the people George Bush pushed away. According to Bill Press, a popular liberal author and radio host on Sirius Left, Bill Clinton would win the 2008 election in a land-slide if he was allowed to run again. Americans might not be able to legally vote for Bill, but more and more people are looking to Hillary as a means to put Bill back in the government. Even some of Hillary's biggest opponents are starting to re-think their opinion toward Clinton - and Bill is a big factor.

Free Gasoline

Over the weekend, the auto section of the Toronto Star ran an article by Jim Kenzie that really caught a lot of people off guard. According to Kenzie, automakers have the capability to produce fuel efficient vehicles, but they aren't. Remember this chart Al Gore showed during An Inconvenient Truth?

GM, Ford, Toyota, Volkswagen and other major auto companies haven't thrown in the towel and stopped selling cars places in like the European Union and Japan. They have developed and sold cars that meet the fuel regulations. If these cars are available and the technology to build them exists, why aren't there many in the United States? The answer is simple: there is no demand. According to Kenzie:

Bottom line: the car industry can build more efficient vehicles, and is in fact doing so. So, why don't we buy more of them? Because, as I have said a million times, gasoline is basically free. Despite all the whining, gasoline is as cheap now as it has ever been, on an inflation-adjusted basis. It is the cheapest fluid you can buy at a gasoline station. Water is three bucks a litre, fer cryin' out loud. As long as gasoline is free, we're going to keep on driving all by ourselves to work in a 2,000 kg truck, or picking up little Brittney at Havergal in a 500-horse SUV, engine idling while you wait, air-con set at full cryogenic.

This is absolutely true. Consumers respond to nominal prices and incorrectly assume that gasoline prices are more expensive than ever - it is not. Adjusted for inflation, the price we are paying at the pump right now is similar to the price we have paid since the Model-T was build. From the Department of Energy:

This is exactly why Greg Mankiw is right about increasing federal taxes on retail gasoline. Mankiw, a Harvard Professor and former Bush administration consultant, is one of the most respected economists in our country. He started a group called the Pigou Club to organize the smartest minds to fight for these taxes. The club includes some of the world's most respected economists (Martin Feldstein, Paul Krugman and Alan Greenspan, among many others) The group's manifesto says they would like to see gasoline taxes increase by 10 cents every year for the next ten years. This gives consumers enough time to make appropriate substitutions but creates the correct tax incentives in the long term.

Mankiw's plan makes sense for a lot of reasons. Environmentalists love the fact that it will decrease the amount of carbon emissions. Road congestion will ease and road maintenance will be less necessary. The new tax law will correct loopholes in the current CAFE laws that allow companies to build monster SUVs. Increased tax revenue can be used to increase spending on projects like mass transit or it can be given back to consumers through income tax cuts. Economists generally agree, consumption taxes are more economically efficient than income taxes because consumers can change their behavior to avoid the tax; whereas few will work less if income taxes increase. And of course we will decrease our dependence on oil from unstable governments. I think the most compelling argument is what Mankiw calls tax incidence:

A basic principle of tax analysis -- taught in most freshman economics courses -- is that the burden of a tax is shared by consumer and producer. In this case, as a higher gas tax discouraged oil consumption, the price of oil would fall in world markets. As a result, the price of gas to consumers would rise by less than the increase in the tax. Some of the tax would in effect be paid by Saudi Arabia and Venezuela.

Dictators are able to rise to power in these types of countries because they generate so much revenue from oil that they don't need to have a real economy. The gasoline tax will decrease oil consumptions (obviously good) and decrease the price per barrel on the world market (also good). Additionally, our economy is affected greatly by the price of WTI crude on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Increasing gasoline taxes will only affect those who use gasoline (primarily indviduals), but airlines, trucking companies, and plastics makers will be able to lower their costs thanks to the lower price of crude.

Of course, as Mankiw points out, even if we do increase our gasoline tax by $1 in 10 years, we will still be well below the tax rate in the European Union today. And the EU is gradually increasing their heavy tax rates, so in ten years we won't even be close. But our country will never be like the EU, and Kenzie is right, we have to stop giving away gasoline for free. Consumption taxes are easy, effective, and efficient; lets do it.

Frequent Fliers

For some reasons a lot of corporations have decided that they key to success is reducing costs and maximizing earnings, regardless of the means. This has led to budget-cutting, outsourcing, lay-offs, and poor customer experiences. Yet in at least one industry the single company that defies all of these norms has become the single most successful company in that industry. A blogger named Dan posted a story over at Consumerist that clearly demonstrates this point:

My family flew to Orlando on Wednesday, April 11 on Southwest Airlines. We had to switch planes at Chicago Midway. Well we got stuck on the taxiway for three hours waiting to get de-iced. Actually it was not as unpleasant as it could have been. The pilot kept us informed (he even said at time he would pull back into the gate if we were there much longer) and the flight crew were very helpful and understanding. No one got upset, we all just tried to make the best of it.

Today I had a nice surprise when I brought in the mail. Every one of us, my wife, daughter, son, our niece and myself received a letter from Frederick T. Taylor, Senior Manager of Proactive Customer Service Communications (can you believe such a department exists!) apologizing for the delay, and telling us they will examine their planning and execution (or lack thereof) his own words) at Midway to avoid similar ordeals in the future. Also enclosed with the letter were roundtrip passes to anywhere Southwest flies, valid for one year.

We didn't complain about the delay and I wonder if anyone else did. This was totally unexpected and has made me a loyal Southwest customer and I want to share it with everyone. There are companies out there who go above and beyond.

The sad part is, we shouldn't be in shock and awe when a company compensates a customer for a poor experience. But corporations in America have made it the norm to treat the customers like garbage and expect them to come back for more.

Pathetic Protests

I was recently invited to an event on Facebook called "Don't Pump Gas on May 15th." The idea is to protest against big oil companies for ripping us off on gasoline prices. According to the organizers of this event, there are two options we consumers have to protest high gasoline prices. Option #1: Don't pump ANY gasoline on May 15, 2007. Option #2: Never buy any gasoline from Exxon Mobile stations. The organizers of this event also concede that this little protest is unlikely to have a economic impact, but the goal is to raise awareness among the masses. On their Facebook page, the organizers have included this little disclaimer:

---If you agree (which, I REALLY can't see why you wouldn't)- TELL EVERYONE TO DO THE SAME!!!

Since I am not allowed to make my argument on the group's page, I will have to make it here. So, organizers, I will tell you exactly why I don't agree with your little protest.

First, it is important to understand that crude oil and reformulated gasoline before oxygenated blending (RBOB) are both commodities traded daily on the New York Mercantile Exchange (NYMEX). Oil companies do not arbitrarily set prices. The organizers of this event seem to be under the assumption that oil companies are colluding to charge outrageous above market prices. As of this week, RBOB gasoline was trading for about $2.15 on the NYMEX. After you add state and local taxes to that and other expenses, charging $3.00 per gallon is approximately market price. Yes oil companies make profits, that is generally what happens in a capitalist market that has undergone significant consolidation. And I would be willing to bet that none of this event's organizers are in favor of nationalizing the oil industry in this country.

Now, what about not buying gasoline on May 15th? Well... the truth is, gasoline consumption on May 15th may go down, but weekly overall gasoline consumption is likely to stay exactly the same. Why? Because consumers will just fill up on May 14th or May 16th instead. If the organizers of this event wanted to make a real change, they should be sponsoring something like ride your bike to work every Tuesday. An event like that would actually decrease the amount of gasoline consumption rather than just shift the day we fill up the tank.

And how about protesting all Exxon Mobile stations? The theory is that if Exxon isn't doing any business they will lower gasoline prices to generate a competitive advantage and then all the other companies will lower their prices to compete with Exxon. The problem is that this doesn't make any realistic economic sense. If Exxon lowered its prices and all the protesters switched back to Exxon to capitalize on the price decrease, Exxon will simply raise prices back up to meet the equilibrium supply and demand. And if protesters continued to boycott Exxon even after the price decrease, competitors will simply raise their prices, knowing that Exxon isn't a price competitor because consumers are boycotting it on moral grounds, not economic grounds.

Three things that are positively correlated are: gasoline prices, whining, and driving. Every time gasoline prices go up people whine and complain that they are getting ripped off. We drag oil company executives into congress to testify that they are playing fair; we buy bigger and bigger SUVs; and we move to new suburbs farther away from core cities. Americans are unwilling to change the way we live our lives. Every time I drive on the freeway I am amazed at the number of huge SUVs I see zipping along in the left lane at 80 mph. I am amazed because instead of taking the personal responsibility to drive fuel efficient cars or alter driving style to increase fuel efficiency, Americans feel warm inside by passing off the blame to the oil companies. We are now entering the 4th summer since gasoline prices got "out of control." Many of the cars on the road are less than 3 or 4 years old, and yet plenty of them are classic gas guzzlers. These organized whining campaigns aren't doing anything to change the economics of oil and gasoline and never will. Consumers need to start making changes to their lives in order to see a real change. Until that happens, expect a lot more of the same.

Unacceptable Behavior

Why does the media continue to lead us to believe that we live in a perfect country, and that anyone who does something bad is a screwed up outsider? Fox News seems to be especially good at belittling anyone who they don't consider to be a "good American." I personally want to say that I am disgusted by the things these three men (Douglas Kennedy, Geraldo Rivera, and Bo Dietl) had to say on Fox today.

It is one thing to say that Cho Seung-hui was in mental and emotional pain when he committed his crimes - but it is something else to say that the medication he was taking caused him to do it. According to Douglas Kennedy, who has no medical training I should add, selective serotonin rebuke inhibitors (Prozak, Lexapro, Celexa, Paxil, Zoloft, etc.) and serotonin-norepinephrine rebuke inhibitors (Effexor, Cymbalta, etc.) do absolutely nothing to help anyone. Kennedy goes on a rant saying that these drugs transform perfectly normal people into monsters who are numbed of emotions and don't have feelings. These "special" people are driven to the terrible things they do by the medications they take and the doctors who prescribe them. Bo Dietl agreed with every point Keneddy made and went on to describe people who take these drugs as "different" and "odd." He also said that these drugs cause people to become "psyco-cases" and "maniacs." Geraldo said that the only thing we can do is "deal with" people like this.

In a search for a quick answer to life's problems, these three men went on TV and for 15 minutes spewed about how terrible these drugs and the people that take them are. Forget the fact that none of these men has any medical knowledge. Forget the fact that they believe they can say doctors are wrong and misdiagnosing people, without knowing either the doctors or the patients. The way that these guys made their argument is not only offensive; it is a uninformed rant and it only makes the stigma against the mentally ill far worse. What they said is akin to saying that cancer patients are "odd" and "different" and the chemotherapy that helps the patient get better makes them an emotionless monster who needs to be avoided at all costs, because they might slice your head off for no reason. Had they made such a ridiculous statement as the one above there would be outrage across America; but since they ridiculed the mentally ill instead of the physically ill nobody seems to notice.

Suicide is the third leading cause of death among teenagers and one of the top ten leading killers among the general population. Oddly enough, it could probably get knocked off the list entirely if people got the correct treatment, but the stigma I just described keeps many of these people from ever seeking help. As long as people like these guys are going around telling people that trying to get help for their depression will turn them into pysco-cases and weirdos we can only expect suicide to go up on these lists. What does Fox have to gain from putting these guys on the air? ratings? feelings of superiority? whatever it is, it isn't the benefit of society, that much is for sure.
There are some people in America who really love their guns. The United States is one of the easiest places in the developed world to purchase a gun and it is also the developed country with some of the worst gun crimes. Nevertheless just about everyone in America agrees on something: the current gun laws suck. Fine. The left likes to argue that we should make guns harder or impossible to purchase and the right thinks we should force everyone in America to be packing heat. Both arguments have their flaws, but the increased number of guns theory has a few logistical flaws that makes its effectiveness questionable, and neither even attempt to stop crime before it happens.

So banning guns probably isn't going to do much. After all, drugs, gambling, and bootleg DVDs are all illegal in the United States, but that doesn't stop anyone from buying drugs or playing some underground poker. Most gun crimes are committed by a criminal who didn't purchase the gun he/she used (either stole it or had some chump buy it for them) or they simply bought it on the black market. Black market guns have serial numbers filed off and in many cases are difficult to track back to the purchaser or developing country of origin. So its safe to assume that an all out gun ban won't stop pre-meditated violent crimes; but the question is: what will happen to spur of the moment gun crimes or accidental gun deaths? If you get pissed at your husband one night, is he more likely to be alive the next morning? or will he get knifed to death?

So what about giving everyone a gun? People who advocate this policy base their argument on the nuclear deterrence theory in international relations. In IR, it is argued that when state actors proliferate weapons they are less likely to use them against each other because the retaliation would be massive. The problem is that this theory doesn't make sense when applied to individuals carrying guns. If the United States used a nuclear warhead against Russia, Russia wouldn't instantly cease to exist and a war would certainly ensue for a long time. On the other hand, if two people have guns and get in a standoff, once one person shoots the other, its over. There is no risk that the dead guy can retaliate. As long as the shooter is more skilled at killing than the other guy, the deterrence effect is inapplicable.

Another problem with this theory is that it assumes everyone will always be carrying a gun. But even with a concealed carry law, private businesses and others can still prohibit guns. For example, in Ohio carrying a concealed gun is legal, but not everywhere. Lets follow a typical day someone who likes packing heat might have. George wakes up, gets ready for school (he is a senior in high school), puts his gun in a holster and hides it under his shirt. George rides the rapid to school - problem #1: guns are prohibited on the rapid and all other forms of public transportation. Problem #2: hen George gets to school there is a sign on the door that carrying a gun within 500 feet of the school is illegal. After a hard day at school George goes to Chipotle for some dinner, problem #3: guns are prohibited in Chipotle as well. The point of this is... these laws are logistically flawed because really the only place you can carry a gun is out on the street. So unless you enjoy going on long walks in the middle of the night, the law doesn't make much sense.

Of course this critique wouldn't be complete without a discussion of the statistical studies about whether more guns or less guns reduces crime. The truth is, you can easily get statistics that support both sides of the argument. Creating a reliable study to figure this stuff out is difficult because it is impossible to hold all the variables in a society besides the number of guns; but when these statistics are released, that is exactly the assumption that is made. I am not trying to make an argument as to whether fewer or more guns is the policy that is necessary; I am only trying to demonstrate the flaws with both arguments.

Like I have argued before, gun laws do not explain why crime occurs, it only explains why crime is able to occur. To think that by changing gun laws you can change the lives of the people committing those crimes is twisted logic. Few people are asking the criminals why they are robbing a bank or mugging some innocent kid; instead they are only concerned about where the gun came from. Figuring out why crime exists is difficult, expensive, and time-consuming. Gun laws give us a quick, easy, and pointless answer - and that is exactly what Americans want to see.

Killer Agendas

The shooting at Virginia Tech has everyone talking. There are a lot of important topics being discussed: whether Virginia's gun laws are too lax and why the VT police did such a poor job responding to the first shooting. The problem is that these issues don't address why Cho Seung-hui committed the killings, they only address the issue of why he was able to do it. Having the manager of the gun shop where the weapons were purchased go on Dateline NBC is pointless. Regardless of what you think about gun control, that particular gun shop did not commit a crime, they only went about business as normal. Why did the police respond to slowly and fail to arrest Cho Seun-hui after the first crime? Thats a perfectly good question and should be looked into; but there are far too many blaming lax police and lax gun laws on the massacre. These people are using a tragedy to progress their agendas. While not new, its still a shame.

Then you have people like Dr. Phil McGraw claiming that violent video games caused the killings. I'm sorry, Phil, but nobody believes you aren't pushing your video game agenda onto this situation. When he appeared on Larry King Live yesterday, Dr. Phil made the following comments:

“The problem is we are programming these people as a society. You cannot tell me - common sense tells you - that if these people are playing video games where they’re on a mass killing spree in a video game, it’s glamorized on the big screen, it’s become part of the fiber of our society. You take that and mix it with a psychopath, a sociopath, or someone suffering from mental illness, add in a dose of rage, the suggestability is just too high. And we’re going to have to start dealing with that. We’re going to have to start addressing those issues and recognizing that the mass murderers of tomorrow are the children of today that are being programmed with this massive violence overdose.”

While Dr. Phil may be completely wrong that video games cause crimes like this, he is on to something important: that there are people in everyday society who suffer from psychological, emotional, and mental illnesses. But the way that Phil structures his argument makes it seem as though those problems are inevitable and that the key variable in the equation is video games. Dr. Phil might have a Ph.D. in clinical psychology, but on this issue the medical community is completely against him. Any other psychologist or psychiatrist will tell you that these illnesses are treatable - and curable in many cases. But unlike a bloody nose or a dislocated shoulder, many people don't seek treatment or encourage their friends to either.

During the official press conference, a VT spokesperson labeled Cho Seung-hui as a loner and the Chicago Tribune is reporting (without sources) that he was taking anti-depression medication. The stigma against mental problems in this country is obvious, and even though this is the perfect opportunity to start breaking down some of those stigmas, we are perpetuating them. I am not a doctor and never met Cho Seung-hui, but I do have enough logic to realize that he was 23 years old and had been in college for at least 4 years. There had to be some sort of catalyst that started this chain of events. The killer left a suicide note, but oddly, the media won't publish it - they're only giving away little key words like "rich kids" and "debauchery." For all I know the suicide note might not be conclusive to anything, but I'm suspicious of the fact that I can't see the whole thing.

While we sit around asking ourselves what we can do to stop another shooting like this, we're ignoring the question of what underlies this type of violence. As long as mental illnesses continue to be stigmatized by our society, and that seems likely, since Dr. Phil, VT spokesperson, and Chicago Tribune all seem to be doing that, helping people get help for these problems won't happen. And when people suffer from these conditions there will be violence, there will be suicides, and in the worst case there will be homicides. Right now I feel like I am the only blogger making this argument. Surfing the web trying to find support just brought more arguments for gun control and video game bans. Why is society so afraid of exploring this option? I wish I knew.
The Pew Research Center published an intriguing report about public knowledge of current affairs a few days ago. The overall results aren't that surprising - Americans don't know very much about current events. But there are a few things about this report I find especially interesting. Asking who the public knows, Pew came out with the following results:

Not so surprising that Arnold Schwarzenegger (being a former movie star) and Hilary Clinton (getting more media attention than just about anyone in politics) are widely known. What I think is problematic is that less than half of Americans know who Nancy Pelosi, Scooter Libby, and Robert Gates is. Why is this an issue? Because in order to know who Arnold or Hilary is you just have to turn the TV on once in a while or glance at the tabloids at the grocery store. But in order to know Pelosi, Libby, or Gates, you have to make at least some effort to follow news and current events. Also surprising... only 69% of Americans can name the Vice President of the United States when asked... wow thats sad.

The Pew study also looked at how aware people are based on their source of news:

Why is it that regular viewers of the Daily Show and Colbert Report are more aware than CNN or Fox News viewers? One possible explanation is that the comedy shows attract an intelligent audience. After all, these shows would be boring and not funny at all if you didn't understand the satire; but I happen to believe that if you understand the comedy on these shows you are also likely to watch the news or read the paper. A second explanation is that Americans respond better to entertainment than to dry newscasters; I think this is wrong because CNN and Fox News have become sources of entertainment, with the flashy graphics and "fun" stories. Plus that doesn't explain why viewers of News Hour with Jim Lehrer (probably the driest news show on TV) are almost as aware as the Comedy Central viewers. A third explanation, and the one that I think is true, is that the Daily Show and Colbert Report actually report more news than CNN and Fox News. In an ironic twist, channels that call themselves "news stations" actually provide entertainment by reporting some news, whereas the "comedy/satire shows" actually report news in a comedic sense. The distinction may be difficult to see, but I think it says a lot about the problem with Cable TV news in America today. The next time you turn on CNN or Fox News think about what they are telling you. Are you learning about the conflict between Sunnis and Shiites in Iraq or the identity of Anna Nicole Smith's father? If you watch CNN or Fox, it is likely to be the latter.

Exploitation University

When Sean O'Donnell committed suicide because because of the pressure over debt, people started to wonder how a 21 year old was able to rack up 12,500 dollars in credit card debt in the first place. The answer is simple: exploitation. Banks and other financial service companies make their biggest profits by preying on people who are too poor or don't know any better. Ever seen one of those payday advance places? Ever wonder why they are only in urban areas and not upscale suburbs? These companies give small loans (usually a few hundred dollars) to poverty-stricken people who need the money just to put food on the table; they typically charge interest rates between 390%-790%. That means if you borrow 100 bucks, you will have to pay between 400 and 800 dollars back to the cash advance company. No one in their right mind would take such a stupid loan, right? Sadly, cash advance is one of the fastest growing industries in the United States.

And then there are credit cards marketed to college students. Most of these cards are horrible by credit card standards. They offer no cash back bonuses; they have the highest interest rates in the industry; and attract kids with free t-shirts, hats, and cards with fun pictures on them. But the worst part about it is that universities are now profiting off of the ignorance of their students. These schools sign billion dollar deals with companies like Bank of America and get a commission every time a student charges something on the credit cards. With that kind of reward, these schools have zero incentive to educate students about the ins and outs of the credit industry.

Its funny that in high school we spend time in classes like art, music, phys ed, religion (in some cases) but we never learn a thing about money and finance. Even as an economics major in college, I feel that I have learned distrubingly little about personal finance. I don't think I've ever been formally taught how to write a check (which doesn't matter since I don't anyway). I have never been formally taught about stocks, bonds, currencies or other investment instruments. And I certainly have never formally learned about the credit card industry. To some extent it is an individuals fault for falling into such debt. Being greedy and buying unnecessary electronics or clothes is not responsible, regardless of how ignorant you are about the financial industry. But the fact that credit card companies, banks, and now universities are marketing these cards to students and not telling them about the risks is what makes me uneasy. It truly is exploitation at its best.

Media Genocide

I have been a pretty tough critic of American media over the past few months, and I do not plan to stop. The Genocide Intervention Fund put together a solid TV advertisement to expose the sad state of our media. I think the fact that this non-profit is standing up to the corporate media is great. Unfortunately, NBC, ABC, and CBS all refused to air the commercial.

TV news in this country has become an absolute joke. Calling what these stations cover "news" might even be stretching it. In June 2005, the Genocide Intervention Fund compared the amount coverage given to three popular stories and the amount of coverage given to Darfur. The six news stations are: ABC (The Walt Disney Company), CBS (CBS Corporation), NBC (General Electric Company), CNN (Time Warner, Inc.), FOX (News Corporation), and MSNBC (General Electric Company & Microsoft Corporation). The results of the study are not especially shocking, but they are disturbing.

The Runaway Bride: In the summer of 2005, a Georgia woman skipped out on her wedding. She fabricated a story about being kidnapped and turned up unharmed. Only CNN gave more coverage to Darfur than this story; but as a whole, the runaway bride takes the cake.

Michael Jackson: Michael Jackson had some legal trouble. He went to court and faced a jury on occasion. All six networks covered Jackson more heavily than Darfur.

Tom Cruise: the famous actor did some interesting stuff in 2005. He got engaged to Katie Holmes and started spewing some weird opinions about medicine and psychiatry. Again, all six networks gave more face time to Cruise than the victims in Darfur.

The fact is, I am not throwing up my arms and saying there is no way we can get this information out in the mainstream. In fact, I think America has some excellent newspapers (New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Christian Science Monitor) which have excellent coverage of international events. And I think that there are plenty of high quality news magazines on the market and more than enough bloggers on top of the game. So whats the problem? We're lazy. Reading a newspaper? Why do that when we can just stare at the TV? Read a book? Lets get the movie instead... Bloggers? They're just a bunch of idiots, we can't trust them. Studies and surveys show that about three-quarters of Americans get their news from the mega-corporations that run the news stations in question. And because all of these companies have commercial interests, some have gone as far as to reject any criticism, no matter how legitimate it might be.

Sometimes giving people important information is more important than ratings. TV shows like Entertainment Tonight and Access Hollywood already have airtime every night to cover this stuff; lets leave the gossip to the tabloids and trash TV and start focusing on some actual "news." All of the images are from the Genocide Prevention Fund and

Google Voice

Apparently there was a day when we had to pay for stuff; we had to pay a lot for stuff. In the 1892 AT&T offered the first domestic long distance service; it cost $9 for a five minute call. In 1927 AT&T offered the first international call - from New York to London - at a cost of $75 for a 3 minute call. By 1987 (the year I was born) phone companies were offering long distance for about 25 cents per minute. Now, anyone born within in the last 15 years has absolutely no clue that free long distance calling hasn't existed forever. Anyone will cell phone service or VOIP service can make unlimited domestic calls for a low, fixed cost. Remember that $25 call from New York to London?. today it costs 2 cents using SkypeOut, and it's free if both parties are using Skype. Ten years ago my dad needed a voicemail box with a different number than our home number. Ameritech (now AT&T) charged a monthly rate of $10. Just the other day, I signed up for my own local voicemail box, absolutely free. My number is (216) 619-6085 in case you don't believe me.

And now 411 service has broken through the price barrier. According to AT&T, calling 411 from a land line now costs $1.25, ouch. Thanks to Google, we now have free 411. And unlike other failed free 411 services, this one actually seems to work, or at least based on my initial tests of the service. Ever used Google Local? I have, and usually do whenever I need a phone number or address and am at my computer. But now I can be anywhere to use the same service. Google Voice will automatically connect you to any business listed in its database, tell you the street address and phone number, or send that same info to your phone via SMS text. Driving around and want to stop at Applebees on the way home? Call Google Local, tell it your city, the business you want to connect to, and then ask Applebees how long of a wait there is. One hour wait?? Good thing we didn't waste the time driving all the way there (but what can you expect from a place like Applebees). Try it out; I'm already a fan.

1-800-GOOG-411 (1-800-466-4411)
What happens when you take two of the most popular faces of Fox News and put them in the same room? All hell breaks loose! Here's the story... a young girl in Virginia was killed by a drunk driver; and rather than blaming the tragedy on alcoholism or irresponsibility, Bill O'Reily blames it on, get this, illegal immigration! Fortunately, Geraldo was in the studio to point out the ridiculousness of the argument. Then Bill O'Reily's head exploded. Lets take a look...

Corporate KGB

To those still in denial about the influence multinational corporations wield in the world today, look no further than what is happening right now at Wal-Mart. Inside the world's biggest corporation lies the Threat Research and Analysis Group, a secret intelligence agency which looks eerily similar to the disbanded Committee for State Security (KGB) in the former Soviet Union. Interestingly, the two men in charge of the group, Kenneth Senser and Joseph Lewis are both former FBI veterans. A former group employee, Bruce Gabbard, became the whistle blower in this scandal after Wal-Mart fired him and his supervisor for recording calls to and from a New York Times reporter. The Wall Street Journal first broke the story a few days ago with information provided by Gabbard.

CNBC Bureau Chief Jim Goldman boldly stated that "it could make the corporate espionage case that rocked Hewlett Packard last year look like childsplay." According to the Wall Street Journal, Wal-Mart tapped phone calls made by employees, infiltrated an anti-Wal-Mart group by sending in an undercover employee with a wireless microphone, and secretly investigated its consulting group McKinsey & Company. Wal-Mart seems to have a big trust problem... Nu Wexler, one of the critics Wal-Mart actively spied on, made the following comment, "it's childish, it's paranoid, and honestly it's a little desperate... it just says a lot about the corporate culture when the company, is, you know, under attack for real, legitimate, substantive reasons, and they respond by wiretapping and eves dropping on reporters and their critics."

Well said, Mr. Wexler.

Wal-Mart declined to comment to the Wall Street Journal.

Peak Oil Update

If you ask a random sample of 100 people about peak oil, you will get 90 blank stares, 7 completely incorrect explanations, and about 3 people well educated on the topic. That's a shame.

Peak oil is important because many of the naysayers are finally admitting that we have a problem; unfortunately they aren't educating the public about it. Sure, everyone knows that prices are going up... we've had to pay an extra buck fifty at the pump for God's sake! That is peanuts compared to the real impacts peak oil will have on the world. Peak oil is a complex idea, but it goes something like this... as demand increases, the supply of oil on the market will increase to meet that demand (your standard supply/demand idea). Once half of all the oil has been extracted (this is the peak) the supply will start to decline. Not a problem if demand was falling too... but demand is surging and shows no sign of stopping.

Think of it another way. Lets say you discover gold in your backyard and go out to dig it up. At first things are great; you get all the gold you want and its just right there. But after a while the gold starts getting deeper and deeper, and digging it up becomes a pain in the ass. Soon you have to buy a ladder to go down into the hole; then you buy some boards to build a tunnel; then you buy a hardhat with a flashlight on it. At first, you were digging up your valuable resource cheaply and easily; but now its hard and you've had to spend a ton of money to get at it. The same is true for oil. We're not running out of oil... we're running out of cheap and easy to access oil.

Most people think that oil comes from some sort of faucet that flows at a steady rate. Eventually, one day the oil is going to be all gone and thats it, we're out. Not so much. Those in denial will tell you that "we've got plenty of oil left in the ground" and then name off several countries where there are reserves. While this is somewhat true, as I explained above, it isn't the real issue; the question isn't when we run out but when we hit the peak. No one is really sure when that will happen for a few reasons, but most probably because we don't have reliable numbers. The statistics that scientists and geologists are given to study oil reserves is supplied by the US government (can we trust them?) who gets its statistics from our suppliers, and we certainly can't trust them.

Consider three of our major suppliers: we've got Saudi Arabia, which is ruled by an absolute monarchy - the exact same type of government George Washington fought against a few hundred years ago. Then we have Iran, who's president is not afraid to say that he would like to "wipe Israel off the map." And don't forget about out buddy in Venezuela, who came to New York and called George Bush "the devil." And this is who we're entrusting our economy to...

I don't know exactly when peak oil is going to happen, but the fact that some important people are getting anxious makes me worried. Once we hit peak oil one of three things will happen: 1) we will have already developed advanced technology and no longer need oil to provide energy. 2) we are forced to conserve and ration (remember the oil shocks in the 1970s?). 3) our economy will take a blow it hasn't felt since the Great Depression.

This first video covers the Government Accountability Office (GAO) report which indicates that peak oil is coming. I know, I just said that we can't trust the numbers our government gives us; but the GAO is probably the most legitimate arm of the government. I tend to take any statistics from the EPA or the Department of Energy with a grain of salt.

The second interview is with Boone Pickens, a hedge fund manager who trades primary oil and other energy instruments. His hedge fund literally spends every waking hour watching energy markets, so caution on their part creates some caution on my part.

Fattening Up

In January, McDonalds reported that same-store sales were up 4.9% (source). In February, McDonalds announced that its same-store sales had jumped an additional 5.7% (source)! And Chipotle Mexican Grill is growing so quickly that its profit more than doubled in a single quarter (source). What the heck is going on here?! Even as more evidence that fast-food is extremely bad for you comes out, Americans are consuming more and more of the stuff. Is America simple becoming fat? Is it true that we are the laziest people on earth? After I saw this picture today, I think the unfortunate answer is, yes.

Courtesy of the Associated Press.