Monthly Archives: February 2008

$4.00 / Gallon Gasoline Is On It’s Way. Can You Say “Fill’er Up”?

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Tom’s Shell in Madison, Wisconsin (photographed 4/25/2001)

And you think things are tough now?

Just when you thought it was safe to pull into the gas station, the experts are predicting that oil prices are going to continue their upward climb.  Oil has been closing at new record highs almost every day lately.

Actually, we think that all Americans expect to see  $4.00 $5.00/ gallon gasoline pretty soon.  Well, all except President Bush. He hasn’t been in the loop when it comes to energy prices (or most anything else, apparently). Here’s a CNN video of the February 28, 2008 press conference where Mr. Bush expresses his utter bewilderment that the experts are predicting $4.00 / gallon gas. Kinda surprising, considering that he is from an oil family, from Texas, and the leader of the free world. Then again, we don’t think Mr. Bush has had to pull any of his limos up to the pump lately. To be fair, he did say he knew “it was high”. Speaking of being high…

We think he would have been just as surprised to hear that gas has been over $3.00 / gallon for some time already. Here’s the full transcript, (where you will also find a link to video) of the entire press conference.

We know you don’t get out much these days, George. What, with the war in Iraq, and having to give orders to shoot down spy satellites and save the world from deadly hydrazine and all. But you DO surf the Web, don’t you? You do read this blog, don’t you?

We were actually hoping the spy satellite would land in our backyard. Your car gets twice as good gas mileage on hydrazine as it does on unleaded premium. We would have dragged that sucker into the garage and pumped it’s tank dry.

If high gasoline prices cause you to run out of gas when far from home, here’s one solution.

Readers can do their part. Next time you’re at the gas station, snap a picture of the gas prices, and e-mail it to the President. Unfortunately, the White House contact page lists Vice President Dick Cheney’s e-mail address, but not the President’s. Send Mr. Cheney the photo, along with a note asking him to please wake up the President and show him the e-mail. While he’s at it, perhaps Mr. Cheney can have Al Gore pay Mr. Bush a visit, and teach him how to use the Internet. After all, he did invent it.

Next time your gas gauge says “empty”, don’t bother pulling in and asking for five or ten bucks worth of gas. They’ll laugh you right out of the station. Could the $100.00 fill-up be too far off? Gas is reportedly already above $4.00/gallon in some places, such as San Francisco. Once it tops $5.00, that $100.00 fill-up could be the new reality. Can Americans afford this? What about the impact this is having on the cost of consumer goods!

The economists at RoutingByRumor predict that you’ll see gasoline break the $4.00/gallon mark this summer. And if unforeseen problems arise in the Middle East, you could see it go much higher than that. When your economic stimulus check arrives, don’t forget to take it with you to the gas station. Just think of it as President Bush’s gift to “big oil”.

If you think inflation is out of control now, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. See our recent post about what the price of oil is doing to the U.S. economy.

As Esso (or was it Humble Oil) used to say, “Happy Motoring”.

Hybrid and electric vehicles are looking better all the time.

– RoutingByRumor

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Filed under Automobile Manufacturers, Cars, Consumerism, Energy, Energy Conservation, Energy costs, Money, News, Politics, Rebates, Routing by Rumor, Shopping, The Economy, Your Money

Oil Closes Above $100.00/Barrel, Toilet Paper Closes Above $1.00/Roll, Wal-Mart’s Quarterly Sales Surpass $100 Billion and Postage Rates Are Going Up Again !

All of these increases are related, and they all spell serious trouble for the U.S. economy.

Energy costs are driving up the price of all consumer goods and services. Raw materials, production and transportation costs are all being pushed higher because of the price of oil.

U.S. crude for March delivery jumped $4.51, closing yesterday at $100.01 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The previous record close was $99.62 on January 2, 2008. It has never closed above the century mark until now.

In a recent shopping trip, we found single rolls of Scott toilet tissue selling at a national drugstore chain for $1.15 a roll. I’ve never seen single rolls of toilet paper priced at or above $1.00 a roll. The cost of paper products seems to have increased 25-30% within the space of a few weeks.

And with Americans hard pressed to stretch every dollar, Wal-Mart continues to post record sales figures despite the widespread belief that retailers such as Wal-Mart are major contributors to the nation’s economic problems. The United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union says Wal-Mart employs more than one million U.S. workers, earning an average of $8.00/hour.

If you need a better feel for what $100 billion actually means, it’s the same as saying “one hundred thousand million dollars”. It’s $100,000,000,000.00 …and that’s just for the fourth quarter of 2007. That works out to more than $1 billion a day, or put another way, more than a thousand million dollars every day. That translates to $400 billion a year if they continue those figures for four quarters. At this rate, Wal-mart, the world’s largest retailer and the largest private employer in the U.S. (see this UFCW fact sheet), will have a trillion dollars in annual sales before long.

The prices mentioned above are significant milestones, even if the specific numbers are not economically significant. It’s similar to when U.S. gasoline prices went above $1.00/gallon for the first time, back in the Summer of 1979. We feel that they portend even higher prices in the near future. Expect sharp increases to continue in the cost of living and inflation. Expect the size of those rolls of toilet paper to continue shrinking, while the price continues heading North. If you have any letters to mail, better do it soon. On second thought, use e-mail.

Trips to the supermarket are getting more painful every week. All of the basic grocery items, bread, milk, eggs, cereal, etc. are rising sharply. For instance, we’ve seen the price of a dozen eggs almost double in the last few months. Too bad gasoline doesn’t taste better, because milk is now almost double the price of gasoline, per gallon. It makes you wonder if the cows are the ones who are getting milked. We’ve seen some bakeries raising prices so often that they don’t even wait until their old packaging is used up before they raise the price. They are covering the printed prices on their plastic bags with stickers showing the new price. I’ve seen that some boxes of cereal have shrunk to less than 9 ounces. For instance, I spotted a 8.9 ounce box of General Mills Cheerios.

Who decides on these strange product sizes? Did a committee of pricing experts say that 9 ounces was way too big, but 8.75 ounces looked too small ? It’s voodoo marketing. It’s deception engineering. What’s next? The 8.1275 ounce box of Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes?

We can’t remember any time in the past 30 years that the cost of living has risen so sharply and for so long a period of time.

Just nine months ago, the Postal Service raised the first class postage rate (up to one ounce) by two cents, to 41 cents. They have just announced another increase to take effect this Spring. No wonder they introduced their “Forever” stamp. They saw these frequent rate increases coming, and probably wanted to limit the public outcry. Unless you have lots of money to tie up in “Forever” stamps, the idea of locking in your postage rate is pretty meaningless. You’d be much better off investing your money anyway. What we need is the “Forever” gallon of gasoline and the “Forever” quart of milk. Shoppers going to the supermarket are behaving more and more like stock market speculators every day. Should I buy that loaf of bread today? I really don’t need bread yet, but it might be 30 cents more tomorrow. Better fill up the car today, because the radio just said the price of a barrel of oil hit a record high yesterday, and that means the price at the pump will be going up in the next couple of days.

With these almost daily price increases and product downsizings, what we need is a new way of tracking the true cost of living. Forget about the U.S. government’s inflation index. Forget about the “market basket” price surveys. Forget about The Lundberg survey of gasoline prices. What this country needs is “The RoutingByRumor National Toilet Paper Price Survey”, adjusted of course, for the shrinking size of toilet paper rolls. Laugh all you want. We think it will be a very accurate gauge of inflation.

– RoutingByRumor

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Filed under Business, Consumerism, Deception Engineering, Energy, Energy costs, Kimberly-Clark, Money, News, Politics, Retail, Routing by Rumor, Scott Tissue, Shopping, Shrinking Products, Stock Markets, The Economy, Your Money

Shame On You, New Jersey State Senators Anthony Bucco and John Girgenti !

If legislation sponsored by New Jersey state senator Anthony Bucco (see Senate bill S182) becomes law, New Jersey will, for the first time ever, allow police to carry and use stun guns, Tasers and similar devices on New Jersey’s citizens. Although not indicated in the press reports we’ve seen, the Senate bill identifies New Jersey state senator John Girgenti as a co-sponsor of the legislation. See this Associated Press article about the legislation.

We previously wrote on the subject of Tasers, after the tasering of University of Florida student Andrew Meyer by police there made headlines last September. His crime? Trying to speak at a John Kerry town hall meeting on campus. Police abuses like this are supposed to occur in countries ruled by communist military dictators, but not in America. What is happening to our country?

Electroshock weapons seem to be particularly subject to abuse by police. Because they are perceived as being “less lethal” than firearms, there is little inhibition on the part of police to use them. In hundreds of cases, they have caused deaths. According to this recent CBS News article, almost 300 individuals in the U.S. alone, have died after being Tasered. Amnesty International USA has expressed their concern about Tasers. So has the United Nations Committee Against Torture. These weapons also seem to be used to administer punishment and torture individuals in situations where no police officer in their right mind would ever consider shooting an individual. They seem to be popular because they offer police a way to control an individual without “getting their hands dirty”. View this CBS News interview with motorist Jared Massey (but be warned that it contains some very disturbing footage), who was suspected of nothing more than speeding when he was tasered by a Utah State Trooper. There is growing outcry in America about their use by police, and rightly so. We feel that Tasers and similar devices have no place in law enforcement.

If Senator Bucco’s bill becomes law, you can be certain that New Jerseyans will die as a result of his legislation. Will Senator Bucco or Senator Girgenti attend the funerals of their constituents who die as a result of Taser or stun gun use by police? If Senators Bucco or Girgenti ever find themselves on the receiving end of a Taser for whatever reason, and are lucky enough to survive, will they still feel the same way about the weapons? Does Senator Bucco or Senator Girgenti honestly believe police will resort to firing their guns less often if they are equipped with Tasers? Do they believe they will prevent police shootings rather than contribute to more deaths? Statistics from around the U.S. or from other countries do not support that contention, as explained in this article from The Canadian Press.

Kill New Jersey Senate bill S182, before it kills New Jersey citizens.

– RoutingByRumor

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Filed under Law Enforcement, News, Politics, Routing by Rumor, Technology

The Gray Lady Is Hurting – Job Cuts Announced At The New York Times

Life imitates art.

Life also imitates blogs.

The Gray Lady has fallen. When you’re her age, recovery is very difficult, even impossible someTimes. A couple of days ago, in this posting about layoffs at CBS radio stations, we talked about the incredible shrinking New York Times. Today, the Times announced job cuts. Maybe we’re psychic or something.

No, we can’t claim any psychic powers. It wasn’t really hard to see this one coming. As we discussed, all of the traditional media are struggling. Newspapers have been getting smaller while their newsstand price has been climbing. Radio stations have been reduced to generating ad revenue by running commercials for snake oil, 24 hours a day. Broadcast television is pretty much a wasteland. Hey, Mr. FCC chairman… Is broadcasting infomercials most of the time considered “broadcasting in the public interest”? Don’t broadcasters have to demonstrate that as a condition of license renewal?

But good news is just around the corner. The Fed is talking about yet another rate cut, and the President says the checks are (almost) in the mail.

Our economy is looking more and more like an emaciated drug addict every day. Our neighborhood dealer, Mr. Bernanke, who has gotten us dependent on rate cuts, is going to run out of his brand of crack before too long. If the IRS doesn’t keep sending us rebate checks, we might have to start robbing little old ladies to support our habits. Disgusting habits. Like eating …and filling our gas tanks …and heating the house …and paying the mortgage.

How do things sound where you are? That giant sucking sound is getting louder around here. Ross Perot was right.

July, 2008 Update…

The New York Times layoffs are now five months old, the newspaper continues to shrink, and now, they raise the cover price yet again.  Read our latest article here.

– RoutingByRumor

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Filed under Blogging, Business, Employment, Jobs, Journalism, Money, News, The Economy

Bad Day At Black Rock – The Axe Falls At CBS Flagship Radio Station WCBS 880 AM In New York City

…And we’re not referring to the 1955 John Sturges movie by the same name, starring Spencer Tracy.

We’ve written here recently that it seems to us that the vast majority of the advertising on radio stations lately is for products best described as snake oil, and services of questionable efficacy, almost always targeted at individuals in some sort of trouble. Advertising for legitimate, mainstream products and services seems to have all but disappeared. In our mind, this is direct evidence of the faltering economy in the United States, as well as a result of the impact the Internet has had on manufacturer’s and retailer’s advertising habits. We doubt that a radio station enjoys the same type of advertising revenue from a commercial for some brand of snake oil, as it would for an ad from an automobile manufacturer, airline, bank or any other “real” advertiser. And when you hear the same snake oil spot being broadcast every few minutes, day-in and day-out, we think it’s a good bet that they are buying the airtime dirt-cheap. Tough economic times always breed a bumper crop of hucksters, snake oil salesmen and get-rich-quick schemes. We guess P.T. Barnum was right.

It came as no surprise then, when we learned that there was a round of layoffs this week at CBS radio stations, including at WCBS-AM (880 kHz) in New York City. There are reports that nearly 200 CBS radio employees lost their jobs this week. According to this posting, it’s Crystal clear that the bloodletting included WCBS jettisoning their Program Director, Crys Quimby. You can still (at least at this writing) read about Crys on her page at WCBS880.com. She had been with CBS for more than 20 years! You know things are bad when people with that much service are shown the door. We guess that means there will be no gold watch.

The day after I blogged this story, this article appeared in the Newark Star-Ledger. A statement released by CBS Radio included the following explanation…

“With these actions, we continue to build on our strategy of deploying our assets to best grow our ratings and monetize the results”

Now, if that isn’t a piece of tortured doublespeak, penned by some corporate spinmaster, we don’t know what is. In fact, we’re not even sure it’s written in English. We parsed it using our Captain Midnight secret decoder ring. It translated into “The Internet has killed our audience. Between that and the failing economy, our advertising revenue has dried up like a lake bed in a drought. We’re running out of money”.

What’s next? Hooking WCBS 880’s traffic reporter Tom Kaminski up to a bunch of helium balloons instead of having him report from “Chopper 880”? Maybe they’ll have chopper pilot Christopher LaCasse manning the helium tank. We would love to have Tom take a few hits of helium just before he goes on the air. His traffic reports would sound like this (please don’t try this, since it could be dangerous, and there’s always the chance you could sound like one of the Munchkins permanently). The Wizard Of Oz has always been our favorite movie. As a child, we would cry every time we watched it, afraid that Dorothy and Toto wouldn’t get back to Kansas. By the way, here’s why helium does funny things to your voice.

…But we digress.

About the only advice we can offer to the employees at WCBS-AM and other CBS stations who are now unemployed, is to not bother applying for jobs at Macy’s. But WCBS could enter Tom Kaminski as the newest float in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Macy’s, one of America’s oldest and best known retailers, just announced they are cutting 2,300 jobs (read about it here). No big surprise here either, since retailers are really hurting in this economy. But hey, Wal-Mart is still hiring. As we have previously written, don’t expect the $600 income tax rebate checks Americans will be getting thanks to the U.S. Economic Stimulus Plan to be much help. In fact, we wouldn’t be surprised if Macy’s ends their more than 80 year sponsorship of the annual Thanksgiving day parade in New York City. In that case, you could say that the axe fell on the turkey, too. The Macy’s Fourth of July Fireworks show, which has dazzled New York City for over 30 years might also fizzle.

Of course, it’s not just CBS Radio or radio and TV broadcasters in general who are feeling the pinch. Newspapers are folding (pun intended) under the weight of a failing economy, coupled with the exodus of advertising dollars to the Internet, cellphones, and other electronic venues. Take The New York Times, one of America’s most venerable and respected newspapers, for example. The print edition of The New York Times is a shadow of it’s former self. Over the last year or so, entire sections of the Sunday New York Times have disappeared, while the newsstand price has climbed to $4.00. That alone, I am sure has contributed to much of the decrease in circulation that they have seen. For a long time, they didn’t even bother to renumber the remaining sections. For instance, when they killed section 10 (Help Wanted) and section 13 (Television), they simply sold the Sunday newspaper with those section numbers missing for about a year. I would imagine that prompted a lot of complaints from readers that their copy was missing some sections. Then recently, they decided to drop the section numbers altogether, simply using the remaining sections’ names only (Sports, Real Estate, etc.). I took this as an omnious sign that they expect to discontinue even more sections of their Sunday edition. We were particularly upset when the Technology section (formerly the Computers section) that appeared one (weekday) per week, shrunk and shrunk until all that remains today is one or two pages a week inside the Times’ Business section. Even the physical size of their pages has been reduced. We guess that means the Times is shrinking literally AND figuratively.

We’re not the only ones thinking that The New York Times is in big trouble. Internet pioneer Marc Andreessen, the co-founder of Netscape, has begun his “New York Times deathwatch” (see this CNN article).

So I guess we will be getting most of our news off of the Internet from now on. Too bad, because we were starting to find all those radio commercials for snake oil to be quite entertaining.

– RoutingByRumor

P.S. – Ever wonder why WCBS-AM, which used to go by the moniker “Newsradio 88” adopted the “880” identity? They’re still at the same spot on the AM dial, 880 kHz (or 0.880 mHz). When radios, especially car radios, had analog tuning dials, it was the norm to drop the last digit of frequencies below 1 megahertz. Hence, 530 kHz was shown as “53” or “53“, and 880 kHz was shown as “88” or “88” (to avoid clutter, only a few frequencies would usually be shown on the tuning dial. You would have to guesstimate the position of the other stations). Some listeners would scratch a mark into the face of the radio to mark the position of their favorite stations. We would put little dots of “white-out” on the face of the dial. With the move to digital displays on modern radios, 880 kHz is usually shown as “880”. WCBS, as well as other AM stations, simply wanted to keep things in sync, and have what you see displayed match their announced frequency.

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Filed under Business, CBS Radio, Employment, Jobs, Journalism, Labor, News, Retailers, Routing by Rumor, Shrinking Products, Technology, The Economy, WCBS-AM