Category Archives: Environment

Good News For Costco, Bad News For Consumers !

We must be getting old, here at Routing By Rumor world headquarters, because we’re not spotting deceptive consumer practices as quickly as we used to.  If you’re a regular visitor to these parts, you’ve heard us complaining about manufacturers who downsize their products, and about manufacturer’s practices we’ve termed “deception engineering“.

Case in point…  When last month’s “Costco Connection” advertising and propaganda publication  arrived (they call it a “lifestyle magazine” –  believe that, and we have an “infomercial” we want you to watch), we found great news on page 52  (View the April edition of Costco Connection here).  Costco announced, in a two-page article, that while other brands of tuna fish were shrinking their cans from six ounces to five ounces, Costco was increasing the size of their  “Kirkland Signature” house brand of tuna fish, from six ounces to seven ounces.  You don’t read good news like that every day.  Sounds like they’re making an already good value even better.  Break out the mayonnaise and strike up the band.  Happy days are here again!

Or are they?

It turns out that it’s good news for Costco, but bad news for Costco members (and, we suspect, for those cute little tuna fishies).  While it’s true that they have increased the size of their Kirkland Signature tuna fish by 16.6%, to seven ounces, consumers are not getting more tuna for their money.  The article in their Costco Connection magazine somehow forgot to mention the fact that the price per can actually increased even more than the size of the can!  Bottom line: You get more tuna per can, but the price per ounce has increased.

Silly us.  We thought we might be getting more tuna fish for the same price.  In actuality, while the size of the cans was increased a whopping 16.6%, the price per can has increased an even more whopping 20%.  Packs of eight 6-ounce cans  had sold for $9.99 in area Costco Wholesale warehouses.  Now that they have introduced packs of eight 7-ounce cans, Costco has raised the selling price to $11.99, a 20% increase.  By the way, didja ever notice how most grocery items at Costco seem to be sized so that the average price per package is around $10 or $12 ?  Throw 9 or ten items in your cart, and you just spent at least $100.  But we guess that’s the whole idea of shopping in a “warehouse” club.   And why does the price of everything have to end in “.99”, ie: $9.99, $11.99, $14.99 ?  We realize that Costco didn’t invent that pricing strategy, but if you’re shopping in a place like Costco, which says it caps  it’s margin** (see below) at 14%, it seems like a suspicious practice to cynical little us.  Like maybe if their normal markup dictates a selling price of $12.35, it gets rounded UP to $12.99, just because someone at Costco likes the number 99, and rounding it up to an even $13.00 might seem, well, excessive.  Yes, we know that 13 is not an even number, but you get the point.  Besides, 1300 IS an even number, which is sort of odd, when you stop and think about it.  Then again, maybe we’re paranoid, and when they have an item that should sell for $12.35, they decide to give their members a break, and round the price down to $11.99.  Yeah, right.  All we know is that if you look at your receipt the next time you shop at Costco, just about everything except random-weight packages of meat, poulty, fish, etc., will end in “.99”.  But even those random-weight items will have a unit price ending in “.99”, such as $5.99 per pound.

But then, there are a lot of odd things at Costco, like the fact that they will accept any credit card in your wallet, as long as it is from American Express.  And the fact that they don’t offer grocery bags, so you end up throwing 500 loose items into your car in the parking lot.  And the fact that they won’t accept any manufacturer’s cents-off  coupons, unless they are distributed by Costco themselves.  And the fact that they have pretty limited hours of operation, especially for the lowest-cost membership holders. And the fact (according to this New York Times article), that Costco refuses to accept food stamps (now issued as debit cards) for purchases.  And the fact that you’ll find horrifically environment-unfriendly packaging of many small items (especially electronic items) at Costco, which doesn’t seem to be getting Costco members too upset.  We’re talking huge plastic blister packs (which can’t be recycled, at least where we live), or combination plastic and cardboard blister packs, so that these small items are less likely to be stolen.  In our opinion,  some of the terribly excessive packaging at Costco and other warehouse-type retailers qualifies as a crime against the planet, even if it doesn’t happen to be illegal.

Now, we’ll admit that we aren’t going to stop buying Costco tuna fish.  It’s actually excellent quality tuna.  It is quite possibly the best quality tuna we have ever found, at any price.  But those good folks in Seattle must think their customers are idiots.  To be sure, the price per ounce has increased only slightly, and it’s still a good value.  But shamelessly hyping the increased size of their cans of tuna fish, and not mentioning that it’s now more expensive and was actually a better value before they increased the size of the cans isn’t what we would consider good news or being straightforward with their customers .  In our opinion, it borders on deceptive advertising.  Of course, you can’t  expect that manufacturers will go out of their way to let you know when they raise prices, downsize a product, or substitute cheaper ingredients, either.  What we don’t like is the fact that, in our mind at least, Costco’s announcement paints a picture that it’s now a better value, when the opposite is actually true.

Since when is raising the price (per ounce, per pound, per gallon, etc.) of a product, while at the same time, forcing you to buy more of it at once, a good thing for consumers ?  What ever happened to the warehouse club concept that as package size increases, so does value ?

For us, the appeal of shopping at Costco isn’t so much about price, as it is about quality.  After all, shopping at Costco means an extra shopping trip,  an annual membership fee, not getting your groceries bagged, often waiting in long lines at the checkout, limited shopping hours and very limited product selection.  Indeed,we can buy many identical items for less at the local supermarket, especially when they’re on sale or if we use manufacturer’s coupons.  What we like most about Costco is that the quality of their private-labeled items, such as their tuna fish, is generally superior to not only the national brands, but any brand at any price.  Even Jimmy Kimmel shops at Costco.  Watch Jimmy shopping at Costco on youtube.  We never knew a trip to Costco could be so much fun.

An article entitled “Costco’s Artful Discounts” (Business Week, October 9, 2008), says this of Costco CEO James D. Sinegal… “he’s constantly pushing his buyers to find creative ways to lower prices and add value while getting his managers to crank up their efficiency efforts”.  It seems to us that Costco’s new 7-ounce cans of tuna have failed to deliver the lower prices or added value which Mr. Sinegal is so fond of.  What they do seem to have provided is a lot of hype for Costco’s marketing efforts, and very likely a higher profit margin because a product’s shipping and packaging costs (especially for canned items) decrease (on a percentage basis), as container size increases.  There is very little difference in the cost of manufacturing a 7-ounce tin can, compared to a 6-ounce tin can.  In fact, in the case of Costco tuna fish, the old and new cans use exactly the same size lid; but the walls of the can are slightly taller.  Costco is also very good at finding ways to minimize shipping costs, for instance, by having their vendors redesign packages so that more of them can fit onto a standard shipping pallet.  We wouldn’t be surprised if Costco’s next “improvement” to their Kirkland signature tuna will be to offer it in new and improved square cans.  Think of all the space that will save in the pantry, and the fact that you won’t have to worry about your can of tuna fish rolling away, should you drop it.  That’s always been a big problem for households that live in hilly areas.  Now, if the United States mint would only start issuing square pennies !

1919 Australian Kooka Square Penny

1919 Australian Kooka Square Penny

So, what have we learned today, class?  We’ve learned that you get less for your money when manufacturers shrink the size of their products,  and sometimes, you get less for your money when manufacturers increase the size of their products.  Heads, you lose.  Tails, you lose.

Dear Costco… May we please have our old 6-ounce cans of Kirkland Signature tuna fish back again?  They were a better value.

Then again, maybe we should just pay our money, eat our tuna fish (mercury content and torpedoes be damned), and keep our mouth shut.  Mother always said you shouldn’t speak with your mouth full, and now it’s 16.6% more full.

– Routing By Rumor

**  “Margin” is not the same as “markup”.  For instance, if you buy an item for $1.00, and sell it for $2.00,  your markup is 100%, but your margin (the percentage of the selling price that represents your profit) is only 50%.   We’ve always felt that putting things in terms of profit margin instead of markup, especially as markups become greater, has the effect of making a seller’s prices seem more reasonable.

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Filed under Business, Consumerism, Deception Engineering, Energy Conservation, Environment, Food, Journalism, Money, News, Retail, Retailers, Routing by Rumor, Scams, Shopping, Shrinking Products, The Planet, Your Money

Companies In Mirror Are Closer To Bankruptcy Than They Appear !

Objects In Mirror Are Closer Than They Appear

OBJECTS IN MIRROR ARE CLOSER THAN THEY APPEAR

This article will be of interest to anyone replacing the rear view mirror in their General Motors (GM) or other vehicle, whether you are purchasing a replacement mirror from GM SPO, Gentex, Donnelly, or another manufacturer.

Installation information is included for Do-It-Yourselfers (DIY), including wiring harness connector pinout data.

Perhaps the most valuable tip we can give to a vehicle owner planning to purchase a replacement mirror is COMPARE PRICES !

The U.S. government can throw as many billions of dollars at General Motors as they wish, but they’re unlikely to change the fundamental problems at the automaker. Problems that have brought what was once a cornerstone of the American economy to the brink of extinction, dependent on a government bailout for it’s survival.

GM is not competitive for many reasons. They are hobbled by high labor costs. They lag in innovation, particularly in the area of electric and hybrid vehicles. In our opinion, they can’t compete with Japanese auto manufacturers on quality (or perceived quality) or customer loyalty. They’re certainly not competitive on pricing when compared to aftermarket parts suppliers. For most vehicle repairs, we think you’ll spend a lot less, and get a better job done at a private garage, then you would at a GM dealership. This might come as a shock, but in our opinion, Mr. Goodwrench isn’t.

As we’ve stated previously, we believe that their new vehicle warranty isn’t worth the paper its printed on. And GM seems to follow pricing policies usually associated with companies that sell hammers and toilet seats to the Pentagon.

Case in point…

Our GM vehicle was built with an auto-dimming electrochromic rear view mirror. Some rear view mirrors in late-model vehicles are marvels of modern technology, containing On-Star controls, handsfree cellphones, compasses, thermometers, back-up camera displays, garage door openers and other gadgets. But our mirror is just an auto-dimming mirror, with none of these other bells and whistles (see this NY Times article on these “bells & whistles”). On most of the auto dimming mirrors that we’ve seen in GM vehicles, after a few years of service, the magic liquid inside tends to leak out of the mirror. This either renders the dimming feature inoperative, fogs the mirror, or leaves it with an uneven or blotchy reflective surface.

For the past few years, the liquid crystal stuff (or whatever the chemical is) in our mirror has been leaking out, increasingly producing areas on the mirror’s surface that are either always clear or always dark. We finally decided to replace the mirror.

We checked with our friendly GM dealership’s parts department. They quoted us a price of $284.00 for a replacement rear view mirror, excluding the cost of installation.

Almost $300.00 for a rear view mirror ? Sounded awfully expensive to us, so we started to look at aftermarket mirrors. Virtually all American cars use a standard “wedge” type glass mount. The mirror attaches to a glass-mounted “button”, which hopefully stays attached to the windshield when you remove your old mirror from the vehicle.

Our search for a replacement mirror lead us to products manufactured by two predominant manufacturers of automotive mirrors, Donnelly (now called Magna Donnelly?) and Gentex (see company info). It seems that Donnelly sells exclusively to automotive manufacturers (OEMs), and not to the automotive aftermarket. Gentex sells to OEMs (probably the vast majority of their business), but they also sell their products to aftermarket suppliers (in our case, through a distributor named Mito Corporation).

We ended up purchasing a brand new, in the box, Gentex electrochromic rear view mirror that is virtually identical to our vehicle’s original mirror, for under $70.00, including shipping ! That’s less than a quarter of what General Motors wanted for a replacement mirror.

When you consider the fact that GM certainly pays much less for mirrors than the RoutingByRumor Corporation does, that probably equates to a markup of 400%, 500% or more.   What word best describes that sort of profit margin ?  “Criminal”  might be a bit too strong.  How about egregious.  How about unconscionable.  How about stupid ?  How many businesses that try to fleece their customers are able to stay in business ?  It certainly seems to indicate that GM doesn’t make their money selling cars.  They make their money (or at least they did) by selling parts and service;  Service that we’ve never been very impressed with in the first place.

The only caveat is that we had to replace the wiring harness connector that powers the mirror, because the Gentex mirror uses a 7-pin connector, while our original equipment Donnelly mirror used a 3-pin connector (our vehicle does not have auto-dimming external mirrors, and the Gentex mirror we installed does not have a temperature or compass display). But replacing the connector was a quick and easy procedure. The hardest part was getting the old mirror off of the windshield. Maybe it helped that we popped our Stevie Nicks album “The Other Side Of The Mirror” into the CD player while we installed our new mirror. To quote Stevie, “This is me talking to you. This is me talking to ya”.

The Gentex mirror we purchased came with very limited hookup information. We found the following pinout data on the Web, and we’re guessing that this information will apply to all Gentex mirrors that use a 7-pin connector.

JST "VH" Series Housing (8-pin version shown)

JST "VH" Series Connector Housing (8-pin version shown)

If you’re trying to figure out what type of connector Gentex (and Donnelly) use on their mirrors, our research indicates that the 7-pin Gentex harness connector (as well as the 3-pin harness connector on our original Donnelly mirror) are “VH” series connectors, from JST Manufacturing. Their U.S. website is at www.jst.com. View JST’s data sheet for the VH series connectors here. These connectors (and the necessary crimp terminals) are available from Digi-Key.

We’re not sure if the wiring color coding is standard on all vehicles, so we would be more concerned with the function associated with each pin on the connector (pin numbers are molded into the connector housing on the wire-side of the connector, but you might need a magnifying glass to read them).

WARNING: Before you begin working on your mirror’s wiring harness, we strongly suggest that you either pull the fuse(s) that protect your accessories (ACC, RAP, ACC1, ACC2, etc., depending on your vehicle), as well as the fuse that protects your backup lamps. In lieu of pulling the accessory fuse(s), remove your key from the ignition and open a door to deactivate the Retained Accessory Power (RAP) circuit, if present and utilized by the mirror. If you really want to play it safe, disconnect your vehicle’s battery, following your vehicle manufacturer’s recommended procedure (for your safety). This will prevent you from blowing a fuse, should you inadvertently short or ground a lead while working on your mirror’s wiring harness.


PIN # …. HARNESS WIRE COLOR …………. FUNCTION

. 1 …………….. WHITE …………………………. +12v (SWITCHED B+)

. 2 ……………. BLACK …………………………. CHASSIS GROUND

. 3 ……………. LIGHT GREEN ………………… FROM BACKUP LIGHT CIRCUIT

. 4 …………….. GRAY …………………………… TO AUTO DIM OUTSIDE MIRROR

. 5 …………….. PINK …………………………….. TO AUTO DIM OUTSIDE MIRROR

. 6 …………….. DARK GREEN/WHITE ……… TEMPERATURE PROBE

. 7 …………….. BLACK/WHITE ……………….. TEMPERATURE PROBE

Notes:

At a minimum, you must connect pins 1 & 2 (+12V & ground) for your auto dimming Gentex mirror to operate.

Not all Gentex mirrors or all vehicles will utilize all pins, but we believe pins 1 – 5 should be functional on all Gentex mirrors. If your experience differs, please let us know by posting a comment to this article.

Pin 3 is used to clear the mirror when the vehicle is placed in reverse. (DO NOT connect pin 3 to ground, since this will blow a fuse (or possibly damage your mirror) when you put the vehicle into reverse gear.)

Pins 4 & 5 are used to control outside mirrors on vehicles equipped with auto-dimming outside mirrors.

Pins 6 & 7 are used on mirrors that incorporate a temperature display. If a temperature probe is connected, either lead from the temperature probe can be connected to either pin.

Of course, your best source of information is your vehicle manufacturer, or the manufacturer of your new mirror. The above information is believed to be correct, but we take no responsibility for its accuracy.

A Volt-Ohm meter is an indispensable tool for any installer, and we recommend that you use one whenever working on your vehicle’s electrical system.


In our opinion, the auto-dimming feature of the Gentex mirror performs as well as, or better than, our original equipment Donnelly rear view mirror, even taking into account how it operated when our vehicle was brand new. We saved more than $200.00 by not buying the mirror from GM, and probably much more than that, if the dealership would have installed the new mirror for us. The Gentex mirror we purchased appears to be manufactured in the U.S.A. (see this article about their Zeeland, Michigan plant & headquarters buildings), and came with a three-year warranty. We said the Gentex mirror “appears” to be made in the USA, because the only indication we were able to find was the letters “U.S.A.” on the carton label in 2-point type. Not “Made In U.S.A.” or “Assembled In U.S.A.”. Just “U.S.A.”. We’re left to guess that Gentex may be embarrased to admit where the mirror is manufactured. If their products are indeed made in the USA, why don’t they state that fact prominently on the carton, with “MADE IN U.S.A.” clearly visible, like they are proud of it !

We always welcome the opportunity to buy products made in America. We think that buying American made goods, and supporting American workers, is the best way to repair the failing U.S. economy. The U.S. Government’s economic stimulus plans certainly won’t do that.

Let’s hope that if we should ever have to file a warranty claim with Gentex or Mito (their aftermarket distributor), that they honor their warranty better than General Motors has, on the numerous occasions that we’ve had problems with GM products.

As an aside, here’s an article we stumbled upon about another Gentex product, designed to solve one of nighttime driving’s most annoying and dangerous problems.

So the question we are left to ponder is this… Why does General Motors think it can gouge consumers for replacement parts ? If you said “because they’re General Motors”, think again. In our case, they couldn’t. And when you consider the fact that they are teetering on the verge of bankruptcy, begging for federal bailout money, it’s clear to us that their policies, including their pricing policies, are a failure. All of the GM dealerships that have gone belly-up, and those who continue to struggle to survive, in an American new car market that has all but evaporated, are testament to their failed business model. And of course, the decrepit U.S. economy doesn’t help either.

Ya know, our mention of Stevie Nicks’ album “The Other Side Of The Mirror” is quite appropos, because when our GM dealer gave us their price for a new mirror, we suddenly recalled the advice that Alice received from the Mad Hatter… “Better run for your life”.

– Routing By Rumor Continue reading

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Bloomberg Hits The Nail On The Head Regarding Economic Stimulus Plan

NYC mayor Michael R. Bloomberg

NYC mayor Michael R. Bloomberg

There was a piece on the radio this morning which discussed New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg‘s comments about any future economic stimulus plans. Unfortunately, our searches for his comments have come up empty, but we’re guessing that he made these remarks yesterday. If we’ve misquoted Mr. Bloomberg, our apologies. We are going on our recollection of what we heard on the radio this morning.

Mr. Bloomberg (his middle name is “Rubens” – how many of you knew that?) said that the first round of economic stimulus checks the government mailed out amounted to a program that allowed Americans to go buy Chinese-made widescreen TVs at Circuit City. We couldn’t agree more. In fact, if you’ve followed RoutingByRumor, you know that we have said that the first round of economic stimulus checks amounted to little more than a subsidy for Middle East Oil producing countries, big oil and China, Inc. (You can rest assured that no matter how low the price of oil goes, no matter how much demand drops, that ExxonMobil will continue to post record profits in the quarters and years ahead.)

Franklin Delano Roosevelt

Franklin Delano Roosevelt

Mr. Bloomberg said that any future economic stimulus program should fund infrastructure projects, which would be similar to what the United States undertook to help lift the country out of The Great Depression. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt‘s Works Progress Administration (WPA) created almost eight million jobs between 1935 and 1943. Just as importantly, this New Deal agency built highways, bridges, schools and other public works projects across America that still serve our nation today. New York City has more than it’s share of crumbling infrastructure, and like other American cities, would benefit greatly from a modern-day WPA.

Mr. Bloomberg has been critical of the Federal government’s economic stimulus plan in the past. In fact, he’s been against it all along. Last February, he said the then-proposed first round of economic stimulus checks were “like giving a drink to an alcoholic”.

Athough not in relation to the current debate on future economic stimulus spending, Mr. Bloomberg appeared before lawmakers on Capitol Hill this past June, in his capacity as co-chair of Building America’s Future.   He gave this testimony about the need to invest in infrastructure projects.

At a time when there’s more layoffs in the news every day, and the scope of those job cuts are getting wider and wider (today’s news brought word of Citibank planning 10,000 job cuts worldwide), we desperately need a government program that will give American families more than fleeting relief. We need a program that will keep the economic stimulus money the government spends here at home, instead of it being an indirect subsidy for China, which doesn’t benefit American families one bit. Walmart is doing very well, thanks to American families desperate to stretch their income. There is no need to provide Americans with stimulus checks they can take to Walmart, to buy more Chinese made goods. We’ve read that something on the order of 80% of the goods on the shelves at Walmart are made in China.

There’s slim chance that outgoing President George W. Bush will try to implement a program that will put Americans to work while also rebuilding America’s infrastructure. Our hope is that President-elect Barack Obama will seize the opportunity to lift America out of hard times by proposing a program styled on Roosevelt’s WPA. If Washington is going to spend billions of more dollars in an attempt to prevent an economic collapse, doesn’t it make sense to spend it on projects that will benefit America for generations to come, while keeping our money here at home ?

– Routing By Rumor

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The Dirty Little Secret That Warehouse Clubs Would Rather You Not Know

We’ve had memberships to several membership-based warehouse clubs over the years. You can save money on many items, but there are often better deals on many items at your local supermarket, Walmart or Target. When you factor in the annual membership fees, which generally range from $50.00 to $100.00 or more, we’re not so sure that you actually save enough to make it worthwhile. That is, unless you own a restaurant, feed a small city, or really need to buy 50 pounds of rice, sugar or detergent at a time. They don’t bag your groceries for you. In fact, they don’t even have any bags (unless you want to buy 500 bags from them at a time).

Interestingly, at a time when other retailers are hurting because of an economy that is in deep recession, the warehouse clubs are enjoying healthy increases in membership and sales volume. Consumers desperate to stretch their dollars are flocking to these retailers in an effort to save some money. Check out this piece from CNBC that says Costco recently reported a 32% increase in quarterly profits, or this Forbes.com article that says BJ’s Wholesale Club saw a larger than 25% increase in profits in the first quarter of this year.

Many warehouse clubs open later and close earlier than supermarkets or other discount chains. In an effort to sell you their more expensive memberships, most of them offer expanded hours to only their premium membership holders, sort of like a caste system. By the time the doors swing open for the hordes of regular members, you just know that all the good stuff will have been snapped up by the privileged few who can afford the $100.00 premium memberships. All that will be left for everyone else will be the dregs. You might as well just drive ’round back and do some dumpster diving.

We’re also surprised they don’t have a little window by the entrance where you have to whisper the secret password before they’ll let you in. And some warehouse clubs limit your payment options. For instance, Costco won’t accept any credit cards except American Express. That’s unfortunate, since we’ve always felt that American Express offers the least consumer-friendly credit cards out there. And AmEx has probably deforested more of the planet than any other credit card provider, so that they can produce all the paper they stuff your mailbox with, trying to convince you to become a cardholder. We can’t believe the volume of crap we get from them. Maybe we should get a wood-burning stove. We could probably heat our home using nothing more than the American Express offers that our poor mail carrier has to keep delivering almost daily.

Then there’s the silly and demeaning entry and exit procedures at many warehouse clubs. You have to show your membership card (at least at Costco) to gain entry. After all, they can never be too careful about who they let in. I mean, God forbid a non-member might sneak in and try to buy something there. Then these places practically strip search you before you can leave with the shopping cart full of stuff you just paid for. If you think we’re overreacting to these policies, which seem to assume that everyone is a criminal, then you probably haven’t read this fellow’s rant on the subject. His discussion is much more eloquent than what the monkeys here at RoutingByRumor produce when they jump up and down on the keyboard to create each of these articles.

Here’s an account from a blogger who got the treatment at a North Carolina Walmart store, where he says he was briefly detained, then threatened by overly aggressive employees for declining to show his receipt.

Maybe we should put the warehouse clubs in charge of the U.S. borders and security at our airports. As an added bonus, they could sell club memberships to all the Mexicans that want to enter the United States, and the proceeds could go to the U.S. Treasury. Before they return to Mexico, they can stock up at Costco, Sam’s Club or BJ’s, thereby decreasing the U.S. trade deficit. Everyone benefits, and the illegal immigrants won’t have to risk their lives crossing deserts or rivers to get into the United States.

So what’s their dirty little little secret? In many states, certain departments in members-only warehouse clubs are required to sell to the general public without requiring membership. It seems to vary by state, but in general, product categories regulated by the state, such as pharmacy, alcohol and gasoline sales, are usually open to the public. Here’s an article at answers.com that lists which states require warehouse clubs to sell alcholic beverages to the public. This article from prnewswire mentions the fact that Sam’s Club pharmacies are open to the public. But don’t expect the warehouse clubs to advertise this fact. They would probably rather sell you a membership. Don’t even expect a straight answer if you walk thru the front door and ask the gatekeeper at a place like Costco. We did, and our opinion is that they like to play dumb. If you press them, they will acknowledge the fact that certain items must be sold to the public. This posting confirms our experience, and even mentions something called a “temporary alcohol shopping pass” available at Costco. Is this country great, or what ?

With all the big chains offering cheap generic prescriptions these days on a wide variety of medications, is it worth trying to get past the pit bull chained to the entrance at your local Costco, just so you can get some cheap medicine at their pharmacy? This New York Times article certainly seems to think so.

Another option is to ask for a “one-day pass”, which most warehouse clubs will provide. You may have to pay a 10% or so surcharge on any purchases you make, but if you don’t plan on being a regular shopper there, it’s probably a lot cheaper than buying a membership. Some clubs will even refund the surcharge or apply it towards their membership fee if you join within a few days. What wonderful people.

Even in places where the law does not require sales to the general public, there are loopholes that people use to save some money. Some people share their membership cards with friends and neighbors. This article explains how non-members can buy gasoline at Costco gas stations that are supposedly members-only.

As much as we hate Walmart, we think you can do better on most items at Walmart than at the warehouse clubs. We’ve never checked out prices at Walmart’s Sam’s Club stores, but somehow, we doubt that there will be much of a differential in prices between the two.

When you figure in the cost of membership, the extra gasoline you’ll probably burn to get there, the generally limited product selection, the inconvenience, the lack of shopping bags, limited payment options, the crowds, the long checkout lines, the often shorter hours and the obligatory strip searches at the exit, are the warehouse clubs really worth it?

– Routing By Rumor

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Driving South At General Motors

We just came across a post at the blog “The Truth About Cars” (TTAC) that is spreading a rumor (could you imagine that… RUMOR mongering !) that Rick Wagoner, the CEO at General Motors, will be taking a much needed vacation within the next couple of days. A permanent vacation.

According to this profile at forbes.com, Mr. Wagoner’s compensation for FY 2007 was just shy of $5 million. And that’s despite shareholder value that is melting away faster than an ice cube on a hot August day. Not a bad gig if you can get it, in our opinion.

We have no idea whether the story posted at TTAC has any basis in fact. It will be interesting to see if Rick Wagoner gets to take his “vacation”… whether he resigns, is dismissed, or takes a different position within GM (he’s been there for the past 30 years). If the rumor is true, it shouldn’t surprise anyone, especially the motorheads here at Routing By Rumor. In the past, we have written about why we are one GM customer that will never buy another vehicle from this company. And since we are a die-hard proponent of that quaint notion of “Buy American”, and we were a loyal GM customer for nearly our entire driving career, you know that something is very wrong with this company. We feel that if they couldn’t hold on to us as a customer, they have little chance of holding on to anyone else.

Those poor GM shareholders. Back in January, 1999, GM’s share price was sitting pretty at $90. When we checked it this morning, it was below $10 (view the current GM share price). That equals a loss of shareholder value of almost 89% from it’s all-time high. GM shares are also more than 76% off their 52-week high of $43.20. If you’re invested heavily in GM, chances are you can’t afford to buy one of the gas guzzling GM SUVs piling up in dealer’s lots, no matter how worthless they become. Thanks to $4.00 a gallon gasoline and an economy that is on life support, the only thing dropping faster than GM’s share price is it’s SUV and pickup sales.

This is probably just a cruel coincidence, but the TTAC blog runs ads on their site, and the ads that appeared on the article we cited above happened to be for a vehicle from KIA. How fitting.

So Rick, if it turns out you’re looking for work, and you have any writing experience, send us your resume. Blogging experience, a familiarity with WordPress, and some Internet savvy will all be helpful. Please include a cover letter with your salary requirements.

– Routing By Rumor

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George Bush Fiddles While The Ice Caps Melt

Polar bears' extinction threatened by global warming ?
photo credit: Associated Press / Johnathan Hayward

Apparently, protecting our planet takes a back seat to protecting Big Oil’s profits, as far as George Bush is concerned. No big surprise there, as Bush was an oil man long before he was running the country and it’s economy into the ground. Perhaps Mr. Bush is not concerned about global warming because the White House is air conditioned.

On Friday, President Bush rejected imposing government regulations that would aim to control the United States’ production of greenhouse gases, which are blamed by scientists for global warming. He claims that doing so would hurt the economy and cause too many job losses.

Well, it’s kinda nice that he is concerned about the economy and about American workers, but what do you think that shipping nearly all of America’s manufacturing jobs to China has done? Perhaps you haven’t noticed, Mr. Bush, but the U.S. economy is in shambles. Barack Obama is smart enough to acknowledge that.

As far as protecting jobs, it’s great that Mr. Bush has finally gotten religion about the plight of the American worker, but if you want to protect Americans, preventing a global environmental catastrophe might produce a better return on investment. It will also protect American’s lives as well as their jobs and the economy.

Just how much damage are we doing to the environment from the burning of fossil fuels?

As of 2006, the world was consuming 86 million barrels of oil every day. With 42 gallons of oil in each “barrel”, that equals a mind-boggling 3.6 BILLION GALLONS of oil per day ! That’s more than 2.5 million gallons of oil every minute. We find it incredible that the world’s oil wells can pull that much crude oil out of the Earth. It’s truly hard to believe.

How much money is at stake for the nations, corporations and individuals that profit from oil ? Well, (pun intended) at the current price for crude oil, it’s more than $12 billion a day. That kind of money gives a lot of people a very strong incentive to maintain the status quo, ice caps and planet be damned.

At that rate of consumption, it seems unlikely that anything we try to do to reduce the production of greenhouse gases can have a significant effect, but we must do something.

If global warming is indeed occuring because of our consumption of fossil fuels (which includes oil), then it really does seem to be an intractable problem unless we can drastically reduce our consumption of fossil fuels. To put it in medical terms, if you have a hemorrhaging patient, all the blood in the world won’t save them unless you can stem their bleeding.

The world’s industrialized nations are so dependent on oil that there is no simple answer. Technologies such as solar, wind, or wave power are not currently capable of lessening the world’s dependence on oil to any great extent. Even if every gasoline and diesel powered vehicle on the planet could be replaced by electric vehicles, it wouldn’t eliminate most of the greenhouse gasses being produced. That’s because most of the electricity generated in the world is produced by burning oil, coal and natural gas.

Yet with the enormity of the problem clear to almost everyone, and more evidence of global warming becoming available every day, President Bush has chosen to do nothing.

Foreign leaders who attended the just-concluded G-8 summit in Tokyo must think there are two George Bushes (actually, there are, but that’s another story). At the G-8 summit, the United States joined other nations in supporting policies that will effect a 50 percent reduction in global greenhouse gases by 2050. If Mr. Bush is serious about reducing greenhouse emissions, you’d be hard pressed to find any proof of that.

We propose a summit of a different kind. How about putting President Bush on a melting iceberg, along with a group of eight polar bears (the G-8), where they could engage in a constructive dialog about what global warming means to them. In that environment, free of political pressure from Big Oil and forced to confront the issue, Mr. Bush might decide to act in a more immediate way to limit greenhouse gasses. Come to think of it, you might want to have that iceberg summit take place in Prince William Sound, Alaska, where the local wildlife has some firsthand experience with Big Oil, courtesy of the Exxon Valdez.

– Routing By Rumor

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Newspapers Are Now Obsolete. Introducing News Headlines Mad Libs !

With apologies to Andy Rooney

Ya ever notice how the same news keeps showing up in your newspaper day after day ?

…and how it always seems to get worse ?

Well, the newshounds at RoutingByRumor have figured out how to save you some money, and save some trees at the same time. Instead of buying a newspaper every day, why not try this update of the word game “Mad Libs” to get your latest news.

If you’re one of the few people on the planet who have never heard of Mad Libs, read this before you continue. And yes, the Web does indeed have everything, including the kitchen sink. There is even an official Mad Libs website.

And remember… “no news is good news”.

THE “MAD LIBS” U.S. NEWS HEADLINES

CONSUMER NEWS

The __________________ Corporation (fill in the name of a food or consumer goods company that has shipped all of it’s manufacturing to China) has announced the recall of ____________________ (fill in the name of a food product or child’s toy) due to possible __________________ contamination (fill in the name of a poison or carcinogen) or choking hazard. Consumers are advised to return the product to the store where they bought it.

ENVIRONMENTAL NEWS

Scientists monitoring the effects of global warming today observed the breakup of a ____________________ (fill in a really big number) square mile section of the Arctic ice pack. This is the largest loss of Arctic ice ever observed in a single day, and is further evidence of global warming.

HEALTH NEWS

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has announced the recall of ____________________ (fill in an agricultural product) which is suspected in a recent outbreak of ____________________ (fill in a food-borne illness). There have been ____________________ (fill in a number) suspected cases reported in ____________________ (fill in a number) states.

In an unrelated case, the ____________________ (fill in the name of a meat processor) corporation has announced the recall of ____________________ (fill in a very large number) pounds of ground beef, after tests have indicated possible contamination with e-coli bacteria.

ENERGY NEWS

Crude oil prices have hit another record high, closing yesterday at ____________________ (fill in a very large number) dollars a barrel. Regular grade gasoline is now an average of ____________________ (fill in a very large number) dollars a gallon nationally, and diesel fuel is now averaging ____________________ (fill in a very large number) dollars, across the nation.

FOOD PRICES

Food prices have taken another steep jump in the past month, with a seasonally-adjusted increase of ____________________ (fill in a number) percent. Spurred by steep increases in energy and commodity prices, this is the ____________________th (fill in a number) straight monthly increase in food prices. Recent ____________________ (fill in a weather-related disaster, such as flooding, drought, forest fires, locusts, hail, etc.) in key ____________________ (fill in a food commodity) producing areas has increased the likelihood of further price increases and tight supplies of ____________________ (fill in a commodity) for the foreseeable future.
EMPLOYMENT NEWS

The ____________________ (fill in a major corporation’s name) company today announced plans to lay off another ____________________ (fill in a large number) thousand employees in coming months. Blaming the decision on the sluggish economy and increased foreign competition, they said further workforce reductions might be necessary.

Also, the ____________________ (fill in a major retailer) corporation today announced plans to file for chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. In the latest quarter, they posted losses totaling ____________________ (fill in a really big number) dollars. They also announced plans to close ____________________ (fill in a big number) of their least profitable stores, and lay off ____________________ (fill in a big number) thousand employees.
MILITARY NEWS

The Pentagon has announced that another ____________________ (fill in a number) servicemen have died in fighting in ____________________ (fill in either “Iraq” or “Afgahnistan”). This brings the total death count to ____________________ (fill in a very large number) since the war began. The Pentagon has also announced that the tours of duty for ____________________ (fill in a branch of service) in ______________________ (fill in “Iraq” or “Afghanistan”) will be extended by ____________________ (fill in a number) months.

In a related story, suicide bombers have killed another ____________________ (fill in a number) people in the Iraqi city of ____________________ (fill in the name of a city in Iraq), after detonating ______________________ (fill in “a car bomb” or “explosives strapped to their body”) in a crowd of people gathered for ____________________ (fill in any reason people might gather in a group), and another ____________________ (fill in number) U.S. servicemen have been ____________________ (fill in “killed” or “wounded”) by a roadside bomb in ____________________ (fill in the name of an Iraqi city).

9/11 ATTACKS

The New York City Medical Examiner’s office announced today, that another victim of the September 11th attacks has been positively identified thru the use of DNA testing. Bone fragments belonging to ____________________ (fill in yet another victim’s name), which were recovered from ground zero in the weeks after the attacks, were re-tested using new technologies which were unavailable until now. This brings the confirmed number of victims of the 9/11 attacks to ____________________ (fill in a very large number that should wake up every American to the evil we are up against), making 9/11 the single deadliest enemy attack on U.S. soil in the nation’s history.

In a related story, redevelopment of the former World Trade Center site in lower Manhattan has again suffered a setback, after ______________________ (fill in just about any reason imaginable ) has caused yet another delay in construction activity at the site. The reconstruction plans for ground zero have been mired in controversy, cost overruns, ____________________ (fill in another of the hundreds of reasons for the delays), and complaints from families of 9/11 victims, unhappy with plans for a memorial at the site.

NEWS FROM THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL

____________________ (fill in the name of a U.S. presidential candidate) has declared his intention to ____________________ (fill in either “end the war” or “win the war” or “increase the number of troops in Iraq and Afghanistan”) within ____________________ (fill in a number) days of being sworn in as President. Speaking from the campaign trail, he spoke to reporters about the growing dissatisfaction among Americans about how the war is going, and promised quick and decisive action to change the course of the war.

Also, in responding to reporter’s questions about ____________________ (fill in an embarrassing or troubling incident that has been dredged up from his past), he denied _____________________ (fill in “ever making the statement” or “ever meeting with the person” or “ever belonging to the group” or “ever voicing support for the group” or “ever practicing that religion” or “ever losing his temper”), blaming those rumors on ____________________ (fill in a political party) supporters trying to derail his campaign.
So there you have it… All the news that’s fit to print, and no need to buy a single newspaper.

– Routing By Rumor

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