Category Archives: Walmart

Target Stores – An Identity Thief’s Best Friend ?

Is Target Stores, Inc. targeting your sensitive personal data ?  (image from angrywhiteboy.com)

Is Target Corporation targeting your personal data ? Will a data breach make you a victim of identity theft ? (image linked from angrywhiteboy.org)

You might have found this article after asking…

Why did Target scan my drivers license, or

Why did Target swipe my drivers license, or

Is Target collecting personal information from my drivers license, or

What is the Target stores ID policy, and what if I refuse to give them my drivers license,  or

Did a jury award  South Carolina Target shopper Rita Cantrell $3.1 million in a libel case, after she was wrongly accused of trying to pass a counterfeit $100 bill at Target ?

Maybe Eric Arthur Blair was right (you’ll probably know who he was, even if you don’t recognize his name).

We very rarely shop at Target, but happened to find ourselves in a Target store recently.  While our order was being scanned at the register, even before we decided how we would pay, the cashier asked for our drivers license.  When asked why they needed to see our drivers license, they told us that it was because we were buying a package of over-the-counter cold medicine.  Since we are closer to retirement age than we are to the age of majority, we can’t remember the last time a clerk or cashier “proofed” us.  But since we want to do our part to make sure that no minors can get relief from their cold or flu symptoms, we graciously handed the cashier our license.  We quickly regretted complying with their request, when, to our horror, the cashier scanned the barcode on our license with their barcode reader, before we realized what they were doing, and before we had a chance to stop them.  It is worth noting that the last time I checked, this was still America, and there was absolutely no legal requirement for a retailer to scan or swipe your drivers license, or any other form of ID when purchasing medications, alcoholic beverages, etc.  Target appears to have adopted this misguided policy to protect themselves, and to possibly make their job easier (but at your expense).  What’s next ?  Scanning a barcode tattooed on your forehead by the State, or scanning you for the mandatory RFID chip implanted under your skin at birth ?

It seems to us that Target might be capturing at least some the information embedded in the barcode of your drivers license.  If not, then simply having the cashier confirm the date of birth printed on the license would suffice, and scanning the license would serve no purpose.   This makes us wonder what they might be doing with the data.  How long are they retaining the data ?  Do they sell the data, or use it for marketing purposes ?  Will they provide the data to the government, either voluntarily or in response to a subpoena or a National Security Letter ?

As (now very wealthy) South Carolina Target shopper Rita Cantrell can attest, Target can’t distinguish real currency from counterfeit.  Likewise,  we have little confidence that their employees, POS scanners or computer systems would be able to tell a fake drivers license barcode from the real thing.

Are you wondering what information Target (and other retailers) can capture from your drivers license barcode, in this post-9/11, “Homeland Security” driven world ?  The American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators (aamva.org) publishes the standards that the individual states follow when designing their drivers licenses.  This AAMVA document (in .PDF format) lists 22 mandatory and 23 optional data elements that are encoded into the PDF417 barcode that is used on U.S. drivers licenses.  Did you know that items such as a driver’s race/ethnic group and social security number can be embedded in the barcode ?   The individual states are free to add additional data elements that are not included in the AAMVA standard.

Sample License

We suspect that Target would be happy to sell cold medicine to this fellow, as long as he allows them to scan his drivers license.

Even if Target Stores does not have any ulterior motives, the fact that they are able to capture any or all of the data embedded in your drivers license barcode exposes their customers to the threat of identity theft.  The fact that their name is Target doesn’t help the situation either, if you catch our drift.  I mean, just look at their stores… they put a big red bulls eye right on the front of every store !  If that isn’t taunting all the hackers out there, I don’t know what is.   Maybe we would be less concerned if their name was “Fortress” or something along those lines, and their logo was a bank vault, rather than a bulls eye.  Even their cute mascot, Bullseye, looks like he would rather lick you to death than defend the company’s customer data.  Retailers, credit card companies, banks and other businesses are constantly making headlines because their networks are hacked into, their data stolen, and their customers or employees personal and financial information  compromised.  Sometimes it’s a hacker breaking into a computer network.  Sometimes, it’s a rogue employee inside a company or at a vendor that has access to a company’s systems.  Sometimes, it’s a laptop computer containing sensitive information that is lost or stolen.  Sometimes, backup tapes are lost in transit to an off-site storage location.  There are many ways that customer data can be put at risk of theft.

Now we’re wondering if we will pick up the newspaper one day, and see the headline “Target Stores Targeted By Hackers,  Personal Info From 50 Million Customers Stolen”.  Think it can’t happen ?  Think Again.  It has happened to other large retailers, banks and credit card companies.

How can consumers protect themselves ?  Well, it’s nearly impossible in the age of  The Internet and when “plastic” has largely supplanted the use of cash.  But nothing says that you have to shop at a retailer that unnecessarily places your personal information at risk, even if its only a potential risk.   We doubt that we will be shopping at Target stores again, but if we do, and we are asked for our drivers license in the future, we will refuse and walk out.  If collecting our personal data is more important to Target than keeping us as a customer, we will gladly take our business elsewhere, and patronize a business that does not unnecessarily expose us to the threat of identity theft.  Speaking of Target, we think that letting retailers scan and capture the data stored in your drivers license barcode is a lot like placing a bullseye on your back.

We are normally happy to accomodate a  merchant’s request to provide suitable ID, especially when the transaction involves payment by check or credit card, or we are returning an item, but Target’s policy is unacceptable, and we believe, simply wrong.  And we’re not the only one who feels this way.  This article at informationweek.com echoes our concerns about Target’s policy.  From a purely practical standpoint, we suspect that draconian policies such as the one put in place by Target will backfire, with (even more) people simply deciding to steal the medication.  OTC pharmacy items are already the most frequently shoplifted items (see this list of the 50 most frequently shoplifted items).   And isn’t it just a bit ludicrous (not to mention, rude) to ask a senior citizen buying cold medicine to prove they’re 18 years old ?

As far as we know,  Target customers concerned about identity theft can still do their shopping at Walmart without having to show them your drivers license when buying cold medications.  If you are very obviously over the age of 18, and asked for your drivers license at a Target store, we suggest that you decline.   If they persist, simply tell them that under the circumstances, you have changed your mind and don’t wish to purchase anything.  It won’t take Target very long to realize that their policy is costing them business, and that they need to change it.  They might not enjoy having to put all your stuff back on the shelves after you walk out without buying it, but at least your personal data will be safe.

– Routing By Rumor

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Circuit City Finally Bites The Dust

The news shouldn’t surprise anybody, certainly not readers of this blog.

Richmond, Virginia based Circuit City stores announced today their intention to close their 567 remaining stores and liquidate their inventory.  We predicted that they wouldn’t last much past the end of the 2008 Christmas season.

That means another 34,000 American workers joining the unemployment line.

See our previous posts…

Circuit City Stores Files For Chapter 11 Bankruptcy Protection

One Foot In The Grave At Circuit City

Philip Schoonover Learns That What Goes Around Comes Around

– Routing By Rumor

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Using Website Visitor Statistics As An Early Warning System

Like the canary in the coal mine, warning of the presence of deadly gases, or the seismograph warning of an impending tsunami, website (or blog) visitor statistics provide a valuable early warning system of current events, breaking news stories, and things that will be making news in the days ahead.

Google has known this for quite a while. Google’s Zeitgeist provides statistics that show the latest search trends. You can even go back and see what searches were hot on a previous date.

Like many bloggers and Webmasters, we keep tabs on Routing By Rumor’s traffic statistics. In the past 24 hours, we’ve seen a spike in visits that are related to several of the articles we’ve written in the past. An unusually high number of visitors have landed at our doorstep after doing searches for “Walmart” (or “Wal-Mart” or “Wal Mart”), “Ashley Alexandra Dupre” and “Blackrock layoffs”. We welcome the “business”, but we’re always curious as to why people end up here.

Searches for “Walmart” have always been a top search engine source of traffic to our blog. We’re guessing that a few items related to Walmart that have been in the news in the past few days have a lot to do with the sudden spike in traffic related to Walmart. Perhaps the news coverage of Walmart’s (and other retailers) day-after-Thanksgiving “Black Friday” sales have a lot to do with the increase in search engine traffic.

Ashley Alexandra Dupre is the alleged prostitute allegedly associated with the (alleged former New York Governor) Eliot Spitzer scandal, who received some coverage in this alleged blog a few months back. But why is she suddenly a top search engine topic once again? A bit of research gave us the answer. It seems that Ms. “Dupre” will be interviewed by Diane Sawyer, in a piece that will air on ABC’s 20/20 broadcast this Friday. Who ever said that crime doesn’t pay ?

We were scratching our head on the “Blackrock layoffs” searches that were bringing visitors to our blog. We wrote a piece last winter about layoffs at WCBS-AM, which we titled “Bad Day At Black Rock”. Black Rock is the nickname for CBS’s New York City headquarters building, owing to the dark granite facade of the skyscraper. But we had not heard of any new layoffs at CBS, so why the sudden interest in layoffs at “Black Rock” ?

A bit of digging yielded the answer. There are rumors floating that a round of layoffs are about to be announced at investment company Blackrock, Inc., the largest publicly traded asset management firm in the United States. Nothing to do with CBS, but close enough that it created a spike in visitors to my blog !

So, Webmasters and SEO (Search Engine Optimization) experts take note. If you see unexpected increases in traffic to your site that you can’t explain, dig deeper to find the source. Search engines rarely lie. It may be a case of mistaken identity, as with our “Black Rock” visitors. Then again, it may be an early warning of something you should know about, possibly relating to your website, your company, or a competitor.

We wonder whether mainstream media has caught on to this as a news gathering tool. It is no secret that journalists often “find” stories because they have already been covered by another newspaper, TV or radio station. Search engine statistics should be able to scoop other sources of news. The statistics are real-time, not requiring the printing of a newspaper, or the taping and editing of a television or radio news report. We would like to think that if the Internet existed back in the days of The Daily Planet, that cub reporter Jimmy Olsen would be using his computer and Google to scoop the other reporters.

We were wondering if we would get credit for coining the term “zeitgeist journalism“, so we decided to Google the phrase. Edward Rothstein, for one, used the term in this New York Times article about trend-spotting a dozen years ago, although obviously not in reference to Google, so we probably can’t claim ownership. Maybe we’ll just call it “Google journalism“.

Great Caesar’s ghost !

– Routing By Rumor

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Circuit City Stores Files For Chapter 11 Bankruptcy Protection

This morning, Circuit City filed a bankruptcy petition (see bloomberg.com article), In Re Circuit City Stores Inc., 08-35653, with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. If you’ve been following this blog, you won’t be surprised by today’s filing. Circuit City has had one foot in the grave for a while now (see our article from last week). See additional coverage of this story by Forbes, The Associated Press, The New York Times, Barron’s and Reuters.

The Richmond Times-Dispatch reported that last Friday, up to 800 employees at Circuit City’s corporate headquarters (more than a third of the workers there) received pink slips.

Circuit City owes well over half a billion dollars to suppliers including Hewlett-Packard, Samsung, Sony, Zenith, Toshiba, Garmin and Nikon. With bankruptcy looming, more and more vendors have refused to extend credit to Circuit City. With today’s filing, we’re pretty sure their ability to obtain terms from vendors is now pretty much non-existent. It probably also ensures that the New York Stock Exchange will de-list Circuit City, as they have already warned, if their share price doesn’t make a sustained recovery to above $1.00 a share. In early trading today, Circuit City shares have lost more than 90% of their value, falling from a lofty $0.12 per share when the market opened, and now sitting at an embarrassing two pennies a share (but that’s at least twice as much as we think its worth, so you could say its overvalued).

11/11/2008 Update…

Well, that didn’t take long. The latest milestone on the devolution of Circuit City has occured. Circuit City shares have been delisted from the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE), and are now trading on the Pink Sheets.  With all these pink slips and pink sheets, maybe pink is Circuit City’s new color.  Circuit City is now what is referred to as a “penny stock”. That light you see at the end of the tunnel just may be the oncoming Best Buy Express. Click here to get a quote on Circuit City shares (CCTYQ.PK)

Things have gone steadily downhill for Circuit City since they made the absolutely brilliant business decision in March of last year, to fire 3,400 of their most experienced employees. Consumerist.com has posted
this excellent timeline of Circuit City’s decline, titled “How Circuit City Came Undone”, which shows their declining stock price in relation to various events in their demise. The graph looks a lot like a ski slope. It’s the sort of thing they’ll probably use in business schools, when teaching a course in how to destroy a successful company.

Perhaps the saddest part of this modern day Greek tragedy is the fact that the executives who were the architects of this debacle earned millions of dollars for their role in the company’s failure. Perhaps the new scrutiny that the country’s economic meltdown is focusing on executive compensation will cause the directors of corporations to hold their executives responsible for the bad decisions they make. Here’s a suggestion… Instead of simply lavishing millions of dollars in company stock on executives, how about adding the condition that they won’t be vested unless there is a certain number of quarters of future growth. For instance, Mr. CEO, that five or ten million dollars worth of company stock won’t be yours unless the company makes money over the next two years. No more “take the money and run”. For too many corporate executives, it has been a game of “heads I win, tails I win”.

Given Circuit City’s history and reputation, the decrepit state of the U.S. economy, and the competition that exists in the consumer electronics space (especially from competitors Best Buy and Walmart), we think it’s a safe bet that Circuit City will never emerge from bankruptcy, and that’s, as Martha Stewart would say, “a good thing”. Last week, they announced the closing of many of their stores, and we wouldn’t bee surprised if more closings follow before the end of the year.

Coming at the beginning of the holiday shopping season, the closings and the bankruptcy filing might attract some bargain hunters, but let’s be honest… Who wants to make a major purchase from a retailer who may very well not be around, should you need to return an unwanted or defective purchase. It pretty much goes without saying that anything purchased at a going-out-of-business sale is sold as-is, no returns, no refunds. Caveat emptor.

We’re going to go out on a limb here, and make the following prediction; Circuit City’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy will become a Chapter 7 filing (liquidation) within six months, perhaps much sooner. Check back here to see how our prediction fares.

– Routing By Rumor

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One Foot In The Grave At Circuit City

With just three weeks to go before most of the nation’s retailers enter their busiest time of the year, Circuit City stores have announced their latest brilliant plan. They are closing 155 of their locations, spread across 28 states (Reuters and Associated Press, 11/03/2008). The going-out-of-business sales at these locations will reportedly start tomorrow, November 5th. This is the latest bit of bad news from the nation’s #2 electronics retailer, which has had mass layoffs, sales declines, and received a lot of negative publicity in the last few years (see our previous articles about Circuit City’s problems, here, here, here and here).  With the closing of these Circuit City locations, thousands more Circuit City employees will join the ranks of the unemployed.

This should be viewed as an emergency amputation, as opposed to a pruning. When you have a healthy core, but too much growth in the branches, you prune, to keep the rest healthy. When there is systemic disease that causes necrosis at the periphery, you amputate. Other large retailers that have been proactive in difficult times tend to close just a handful of their worst performing locations, and they’ll do it after their peak selling season. Retailers that make ill-timed cuts, and who do it with an ax instead of a scalpel, tend to suffer from poor management or a lack of management. They usually don’t act until it’s too late. We believe the current debridement occuring at Circuit City falls into this category.

The fact that Circuit City could not wait until after the holiday selling season to close these stores speaks volumes about just how bad things are at the Richmond, Virginia-based electronics retailer. Indeed, with a stock price that has traded as low as 17 cents a share in recent days, and notification last week from the New York Stock Exchange that their stock is subject to de-listing, things can’t get much worse. Some of their suppliers, fearing that Circuit City is on the verge of bankruptcy, are refusing to ship merchandise to Circuit City unless they are paid cash up front. Consumers, hard hit by the recession, and disgusted with Circuit City, are spending any money they may have, elsewhere. Even with the announced closings, some analysts are predicting that Circuit City will be forced to liquidate or file for bankruptcy by January.

As bleak as things are at Circuit City, you still hear people saying that they are exploring “strategic alternatives” (see Business Week, 11/03/2008). We will submit to you that when you’re on the verge of bankruptcy, sales have dried up, vendors are demanding cash, your stock price is measured in pennies rather than dollars, you’re forced to close hundreds of stores, and the nation is in the grip of a deepening recession, you don’t have any “strategic” alternatives. The choices seem to be declaring bankruptcy now, or trying to hang on a little longer and declaring bankruptcy a few months from now. If Circuit City is pinning their hopes for survival on having a banner Christmas season, they’re in for a terrible shock. Even relatively healthy retailers are bracing for a dismal end to a dismal year, and the U.S. economy doesn’t seem poised to roar back to life anytime soon.

Circuit City’s woes spell opportunity for it’s competitors. It appears that the nation’s largest electronics retailer, Best Buy, will likely snap up some of the locations being vacated by rival Circuit City.

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The Banking Meltdown Is Just A Symptom Of A Much Larger Problem

They’re comparing this week’s financial events in the United States with those that led to the start of the Great Depression. But make no mistake, the United States’ economy has been headed for disaster for years now. The loss of decent-paying jobs, the record number of home foreclosures and the depressed real estate market are all symptoms of a far greater problem. The near-collapse of the American banking system may be linked to the mortgage crisis, but look for a root cause elsewhere.

The looming failures of financial giants including Lehman Brothers and Merrill Lynch, and insurance companies such as AIG, have created shock waves felt from Wall Street to Main Street. For the first time in memory, people were concerned that the money in their bank accounts, money market accounts and retirement plans was at risk. A 1929-style run on the banks appeared to be imminent. Indeed, people started pulling their money out of money market accounts at an unprecedented rate. Even investment professionals are running scared. Putnam Investments was so rattled by recent events, that they suddenly decided to close and liquidate their $12.3 billion institutional Putnam Prime Money Market Fund, which had experienced a run of redemptions last Wednesday. (Read about money market funds “breaking the buck” in this cnn.com article, or in this blogger’s posting.) In the seven days ending this past Thursday, Americans collectively pulled a quarter of a trillion dollars out of their money market accounts, an indication that people are frightened. This has led to the government announcing that money market mutual funds will now be insured in much the same way that FDIC insurance protects bank deposits, although the insurance coverage is currently planned for only the next year (we think you can bet your bottom dollar (pun intended) that this insurance will become permanent).

Within the space of just a few days, the government’s $75 billion bailout of AIG grew into a proposed $700 billion bailout of the entire mortgage mess. (Didn’t something like that happen in the movie “The Blob That Ate Pittsburgh”?) The government certainly has the ability to print as much money as it needs to put out these brushfires, but it’s foolish to believe that the federal government throwing money at the problem will make it go away for any length of time.

The economists here at Routing By Rumor point to two very basic problems that the country’s economic woes can be directly attributed to. The first problem is that America is sending about half of it’s cash to the Middle East to buy oil. The second problem is that the rest of America’s cash is being sent to the Far East, mainly to China, to pay for just about everything else we consume. Unless this situation changes, the U.S. economy will never recover, and the current round of federal bailouts are just the beginning.

America has made little progress towards energy independence, despite 35 years having elapsed since the oil crisis of the early 1970’s gripped the nation. A second oil crisis in the late 70’s, as well as dramatic increases in the price of oil in the recent past have done nothing to break our dependence on foreign oil.

America has become dependent on China for almost all consumer goods. This is not only foolish from an economic perspective, it also presents a grave risk to America’s national security. We manufacture almost nothing domestically any more. We’ve said this before, and we’ll repeat it again… God help America if we ever go to war with China, because if that should ever happen, you might as well just go ahead and hang a picture of Chairman Mao in your living room. Now take a look at Walmart, the largest retailer in the United States. According to wakeupwalmart.com, more than 70% of the goods on Walmart’s shelves are made in China. To be fair, that’s probably no different than any other American retailer, but in our mind, Walmart is little more than a sales agent for China, Inc.

Just how bad have things gotten ? According to this CNN article, the United States Department of Agriculture says that 50 percent of the apple juice imported into the United States comes from China (an estimated 161,000 tons of apple juice compared to the 110,000 tons produced in the United States). If we’re reading those numbers correctly, that means the United States only produces 25% of all the apple juice it consumes.

Apple juice !!! What the hell is happening to our country ?

People, there’s something very, very wrong with the U.S. economy, if we can’t even grow our own apples in this country anymore. We’re in deep, deep trouble if we’ve even become dependent on China for apple juice.

They better come up with a new saying, because “As American as apple pie” doesn’t hold true any more.

When the presidential candidates show up for their next press conference or debate, in addition to the standard questions about abortion, the death penalty, Iraq and tax reform, perhaps someone can ask them to take off their shoes and tell us where they were made, and whether they see that as a problem. Or, ask them to remove all of their clothing that was NOT made in the U.S.A. That should be quite revealing.

Then there’s the U.S. banking industry, which to us, resembles nothing so much as legalized loan sharking. Banks are, on the one hand, paying minuscule interest rates to depositors, with regular savings accounts and interest-bearing checking accounts paying perhaps 1% or so, and in many cases, just a fraction of one percent APR or APY (the switch from quoting interest rates paid as APY, instead of APR is a scam onto itself, but we’re digressing). On the other hand, banks are charging 15% or 20% interest on credit card balances, and in some cases, as much as 35% or 40% APR for their less credit worthy customers. Did you know that federal law places no limit on the interest rate a bank can charge ? And while some states do so, there are states which do not cap interest rates. That’s why it’s likely that when you mail your monthly credit card payment, the address on the envelope is usually in South Dakota or Delaware, where, as far as credit card interest rates are concerned, the sky’s the limit.

Take a look at the off-the-wall late fees and other penalty charges that banks are getting away with, since a 1996 Supreme Court ruling removed limits on such fees. Today, typical credit card late fees are as high as $40, and continuing to go up. In fact, if there’s one thing that amazes us, it’s the way that banks continually come up with new ways of putting the squeeze on credit card holders. That’s why you continually get notices from card issuers, announcing changes in your account terms. It’s surprising to us that none of those notices have yet advised us that a late payment will result in a guy named Guido paying us a visit around midnight, to negotiate a repayment schedule using his Louisville Slugger.

We think most American’s have lost any trust they might have had in that cesspool called Wall Street, where, it seems to us, the average investor doesn’t stand a chance. Maybe Eliot Spitzer was on the right track after all, with his aggressive investigations. The well publicized scandals, insider trading and other illegal activities involving Wall Street firms and the companies that trade their stock there have eroded investor confidence. And while we don’t think it’s fair to single out any one individual, just take a look at the Dick Grasso case. How do you think the average American who is struggling to pay their mortgage or feed their family, feels about a situation like that one ? And yet, despite the current financial crisis in the United States, don’t expect CEO compensation to decrease much, even at companies that have to be bailed out with federal money.

So while the billions of dollars that Washington is throwing at the financial crisis will probably stabilize things in the short term, don’t start singing “Happy Days Are Here Again” just yet. They are not.

If you want to hear what it will sound like if happy days ever do get here again, check this out.

– Routing By Rumor

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Hey Buddy, Can You Spare $85 Billion ?

1975 NY Daily News Headline

1975 NY Daily News Headline

Headlines, then and now…

1975: Gerald Ford To New York City: Drop Dead.

2008: George Bush To AIG: Are You Sure $85 Billion Is Enough?

Of course, headlines rarely tell the whole story. But my, my, how times have changed. As the above Daily News front page shows, a drop of 12 points in the Dow was big news in 1975. This past Monday, it took a one-day drop in the Dow of 500 points to make Wall Street nervous (which was followed by another drop today, only two days later, of another 450 points). Another day or two of this, and we should be South of 10,000 on the Dow. Throw in a couple more banks or financial giants going belly-up, and you’ll see them skydiving without parachutes on Wall Street.

Oh, and Washington didn’t let New York City drop dead back in 1975, after all. The Federal government agreed to a bailout in the form of $2.3 billion in short-term loans, thereby allowing the City to avoid bankruptcy (read about it at americanheritage.com). These days, $2.3 billion is chump change.

Just how much is $85 billion ? Well, if you were given that much money, in say, ten dollar bills, and were told to count it, how long might that take ? Let’s assume you spent 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, with no breaks. Even if you could count 200 ten-dollar bills ($2,000) every minute, and started counting as soon as you were born, you’d probably never finish before you died. It would take more than 80 years. If it was in one-dollar bills, then it would take you more than 10 lifetimes, and your pile of cash would probably weigh in the neighborhood of 200 million pounds or 91 million kilograms (a rough estimate, since we’ve never actually weighed a stack of money).

$10 x 200 per minute x 60 minutes x 24 hours x 365 days x 80 years = $84 billion ! (You’d still have a billion dollars left to count, and since you’re now 80 years old, there’s a good chance you’d forget how much money you counted, and you’d have to start all over again.) Sort of reminds us of Sisyphus.

We know what you’re probably thinking. You’re probably thinking that we have way too much time on our hands, if we’re calculating how much $85 billion would weigh. Well, it’s a good bet that you haven’t met this fellow yet. Not only did he do the math, he manufactured the bills, took pictures of everything, and created a website about it. Is there anything you CAN’T find on the Internet ? Probably not.

Put another way, $85 billion would easily pay for another fun-filled year of war in Iraq, with billions and billions of dollars left over to spend in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, and anywhere else we wish to venture.

The $85 billion federal bailout announced yesterday of American International Group (AIG), the 18th largest company in the world, gives a whole new meaning to the term “economic stimulus“. Propping up AIG seems like a good idea. But then, so would distributing buckets to the passengers on the Titanic, and telling them to start bailing. Unfortunately, neither plan addresses the root of the problem.

Who insures the insurers? You do. The recent bail-outs of Fannie and Freddie, and now AIG, indicates that many people are getting very nervous about the economy. How nervous? Economic collapse nervous. Black Monday, 1929 nervous. Losing your home nervous. Civil unrest nervous.

Better start polishing those apples.

We love some of the nautical references you often see in annual reports and prospectuses, used as euphemisms for real bad financial news . Phrases like “staying the course”, “rough sailing”, “turbulent waters”, “sailing into a headwind”, etc. In our mind, the U.S. economy resembles a ship that is being tossed about by increasingly turbulent seas. As the waves get higher and higher, our ship runs the risk of encountering one that will push it past the tipping point. We think an $85 billion Federal bailout of AIG says that we’re not the only ones worried about the ship going down.

Hey, General Motors… Are you paying attention?

GM has gotten a lot more press than AIG, regarding their hemorrhaging of red ink. In our opinion, all they need to do is a bit more hand wringing, and then show up on Uncle Sam’s doorstep, hat in hand, and ask for a few bucks (see “Detroit wants its bailout too” on cnn.com). How much do you need, Rick ? $100 billion ? $200 billion ? more ? As we’ve written, the death of GM might not be a bad thing, but GM’s demise might scare too many people, so OK, Mr. Wagoner, here’s your money. Next in line ?

And it appears that in the past few days, that line has gotten a lot longer. Another down-on-their-luck financial giant, Lehman Brothers, apparently didn’t get that whole hat-in-hand routine right. Merrill Lynch has sold it’s soul to Bank of America. Do you see a trend developing here ?

It’s a good thing Uncle Sam owns those Intaglio presses, over at The Bureau of Engraving and Printing. Who says the Treasury Department doesn’t have a sense of humor ? The BEP website is at “moneyfactory.gov”. But the people at AIG probably think they should call it rescueme.gov. To paraphrase Popeye’s J. Wellington Wimpy, “I will gladly pay you Tuesday, for a bailout Today”.

With Walmart’s interest in expanding into banking and financial services, and given Walmart’s runaway profits, we’re kind of surprised there wasn’t a Walmart-AIG merger. It makes a lot of sense to us. They could sell AIG insurance policies at an AIG kiosk in every Walmart store, right next to the toilet paper and Pampers.

The AIG bailout sort of makes the economic stimulus checks the rest of us got from our rich Uncle seem stingy by comparison. It also begs the question… Who’s next ?

All this economic turmoil does have one benefit. Nobody even mentions Iraq anymore !

– Routing By Rumor

P.S. – We found this blogger, who is just as scared about all this as we are. She even chose almost the same title for her post.

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