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calendar   Thursday - January 22, 2009

Responsible Drinking

Thanks to João Faria da Silva




Peiper sends me things in the mail. Often it’s an envelope full of clippings from the English newspapers, writing about the knife crime, the nulabor government’s latest silliness, etc. Sometimes it’s the real estate section, showing all the gigantic old manor houses up for sale. And so forth; all interesting bits. Sometimes he gets wise and sends me vacation guides to fwance, where they have figured out that they can make money touring groups through all the local wineries, letting them buy bottles by the case right at the source, and even giving the tour in actual English!

A few weeks ago he sent me some coffee. English coffee. I know, that sounds like an oxymoron; England is famous for wonderful tea and God-awful coffee. But what he sent was so ... quintessentially English. “Lazy Sunday”, a blend from Taylor’s of Harrowgate [a-oh my!], a coffee blend made just for reading the Sunday paper and doing to crossword puzzle. And I thought we had specialization here in America! It was very nice, and very light. I noticed the bag was marked “a fair trade product” but didn’t look into that. I wrote back that while it was enjoyable, I usually drink a far stronger blend, more of a “Frantic Monday” than a Lazy Sunday. Don’t get me wrong, the Taylor’s of Harrowgate blend was very tasty. And I adore the brand name. I went around the house for days, playing at being English, saying “Ahye ahm dring-king Tay lawrs ohv Hahro gate” until my wife threw a pillow at me. [yes, I am easily amused.]

So this time, along with another fabulous greeting card, he sends me a little sack of Douwe Egberts. I’d never heard of him. Or it. Douwe Egberts. A brand name that sounds like they should be selling pipe tobacco. This is a much stronger blend, nearly as rich and potent as my usual grind. I like it. But the coffee isn’t sold because it’s good strong coffee. No. This coffee is sold because of the way it’s procured. Really! The blend line is called “Good Origins”, and the selling point of this “Utz Kapeh certified responsible coffee” is that it is “Traceable from farm to cup”. And it is! I hit the company web site, read the spiel, clicked on the links, and found that my beans were grown on the Fazenda Johá farm and picked by João Faria da Silva. Amazing. This is Liberal Guilt gone mad.

Fazenda Johá is part of the coffee project Terra Forte. This is the biggest coffee project in the world set up around the passion for quality coffee. The worldwide biggest single producer under the management of João Faria da Silva and the and Grande Leste Agropecuaria have joined their efforts to achieve professional management, production and commercialization of specialty coffees. The philosophy of the project is to invest in agricultural techniques, social and environmental projects, provide efficient logistic. Terra Forte is known for its quality coffee and high productivity as well as their social and environmental responsibility.

A little more exploration made me feel ever so much better, knowing that the poor exploited native worker’s lives are actually improved by their long days bending over the coffee bushes picking beans.

Impact on our organization

There was a change in the way we think and act. The farms have become well organized and managed. The workers have received extensive training and can conduct their work much more safely. The environment is respected and protected adequately.

Yeah. Extensive training. And adequate protection. “Jose, pick the red beans, not the green ones! But first you spray the bush with some poison to kill off the spiders and lizards. Then you pick the beans.”

And it’s not just Douwe Egbert doing this. I gather there is a whole worldwide - or at least Europe-wide - movement to better the lives and working conditions of the poor downtrodden natives who grow and pick the coffee. And it’s all “sustainable growth” with “natural fertilizers” that “minimize global impact” because ... the coffee bushes take several years to mature and can produce for a number of seasons, so you don’t just rip the plants out of the ground and shake off the beans. And you have to put all that donkey shit somewhere, so you may as well hide it under the bushes.

Yup, it’s a whole movement. “UTZ certified”:

UTZ Certified Responsible coffee growing

UTZ CERTIFIED is a global non governmental organisation which operates a mainstream certification programme for sustainable coffee based on pillars of economic, social and environmental well being.

Together with UTZ CERTIFIED, we are helping farmers look after their workers, their families and the environment in which they live and work. UTZ CERTIFIED certification assures that:

* Workers and their families have access to healthcare, clean water and decent housing
* Children have access to schooling
* Fertilisers and agrochemicals are used minimally and controlled
* Workers are trained and their labour rights are protected
* The use of water and energy is minimised
* Environmental pollution is reduced

UTZ CERTIFIED certification is renewed annually so you can be sure that it is up to date and continues to adhere to the UTZ CERTIFIED Code of Conduct – a set of criteria for responsible coffee growing practices and efficient farm management.

The UTZ CERTIFIED certification does not dictate or guarantee coffee prices, rather it enables farmers to achieve a better price for their coffee themselves and gain more competitiveness in their market.

You can explore this entire amazing, wonderful, guilt reducing world through the Douwe Egberts portal. I never knew. I never cared, or even knew I should care. Or knew that I should feel bad because I didn’t know that I didn’t know or care.

I’m off to the grocery store to pick up some hamburger. Now that I am enlightened, I’m going to ask the butcher what the cow’s name was, and if she was happy.


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Posted by Drew458   United States  on 01/22/2009 at 05:29 PM   
Filed Under: • Big BusinessDaily LifeDemocrats-Liberals-Moonbat LeftistsFine-DiningInternationalNature •  
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calendar   Friday - December 12, 2008

Bailout Bucks, One Way Or The Other

The eviiil Bush White House is planning to take a big pile of that $700 billion for the stock market and give it to the auto makers. So even though the Detroit bailout failed at the legislative level, the executive level will make sure they get some money.

This reminds me of voting on school budgets in NJ. They get voted down, but the town councils approve them anyway. The will of the people be damned.

After the Senate refused to pass a rescue bill for the U.S.  auto industry that was endorsed by President Bush and congressional Democrats, the Treasury Department said Friday it is ready to prevent the collapse of Detroit’s Big Three carmakers.

“Because Congress failed to act, we will stand ready to prevent an imminent failure until Congress reconvenes and acts to address the long-term viability of the industry,” Treasury spokeswoman Brookly McLaughlin said.

McLaughlin told FOXNews.com that no decision has been made yet and wouldn’t speculate on when one would be reached. But sources close to the discussions told FOXNews.com that a decision could be made as early as next week.

The White House said Friday it would consider using money in the Wall Street bailout fund to help the automakers.

“The current weakened state of the economy is such that it could not withstand a body blow like a disorderly bankruptcy in the auto industry,” White House press secretary Dana Perino said.

In further news on this topic, the UAW is blaming the Republicans for the bill’s failure. Which ignores the truth completely, that it was the UAW’s refusal to comprimise and set a schedule that caused the bill to collapse.

Bush’s Republican Senate allies said the bill failed because of a dispute with US autoworkers unions on the timing of bringing their wages in line with those paid by foreign automakers to non-unionized workers in US states.

But why let something so silly as the facts get in the way?

The head of the United Auto Workers union lashed out Friday at Senate Republicans—Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker, in particular—blaming them for scuttling the $14 billion auto bailout package approved earlier in the week by the House.

GOP objections stalled the measure in the Senate Thursday night. Republicans put pressure on the powerful autoworkers union as they tried to squeeze out concessions in exchange for their support.

“This was just simply subterfuge on the part of the minority in the Republican Party who wanted to tear down any agreement that we came up with,” UAW President Ron Gettelfinger said at a press conference, declaring “the auto industry around the world is in peril.”

Intense negotiations broke down over the union’s refusal to meet GOP demands for wage cuts. Corker, the architect of the Republican counterproposal to the House-approved bill, told FOX News that negotiators were “just three words away from a deal.”

But Gettelfinger said Republicans were holding the union to a “double standard” and trying to applying an undue burden on their workers.

He questioned whether Republicans had an ulterior motive, but said the union was nevertheless willing to negotiate.

Well gosh, so glad you’re “willing”. What was it that you were doing the other day, when this whole mess failed?

I think the time for unions has passed in America. Not just in the auto industry, but everywhere. Especially for teachers and government workers. Throw them all out.


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Posted by Drew458   United States  on 12/12/2008 at 08:07 PM   
Filed Under: • Big Businessplanes, trains, tanks, ships, machines, automobiles •  
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calendar   Saturday - September 20, 2008

IF THERE’S A WAY OUT OF A MESS, AMERICANS CAN FIND IT. A BRIT REPORT ON USA.

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Crisis schmisis - there’s money to be made

By Tom Leonard
Last Updated: 12:01am BST 20/09/2008

The sight of jobless Lehman Brothers staff leaving their Manhattan headquarters clutching cardboard boxes, like a line of leaf-bearing ants, was an arresting one.

But far more startling was the crowd of people waiting to greet them last Tuesday morning. When Americans say - and they often do - that one man’s crisis is another man’s opportunity, they aren’t joking. A pair of bankers from a small - still solvent - Connecticut firm were dressed in pyjamas and dressing gowns waving “Brokers Wanted” placards and shouting, “Tired of the big boys? Get into bed with us”.

A few of the downcast Lehman people even managed to smile. The air was thick with flashing business cards. Recruitment consultants shoved theirs into the hands of anyone in a suit.

The entrepreneurial spirit in action outside Lehman Brothers’ New York offices.

A man seeking staff for a new internet company was doing the same and, although the news of Lehman’s collapse was only a day old, he had already printed a “Wanted For Hire: 7,000 Brothers of Lehman” T-shirt.

“I really want to get into the building and have a good chat with them,” he told me. Didn’t he think he was being a little insensitive? He smiled. Perhaps only a Brit would waste time asking such a question. Yes, he obviously did think that, but frankly so what?

It has been a miserable week in New York and it could get even worse. The bankers and brokers are inconsolable and there is a lot of talk of 1929. In a city so reliant on the financial sector, it is hard to find people who aren’t worried that the banking crisis will trickle down and hit the “little guy” like them; if not taking their job, at least shattering the value of their home. And yet, as the entrepreneurial bunch outside Lehmans illustrated far better than the platitudes coming from John McCain and Barack Obama, Americans are not ones to see a glass half empty.

They don’t tend to stay on the floor too long after they’ve had a kicking. It’s a gritty, ruthlessly pragmatic, sometimes - like the man in the Lehman T-shirt - purely self-interested resilience that is rooted in the country’s can-do psyche and centuries-old belief in self-help. And rooted, too, in America’s belief in itself. Those philosophical ideas of American exceptionalism and the United States’s Manifest Destiny - as the Puritans were first to outline it, that God created America as a “city on the hill” to provide an example to others - smack of chauvinism. But they certainly don’t hurt when a country needs to pull through a gloomy patch.

Of course, that sunny, ingrained optimism that America’s detractors like to dismiss as simple naivety has particular benefits in a crisis that is largely about confidence. Americans just cannot stay downhearted for long; it’s not in their DNA. A CNN presenter summed up that positive spirit yesterday as she introduced a segment on “the financial challenges out there and what folks are doing to meet them”. Weaned on generations of Hollywood disaster movies, in which over-dressed Americans run screaming and helpless from every crisis, foreigners tend to dismiss the real ones as pampered and complacent - missing the gene that governs coping with adversity. It might be true that Americans have grown too attached to an easy lifestyle, but they certainly don’t shrink from a challenge.

Many have written off the US car industry as doomed to extinction because of its reliance on big, gas-guzzling vehicles at a time of soaring petrol prices. And yet, to huge applause, General Motors failed to live down to expectations this week when it unveiled the Volt, a radical new type of electric car that can do 40 miles on one battery charge. Just like in the world wars, Americans have come rather late to the “green revolution”, but - as in 1942, when Sherman tanks rolled off the supply ships in their thousands - they tend to make a difference when they set their minds to something.

(well now hang on there. the sherman tank wasn’t a match for the tiger tank as I’ve read history. but we had the fuel to run ours and the numbers.)

Every week, some West Coast technology company or East Coast laboratory comes up with an ingenious energy-efficient, planet-saving idea that no one in Europe - with its head start - seemed to have thought of. And, it being America, and the green economy being one of the country’s fastest-growing sectors, you can be fairly sure that the bright idea will make it on to the market. Academics have talked in the past of America’s “Promethean creativity” and you can see it now in the way that the country’s creative juices are being channelled into getting through this financial mess. Where there’s a buck to be made, the average American won’t hesitate to make it. This creed may have helped get the country into its current financial problems, but one cannot help feeling it may help get it out of it too.

“If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere,” sang Sinatra in New York, New York. The supreme self-confidence - the sheer puffed-out chestiness of a conviction no doubt shared by the rest of the city - always made me cringe. But it doesn’t stop it being largely true and, as New Yorkers take the vanguard in an American economic fightback on which we all depend, it’s also oddly reassuring.

http://tinyurl.com/3z2t4p


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Posted by Drew458   United Kingdom  on 09/20/2008 at 05:05 PM   
Filed Under: • Big BusinessEconomicsEditorials •  
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calendar   Tuesday - September 16, 2008

The Squirrel That Ate EDS

Once upon a time, before 9/11, I worked for EDS. Electronic Data Systems. Ross Perot’s old company. I was a computer programmer and a software tester for them. We were rent-a-slaves, several hundred of us working out of a swank little office building in Bedminster NJ. Before 9/11, before the telecom blowout, we were riding high. But all our eggs were in one basket: we all were outsource workers for AT&T. When we lost Most Favored Company status the game was over. I met the company President, Dick Brown, when he visited our office on 9/12. He didn’t have much choice; he was stuck in the area because no planes were flying. “I think this might be the straw that breaks the camel’s back” he told me. And it was. A week later the layoffs started, and a month later I was out of a job. That’s when we all found out that the termination package, which had been generous up to then, had quietly been changed a few weeks earlier so that nobody, no matter how many years they had worked for the company, could get more than 4 weeks severance pay. Thanks Dick.

The company had a rocky time for the next few years. There were 110,000 employees when I joined them, and thousands upon thousands of us were laid off. Things never really got better for them, and now they’ve been devoured by one of their arch competitors Hewlett Packard. I bet they didn’t see it coming either, as IBM was the only company they considered to be an actual competitor back when I worked there. Too bad EDS. Looks like one of those pesky little annoying squirrels you used to look down on has taken you out. And now you’ll be lucky to get your 4 weeks severance pay.

Hewlett-Packard to Cut 24,600 Jobs in EDS Integration
Hewlett-Packard’s plan to integrate technology-services provider EDS includes cuts of 24,600 jobs, or about 7.5% of the combined work force, H-P announced late Monday.

The restructuring program is expected to save $1.8 billion in costs and take place over three years, the company said. Nearly half of the job cuts are expected to come in the U.S., though H-P said that employees affected by this deal will be given job training, counseling, and severance packages.

The company also said that over the same three-year time period, it expects to replace roughly half of these positions “to create a global workforce that has the right blend of services delivery capabilities to address the diversity of its markets and customers worldwide.”

H-P said it will record a charge of $1.7 billion in the fourth quarter of fiscal 2008 relating to the restructuring program, $1.4 billion of which will be recorded as goodwill and $300 million of which will be recorded as a restructuring charge.

The acquisition of EDS, which was announced in May, continues a multiyear strategy to build out H-P’s position in the marketplace that began with the acquisition of Compaq, said Shane Robison, the company’s chief strategy and technology officer.

“H-P has a strong track record of making acquisitions and integrating them to capture leading market positions. We will deliver on the promise of H-P and EDS for our customers and shareholders,” said Mark Hurd, H-P chairman and CEO.

Are you thinking that “squirrels” is just a bit of Drewish hyperbole? Hell no it ain’t. That is exactly how they thought of the competition. They even tried to sell this concept to other nose in the air businesses, with one of their insanely expensive Superbowl commercials that nobody else understood. Just like Cat Herding and Building Airplanes In Flight, Running With The Squirrels was a spectacular failure. And now, so is EDS. It’s a real train wreck.


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Posted by Drew458   United States  on 09/16/2008 at 01:05 AM   
Filed Under: • Big Business •  
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calendar   Tuesday - August 19, 2008

Dollar surge will not stop America feeling the effects of a global crunch.

Hold on ter yer ats me buckeroos. We’re in fer a bumpy ride.

Not that I really fully understand all this stuff to be honest.  I have to have it explained to me half the time.  So ok, 3/4s of the time.

By Ambrose Evans-Pritchard
Last Updated: 11:07pm BST 17/08/2008

Two alerts landed on my desk this weekend from the elite markets team at Goldman Sachs. One was entitled “The Dollar Has Bottomed!”. Those betting on an imminent disintegration of American economic and political power may have to wait another cycle. Rival hegemons are falling like ninepins.

The US dollar index hit an all-time low in March. It crept slowly upwards in the early summer before smashing through layers of resistance over the past month.

The surge against sterling, the euro, the Swiss franc and the Australian dollar is one of the most spectacular currency shifts in half a century. “Something fundamental has changed,” said the bank. Indeed.

US industry is now super-competitive, if small. Mid East funds are drawing up shopping lists of Wall Street takeover targets. Airbus and Volkswagen are shifting plant to America to escape crushing labour costs.

US exports have risen 22pc over the past year, outstripping Chinese growth. The US non-oil trade deficit has shrunk by two fifths since 2002. It is now running at $300bn a year. This is 2.1pc of GDP.

The other note advised clients to “Take Profit on Globalization Basket”, especially on Eastern Europe currencies. Goldman Sachs has quietly dropped its talk of $200 oil. Even Russia’s petro-rouble is now deemed suspect.

The twin missives more or less sum up the dramatic change in mood sweeping financial markets since it became evident that the entire bloc of rich OECD countries has succumbed to the delayed effects of the credit crisis.

Japan contracted by 0.6pc in the second quarter, Germany by 0.5pc, France and Italy by 0.3pc. Spain recalled the cabinet last week for an emergency summit. New Zealand and Denmark are in recession. Iceland contracted at a catastrophic 3.7pc in the second quarter.

“The whole decoupling thesis has started to come apart at the seams,” said David Bloom, currency chief at HSBC. “Canada is frozen over. We have Arctic conditions in Sweden, and the UK is falling off the white cliffs of Dover.”

The UK economy is not my brief, but I see that hedge funds are circulating a report from the US guru Jeremy Grantham predicting a very bad end to Gordon Brown’s debt experiment.

“The UK housing event is probably second only to the Japanese 1990 land bubble in the Real Estate Bubble Hall of Fame. UK house prices could easily decline 50pc from the peak, and at that lower level they would still be higher than they were in 1997 as a multiple of income,” he said.

“If prices go all the way back to trend, and history says that is extremely likely, then the UK financial system will need some serious bail-outs and the global ripples will be substantial.”

For months the exchange markets ignored this impending train crash, just as they ignored the property bust in Europe’s Latin Bloc, or the little detail that UBS alone had just lost the equivalent of 8pc of Switzerland’s GDP. All they cared about in the currency pits was the interest rate gap: US low, Europe high.

Now the paradigm has flipped. The Fed may have been right after all to slash rates to 2pc. The European Central Bank may have panicked by tightening in July. Note that the elder Swiss National Bank did not do anything so rash.

Bulls now believe America is turning the corner. Financial stocks are up 20pc since early July. Some “monoline” bond insurers have risen 1,200pc in a month as fears of Götterdämmerung give way to sheer intoxicating relief, and a “short-squeeze”. Such are bear-trap rallies.

Regrettably, I remain beset by gloom. The US fiscal stimulus package that kept spending afloat in the second quarter is running out fast. There is nothing yet to replace it. The export boom cannot keep adding juice as the global crunch hits. My fear is that the US will tip into a second, deeper leg of the downturn, setting off a wave of savage job cuts. This will start to feel more like a real depression.

The futures market is pricing a 33pc fall in US house prices from peak to trough, based on the Case-Shiller index. Banks have not come close to writing off implied losses on this scale.

Daniel Alpert from Westwood Capital predicts that a mere 28pc fall would alone lead to a $5.4 trillion haircut in US household wealth, and leave lenders nursing $1.25 trillion in losses. So far they have confessed to less than $500bn.

Meredith Whitney, the Oppenheimer’s bank Cassandra, predicts a gruesome 40pc fall in prices. If so, expect prime borrowers facing negative equity to start throwing in the towel en masse. “I do not think we are near the end of writedowns. I continue to see capital levels going lower, and stocks going lower,” she said.

So no, this painful ordeal is far from over. We are not witnessing a dollar rally so much as a collapse in European and commodity currencies. The race to the bottom has begun in earnest.

http://tinyurl.com/5fnwpz

OK so should I be buying dollars or pounds?  Hey ... you watch this.  Any slump and the Qs (QQQQ) drop, right?  BUY and hold till the next earning season and sell.  I think.  Buy hi and sell lo. No, that doesn’t look right. There a tax advantage in that?
Been one of those days today. All day long. Puter problems and lightheaded from the searches and the pounding on keys. Might help if I actually knew what I was doing.


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Posted by Drew458   United Kingdom  on 08/19/2008 at 03:32 PM   
Filed Under: • Big BusinessEconomics •  
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calendar   Thursday - August 07, 2008

Arctic Heats Up - politically at least

Running down a bunch of links from Peiper’s Global Warming post the other day lead me to a great news site. Called The Barents Observor, it’s all about business and politics up in the Barents Sea area. For those who don’t have a globe handy, that’s the northeast end of the Atlantic Ocean, up east of Greenland, off the coast of Norway and Finland, and over to the northwest corner of Russia. You might tend to think of this area as one of the ends of the Earth, but if it is it’s also one of the busiest ones. You see, why Nancy Pelosi is braying on about saving the planet, what she really means is SCREW AMERICA. Because the people who live up there are working just as fast and as hard as they can to fish and farm and mine and drill the hell out of it, environmental impact be damned. Hey, just like China, Brazil, Africa, India ... and the whole rest of the world.

Just a few examples of what’s going on up in the great white Euro North:

But the big news concerns the Arctic basin itself. With the kindly assistance of a bit of Global Warming (and if you lived or worked up there you’d want to believe in GW harder than children need to believe in Tinkerbell, cuz it’s so freakin cold all the time.) getting some of that damned endless ice out of the way for a while last year, geologists were able to get some decent surveys done of the seabeds up there. And they found oil. And gas. And lots of other resources. So now the race is on. Why is Russia building a new aircraft carrier? Well, one reason is that they’re trying to sell the old one to India. That’s assuming they can put out the fires onboard first. Another reason might be strong arm politics. Russia is looking for oil and gas around Svaalbard (Spitzbergen) Island. And when Russia drills a hole, they usually plant a flag. This could be a problem brewing.

It wasn’t just propaganda that made the Russians plant a flag on the seabed under the North Pole almost exactly one year ago, even if their photos were faked. The race is on, and the prizes are huge. Various groups are trying to settle seabed land claims before the shooting starts, but it’s going to be a rough ride. The US will not be getting a big slice of the pie no matter what, but Denmark looks to be in line to become a new world power due to the size of it’s allocation. And tomorrow Canada will attest that the Lomonosov Ridge, a hump of seabed right under the North Pole, is actually part of the North American land mass ... the implication being that Canada should get control of it. And that ridge is where a huge part of the Arctic resources have been located.

There will be no flag-waving or patriotic chest-thumping, but Canadian scientists are quietly set to make one of this country’s most important assertions of Arctic sovereignty in decades on Friday at a geology conference in Norway.

A year after Russian scientists planted their nation’s flag on the North Pole seabed - a controversial demonstration of their country’s interest in securing control over a vast undersea mountain chain stretching across the Arctic Ocean from Siberia to Ellesmere Island and Greenland - the Canadian researchers have teamed with Danish scientists to offer proof that the Lomonosov Ridge is, in fact, a natural extension of the North American continent.

Their landmark findings, the initial result of years of sea floor mapping and millions of dollars in research investments by the Canadian and Danish governments, are to be presented at the 2008 International Geological Congress in Oslo under the innocuous title “Crustal Structure from the Lincoln Sea to the Lomonosov Ridge, Arctic Ocean.”

But the completion of the study represents a key step in Canada’s effort to eventually win rights over thousands of square kilometres of the polar seabed, a potential treasure trove of oil and gas being made more and more accessible as melting ice unlocks our High Arctic frontier.

Yeah right, no chest-thumping indeed:

And on Wednesday, the Department of National Defence detailed plans to conduct a “sovereignty operation” in Nunavut later this month.

The Aug. 19-26 exercise, similar to one conducted last summer, is intended “to project sovereignty in the eastern Arctic” and to test the military’s ability to respond to oil spills and ship emergencies, the department said.

The really frightening part of this whole land-grab situation is that the UN will have to solve it. Worse, it will be under the Jurisdiction of their Law of the Sea Conventions (UNCLOS). That’s not the Law of the Sea Treaty, but it probably isn’t much better or different.

This is a big story, and it’s going to take years to play out. And about the only place I’ve found enough information to be able to put even a few pieces of the puzzle together has been at the Barents Observer news page. It’s like some huge untapped natural resource, just waiting for exploitation. 


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Posted by Drew458   United States  on 08/07/2008 at 08:51 PM   
Filed Under: • Big BusinessNatureOil, Alternative Energy, and Gas PricesPolitics •  
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A Semi-Solution

I got an email this morning from a friend ...

I just signed my name onto a petition asking Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, and Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid, to support the creation of a Do Not Mail Registry in the United States.

Please consider adding your name to the list of supporters calling for the creation of a national Do Not Mail Registry.

Junk mail is more than just an annoyance; it’s an environmental crisis.  Every year, junk mail production destroys 100 million trees, creating as much global warming emissions equivalent to the emissions of 3.7 million cars.

We deserve the right to protect our privacy and our time. We deserve clean air and forest protection.  Sign our petition today and take back your mailbox:

Thank You!

This sounds great at first. I hate junk mail. My guess is that 85% of what shows up in my mailbox is garbage. Without junk mail I’d get about 20 envelopes a month. That suits me just fine.  I really don’t need two catalogs a week from Lands End, Cabela’s, or MidwayUSA. Or the pool supply place I bought one thing from 8 years ago. Or the candy shop in California I ordered from once. It’s a real pain in the ass, just another one of life’s little hassles we have to deal with every single day.

The link takes you to the Forest Ethics page, where you see the petition. It reads

Dear Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi; Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid:

Five years after the national Do Not Call Registry became the most popular consumer rights bill in history, citizens still face a different form of harassment: junk mail. Every year, Americans receive about 105 billion pieces of junk mail like credit card offers, coupons, and catalogs—that’s 848 pieces of junk mail per household. Even though 44% of that mail goes to the landfill unopened, we still spend eight months of our lives dealing with it all.

Junk mail is more than just an annoyance; it’s an environmental crisis. Every year, junk mail production destroys 100 million trees, creating global warming emissions equivalent to the emissions from 3.7 million cars.

We deserve the right to protect our privacy and our time. We deserve clean air and forest protection. We, the undersigned, support the creation of a national Do Not Mail Registry to provide a simple and comprehensive way for us to say no to junk mail.

This itself is not a bad idea. The national Do Not Call thing pretty much killed telemarketing, and that’s a good thing. If such a bill becomes law it might cut down on junk mail by a huge amount. And sure, that’s a whole lot less paper being used and trees being felled because of it. But I think this is only a partial solution.

I think the entire problem begins and ends with the Post Office. Junk mail exists solely because of their Bulk Mail discount rate, and it’s a tremendous discount. You and I are paying 42¢ to mail a letter, but the junk mailers pay less than 11¢. In theory this is because they do a large part of the pre-sorting work themselves, and supposedly drop the mail off at the local POs. Well, if that’s the case, then I should be able to mail a local letter for the same 11¢. One letter by itself is as pre-sorted as it can be, and if it’s local it doesn’t need to be shipped anywhere. It can be delivered by the carriers working out of that building. So where is my discount? HA!!! And no, I don’t believe quantity discounts should apply here. The stamp buys you the service of hand delivery. It’s the same service for each piece, whether you mail one letter or ten million.

The Post Office is failing because of junk mail. It amounts to 70% of the number of letters processed, but brings in less than a third of the revenue. That’s why the price of stamps goes up just about every year. Get rid of the Bulk Rate discount and the PO would make a fortune. Or they could reduce the price of stamps down to a quarter. Not only would it save a huge bunch of trees, it would allow them to trim their staff by a large amount. Carrying around less than half as much mail would save loads of fuel, and would be kind to the aching backs of the few carriers who actually schlep a bag around by foot. And it might make for a happier work environment too, so we’d have fewer episodes of people “going postal”.

The US Government should not be in the advertising business. Equal Rights, Equal Treatment Under The Law ... one rate for everyone. 


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Posted by Drew458   United States  on 08/07/2008 at 03:18 PM   
Filed Under: • Big BusinessEnvironmentGovernment •  
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calendar   Friday - August 01, 2008

I hate banks

I get a ton of junk mail. So do you. Most of the ads go right into the recycle bin. Letters that arrive with only a return address and no company name I don’t even bother to open. Guaranteed to be crap. Straight into the bins. Who has time to read through all this mess? I swear, the stupidest thing the Post Office ever did was come up with Bulk Mailing discount rates. But complaining about the Post Office is Peiper’s job, and he may have it with my blessings.

I do almost all of my banking and bill paying online. When I have a job that allows it, I’ll always sign up for direct deposit. It’s just so much easier. But there can be problems with banks, and when that happens ... good luck finding a real human being at the other end of the phone line. But I’ve kept this account forever. The bank I got it from is long gone. They were swallowed up by another bank, who was devoured by another bank, who was bought up by the bank I didn’t want to use because they had a lousy customer service reputation, and then that bank was bought up by the current bank. I think my money is in Hong Kong. I’m not sure. My bank doesn’t even have a name any more, just some initials. Whatever. Welcome to the 21st Century.

So I was scrolling through my bank account online the other month when I noticed that they were charging me $1 service fee for having a credit card with them. What? I have thinned my credit cards down to the bare minimum these days, and I know darn well that I have no such card. So it was dig throuhg the website to find the Contact Us telephone number, then I began my journey through Voice Menu Hell. Press 1 for English. Press 2 for personal banking. Press 1 for checking ... and on and on. Somehow I managed to find that magic combination of key presses that got me to a human being. Of course I got the recorded “Your call may be recorded for quality assurance purposes” messages, followed by another recording “All of our customer service people are currently assisting other customers. Please stand by” followed by some awful canned music usually used to get confessions from Al Qaeda terrorists in Gitmo. Finally the phone rings, and a person answers. “dabba dabba ubba dabba la? Sir?” Naturally the call center is in India. Grrr. So I patiently explained that I didn’t have this card, never requested this card, and had never used the card, so why were they charging me a buck? She ( I think ) credited me my dollar and said the problem was taken care of. Gosh, swell. And it only took me 45 minutes.

Next month the statement has another $1 charge for the same thing. Oh hell no, I’m not going through that process again. So I sat down at the computer and wrote, printed, and mailed them an actual letter. So I spent more time, and probably 50¢ to solve a $1 problem. Or so I thought.

Two weeks later there is a message on my answering machine. It’s the bank. Please call us back. I did. They had gone home for the weekend. So I called them back Monday and actually got a human to talk to. I explained the whole situation over again. “But sir, everyone at our bank has one of these cards. Our records show you were sent one.” Lady, no credit card ever arrived in an envelope from your bank. “No, it wouldn’t. For security purposes we send them in plain envelopes with just a PO Box return address.” You mean like every other piece of junk mail? Then I must have thrown it out. “Ok, then I’ll put down that you destroyed it, because if I mark that it was lost there’s a whole other process you have to go through”. Whatever. Why did you send me a credit card anyway, since I never applied for one? “Well, it’s not really a credit card even though it says MasterCard on it. It’s a debit card.” A debit card? What’s that? I already have an ATM card. Why do I need another card? “Well I see in your records that you use your ATM card at a number of stores, and each time you do you pay a 25¢ service fee. With the debit card there is no service fee. Just swipe the card and press the button marked Credit Card. And instead of paying a quarter each time, it’s only $1 per month.” So this debit card isn’t a credit card, it’s a direct account access card, just like my ATM card, but when I use it I pretend it’s a credit card? And the money comes straight out of my account, only without the transaction fee? “That’s right sir, we’ll have another one delivered to you in a few days. And I’ll waive the $1 fee.” What, forever, or just for this month? “Oh, forever. There will be no monthly fee for you. I can do that.” Well, great. Thanks.

The card arrived yesterday. I’ve spent the last week getting a callous on my thumb opening every piece of junk mail making sure it wasn’t the magic envelope. So I have the card. Can I run right out and use it? Heck no. First I have to call in to some number to activate it. I call, and I get this pimply voice. I was expecting a machine; it’s usually a 5 second process. You have to call from your home phone, they read the incoming phone number, and they know it’s me, and it’s done. No, this time I get young Mr. Acne. I have to read off the card number, provide my name and address and last 4 digits of my SSN. Ok fine. Are we done? “Not yet sir.” And then he tries to sell me a bunch of crap. Credit card protection, identity protection, white wall tires, magazine subscriptions ... whatever. Grrr. So I say no to all of them, and my card is activated. Whoo hoo! Now I can go shopping and save myself a quarter.

Not quite.

I get to the store, buy my stuff, and swipe the brand new card. “Please enter your PIN number” reads the card swiper. My what? There was no PIN number on any of the papers that came with the card. I know, because I read them all. Twice. So I put in my PIN from my ATM card ... same bank account, same essential card function, maybe it’s the same number, right? Wrong. The cashier gives me the dead eye when the transaction gets rejected, and I have to go and use my ATM again. Son of a bleach. So back home I go, twenty five cents poorer, and try and call the bank again.

Well, one of the most annoying things about voice menu systems is that they are always being changed. This time there’s a new menu, and I have to play Button, Button, Who Has The Button all over again ... and it doesn’t seem that any of the options has a human being at the other end. I even tried the extended silence thing, the pressing 0 thing, and the pressing several buttons at once thing. No good. Finally I tried the “To report your card Lost or Stolen” key press, and eventually got hold of a human being again. “dabba dabba ubba laba da? Sir?” Awww shit.

Look Benji, I just want to get a PIN for this card you guys sent me. It’s already authorized, but it didn’t come with a PIN. “umbalal dumba ladda bah, I transfer you” and it’s back to Gitmo for some more torture music. The phone rings. It answers. I hear the same old voice menu in the background. But Benji is riding the call with me! Boop-deep-deep-bah-bip! he enters some secret code, and the phone rings again. And I get “All of our customer service people are busy helping other customers. Please stay on the line” .... and I’m back getting ear torture again. But not for too long. Ring. Ring. “Hello? This is ----, how may I help you?” Horry Clap, a genuine American! So I explain things once again. “When did you get the card?” It came in the mail yesterday and I authorized it today. “PIN numbers are sent in a separate envelope for security purposes. You should receive it in 3 to 5 business days.” But it didn’t say that anywhere in the papers that came with the card. All it said was Dial This Number To Change Your PIN. “3 to 5 business days sir. And if you don’t have it in a week please call us back. Thank you have a nice day.”

So now I have to go back to opening all the junk mail again. Great.



I had a bunch of checks to put in the bank. Instead, I walked down the street to the nearest local no-name bank and opened a new checking account. I dealt with a nice young woman who spoke perfect English even though she is from the Middle East somewhere. Very pretty too. She filled out all the paperwork for me; all I had to do was sign my name once. Processed it all right there on the spot, even gave me my new debit card with my name on it. Which also works as an ATM card. And the first box of checks will arrive in under a week and they’re free. And that branch office is open 7 days a week, stop by any time. Here, have one of our pens. Here’s my card, here’s our web page address, and please come see me if there’s anything I can ever help you with. Thank you for your business!

Maybe I just hate that other bank. This one seems Ok. Of course, they’re in the process of being bought out by another bank right now. That’s how it goes. I figure I can get 3 to 5 good years out of them until they’re owned by my old bank. Then I’ll have to start the whole thing over again. Press 1 for Aggravation.


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Posted by Drew458   United States  on 08/01/2008 at 06:31 PM   
Filed Under: • Big Business •  
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calendar   Tuesday - June 24, 2008

The Greenies Win One, Thanks To “Little Maverick” FL Governor Crist

Florida trying to buy up (and eventually shut down) half the state’s sugar farmlands?

At a news conference Tuesday, scheduled for 10:30 a.m. near the imperiled “River of Grass”, Governor Crist is expected to announce a $1.75 billion deal to essentially buy the U.S. Sugar Corporation, including 187,000 acres of farmland that once sat in the northern Everglades. If the deal goes through (and though the announcement will be taking place, the deal isn’t set in stone), it will extinguish a powerful 77-year-old company with 1,700 employees and deep roots in South Florida’s coal-black organic soil. It will also resurrect and reconfigure a moribund 8-year-old Everglades replumbing effort that is supposed to be the most ambitious ecosystem restoration project in the history of the planet.

The purchase would give the state control of nearly half the 400,000 acres of sugar fields in the Everglades Agricultural Area below Lake Okeechobee, although sources said U.S. Sugar would lease back its land for several years. Environmentalists hope that eventually, the area will become storage reservoirs, treatment marshes and perhaps even a flowway reconnecting the lake to the Glades. This could help recreate the original north-to-south movement of the “River of Grass”, and eliminate damaging pulses of excess water into coastal estuaries. That would be good news for panthers and gators, dolphins and herons, ghost orchids and royal palms.

Crist has been mentioned as a possible running mate for Senator John McCain, and they both took a lot of flak in Florida last week when they dropped their opposition to offshore drilling. But Crist has been true to his pledge to be “the Everglades governor,” replacing many of Jeb Bush’s industry-friendly aides with eco-friendly appointees, blocking the Legislature’s efforts to eliminate funding for restoration, and stopping the sugar industry from pumping polluted runoff into the lake. In a recent interview with TIME, he hinted that he was planning some “breathtaking changes” for the Everglades. “Putting your heart and soul into it really makes a difference,” he said.

Sugar has been on of my pet peeves for years. Sugar costs more in the United States than anywhere else in the world. It has tremendous price supports and protective legislation, to the point where actual sugar is hardly used at all in any of the packaged food products we buy. No, we get corn syrup instead. Not even beet sugar. The entire sugar fix thing went in around the time that Hawaii was set to become a state, and it’s a nasty sham that costs us billions every year. I feel we should get our sugar from all the little islands in the Caribbean instead. This would pump lots of money into their tiny economies, bring many of them up out of turd-world status, and utterly cement them to the US economy. Plus, eliminating the sugar price support would mean lower prices for our consumers and a whole lot less of that damn corn syrup with all the possible health complications it has.

Is it a good idea for a state to become an owner of an agribusiness industry? Usually not. In this case? I don’t know. But this instance does show that some Republicans can make a big effort in the environmental arena.

image

Harvesting sugar in Florida. Look, no slaves! No stoop labor!


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Posted by Drew458   United States  on 06/24/2008 at 04:41 PM   
Filed Under: • Big BusinessEnvironment •  
Comments (1) Trackbacks(0)  Permalink •  

calendar   Saturday - June 21, 2008

Guns In The Workplace

Hey, sometimes it’s a good thing!  Watch this video and see how cubicle world blows off a whole week’s worth of steam in 5 minutes. Via the good geeks at Gizmodo.







Super Fantastic!





thanks to IT Master DenHaf, who may or may not read this blog from time to time


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Posted by Drew458   United States  on 06/21/2008 at 02:43 PM   
Filed Under: • Big BusinessFun-Stuff •  
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