27 May 2008

Compared to Other Liquids, Gasoline is Cheap

Think a $4 gallon of gas is expensive? Consider the prices of these other fluids that people buy every day without complaint.

Lipton Iced Tea, 16 oz @ $1.19 = $9.52 per gallon

Diet Snapple, 16 oz @ $1.29 = $10.32 per gallon

Gatorade, 20 oz @ $1.59 = $10.17 per gallon

Ocean Spray, 16 oz @ $1.25 = $10.00 per gallon

Evian water, 9 oz @ $1.49 = $21.19 per gallon (!)

Wite-Out, 7 oz @ $1.39 = $25.42 per gallon

Brake fluid, 12 oz @ $3.15 = $33.60 per gallon

Scope, 1.5 oz @ $0.99 = $84.48 per gallon

Pepto-Bismol, 4 oz @ $3.85 = $123.20 per gallon

Vicks NyQuil, 6 oz @ $8.35 = $178.13 per gallon

But here's the kicker:

HP 02 Black Ink Cartridge, 16 ml $18 online = $4,294.58 per gallon.

Yes, that's right: inkjet printer ink goes for over four thousand dollars a gallon. What's in there, anyway — gold filings?

So the next time you're at the pump, be glad your car doesn't run on water, Scope, Wite-Out, Pepto-Bismol, NyQuil, or — heaven forbid — printer ink!

13 August 2007

Stop whining and start your own company and exploit cheap foreign labour

A comment was made in this internet space recently, on how there has been no mention of this striking video of immigration lawyers instructing how to implement a "not hire an American but earn by scoring an immigrant for the position" scheme. Well, I have written on the matter at a regular interval the past 5 years. So I wish not to keep repeating the same points, or else I must compose them in a radically more effective frame.

Anyway, here is another short clip a matter closely related to the aforementioned immigrant lawyer coaching confessions, focused on fraudulent visa applications. See, this is the terrible part about corporatocracy and a half way immigration legal framework. It's exploitive, financially damaging to American workers, but far worse, in the aggregate, it actually entails a burgeoning middleware layer. Encouraging earnings to accrue to those adept at exploiting others, not to the knowledge workers (or manual labor workers). Excessive monetary rewards and/or illicit bribes flow to middlemen who have a vested interest in taking advantage of lessened worker protections, near immunity to prosecution, and global currency arbitrage. It extends and promotes further gross wealth inequality. Wealth inequality by itself is not necessarily evil, but when half of the world lives on less than $2 a day and does not have access to clean sanitation, it's a tragic injustice.

High tech companies, construction firms, domestic service industries all proclaim a desperate shortage of workers. But simple economics displays this to be a deception — if the demand was greater than the supply, then rates and wages paid would be increasing at a significant rate. And we know that just isn't the case.

Though some would say "No American has a God-given right to a job".

If there is to be immigration, should it be totally open? If not, what is the gatekeeper litmus test? Is it only the best and brightest that are permitted entry? Or maybe a lottery system. Until these questions are answered, the broken system that exists now will continue become more diseased. Plagued with corruption and choked with thorns of oppression, in an orgy of bottom feeding.

Even if one is not swayed by pleas over the plight of poor pitiful programmers, remember, that such a scheme could be applied to any career path. That technology fields possess a seemingly ready state for such plucking because of the interconnectedness they provide doesn't mean other professions are immune. Presently, other job categories have been affected — teachers, nurses, blue collar jobs, etc.…. Consider the working age population of Asian nation states China and India, nearly 10 times the size of the U.S. worker set. Potentially, 10 alternate candidates are available for every U.S. worker. The ratio is still a hefty six to one if just college graduates are considered. Virtually all could face replacement from workers willing to work for less pay.

18 March 2007

Sooner or later under conditions of perpetually rising house prices, houses would have to be priced out of everybody's range

Jim Kunstler, with some cutting remarks in response to comments made by former Fed chairman Alan Greenspan earlier in the week.
What kind of a rock does this fucking idiot Alan Greenspan live under?

The median price for a house in my region of the US (northeast) was $380,000 in the third quarter of 2006. Median annual income, meanwhile, was about $46,000. If, by some miracle (in a land of negative savings) someone with an income of $46,000 had managed to save enough to make a 20 percent down payment ($76,000) on the aforesaid median-priced house and got a 30-year mortgage for the remainder ($314,000) at 7 percent interest, his monthly payment would be $2089. Add to that $250 a month in local property and school taxes and insurance and that brings it up to $2339. That adds up to $28,068 a year in house payments. Let's say the poor bastard pays $8,000 a year in combined income tax and FICA witholding. That leaves him with a grand total of $9,932 for everything else. Then there's the yearly cost of owning a car, including installment payments, insurance, gasoline, and maintenance: around $6,000 a year. Oh yeah, if he's a prudent fellow, he's got health insurance, let's say a practically useless high-deductible policy costing $3,000 a year. That leaves approximately $57 a week for groceries, laundry, the collection plate at church, and everything else. (Too bad he can't afford cable TV and the Internet.)

So, if housing prices went up 10 percent, how fucked would Mr. Median Income be?

An interesting question, that hints to harrowing times ahead.

7 February 2007

H1B is the root cause for underemployment in America

Recently, President Bush revealed again how out of touch he is with working Americans. Speaking to employees at DuPont, Bush exclaimed “We’ve got to expand what’s called H1B visas.

It’s been a few years since I toiled as a computer programmer in the IT department (and when I started, it was called Data Processing) for $BigCorporation. Now, I spend my workdays developing web applications for clients and an employer not in the domain of $BigCorporation. I still remain in contact with friends who are still sweating it out, hanging on for an impending retirement that can’t come soon enough. So I really don’t know how many computer programmers are still entangled with recurrent outsourcing and imported non-immigrant visa worker concerns — those I know still in the business are either leading offshore teams, in senior management, or consulting in some specialized realm of IT. But I’ve written extensively on this matter previously, and sadly, everything is playing out as I predicted.

So let me let another speak out on the matter — here are some relevant portions of a letter to the editor, or response to the AP article on the matter:

My name is Richard Vickers, a US contract software engineer. On 1/24/2007, President Bush gave a speech at a Dupont facility where he stated “It makes no sense to say to a young scientist from India, you can’t come to America to help this company develop technologies that help us deal with our problems,” stating further, “We’ve got to expand what’s called H1B visas (for skilled foreign workers),”.

I am a FL resident, but I am willing to work at any location performing any work. I hold a BS in Computer Science and have over fifteen years of successful IT contract experience. In 2001, when the H-1b cap was last raised, I went over eighteen months without work, followed by two years of low salary work, part of which was done for $5.00/hr. I just barely survived. Now, with over 500,000 H- 1b visa holders currently in the US, many now with expired visas, I am again finding it difficult to find work. While I am again finding it difficult to find work, the President is seeking to bring in more foreign, temporary workers under H-1b.

The H-1b visa program has provided three affects on the US economy, namely;

  1. it has driven down wages for all IT workers, described by the late Milton Friedman as a labor “subsidy”,

  2. it has provided American employers with indentured servants, as H-1b visas require the worker to stay with the requesting employer regardless of working conditions, and

  3. it has flooded the market with foreign workers, many without IT degrees, but given basic training, training refused American citizens, and therefore driving many American IT workers out of the field.

Even an Indian newspaper editorial chastised the President for this policy stance.

American Corporations and American Universities are exploiting the talented youth of India and other countries through F1, J1 and H1B visas. Some of those who come with H1B visas are less talented ‘failed’ engineers in India and other countries trying to earn some living in software application development. Simply put they perform automation of clerical work. H1B was not designed for that. The real talent comes to America with student visa. They complete their degree in America and finally obtain H1B and the Greencard (path to US citizenship).

H1B is the root cause for underemployment in America. The professional wages are depressed and qualified American citizens sacrifice their standard of living.

Currently H1B is totally abused. In India a set of middlemen (worse than drug dealers) trade young people to American Corporations who hire these men and women for low salaries to make them work for six years. Most of these men and women eventually are discarded after six years or less of exploitation. Most of them come to United States with a hope to settle in USA. They eventually find ways to stay back. Many of them eventually become illegal aliens.

The American Universities are worse. For example, Rutgers University’s Geography department refused American Citizens (with 3.9 GPA and on Dean’s list) from Graduate Studies while bringing in mediocre talents from India on F1 visa with fat teaching and research assistantships and free tuition. Guess what these students from India are working on? They are working on climate studies of India while talented American citizens are deprived from graduate studies in Geographic Information Systems. The exploitation of foreign nationals and discrimination against American citizens are profound even more in Engineering and Computer Science departments. The Faculty in these schools make these foreign nationals do the research and then they coauthor the reasearch articles with them to manifest their own research talents. It is shame for American Universities. Rutgers is just an example. Other Universities are no exception.

8 January 2007

The Gates Foundation has holdings in many companies that have failed tests of social responsibility

The LA Times has a series skewering the Gates Foundation for what it reports as a "dark cloud over the good works". It sounds like a colossal tax dodge to me, even if the small percentage (5%) of the foundation's worth represent a huge donation to "good works".
AT the end of 2005, the Gates Foundation endowment stood at $35 billion, making it the largest in the world. Then in June 2006, Warren E. Buffett, the world's second-richest man after Bill Gates, pledged to add about $31 billion in installments from his personal fortune. Not counting tens of billions of dollars more that Gates himself has promised, the total is higher than the gross domestic products of 70% of the world's nations.

Like most philanthropies, the Gates Foundation gives away at least 5% of its worth every year, to avoid paying most taxes. In 2005, it granted nearly $1.4 billion. It awards grants mainly in support of global health initiatives, for efforts to improve public education in the United States, and for social welfare programs in the Pacific Northwest.

It invests the other 95% of its worth. This endowment is managed by Bill Gates Investments, which handles Gates' personal fortune. Monica Harrington, a senior policy officer at the foundation, said the investment managers had one goal: returns "that will allow for the continued funding of foundation programs and grant making." Bill and Melinda Gates require the managers to keep a highly diversified portfolio, but make no specific directives.

By comparing these investments with information from for-profit services that analyze corporate behavior for mutual funds, pension managers, government agencies and other foundations, The Times found that the Gates Foundation has holdings in many companies that have failed tests of social responsibility because of environmental lapses, employment discrimination, disregard for worker rights, or unethical practices.

It is not crystal clear from the article that the Gates Foundation only gives 5% of its worth, but there is a side box balance sheet that lists $66 billion in assets and $13 billion in total grants. That equates to approximately 20%, but there are no details provided for over $4 billion in loans that may skew the percentage even lower.

I had a suspicion that the Gates Foundation was more about tax avoidance and positive public relations that it was about charitable contributions. On the other hand, seeding a financial future and gaining more funds to give is prudent strategy. However, investing in companies that profit from and enable global injustice and environmental destruction on a proportionally larger scale would seem to defeat the purpose of charity service.

28 October 2006

It is amazing to watch freedom-loving libertarians and free-market economists serve as apologists for the dismantling of the ladders of upward mobility

Amidst reports of a mass exodus of middle class voters from the Republican fold, President Bush and his loyalists, also in an attempt to shift focus of the debacle in Iraq, have now embarked on a campaign centered on the great economy, made in large part by the wonder of the Bush tax cuts.

While the Dow Jones Industrial Average has returned to past historic heights, I don't believe this is reflective of the economic health of nation, gauged in metrics that matter to most working Americans. With thanks and attribution to Max Sawicky, Paul Craig Roberts, Robert Kuttner, and a report from the American Center for Progress — running the gamut from progressive to non-neocon conservative, here are some salient economic truths:

  • Fewer than half of Americans own any stock at all, and 80 percent of the population has only ten percent of all stock market wealth.

  • For the bottom twenty percent of the workforce, wages fell by 1.9 percent from 2004 to 2005, but only 24 percent of these workers had health insurance.

  • The Census Bureau reported that median incomes for working-age families were down again, for the fifth straight year. Real median income for households under age 65 is down by 5.4 percent since 2000, even though the economy has grown every year. All of that gain has gone to upper-bracket people and corporate profits.

  • The economy's productivity increased by a remarkable 33.5 percent between 1995 and 2005, but real wages have declined since 2000.

  • Employer-provided health coverage declined from 69 percent in 1979 to 56 percent in 2004.

  • Household debt relative to personal disposable income, went over the one to one ratio in 2001 and now stands at 126%.

  • During the past five years (January 01 - January 06), the information sector of the U.S. economy lost 644,000 jobs, or 17.4 per cent of its work force.

  • During the past five years, U.S. manufacturing lost 2.9 million jobs, almost 17 per cent of the manufacturing work force. The wipeout is across the board. Not a single manufacturing payroll classification created a single new job.

  • For the five-year period, U.S. job growth was limited to four areas: education and health services, state and local government, leisure and hospitality, and financial services. There was no U.S. job growth outside these four areas of domestic nontradable services.

  • Accoding to Princeton economist and former Federal Reserve vice chairman Alan Blinder, 42-56 million American service sector jobs are susceptible to offshore outsourcing.

  • A comparison of starting salaries in 2005 with those in 2001 reveals a 12.7 per cent decline in computer science pay, a 12 per cent decline in computer engineering pay, and a 10.2 per cent decline in electrical engineering pay. Marketing salaries experienced a 6.5 per cent decline, and business administration salaries fell 5.7 per cent.

Once the numbers are examined, it doesn't appear quite the rosy picture being painted by the Bush administration and their loyalists. And when selected economic barometers are cited, one has to critically question for whom the benefits are accruing and for who is left behind.

28 August 2006

What’s behind Ireland’s economic miracle—and G.M.’s financial crisis?

A insightful article by Malcolm Gladwell in The New Yorker on how examining the ratio of workers to non-workers portends national economic wellness.
America's private pension system is now in crisis. Over the past few years, American taxpayers have been put at risk of assuming tens of billions of dollars of pension liabilities from once profitable companies. Hundreds of thousands of retired steelworkers and airline employees have seen health-care benefits that were promised to them by their employers vanish. General Motors, the country's largest automaker, is between forty and fifty billion dollars behind in the money it needs to fulfill its health-care and pension promises. This crisis is sometimes portrayed as the result of corporate America's excessive generosity in making promises to its workers. But when it comes to retirement, health, disability, and unemployment benefits there is nothing exceptional about the United States: it is average among industrialized countries — more generous than Australia, Canada, Ireland, and Italy, just behind Finland and the United Kingdom, and on a par with the Netherlands and Denmark. The difference is that in most countries the government, or large groups of companies, provides pensions and health insurance. The United States, by contrast, has over the past fifty years followed the lead of Charlie Wilson and the bosses of Toledo and made individual companies responsible for the care of their retirees. It is this fact, as much as any other, that explains the current crisis. In 1950, Charlie Wilson was wrong, and Walter Reuther was right.

The key to understanding the pension business is something called the "dependency ratio", and dependency ratios are best understood in the context of countries. In the past two decades, for instance, Ireland has gone from being one of the most economically backward countries in Western Europe to being one of the strongest: its growth rate has been roughly double that of the rest of Europe. There is no shortage of conventional explanations. Ireland joined the European Union. It opened up its markets. It invested well in education and economic infrastructure. It's a politically stable country with a sophisticated, mobile workforce.

But, as the Harvard economists David Bloom and David Canning suggest in their study of the Celtic Tiger, of greater importance may have been a singular demographic fact. In 1979, restrictions on contraception that had been in place since Ireland's founding were lifted, and the birth rate began to fall. In 1970, the average Irishwoman had 3.9 children. By the mid-nineteen-nineties, that number was less than two. As a result, when the Irish children born in the nineteen-sixties hit the workforce, there weren't a lot of children in the generation just behind them. Ireland was suddenly free of the enormous social cost of supporting and educating and caring for a large dependent population. It was like a family of four in which, all of a sudden, the elder child is old enough to take care of her little brother and the mother can rejoin the workforce. Overnight, that family doubles its number of breadwinners and becomes much better off.

This relation between the number of people who aren't of working age and the number of people who are is captured in the dependency ratio. In Ireland during the sixties, when contraception was illegal, there were ten people who were too old or too young to work for every fourteen people in a position to earn a paycheck. That meant that the country was spending a large percentage of its resources on caring for the young and the old. Last year, Ireland's dependency ratio hit an all-time low: for every ten dependents, it had twenty-two people of working age. That change coincides precisely with the country's extraordinary economic surge.

Companies with older work forces are heavily penalized, whereas new companies have no such burden. As the number of workers needed to generate revenue has dramatically declined, it has left firms like General Motors an abundance of retirees, the cost of which is borne by the smaller lot of present day workers. And American companies face a "fifteen percent cost disadvantage" due to the fact that every country we compete against has universal health care.