Tuesday, June 17, 2008

It doesn't get any worse than this!

I was reading an article today, and it contained the following quote: "This nation's economy is inextricably linked to the viability of its air transportation system. If the airlines continue to spiral downward, so will the economy."

Does anyone really believe that? Airlines alone have the power to bring down the economy? I don't think so. Oh, yes, jobs will be lost, consumers will have to pay more for tickets and get less in return, and much of the economy is tied to airplanes, but if a few of the largest airlines went belly-up, it's not the end of the world. Other airlines will step in to fill in the gaps, and the industry will get back on its feet again.

Some of the air traffic will move to more cost-efficient means of transportation--trains, boats, or trucks. Passengers will be more likely to drive to their destinations, or perhaps go by bus or train.

The death of an airline or two may cause some hardships, but it's hardly going to topple the economy. Now the housing problems and credit crunch..... Those are serious issues that can severely hurt the economy.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Raise the Gas Tax!

I've said it before, and I'll say it again. I'm a big proponent of increasing the tax on gas, which probably puts me in a very small minority, but hear me out. I just heard a political commercial on the radio slamming the gas tax, but as with most political commercials, it plays on people's fears and ignorance of basic economics. I so very much wish our schools would better educate our youth on how economics really works.

First, consider this: taxpayers are paying to subsidize alternative forms of energy. You're paying to buy other people's bio-fuels. You're paying so others can use solar energy, or wind energy, and all sorts of ideas. Do you know why? It's because that's the only way they can compete against "cheap oil."

Now if we increased the tax on oil, prices would go up, and we'd no longer have to subsidize alternative energy sources. Sure, you might have to pay a bit more on oil, but at least you could stop paying subsidizes for other people's benefit.

But you know, I'm not really convinced it would drive prices up all that much. Oil is a commodity, and the issues of supply and demand are very much alive. If you suddenly add a dollar per gallon tax, it'll likely hurt in the short term, but in the long term, there's still a bunch of oil that oil companies want to sell--that they need to sell--so how do they do that? By lowering the prices they sell the oil for in the first place until--all else being equal--prices fall back down to where they would have gone without the tax.

There's been talk about taxing oil company's "windfall profits," but isn't that just a backward way of letting the oil companies collect the tax for the federal government anyhow? Instead of just saying, "Hey, let's let the feds tax us one buck per gallon," we'd rather say, "Hey, let's have the oil companies charge us an extra buck per gallon, then make the oil companies give the money to the feds."

Cut out the middle man--just tax the consumer directly instead of these indirect taxes that frankly stink of anti-capitalism. You start taking money from oil companies, legally acquired, just because it's the popular thing to do, they may not be inclined to open up more oil fields or pump the fields they have very hard, then where will that leave you?

Though honestly, I don't think it's the oil companies necessarily that are responsible for the surprising surge in oil prices recently. A lot of the recent rise, I believe, is part of a commodities bubble. Everyone's running around saying "this time, it's different." Yeah, I heard that during the dot com boom and the real estate boom as well. There's a bridge in Brooklyn I'd like to sell you.... Now there are some very good reasons why commodity prices have been rising, and in the long run, I do believe prices are going to rise and continue to rise, but the recent spike in oil prices I do not think is sustainable. I think a lot of speculators are driving up prices, and a lot of them will end up losing a lot of money when prices go down again.

And the folks who I think are making the most profit from high oil prices are the people who actually own the physical commodities at their source--not the oil companies that just drill the oil, not the companies that refine the oil, and not the retailers who sell you the oil. It's the folks who own the land the oil comes from, such as our good buddies in the Middle East.

Frankly, I'd rather a have a one dollar tax by our federal government than sending the buck to the mid-east and who knows what happens with it then. If oil prices are going to be artificially high, I'd prefer the money going to the feds than to oil companies or mid-east terrorists, but that's just me. *shrug*

If I were a benevolent dictator, I'd start increasing gas taxes immediately. I probably wouldn't bump it up to a dollar per gallon overnight--that would cause unnecessary pain, but a one-cent increase every month for 100 months would get the same results in a more gradual, easier-to-deal with manner. High gas prices would help increase research into more efficient vehicles and alternative fuels without having to subsidize them, reduce our reliance on foreign oil, take money out of the hands of oil companies and mid-east dictators, and perhaps help to better fund roads, education, health care, and more.

If you love America, you should support a gas tax! =)

I'd even go so far as require minimum gas prices such as $3/gallon, that will increase over time. No matter how low the price of oil goes, require people to pay at least a certain amount for gas to insure those alternative sources of fuel and improved fuel-efficient cars continue being researched and developed. For a lot of companies researching how to make fuel-efficient vehicles or developing alternative sources of energy, they could get hosed if prices fall too much or too quickly, and minimum price supports can help insure they'll still be in business for years to come.

And.... late breaking news.... French fries are NOT, I repeat, are NOT made in France. *shaking head* Trust no one.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Stupid Tech Stuff

I haven't ranted or raved on this blog so far this year, and I'll tell you why--most of the year, I've been too far removed from the Internet to spent the scarce time I had complaining about it. =)

I pondered a lot of stupid things in this world on my hike. When I first heard about Microsoft bidding for Yahoo, and Yahoo's shares actually rising above the price Microsoft offered, I thought Yahoo shareholders were absolutely stupid. If I owned Yahoo shares, I'd have sold in a heartbeat. Oh, sure, maybe they could extract a couple extra bucks per share out of Microsoft, but it was a risky bet with limited upside and a long way for that stock to fall if the merger didn't happen. IDIOTS! I'm not really convinced Yahoo was worth as much as they offered, but maybe. I'm generally leery about big mergers since more often than not, they don't tend to work out well.

But why Yahoo deluded themselves into holding out for a better offer? Why would Microsoft bid against itself? It's not like other companies were tripping over themselves to spend more than $40 billion bucks for the company. And even if the merger never happened, I thought it was still a brilliant opportunity to throw the folks running Yahoo into chaos. Shareholder revolts, possibility leading to the company's top executives being shown to the door. Spending their efforts fighting off shareholders and Microsoft rather than developing a better business. Perhaps make Yahoo employees feel a bit insecure in their jobs and jump ship.

No matter what, I felt Microsoft would probably come out ahead. And I spent hours wondering what was happening with that proposal, since most of the time I didn't have access to up-to-date information. It was a fascinating story to me (not to mention that I do own shares in Microsoft, so there is some of my own money on the line as well!)

Those poor idiots that actually bought shares above the price Microsoft was asking--IDIOTS! If I weren't hiking, I'd probably have been inclined to short the stock. The best Yahoo could hope for was a merger, and even then anyone buying at those prices was going to come out a loser.

And what about all those people at Bear Stearns who put all their retirement savings into their company stock? Did they learn NOTHING from Enron? It's bad enough to lose your job, which will happen to a great deal of folks at Bear Stearns if it hasn't already, but to lose your entire retirement savings as well? When I worked at Intel, I did have the option to put my 401(k) into an Intel stock fund, but I wouldn't touch that one with a ten foot pole. Actually, I might have put some of my savings into it if I thought the stock was undervalued, but I felt it was trading at wildly insane prices and was a terrible investment, but I know a lot of co-workers who had a great deal of money invested in Intel. In fact, if you'd like to see how Intel's stock did since that time, check out this link. It shows a ten-year history of the stock. I worked at Intel from September 1999 until December of 2001. That large anomaly you see in 2000? Yeah, I was there for that, and listened to many of my co-workers talk about plunging their 401(k) into
Intel stock.

Now I'm not an expert on stock market analysis, but here's the thing--you don't have to be to know that those stock prices were utterly INSANE. I hoped the insanity would last long enough for some of my stock options to vest and still be in the money, but that turned out not to be the case. On the plus side, however, I never had to figure out how to account for stock options on my taxes. =) (On another note, I did lose plenty of money in the stock market during the dot-com bust, but Intel has lost 2/3rds of its value in the last eight years. My losses, however, didn't come anywhere near that level, and are up significantly since hitting hit bottom.)

Bear Stearns doesn't really have to do with tech, but the employees who put their life savings into that stock and the whole Yahoo refusing to be bought--I spent many an hour on the trail amazed at such stupidity. It's not rocket science. If you have a 401(k), don't be stupid. Don't invest it in your company's stock, because when your company hits hard times, you'll likely end up unemployed or with a severe pay cut AND have your savings wiped out all in one shot. And--I don't know who was stupid enough to pay more for Yahoo shares than Microsoft was offering, but that brings stupidity to a whole new level. So little chance of making money, such an enormous chance of losing a boat load. *shaking head*

Okay.... on to today. What absurdities do I see today? Well, I passed a newspaper rack this afternoon, and on the front page in big type was the pressing news of the day: The iPhone--cheaper and faster!

Really? Is that really newsworthy? Electronics always become cheaper and faster. That's not interesting or revolutionary. I'm rather disappointed in Apple that that's their main bragging rights for the new iPhone--cheaper and faster. Hey, guess what? If you wait for another year, I'll bet it's even cheaper and faster than this year's model. Yawn. Wake me up when there's something new to report.

Actually, I'm most disappointed because the picture of the new iPhone--it looks just like the old iPhone as far as my untrained eye can see. I can't tell the difference. When I first saw a commercial for the iPhone, I was impressed. I had no interest in buying one, but I knew a really cool gadget when I saw it. It was slick, exciting, and new. I expected the "new" iPhone to be just as slick, exciting, and new. Nope, this was more of an evolutionary change than a revolutionary one. I'm so used to Apple being revolutionary, I'm kind of disappointed they only settled for evolutionary this year. I have little doubt the new phones will be huge sellers--and why not, at $200, you can get one for less than half the price they were introduced at a year ago--but I just don't see the wow factor this time around. Cheaper and faster is not front page news.