Poverty: Information vs. Entertainment

IBD concludes that the poor in America emphasize entertainment over information in their spending. I would like to see cell phone spending included in this analysis.

Source: Investor’s Business Daily stock analysis and business news.

…the poor shun PCs and other valuable information gear for entertainment toys. In fact, their spending on color TVs — including big-screen TVs — is on par with the rich.

More than 34% of poor own two color TVs compared with 33% of the rich, according to the latest Census Bureau tables. And more than half own two or more color TVs. What’s more, fully 1 in 4 poor households have a large-screen TV (vs. 2 in 5 wealthy households).

Ibd_0831 According to the census, less than 20% of the poor own a PC, and just 15% have access to the Internet and its vast treasure of knowledge. In contrast, 83% of upper-income Americans own at least one PC, and 74% are online.

It’s plain to see the poor put a higher value on entertainment than information. The problem isn’t a case of "information haves and have-nots," as the media elite have played it. It’s a case of information haves and will-nots.

Preparing for Winter: Solar air heating?

Bob lives in a solar-powered home. Now that Amazon is carrying solar power accessories, maybe the tipping point is within sight for those of us who want to harvest our own energy.

Source: Bob’s Solar Project: Solar air heating?.

When the winter comes, my power needs will go up (especially the blower motor on my gas furnace) while the solar power goes down. I’m starting to look at various ways to keep the house warm without hitting the grid too often or too hard. Running a space heater as a dump load would be one way. Using some form of solar air heating would be another.

ClearDome Solar offers several products to convert sun power efficiently into home heating. Check out their external forced-air heaters, solar heating drapes and radiant panels at their Amazon sales page.

Some oil money is up to no good

Link: USATODAY.com – Some oil money is up to no good.

In case $3-per-gallon gas isn’t depressing enough, consider what your gas money pays for: A bull market in Saudi stocks. Handouts for Fidel Castro. And weapons for anti-American terrorists.

Oil-producing states haven’t seen a windfall like this since the twin price shocks of the 1970s. Persian Gulf countries this year will earn about $291 billion in oil revenue vs. $61 billion in 1998, when oil prices tanked, according to the Institute of International Finance (IIF). For every $1 increase in the price of a barrel of oil, Venezuela, the No. 4 source of U.S. imports, reaps almost an additional $1 billion a year.

In several oil-producing countries, soaring oil prices are complicating U.S. foreign policy or blunting commercial opportunities for American companies. Irans’ mullahs, locked in a standoff with the U.S. over Tehran’s nuclear ambitions, are bolstered by an oil-rich economy that the International Monetary Fund says will grow 6% this year and next.

  Biggest exporters
Countries that exported the most crude oil to the USA in June, in thousands of barrels per day:
June 2005
Pct. of total
Saudi Arabia
United Kingdom
Total of top 10
Source: Energy Information Administration

Thanks to surging oil revenue, Mexico is able to delay the politically painful step of opening its oil fields to foreign oil companies, says Roger Tissot, country director for the consultancy PFC Energy.

Of course, not every dollar spent at the pump props up a desert autocrat or funds global terror. Norway, a major producer of North Sea crude, uses its oil export earnings to fund its citizens’ retirement program.

The Persian Gulf oil states are investing about half of their increased oil revenue in the region, spurring luxury hotel construction in places such as Dubai and sending shares on the Saudis’ Tadawul All-Shares index up 79.7% this year.

The other half of the windfall is being funneled into international markets, according to Howard Handy, the IIF’s director for the Middle East and Africa. "We estimate $360 billion to $400 billion will be looking for a home outside the region in 2005 and 2006 combined," he says.

That’s a significant sum, but it is being divided among a greater number of destinations than during previous booms. In the 1970s, most foreign investment by gulf states ended up in U.S. markets, which dominated global investing even more than today. Then-secretary of State Henry Kissinger encouraged Saudi investment so that the most influential member of OPEC would be discouraged from damaging the U.S. economy with future oil embargoes, says Rachel Bronson, director of Middle East studies for the Council on Foreign Relations.

Today, though it’s impossible to track specific figures, the Saudis and other Arab states are placing more of their investments in non-U.S. holdings, including euro-dominated securities that didn’t exist at the time of the first oil price shocks. Riyadh also no longer reflexively steers most major contracts to U.S. firms. In January 2004, for example, the Saudis bypassed Chevron and awarded lucrative natural gas exploration contracts to Russian, Chinese and European companies.

Following the Sept. 11 attacks, the Saudis met U.S. demands by ending government support for Islamic charities linked to terrorism. But individuals in the kingdom continue to send cash to groups that support anti-American terrorists.

"We know wealthy Saudis are funding terror. With higher oil prices, they just have more money to do so," Bronson says.

Soaring oil prices also are causing problems closer to U.S. shores. In Venezuela, President Hugo Chavez, flush with record oil revenue, is sending subsidized oil shipments to Cuba’s Fidel Castro and increasing military spending. Earlier this month, Venezuela announced a purchase of long-range surveillance radars from China. The U.S. has accused Chavez of funneling arms to leftist rebels in neighboring Colombia, which he denies.

At home, Chavez has lavished oil money on his constituents in Venezuela’s poorest neighborhoods. Through "Mission Mercal," a network of government-run groceries, Chavez provides half-priced food to more than 10 million people.

The social largesse cements the president’s political standing. But economists such as Claudio Loser, former head of the IMF’s Western Hemisphere department, say such spending can’t continue indefinitely. Already, inflation is galloping at 18% annually and is expected to hit 25% next year.

Big oil producers should have learned one lesson from earlier booms: High prices don’t last forever. Oil prices now are around $65 per barrel. But with greater production expected from non-OPEC producers such as Angola, Brazil and Azerbaijan, prices will drop to around $40 per barrel in 2007-08, says Jim Burkhart, director of oil market analysis for Cambridge Energy Research Associates.

That will spell trouble for some oil nations, including Venezuela. "The risk is what happens when oil prices decline and governments have to align their spending with fewer resources," he says.

Despite today’s easy-money atmosphere, there’s no need to envy the oil producers. Many face daunting developmental challenges that have gotten worse since the last oil boom.

Saudi Arabia’s population has exploded from 5.7 million in 1970 to 25 million today. That has driven down per-capita oil export revenue from more than $22,000 in the early 1980s to less than $5,000 today.

"Even with oil at $65 a barrel," says Bronson, "they can’t solve all their economic problems."

via The Kirk Report

Reservoir Logs: Timber industry turns to underwater crop

Source: Grist Magazine | Main Dish | 18 Aug 2005.

As the traditional logging industry deals with unsteady prices and the challenges of globalization, the value of a new crop is coming to light: trees hidden under reservoirs, long given up for lost.

While no exact count of these "rediscovered" forests — which are being logged primarily in North and South America, Russia, and Malaysia — seems to exist, one estimate puts it at about 200 million trees, a global supply worth about $40 billion. These watery woods have been preserved by cold water and protected from rot and insect infestation. The resulting high-quality timber is highly sought after, especially by craftspeople.

Barges and divers have long gone after both standing trees and abandoned, sunken logs, but now a new technology is upping the ante, allowing more submerged trees to be cut more quickly. Proponents — including those developing the new high-tech method — say underwater harvests could help the planet, since they "spare" healthy forests in favor of the dead. Others contend the waterlogged trees are a nonrenewable resource whose harvest will simply detract attention from issues on land. In British Columbia this summer, a logging company and a First Nation band are embarking on a partnership that highlights the complicated allure of this new-old industry.

Relaxing on Sunday

Sunday was the hottest day of the year in the Atlanta area. After several sweaty hours outside, I retired to the basement to relax and watch PGA golf on TV (joined by the Tiger fan club). After I spooned down a pint of Cherry Garcia, I lost track of the golf for about an hour as the gang and I drifted into a cat nap.


Bull Sluice on the Chattooga

My brother-in-law Bill and I swam in the pool below Bull Sluice last Friday. I’ve wanted to swim (voluntarily) in that pool ever since I first saw it.

I swam in the pool involuntarily once after running Bull Sluice in a kayak. I survived the white water but flipped in the strong eddy in the pool on river right. (I was so relieved to have run the drop without hitting Decapitation Rock that I relaxed too soon.) The eddy pushed me against the rocks on the shoreline and I missed one attempt to roll and decided to get out. It was autumn and I got COLD fast!

Photo by J. D. Anthony

P.S. There have been at least two dozen documented deaths in Bull Sluice. The first time I kayaked Section 3 of the Chattooga River I walked around Bull Sluice. I was having a very bad day (two significant injuries, several swims, and no confidence) and it was obvious that I wasn’t ready for a Class 4-5 rapid.