Weekly insights into our crazy world.

Saturday, November 26, 2016



In the United States, today is BLACK FRIDAY. It's the single day when Americans buy more products than any other day on the calendar. Our international readers might be confused, so here's a quick primer: Once a religious holiday, Christmas in the USA has evolved into an explosion of materialism. In short, to celebrate properly, you must buy a gift for everyone you know...from your spouse to the custodian at work. To "save" money, smart shoppers know the best holiday sales begin on the first shopping day after Thanksgiving, or Black Friday.

Just how enormous has BLACK FRIDAY become? Let's check out the stats. One in three Americans...about 108 million people...will hit the malls on this one day. They'll spend an average of $289 dollars each. In total, this means around $50 billion being spent in American stores in a 24-hour span. Wow! That's more than some nations make all year long. Just how much do Americans love to buy things? Let's dig deeper.

As the largest consumer market in the world, the US accounts for a whopping 29% of the world's commercial expenditures. Next, consider this: America only represents 5% of the world's population. Do the math: We buy six times more cars, phones, toys, athletic apparel, etc. than anyone else in the world. And we still can't get enough. Projections are for more consumer spending this holiday season and on into next year.

Despite these projections, the United States' place atop the global marketplace list will not last forever. China, currently in third place, will pass #2 Japan next year on the world's largest consumer market rankings. With a sixth of the world's population, the Chinese people simply need to buy more of the products they already make. While this has historically been a problem (the Opium Wars), a new generation is buying more and saving less. It's difficult to get clear stats from the PRC, but most economists believe China will surpass the USA in overall spending by the year 2019.

Don't despair, American shoppers! There is still one statistic the USA will always top: Per-capita household spending. Simply put, if everyone in China spent money like Americans do, this wouldn't be an issue. But each house in the USA buys fifteen times more than the citizens of the People's Republic do. The downside is that American savings accounts pale to our counterparts in Europe and the Orient. But who cares? Let's stop reading silly blogs and start swiping our credit cards at the shopping mall!!

Friday, November 18, 2016



With the nation's 45th president all decided, many Americans are wondering: Is Donald Trump the wealthiest US President of all time? The answer is YES. In fact, the Donald is a dozen times richer than any previous Commander In Chief. However, while doing the research, we here at the DUNER BLOG were surprised at who he bumped down on the list of the TOP FIVE WEALTHIEST PRESIDENTS:

#2. George Washington. $525 million (in 2016 dollars). They didn't call him 'His Excellency' for nothing. Glorified today by silly legends, grandiose statues and ginormous monuments, the first president was financially similar to Trump. Born into an aristocratic family, George inherited an enormous amount of cash upon his father's early passing. This included Mount Vernon: 7,500 acres of farmland complete with 300 African slaves to provide guaranteed labor. After the tumultuous Revolutionary Years, Washington had to be coaxed away from the estate to lead the nation. He was lured by an enticing salary, which accounted for 2% of the entire Federal Budget of 1790.

#3. Thomas Jefferson. $212 million. Another recipient of family fortune, Jefferson was presented with 3,000 acres of prime plantation land and 40 slaves. Both amounts doubled by the time he assumed the office of the presidency. Fortunately, Thomas is remembered today for his intellect and statesmanship, and not for his financial failures. Simply put, TJ liked to live the lavish life. His trips to Paris were particularly frivolous, as he purchased much of the luxurious furnishing on display at Monticello today. Jefferson did not return the favors of his father...he left $100,000 in debt to his children.

#4. Theodore Roosevelt. $125 million. From one of Manhattan's most successful families, Theodore (he hated being called Teddy) had a rather turbulent financial life. He lost millions on a failed ranching scheme in the Dakotas. Fortunately, Roosevelt recovered nicely on his next real estate venture. He invested heavily in Long Island estates, particularly in the Hamptons. Later in life, Teddy made millions more from speaking endorsements.

#5. Andrew Jackson. $119 million. Perhaps the former president who most resembles Trump is the first populist...and eighth...Commander in Chief. Like the Donald, he was elected largely without the support of a political party. Both men are notoriously quick tempered and both men were lampooned for their weird red hair. Unlike Trump, Jackson earned the trust of the nation by the military accomplishments of the Tennessee Volunteers.

#? John F. Kennedy. $1 billion. Wait! If JFK was worth a billion, why is he so low on the list? It's a Catch-22: See, John's father, Joseph Kennedy was still alive when his son was assassinated in 1963. So...had John lived another six years...he would have inherited a billion bucks upon Joseph's death. Despite this, John still had a cool $25 million in the bank. Not enough to be in the top five, but still worth mentioning.

BONUS: The poorest US President: Abraham Lincoln. He deserves to be on Mount Rushmore the most as his achievements were entirely on his own and not aided by massive financial inheritance.

Friday, November 11, 2016



Here in the USA, the sights and smells of Autumn are in full swing. Tree leaves shine in red and yellow. Nights are colder and shorter. Seasonal changes are underway in Beijing too...only they are little different. In the Chinese capital, fall is called Smog Season. With temperatures dropping, this means three million coal furnaces are being lit, adding to already horribly polluted skies. Here the yellow and red of fall refer to the 'City Alert' scale for healthy air. For example, yesterday was a 'Yellow Warning' day.

While all air pollutants are unhealthy, the most dangerous ones are PM2.5 particles. This refers to their tiny size, not to their makeup. In short,they are the miniscule...but active...bits of sulfur dioxide, lead and carbon monoxide. They are small enough to slide past your windpipe and then get into your lungs and cause some nasty damage. The best way to avoid PM2.5's is to wear a face mask. That's why people in Beijing always look like a bunch of surgeons. An astounding one fifth of all face masks sold in China are sold in the capital.

So what is Chinese government doing to address the crisis? Thankfully, Beijing officials have abandoned the 'Just Don't Breathe' campaign and are taking another approach: Blame the weather. State news agencies report about "meteorological disasters" backed up by altered satellite images showing immense fronts pushing into Northeast China. Meanwhile, the real culprits continue to pollute. Unregulated industrial factories release crap into the air while government officials take bribes and look the other way.

Uh-oh! Is there any good news in this blog? Of course. One inventor has made a fantastic machine. It sucks in dirty air, filters out the smog particles and pumps clean air out. However, what separates the Smog-Free Tower from other air conditioners is the end result. It compresses the carbon and turns them into diamond rings! In only 30 short minutes, it can clean 30,000 cubic meters of air and produce one piece of jewelry. Not bad!

While the Dutch inventor and the 'Smog Free China' Project do have some merit, we here at the DUNER BLOG would prefer to also attack the dirty corporations behind Beijing's dreaded Smog Season. The rest of the world needs to intervene and repeal any 'Developing Nation Exemption.' Let's start making Beijing accountable. They need to follow the same regulations as everyone else. The huge irony is that this nation calls itself a 'People's' Republic. If the people are in control, why can't they breathe?  

Friday, November 4, 2016



Noting quite symbolizes California like the avocado. The omnipresent fruit makes life special. Every San Francisco 49er tailgate has a heaping bowl of guacamole. Fast food chains Chipotle and Subway report a 50% increase in sales when avocado is added to a sandwich or burrito. Heck, when I grew up in Orange County, the entire kitchen was avocado green. So imagine the state of panic in the Golden State these days: A shortage has resulted in a 300% increase in avocado prices. Called Guacapocalypse by the San Diego Union Tribune, it affects the life of every Californian. Let’s dig deeper into the causes.

A Draught. As everyone knows, the state of California has been reeling from draught. Three of the last four years have seen less than average rainfall. This has taken a humungous toll on the avocado trees. Shriveled branches and wrinkled leaves results in tiny fruit. Since an avocado is 70% water, this means bad news for your guacamole. With most of the harvest already over, don’t expect to see many domestically grown avocados in the near future.

A Strike. While California has traditionally produced most of the nation’s avocados, these days 80% of the crop is imported from Mexico. The amount has grown every year and is now over three billion pounds. Most of these are grown in the lush and sunny state of Michoacán. Sadly, the massive groves of trees have been wrought by a nasty employee strike for the last six months. Thankfully, cooler heads have prevailed last month and the pickers received a much needed raise. 40 million pounds of Green Gold are being shipped to the USA as we speak.

Foreign Demand. In addition to these two difficult problems, a third issue is also driving avocado prices to new heights: International markets. First up: Japan. Here, imports have quadrupled over the last decade. This is directly attributable to the popularity of the California Roll at Sushi Bars across the nation. Next up: Europe. Mexican food is the new rage in Germany. There are ten Mexican restaurants in Dresden alone, up from zero twenty years ago. Both nations rely on Mexico for their avocado needs, resulting in a higher demand and higher prices.

Yikes! Does this mean it's time to panic? No, fellow Californians, it's time to wait. We shall wait until Sunday, February 5th...otherwise known as Super Bowl Sunday. On this date, Americans eat the most avocados of the year: eight million pounds to be exact. We expect the growers, shippers, distributors and local supermarkets have this date circled on their calendar. Only until then can we be sure the dreaded Gucapocalypse will be over!