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Business is back to order

So that release from the strategic oil reserve certainly did the trick. When I said it was a political move whose impact would be fleeting, even I didn’t envision it having the half life of a tsetse fly.

After causing speculators to scurry for an afternoon, oil quickly returned to pre-release prices. I’m truly comforted to know we have such intelligent and informed leaders making these decisions. At this point, the best we can hope for is that the replacement cost for the oil isn’t higher than what was originally paid.

I’m no expert on the commodities markets, but I can’t believe it would be that difficult to make it significantly harder for speculators to profit from oil. In the past, officials have toyed with the margin requirements – the amount of oil contracts that can be purchased with borrowed money.

But, unlike you and me, these guys have access to large amounts of credit, which renders higher margin requirements to the status of a minor annoyance.

A more formidable obstacle might be to require that buyers take physical possession of the oil. That would place some logistical hurdles in front of speculators. It would also raise their costs since they would have to foot the bill for storage.

Of course, the best solution is to ban speculation in strategic commodities altogether. For me, that would include food, energy and industrial metals. However, for a ban to be effective, the entire world would have to agree to impose it. If any country refused, the speculators would just move their business to that market.

What a relief that the Greek issue is settled. Greece’s Parliament agreed to enact a severe austerity program in exchange for additional loans. I just hope there are sufficient funds available in the new budget for tear gas and riot gear.

Seventy-five percent of the Greek public is opposed to the plan. Coincidently, that’s the same percentage of the Greek population that is employed by the government. OK, that’s an exaggeration. According to Wikipedia – the only source I could locate – the public sector accounts for 40 percent of Greece’s GDP. Regardless, it’s a big number, and those who have dedicated their lives to serving Greece’s populace are about to get the javelin.

Civil servants will lose up to two months in wages and their salaries and pensions will be frozen during the three-year program. To add insult to injury the VAT – value added tax – will be increased two percentage points to 21 percent. And the Republicans think we’re overtaxed.

I think Michele Bachmann should consider a road trip to the birthplace of civilization. Something tells me she would have a receptive audience for her “we’re taxed too much” mantra. The bloated public sector thing might be a problem, but the good news is I don’t think they’d notice she has an IQ just north of Sarah Palin’s.

Political momentum aside, Bachmann has a better chance of being elected the Prime Minister of Greece than the President of the United States. And there’s one more positive: Greece is so screwed up she couldn’t possibly make it worse. I think.

The saddest part of the Greek situation is that this entire affair is basically window dressing. Greece will default. It’s only a matter of time. What is occurring now isn’t so much a bail-out of Greece but a bail-out of the banks that are holding Greek paper. The hope is to delay the default to give the banks time to lessen the hit and execute an orderly liquidation of Greek debt.

The situation is analogous to Bear Sterns and Merrill Lynch. The government let Bear Sterns go bankrupt and it wreaked havoc. On the other hand, the collapse of Merrill Lynch was “orderly” which allowed the markets to more easily absorb it. It’s hard to argue with the strategy unless you live in Greece.

And in a classic case of buying high and selling low, News Corp. jettisoned MySpace from its books for the paltry sum of $35 million. Given that the Murdoch empire acquired the once dominant social media Web site in 2005 for $580 million, I’d say it wasn’t one of Rupert’s better ideas. I guess the MySpace demographic didn’t exactly overlap with that of Fox News.

As recently as 2008, MySpace led Facebook in ad revenues. Today, the gap is wider than the difference in ethical standard between Wall and Main Street. Little known ad agency Specific Media LLC was the acquiring firm, and they have a secret weapon to turn the MySpace tide: Justin Timberlake.

In a case of life imitating art, it’s a bit like the Alec Baldwin commercial for the Capital One Venture Card. You know, the one where he’s in the co-pilot’s seat and reaches for one of the controls while reassuring the captain that he’s played a pilot before. Timberlake’s major role in “Social Network” surely qualifies him to “rebuild and reinvigorate” MySpace.

I suggest the first step should be to check the Web site for a pulse. Good luck Justin, I’m sure your extensive business background will serve you well.

On that note, have a happy Fourth.

Author, professor, entrepreneur, radio and TV commentator, Tony Paradiso can be reached at tparadiso@tds.net.