Monday, March 12, 2012

Oleum et Aqua


Oil

Lately, Republicans have taken to lambasting Irish President O'Bama for the high gasoline prices we're subjected to. Cheapest gas I can currently find is $4.25 (and 99/100s. Why don't they just say $4.26?) per gallon. The average price per gallon in Orange County is $4.38. In December of 2011 (just 3 months ago) the average price was $3.50.
Two questions: What the hell happened? and Why are the Republicans acting like Obama is somehow a gas price Czar that can bring prices down through force of will?

There's a lot of disagreement about how much effect commodities trading has on gas prices. According to Dr. Mark Cooper of the Consumer Federation of America oil speculation added $600 to the average family's yearly gas tab in 2011. Other reports say the effect is negligible. Okay, so let's not get into a debate about whether or not Wall Street has been bad for the economy (ahem).

Funny enough, the Republicans are right. There are some things Obama can do to reduce gas prices at home, but if Obama tries to take any of these steps (he won't) the Republicans won't like it.

1. The easiest and most immediate way we could see gas prices drop is if we ended the sanctions and stopped threatening Iran with attack. War and rumors of war always drive up gas prices, especially if it happens in the Middle East. This is because OPEC is in the Middle East. Duh.
"But they are building a nuke," you say. Not according to every American intelligence agency and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), who are responsible for inspecting nuclear facilities. "But wait," you ask. "Why would the news and the government say they are building a nuke if they aren't?" History repeats itself. This is the exact same windup for the pitch that got us into war with Iraq. And once again, Americans are biting into it hook, line, and sinker (sorry for mixing a baseball metaphor with a fishing one).
I want to ask "how stupid do we have to be to fall for this again," except the answer is "as stupid as we currently are."
And even if Obama wanted to soften his stance on Iran, do you think Republicans would go along with it because it'll lower gas prices? If you do think so you probably sent the Nigerian princess money, didn't you?

2. Another easy way to lower gas prices? Stop exporting gas.
In 1977 the first barrel of oil was pushed through the Trans-Alaska Pipeline system, which was built amid similar protest and controversy as the Keystone XL Pipeline. It was supposed to help end dependency on foreign oil. And yet between 1996 and 2004 almost a 100 million barrels of oil were exported to Japan, Taiwan, Korea, and China. The direct exporting of this oil was eventually banned by Congress, but not the direct exporting of refined products, including gasoline, heating oil, and jet fuel. Gulf Coast refineries will ship gasoline to Latin America rather than hiring American tankers and shipping crews to move it to the East Coast. These oil refining companies find it more profitable to export oil products, so America has to rely on foreign oil (and foreign oil prices) to keep their cars running.
This is a tricky situation. Forcing refineries to sell only to America inhibits the free market in a bad way (and yes, I think there is a good way to inhibit the free market). And Republicans refuse to do anything that might inhibit the free market.
On the other hand, if America is going to buy oil, it should strive to buy American oil first. But the trouble with a "Drill, baby, drill!" attitude is that refineries aren't going to sell any increase in oil products from new oil sources (like Keystone XL) at a discount lower than world-market price. So increasing production won't significantly lower price in America until the global market price drops.

3. Strengthen the dollar. The value of the dollar continues to erode at a steady clip. The problem is that oil is traded on the dollar, so the weaker the dollar the more expensive a barrel of oil becomes. The easiest way to strengthen the dollar is to raise interest rates. "But raising interest rates will stifle economic growth," you might say. That is potentially true, on the other hand, interest rates have been at rock bottom for nearly the entirety of the current recession and we haven't seen any real improvement. Part of that is because when the housing bubble burst there wasn't a whole lot lower for interest rates to go anyway.
Another way to look at it is that raising interest rates will lower the price of oil, and a lower price oil would also strengthen the economy. Since low interest rates aren't doing the job, maybe low oil prices will.

Life

There is a mentality that unborn life is sacred. A lot of people (mostly conservatives) are fighting hard to keep it sacred. The trouble is that many of the steps they take make it seem life is only sacred until you're born.
Then all bets are off.
It's kind of hypocritical. Well, not really even kind of.

There are laws being proposed and passed by states that force women to get ultrasounds before they can get an abortion (including highly invasive transvaginal ultrasounds where they shove a stick up a woman's vagina to check things out from the inside). Arizona just passed a law that protected doctors from getting sued if they withhold medical information that might have convinced a woman to get an abortion. Seriously. A doctor can withhold medical information and not get sued for malpractice in Arizona.
Because life is sacred.

Act of Valor opened on February 26, being toted as an action movie starring real life Navy SEALs. Essentially it's the ultimate recruitment poster. But if life is sacred, maybe recruiters should be veterans with missing limbs suffering from PTSD. Maybe recruiters should explain to children (how many recruiters go to high schools where not everyone they talk to are legal "adults" at 18?) and their parents that the dehumanization that happens during basic training often puts cadets at suicide risk. There's a Russian proverb that says, "Every bullet finds its target in a mother's heart." Maybe that should replace "Semper Fidelis."
Because life is sacred.

Since 1976, almost 1300 Americans have been executed from the death penalty. The state won't talk to the mother about the sanctity of life then, will they? Should wardens/governors/executioners be forced to listen to the heartbeat?

And somehow, through all of this, everything is the woman's fault. I'm not really surprised conservatives feel this way. They've been blaming the woman ever since Salome asked for the head of John the baptist, since Queen Jezebel put on makeup to face her execution, since Eve gave Adam an apple. Gimme a break.
You want to reduce the number of abortions? Start by reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies. Duh.
You could tell woman to keep an aspirin between their thighs (if you want to sound like an uptight prig with no grasp of reality), or you could lobby for companies to stop using sex to sell every product on television. You could demand better and more (not worse and less, dumb-asses) access to contraception. You could properly educate teens about sex rather than try to make them scared of it.
Doing it your way is like a company that makes a faulty product that it prevents stores from selling, when they could solve everything by fixing the faulty product.
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