Sunday, April 30, 2006

Can a Republican Congress Face Its Responsibilities?

Carl Berstein of Watergate fame has an article in the current Vanity Fair on the growing need to investigate George W. Bush; here's an excerpt:
In terms of imminent, meaningful action by the Congress, however, the question of whether the president should be impeached (or, less severely, censured) remains premature. More important, it is essential that the Senate vote—hopefully before the November elections, and with overwhelming support from both parties—to undertake a full investigation of the conduct of the presidency of George W. Bush, along the lines of the Senate Watergate Committee's investigation during the presidency of Richard M. Nixon.

How much evidence is there to justify such action?

Certainly enough to form a consensus around a national imperative: to learn what this president and his vice president knew and when they knew it; to determine what the Bush administration has done under the guise of national security; and to find out who did what, whether legal or illegal, unconstitutional or merely under the wire, in ignorance or incompetence or with good reason, while the administration barricaded itself behind the most Draconian secrecy and disingenuous information policies of the modern presidential era.

"We ought to get to the bottom of it so it can be evaluated, again, by the American people," said Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, the Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, on April 9. "The President of the United States owes a specific explanation to the American people … about exactly what he did." Specter was speaking specifically about a special prosecutor's assertion that Bush selectively declassified information (of dubious accuracy) and instructed the vice president to leak it to reporters to undermine criticism of the decision to go to war in Iraq. But the senator's comments would be even more appropriately directed at far more pervasive and darker questions that must be answered if the American political system is to acquit itself in the Bush era, as it did in Nixon's.

Perhaps there are facts or mitigating circumstances, given the extraordinary nature of conceiving and fighting a war on terror, that justify some of the more questionable policies and conduct of this presidency, even those that turned a natural disaster in New Orleans into a catastrophe of incompetence and neglect. But the truth is we have no trustworthy official record of what has occurred in almost any aspect of this administration, how decisions were reached, and even what the actual policies promulgated and approved by the president are. Nor will we, until the subpoena powers of the Congress are used (as in Watergate) to find out the facts—not just about the war in Iraq, almost every aspect of it, beginning with the road to war, but other essential elements of Bush's presidency, particularly the routine disregard for truthfulness in the dissemination of information to the American people and Congress.

I suspect a bipartisan investigation is unlikely in the near term since there are so many Republicans themselves in the current Congress who warrant investigation. But the responsibility of Congress to begin those investigations couldn't be any more clear.

Fighting for the Common Good

Going into politics to fight for the privileges of America's upper 1% is something I can't even conceive of doing but it's what the current crop of Republicans are doing in Washington. Figure it out: the average American is given cheap words with a few pretty ads thrown in and the upper 1% gets the money. That's a cozy system. It used to be that both Republicans and Democrats cared about Americans but had different interpretations of what that meant.

For years, Democrats talked about the common good. Even Republicans like my great-grandfather understood the concept when he and other farmers got together in the San Joaquin Valley and with their own hands built irrigation canals to water their farms in what was essentially a desert. The common good is simply the recognition that we're all in this together. Greg Anrig, Jr. at the TPM Cafe had a post a week ago that I've been meaning to link to. There have been some criticisms of his post and the article by Michael Tomasky that Anrig refers to but I think they're largely on the right track even if I have some quibbles about some of their arguments. Here's an excerpt from Greg Anrig, Jr.'s post:
In the new issue of the American Prospect, editor Michael Tomasky has written a tour de force that tpmcafaholics will enjoy drinking up and discussing. In a nutshell, Michael argues that liberals and Democrats need to return to the idea of “the common good” as our central animating principle.

As he writes, “For many years – during their years of dominance and success, the period of the New Deal up through the first part of the Great Society – the Democrats practiced a brand of liberalism quite different from today’s. Yes, it certainly sought to expand both rights and prosperity. But it did something more: That liberalism was built around the idea -- the philosophical principle -- that citizens should be called upon to look beyond their own self-interest and work for a greater common interest. This, historically, is the moral basis of liberal governance -- not justice, not equality, not rights, not diversity, not government, and not even prosperity or opportunity. Liberal governance is about demanding of citizens that they balance self-interest with common interest. Any rank-and-file liberal is a liberal because she or he somehow or another, through reading or experience or both, came to believe in this principle. And every leading Democrat became a Democrat because on some level, she or he believes this, too.”

Michael is exactly right, and if elected officials and candidates latch onto his prescription, liberal politics can become genuinely inspiring and exciting again -– and probably far more successful. The beauty of the “common good” framework is manifold, and Michael’s piece makes the case well. But here are just a few reasons why I particularly like it:
• It gets to the heart of what distinguishes liberals from conservatives. The Right’s economic belief system is oriented around the virtues of markets, which are tethered to the idea that individuals should do nothing more than act in their own self interest. Their social belief system is one that consciously divides people and inflames passions by attacking one group after another.

Let me tell a story that's trivial on one level but that illustrates a larger issue. I met a corporate salesman and a plumber a number of years ago. They were members of a skiing club and both had asked my father for some political advice. The members of the skiing club got together to build a lake out in the middle of the desert on some cheap land. The club needed someone to represent them at the Water District to make sure they got their water and fulfilled all their contractual obligations; the saleman took that job.

The plumber was the president of the club and he was the one, along with two others, who designed the lake and borrowed the bulldozers that were brought out to the site. But the salesman started telling every person he could buttonhole that building the lake was his idea and his project. Mind you, the saleman's duties with the Water District were minimal and it was the other few dozen members of the club who actually built the lake. But self interest dictated that the salesman toot his horn. That to me, too frequently, is the modern Republican philosophy: when others actually do the work, its the wheeler dealers who are tooting their horns (and in some cases, selling things that don't really belong to them).

Tomorrow is the third anniversary of the landing on the Abraham Lincoln with the banners of "Mission Accomplished" visible for the cameras; it was the most embarrassing example of a president tooting his horn that this country has seen.

This country is not about George W. Bush and his special friends; it is about the American people. This November, it's time for Americans to send a message to Glory Boy that it's time to work for all Americans and not just the few.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

May Day Note

1May99 Photo by Bob Tyson

Republican Party Failing America

This week was almost as bad as the Republican meltdown during Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. Christy Hardin Smith of Firedoglake sums up a week of Republican scandals, blunders and bamboozlements:
I spent a bit of time plodding through the news articles and dispatches this morning, and I am truly struck by the sheer amount of idiocy, corruption, lawbreaking, and bizzaro crap piling up on the Republican side of the fence. Truly, when you look at all of it at one time, you have to ask yourself — what in the hell is going on? While I’d like to think of it as one big, fat dose of karma, I’m honestly wondering how it is that this many chickens have decided to come home to roost at the same time.

And then it hit me that the number of news items might have some correlation to the sheer number of bad acts committed that have yet to be found out by the public – and so, perhaps, we are only looking at the tip of a very ugly iceberg. But before I begin some sort of long, drawn-out schadenfruede hotline call, let me just show you what I mean (and this is only a little snapshot — it is by no means a full round-up, since I don’t have the time to do a full catalogue today)

I counted 19 items. That's just for one week and there's more out there. Smith is not the only noticing that we're probably just seeing the tip of the iceberg. I suspect before too long that Jason Leopold, Laura Rozen and the crew over at Talking Points Memo will be needing more help keeping track of all the nonsense. This generation of Washington Republicans have a lot to answer for. One gets the impression that there has been a conscious effort to find the most crooked or pliable Republicans to run for office or to run agencies or to handle lobbying duties. And the honest Republicans left don't have a lot of backbone, though there are a few honest Repubican voices who speak up from time to time. Too bad that in the last two years John McCain has been too busy running for president and cozying up to the usual players to be taken seriously any more. He might have made himself useful.

Note on Firedoglake. I stopped reading Firedoglake for a number of weeks. It got so shrill for a while that I didn't find it useful. But there seems to be an effort to right the ship and I hope it continues. There's some smart people there.

Cost of Bush's Wars May Hit $811 Billion

Just the financial cost of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are staggering as we read in this Knight Ridder story from the San Jose Mercury News:
The impact of the war on the military's preparedness is a growing point of concern. A report issued this week by two policy research groups in Washington, the Center for American Progress and the Lexington Institute, warned that wear and tear from the Iraq war might affect the military's ability to respond to a crisis.

"We found that much of the Army's arsenal of combat systems was old when the war began and is wearing down at such a rate that there are real questions about the nation's future and military preparedness," said Loren Thompson, chief operating officer of the Lexington Institute.

Questions of preparedness will linger even after combat ends in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Army is requesting $13.5 billion this year to repair, replace or upgrade equipment lost or damaged in the war. And officials estimate that the Army will need $12 billion to $13 billion a year for these purposes until at least two years after most troops have left Iraq and Afghanistan.

The cost of replacing equipment is one of the factors likely to make Iraq one of the costliest military engagements in U.S. history.

If Congress passes the emergency spending request that's before the Senate, the cost of military operations since the 9-11 terrorist attacks will top $439 billion, with $320 billion of that for the Iraq war alone, according to a report this week by the Congressional Research Service.

Even with a significant reduction in U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan over the next several years, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that total war spending could top $811 billion by 2016.

I wonder if the $811 billion includes the rising price of oil? Iraq's poor post-war oil production is considered by many to be a factor in the prices at the pump. Bush Administration officials and their friends in the right wing media promised that the Iraq War would lead to lower prices. After awhile, one runs out of adjectives to describe the Bush era.

And there are reports that Bush is still considering an attack on Iran. Unbelievable.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Energy: Once Again, the Need to Hold Bush Accountable

I've been reading various things all day and haven't much to add to what others are saying. This week the Republican scandals have continued. The incompetence of the Bush Administration has not changed. Congressional Republicans, including a barking Senator Specter who has no bite, continue to show no backbone when it comes to doing the right thing. And after 1,560 weeks, we have once again gone another week without an energy policy in this country. The almost forgotten Rush Limbaugh was arrested and is apparently pleading guilty to prescription fraud though he tried to spin it as something else. The White House press briefing will be led by a man named Snow thus immediately inviting snickers that already make a mockery of the process; it won't be long before another White House scandal hits and we see a Saturday Night Live skit showing reporters in the press room trying desperately to stand up to ask questions during a blizzard of snow—yes, the variations are endless. And the war in Iraq goes on. And we continue to hear the echos of 200 years of American history.

Clearly, though, the biggest story of the week are sharply rising gasoline prices as well as a record high for oil. Steve Soto of The Left Coaster reminds us to recognize the problems and then focus on solutions:
...Bush has already concluded, just days after he asked Abu Gonzales to look into the possibility of price gouging, that there is no evidence of price gouging.

It is precisely because Bush won’t require anything of Big Oil that Congress should tax their windfall profits, which are being generated largely from the intentional consequences of Bush’s energy and foreign policies. If Bush was serious about energy independence, he would use the revenue from an excess profits tax, as well as the removal of all Big Oil corporate welfare to fund the new Apollo Initiative so that Big Oil is no longer controlling our energy and foreign policies.

There is a simple Democratic response and fall campaign TV commercial in all of this:

"President Bush and Dick Cheney have faith in the oil companies to solve high gas prices and global warming. Of course they would, because Big Oil has dictated Bush's foreign, energy and environmental policies. But can you, our children, and our soldiers abroad afford anymore to allow Big Oil to control our government?"

Faith that the oil companies will make us less dependent on foreign oil is no longer an option. We will continue to need oil and the oil sector will continue to make profits but the overwhelming portion of the energy portfolio should no longer belong to such companies.

There are different people out there with different solutions and ideas. The Left Coaster links to a pdf file for the Apollo Initiative. Here's a regular link to the web site for the Apollo Alliance who are sponsoring the Apollo Initiative. There are a handful of sites out there of this type but I notice a number of Democratic names associated with this one and will be taking a look. I believe there are other Democratic proposals as well and there are others with ideas.

I fully expect Republicans to muddle the debate. We have seen a rash of scams in recent years and the same will happen with proposed technologies that are called alternative energy. I fully expect the Republican leadership to play bait and switch.

We have needed a muscular energy policy for over thirty years but there can be no question that Bush and Cheney and Congressional Republicans have aggravated the problem just since 2001. Steve Clemons, who normally writes about foreign affairs, reminds us:
Oil barons are inappropriately lining their coffers with mountains of dollars from American citizens by generating oligopolistic cartel conditions on the price of refined oil and gasoline. Yesterday, Exxon posted a first-quarter profit of $8.4 billion and is on track to outpace the most profitable year in its history.

Dems and other outraged Americans should beat on the oil and gas industry and immediately suspend all tax giveaways that we have arranged for an industry that is sucking away a greater share of the meager resources of America's struggling middle class and less well off families.

The combination of Katrina damage in the Gulf and the increased drumbeat for a hot strike against Iran have given oil firms the camouflage they need to drive prices higher in an implicitly organized cartel. The government -- even with competent investigations -- will be unable to do much in this environment.

But no one seems to be going back and pounding on Dick Cheney again to demand once more -- Supreme Court decision or not -- that he disclose what America's energy firms sought from him, what they advised him, what was bartered between his office and the energy firms in secret meetings when assembling a "national energy policy."

If there is blame to be assigned for today's situation, it rests with Cheney and the utter failure of the Bush energy policy that was crafted cooperatively with a secret oil and energy industry cabal -- whose proceedings of key meetings Cheney will not disclose.

Why are Dems not resurrecting this Cheney/Oil Industry controversy?

I will be writing more on this as I don't think that "cheap gas" should be the goal of Dems and oppose a race to the bottom with the President on figuring out all the tax suspensions and rebates that would generate only minor offsets for American consumers against the obscene profits of ravenous oil CEOs.
We shouldn't forget Newt Gingrich's Contract with America as another cause of high energy prices. Any remaining notion that Republican right wing conservativism has any useful ideas is dead. Congressional Democrats should avoid that road. Rational conservatives, moderates and liberals may have much to offer but there's not a doubt in my mind that everybody has to raise their game. We have a long ways to go.

Iran and Bush Administration Games

One of these days, somebody's going to write the history of the Bush Administration's convoluted and frequently botched handling of North Korea; on too many occassions, there was so much free-lancing going on by administration figures that Bush's right hand often didn't know what the left hand was doing. It's possible we're now seeing the same thing with Iran. I confess I don't read Newsweek or Time as closely as I once did but here's an excerpt from Newsweek about Iran from a Japanese perspective:
Iran is a prime example of the dilemma facing Tokyo. For years Japan has been doing its best to shore up relations with the mullahs in Tehran, even though policymakers know that Washington disapproves of its overtures. Iran provides 15 percent of Japan's oil, making it the country's third largest supplier (behind Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates). Two years ago, as part of an increasing effort to secure ownership of reserves rather than simply buying oil on the open market, Tokyo decided to make a strategic investment in the vast Azadegan field along Iran's border with Iraq. The Japanese oil major Inpex is investing $2 billion to develop the field, the biggest onshore production project in Iran since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Critics warned that Iran's burgeoning nuclear ambitions could complicate the deal—a prediction that now appears to be coming true. In March a Japanese newspaper reported that U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick had "informally" asked Tokyo to write off its investment in Azadegan. Both sides quickly denied the report. But the sense of anxiety is palpable. One Japanese businessman in Iran tells NEWSWEEK that "we're now getting worried about what would happen if the situation escalates."

It's useful to keep in mind that the Bush Administration is no more competent today than it was five years ago. So, who knows what the story is.

Why Energy Independence Is Important

The Bush solution to energy is: eliminate environmental safeguards, give full control of drilling to the oil companies and hope for the best. Sooner or later, America needs to plan for its energy future and the time is now. Our national security and our economic security depend on a combination of oil (which we cannot avoid for decades to come), an increasing infrastructure of alternative energy (far beyond current levels) and major investment in research and development.

For a moment, let's ignore the politicians in both parties who are using energy to do some lame grandstanding. The following story from Business Week might be overblown (given recent aggressive moves by Russia probably not) but it shows the dangers we may face if we continue down the road that Bush and Cheney have followed:
Russia's gas monopoly has issued a blunt warning to Europe not to restrict its expansion plans, after British regulators moved to tighten laws amid rumors that the Moscow behemoth was considering acquiring Britain's biggest gas distributor.

OAO Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller warned European Union ambassadors at a meeting late Tuesday that there were plenty of other markets where Russia could sell its gas.

"It must be noted that attempts to limit the activities of Gazprom on the European market and politicize the question of gas supplies, which are in reality purely economic, will not lead to positive results," Miller said in a statement. "It cannot be forgotten that we are actively developing new markets such as America and China."

Europe relies on Russia for a quarter of its natural gas.

The Gazprom statement appeared at odds with assurances Miller gave while in China last month, when he insisted that Europe would remain Gazprom's priority market. President Vladimir Putin had pledged to eventually supply China's growing economy with 80 billion cubic meters of gas per year.

While Gazprom spokesman Sergei Kuprianov insisted that current supply contracts were not under threat, he hinted that future long-term contracts could favor markets other than Europe's.

Whether democracy was Bush's real reason for going to Iraq or not (let's at least not pretend that Cheney and Rumsfeld ever bought into the democracy issue), his military adventurism has resulted in tighter world oil supplies and thus higher prices. A reckless disregard for the future of our country for the sake of immediate political expediency has permeated the current Republican leadership for some time. Their policies may put us into Europe's position sooner than we would like. Come to think of it, Europe's alternative energy policies are considerably further along than ours. Fortunately, our advantage is that we are still an oil producer though we have to import significant quantities to satisfy our needs (in a bizarre about face, Bush recently said America is "addicted to oil").

We can take control of our future but at the minimum it requires business and government working together for the common good (the common good does not mean the top 1% but the other 99%). Keep in mind that Ronald Reagan, though not my favorite Republican, had a policy of investing in computer technology in the 1980s. Think of it, under a conservative president, our government was involved in investing in computer technology. That concept may sound radical to right wing Republicans who claim to admire Reagan but it has paid major dividends for the past twenty years. John Kerry and other Democrats have talked about energy independence and have offered proposals, though the media has pretended not to hear them; so it's time for Americans to do their own homework and find out which party has a real energy plan and which one doesn't.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Other Than Wishful Thinking, Do Right Wing Republicans Have a Foreign Policy?

The outing of Valerie Plame is a symptom of a Republican leadership that thinks it knows best. George W. Bush's mantra for five years has been, "Trust me." Valerie Plame was working on WMD issues before she was outed and her specific area of concern at the time was apparently Iran. Outing Valerie Plame was a White House political stunt designed to cover up a deliberate attempt to mislead America into war in Iraq. But it was yet another blunder we could ill afford.

But let's set aside the politics for a moment. Just what is Bush's method of coming to a decision? What facts does the White House use to analyze what is happening in the world? How do Cheney and Rumsfeld arrive at their policies? No one really knows. And the White House has chosen not to let the American people know. And Republicans in Congress have chosen to largely ignore holding hearings on the issues. What is known is that administration policies are failing the American people.

There was a time not long ago when Democrats and Republicans worked together to make sure our leaders had the information they needed to make wise decisions. We weathered the Cold War rather well with that system. But over the years, right wing Republicans have been dismantling the system that enables us to be informed. Does anyone believe at this point that Bush is informed? In fact, the signs are that Bush is continuing to dismantle an apparatus that kept us out of trouble and kept us out of bizarre foreign policy adventures.

Now I won't say that Democrats have been wise in some of this; too often, Democrats have turned their backs on foreign policy and the consequence is that Washington is dominated by right wing think tanks with ideas about foreign policy that clearly run against our own principles. There are, however, Democrats thinking about these things. Lorelei Kelly of Democracy Arsenal is one of them. In a post, she points out some of the key mistakes Newt Gingrich, Jesse Helms and other Republicans have made in recent years:
The fact that the Bush administration is even mentioning nuclear options in dealing with Iran is only partly the last stand of the Neo-Cons. Likewise, it is caused by something more than a president whose political base is buckling up for their apocolyptic joyride. No, our predicament is deeper than that. It is a product of a conservative philosophy that has purposefully broken our open and fact based democratic government. Today’s bad dream of policy options toward Iran is not an accident, but an outcome.

In a democracy that works well, government cares for the institutional memory of big, important public interest issues—like the dangers of nuclear weapons. And long serving bureaucrats provide the steady ballast that keeps the government moving toward objective common goods—like reducing such dangers. That way, government weathers the storm of deviant Executives and keeps the public interest intact. The conservatives in power today are of a breed that does not believe in government virtue nor common goods. Katrina-style government is the result of our failure to maintain a dedicated federal staff for community disaster relief. The Bush Administration’s ability to threaten the nuclear option with little articulate resistance is at least partly because--for decades--conservatives have marginalized or destroyed our government’s ability to pursue arms control.
Kelly goes on to give three examples of right wing meddling. The examples are illuminating. Given all that we know about Newt Gingrich, for example, it's amazing he is considering a run for president and that the press still takes him seriously.

I don't know what it's going to take to restore common sense and credibility to our foreign policy, but it will have to begin by restoring diplomatic dialogue, which has died under George W. Bush. Bush doesn't talk much to the Chinese. He doesn't talk much to the Russians. He doesn't talk much to the Europeans. And he has refused for four years to open any real dialogue with Iran. If you study war, you learn that 90% of the time, diplomacy and real dialogue, which are to be distinguished from public relations stunts and spinning, are cost effective. That is a lesson our MBA president has not learned.

Picturing the Oil Roller Coaster

Here's a graph from the Oil CEO that illustrates a little more than a year of the changes in retail and wholesale prices in gasoline. And yes, it's a rollercoaster. The future is hard to predict but the graph may be illustrating the prices of the next few years with a generally upward trend.

Allow me to go off on a tangent for a moment. Notice that when the pink line falls below the blue line, retailers are losing money. The retailers that generally get hit the hardest are independent gas stations. If the independents lose too much money, they go under.

Many of us are old enough to remember that before the energy crisis of the 1970s, gas stations around the United States were more numerous per capita. I haven't seen statistics on it but I suspect the total number of stations will remain stable but as we have seen in recent years frequent changes of owners will continue. I bring this up because I favor small businesses and even small corporations because they're the backbone of a truly competitive economy and they provide jobs. There has been a growing tendency of large corporations to provide fewer American jobs per million dollars of gross income than their smaller counterparts.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Oil Drum Editorial on Gasoline Prices

We're in a political season with less than seven months to the midterm elections. There have been years when the political season for midterms has not started until after Labor Day but this year, with Bush's numbers continuing to fall and so many Republican scandals in the news, both parties are in their political season and this requires caution for everyone. Political seasons invite simple solutions and headline grabbing.

Gasoline prices over the last thirty years have a history. Part of that history is that people who warned that we need to secure our energy future have been burned by falling oil prices. It is easy to understand the caution of Republicans and Democrats, but members of both parties need to inform themselves. Little attention is paid to the fact that major oil discoveries have been getting harder to find for a long time now. Oil production during the eighties and nineties partly increased because of 'better production methods' but those methods have largely meant nothing more than the fact we learned to pump the oil out of the ground at a faster rate, not that there was a much greater quantitity of oil to pump.

The reality of a limited oil supply has never changed. Nor has the fundamental fact that we're heavily dependent on foreign oil. Only the headlines over the years have changed and they have often been misleading. The world is decades from running out of oil but there has been talk of whether we're reaching maximum worldwide oil production in the near term; eventually that time will be reached whether now or in twenty years or fifty years. At the moment, there can be no question that worldwide oil production is having trouble meeting demand. It's a complicated story and it has a lot to do with many countries and oil companies around the world not being forthcoming with the facts. In fact, there is considerable disagreement among countries and among corporations about what is happening.

If we take the long view, one thing is clear: loosening environmental regulations and trying various gimmicks to lower the price of gas without developing alternative solutions is a recipe for major upheavel down the road. There is a range of opinion about what those upheavels might mean or how soon they might come but it should be remembered that the energy crisis of the 70s stressed the American economy and broke the back of several economies around the globe (though mostly in the third world). We are still dealing with the consequences of those upheavels.

The experts at The Oil Drum have an editorial well worth reading. Whether they're right or wrong on all the details about what current energy prices mean, much of what they say is based on factual analysis. I recommend the entire editorial but here's an excerpt with one passsage I have put in bold:
The major factor that determines gas prices is the price of crude oil from which gasoline is derived. When crude oil prices are high, so are gas prices. The following are just a few factors that affect the price of a barrel of oil:

1 Oil companies do not single-handedly determine the price of oil. The price of oil is set on the crude oil futures market. Simply put, these prices are affected by supply and demand because, at present, oil trades in a global commodity market where increased demand or reduced supply in one place instantly translates into price shifts everywhere. A variety of publicly available information sources show that supply is relatively static at the moment, while world demand continues to grow as economies grow.

2 We have provided evidence many times at The Oil Drum that the output of major oilfields is declining and that we may now have reached a peak or plateau in global oil supply. Oil companies have not been able to increase production for a number of years, and it is unclear that OPEC is accurately reporting their reserves. Even if there were significant sources of high quality oil remaining, it is getting increasingly difficult and expensive to drill. These factors, along with aging infrastructure for oil exploration and a retiring workforce are also contributing to high oil prices.

3 The geopolitical situation is volatile, and an astute citizen may notice that every time there is news from Nigeria or Iran, the price of oil goes up because of the potential and real effects of these situations on world oil supply. Again, oil traders are fearful that the supply will not remain stable forever.

4 Countries like China and India are industrializing at a great pace, and while we are accustomed to obtaining oil at a comfortable quantity and price, it will be impossible (and immoral) to deny similar resources to these countries. China is working furiously to secure new oil supplies, and they're content to negotiate with countries we're reluctant to deal with, like Nigeria and the Sudan.

These points demonstrate that disruptions in the supply of oil that affect the price of gasoline at the pump are not just a temporary glitch.

Increasingly, we are going out into the oceans and into the arctic tundra to get our oil. As we saw with Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita, these are environments where major disruptions can occur. Just getting to the oil is expensive and increasingly a technological challenge. Whatever else The Oil Drum is saying, these facts about production cannot be ignored. Production at the moment is having great difficulty keeping up with demand. Those are the facts. And both Republicans and Democrats need to deal with them. Leaving the solution entirely in the hands of the markets or former oil executives will only produce one hell of a roller coaster ride. The governments of China, India and several European countries are already taking the long view on their energy future; it is time for our government to do the same and to find sane solutions.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Republicans to Investigate Their Own Energy Policy

The United States currently uses over 20,400,000 barrels of oil a day. George W. Bush is stopping the purchase of shipments of oil for the Strategic Petroleum Reserve; that will save us 75,000 barrels a day. Let's look at that again:

20,400,000 barrels of oil a day are used.
75,000 barrels of oil a day will be saved by Bush.

Bush is only saving us a tiny fraction. I suppose every little drop helps but if we're having a refinery problem as The Left Coaster reminds us, then what exactly is going on?:
If The Problem Is Refining Capacity, Then Why Mess With The SPR?


President Bush, at the urging of the petrified GOP leadership in the House and Senate, will ask the Alberto “See No Evil” Gonzales Justice Department and the toothless Federal Trade Commission to investigate whether or not Big Oil, which has bankrolled Bush/Cheney, is engaged in price gouging. Yet it was the GOP that killed a 2005 Democratic effort to make price gouging a federal crime, and Bush's FTC has looked the other way repeatedly in cases like this.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist and Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert seem anxious to help themselves as well as Bush with their sagging numbers by investigating the oil companies. Arianna Huffington has a few choice words for the top Republican leadership in Washington:
The president may turn to God when it comes to shaping his foreign policy, but his energy policy is strictly courtesy of the Men Upstairs at Big Oil.

Which is why it is beyond comical to watch Moe, Curly, and Larry -- sorry, I mean Bush, Hastert, and Frist -- getting all blue in the face about skyrocketing gas prices, and calling on the Energy and Justice Departments to look into possible market manipulation by oil companies.

It’s the least believable call for an investigation since O.J. set out to find the real killers.
The rising oil prices are a complicated story; I can remember a pro-Bush editorial in US News & World Report in 2003 by Morton Zuckerman that looked like something Karl Rove and Dick Cheney might have inspired:
Right now the critical player in the Middle East is Saudi Arabia. It is a shaky, despotic regime that uses its vast revenues to sustain a corrupt living standard for about 7,000 princes in their pursuit of yachts, women, and liquor, and in support of a brand of religious extremism that has inspired many of their young to hate us--and seek our destruction, according to the recent intelligence assessment of what led up to 9/11. But whatever our unease about the regime, it is simply better than an alternative made up of Osama bin Laden supporters or their equivalent, who are driven more by homicidal hatred than simple greed.

Fair is foul. Saudi Arabia is the kingpin of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, a cartel for the rich that has held oil prices above a fair-market value for several decades. The OPEC countries maintain that they want to ensure a plentiful supply of oil to the world's economy at a price that is fair to both producers and consumers. But they have a dubious definition of fair. Most people think that, without OPEC, a barrel of oil would sell for between $10 and $12, and gasoline prices would fall below $1 a gallon in the United States. OPEC is currently controlling production to keep the world price at $32 a barrel and continuing to flaunt its monopoly power.

The new factor is Iraq. The challenge is how to manage Iraq's role. How much oil Iraq produces will not only determine the living standards of its people but also affect everything from the Russian economy, uniquely dependent on energy prices, to the stability of Saudi Arabia, and indeed of Iran. And, of course, the price that Americans pay for gasoline.

We have known for thirty years that we need to do something about finite oil supplies and Republicans in 2003 were fantasizing about cheap oil? I'm far from having all the answers but it's worrisome when conservative Republicans collectively engage in fantasies for public consumption and then are put in charge of something as vital as our energy policy. If tomorrow, light sweet crude drops back to as low as $40/barrel, it will not change the need for a longterm energy policy for the United States. And that's without considering Global Warming which also needs to be taken seriously. If Frist and Hastert are the ones that are going to investigate the oil companies, it is Bush's and their own energy policy that they are investigating.

One last point for the night. The Strategic Petroleum Reserve was our ace in the hole when Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita went right through our Gulf oil rigs and left havoc in their wake. That reserve is there for a reason. Katrina and Rita showed what a terrorist attack on world oil supplies might do to our own energy situation. Neither Democrats nor Republicans should treat the reserve lightly. And that begs some questions. If Bush isn't filling the reserve, then what does that say about the possibility that he may launch an attack against Iran? If Bush has been bluffing, he just undermined his own bluff. If he's still serious about an attack, either before or after the November election, then stopping the buildup of the reserve is a criminal mistake all by itself. And if Bush is lying about stopping the buildup of the reserve, then we're really getting into dangerous territory.

When Bush was running for president in 2000, he said something that for once was correct; Think Progress has the excerpt:
The Strategic Reserve is an insurance policy meant for a sudden disruption of our energy supply or for war. Strategic Reserve should not be used as an attempt to drive down oil prices right before an election. It should not be used for short-term political gain at the cost of long-term national security.

Ahhh, but the election season has begun and if the Republicans maintain complete control of Washington, then a year from now no sensible energy policy will be in sight.

Senator Roberts Delays Investigation Again

Republicans make noise from time to time that they have investigated various matters such as how flawed intelligience came to be used to justify the war in Iraq. As we saw on 60 minutes this past Sunday, the Republicans have done an excellent job of whitewashing the president and his advisers; Tyler Drumheller, the former head of covert operations in Europe makes it clear that his testimony was ignored. In the CBS article on the interview, Drumheller said:
"The American people want to believe the president. I have relatives who I've tried to talk to about this who say, 'Well, no, you can’t tell me the president had this information and just ignored it,'" says Drumheller. "But I think over time, people will look back on this and see this is going to be one of the great, I think, policy mistakes of all time."
It was clear in 2003 that something was very wrong with the case that Bush made for war. But Congressional investigations, if one can call them that, did not begin until 2004. Senator Pat Roberts delayed the most controversial part of the investigation (read: the parts most embarrassing to the president and Republicans) until after the 2004 election. Of course, Senator Roberts hasn't exactly followed through on his promise for real investigations. The stalling continues as we hear from The Hill (via War and Piece):
Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), who chairs the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said he wants to divide his panel’s inquiry into the Bush administration’s handling of Iraq-related intelligence into two parts, a move that would push off its most politically controversial elements to a later time.

The inquiry has dragged on for more than two years, a slow pace that prompted Democrats to force the Senate into an extraordinary closed-door session in November. Republicans then promised to speed up the probe.

It is clear that Senator Roberts puts providing political cover for the president above finding answers that the American people have to right to know. There were no WMDs in Iraq and it's been obvious for some time that the problem was not CIA intelligience. Republicans control Congress but can any Republican be trusted to conduct real investigations these days on any issue? I'm not a fan of Senator Arlen Specter but there was a time before Bush came to power that Specter would occassionally conduct real hearings and real investigations. But Specter seems to have largely lost his courage to be an independent Republican. Roberts, of course, never had such a reputation but simply puts loyalty to the party above loyalty to US Constitution.

While Republicans Talk of Reform.....

Republicans in Congress have been reeling from the Cunningham, DeLay and Abramoff scandals and have been making noise about reforms. S.W. Anderson of Oh!pinion catches their hypocrisy:
When it comes to doing the wrong thing, House Republicans know no bounds — and they’re doing everything in their considerable power to keep it that way.

Their latest outrage is a bid to further weaken an already pathetically lame lobbying reform/ethics bill. In typical House Republican style, they served notice of this mischief sneakily.

Oh!pinion quotes a USA Today article in Yahoo that begins:
House Republican leaders have quietly scaled back their plan to limit the political influence of lobbyists, dropping proposed requirements that lobbyists disclose which lawmakers and aides they have contacted and how they have raised money for politicians.
This is the pattern Republicans have been employing for twelve years. They make noise about reform, they perhaps pass some minor legislation that does more than they claim it does, and then, when no one is looking, they water down the reform and we are back to the same nonsense as ever. This will be the pattern until election day this November. As just one example, Bush and the Republicans will be making all kinds of promises concerning gas prices and oil, but when the noise dies down, there will be no energy policy worthy of the name and it will be business as usual.

I can't emphasize enough that the majority of Republicans in Congress are not the Republicans of old. Nor do they resemble the Republicans I have known throughout my life who are relatives, neighbors and even friends. The Republican leadership is currently in the back pockets of powerful special interest groups who do not have the interests of all Americans at heart. If there were true ethics investigations in the House, as just one example, more Republican heads would roll. Dennis Hastert, for example, has yet to explain how so much crookedness and phony reform took place under his nose. Why has he remained the Speaker of the House?

US Behind on Windpower

We in the United States like to think of ourselves as technologically advanced but all too often the reality is that politics and vested corporate interests get in the way. We should be leading the world in alternative energy technology but in many ways we're not. We should be leading the world in environmental technology which is clearly going to be increasingly important in the coming decades but we are dragging our feet. Even Detroit is falling behind the times.

Republicans have spent much of the last twenty-five years coddling the oil companies. And it shows. We are the largest user of energy in the world and one would think that we would protect ourselves and that our energy would be broadly diversified. But our sources of energy are not nearly diversified enough. In 2004, about 86% of our energy came from fossil fuels. Only about 6% of our nation's energy came from renewable sources. Some 2.7% of renewable energy comes from conventional hydro power and the US, within reason, has just about utilized all the hydro power it can. So, outside of conventional hydro power, only a little more than 3% of our energy comes from renewable sources. If we are to have a future, that needs to change.

One realistic source of more energy is wind. Germany has a population of around 82 million and yet the total power its windmill farms produce is twice that of the United States. Per capita, the wind power of Germany is more than seven times that of the US. With 40 million people, Spain also produces more wind power than the US. We are number three in wind power production in the world but a number of other countries pass us in power generated by wind per capita. The leader is Denmark which produces per capita roughly 20 times what the US produces from its own wind power. We are making progress but we can hardly claim to be leading the way. That requires leadership and when it comes to energy, the United States cannot depend on Bush or other Republicans to lead the way. We will continue to need fossil fuels for many decades to come; the oil companies will make their profits and do not need special help. But if we are to develop other sources of energy, we as a nation need to invest in our future and developing those other sources cannot be left to the oil companies.

For the record, when Bush talks about hydrogen power, he is primarily referring to a process that strips hydrogen from coal or other fossil fuel products. That is not a method that will lead us to energy independence or a cleaner world. We need a real energy policy, not public relations pacifiers.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Bush Administration Meltdown

No one is fooled by the Bush administration's effort to improve its image by a White House makeover that is really nothing more than an exercise in musical chairs. Even the indictment of Scooter Libby should be considered in light of the fact that Libby is keeping an office only a few blocks from the White House. CNN reports that Bush's numbers continue to fall:
In the telephone poll of 1,012 adult Americans carried out Friday through Sunday by Opinion Research Corporation for CNN, 32 percent of respondents said they approve of Bush's performance, 60 percent said they disapprove and 8 percent said they do not know.

That's a significant drop from the way Americans perceived the president a year ago. In a CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll carried out April 29-May 1, 2005, Americans were split on their assessments of Bush's performance, with 48 percent saying they approved and 49 percent saying they disapproved....


It was one of four conducted within the past 10 days that have yielded similar results: a Pew Center poll carried out April 7-16 gave Bush a 35 percent approval rating; a Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll carried out last Tuesday and Wednesday gave him a 33 percent approval rating; and an American Research Group poll carried out Tuesday through Friday gave him a 34 percent approval rating.

Asked whether the term "strong and decisive leader" describes Bush, 46 percent said yes, down from 62 percent who said they felt that way in a CNN/USA Today/Gallup survey carried out July 22-24, 2005.

Now the question is why 46 percent of the American people still believe that Bush is a 'strong and decisive leader'? After his earlier reasons for war fell apart, Bush claimed one of the reasons we went to Iraq was to bring democracy to the Middle East. If Bush were truly a strong and decisive leader, he would have fired Rumsfeld and trimmed Cheney's feathers a long time ago. Neither Cheney or Rumsfeld have ever shown the least interest in developing democracy in Iraq and yet they are responsible for most of the major blunders. A strong and decisive leader would also have never let Osama bin Laden get away. A strong and decisive leader would not have to resort to lying to the American people. A strong and decisive leader would correct the mistakes that have been made.

We can expect Bush's numbers to continue to fall.

Brzezinski Weighs in on Iran

Former National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski has an article in Truthout (originally published in The Los Angeles Times) on Bush's possible attack on Iran; he doesn't have kind words for Bush's failed foreign policy or those making noise all too similar to the campaign that led to the fiasco in Iraq:
.... there are four compelling reasons against a preventive air attack on Iranian nuclear facilities:

First, in the absence of an imminent threat (and the Iranians are at least several years away from having a nuclear arsenal), the attack would be a unilateral act of war. If undertaken without a formal congressional declaration of war, an attack would be unconstitutional and merit the impeachment of the president. Similarly, if undertaken without the sanction of the United Nations Security Council, either alone by the United States or in complicity with Israel, it would stamp the perpetrator(s) as an international outlaw(s).

Second, likely Iranian reactions would significantly compound ongoing U.S. difficulties in Iraq and Afghanistan, perhaps precipitate new violence by Hezbollah in Lebanon and possibly elsewhere, and in all probability bog down the United States in regional violence for a decade or more. Iran is a country of about 70 million people, and a conflict with it would make the misadventure in Iraq look trivial.

Third, oil prices would climb steeply, especially if the Iranians were to cut their production or seek to disrupt the flow of oil from the nearby Saudi oil fields. The world economy would be severely affected, and the United States would be blamed for it. Note that oil prices have already shot above $70 per barrel, in part because of fears of a U.S.-Iran clash.

Finally, the United States, in the wake of the attack, would become an even more likely target of terrorism while reinforcing global suspicions that U.S. support for Israel is in itself a major cause of the rise of Islamic terrorism. The United States would become more isolated and thus more vulnerable while prospects for an eventual regional accommodation between Israel and its neighbors would be ever more remote.

In short, an attack on Iran would be an act of political folly, setting in motion a progressive upheaval in world affairs. With the U.S. increasingly the object of widespread hostility, the era of American preponderance could even come to a premature end....
...the era of American preponderance could even come to a premature end.... Those are strong words. Let me repeat something I have said before: it is a mistake for Bush and his Republican friends to assume the economic and military power of the United States is unlimited. In the last three years of the Bush Administration, we may find ourselves testing that limit.

It is indicative of the rot at the core of the current Republican Party that Bush dragged out former President Ford to defend Rumsfeld. Ford is a good man well past his prime but his Republican habits remain steadfast: loyalty to the party comes first and always. In the post-Nixon era, with the growing dominance of the conservatives and finally the right wingers, putting loyalty to the party above all else is the fatal flaw of the modern Republican Party and that flaw endangers us all.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Why Bush Fears the 2006 Election

I don't really know the odds of Democrats taking one or both houses of Congress. I think Democrats can make major gains but only if the American people are paying attention. And if they understand the stakes.

Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo nails the fundamental issue that terrifies Bush if the Democrats gain control of even one house:
This is the issue. Talk of impeachment, real or play-acted, is beside the point. Even having their hand pushed on Iraq is to them, I believe, a matter of far secondary importance. The key is subpoena power.

Little of what's happened in the last five years would have been possible were it not for the fact that there was no political institution with subpoena power in Washington not under the control of the White House....

The issue of 2006 above all else is holding George W. Bush accountable. Nothing will change, nothing will improve, no issue can be honestly discussed until Bush is held accountable by the voters. It will be up to the American voter to ignore the ads and hundreds of millions of dollars Republicans will be spending to change the subject. It will be up to the voter to ignore last second October surprises from an administration with no credibility. If, for example, the price of gasoline drops in mid-September, just assume the price will soar within weeks after the midterm elections. It will be up to the voter to be vigilant against the games, the promises, and cons of the current Republican leadership and that includes Bush.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

The Equinox Shelter

Mel Henderson's Cave Photo by Bob Tyson

Artist Mel Henderson constructed the equinox shelter in the Santa Cruz Mountains. For three days in March and three days in September, at the equinox, the sun on a clear day shines at the back of the cave shortly before sunset. I've been there and it's magic.

Energy Policy and Oil Profits

What have the oil companies been doing with their enormous profits? We know that executives are getting huge pay packages out of all proportion to what they bring to their companies. Where else are the profits going? The above chart (from shows how much the oil business donates in two-year cycles to the two major political parties. Clearly, the oil companies donate heavily to the Republicans and clearly the Republicans return the favor with highly profitable legislation.

For all practical purposes, the United States has no longterm energy policy. And yet, in a sense there has been a de facto energy policy since Reagan's first year: leave the energy policy to the oil companies. We've known for thirty years that the world has a longterm energy problem when it comes to oil: there are only so many oil reservoirs in the world and the supply is limited. We all know what nonrenewable resources mean but we conveniently forget that it applies to oil. And we conveniently forget that the numbers of yesterday were never particularly accurate in the first place. I can remember being told thirty years ago that there was enough natural gas to last the modern world for centuries. That appears not to be the case.

Repeatedly, over the last thirty years, oil companies have claimed that a certain amount of their profits has been going towards developing alternative energy but the alternative energy sector in the United States still supplies only a small percentage of total energy consumption. After thirty years, we are far more dependent on foreign oil than we once were and nothing has changed. Failure by the oil companies to have a realistic longterm energy policy should not be profitable. Over the last ten years, rewarding incompetence has become a corporate theme Americans cannot afford.

In the White House we have two former energy executives in George W. Bush and Dick Cheney; if their perpetual incompetence is a sign of what oil executives are like these days, this country is in trouble. I'm aware of engineers and specialists in the oil industry who truly do amazing things and one can argue that oil companies think longterm more than most companies but our culture rises or falls based on the availability of energy—the failures of the oil companies are significant and cannot continue. The rising oil and gasoline prices represent a crisis Bush and Cheney have refused to address. There are a variety of reasons why energy prices are rising: Katrina, trouble in Nigeria, falling production in Iraq due to the war, the possibility of war in Iran, the emerging economies of China and India, a fiercely competitive and manipulative oil producer in Russia, the failed energy policies of the last thirty years, refinery problems at home and abroad and finally the changing nature of oil supplies.

The dirtiest secret in the world (pun intended) is that light sweet crude is getting harder to come by and companies are increasingly forced to use heavier oil. We may be heading towards a time very soon when the oil sector will be significantly impacted by the production of heavy crude, oil sands and the conversion of coal to oil. These involve extremely dirty technologies with major pollution issues involved. More important, they are simply stopgap technologies that produce less and less energy for the work put in and they simply put off the inevitable need to start dealing realistically with energy and the development of reasonably nonpolluting sources of energy.

Republicans have been in denial for years and have spent an entire generation blocking the significant energy legislation that America needs. No doubt in the coming months, Republicans will make noise about the need to do something. House Speaker Hastert is already making noises about dealing with the oil companies and no doubt other games will be played, but Hastert and his fellow Republicans have been major beneficiaries of those same companies. It's time to send these guys home and begin work on real energy solutions.

Friday, April 21, 2006

John Dean on President 'I'm the Decider' Bush

John Dean of Watergate fame has written a long series of articles on the possible legal problems of President Bush. He was one of the earliest conservatives to suggest that Bush is impeachable on the grounds that it is illegal to use federal agencies to lie to Congress and the American people as was the case when Bush made his alarming and misleading plea for war in Iraq.

Here are excerpts from Dean's article in Findlaw:
Recent events provide an especially good illustration of Bush's fateful - perhaps fatal - approach. Six generals who have served under Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld have called for his resignation - making a strong substantive case as to why he should resign. And they are not alone: Editorialists have also persuasively attacked Rumsfeld on the merits.

Yet Bush's defense of Rumsfeld was entirely substance-free. Bush simply told reporters in the Rose Garden that Rumsfeld would stay because "I'm the decider and I decide what's best." He sounded much like a parent telling children how things would be: "I'm the Daddy, that's why."

This, indeed, is how Bush sees the presidency, and it is a point of view that will cause him trouble.

Bush has never understood what presidential scholar Richard Neustadt discovered many years ago: In a democracy, the only real power the presidency commands is the power to persuade. Presidents have their bully pulpit, and the full attention of the news media, 24/7. In addition, they are given the benefit of the doubt when they go to the American people to ask for their support. But as effective as this power can be, it can be equally devastating when it languishes unused - or when a president pretends not to need to use it, as Bush has done.

Apparently, Bush does not realize that to lead he must continually renew his approval with the public. He is not, as he thinks, the decider. The public is the decider.


...Bush may mount a unilateral attack on Iran's nuclear facilities - hoping to rev up his popularity. (It's a risky strategy: A unilateral hit on Iran may both trigger devastating Iran-sponsored terrorist attacks in Iraq, with high death tolls, and increase international dislike of Bush for his bypass of the U.N. But as an active/negative President, Bush hardly shies away from risk.)....

Dean, as well as others, point out that while Bush is an effective campaigner, he has lost most of his policy gambles when it comes to business or being a president. But some types of gamblers always believe the next roll of the dice will bring the big payoff. Bush may have other ideas in mind other than an attack on Iran but it is important for the American people to watch this president closely. He is, after all, supported by two men who have felt all along that they are the kind of men who can out-Nixon Nixon: Cheney and Rumsfeld. Fortunately, in all three branches of government, there are still people who take seriously their oath to uphold the law and to uphold the US Constitution. And finally, there is, after all, the marketplace. Campaign contributors better start thinking long and hard about the economic consequences of funding an incompetent president.

East Coast Gasoline Disruption

Today, the price of oil hit $75/barrel and President Bush still doesn't have an enery policy worthy of the name. Gasoline stocks have been dropping sharply for the past few weeks though oil imports seem roughly about normal. Here's an article from the Virginian-Pilot:
Equipment failure at a leading terminal for gasoline distribution is being cited as one reason Hampton Roads has suddenly found itself running low on gas.

At a Chesapeake energy storage and distribution terminal, a device that captures gasoline vapors failed last weekend and forced the terminal to close.

Repairs quickly followed, but disruptions in the gasoline supply rippled almost immediately through Hampton Roads. Shortages continued Thursday, keeping motorists guessing about where to find gas.

Some stations that were out of supplies Wednesday were replenished Thursday, while others waited for deliveries with no clear idea of when they would come.

The problem at the Chesapeake terminal was not the sole reason supplies were tight.

Other factors also were bearing down on the region’s gasoline supply, including the conversion to fuel containing ethanol additives and the annual switch to lower smog-producing summer blends.

A spokeswoman for Kinder Morgan, which runs the Chesapeake terminal, could not be reached to comment on equipment problems at the company.

One of the owners of Kinder Morgan is a former president of Enron; I keep noticing the name of Kinder Morgan nearly every time there's a disruption in pipeline deliveries or distribution.

Here's an article from The New York Times explaining that a transition involving ethanol is the main culprit:
A few dozen gas stations from as far south as Virginia to as far north as southern New Jersey were reportedly closed today as they switched from gasoline mixed with the additive MTBE, or Methyl tert-butyl ether, to fuel that is combined with ethanol.

Though it has been anticipated for months, the transition is proving difficult in some areas because suppliers and gas stations must first drain and clean their hulking storage tanks. Getting ethanol from the Midwest to the rest of the country has also proven a challenge. Last month, 60 service stations near Dallas ran dry because of the switchover.

"It's unfortunate; however it's a necessary transition," said John Eichberger, director of motor fuel issues for the National Association of Convenience Stores. "It's happening all up and down the coast from Richmond to Philadelphia."

New York and Connecticut, which have already banned MTBE, are not experiencing outages.

These kind of things can be planned with minimal disruptions so I take the reports with a grain of salt. Here's another article from Kansas City:
According to Fortune magazine, oil companies are still getting record profits. Exxon posted $340 billion in revenue; Chevron had $190 billion.

However, when the price of gasoline is high, gas station owners don't necessarily make a lot of money, Mahoney reported.

"Over the last year, I used to make 4 cents to 6 cents per gallon. Not anymore. Now, maybe it's a penny. Sometimes I don't make a thing on it," gas station owner Sam Zirpolo said.

Congress is expected to hold hearings on the high cost of gasoline later this year.
Hearings later this year? What exactly are the Republicans in Congress doing? Counting their campaign money? In any case, the do-nothing Republican Congress is currently on recess.

Maybe the current shortages in the east are simply due to transitioning to a new gasoline mix. But there is clearly a worldwide oil problem and thus a worldwide energy problem. Republicans should be doing more than sitting on their hands winking at the oil companies.

Physicists Send Letter to Bush

Of all the lies leading up to the war in Iraq, the one that grated on me the most was the story of the aluminum tubes. The announcement of the story just in time for the 2002 midterm elections was far too cute. I held my tongue at the time simply because I didn't have much in the way of facts. But a story came out sometime in the fall that the experts at the Energy Department never bought into the aluminum tubes story. Let me repeat that. Months before the war started, the guys who know how to make the bombs said the aluminum tubes were highly unlikely to be used for uranium enrichment. But the story was, for the most part, buried in the back pages. As we now know, as the experts knew then, the aluminum tubes were made for artillery rockets.

Here's a story by way of Truthout about physicists writing a letter to Bush:
Thirteen of the nation's most prominent physicists have written a letter to President Bush, calling U.S. plans to reportedly use nuclear weapons against Iran "gravely irresponsible" and warning that such action would have "disastrous consequences for the security of the United States and the world."

The physicists include five Nobel laureates, a recipient of the National Medal of Science and three past presidents of the American Physical Society, the nation's preeminent professional society for physicists.

Their letter was prompted by recent articles in the Washington Post, New Yorker and other publications that one of the options being considered by Pentagon planners and the White House in a military confrontation with Iran includes the use of nuclear bunker busters against underground facilities. These reports were neither confirmed nor denied by White House and Pentagon officials.

Bush, Iran and Diplomacy

I thought it might be useful to pass on Kevin Drum's take on Iran since he points out that the Bush Administration passed on an opportunity to negotiate with Iran shortly after we arrived in Baghdad:
TALKING TO IRAN....What should we do about Iran? I have a suggestion, but first I need to relate a story that's gotten suprisingly little attention from the press. Perhaps they're too bored to pick up on it.

It started on May 6, 2003, shortly after George Bush declared "Mission Accomplished" in Iraq. On that day the Associated Press reported without elaboration that Iran's Foreign Ministry had confirmed that "Iran has exchanged messages with U.S. officials about Iraq through the Swiss Embassy, which represents U.S. interests in Tehran. He declined to give details."

What was that all about? Last January, Flynt Leverett, who worked for Condoleezza Rice on the National Security Council, provided some initial clues: "In the spring of 2003, shortly before I left government, the Iranian Foreign Ministry sent Washington a detailed proposal for comprehensive negotiations to resolve bilateral differences."

I've already mentioned that Bush had an excellent opportunity to engage in diplomacy with Iran shortly after 9/11; within four months, Bush passed on that opportunity to declare Iran a member of the axis of evil. It raises the question of how many diplomatic opportunities Bush has ignored and how many of those involve other countries as well.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Working for Effective Politics

Years ago I learned from both my parents, but particularly my father, that it's possible for individuals to take on city hall or rather, in my parent's case, the local county board of supervisors. The experience led to my father being appointed a local representative who dealt effectively with the county for the better part of eight years. Although my father is a Republican, he was supported by both liberals and conservatives in the community largely because he was an effective listener and could translate what he heard into articulate presentations. That's politics when it works the way it's supposed to work.

Now I'm a liberal Democrat but, like my father, I'm a pragmatist first. Zeno of Halfway There has a brilliant essay on what moderates, progressives and liberals need to be thinking about and doing now that the modern conservative movement has largely failed this nation:
The conservative moment is over. The experiment has failed, crashing down in the face of reality. The Republican Congress and the Bush White House set themselves up in opposition to the most basic truths in a display of hubris that historians will puzzle over forever. Even arithmetic is the enemy of today's shameless scions of the conservative legacy: Tax cuts and spending increases do not add up to a balanced budget. Such a surprise.

Not long ago it seemed that reality was more unpopular in the progressive community. Leftists like Alan Sokal decried the tendencies of his political allies to fall prey to extreme social constructivism: everything is relative, truth is personal, and objectivity is only a myth. Sokal famously demonstrated the willingness of the anything-goes crowd to swallow the most absurd nonsense by expressing New Age cant in the language of physics and getting it published. His lesson was that critical thinking should never go out of style. Who knew that our political opponents in the hard-headed conservative movement would turn out to be the wackiest postmodernists of all?

Nothing exemplifies this reality drift better than the GOP's behavior in Congress. The long-entrenched Democratic majority in the U.S. House of Representatives was dramatically ousted in the general election of 1994. The Republican “Contract with America” promised a series of good-government reforms, but in merely a dozen years the GOP majority has descended to a level of sleaze that exceeds anything the House Democrats managed in their forty-year reign.


The progressive on-line community is already marshalling its troops. We fell short in 2004, but that simply heightens the importance of not failing again. The nation pays a price every day that the Bush administration continues with its mendacity-based domestic and foreign policies. The truth campaign is under way, as exemplified by such manifestos as Chris Mooney's The Republican War on Science and Crashing the Gate by Jerome Armstrong and Markos Moulitsas Zúniga. Get both and get ready to be part of it.

There is work for everyone to do. What will your role be? While I am only a bit player myself, I do have a story to tell. Today I'm a math teacher who ventures in from the political sidelines occasionally to write a letter to the editor, e-mail a candidate's campaign, pony up some contributions, and participate in local rallies. (I'm tall. At one rally a campaign aide gave me the job of holding up a large sign between some banner-waving half-drunk GOP frat boys and the TV cameras. It was fun.) Before getting my faculty appointment, however, I served under the golden dome of the California state capitol as a legislative aide....

The whole post is worth everyone's time. I hope Zeno and others write more on this.

Rove in Trouble?

The CIA leak investigation has been going so slow of late, I thought it was too much to hope that Karl Rove lost his policy portfolio because Fitzgerald may be calling soon. Jason Leopold has stayed with the story all along and here's his latest in Truthout:
Just as the news broke Wednesday about Scott McClellan resigning as White House press secretary and Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove shedding some of his policy duties, Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald met with the grand jury hearing evidence in the CIA leak case and introduced additional evidence against Rove, attorneys and other US officials close to the investigation said.

The grand jury session in federal court in Washington, DC, sources close to the case said, was the first time this year that Fitzgerald told the jurors that he would soon present them with a list of criminal charges he intends to file against Rove in hopes of having the grand jury return a multi-count indictment against Rove.

In an interview Wednesday, Rove's attorney, Robert Luskin, confirmed that Rove remains a "subject" of Fitzgerald's two-year-old probe.

"Mr. Rove is still a subject of the investigation," Luskin said. In a previous interview, Luskin asserted that Rove would not be indicted by Fitzgerald, but he was unwilling to make that prediction again Wednesday.

Luskin was unwilling to say this time that Rove would not be indicted. Interesting.

Even if Karl Rove is indicted and steps down, all signs indicate that it will be business as usual until the current do-nothing Republican Congress decides to accept its responsibilities or it is replaced with a Congress either led by Democrats or a coalition willing to do what's best for the country. In the meantime, Bush will be doing nothing more than making cosmetic changes with some staffers merely playing musical chairs. The most failed presidency in at least a hundred years will continue to stumble along.

Steve Clemons on Iran

Steve Clemons of The Washington Note has had a couple of posts over the last two days about Iran. Foreign policy is his area and it's worth reading what he has to say. I'm not sure I agree with a couple of things he says but the second part of this post has a lot of merit:
...One of my worries is that Bush's team is attempting to negotiate with Iran indirectly through the media -- demonstrating resolve and willingness to do the unthinkable, even unleashing tactical nukes, as a way to compel Iran to stand down. Iran won't step down in my view unless we engage in direct negotiations -- which according to a former senior national security official who worked close to Bush, "Bush is loathe to do."

Some other thoughts to keep in mind about Iran.

First of all, those intelligence-blind war planners who are advocating a hot action against Iran (particularly in the Air Force and VP Cheney's office) need to consider what will most likely be the most damaging outcome of such a bombing action: there will be a very high probability that China and Russia will exploit America's action against Iran as a way to generate a Russia-China-Middle East Oil Nation Block that is designed to constrain American power and choices.

Secondly, there are many options between war and appeasement. One of these involves a calculation of whether Iran will eventually acquire nukes if it really, really wants them. If one believes that despite the course of action Sy Hersh has written about that Iran will one day end up with nukes -- then a pissed-off, hostile-to-America, democratically legitimate, nuclear weapons nation is the worst outcome. What are some of the better outcomes?
Steve goes on to mention some better possibilities. The whole post is worth reading. The post refers to an earlier post on Iran that should be read for his full view. No matter what Bush does or doesn't do, Iran and foreign policy in general are going to be an issue this year. The Democrats in Congress and those Democrats running for Congress have their work cut out for them.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Thoughts on Karl Rove

This is one of those days I find myself sifting through a lot of information. Most of the links on the right side of the page have things going on. The life and times of President "I'm the Decider" Bush just get stranger; it would be a macabre comedy if weren't for all the lives at stake.

Since I've been reading so much about Iran lately, I find myself looking at events through that special prism; there's always a danger in that kind of thing so take my thoughts on Rove as speculation worth thinking about. What I offer in the next paragraph is nothing more than a very tentative hypothesis.

I'm not going to go hunting for the quote, but in my reading over the last week, one item that caught my attention is that Karl Rove is nervous about the potential of any attack on Iran. The brief item suggested that things would go bad for Republicans in November if Bush were to launch a bombing attack; there was also an implication that even talking about attacking Iran close to the election might not have the effect that talking about Iraq in 2002 had. Now the item itself might be wrong or it might be one of those tidbits given to reporters to lead observers elsewhere. But one possible interpretation of Rove's minor demotion is that he viewed by the other members of the Bush inner circle as getting squeamish, meaning the talk about dealing with Iran is serious after all. And Karl Rove is being dealt out of the discussions.

A more likely scenario might be that the Valerie Plame investigation is getting closer to Rove, though things are going slow if that's the case. In that case, why now?

More than likely Rove was demoted because Bush feels there isn't enough sliming and smearing and hardball tactics going on for his taste and Rove is good at that kind of thing and, after all, Bush's numbers are sagging. Journalists, Democrats and even a few independent Republicans should have their rain gear handy in the coming months—Bush is desperate. And he hasn't learned a thing.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Questions about Bush and Iran

Bush is doing everything he can to avoid a debate on Iran. Republicans in Congress can't be bothered to hold hearings on the failures in Iraq, the uneasy situation in Afghanistan which is far from resolved and the failure to find Osama bin Laden. But the Republicans leaders in Congress can hardly claim ignorance of Iran as an issue at this point; the lunatic right-wing media is already pushing for action. Even Charles Krauthammer, just as he did before the Iraq war, has written a column or two claiming that life as we know it will end unless we stop Iran (the Iranians republished Krauthammer's article in one of their newspapers). The big media outlets spend five minutes on Iran and as usual move on to other things.

Instead of debating whether or not Bush intends to attack Iran, it might be useful, as an exercise, to assume that it is Bush's intention to launch a preemptive bombing strike against Iran. I'm not going to detail what such a strike might mean. All I want to do is ask questions.

1. Why are the six generals speaking up against Rumsfeld at this time? Is the issue Iran? What is their main concern?

2. Are we already engaging in military activity inside Iran? Do we as a nation have a right to know if such operations are going on? Does Bush need authorization for these activities? What would be the purpose of these activities? Will Bush seek Congressional authorization for a major bombing strike? What will Congress do if Bush launches a bombing strike without authorization and drags us into a major war?

3. If Bush plans to attack Iran, will the attacks take place before the 2006 elections or after? Will we see another deceptive campaign like the one we saw with Iraq?

4. Again, assuming that Bush is seriously considering an attack against Iran (in this mental exercise), why now? The CIA talks as if it will be another ten years before Iran has a bomb. What is it that Bush would hope to accomplish with a bombing strike? Is there a realistic possibility he could accomplish his purposes without starting a major war with Iran?

5. Is Bush seriously considering the use of nuclear weapons for use against nuclear facilities? Has there been an analysis of what might be gained or lost by using such weapons? What would such an analysis show? Are cruise missiles being considered? Is there a chance a fully armed nuclear cruise missile can land like a dud as happened in Saudi Arabia during Rumsfeld's shock and awe campaign in Iraq? Could such a weapon be disarmed by the Iranians and used against us? What happens if our aircraft use nuclear weapons and an aircraft is shot down? What happens if our nuclear bunker busters accidentally explode in an urban area instead? How will the Bush Administration prevent photos and video footage being shown to the world of collateral damage to human populations if such weapons are used? Have the repercussions been considered? Has any of this and a host of other issues been considered?

6. In the months before attacking Iraq, Bush claimed to be serious about diplomacy but we now know that a decision to go to war had been made almost a year previously and that little serious diplomacy took place. Will Americans accept a lack of diplomacy this time? Is it wise for a president to refuse repeatedly to talk seriously with Iran? If Bush is serious about Iran, then why haven't there been two or three days of talks with the Russians? Two or three days of talks with the Chinese? Two or three days of talks with the Europeans? Long and repeated talks at the UN? Diplomacy is always cost effective. Is Bush even capable of diplomacy?

7. Does Bush have a contigency plan if the Strait of Hormuz is closed? Or if Iran simply stops producing oil? Or if Iran launches a successful attack against some portion of Saudi Arabia's oil fields? Even without a war, the price of oil has spiked to $70/barrel. What energy policies does Bush have in place now? Since our strategic oil reserve can only last about five weeks, what plan does Bush have if oil hits $100/barrel and the gas at the pump is $5/gallon and the war in Iran goes on as long as the war in Iraq?

8. If Bush bombs Iran and it leads to a wider war, can our military avoid a draft? Even with a draft, it takes time to train soldiers; where will Bush get the extra personnel needed for military action? The British are reluctant this time to be involved. Mercenaries are unreliable. More bombing as a substitute for troops may only lead to a wider war. How will Bush stabilize the Middle East if he cannot stabilize Iraq?

These are hypothetical questions and I have many more and I urge others to come up with their own questions. But Americans need to think clearly about a reckless and incompetent administration and what it might do if given the chance. I take seriously Sy Hersh's article in the New Yorker; and Congress should as well.

Senator Hagel Lacks Confidence in Rumsfeld

Chuck Hagel, the Republican senator from Nebraska, is not pleased with Rumsfeld. From Nebraska's Journal Star (thanks to The Huffington Post):
Sen. Chuck Hagel said Monday he shares the lack of confidence in Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld separately voiced by six retired generals.

“The concern I’ve had is, at a very dangerous time, (the) secretary of defense does not command the respect and confidence of our men and women in uniform,” Hagel said.

“There is a real question about his capacity to lead at this critical time,” he said.

“I have had many conversations with military leaders about their concern about what’s happening at the Pentagon and with our force structure.”

Bush's Pattern of Lying Continues

Condi Rice in the late spring of 2003 went on TV and claimed that information the Niger/Iraq documents were forgeries was not known to the White House and if the information existed it must have been "lost in the bowels" of the CIA. It's been known for some time that the White House lied about the Niger/Iraq uranium connection but Jason Leopold at Truthout has further information:
One high-ranking State Department official said that when the department's analysts briefed Colin Powell about the Niger forgeries Powell met with former Director of the CIA George Tenet and shared that information with him.

Tenet then told Vice President Dick Cheney and then-National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice and her former deputy, Stephen Hadley, that the uranium claims were "dubious," according to current and former State Department and CIA officials who have direct knowledge of what Tenet discussed with the White House at the time.

The White House has long maintained that they were never briefed about the State Department's or the CIA's concerns related to the Niger uranium claims.
Now setting aside, if possible, that the White House is guilty of lying to the American people in order to lead us into war in Iraq and that such an act makes Bush and Cheney impeachable, it would appear to be a mistake to trust George W. Bush with the handling of Iran without close oversight and accountability at this time. Gregory Djerejian of The Belgravia Dispatch point to a repetition of a pattern: "From Michael Gordon and Bernard Trainor's must-read Cobra II--The Inside Story of the Invasion and Occupation of Iraq:"
In late May [of 2002], Bush sought to repair ties with Europe and promised a deliberate response to the terrorist threat, one that would not be purely military and would enlist the help of the U.S. allies. In a May 23 press conference in Berlin, Bush asserted that Iraq's WMD programs were a serious threat but that he had not prepared an invasion strategy. "I told the Chancellor that I have no war plans on my desk, which is the truth, and that we've got to use all means at our disposal to deal with Saddam Hussein." The president made a similar comment in Paris three days later. [Ed. note: See here too for a third example of the 'no attack plans on my desk' stump response. Clearly this was language the President had decided to go with purposefully, in other words, it was not a slip of the tongue at a single press conference].

[Tommy] Franks went further. In late May, a radio reporter asked him how many troops he would need for an invasion of Iraq. "That's a great question and one for which I don't have an answer because my boss has not yet asked me to put together a plan to do that," Franks said. "They have not asked me for these kinds of numbers. And I guess I would tell you, if there comes a time when my boss asks me that, that I'd rather provide those sorts of assessments to him. But thanks for your question.

The president's statement was true in only the most literal but trivial sense. Bush had ordered the development of a new CENTCOM war plan, repeately met with Franks to hear its details, offered his own views on the schedule for deploying troops and on the military's effort to couch the invasion as a liberation, and sent his vice president halfway around the world to secure allies for the war. And as for Franks, even the cleverest hair-splitting could not reconcile his remarks with the activity of CENTCOM during the previous six months. (Cobra II, p. 51-52)
The Belgravia Dispatch goes on to illustrate further but even here it's clear we're hearing the same nonsense that we heard in 2002 and this time the equipment is already in place. America needs answers. And please, the real ones this time.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Blogosphere Growing

David Sifry of the Technorati Weblog has a report on the state of the blogosphere based on Technorati's own stats:

The blogosphere is over 60 times bigger than it was only 3 years ago.

New blog creation continues to grow. Technorati currently tracks over 75,000 new weblogs created every day, which means that on average, a new weblog is created every second of every day - and 19.4 million bloggers (55%) are still posting 3 months after their blogs are created. That's an increase both absolute and relative terms over just 3 months ago, when only 50.5% or 13.7 million blogs were active. In other words, even though there's a reasonable amount of tire-kicking going on, blogging continues to grow as a habitual activity.

In addition to that, about 3.9 million bloggers update their blogs at least weekly.

The Technorati stats clear up some minor mysteries about the political blog survey I did awhile back. Of the hundreds of blogs I personally bookmarked, many are now defunct or on hiatus. It would be useful to know what happens at 3-month marks over the course of a year or two. Personally, there are blogs I wish had lasted longer. My guess is that the most successful political blogs will continue to be team efforts simply because human nature prefer one button stops; and team blogs also make it possible for individuals to step away for a time without adversely affecting the blog or for others to write weekly columns, etc. But my hat will continue to go off to quality one-person blogs that hang in there month after month. They should know they are appreciated.

Senator Feinstein and Iran

Truthout has a thoughtful Los Angeles Times piece by Senator Diane Feinstein concerning Iran and Bush's flawed preemptive strike principle; here are a few paragraphs:
No one concerned about U.S. national security wants Iran to obtain a nuclear weapons capability. It would be a destabilizing force in the Middle East and throughout the world. That's exactly why we need strong American leadership, working toward a verifiable diplomatic solution.

Instead, the administration reportedly is intent upon relying on the failed doctrine of preemption and new Pentagon planning that stokes the prospect of military conflict. If this is true, Americans ought to be deeply concerned.

The doctrine of preemption, first articulated by President Bush at West Point in June 2002, was spelled out in the September 2002 National Security Strategy: "The greater the threat, the greater the risk of inaction - and the more compelling the case for taking anticipatory action to defend ourselves."

Just a few weeks ago, the doctrine was reiterated in the latest National Security Strategy. According to this document, the U.S. may use force before it is attacked because the nation cannot afford to "stand idly by as grave dangers materialize." Yet it is the doctrine itself that is dangerous.

First, it demands that our intelligence be right - every time. This is difficult, if not impossible, in the shadowy world of terrorism and WMD. As we've seen in Iraq, intelligence not only can be wrong, it can be manipulated. Our nation's credibility and stature have taken a huge hit as a result, and the U.S. is in no position to garner support in the international community for military confrontation based on preemption.
A growing list of Democrats appear to be speaking up on Bush's failed foreign policy.