Thursday, May 29, 2008

Manipulation of Energy Prices, Oh My!

Today, May 29th, the Commodities Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) announced that it has been investigating the possible manipulation of oil prices by speculators. The price of oil then proceeded to fall approximately four dollars a barrel in very short order.

The investigation apparently began sometime in December 2007 when oil was around $96 a barrel. By some estimates the price of oil may be inflated as much as one-third by this manipulation.

But why the surprise? Isn't the price of oil mostly manipulation? That is the capitalist way. Squeeze every cent of profit possible. The invisible hand of the market has no ears to hear cries of suffering.

The real surprise is that the oil producers let this occur. The price of oil seems to have jump started discussions of alternative energy. Perhaps if the price were to get even higher, say in line with European prices, we might actually begin to develop an energy policy in this country. If we start thinking about our addiction to cheap oil we might begin to look for another way.

In many ways the availability of cheap oil has stifled our efforts to develop alternative sources of energy. Increasing fuel standards and hybrid cars may make us feel like we're doing something but the fact remains that even these modest solutions (the only kind we're offered) are nothing more than a continuation of the use of an outdated technology.

Since January of this year, I have heard more discussions of alternative energy than ever before. A simple search for the term will reveal a rising interest in developing new approaches to the energy conundrum. Maybe the speculators have done us all a favor. By manipulating the price to such levels maybe we are starting to pay attention.

If it would cause this country to develop an energy policy maybe we should all hope for $10 a gallon gas. Of course, it doesn't matter if we hope for it or not, it will be here soon enough. And that is the real twist to the price of oil. Cheap oil is over, but if we realize it too soon, we might do something about it. If we keep thinking oil is the only way, and burning more and more petrol is the only way to power our civilization then we'll still be paying for it when it reaches $100 a gallon.

Can't happen? Yeah, you're right, big business would never put profits ahead of the good of society. That's why we have such a wonderful national health care system.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Did Caesar Play Golf?

Bill Press, on his morning radio show, noted that a bust of Julius Caesar had recently been discovered and that it was the "spitting image" of George W. Bush. It made me wonder if there was more to this than a casual resemblance.

Born into a prominent political family Caesar was afforded all the advantages of privilege. Financed by wealthy friends of the family, he spent enormous amounts of other peoples money for little purpose.

Caesar first presided over Rome when it was still a republic. It was he who began building what would be an empire. This was accomplished by a series of military invasions and conquests. Campaigns, it should be noted, that were more about the aggrandizement of Caesar's ego and reputation than for the benefit of Rome.

Caesar alienated those close to him by his refusal to take the counsel of his elders. Pompey the Great was pushed aside for having a different view of leadership. His overwhelming personal arrogance only compounded matters. In the end, even supporters turned on him.

He ruled by decree (no wimpy signing statements for him). He constantly asserted new powers and ignored any pleas from the Senate about the legality of his actions.

He was known for taking lengthy vacations, even during military campaigns. He also seemed to love the power of the office, reveling in the pomp and circumstance, while seeing the business of policy as an inconvenience.

Did Caesar play golf?

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Bush the Educator

George Bush continues to amaze. Not only does he decide to muddle politics and policy in his speech before the Israeli Knesset, but he also decides to provide a lecture. Here, at a recognition of the birth of a country, "the Decider"also becomes "the Educator." In a manner of speaking he frequently slips into, Bush attempts to provide a rationale for his actions by stressing the logic of his positions. At the same time this often involves ridiculing the opposite point of view.

While speaking in Israel he attempted to draw the analogy to Neville Chamberlain and appeasement of Hitler while ridiculing those who want to "talk." Bush would, of course, need to mock those who believe in negotiation and diplomacy. After all, he is a man of action. We see how well that has worked out.

"George Bush the Educator." Bush attempting to persuade anyone that he has any idea how to manage anything at this point is a near impossible sell. Bush has proven so stunningly wrong and incompetent in almost every decision that he has made that he is more of a negative barometer of action. Whatever he advocates should at once be discarded as folly if we only go on the basis of track record. This is the man who couldn't find oil in Texas and traded Sammy
Sosa. If only his incompetence had been relegated to the private sector. Unfortunately his incompetence has only been made more obvious in the light of the political spotlight.

At least the debate about who's the worst president has been settled. Buchanan, Fillmore, Hoover; they've all been surpassed. Bush the Educator has outdone them all.

Bush mocks negotiation and discussion with our enemies. This alone should illuminate the clearest course of action. Bush attempting to educate the world about foreign policy is like Caligula giving Gandhi advice on morality.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Hard Times: An Excuse to Pillage

Sad days are here again. The economy is in shambles, although the Bush Administration is only admitting to a "slump," and the candidates all feel our pain. The cost of everything, especially food and gasoline are going up. Yes, especially gasoline.

In this insulated country we think that now that gas has topped $3.50 a gallon we are suffering. In Europe the average price at this moment is around $8.25 a gallon. Most of this difference is because of the taxes that Europeans pay. Taxes that pay for mass transit infrastructure, alternative energy development, etc. Not the kind of things Americans do. No, we give subsidies to transnational petroleum companies and stifle the development of alternative energy sources.

Our politicians pander to us. Proposals to repeal the federal gas tax, not even twenty cents a gallon, are insulting. A sane energy policy would raise the gas tax, not lower or repeal it. Raising the tax to use for infrastructure development and alternative energy development would work towards solving the problem. It might even provide some high paying jobs in skilled worker categories.

Worse than the gas tax pander however, is the renewed effort to destroy the environment in the name of our addiction to cheap oil. Proposals to drill in the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) are rearing their ugly heads. How difficult is it to understand that destruction of the wild is responsible for the environmental disaster looming for our planet? How unreasonable do you have to be to think the solution is bringing heavy industry to pristine wilderness? I'm sure the oil companies would argue they can do this safely. Does the name Exxon Valdez ring a bell?

Beyond even the idiocy of destroying the wilderness is the insanity of the nuclear spectre. Chernobyl and Three Mile Island seemed to have been forgotten. Even more nonsensical is when nuclear energy is referred to as "clean." How can the spent fuel rods be defined as clean? The best solution we seem to be able to come up with is to put them in pools of water or bury them underground (where they can wait for an earthquake). Should we really be playing with the fabric of the universe and contaminants that have a half-life of forever?

All of this is being done in the name of helping the consumer. The real reason is the bottom line. Follow the money. Government subsidies for nuclear power benefits big business as does getting the last drops of cheap oil from the commons. All of this in the guise of addressing the rising price of oil. Strange how those who supply the oil seem to want to help the rest of us get more of it. Keep those junkies addicted to the cheap deadly stuff.

Solar, hydro and wind power seem to be neglected as regards development. Again, follow the money. With these alternative sources of energy most of the investment is up front and confined by necessity to somewhat localized production. Once the solar panels are purchased, or the windmill built (to be smplistic about it), there is little else for which to charge the customer. In some states utilities are required to buy excess energy production from customers who produce their own through solar panels. In some cases, individuals actually receive a check from the utility!

Therein lies the rub. Until corporations can figure a way to meter the sun or the wind, these forms of power will remain underdeveloped.

Until then, look for continued attacks upon reason as well as the environment. We will continue to destroy the planet and continue to look for that next fix of cheap oil until forced to do otherwise. Melting ice sheets and disrupted weather patterns don't seem to have yet gotten our attention. False solutions like carbon credit trading only add to an illusion that the problem is not so bad.

"If only we could find more cheap oil" must not be our mantra. Further destroying the environment and endangering our future won't solve this problem of climate change and fuel shortages. Fundamental lifestyle changes will be required. Profit may have to be abandoned in favor of survival.

The problem of energy use and its affects on the environment is multifaceted and will likely have multiple partial solutions. Continuing to rely on the fuels of the past will not move us forward into a future our grandchildren can live in. Taking money away from future research into solar and other alternative fuels is short sighted. Peak oil is past. The decline has already begun.

Price support for oil development should be viewed as akin to price supports for videotape. The technology of the past should be defunded. Some will argue that environmentally sensitive and sustainable energy is too costly or is not economically feasible. Essentially this is saying that we can't afford to do the right thing. Can we afford to do the wrong thing?

British Petroleum Gulf Oil Spill Costs

  • 11 workers killed in initial blast
  • Damage to Ocean Ecosystem
  • 35,000 to 60.000 Barrels of Oil Per Day. That's somewhere between 1,500,000 to 2,500,000 gallons a day or 150 to 300 million gallons already spilled into the ocean as of July 27th by that estimate.
  • Gulf Fisheries Industry
  • Gulf Tourism (ongoing costs)
  • Long Term Health Effects to Humans and Wildlife (to be determined)

Worst Oil Spills

  • Kuwait 1991 - 520 million gallons: Gulf War I
  • Gulf of Mexico 2010 - 206 million gallons: BP Oil
  • Mexico, Bay of Campiche 1979 - 140 million gallons: Pemex Oil
  • Trinidad & Tobago 1979 - 90 million gallons: Greek Oil Tanker Atlantic Empress
  • Russia 1983 - 84 million gallons: Leaky Pipeline collapsed into Kolva River
  • Iran 1983 - 80 million gallons: Tanker collided with Oil Platform
  • South Africa 1983 -79 million gallons:Tanker Castillo de Bellver sank
  • France 1978 - 69 million Gallons: Amoco Cadiz ran aground and broke in half.
  • Angola Coastal Waters (700 miles at sea) 1991 - 51-81 million gallons: ABT Summer exploded at sea.
  • Italy 1991 - 45 million gallons: M/T Haven Oil Tanker exploded.
  • Source: Mother Nature Network. The 13 largest oil spills in history. by Laura Moss. Friday July 16, 2010.

Nuclear Accidents (Under Construction)

  • 1957 Windscale, UK
  • 1961 Idaho Falls, Idaho, US
  • 1979 Three Mile Island, Pennsylvania, US
  • 1984 Athens, Alabama, US
  • 1985 Athens, Alabama, US
  • 1986 Plymouth, Masachusetts, US
  • 1986 Chernobyl, Ukraine, USSR
  • 1996 Waterford, Connecticut, US
  • 1989 Griefwald, Germany
  • 1999 Ibaraki Prefecture, Japan
  • 2002 Oak Harbor, Ohio, US
  • 2004 Fukui Prefecture, Japan
  • Source: Benjamin Sovacool

Mining Disasters (Under Construction)

  • China 1942 - 1549 deaths
  • France 1906 - 1100 deaths
  • Japan 1963 - 447 deaths
  • Wales 1913 - 438 deaths
  • South Africa 1960 - 437 deaths
  • Source: Epic Disasters Website
  • Note: Do not look at the dates herein and conclue that mining disasters are a things of the past. Every year thousands of miners die worldwide in largely unreported accidents.

OIL IS OVER! - Resources

  • Hibbert's Peak - "The" source that explains why Oil is Over.
  • Tragedy of the Commons -Garrett Hardin
  • The Land Ethic - Aldo Leopold
  • Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight - Thom Hartmann
  • Eco-Defense: A Field Guide to Monkeywrenching


  • The Dirt People - Ray Bawarchi (yes, that's me)
  • The Razor's Edge - Somerset Maugham
  • Demian - Herman Hesse
  • Black Elk Speaks - Black Elk (as told to R. Neimur)
  • The Quiet Don - Mikhail Sholokov
  • Catcher in the Rye - J.D. Salinger
  • Catch-22 - Joseph Heller
  • 1984 - George Orwell
  • Delicious Laughter - Jallahudin Rumi
  • The Sybil - Par Lagerksvitz
  • The Fixer - Bernard Malamud
  • Spirits Rebellious - Khalil Gibran
  • The Quiet American - Graham Greene
  • Midaq Alley - Nagib Mafouz
  • Cat's Cradle - Kurt Vonnegut
  • Slaughterhouse 5 - Kurt Vonnegut
  • Farenheit 451- Ray Bradbury
  • We - Yevgeny Zamyatin


  • John Coltrane - St. John the Divine
  • Patti Smith
  • The Clash - the only band that matters
  • Billy Bragg
  • Yo Mama's Big Fat Booty Band
  • Art Blakey
  • Death - pre-punk visionaries from Detroit
  • PJ Harvey - Polly Jean, Polly Jean
  • Woody Guthrie
  • Michael Franti (Spearhead)
  • Public Enemy
  • Ray Charles - the Genius
  • Bob Dylan
  • Velvet Underground
  • Flaming Lips
  • John Doe & X
  • The Beatles

opiate of the masses

  • God is a comedian, playing to an audience too afraid to laugh. - Voltaire
  • I do not feel obliged to believe that the same god who has endowed us with sense, reason and inellect has intended us to forgo their use. - Galileo Galilei
  • The ink of a scholar is worth far more than the blood of a martyr.- Mohammad
  • If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him. - Sheldon Kopp
  • No one will be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest. - Louisa Mae Alcott
  • When it is a question of money, everyone is of the same religion.- Voltaire
  • If God were alive today, he'd be an athiest. - Kurt Vonnegut
  • The god I worship is not short of cash, Mister. - Bono
  • Jesus died for somebody's sins, but not mine. My sins they only belong to me. - Patti Smith
  • God sure baked a lot of fruitcake baby, when Adam met the Eden lady. - Joe Strummer