Friday, March 21, 2008

Let it Bleed

I’m glad gas prices are going up. I hope they reach $10 a gallon before Bush leaves office and we have a President who isn’t bought and paid for by Big Oil.

I know what that means: A bloodletting. The economy will collapse and millions of people will be out of work. It will make the Great Depression look like a stock market correction. Good. We have it coming.

We have it coming because people commute to white collar jobs in a one ton pickup trucks. Kids are dropped off for school in Hummers. Nobody takes the bus and few people actually carpool. To be fair, most cities don’t provide adequate public transportation. Urban sprawl forces millions of people living in urban areas to commute 10 or more miles to a job in a suburban development where busses don’t run. Things like that simply didn’t matter, gas was cheap and so were used cars. Nobody had to worry about the logistics of the daily commute.

Well now they do. Since Bush has taken office the cost of a gallon of gas has nearly tripled. His apologists will tell you that’s because of a number of economic factors but somehow domestic oil companies have enjoyed record profits. Net Profits.

Nevertheless, we still have it coming. It was only a matter of time before another, stupider version of Warren G. Harding was planted in the White House by corporate interests. Oil Companies are going to screw us as hard as they can for as long as they can, but it takes two to tango. We’re the ones who grabbed our ankles and let them do it.

There was a gas crunch in the 70s. Not only was oil expensive, it was also hard to find. OPEC cut our supply and we were crippled. That’s when Honda and Toyota proliferated the US market with compact cars. Fuel efficient vehicles gained a foothold in the US and, as Americans got creative with their commuting habits, oil prices came back down.

And they stayed down. They stayed down so long that Americans were able to stop buying those puny “rice burners” and start buying big cars again. By the end of the 1980s truck sales started to rise and by 2000 the SUV became the most common vehicle on the highway. Fuel efficiency was a joke. People were buying horsepower and getting 12 miles per gallon was fine and dandy because the average American felt safe driving a massive hunk of steel down the road. It didn’t matter if crash test surveys demonstrated that larger vehicles were less safe in a crash, Fanny F-150 liked riding high and stretching out.

Of course, the volatility of the oil market never went away. OPEC tried to manipulate supplies when Clinton and George H. W. Bush were in office but they were able to leverage diplomacy to keep supplies up and costs down. The result is that Americans didn’t pay attention to the writing on the wall. We kept on trucking oblivious to what was on the horizon.

Oil is a finite resource. There were only so many prehistoric bogs that got converted into crude and we’ve been burning it up at an exponential rate. Even if it’s cheap, the supply is limited so it makes sense to conserve it and aggressively look for renewable sources of combustible fuel. That’s why coal is a lousy answer. No matter how many mountains they level or rivers they foul Big Coal companies won’t find enough coal underground to last. Fossil fuels take hundreds of millions of years to create but only second to burn. We need to find something else. This latest oil crisis is proof of that.

Gas is well on it way to four bucks a gallon and people are still cruising around in hulking trucks and midsize sedans with big engines. They aren’t cruising as much, but they aren’t looking for alternatives either. It would seem that our squeal point is somewhere closer to the five dollar mark but before it gets there we’ll have a new Administration in Washington and prices will fall. The question is whether Americans will take the lesson they’ve learned to heart and strive to find a better way or if they’ll go right back to the SUV.

I don't think we'll learn and that's why I hope those prices keep rising.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Sex, Sex...was all I heard.

The headlines were misleading. When I read that New York’s governor had been linked to a prostitution ring I thought he was some sort of pimp. I read the story thinking I would be treated to some intricate scandal where Eliot Spitzer was a key player in a multi-state prostitution scam. When I read the article I was disappointed to discover that Mr. Spitzer was only client #9. To me, that’s hardly being linked to a prostitution ring. I’m not connected to Amoco just because I bought gas this weekend. Granted I did get the sneaking suspicion I was being screwed as the price rolled past $50, but that’s different.

Nevertheless, Eliot Spitzer was caught doing wrong. He broke the law and he broke public trust. People are calling him a hypocrite because he apparently campaigned on an ethics platform but from what I could ascertain his ethical focus was within the realm of business practices. He was going to clean up Wall Street. I don’t know that he ever voiced a problem with the notion of nookie-for-hire. There’s a big difference between a conservative who foams at the mouth when speaking of family values getting caught in a nubile boy’s pants and a moderate intent on establishing economic integrity hiring a call girl to boogie on down to Washington to show him a good time.

It’s odd that we hold politician to such lofty standards in their personal lives but we don’t give much thought to the corruption that occurs in their professional world. Spitzer is going to be forced to step aside amidst this scandal when it’s got no bearing on his performance in office. Sure, somebody will argue that if his wife can’t trust him neither can we but that’s nonsense. We know that personal relationships are a separate issue, and while Spitzer broke the law, it’s a law most reasonable people feel is unnecessary.

Consenting adults almost always barter for sex. Whether it’s dinner, a movie and a nice bottle of Petite Petite (that was being saved for something special) or a cash exchange, sex is almost always a transaction. There are exceptions, especially several years into a long term relationship, but those are rare.

That’s not to excuse what Spitzer did. He knows how the game is played and he took his chances when he arranged for his favorite call girl to hook up with him in D.C. It’s a sign of reckless behavior and poor judgment. To that end, one can make a case that he is not qualified to lead. It’s just unfortunate that we don’t hold the actual performance of our elected officials to the same standards. Do we have to wait for a Democrat to book a high-end hooker or a Republican to have a guy on guy romp in an airport toilet before we question their integrity?

Look at McCain. He’s been linked to a slinky lobbyist with a reputation for flirting with geezers to get a little leverage. Rather than taking a long hard look at how this relationship might have affected public policy people are more infatuated with whether or not McCain got frisky with a hired hoochie. Is that really important? That’s why companies hire attractive women to do that sort of work in the first place. I’m not saying that all female lobbyists are eye candy but submit two resumes, one for a policy wonk who obtained a masters degree in political science from Georgetown while interning for three senators and another for a community college grad who happened to win a few beauty pageants and see who gets called first. Sex gets a point across as well as it sells. And you can bet that McCain borrowed a blue pill from somebody before he went to dinner with that cute little girl from down the hall.

People cheat on their spouses all the time. Could you lose your job if you cheated on your spouse? Not unless you work for her/him. Sometimes we in the general public will say things like, “if I pulled something like that I’d be fired” when we know it’s not true. People in the real world get fired when their performance suffers. So you can get arrested and still have a job as long as you can post bail and be back at work before you violate company policy. And you can definitely cheat on your spouse and hold down your job. That might change if you cheat with the 19 year-old intern in accounting but as long as you keep your nasty bits out of the company’s business you’ll be back at work on Monday.

There was a time when people didn’t care about a politician’s personal life. History is filled with philanderers and pederasts. James Buchanan was gay; Jefferson had illegitimate children; JFK may or may not have joined his brother and Marilyn Monroe for a threesome; LBJ ate live armadillos for breakfast; Nixon flipped lit cigarettes at his wife for fun; Ronald Reagan enjoyed urinating on Asian boys; and George H. W. Bush disciplined at least one of his children by dropping him on the head. The list goes on.

Suddenly we live an in age where sex sells and everything else is boring. John McCain might very well want to launch a dozen nuclear missiles into Vietnam if he’s elected but we’re more focused on whether or not he got freaky with a lobbyist. Mark Foley was run out of DC on a rail, proving that a live boy can still end a career even if a dead girl can’t, but the cronies who kept him on committees that are supposed to review laws that punish child abusers are unscathed. Tom DeLay basically had to dare the country to punish him before he was ousted and Ted Stevens has been playing it fast and loose for years with no accountability. Larry Craig was a crooked politician who managed to deftly avoid any legal trouble over suspicious donations and pork projects that benefited his contributors but it was a lovelorn act of desperation that put him on the hot seat.

It’s funny, we don’t seem to make a big stink over our elected officials missing votes or failing to show up for hearings but if we find out the reason they were absent is because they were having sex with somebody they weren’t married to the fur starts flying. The public might be to blame, but the headline on Spitzer’s affair proves that the media is playing a big role in fanning those flames.

We do the same thing with professional athletes. When LeBron James got ticketed for speeding it made national news. Some people were even enraged with LeBron’s glib answer to the question. He didn’t even express remorse. Colin Cowherd, a nationally syndicated idiot who takes up airspace on ESPN even characterized LeBron’s brush with a radar gun as one of the problems with the mentality of the professional athlete. Really? Speeding’s the scourge of out nation’s youth. Thanks Colin, now go back to apologizing for how awful West Coast football is.

Regular people don’t get charged with assault everyday but when some working class stiff gets a little rowdy at a bar and fists fly it’s not grounds for that guy to lose his day job but if Tracy McGrady get’s involved in a fracas outside of a night club the general public laments the fact that he’s back in the starting lineup the very next day. “If I got arrested for assault they wouldn’t let me out of jail so I could be at work the next day.” Yes, they would, all you have to do is post bond.

And ultimately the publicity of these altercations has a very negative impact on the athlete’s career. We don’t acknowledge it because he’s still shooting baskets but players like LeBron James have a lot of contracts on the side. In fact, Lebron James makes more money as a spokesman than he does as a basketball player. Let’s say LeBron got pulled over for speeding but found himself arrested for possession of narcotics, carrying a concealed weapon and driving while intoxicated. Let’s say he was in the car with four naked underage girls while all of this took place. He’s got the money to hire a savvy enough legal team to make charges disappear but his public image would have taken a huge hit and LeBron would suddenly be less marketable. Endorsements would dry up. Sprite, Bubble Yum and even Nike would exercise clauses in their contracts to drop LeBron from their payrolls. Just ask Kobe Bryant about that. His brush with the law might still be costing him millions.

Why do you think Vince Carter and Allen Iverson have seen their endorsement opportunities disappear? Part of it might be age but most of it is because the public is tired of watching them act up. So you see athletes, celebrities and even politicians actually do pay a price for getting on the wrong side of the law. Larry Craig wasn’t the only man busted for soliciting sex in the men’s room. When Joe Schmoe ties one on at B-Dub’s after work and gets ticketed for trying to score a blow job from a cop at 3:00am it doesn’t make headlines. He can call in sick the next day, plead guilty, pay a fine, go back to his life (and his wife) and nobody will be the wiser. But the people processing arrests don’t call reporters when Joe Schmoe’s name pops up.

Again, that’s the way this game is played. The stakes are higher for famous people and politicians fit into that category. The sting that nabbed Spitzer also identified other patrons but none of them were on the public’s radar. Spitzer is paying a much higher price for his illicit frolic because he’s in a higher position. It’s not fair but then again life rarely is. The irony is that the public is really cheating itself by placing emphasis on issues that have little to do with a politician’s performance. Could you imagine Thomas Jefferson being forced out of politics because of extramarital affairs?