Wednesday, May 21, 2008

OIL!

BIG OIL.

So Congress finally decided to put the screws to the oil companies...don't hold your breath on anything coming from it.

For years Democrats pretended to wage war with the corporate executives who run the larger oil companies. The term BIG OIL is one that Big Oil companies hate because it demonizes them when all they are guilty of doing is running a successful business. By throwing them all under the same header, we hold them in the same esteem as BIG TOBACCO .

Big Oil companies maintain that they haven’t misled the consumer. If anything oil companies have brokered their buying power to keep prices at the pump low. Record profits are the product of record consumption.

To some degree that’s true. Nobody really seems overly upset that FAST FOOD has effectively conspired to fatten us up. Ronald McDonald is just as guilty as Joe Camel or the Marlboro Man when it comes to steering children down an unhealthy path but yet we still line up for BOGO Big Macs with little concern for right and wrong.

Then again, fast food franchises are struggling in the current economy. Americans have slowly been opting for healthier food and that’s put iconic chains under the gun to compete. Big oil companies don’t have any competition and they’ve been conspiring to control the market for decades. What’s more, oil companies have been receiving government subsidies. That’s right, in spite of being the only businesses to see consistent growth in what has been a chaotic economy over the past 7 years, nobody has seen fit to pull the free money our federal government has forking over.

Americans are finally feeling the sting of fuel costs and they don’t like it. But what are they going to do? Consumption is finally starting to slow down now that gasoline is at the $4.00 per gallon mark but our society is dependent on internal combustion. Most of the American workforce does not have access to reliable public transportation. Of all the major metropolitan areas in the US only a handful have the infrastructure to get people to work via rail or bus. Uncontained urban sprawl makes it impossible for late-blooming cities to accommodate transit needs.

Americans have to drive our country is built around the car. That’s been an important factor in our development as a country but now, with pollution and fuel consumption becoming problematic our dependence on individual transportation will hurt our ability to compete in the global economy. That’s thanks in large part to Big Oil.

By failing to invest government subsidies into research and development, oil companies have fallen short on the goal of producing an alternative fuel to oil. Now that prices are climbing we’re seeing half-baked ideas such as ethanol being foisted on the market. Ethanol’s been around for such a long time that we shouldn’t have so many problems with efficiency and distribution but the oil companies did just enough to appease certain benchmarks. Once an oil friendly administration assumed control those benchmarks were set aside.

The same thing happened to the Big Three automotive manufacturers. Once Bush assumed control of the White House projects such as electric cars and fuel cells took a back seat. Economy standards were set aside and Americans were buying trucks in record numbers. Now Honda and Toyota have become the automotive juggernauts, Chrysler is owned by foreign interests and Ford is dangerously close to going out of business.

Now that people are upset and questions are being asked, the American consumer is taking the blame. Big Oil is playing the role of victim in this scandal. The reality is that the American people are the victims. Our leaders failed to recognize market trends and corporate leaders gleefully held back the development of fuel efficient technology over the last 10 years. Now that people are warming up to the idea of bio diesel we realize that there aren’t any late model passenger vehicles with diesel available. Now that E-85 seems like a reasonable alternative we learn that all those flex fuel vehicles we’d been hearing about were distributed to states that required them by law, and of course there aren’t any E-85 pumps within a days drive of most consumers.

Americans might be guilty of being na├»ve but that doesn’t mean we weren’t led astray by people who knew better. Big Oil should be held accountable…


…but they won’t.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Big Talk.

Barack Obama is the latest politician to draw the line in the sand and demand that his family be left out of the political fray. Apparently Michelle Obama left a remark out there that was turned into a sound bite that is making its rounds among conservatives.

The sound bite in question features Mrs. Obama stating that for the first time in her adult life she is proud of this country. Of course the Red State take on that comment is that Mrs. Obama has spent a solid 20 years not being proud of her country which is supposedly a bad thing. It doesn’t matter that most Americans aren’t particularly proud of their country, people in politics are supposed to beam with nationalistic pride.

The video is nothing more than a partisan bone for conservative pundits to wrestle over. It’s not going to scare away any Democrats who weren’t already frightened by the fact that Obama happens to be black. However, the fact that Mrs. Obama is now in the crosshairs of conservative critics rightfully bothers the Democratic frontrunner.

He recently issued the obligatory “hands off” ultimatum. Of course there’s nothing he can do about it. His wife is out there on the publicity tour talking to thousands of people. She’s an intelligent woman who might have political aspirations of her own someday. Michelle Obama is fair game and Barack knows it.

So why the posturing? Because that’s part of the game too. If Barack Obama doesn’t puff out his chest and defend his wife he looks weak and that could hurt him more than anything Jeremiah Wright has to say. A man who isn’t willing to go to bat for his family isn’t a man and can’t be trusted to run the country. Not even when our current president never had a real job and spent more time partying than he did parenting.

Both Bill and Hillary Clinton played that card with Chelsea, although it played better for Bill because Chelsea was a child when he was campaigning. Now Chelsea is a young woman who is out there stumping for her mother. Still, when people put her on the spot Hillary voiced her displeasure. George W. Bush drew the same line with his binge-drinking daughters. It’s become such a typical part of the process that one has to wonder if the attacks on family aren’t instigated internally.

It’s funny because there is absolutely nothing these candidates can do about it. If a columnist lambastes Michelle Obama what’s Barack going to do about it? The Constitution prevents Barack from taking legal action and the basic laws of society prohibit physical assault. Barack is powerless to defend his wife and given the fact that his wife is pretty much on her own, he shouldn’t have too.

Bill Clinton couldn’t do anything about the pundits, like Rush Limbaugh, who took shots at his daughter while he was in office and George W. Bush had more trouble keeping his daughters out if trouble and in their pants than he had with critics who wanted to hurt him by attacking them.

Political opponents loath to play that game because attacking a candidate’s family tends to backfire. George H.W. Bush tried to question Hillary Clinton’s influence over Bill and it cost him a lot of points among women. And that was Hillary, nobody likes her. So John McCain isn’t going to put Michelle Obama in his crosshairs. That’s a dangerous gamble.

It’s OK for people like Glen Beck and Ann Coulter to stir that pot; they live in the muck and have no credibility. Aside from a handful of marginally retarded fans, nobody cares what they have to say. They’ll get the mindless masses worked into a frenzy but it’s only going to reinforce votes that were already iron clad. That’s assuming there isn’t a sale on Skoal on election day.

It would have been refreshing for Obama to laugh the criticism off and dismiss it as petty but that’s something McCain would have jumped on. As silly as it is, not acting macho would have given mainstream Republicans plenty of ammunition to question Obama’s courage. People don’t have time for nuance and they don’t like to think about the big picture. Barack Obama has to take a stand and defend the honor of his wife even though she seems perfectly capable of fighting her own battles…even though there’s nothing he Obama can do about it.

Those are the rules of the game and the game is played for your enjoyment. It’s too bad that we spend so much time obsessing about these petty antics and important issues get pushed to the side.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Interest without Knowledge

The previous two Presidential elections were contentious to say the least. Opinions split down party lines but no matter how you feel about the outcome you have to admit there were serious problems.

In 2000 the Supreme Court split 5-4down party lines and quashed a thorough recount of the contentious ballots. There were stories about dangling chads, combative election workers and confused old Jews who voted for Pat Buchanan. In 2004 the problems surfaced in Ohio where a the Republican Secretary of State tried to reject thousands of voter registration forms and a company whose owner was a enthusiastic Bush supporter provided electronic ballots machines that seemed to malfunction in key Democratic strongholds.

Most people don’t want to consider the possibility that these elections were rigged but the fact remains that elections are rigged all the time. It’s not just in third world countries. Daly ruled Chicago with an iron fist and maintained control with a stuffed ballot box and it happens in smaller communities all the time. If we’re being honest with ourselves we’d admit that there’s probably some sort of fix at play in every election…it’s just that the 2000 and 2004 elections were so close and the final tally came down to two states that had been massaged to skew results.

Even if you don’t believe the fix was in you have to admit that there were some issues that lend themselves to conspiracy theories. That means that there’s something wrong with the way our system works. Between the last two big elections Americans have been evaluation everything from the registration process, to voter verification. We’ve even seen people question the existence of the Electoral College.

So it’s no surprise that this years Primaries are stirring up quite a bit of controversy. Again, on the Republican side the ticket was decided a long time ago. The only thing that stood out was the way McCain and Huckabee collaborated to destroy Mitt Romney’s bid. Once Romney was out voters sided with McCain and by the time Super Tuesday was over so was the Republican race.

The Democrats were still close. Hillary seemed to have a huge advantage but Obama has a strong following and it has carried over to what people refer to as Super Delegates. Super Delegates are just party alumni who are able to vote for the candidate of their choosing, regardless of the primary results. Even in states Hillary won, these delegates threw support behind Obama.

This has people crying foul. They feel like their cotes don’t count and they’re right. What they don’t realize is that their votes don’t have to count. The parties are private entities designed to consolidate similar ideas into a specific party platform. It’s a tool voters can use to choose candidates who support an agenda they agree with and a device for politicians to help each other win their posts.

The problem with primaries is readily illustrated in, once again, Ohio where the polls were open well after Super Tuesday. With McCain comfortably in the lead Republican pundits called their minions to arms and encouraged them to vote in the Democratic primary and vote for Hillary. At the time Obama seemed poised to run away with the party nomination but he hit a snag in Ohio.

A lot of people dismissed the idea that Republicans threw the Democratic primary but now that the votes have all been counted and the forms have been examined, reports published by the AP indicate that 8% of the people who voted Democrat in switched party affiliations at the polls. The board of elections tracks party affiliation during primaries so there’s no count on the number of unofficial Republicans who made the switch and of course there’s no way to know who these former Republicans cast their cotes for but seeing as how a number of these Republicans were people holding elected office as a party member it certainly seems fair to assume that the majority of these party hoppers were following the advice of the pundits.

It’s not a matter of whether this is right or wrong. One Republican said that he didn’t break any laws and he’s absolutely correct. In the big game of politics it’s within the rules but that’s why the Democrats are willing to let the so-called Super Delegates make tough decisions and go against the popular vote.

It’s great that Americans want their voices to be heard but foolish to expect private political parties to relinquish their power. If you don’t like the candidate your preferred party chooses, then show your dissent in November. The only reason we have a two party system is because we allow ourselves to be limited to it.