Monday, March 19, 2012

Unctuous Utterances

President Obama is totally to blame for the sharp rise in gas prices and he's simply ecstatic about it, say Mitt Romney and the usual suspects at Fox News. It's because he won't Drill Baby Drill, and because he won't allow construction of the tar sands pipeline, and because he's the heartless killer of a million jobs. Nonsense! say the reasonable people and pundits of pragmatic progressivism. No president can control the price of gas, fer cryin out loud! He's not a king, despite the fact that he has declared himself to be above the Constitution and can kill people. Stop piling on Barry. And of course, we are right and sensible to call out the GOP for the lying liars they are.

Obama, for his part, points to Congress and its tax subsidies for Big Oil as the reason for our pain at the pump, as well as the drumbeat for war with Iran, and rising demand because of voracious Chinese consumerism. These causes have at least a vestige of verisimilitude, and they sound good.
But in making this a conversation about politics, and the crazy side blaming the reasonable side and vice versa, what's missing is that neither party is really addressing the issue head on. No party and no branch of government is pointing the finger of blame where it really belongs: the greedy speculators at such too big to exist banks as Goldman Sachs. (I wrote about unregulated speculation in a Paul Krugman comment last week and was promptly accused of being a Republican sock puppet by another reader!)

It's an election year, and no politician wants to bite the hand that feeds him or her. There are a few exceptions to the rule, such as Bernie Sanders, and I'll get to him later. But first, let me indulge in one of my favorite pasttimes: the Parse a President game. This edition is from a slightly condensed version of Obama's Saturday radio address, titled Ending Subsidies for Big Oil Companies.

Hi, everybody. As I’m sure you’ve noticed over the past few weeks, the price at your local pump has been going up and up. And because it’s an election year, so has the temperature of our political rhetoric.

(It's costing families about $40 extra for fill-ups -- the same magic number I said the average family would get when we passed that tax holiday sunsetting thingmabob that will never really sunset, and will give us deficit hawks an excuse to cut Social Security. Oh well. Easy come, easy go.)

What matters most to me right now is the impact that rising prices have on you. When you’ve got to spend more on gas, you’ve got less to spend on everything else. It makes things harder. So I wanted to take a minute this weekend to explain what steps my Administration is taking when it comes to energy – most importantly, producing more of it while using less of it.

My approval ratings are down, so let me take some precious time away from my weekend and try to improve my numbers through a little friendly propaganda.

The truth is: the price of gas depends on a lot of factors that are often beyond our control. Unrest in the Middle East can tighten global oil supply. Growing nations like China or India adding cars to the road increases demand. But one thing we should control is fraud and manipulation that can cause prices to spike even further.
For years, traders at financial firms were able to game the energy markets, distort the price of oil, and make big profits for themselves at your expense. And they were able to do all that because of major gaps and loopholes in our regulations. When I took office, we did something about it.
The Wall Street reforms I signed into law are helping bring energy markets out of the shadows and under real oversight. They’re strengthening our ability to go after fraud and to prevent traders from manipulating the market. So it’s not just wrong, but dangerous that some in Congress want to roll back those protections and return to the days when companies like Enron could avoid regulation and reap enormous profits, no matter who it hurt.

Okay, here is where it gets really, really dicey. I am actually venturing into some blatant lying here, folks. That Wall Street reform law I signed to control speculation two years ago, that Dodd-Frank thing? Well, the oil speculation part has never even been enforced! Gary Gensler, head of the Commodities Futures Trading Commission, has the sworn duty to stop folks like Goldman Sachs from manipulating the market and driving up oil prices to artificially high levels. The too big to exist banks are still ripping off you fine folks at the gas pump like there's no tomorrow. Of course, Gensler used to work at Goldman Sachs, but I am not telling you that. Goldman Sachs is a friend of mine and a friend of my friend, Michael Bloomberg. I am not going to diss them in an election year, or any year. Because they run the whole show. This is pure Kabuki. There is no oversight of the financial crime family. I repeat. No oversight.

What’s more, at a time when big oil companies are making more money than ever before, we’re still giving them $4 billion of your tax dollars in subsidies every year. Your member of Congress should be fighting for you. Not for big financial firms. Not for big oil companies.
In the next few weeks, I expect Congress to vote on ending these subsidies. And when they do, we’re going to put every single Member of Congress on record: They can either stand up for oil companies, or they can stand up for the American people. They can either place their bets on a fossil fuel from the last century, or they can place their bets on America’s future. So make your voice heard. Send your representative an email. Give them a call. Tell them to stand with you.

I am ignoring the fact that Senator Bernie Sanders has demanded that we do  something about those wild and crazy speculators. I am ignoring the fact that as your president, I have it in my sole power to release just a smidgen of our oil reserves to make Wall Street speculation stop in its tracks and prices drop like a rock. Why, just the other week, Reuters put out a false report that Gordon Brown and I had agreed we'd release our reserves. And the price of oil immediately tanked. And when it turned out the rumor was false, the price went right back up. What do you know about that?  Heh, heh. In the meantime, I will convince you its you and me against the world, babe, and blame both parties in Congress. I may as well call my campaign The Truman Show, get it? Because Harry ran against Congress. Congress evil, Barry good. Heh.  

And tell them to be honest with you. It’s easy to promise a quick fix when it comes to gas prices. There just isn’t one. Anyone who tells you otherwise – any career politician who promises some three-point plan for two-dollar gas – they’re not looking for a solution. They’re just looking for your vote.

They lie! Demonize Congress even more and forget about the banksters, folks! Trust me. Triple Heh.

If we’re truly going to make sure we’re not at the mercy of spikes in gas prices every year, the answer isn’t just to drill more – because we’re already drilling more. Under my Administration, we’re producing more oil here at home than at any time in the last eight years, that’s a fact. We’ve quadrupled the number of operating oil rigs to a record high, that’s a fact. And we’ve opened millions of acres on land and offshore to develop more of our domestic resources.

Never fear. By the time Election Day rolls around, this pain at the pump will be but a dim memory, Wall Street will have raked in billions, my campaign war chest will have swollen to bursting. And of course, I am drill baby drilling -- dangerous deepwater operations are back to full capacity and there will be a fracking well in every back yard if I have anything to say about it. Remember my State of the Union address? As long as the big polluters promise they won't use toxic chemicals in the water they shoot down into the earth, then it's all good. Forget about Dow Chemical and Bhopal and the BP spill. Let's look forward, not backward. And notice how I don't suggest that people actually drive less, or  conserve energy. Because this has nothing to do with an energy shortage and everything to do with greed.

(here, though, he does speak about fuel efficiency in the vehicles of the future, as well as solar and wind power. Nobody can quibble with that.) 

We can do even better. And we will. But what we can’t do is keep being dependent on other countries for our energy needs. In America we control our own destiny. So that’s the choice we face – the past, or the future. And America is what it is today because we have always placed our bets on the future. Thanks, and have a great weekend.

Again with the moving on meme. The only folks betting on the future and winning are the unregulated Wall Street greedsters. Your own futures? Meh.

You may recall last summer when Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont leaked a lot of embarrassing info about the oil speculators, proving that they had been the sole cause of the last (unexplained until then) big spike in prices in 2008. The  players in this regulated-in-name-only casino are all the usual suspects: Goldman, Morgan Stanley, the Koch Brothers, T. Boone Pickens. All the erstwhile "confidential" devils are here.

And now they're at it again, and Sanders is at it again. He and 69 other legislators have written a letter to Gary Gensler to remind him that he is falling down on the job and flouting the law in not regulating the Wall Street greedsters who continue to inflict so much human misery. I just wish he had also written directly to the president to ask why he is falling down on the job and not firing Gensler. Much as I love Bernie, he will only go so far and no further.

Sanders points out that the skyrocketing prices have nothing to do with a short supply or a particularly rising demand, the usual cause of spiking numbers. There is no shortage of oil in the world market. "According to the Energy Information Administration," said Sanders, "the supply of oil and gasoline is greater today than it was three years ago, when the national average price for a gallon of gasoline was just $1.90. Today, the national average is more than $3.70 a gallon at a time when the demand for oil in the U.S. is at its lowest level since April of 1997." 

Eighty percent of the futures market is now controlled by unregulated financial institutions, compared with just 30% a decade ago.

So with the exception of Bernie Sanders and perhaps a precious few other altruistic types who still act in the interest of the voters, here is what our elected officials are actually doing. Because this is how the dance is performed: The president pretends to push, and Congress passes, some watered-down legislation that merely nibbles around the edges of reform. The new rules never actually kick in right away, because can-kicking is so lucrative. To make sure the carious teeth of Dodd-Frank never clamp down and actually bite, lobbyists fall all over themselves, frantically contributing to campaign funds. The politicians sign their names to letters demanding enforcement of the rules, and they leak these demands to the media. We think they really care about us. Lobbyists lobby the politicians some more, and politicians get more campaign cash. The President blames Congress and tells us we can make a difference if we'd only pick up the phone and call them. His campaign sends out emails telling us to stop the Republican lies. He asks for $15 to help stop the Republican lies. The speculators laugh all the way to the bank, we get screwed, and the mad world spins.

Fingerpointing USA (from top, Gensler, Sanders, Obama)


Denis Neville said...

More smoke and mirrors

Karen called it, “this is how the dance is performed…”

Follow the money behind the closed doors where they make the real deals.

Along with the Wall Street banksters, Big Oil controls Washington.

Obama received $884,000 from the oil and gas industry during the 2008 campaign, more than any other lawmaker except his Republican opponent, Sen. John McCain. Obama is number nine on the top twenty list during the 1989-2010 election cycle. BP was one of his biggest contributors. Was anyone surprised that Obama waited 10 days to respond to the BP Gulf oil spill disaster?

Oil and gas companies are always among the industries to spend the most on lobbying, pouring $132.2 million into these efforts in 2008 alone.

“The United States has become a nation in which a small cadre of oil interests governs the most pressing decisions of our time. Consequently oil and gasoline prices are skyrocketing…But this is just the most obvious tip of a much larger iceberg. As oil becomes harder to find, more competitive to acquire, more expensive to produce, and more polluting to refine, we will be further pressed to decide just how far we are willing to go to get the last drops. Will our climate crisis be expanded? Will communities be destroyed? Will more wars be fought?” - Antonia Juhasz, The Tyranny of Oil: The World’s Most Powerful Industry–and What We Must Do to Stop It

TimothyD11 said...

"It's costing families about $40 extra for fill-ups -- the same magic number I said the average family would get when we passed that tax holiday sunsetting thingmabob that will never really sunset, and will give us deficit hawks an excuse to cut Social Security. Oh well. Easy come, easy go."

After reading this entirely this is what really bothers me the most. Because anyone with a lick of sense knows that Republicans, and I'm afraid a few Democrats, are itching to cut Social Security, even though it's in perfectly good shape IF the money that is owed to it is paid back. But that would require a reversal of the tax cuts and then some. The people in power do not want that. That would be a major tax increase on themselves and their masters.

Now perhaps I'm being cynical, but HOW does a president who may want to cut Social Security but not get the blame for it actually cut Social Security? You defund it by having people pay less payroll taxes into it - and then years later you can tell people that it was for their own good, a necessary stimulus for them, and Congress and the president had no other options because of the Republicans.

But it's identical to the way that Republicans planned on getting rid of "big government" - they "starved the beast". They cut off the revenue but didn't cut any spending so that it would bankrupt itself one day and we'd be forced to some day pay down the debt and deeply cut government spending.

And they might just get away with it - because the American people ARE stupid, ignorant, uneducated, misinformed, masochistic and / or apathetic.

I have this theory that nothing will change until considerably more people are hurting. As long as people are scraping by and have a roof over their heads, fast food in their bellies and a few gadgets to play with, plus American Idol on the TV THEY ARE NOT INTERESTED in the corruption and hijacking of our democracy.

And the powers that be probably know just how much they can take from them without waking them from their stupor.

Or maybe they know they can't get away with this forever and are just going to take as much as they can until the American people HAVE had enough - at which time they'll say their full enough - they have a mountain of money in their bank accounts etc, and they'll finally be willing to pay taxes on any money going forward?

Who knows?

By the way, what percentage of conservatives and neoliberals would you say are deliberately evil and what percentage are just stupid? And I mean from the Walton family and the Koch brothers right down to the dumbest Rush limbaugh dittohead making only $12,000 a year?

Will said...


"And they might just get away with it - because the American people ARE stupid, ignorant, uneducated, misinformed, masochistic and / or apathetic.

I have this theory that nothing will change until considerably more people are hurting. As long as people are scraping by and have a roof over their heads, fast food in their bellies and a few gadgets to play with, plus American Idol on the TV THEY ARE NOT INTERESTED in the corruption and hijacking of our democracy."

Truer words have never been spoken. Thanks, Timothy.

Here's a very disturbing video from Zuccotti Park the other night. Maybe this will wake more than a few people up. Sadly, I doubt it; but we owe it to ourselves to keep trying, don't we?

TimothyD11 said...

Will, the only way to get the police to back off is to have so many more people in the Occupy movement that they - and the entire system - are overwhelmed. And that would probably requuire what I suggested - more people hurting to a point that they get fed up. The American people will accept low wages and benefits plus 2 unemployed neighbors if they find ways to make ends meet - and they will not "join a movement" if they view it as silly or if they don't "have skin in the game".

I'm afraid our ONLY hope for it to get better is for it to get worse.

Anonymous said...

Occupy is played out, done, history. Unsustainable park encampments only lead to counterproductive police confrontations.

In the video Will provided, the "occupiers" are chanting "the whole world is watching". Yes, the world is watching a bunch of mostly young, unimaginative kids clash with police. This is of limited use and unproductive. Still, it is marginally better than endless blogging and no action.

The recipe for change has been broadcast on television and the web for the past year: the Arab Spring.

If the problem is Goldman Sachs and speculators, as suggested in this fine post by KG, the answer should be clear: get Goldman Sachs and the speculators by any means necessary. Treat them like a common criminal breaking and entering your home to steal from you and your family. That is what Goldman Sachs and the speculators are doing.

TimothyD11 said...

Anonymous, Occupy IS the Arab Spring amplified. If more people would JOIN Occupy instead of write off, ignore and ridicule, it WOULD BE the AMERICAN Spring.

Anonymous said...

RE: Occupy IS the Arab Spring amplified

With all due respect, this kind flawed thinking is the problem. Amplified? Impotent is a better description of Occupy in relation to the Arab Spring.

The Arab Spring actually deposed three dictators (and counting): Ben Ali (Tunisia), Mubarak (Egypt), and Gaddafi (Libya). The Arab Spring began with the self immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi, and the last dictator deposed, Gaddafi, was hunted down and killed by his people. The battles currently going on in Syria are horrific.

The Occupy people camped out in public parks for several months, blogged about it on Apple icrap (made by Chinese slaves), then got kicked out of the parks with no accomplishments. And you can’t figure out why more people don’t want to join Occupy?

Occupy will not succeed because of a flawed model, and our current shameless leaders. In the 1960’s Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spent 13 years (1955-1968) in a fairly peaceful movement (except for the riots, and injuries to protesters), but a peace movement only works if the opposition has a conscience. In the 1960’s there was some conscience left in our leaders. Not so today. The Obama-Wall Street crowd has no conscience whatsoever. None.

If the so-called 99 percent want victory, they will have to take it, by any means necessary. Even an organized, peaceful, national people’s credit default would fail, since many Americans are too chicken shit to risk damage to their credit scores.

Flawed thinking gave us the Obama Trojan Horse presidency. Obama’s only credential was hope. (also known as "scam"). Flawed thinking (at adbusters no less) gave us the failed Occupy movement.

The Arab Spring succeeded (three times, and counting) by using ANY MEANS NECESSARY.

TimothyD11 said...

I'm sorry - I got that exactly backwards - I meant to say that the Arab Spring IS the Occupy Movement amplified -

and now that it is fixed I do stand by that statement.

TimothyD11 said...

...which is to say that if the Occupy movement grows considerably it will be the American equivalent of the Arab Spring.

I'm talking numbers too large to brush off and ignore.

So rather than knocking it, how do you suggest growing it?

Valerie Long Tweedie said...

I am with you, TimothyD11 - the Arab Spring is the Occupy Movement amplified.

And Anonymous, you are pretty brave and inspiring (not!) suggesting violence and casting stones at Occupy and us bloggers with your comment, "of limited use and unproductive. Still . . . marginally better than endless blogging and no action." Why don't you have the courage of your convictions and sign your real first and last name?

Yeah, that's what I thought.

VLT said...

Gas is up to just under $6 a gallon in Australia and rising.

Honestly, I don't have a lot of sympathy for Americans driving their SUVs and bitching about how much it costs to fill up their tanks at the pump. We have known for ten years (at the very least) that oik companies will use any excuse to push up the price at the pump and yet these same (entitled) complainers just HAD to have their gas guzzlers.

If it is costing people $40 extra to fill up their cars, then their cars are too big.

Anonymous said...

@angry person from Australia

I am Anonymous because I am the 99 percent. I just think unsustainable camping in parks is not productive, and only leads to confrontations with the police. Otherwise I have marched with Occupy, but do not support camps in parks that lead to violence.

I offered a peaceful alternative that no one responded to: "an organized, peaceful, national people’s credit default"; although I noted it "would fail, since many Americans are too chicken shit to risk damage to their credit scores."

I also support labor unions, do you? "The rise of the American labor movement was characterized by bloody and revolutionary battles. From the first famous martyrs, the Molly Maguires in the Pennsylvania coal fields in the nineteenth century, to the crucial workers’ victory of the 1930s in the sit-down strikes against General Motors, it has a history of pitched battles that frequently erupted into open warfare." from The Labor Wars

And if you support labor unions, you also support Mafia violence, according to author James B. Jacobs in "Mobsters, Unions, and Feds: The Mafia and the American Labor Movement"

When the labor movement needs action, it calls "Tony Soprano", not some hippie in a park.

Anyway, by calling Occupy the Arab Spring "amplified" you are the one who is advocating violence, since the Arab Spring is very, very violent.

I called for action "by any means necessary" - that is completely different.

Fear of violence is different than actual violence. The banks and the one percent do not fear the 99 percent, they just order more pepper spray.

An organized, peaceful, national people’s credit default would put FEAR in the hearts of the powers that be. Until TPTB fear the opposition, Occupy is pissin in the wind.