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Friday, April 28, 2006
Why Does Gasoline Cost So Much?
Exxon Mobil has a page on its website that answers the question. My summarizations are in boldface; source text in quotes.
Increased global demand. "Crude prices are set globally and crude oil demand is growing at its fastest pace in over a decade, driven in part by significant economic growth in developing countries and in the U.S."
Increased domestic demand. "Since the U.S. demand for oil exceeds domestic production, refineries here must compete in the world market for a share of both the world's available crude and, increasingly, refined products such as gasoline."
Specialized mixtures of gasoline drive up refining costs. "U.S. refiners must now produce and deliver to separate markets more than 20 specialized types of gasoline in order to comply with Federal Clean Air Act requirements."
There is also a graph (source: American Petroleum Institute) illustrating the price of gasoline in real dollars from 1980 to present, broken down into taxes, marketing and refining, and crude oil prices. Note that only that last category shows any significant change. Real gas prices have declined from Carter-era levels. The current uptrend correlates with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; wartime in the Middle East worries those oil speculators.
The Centers for American Progress has a typical left-wing response to rising gas prices. With one exception, none of its solutions directly address the price of gasoline. That exception is the plethora of gas formulas; it calls for a single fuel standard to ensure "the cleanest gasoline blend be used nationwide." The main thrust is conservation: we'll pay less for gasoline if we use less. One intriguing idea is "feebates" - new car purchasers receive rebates in direct proportion to a vehicle's gas mileage. (I guess the limousine liberals have been replaced with Prius liberals.) Then there's the old biofuels snakeoil; the Free Market Project debunks this scheme, citing both the Cato Institute and the Sierra Club.
One yet-unaddressed factor behind rising oil prices should be aired: the failure to pursue a rational nuclear policy. The cost of building nuke plants could be brought down by coming up with a standardized design. Mixed-oxide-fueled plants run on recycled nuclear waste, thus minimizing (and reducing) our waste stockpiles. Pebble-bed reactors show promise as a safer and less costly nuclear power technology. If we got serious, we could start phasing out oil-burning plants - thus reducing our demand (and thus the price) of oil - while reducing emissions and increasing energy output at the same time.
Yesterday I caught a bit of Mark Levin's radio show. (A guest host was subbing for Levin.) A caller suggested that a massive tax should be placed on gasoline. He never said what the funds should be used for - most people who engage in such lunacy want to prop up an assortment of nanny-state programs.
The caller's stated reason is to make automobiles cost-prohibitive, so that more Americans will rely on mass transit. I don't know where he's from, but the list of possibilities is narrow: his city has a subway. Such means of conveyance exist only in relatively small, dense metropolitan areas. Most large cities are fairly sprawled; subway or light rail can account for some of mass transit, as in Dallas County, but the vast bulk must rely on buses.
This is significant. It means that most mass transit systems are SLOW. Buses make repeated stops; that takes a tremendous amount of time off the commute. When I relied on Dallas Area Rapid Transit (so much for truth in advertising) to go to work, I had to leave the apartment at 8:30 PM catch the 409 bus at about 8:40 PM to get to work at a few minutes before the shift started at 10:00 PM. I had to leave home an hour and a half before work to make a twelve mile commute.
Relying solely on mass transit limits one's shopping choices. Not all the stores you want to visit are conveniently placed along bus routes. And try getting on a bus after buying some furniture from Wal-Mart.
Then there's the weather. How many of these mass transit hawks ever had to walk 150 yards through a driving rain, wait several minutes for the bus to show up, and then walk two blocks through that rain from the destination bus stop to work? Or stand in subfreezing weather waiting for the bus that's running 30-45 minutes behind schedule because of the icy roads? One should be able to go to work on a rainy day without having to pack a change of shoes, and winter commutes shouldn't have to require ski pants.
And then there's transferring buses. Sometimes transfer waits are almost 30 minutes. That's more time taken out of your day, and more time stuck standing in inclement weather.
If you rely on the city bus to get around, you are a slave to someone else's schedule. It is a helpless feeling.
Update: I didn't even bring up the issue of out-of-town travel. You can figure out the logistical problems yourself.
Update: Our grandparents told us stories about walking through two miles of snow to get to school or work every day. Some of us will tell our grandkids of the hardships of excessively slow bus commutes.
First, the president must be persuaded to reduce congressional spending. He must use his rescission authority to force the Congress to vote on rescinding some $15 billion, about the average of what presidents have requested since the rescission process began in the 1970s. The president has proposed one rescission of $2.3 billion, but he must be far more aggressive.
Second, when Congress enacts legislation exceeding the president's requested budget spending levels, he should veto those spending bills. Legislators need to be forcefully reminded that spending requires executive as well as legislative approval.
Third, the president needs line-item veto authority. Most of the states governors have it and use it to control spending, and so should the President. When President Bush recently suggested a line-item veto, Mr. Lewis said the legislative branch of government had the spending power and to give any veto power to the president "could be a very serious error." But the opposite is the case: the line-item veto is a very serious improvement that the president and Republicans should pursue.
Next, Congress needs to clean up its earmark spending process. As a start it should adopt the proposal from Rep. Jeff Flake (R., Ariz.) that each earmark's sponsor be identified in the text of spending bills, and that a vote be allowed on specific earmark proposals. Congress should also establish term limits for Appropriations Committee members so that the congressional political establishment cannot go on swag-splitting forever.
He also calls for a balanced budget amendment, a flat tax, and repeal of the McCain-Feingold Incumbent Protection Act. Read the whole thing.
Somebody should show up to the confab with a huge poster of the waterlogged schoolbuses that Nagin didn't put to good evacuation use. And it should be accompanied by another poster with this news quote in huge block letters:
"Do the math. With 804 buses and 60 seats per bus, the city had the assets to evacuate 48,240 people per trip. To cover 134,000 people, that's three trips. And there was no shortage of time. Nagin declared a state of emergency and a "voluntary" evacuation on Saturday, Aug. 27, and Katrina didn't make landfall until Monday, Aug. 29."
The Anti-CAIR website, www.anti-cair-net.org, reports a "mutually agreeable settlement," the terms of which are confidential. However, Whitehead notes that he issued no public apology to CAIR, made no retractions or corrections, and left the Anti-CAIR website unchanged, so that it continues to post the statements that triggered CAIR's suit. Specifically, CAIR had complained about Whitehead calling it a "terrorist supporting front organization … founded by Hamas supporters" that aims "to make radical Islam the dominant religion in the United States." It also objected to being described as "dedicated to the overthrow of the United States Constitution and the installation of an Islamic theocracy in America."
Read the whole thing.
Anti-CAIR has been added to the sidebar under the "The Truth Is Out There" heading.
The Cato Institute awarded its 2006 Milton Friedman Prize for Advancing Liberty to former Estonian prime minister Mart Laar, who engineered the nation's post-Communist economic restructiring (link via Volokh Conspiracy). I've been linking the Index of Economic Freedom report on Estonia on the right sidebar under "International Honors" (click the flag icon).
(For those curious, I came up with the name for my own freedom prize some time before I'd heard of the Freidman prize. It was the only name I could come up with.)
One IIS document, in particular, has received significant attention. The document was apparently authored in early 1997 and summarizes a number of contacts between Iraqi Intelligence and Saudi oppositionist groups, including al Qaeda, during the mid 1990's. The document says that in early 1995 bin Laden requested Iraqi assistance in two ways. First, bin Laden wanted Iraqi television to carry al Qaeda's anti-Saudi propaganda. Saddam agreed. Second, bin Laden requested Iraqi assistance in performing "joint operations against the foreign forces in the land of Hijaz." That is, bin Laden wanted Iraq's assistance in attacking U.S. forces in Saudi Arabia.
We do not know what, exactly, came of bin Laden's second request. But the document indicates that Saddam's operatives "were left to develop the relationship and the cooperation between the two sides to see what other doors of cooperation and agreement open up." Thus, it appears that both sides saw value in working with each other. It is also worth noting that in the months following bin Laden's request, al Qaeda was tied to a series of bombings in Saudi Arabia.
The same document also indicates that Iraq was in contact with Dr. Muhammad al-Massari, the head of the Committee for Defense of Legitimate Rights (CDLR). The CDLR is a known al Qaeda propaganda organ based in London. The document indicates that the IIS was seeking to "establish a nucleus of Saudi opposition in Iraq” and to “use our relationship with [al-Massari] to serve our intelligence goals." The document also notes that Iraq was attempting to arrange a visit for the al Qaeda ideologue to Baghdad. Again, we can't be certain what came of these contacts.
Gee, how do you think the press would have reacted to such news?
Interestingly enough, the existence of this document was first reported by The New York Times in the summer of 2004, several weeks after the 9-11 Commission proclaimed that there was no operational relationship between Saddam's Iraq and al Qaeda. For some reason, the Times decided to sit on the document while splashing the 9-11 Commission's conclusion on the front page.
Instead, Microsoft chief Bill Gates and his wife Melinda are laying out a lavish feast for President Hu Jintao, his wife and members of the Chinese delegation accompanying Hu, at the Gates’ home in Medina, Wash., Tuesday night.
Let's hope his chefs know more about virus protection than his software developers do.
Only Two Things In Life Are Certain - Death And Taxes
She's happy because she doesn't have to file. You are still in the land of the living, however, so get those tax returns in the mail before midnight tonight - or tomorrow night, if you're lucky enough to live in Massachusetts or Maine. It won't kill you.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced Thursday that the cactus ferruginous pygmy owl will be removed from the endangered species list on May 15. Twenty or fewer of the birds are known to live in Arizona.
The decision to "delist" the owl was based on a 9th Circuit Court of Appeals opinion, officials said, as well as science, policy and legal considerations. The service determined that the Arizona population of the cactus ferruginous pygmy owl does not contribute significantly to the species as a whole, which exists throughout Arizona, Texas and northern Mexico, said Benjamin Tuggle, acting regional director for the Southwest Region.
The court ordered the service to show that Arizona pygmy owls were of sufficient biological and ecological significance to the entire subspecies to qualify for listing as a distinct population segment. Service officials said they were unable to do so, largely because sufficient numbers of the owls are believed to live in Mexico.
The Pleistocene Liberation Organization is not happy:
But the Center for Biological Diversity said that the battle isn't over.
"The longer they drag their feet, the more they fight against the public interest, the harder it's going to be to do the right thing because I don't think people are going to say it's acceptable for the pygmy owl to go extinct in Arizona . The government seems to be saying that, some developers may say that, most people I don't think support that," said Daniel Patterson, from the Center for Biological Diversity.
Not mentioned in either article is evidence that the species does not share the spotted owl's ability to coexist with human real estate development.
Do the ecoweenies have legal standing? For those of you who brought your copy of the Endangered Species Act, turn to Section 3, Article 15 (emphasis added):
The term "species" includes any subspecies of fish or wildlife or plants, and any distinct population segment of any species or vertebrate fish or wildlife which interbreeds when mature.
Sadly, this section which covers definitions does not tell us precisely what a "distinct population segment" is. Does a few birds living around Tucson fit the definition?
If the ESA should exist at all, it should protect entire species. If a species is plentiful in one place but rare in another, there's no need for alarm.
Shortly after Sept. 11, 2001, New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani rejected a Saudi Arabian prince's $10 million offer for the victims' families of the World Trade Center attacks, because the offer came with a lecture about the "slaughter" of Palestinians "at the hands of the Israelis." Ms. McKinney wrote the prince a letter of apology, "Your Royal Highness, the state of black America is not good." She then uncorked a litany of black America's grievances, including, but not limited to, poverty, homelessness, hunger, an unfair criminal justice system, "health disparities" with blacks less likely to receive surgery than whites, and the demise of affirmative action. Magnanimously, she offered to provide names of charities that might benefit from the $10 mil.
Note her fawning use of the phrase "Your Royal Highness" - appearing four times in the letter. The sort of behavior one would expect from one of King Louis XIV's sycophant courtiers, not a member of the US House of Representatives.
Meanwhile, Paul Bogdanor has collected the Top 100 Chomsky Lies (PDF file). FrontPage Magazine has an excerpt here. The lies are divided into ten categories - the article is essentially a collection of 10 Top Ten lists. Here's the top lie about the Arab-Israeli Conflict:
The Lie: "The only issue now is suicide bombers. And when did the suicide bombings begin? Last year [i.e., 2001], on a major scale… One year of Palestinian crimes against Israel after thirty-four years of quiet. Israel had been nearly immune. I mean, there were terrorist attacks on Israel but not from within the occupied territories."
The Truth: Suicide bombings in Israel began in 1994, less than a year after the Oslo Accords, which created the Palestinian Authority. Hundreds of Israelis were massacred in suicide bombings and other terrorist attacks from the West Bank and Gaza before the collapse of the peace process in late 2000.
The top misrepresentation of statistical data deals with a common lie about the Iraq War:
The Lie: "The US and Britain… killed maybe 100,000 people [in Iraq] by last October  - obviously more now."
The Truth: A 2004 study claimed that the Iraq war led to 100,000 excess deaths. It included deaths from crime, accidents, heart attacks, strokes, infections, etc. It included combatants as well as civilians. It included enemy killings as well as allied killings. An independent analysis of its figures suggested that 39,000 were killed by either side and that the rest died from other causes.
Read 'em all.
(Footnotes excluded from "Chomsky Lies" article excerpts.)
After lying dormant for a while, the Mommy Wars reignited late last year with "Homeward Bound," an article by the feminist legal scholar Linda Hirshman in the December American Prospect. Hirshman, who is not known for mincing words (she earned a spot in Bernard Goldberg's book 100 People Who Are Screwing Up America by declaring that women who leave work to raise children are choosing "lesser lives"), boldly assailed the truism that, when it comes to full-time mothering vs. careers, it's a good thing for women to have a choice
The first item in James Taranto's "Best of the Web" at Opinion Journal is titled Et Tu, Newte? It seems that press reports have taken Newt Gingrich's recent comments on Iraq out of context. Taranto goes straight to the former House speaker's own website for the truth. Yes, Gingrich called for troops to be "pulled back" - but not back to the US:
The United States needs to train the Iraqis as rapidly as possible and "pull back" from the cities to bases and air fields and serve as reinforcers as opposed to occupiers...
Sprint Nextel Corp., the No. 3 U.S. mobile service, on Thursday introduced a wireless service to help parents find their children, as it makes a bid to expand its presence in the family market.
The service lets parents look at maps on their cellphones or computers to locate their children who also carry mobile phones. Parents can also program the service to automatically send them text messages at specific times each day to confirm that their children have arrived at home or in school.
Wired Temples Near the top is a brief intro to bloghost Robert Micallef: "He is an economist, university lecturer and national editor for Eurobarometer. He is also a contributing editor for aboutmalta.com, the online guide to everything about the Maltese islands." Recent posts explore Easter week in Malta and a landscaping extreme makeover known as Il Hofra, a limestone quarry transformed into a garden - the International Herald Tribune has a slideshow here.
Human Events compiled a list. One is not really a program but the century-old practice of earmarking, aka pork barrel spending. Listed below are presidents and the number of the remaining nine acts of destruction they signed into law.
Herbert Hoover (2) Franklin Roosevelt (2) Lyndon Johnson (3) Richared Nixon (1) George W. Bush (1)
[T]he Halle Orchestra of Manchester, one of England's great orchestras, has just canceled its 2007 concerts at Lincoln Center. Why? Because all 80 musicians plus the 20 support staff are required -- under new "homeland security" regulations -- to be interviewed personally at the U.S. Embassy in London before each visa can be issued. They can't go en masse on the tour bus: They have to make individual appointments stretched out over several weeks. And they can't go to the local U.S. consulate in Manchester because -- and this detail is worth savoring five years after 9/11 -- the consulate's computers cannot handle the biometric data. The orchestra worked out that in train fares and accommodation it would cost about $80,000 to get the visas and decided it would rather cancel the tour.
A victory for the "go back to Europe" protesters - see next post.
Many of y'all are aware that some of the pro-illegal-alien protests have featured slogans calling for Americans of Euroipean descent to go back to Europe - see first image here for an example. This sentiment is displayed by the descendents of Spaniards - not merely Europeans, but the first Europeans to invade the Americas.
What if this meme catches on? Should Coptic Egyptians demand that Arab Egyptians return to Arabia? Should the Ainu tell the Japanese and Russians to get out of their ancestral lands? Oh, and if Euor-Americans have to go back to Europe, what does that say about black Americans? And what about Halle Berry? Does she go back to Europe, or to Africa? Does she draw straws?
Rush has a modest proposal: All right, immigration proposals under discussion. Let me add mine to the mix. I want to call this proposal the Limbaugh Laws. Here they are. First, if you immigrate to the United States of America, you must speak the native language. You have to be a professional or an investor. We are not going to take unskilled workers. You will not be allowed. There will be no special bilingual programs in the schools, no special ballots for elections, no government business will be conducted in your native language. Foreigners will not have the right to vote, I don't care how long they are here, nor will they ever be allowed to hold political office. According to the Limbaugh Laws, if you're in our country, you cannot be a burden to taxpayers. You are not entitled, ever, to welfare, to food stamps, or other government goodies. You can come if you invest here, but it must be an amount equal to 40,000 times the daily minimum wage. If you don't know have that amount of money, you can't come and invest. You have to stay home. If you do come and you want to buy land, okay, but we're going to restrict your options. You will not be allowed to buy waterfront property in the United States. That will be reserved for citizens naturally born in this country.
In fact, as a foreigner, you must relinquish individual rights to property. These are the Limbaugh Laws. Another thing. You don't have the right to protest when you come here. You're allowed no demonstrations, you cannot wave a foreign flag, no political organizing, no bad-mouthing our president or his policies, or you get sent home. You're a foreigner. You shut your mouth or you get out, and if you come here illegally, you go straight to jail and we're going to hunt you down 'til we find you.
What kind of country would pass immigration laws like this?
I can imagine many of you think that the Limbaugh Laws are pretty harsh. I imagine today some of you probably are going, "Yeah! Yeah!" Well, let me tell you this, folks. Every one of the laws I just mentioned are actual laws of Mexico, today. I just read you Mexican immigration law. That's how the Mexican government handles immigrants to their country. Yet Mexicans and others come here illegally, they protest in our streets, they get on our welfare program, and we have members of the United States Senate, both parties, doing handstands and back flips, going through every contortion possible to allow it to continue so that it doesn't make these people mad, resulting in votes against these linguini-spined populations.
Media Research Center has a list. On one occasion she fails to connect the dots between inconsistent testimony and dishonesty:
"You know you, you angered a lot of feminists when you accused Anita Hill. In fact, you detailed how she changed her testimony during questioning, during the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings. And you accused of her publicly, quote, 'Flat out perjury.' Any regrets?" — To Sen. Arlen Specter, March 6, 2000. Couric did not ask if he regretted not voting guilty during Bill Clinton's Senate trial.
On another occasion her dysliexia shows, unable to see the word "apparent" when it appears in a Reagan biography:
"Good morning. The Gipper was an airhead! That's one of the conclusions of a new biography of Ronald Reagan that's drawing a tremendous amount of interest and fire today, Monday, September the 27th, 1999." — Opening the show, September 27, 1999, before an interview with Reagan biographer Edmund Morris, who actually wrote that President Reagan was "an apparent airhead." He told Couric, "He was a very bright man."
She should write push polls:
Katie Couric: "Getting back to kids and guns, if you will indulge me for a moment. You cannot think of any other position the NRA could take in terms of trying to decrease the number of school shootings? You feel like this is not your bailiwick, this is not your problem?" Charlton Heston: "Not at all. As I told you the NRA spends more money, more time..." Couric, cutting him off: "Other than education." Heston: "Well what would you suppose? What would you suggest?" Couric: "I don't know, perhaps greater restrictions." — Exchange on June 8, 1998.
Historical revisionism time:
"When you talk about leaving a deposit, many people say that the Reagan-Bush administration, people on the other side of the political spectrum, did leave a negative deposit, or really, the opposite of a deposit. The federal budget quadrupled under that administration. They might say that greed and materialism was the norm then, and that social ills were largely ignored, and therefore only worsened as a result of that neglect." — To William F. Buckley Jr., September 20, 1993.
The federal budget quadrupled? According to this report (PDF file, scroll to page 21), total Federal outlays were $590.541 billion in 1980 and $1.064 trllion in 1988 - an increase of 80%, not 400%.
Update: A quadrupling = a 300% increase -- budget + (3 x budget). My bad.
Paul Verhoeven, director of the first "Basic Instinct" (which scored $353 million worldwide) as well as the widely ridiculed "Showgirls" (now regarded as something of a camp classic), attributes the genre's demise to the current American political climate.
"Anything that is erotic has been banned in the United States," said the Dutch native. "Look at the people at the top (of the government). We are living under a government that is constantly hammering out Christian values. And Christianity and sex have never been good friends."
Scribe Nicholas Meyer, who was an uncredited writer on 1987's seminal sex-fueled cautionary tale "Fatal Attraction," agrees, noting that the genre's downfall coincides with the ascent of the conservative political movement.
"We're in a big puritanical mode," he said. "Now, it's like the McCarthy era, except it's not 'Are you a communist?' but 'Have you ever put sex in a movie?"'
I've got two words for him: Brokeback Mountain. Budget: $14 million, US gross: $82.8 million. Granted, it's not as explicit as Basic Instinct 2, but it's not the sort of film that would thrive in the country imagined by Verhoven's paranoia. And both appeal to near-exclusively adult audiences.
Keep in mind that even the biggest blockbuster is seen by a small percentage of the US population. The CIA World Factbook places the general population at 295.7 million, and citizens 15 years or older at a little over 230 million. Assuming an average ticket price of seven dollars, sold almost 12 million tickets. (We can never know how many ticket sales to any particular film are repeat sales.) Do the math - less than 5.2% of Americans over the age of 14 saw this movie. (Now why did so many cultural liberals choose not to see Brokeback?)
The highest-grossing movie of this decade - Shrek 2 (2004) - earned $436,471,036 per IMDb's All-Time USA Boxoffice page. Using a $6/ticket guesstimate (to account for the large number of children in the audience), that's almost 73 million tickets - less than 24.7% of Americans saw Shrek 2 in the theater. Even the biggest blockbuster falls short of predicting overall cultural trends.
Update: To correct Verhoven on another issue, Christianity is unfreindly only with reckless sexuality (such as this), not sex as a whole. He should get out and meet some actual Christians.
Zentropolis has rediscovered the Futuro house, a "home of the future" built in the late 60s and early 70s. See also Wikipedia and this site for info. It's essentially a mobile home shaped like a flying saucer, which would probably fly for real during a gale storm or hurricane - obviously the inventor doesn't come from the Gulf Coast. (Architect Matti Suuronen is from Finland.)
Looking at the images, it appears that the children have to sleep in the living room on chaise lounge chairs that fold into beds; see the Futuro Interior 2 image. No way are the kids gonna go for that. And where does one put the TV? Televisions were a bit small back then...
Would you also be calling for a boycott if it were an Andres Serrano coffee table book containing reproductions of "Piss Christ" that Borders and Waldenbooks refused to stock?
If I were those two booksellers, I'd certainly consider it after the Christian Right's response to Martin Scorsese's heartfelt movie about Jesus's personal struggles with his dual nature. Catholic and conservative Christian groups demonstrated against The Last Temptation of Christ with petitions, phone campaigns, radio broadcasts, and street protests, leading more than more than 3,500 theaters nationwide to refuse to screen it.
Free speech indeed. What's good for the goose is good for the gander.
I left this response in comments:
Danish cartoons: Jyllands-Posten publishes article with illustrations of Mohammed, most innocuous, a few defamatory. Violent protests break out in many parts of the world. Vandalism and killings ensue. Many protesters call for the deaths of the cartoonists. A few governments call for the Danish government to take actions against Jyllands-Posten. Many stage boycotts against products sold by Danish firms that have nothing to do with the cartoons. An American magazine chooses to put one of the defamatory pictures on the cover of its current issue. Two book chains normally sell the magazine in question, but decline to stock the current issue, citing not any threatened boycott but fear of the sometimes-deadly violence of the cartoonoclasts.
Last Temptation of Christ: Martin Scorsese directs a film that defames Jesus Christ. Two notable criticisms are the film Jesus' denial of His omniscience ("God only talks to me a little at a time and tells me as much as I need to know") and sinlessness ("I'm a liar. A hypocrite. I'm afraid of everything. I never tell the truth") - quotes from IMDb. Many Christians engage in the time-honored American tradition of spirited but peaceful protest. Wikipedia has to go all the way across the Atlantic to find an example of protest violence, involving the time-honored French tradition of a molotov cocktail. Some call for boycotts against participating theaters and MCA, which distributed the film; no calls for boycotts against innocent bystanders uninvolved with the film.
Yep, the two are just aliike [sic].
I need to find a spell checker that'll work with stuff I type in comments sections.