Saturday, February 25, 2012

Jobs, jobs, jobs... birth control, birth control, witches, witches...

Unlike past performances in the Republican debates where every other word was "jobs", as in why doesn't the socialist, corporate crony Kenyan Keynesian create any, the last Republican debates mentioned jobs only four times with Santorum using the word exactly zero times. You might think that with the Michigan primary just around the corner, and that being a state with close to the highest unemployment rate would want to hear about how Republicans would create jobs. (by closing Detroit) Instead they were treated to screeds that were considered far right in 1955.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Everything you wanted to know about sex, at the gas pump

Gasoline began its career as a leftover waste product from the refining of crude oil to get kerosene for lamps. A hundred years ago refiners still burned most gasoline just to get rid of it. Today, things really haven’t changed that much, except that we now have the perception that gasoline is something precious. In a barrel of sweet crude the gasoline content is on average about 51%, and that‘s a lot of waste to get rid of every day.

Demand for gasoline has dropped sharply in the last few years to the point where we export 117,000,000 gallons of gasoline and other fuels every day. Actually, this was the 2011 average, the surplus is still going up. In dollar value, this is now our largest manufactured export. The news reports are saying this is the first time since Harry Truman was President that we’ve exported more “fuel” than we imported. They are careful to say fuel, we’ve always exported gasoline, remember over half of a barrel of crude oil is made up of  “waste” gasoline. Gasoline stocks currently on hand are also at a historical high.

Part of the fuel surplus comes from the decline of the economy, part from increased efficiency mandated for cars and trucks, and from the new generation of efficient aircraft engines, and the new more efficient diesels used in trains and ships. We also produce a lot more oil in the United States and Canada than just a few years ago. Most of this new production is taking place in the interior of the continent where it can’t be exported. That is as long they don’t build the Keystone XL pipeline, that oversized drain would connect all the oil fields, all the way from north Texas and Okalahoma up through North Dakota and Alberta. The proof of this theory is that gas prices in that swath of America haven’t gone up. The small refiners there are unaffected, if Keystone XL is built, they will be overwhelmed by big oil and Wall Street.

Tar sands oil is about the same consistency as the blacktop on your driveway. Even after expending twice the energy content you will get from the oil by cooking it with natural gas, you still need to mix it with light sweet crude in order to pump it anywhere. The sour crude that comes out the other end is slated to be made into diesel fuel and exported. Keep in mind we are already exporting diesel fuel now, so we have no need for more of it. There will however be a shortage of all fuels once the unlimited, unregulated exports commence under the next Republican President, as any sweet crude that makes it to the export zone will be exported too.

According to the Commodity Futures Trading Commission the percentage of oil and fuel contracts owned by the big Wall Street banks has just recently jumped from 30% to about 70%. One of the Commissioners has been making a stink about this and says that 90% of current daily trading is done by these banks. This means that they are not only buying up contracts, but they are churning the market to drive up the price. He estimates that 20% of what you pay for gas is going to these banks. I think he’s being conservative.

In sworn testimony before a Congressional committee last year, when gas was this high then, the CEO of Exxon-Mobil put the value of the cut that the banks were taking at 40%. He was of course passing the buck, most oil isn’t traded. What oil that is traded used to be called the spot market, really just the leftovers, big oil companies would get rid of it cheap just to avoid burning it. When the banks corner this surplus and run up the market, it’s the oil companies who make the really big money. Big oil sells into the spot market, they do not buy oil.

What would the price be if the banks were shut out of the futures market the way it was 25 years ago? You know, when gas station signs only had two digits and the New Deal was still in place. When the banks went into a general collapse in 2008 they had cornered the gasoline market and the price was at record levels. Once the Wall Street banks activities were curtailed (nobody would take their checks anymore) the price fell immediately to $1.65/gallon.

So when Republican candidates say they would put gas prices back to what they were before Obama was elected, do they mean the $4.05/gallon like it was when it looked like McCain would be the next President, or do they mean $1.65/gallon? By that time, Obama was on his way to a landslide. They tell the crowds of knuckle draggers they‘d bring back $1.65 gasoline, but they don’t believe in the regulation of the banks, and they’d build the Keystone XL pipeline that will create permanent shortages.

The good news is that we aren’t likely see really high prices this summer. The supply continues grow every day despite the best efforts of the big oil companies to cut production. Most likely the price will crash soon, bubbles are like that. Obama can stick a pin in it when it gets big enough by restricting exports, as he can do with the stroke of his “emergency declaration” pen. Don’t worry about the banks, they cash in big time when the price goes down too. That’s the whole point of creating these bubbles, to panic the actual fuel users into buying derivatives against the predicted high prices. Republican capitalism is like that.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Americans: better and smarter than given credit for

Initial jobless claims held steady this week suggesting that the economy continues to produce jobs despite denials of any recovery from the Republicans. They suddenly seem to be showing empathy for the long term unemployed (not!). Today’s Right Wing talking point on why Obama’s plan to reform corporate taxes by closing loopholes won‘t work, is a really good one. The reason it won’t work to close the loopholes that allow Republican benefactors to pay no taxes, is that it makes the tax code too complicated. Eliminating tens of thousands of pages tax regulations dedicated to creating loopholes, loopholes designed to benefit specific companies, will complicate the tax code.

There are a significant number of large corporations that spend more on lobbying than they pay in taxes. You might wonder how they can spend that much money to wine and dine a relative few Congressmen, even at $400 a bottle. The truth is that most of the money goes to maintain the revolving door to the Capitol. Former Senators,  Congressman and senior Congressional staffers are guaranteed a high paid job with a lobbying firm upon leaving public service. That is if he made sure their corporate constituency was well taken care of.

A well placed Congressman who has the dirt on the other members can be paid millions for his knowledge of “history“. Staffers can do okay at the money hog trough as well, if they know how to “properly” craft legislation, and they know where the dead hookers are buried. They will be rotated in and out of the House and Senate office buildings by their corporate masters as needed to protect corporate interests. Former staffers will actually write more legislation when not working at the Capitol, as those tens of thousands of pages of loopholes don‘t just fall from the sky. Even senior military officers that worked in procurement can find a seven figure job upon retirement as easily as picking out a new set of golf clubs. (gold plated, please)

There are a lot of people on the right, and the left who constantly obsess over term limits as the answer to all our problems. As if making sure Congressmen know nothing about how government works, would somehow give us better government. For one thing, the average Congressman spends half of his day raising money to get re-elected, instead of doing his/her job. Public financing would fix that, but we still need to close that revolving door.

Some tough ethics laws would do the trick, but you would need to start with the Supreme Court, or any reform will simply be struck down as a violation of corporate civil rights. This might seem like an insurmountable goal, but there is one advantage that we have. These people are motivated strictly by greed, and are terrified of getting caught. (every one of them has committed multiple felonies) Enough public clamor will force them to allow reforms, as they hope to retire quietly in order to spend their ill gotten gains. The trick is to maintain the clamor long enough to make it happen, and then to not forget about when it’s done.

The Progressives pushed through their reforms without the internet, video recording, or even radio and long distance telephone service. They couldn’t self publish, flyers had to be set in lead type and printed in bulk. Those people would see the advantages we have today as nothing short of magic. Of course the forces of darkness have these things too, and they spend billions to make sure everybody sees their untruths.

But, you’ll notice their sway is starting to wane. They don’t have any new talking points, and they have resorted to using the “debate” over contraception as if it were 1955. Santorum is reduced to reading from yellowed John Birch Society flyers. Did you know that 5% of deaths in the Netherlands are from forced euthanasia? The Dutch people are rather surprised by this, but the Santorum and the far right have know about it since the 50s.

When it seems it’s nothing but an impossible goal do this stuff, take this little quiz. How many western democracies have ever elected a person of color to their highest office?

The majority of Americans are better and smarter people than they are generally given credit for being.    [tomorrow: learn how much “tax” you pay to your Republican overlords when you go to the gas pump, it will surprise you.]

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

On This Site, Americans Suffered and Died

All across America Republicans are dancing in the streets, President Obama has finally come around to embrace Reaganomics. The President is proposing legislation that will slash the highest corporate tax rate in the world from 35% down to 28%. Wait, the Republicans don’t seem to be dancing, they’re just tearing at their clothing, gnashing their teeth, and attacking small animals. Oh no, that Chihuahua has turned on them, and he has one of them down. The other Republicans are running, just running away! The humanity!

Why are the Republicans upset over a major tax cut for business? The cut is real, but would only favor small and medium businesses who actually pay the 35% rate. Big businesses that keeps Republicans in seven figure salaries when they leave Congress won’t benefit. Not only that, but they will actually start paying taxes for a change, and you know their servants on Capitol Hill will feel the sting of the lash if this passes.

The smaller corporations that are already starting to bring jobs back from China will also get an additional tax cut in addition to the 7% cut, just for doing their patriotic duty. The non-patriotic trans-national corporations will pay for it. Not only will numerous tax loopholes and corporate welfare giveaways be ended, but they will no longer be able to keep their profits overseas to avoid taxes. The most profitable corporations that make trillions will have to start paying taxes like they, well like they make trillions. (heh, heh, heh, heh) [note from the typing monkeys: prairie2 is rolling on the floor, send help]

The Republican talking points on this are that Obama isn’t making this a priority, so it won’t pass. It’s his fault that the Republican controlled House that must, according to the Constitution originate a bill of this nature, just can’t do its job. They also say it won’t help the economy because it’s revenue neutral, just as much tax will be collected so it won‘t do anything positive. The Bush budget plan, that we are still living with, requires that 40% of the expenditures be paid for with borrowing, but Republicans still want to cut revenue.

In fact the Obama plan would be boon for the US economy, because it puts money in the hands of the kind of businessman who would actually create jobs. But, more importantly it would take away some of the advantages the big transnational companies have that destroy the kind of businesses this plan would help.

Is it really enough? No, not by a long shot, but it‘s a start. To really bring back America, you need to undo every piece of legislation and government regulation the Republicans have pushed through Congress since the Taft - Hartley Act of 1947. Passed over the veto of Harry Truman, it created the Right To Work For Less states. The Do Nothing Congress of 1947 also changed the name of Boulder Dam back to Hoover Dam. This blight on America should be righted as well, along with a placing granite marker at the site of every Hooverville that can identified, Americans died there.

 We can have America back again, once Americans realize where it went.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Cost of Ignorance is $26,000

The Dow touched 13,000 today on news that the Greeks will be bailed out with another $140 billion, of course that money really goes to the big banks, not Greece. The new so-called bailout will only be delivered if the Greek government complies by the end of the month with a long list of austerity measures that will insure the continued decline of their economy.

The Greeks must also prepare two state industries for hand over to the pirates by June, and the banker appointed to be in charge of their government plans to literally loot the entire country. Absolutely every public asset of value is being sold off for a pittance to the corporate robber barons. The Communist Party of Greece is on the rise, their slogan could simply be “we told you so”.

The President’s Report on the Economy came out on Friday and it contains an interesting graph. The Bureau of Labor Statistics keeps track of labor costs compared to the prices businesses charge, and they chart the product of the two factors as the “mark up over unit labor cost”. The year 1947 is used as the base line for this chart and the graph it doesn’t historically deviate far from that line. Earnings go down during recessions as you might expect since employees still need to be paid while prices tend to slump, and then rebound above the line in the good times when prices rise.

This century has been different, starting in 2001 the line has been moving steadily upward in the employers favor, but during the Bush recession it only leveled off and didn’t decline. Since the end of the recession the graph began moving up again, and this time it’s going nearly straight up. In short, labor costs have fallen dramatically while prices have risen. This fits in with my contention that the unusually high unemployment claims every week (even as jobs are being created) are from the universal and deliberate effort to replace current employees with new lower paid workers.

Democrats would be completely justified in calling for wage increases as a party plank. No case can be made for the fear of wage/price inflation. Indeed if wages don’t rise, at some point deflation will grab hold. We’ve already seen it to some extent in real estate prices that continue to fall even below pre-bubble prices.

Republicans will squeal like stuck pigs at any suggestion that the minimum wage be increased, or by any policy favoring the re-invigoration of unions. Slavery is the natural order of things as far as the Republican Party is concerned, and their blue collar base just doesn’t catch on. They firmly believe that if everybody else is a slave, somehow they personally will be better off (because it won‘t happen to them).

They believe the stories about how teachers are overpaid and any  government at all is just plain bad for them. The typical Republican voter is sure the Europeans overspent on socialism and that the whole continent looks like some gray Stalinist apartment block with weeds growing in the streets. Even if it’s really America that increasingly looks that way instead.

The Dow touched 13,000 briefly today for the first time in four years. When the Dow bottomed out at around 6500 the average 401(k) had lost an average of $51,000. Now that the Dow has recovered its value, the average 401(k) has recovered $25,000. Does anyone else see a problem here? The typical Republican does, it’s Obama’s fault. He stole their $26,000 and gave it to welfare, foreign aid and unionized teachers. And, he wants to take my guns!

They will never catch on that the $150 billion in bonuses that Wall Street takes every year came out of his $26,000. Bonuses that didn’t slack off a bit even when the market was at the bottom. The really sad thing is that the $26,000 loss isn’t all of it. Unless you take your money out now, you will certainly lose more. NO money comes into the market except from suckers buying in, no matter how high the Dow goes, but money constantly flows out to the Wall Street bankers, traders and hedge fund managers. It’s a rigged casino and still the Republicans vote for it, sadly most Democrats don’t know the difference either.

Monday, February 20, 2012

It’s all fun and games, until somebody gets terminated

Mankind has been scared to death of the possibility that machines could think ever since the jack-in-the-box was invented. Today we are moving into an era where one might actually become concerned. Australian and American physicists just announced that they have succeeded in building a transistor out of a single atom of phosphorus.

The significance of this isn’t that it’s tiny, but because they say that it makes Quantum computing possible. Quantum mechanics gets complicated, so I’ll just hit the two big highlights. At the subatomic level, a particle exists simultaneously in all possible states, and the speed of light is not the speed limit under certain circumstances. Albert Einstein called this possibility “spooky”, and it is.

Because an subatomic particle has multiple states, you could in theory build a transistor that is much “smarter” than the simple “on and off” kind we have now. This would make them able to do really complex processes using a higher logic more like the human brain, and do it with relatively few transistors. Basically we’re talking a super computer that the size of a pin point, instead of filling a large room.

The really “spooky” part is that subatomic particles can be linked, or what physicists call “entangled”. Once linked in this way, when one particle is made to change its charge, the other one, which doesn’t need to be present, will change its corresponding charge instantaneously. No matter how far apart they are, no limit is know. Basically this is faster than light communication, and not just faster, it’s instant. A computer constructed this way would run really, really fast. It would also be error free, since there isn‘t any mechanical or electrical linkage. Just the spooky kind. This doesn’t violate Einstein’s speed of light rule (according to him, he did the math), but I’m not clear exactly why it doesn‘t.

All those sci fi stories about thinking machines will be possible some time in the future, possibly in the very near future.

Turn the crank and hear the pretty music, it‘s just a harmless box.