Earth Hour, 2009: You Can Make a Difference Tonight

Tonight, between 8:30 and 9:30PM, regardless of your time zone, you have the opportunity to create a synergy with millions of other people by turning off your lights for an hour, in observance of Earth Hour.

Commentary By: Richard Blair

sydney earth hourWhen I reflect on my trip to AIG’s headquarters in NYC two weeks ago, the most important takeaway that I get from my effort is that one person can indeed make a difference. My peaceful, lone man protest forced a disruption on one of the world’s largest firms.

When I reflect on the issue of climate change and global warming, it almost seems overwhelming, and that one person’s efforts would be so small in the larger scheme of things so as to be useless. But then I think back to my hours in the canyons of New York City’s financial district, and the impact that it created. Yes, I can make a difference. And if thousands (or millions) join me, in whatever the issue or endeavor, then the statement becomes powerful and hard to ignore.

Tonight, between 8:30 and 9:30PM, regardless of your time zone, you have the opportunity to create a synergy with millions of other people by turning off your lights for an hour, in observance of Earth Hour. The picture to the left is downtown Sydney, Australia earlier today. Quite an impact, huh?

Yes, Earth Hour is a largely symbolic gesture. The message that it sends, though, is visually unique and emotionally compelling: there is power in numbers, irrespective of the cause or issue. The idea started as the brainchild of one single person, and has grown to a global movement, much the same as my lone protest in NYC was one person’s effort to express his own dissatisfaction with the status quo.

What’s the difference? With Earth Hour, the personal inconvenience to participate is near zero; the only requirement to participate is flipping a light switch to the “off” position. It doesn’t get any easier than that.

If you believe in the cause of climate change and global warming, will you please join me this evening and and make a statement? Step into your power, and kill the power for one hour.

Update, 3/30/09:You simply have to read this post on Earth Hour (and the comments) at Bob Cesca’s Awesome Goddamn Blog. Hilarious!

Saturday, March 28th, 2009 by Richard Blair |

Push Poll About Energy

I just got a phone call, a push poll probably sponsored by the energy sector in this country. The distortions int he questions pushed greater exploration and claimed it would create jobs. That is counter to the energy plan that’s on the table. They sure didn’t mention global warming or energy dependence. Renewables? Not so much.

Commentary By: Steven Reynolds

I just answered it moments ago. There were two questions, besides the ones that asked about my gender and age. The first straw man they brought up was about how the energy companies were blocked from exploring for oil, and the second question claimed there would be 160,000 jobs if only the energy companies could explore for oil with no impediment.

Now I’m thinking the energy companies have made a huge amount of profits in the last couple years. I’ve heard also that several energy companies have backed out of research into renewable energy and the like. They must know that in this political environment they aren’t going to get a great reception on Capital Hill. So where do they spend those billions of dollars of profits? Push polls!

I’m sure the energy companies have a lot of real smart people working for them, but push polls are not going to change American attitudes or policy. Sure, if the real smart people at the energy companies are Republicans they just might think push polls are a good idea. But, really, all the thinly disquised advocacy poll is going to do is piss people off when they see through the poll. Sure, there might be many people who can’t see through a push poll, but I’m betting America as a whole is wising up to that tactic. And think about it a moment. The part of the electorate they need to convince, the educated part of the electorate, is voting Obama. And they’re the ones, my gut tells me, who are going to be offended by the energy companies spending their profits by trying to trick people concerning energy policy.

Stupid, stupid.

Thursday, March 26th, 2009 by Steven Reynolds |

6 Million Gallons of Oil + Volcano = Cooked Inlet?

There’s not much in the way of common sense in Alaska these days, but this one can’t be set at Sarah Palin’s feet. Still, she’ll probably get in the way when it comes to finding out how to remove 6 million gallons of fuel from the path of Redoubt’s eruptions.

Commentary By: Steven Reynolds

I suppose they are getting used to environmental disasters in Alaska by now. The tank farm at the base of Redoubt has been evacuated, and it seems from reports that few contingency plans were made for this situation where an active volcano actually erupted. Gee, who could have predicted that? Where’s Bobby Jindal when you need him? From the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner:

An Alaska volcano continued to rumble Tuesday amid new concerns that eruptions and mud flows will damage a nearby oil terminal where about 6 million gallons of crude oil are stored.

The 10,200-foot Mount Redoubt volcano about 100 miles southwest of Anchorage erupted Sunday night. Since then, there have been five more explosions with the latest occurring Monday night. That one, likely a flow of hot gas and rock, shot an ash plume into the air that was 40,000 to 50,000 feet high.

I suppose I could have extended that quotation some about how they don’t know how to evacuate the oil, etc., but I think the prognosis is maybe the best way to end this little piece. From a fisherman in Cook Inlet:

Tom Evans, an Alaska Native from the lower Cook Inlet village of Nanwalek, said people depend on inlet fisheries to feed their families.

“It makes no sense to store oil at the base of an erupting volcano,” he said.

Well, sense is in short supply in Alaska these days, I guess.

. . .

Wednesday, March 25th, 2009 by Steven Reynolds |

Need More Evidence of Oil Market Manipulation?

Earlier this year, I wrote that investment bank Morgan Stanley may have issued their infamous “$150 / bbl oil price” prediction in order to drive up the value of their holdings in the petroleum commodity market, as a way to offset a big S&P downgrade due to their exposure in mortgage backed securities. With the failure of Lehman and Merrill, plus oil prices falling $7, is market manipulation confirmed?

Commentary By: Richard Blair

Earlier this year, when oil markets were going bonkers, and the price hit $147 / bbl because of remarks by an obscure Morgan Stanley commodities analyst, I wrote:

The other day, Standard and Poors downgraded Morgan Stanley’s rating because of their exposure in mortgage backed securities. From a market manipulation standpoint, could Morgan Stanley have issued their “prediction” in order to drive up the value of their holdings in the petroleum commodity market, as a way to offset the downgrade due to their exposure in mortgage backed securities? Hmm? Since Morgan Stanley is one of the biggest players in the commodities market, it’s a question worth exploring…

Listen, I’m no financial market genius. But when a neophyte like me can see that there are clear indications of significant market manipulations that are causing significant economic pain for all Americans, then it’s right out there in the open. The financial houses were doing it brazenly. And now, two more have tanked (Lehman and Merrill).

This morning, stock markets around the world are tanking. Such an event would normally be a “buy opportunity” for fungible commodities such as oil. What’s happening with the price of oil this morning, even following a big blow by Hurricane Ike in the gulf coast region this past weekend? This:

LONDON (Reuters) – Oil plunged $7 on Monday as investors fled to safer havens, due to turmoil in the U.S. financial system, and on early signs Hurricane Ike had spared key U.S. energy infrastructure…U.S. crude dropped $7 to $94.18 barrel at 1135 GMT, the lowest level in seven months.

When the price of a gallon of gas in the U.S. hit $4 in June, people (and companies) changed their energy usage habits out of sheer necessity. Demand was “destroyed”, in market parlance. And the price started dropping. When the price started dropping, oil commodity holdings by companies such as Lehmans, Merrill, and Morgan Stanley started losing value rapidly, and their commodity traders started dumping oil futures. The price slide continued. The value of the holdings could no longer mask their exposure in the mortgage markets.

A recent study presented to the U.S. congress confirmed that oil commodity speculation drove the price of oil to stratospheric levels, not supply and demand economics. Given the financial market bailouts in the past couple of months (except for Freddie and Fannie), it’s very easy to come to the conclusion that American consumers were raked over the gasoline coals because of big investment houses’ exposure in the collapsing mortgage markets.

Criminal proceedings should commence, and not one thin dime of taxpayer money should be bailing out the collapsed financial institutions.

Update: As would be expected, Eschaton is buzzing today about the markets. Good reading there. Here’s one comment that is so spot on, it almost hurts:

John McCain says he really doesn’t understand the economy. For that he relies on [former GOP congressman] Phil Gramm.

Phil Gramm is the man most responsible for the financial services and banking deregulation that made today’s disaster possible.

Phil Gramm says the problem is all in our minds and we’re just a nation of whiners.

Putting McCain and Gramm in charge of fixing this economy would be like asking the iceberg to save the Titanic.

And that, my friends, is the crux of the issue.

Monday, September 15th, 2008 by Richard Blair |

Sex and Drugs and Oil, Another Bush Scandal

A new Bush scandal has erupted. It is unclear whether Bush appointees are involved. The incompetence that allowed this trade in sex, drugs, favors and vacations has “Republican” written all over it. We cannot let Republicans manage our scarce resources, not when McCain wants to drill everywhere, mismanaging more contracts.

Commentary By: Steven Reynolds

Just when John McCain is hyped up on drilling for oil everywhere he can, no matter the environmental concerns he used to espouse, we’ve got an Bush scandal that puts to doubt Republican management of government yet again. These folks are incompetents, after all. John McCain is espousing the drilling policies Bush has been pushing all along, but the Bush Administration can’t even manage its own people, who are trading the rights for drilling and exploration for sex, drugs, favors, etc. From CBSNews:

Government officials handling billions of dollars in oil royalties engaged in illicit sex with employees of energy companies they were dealing with and received numerous gifts from them, federal investigators said Wednesday.

The alleged transgressions involve 13 Interior Department employees in Denver and Washington. Their alleged improprieties include rigging contracts, working part-time as private oil consultants, and having sexual relationships with – and accepting golf and ski trips and dinners from – oil company employees, according to three reports released Wednesday by the Interior Department’s inspector general.

The investigations reveal a “culture of substance abuse and promiscuity” by a small group of individuals “wholly lacking in acceptance of or adherence to government ethical standards,” wrote Inspector General Earl E. Devaney.

The reports describe a fraternity house atmosphere inside the Denver Minerals Management Service office responsible for marketing the oil and gas that energy companies barter to the government instead of making cash royalty payments for drilling on federal lands. The government received $4.3 billion in such Royalty-in-Kind payments last year. The oil is then resold to energy companies or put in the nation’s emergency stockpile.

Between 2002 and 2006, nearly a third of the 55-person staff in the Denver office received gifts and gratuities from oil and gas companies, the investigators found.

No doubt McCain will now crow how he and only he can clean this sort of scandal up, because he’s MarverickMan! But only if he’s got his sidekick Sarah “Bridge to Earmarks” right beside him. As such, we need to hit McCain hard on his close ties to the oil industry and its lobbyists. We need to also hit McCain on his close ties to the incompetence that is the Bush Administration. How many of his campaign team worked for Bush, for instance. How many bucks have been given to McCain by those companies involved in this scandal? This shouldn’t be too hard for folks to research.

Now Sarah Palin is one who knows about oil royalties, as the Governor of a state that depends on them for its very survival. Surely there’s a way to tie her into this mess as well.

We might look also at the Brownie factor. Did Bush put incompetents in charge at the Department of interior? Oh, there are bloggers out there who can give you the scoop on Gale Norton, the woman in charge when this scandal started, better than I. I do know from the Wikipedia article on Norton that she was invloved with Abramoff both through donations by Abramoff to the CREA, which she founded, and also through Rep. Doolittle of CA. Norton left the Department of Interior through a revolving door to a lucrative position at Shell Oil. The current occupant of the office, Dirk Kempthorne, seems harmless, except for his extreme low scores from the League of Conservation Voters. .

Wednesday, September 10th, 2008 by Steven Reynolds |

Osama bin-Laden: Preferred Oil Supplier to the U.S. of A.?

When the Big Oil lobby is so desperate to get an offshore oil lease deal done before their best friends leave office that they invoke the specter of Osama bin-Laden as a preferred oil supplier to the U.S., there’s something going on. And you can be sure that it isn’t in your best interest.

Commentary By: Richard Blair

Perhaps the most striking take-away from the four days of GOP conventioneering in St. Paul was the “DRILL HERE, DRILL NOW” crowd. Every single time one of the speakers mentioned oil, the crowd resounded with a “DRILL HERE, DRILL NOW” chant. It was somewhat humorous, but lost its edge about the tenth time that Big Oil lobbyists led the chant from the sky boxes in the hall.

There is no question that Big Oil is pulling out all of the stops in order to open up restricted offshore drilling areas prior to the Bush regime sneaking out the back door of the White House in January, 2009. The volume from the noise machine has grown very loud, and increasingly shrill.

Never mind that, if the offshore fields were opened up today, it would be five to ten years before a drop was flowing from the region. Never mind that the oil lobby appears to be trying to short circuit the lengthy environmental impact studies that must be completed before exploration begins. Never mind that conservation measures which would reduce demand by as little as 5% would have the same impact on oil supplies that billions and billions of dollars worth of drilling would have. Never mind that it’s not about actually about, you know, drilling – it’s really not – it’s about the leases for the fields.

I received the following email from an outfit called “Americans for American Energy”:

From: Greg Schnacke
Subject: More American Energy Hurts The Terrorists
To: allspinzone
Date: Tuesday, September 9, 2008, 2:11>

Drill Here, Drill Now

When the Big Oil lobby is so desperate to get an offshore oil lease deal done before their best friends leave office that they invoke the specter of Osama bin-Laden as a preferred oil supplier to the U.S., there’s something going on. And you can be sure that it isn’t in your best interest.

Tuesday, September 9th, 2008 by Richard Blair |

Rumor: McCain to Flip Flop Again on Drilling

John McCain is bludgeoning Barack Obama on energy issues that are surely false, but the theme of drilling off our coastlines is gaining steam. Alas, the reason McCain picked up this theme was the extreme high prices at the pump. Now that the prices are lowering, look for another John McCain flip flop.

Commentary By: Steven Reynolds

Much has been made of John McCain’s panicked reactions to high gas prices over the last several months. Remember when he called for the gimmicky gas tax holiday? You never hear anything about that nowadays, because it was an imprudent gimmick. That McCain idea was slammed hard on all fronts, even by Dick Cheney. Well, rumor has it that McCain’s recent panicky calls for drilling off every coast of the United States, calls also made in response to higher gas prices, may fade from the McCain campaign as well. It’s a combination of forces that are at work to take this McCain talking point off the table, both the incompetencies in the McCain campaign, and the lowering of gas prices nationwide.

First, McCain planned an event where he would give a major speech on drilling as much as possible off our coasts. He planned the photo op for an oil rig off the coast of Louisiana. Then a couple hurricanes got in the way, so McCain was only able to get out there Tuesday of this week. Yeah, his campaign could have picked a different rig and gotten this done sooner, but they come from the Bush school of incompetency, so this is what we should expect from them, a photo op come so late it is about to step on McCain’s next flip flop, which is surely coming. Note that the message of McCain at his photo op on the oil rig sounds so last month, when prices of gas were through the roof. From the Washington Post:

Standing on the Chevron-operated oil rig, which produces more than 10,000 barrels of oil per day, the presumptive Republican nominee declared that, as president, he would open the nation’s coasts to expanded drilling in a effort to lower gas prices and reduce the nation’s dependence on foreign oil.

“When I’m president, there will be a whole lot more like this, not only here in the Gulf but also off of our East and West coasts,” McCain said in brief remarks to the media. “We need to drill offshore; we need to do it now.”

Yeah, that message was the same as it was weeks ago when the folks at the McCain campaign first planned the trip. But facts on the ground are changing. The reason McCain first became a tiger on the issue of oil rigs off ever seashore was because gas prices at the pump were out of control, rising well over $4 per gallon, and over $5 in Califonia. Those prices are now down. Gas prices are lower in Philly by significant margins, and they are lower in California, too. Indeed, there’s a spike in US oil supply. Time for a change in strategy for McCain?

Yeah, I started the rumor right here. Expect a McCain flip flop once again. His actions are already showing it. You see, John McCain is already opposed to bipartisan efforts to increase oil drilling off our coasts. Also from the Washington Post:

Democrats on Tuesday were quick to point out McCain’s opposition to a bipartisan effort in Congress that would include increased offshore drilling. In a conference call, Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack accused McCain of being in the pocket of “big oil” companies.

“The reality is that Senator McCain can visit oil rigs and do photo ops all he wants, but it is pretty clear from the policies he’s advocating that he’s literally over the barrel when it comes to the oil industry,” Vilsack said. But McCain is not backing off his support of new drilling, and his visit here was the most striking declaration of that position.

The tour was brief, as officials spent half an hour explaining to him how oil and natural gas are extracted and produced at the rig. He spent more time traveling to the rig than he spent on it, and read his remarks from a sheet of paper an aide had prepared in what was essentially a photo-op at sea.

The reality here is that John McCain’s real energy policy is vague enough, as seen in his energy policy speech of April 23rd, 2007, that it can fit almost anything the guy wants to say, no matter the facts on the ground. That’s not leadership. No, it is not leadership to flip flop all over the map. McCain voted against drilling in ANWR just at the beginning of this year, and now he’s being pressured to flip flop on that. With gas prices going down, I expect him to moderate, at least after he gets as much oil company contributions as he can.

I filled up the rtank at $3.59 yesterday, and the Jersey prices may be down to $3.40 by this weekend when we head to the shore. Oh, the disastrous policies of the Bush Administration, supported by McCain all along the way, are what caused those high prices. Still, if they go down much further McCain won’t be able to use drilling as a campaign theme effectively. Look for him to flip flop once again.

Thursday, August 21st, 2008 by Steven Reynolds |

John “Chuckles” McCain: Politician, Panderer, Or Humorist?

John McCain’s new campaign ads are supposed to make us laugh. Given his incoherent energy policy, I suspect that the only Americans who will be laughing if he gets elected will be a handful of very wealthy oil executives.

Commentary By: Daniel DiRito

The McCain campaign wants us to believe that their recent attack ads are simply an attempt to inject a little humor into the 2008 election. Yes, we’re supposed to conclude that a campaign with a significant fund raising disadvantage has decided to magnanimously toss money down the drain to make us laugh. Oh my, that’s funny, isn’t it? I can’t wait till the McCain campaign offers each voter free ice cream and popsicles to combat the summer heat. He’s too good to us, isn’t he?

But there’s more. John McCain wants us to know that he’s behind the oil industry 100 percent. Not only does he support offshore oil drilling and tax incentives to big oil companies, he’s taking on Barack Obama’s mean spirited effort to reduce gas consumption and deny these industry titans the kind of profits they’ve come to expect under the Bush administration.

To that end, John McCain won’t stand for the dirty politics of the Obama campaign. He wants Americans to know that the best way to wean ourselves off of petroleum products is to incentivize those who make billions of dollars selling it to us. Makes perfect sense, right? I call it the Little Red Riding Hood initiative. In other words, if you’re lost in the energy dependency forest, there’s only one way out…hand over our keys and our cash to the energy wolves and thank them for their willingness to save us.

You see, in the bizarro world of John McCain, it’s all about inflation…no, not the kind that relates to one’s tires, the kind that peels money out of your wallet like rubber off the tires at a crazy car race. I can’t wait until the McCain campaign decides to remake the Viva Viagra commercial to tout this strategy and give us another gigantic guffaw. It might go something like this:

Got me the money gonna sell my soul I’m gonna sell my soul for hire

At the end of the day I’m not a guy who’s strayed cause oil’s my heart’s desire.

Now this old toad is slick as the road I can’t wait

Can’t wait!

Can’t wait to go low

Lose your tire gauges

Lose your, lose your…tire gauges!

No, I’m not getting a chuckle out of the McCain comedy sketch. In fact, I suspect that the McCain idea tank has been out of gas and running on fumes for some time now. In fact, the McCain straight talk express appears to be little more than a short sighted bus with deflated tires and a big old bag of wind at the wheel. Now that’s a joke I can understand.

In the interest of comic equality, here’s a couple videos John McCain might not find so funny.

Britney & McCain In 2008

McCain Girl & The Enchanted Republican Forest

Cross-posted at Thought Theater

Tuesday, August 5th, 2008 by Daniel DiRito |

Jumping: Oil Prices and Unemployment

I’m just an ordinary guy, not an economist or banker or commodities trader or insulated political political pundit. But I can read, and two stories today seem to be a harbinger of bad things to come. The GOP pyramid scheme of the last 8 years is about to collapse, it’s not going to be pretty, and I’m getting scared. Not merely concerned. Jumping-out-of-my-Fruit-of-the-Looms scared.

Commentary By: Richard Blair

A couple of OMG stories from this morning almost take my breath away, and indicate just how bad the economy is tanking, despite a market run up in the past couple of weeks. And baby, it’s not going to get any better anytime soon. It’s getting scary.

First up: the unemployment rate jumped to 5.5% in May. Earlier this morning, when I was listening to the news, economists were expecting the number to come in at 5.1% (still a rise over April). A half percent in one month. That’s nearly unprecedented, and gives us an idea of just how deeply the current economic situation is impacting companies. No doubt that oil / gas prices have a great deal to do with this extreme jump in people looking for work. Which leads us to…

Next up: after price drops due to significantly decreased demand and rising inventories, oil prices have rebounded dramatically in the past couple of days. I previously opined that there’s an “oil bubble” in the works, and when it crashes, it’s going to crash hard. But not yet. There are predictions that oil will be at around $150 / barrel by 7/4/08.

Let’s just take one slice of the economy. High oil prices are invoking a major crisis in the airline industry, and honestly, just about any industry that relies on tourism or transportation is going to be suffering dramatically in the coming months. By fall, the U.S. airline industry could literally be shut down to most all travel except business. Flying on an airplane, or getting anywhere distant by any means of transportation is going to become a luxury for the well-heeled, or reserved for absolutely necessary business travel or immediate family emergencies.

Listen, I’m just an ordinary guy, not an economist or commodities trader. And without much exaggeration, I can honestly say that I’m scared to death. I can’t help but feel that there’s a terribly hard crash coming. The GOP pyramid scheme of the last 8 years is about to collapse, and it’s not going to be pretty.

Update: The stock market is responding by going into pure panic mode this afternoon. I’m not sure what took so long for the pain to take hold inside of the hermetically sealed economic bubble that seems to insulate those who make their fortunes on Wall Street. Many of us regular folk have been feeling the pain for a long time. Did someone on the Street just figure out that stratospherically expensive oil might not be a good thing in the long run for their own deep pockets, and they might be personally affected sooner than later? The sad thing is, we’re not yet anywhere close to the bottom of the economic cycle.

Friday, June 6th, 2008 by Richard Blair |

Tom Friedman on the Gas Tax Holiday

The New York Times’™ Tom Friedman might make heads explode all around the progressive blogosphere, because for once, he’™s right: The McCain proposal to suspend the federal gasoline tax is (at best) tactically shortsighted, and strategically, a huge loss for American taxpayers. It’™s time to stop this movement in its tracks.


Let’™s put this one in the ‘œeven a broken clock is right twice a day‘ file. Tom Friedman returns from an extended hiatus at the New York Times with a barnburner of a column. He takes on the gasoline tax holiday being proposed by John McCain, the concept of which is now also apparently being embraced by Hillary Clinton.

Friedman writes:

It is great to see that we finally have some national unity on energy policy. Unfortunately, the unifying idea is so ridiculous, so unworthy of the people aspiring to lead our nation, it takes your breath away. Hillary Clinton has decided to line up with John McCain in pushing to suspend the federal excise tax on gasoline, 18.4 cents a gallon, for this summer’™s travel season. This is not an energy policy. This is money laundering’¦

It’™s nice to see Friedman jumping on the bus. Two weeks ago, on ASZ, I wrote:

John McCain is proposing a temporary cessation to the federal gas tax, which would save consumers about 19 cents per gallon at the pump. Unexplored in all of the breathless media reports on his bold proposal is an examination of how much further that such a move would drive the federal deficit into the red. Let’™s also make sure we understand: the federal gas tax is primarily intended to build and maintain the American national highway system. If McCain suspends the federal gas tax, we’™ll have many more bridges collapsing, more potholes unfilled, and road construction projects put on hold.

Let’™s also stipulate that an ill-advised cut in the federal gas tax isn’™t meant to help the average ‘Murican. Any call to eliminate this tax is being driven by lobbyists for companies who rely on transportation to get their goods to market. Neither McCain nor the GOP gives a rat’™s ass that it’™s now costing you $50 or $60 to fill up your tank. This is all about lowering embedded costs for the GOP’™s corporate sponsors.

There are two ways to instantly drive down the price of oil: immediately suspend contributions to the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, and begin a controlled drawdown of the SPR. There is nothing – absolutely nothing – that is more strategically important to the United States than the economic health of the country.

With oil companies once again reporting record quarterly profits, we should probably add a third incentive for oil companies to get behind a reduction in prices: a windfall profit tax.

Wednesday, April 30th, 2008 by Richard Blair |