Saturday, November 05, 2005

The Right To Cheap Oil


One thing that Liberals constantly bark about, is the notion that Americans believe they are entitled to cheap oil. Well, in plain fact we are so entitled. Ours is a nation of mobility. We started building roads over a dozen centuries after Europe started, yet American highways are better maintained and coordinated than anything Europe can boast. We quickly built up a network of railroad routes and shipping lines, and when the 20th Century came to pass, we led the world in airline shipping and passenger service, and still do. Even our folklore shows we think in terms of motion, with explorers, post routes, long distance delivery and cross-country routines. We think in terms of travel, even as recreation – who doesn’t perk up at the phrase “Road Trip”? We started our fight for freedom with a horse ride by Revere, and we were the first to get to the Moon, and in between it was always an American going all out to get somewhere. We WILL find a way to get our transportation done.

Also, looking at the IEA’s information, I observe that while gas prices in the United States are very high, they are still significantly lower than other major nations. The per-liter price in U.S. dollars in September 2005 is as follows:

USA $0.751
Canada $0.936
Japan $1.245
Spain $1.314
France $1.574
Italy $1.601
Germany $1.665
UK $1.707

That’s right, the French are tanking up their cars for about 6 bucks a gallon. In other words, the average American SUV can still be filled up for less than it costs to fill one of the those disposable Euro-carts, the kind being turned over and burned in Paris right now.

A really big part of the reason gas costs so much less in the U.S. is, believe it or not, taxes. Gasoline in France, for example, is only $0.591 a liter before taxes, compared to $0.647 a liter in the U.S. The French government however, smacks the French driver for $0.983 a liter in gasoline taxes, almost tripling the price for the French motorist. The UK tacks $1.12 onto each liter of gasoline sold to the British driver. And, as I mentioned in earlier articles, gas in Europe has more emissions, especially sulfur, than American gas, so people over there are paying more for an inferior product. So one may well wonder, why protestors choose to blame American oil companies and the American government?

Americans are a very practical people, as well. We have constantly been innovating ways to get around. The German engineer Benz may have invented the automobile, but Henry Ford made it affordable for regular people. The frequent-flyer program was an American invention, and so was the Recreational Vehicle. We know what we want to do, and we make it happen. Even now, the United States is the only nation on the planet where, on a whim, a person can wake up on one coast and drive all the way to the other coast, with only the logistics to plan. No special documents needed, no worry that fuel or supplies or food will not be available wherever they are needed, no worry that there will be no major road to get where you want to go.

Is it bragging? Somewhat, but it’s also part of who we are. It’s why Carter was out of touch when he told us the great days of America were over; no American will ever accept that kind of claim. We will face our difficulties, we will bear our hardships, and we will solve our problems, no matter what or where, and the freedom to get in our car and go where we please is no mere privilege, but a vital symbol of the American right to personal freedom.

So, what about this War-for-Oil claim from the Left? Since we hold personal travel so highly, would we invade a nation to get cheap oil, as the Liberals claim? In a word - No. But the noise from Liberals attacking American intentions is hypocritical, considering that none of the Leftist Elite have been willing to face up to what Saddam was doing all those years under the Clinton Administration; selling oil under the table with U.N. winks and nods and kickbacks, so he could build palaces and weapons and the children of Iraq suffered for it. So much easier to lie about America and blame them, when other nations were responsible, and for the very motives that the Left assigned only to America so falsely.

Look at oil prices in 2002, and look at them now. Anyone want to claim that we have been manipulating the market to get low prices? The plain fact is, the people benefiting the most now from Iraqi oil, are the Iraqi people themselves, who for the first time are being allowed to succeed on their own work and merit. As for the United States, sure we will do what makes sense for our own country in the course of our actions, but the course of our policy has been far more noble and egalitarian than the Liberals will ever admit.

Most people do not understand the science and economics of oil, and that’s fine. But the articles I have presented this week show clearly, that market forces and free exercise of capitalism are better for everyone, than anything we have seen proposed by the Left.

Friday, November 04, 2005

The Fitzgerald Fishing Trip


On Friday, October 31, Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald held a press conference to announce five charges against Scooter Libby, Chief of Staff for Vice-President Dick Cheney.

Since the Liberal Wing has been driving the Rumor Industry into overtime with conspiracy theories and hopes that this will somehow lead to the End of the Bush Era And the Return of Liberal Dominance in U.S. Government, I think it is useful to translate the press conference Mr. Fitzgerald held into plain English for the service of regular people. The text is provided by the Associated Press:

FITZGERALD: “Good afternoon. I'm Pat Fitzgerald. I'm the United States attorney in Chicago, but I'm appearing before you today as the Department of Justice special counsel in the CIA leak investigation.”

Self-explanatory introduction.

FITZGERALD: “A few hours ago, a federal grand jury sitting in the District of Columbia returned a five-count indictment against I. Lewis Libby, also known as Scooter Libby, the vice president's chief of staff. The grand jury's indictment charges that Mr. Libby committed five crimes. The indictment charges one count of obstruction of justice of the federal grand jury, two counts of perjury and two counts of false statements.”

Five charges, essentially claiming that Libby lied to the FBI, then the Grand Jury.

FITZGERALD: “I'd like to put the investigation into a little context. Valerie Wilson was a CIA officer. In July 2003, the fact that Valerie Wilson was a CIA officer was classified. Not only was it classified, but it was not widely known outside the intelligence community…It's important that a CIA officer's identity be protected, that it be protected not just for the officer, but for the nation's security.”

Note that Fitzgerald does not address the fact that Plame was not a covert agent, nor was she sent undercover on assignment in this matter, nor was Libby demonstrated to be responsible for publication of her identity. It would appear such concerns should have been directed towards Joe Wilson and the media, but no action against any of these parties appears to have ever been considered, much less enacted.

FITZGERALD: “Valerie Wilson's cover was blown in July 2003. The first sign of that cover being blown was when Mr. Novak published a column on July 14th, 2003.”

Note that Libby never gave that information to Novak, nor was ever accused of such. In this statement, Fitzgerald tacitly admits that the person(s) directly responsible for release of that information which led to the investigation were never charged, and there is no evidence to support Wilson’s claim that the White House was engaged in any such effort against him or his wife.

FITZGERALD: “I recognize that there's been very little information about this criminal investigation, but for a very good reason. It may be frustrating when investigations are conducted in secret. When investigations use grand juries, it's important that the information be closely held.”

After two years, the lack of progress would seem to indicate there was no substance to the charges, yet Fitzgerald passes off the lack of information as a need for secrecy. The indictments produced were not only very thin for the amount of effort which went into the investigation, it needs to be repeated that the original reason for the investigation produced no evidence of wrong-doing to support the claims.

FITZGERALD: “It's critical that when an investigation is conducted by prosecutors, agents and a grand jury they learn who, what, when, where and why. And then they decide, based upon accurate facts, whether a crime has been committed, who has committed the crime, whether you can prove the crime and whether the crime should be charged.”

I would like to think this was simply a mis-statement by Fitzgerald, but a Grand Jury is not where you determine ‘who, what, when, where and why’. By the time it goes to a Grand Jury, the facts should be clear and the case presented. An open-ended fishing expedition, as Fitzgerald seems to be admitting he had here, is worrisome on a number of levels, as it demonstrates something less ideal than a search for truth.

FITZGERALD: “That's the way this investigation was conducted. It was known that a CIA officer's identity was blown, it was known that there was a leak. We needed to figure out how that happened, who did it, why, whether a crime was committed, whether we could prove it, whether we should prove it. And, given that national security was at stake, it was especially important that we find out accurate facts.”

In that statement, Fitzgerald admits there was nothing to the original investigation, so they had to look for something else. Also, there has been no evidence that National Security of the United States was ever compromised because Joe Wilson’s lies were exposed and the facts made known.

FITZGERALD: “It's especially important in the national security area. The laws involving disclosure of classified information in some places are very clear, in some places they're not so clear.”

Actually, the laws in this case are pretty clear. This is why many legal experts see the indictments as a ploy, rather than strong cases on the merits. Libby’s actions, while unwise if true to the indictment, do not meet the conditions or definitions described in intelligence statutes, which is why he was charged only under generic charges.

FITZGERALD: “And in October 2003, the FBI interviewed Mr. Libby. Mr. Libby is the vice president's chief of staff…The focus of the interview was what it that he had known about Wilson's wife, Valerie Wilson, what he knew about Ms. Wilson, what he said to people, why he said it, and how he learned it.”

Notice that Fitzgerald begins with where Libby worked, as if beginning with a presumption that the White House was attacking Wilson. That’s not exactly unusual for prosecutors, but it demonstrates that the image of impartiality is not actually valid.

FITZGERALD: “Later, Mr. Libby went before the grand jury on two occasions in March of 2004. He took an oath and he testified. And he essentially said the same thing.”

This means that Libby was consistent in his stories. This is important, because that means the indictments all come down to whether one accepts what Libby claims, or what someone else claims. Libby did not contradict himself or change his story. This tells us that Fitzgerald chose to disbelieve Libby, not that the evidence proved he lied.

FITZGERALD: “Let me make clear there was nothing wrong with government officials discussing Valerie Wilson or Mr. Wilson or his wife and imparting the information to Mr. Libby.”

OK folks, this is a money line. It basically says that while Fitzgerald went after Libby for whatever he thinks Libby did wrong, he does not see other White House officials in the same light.

FITZGERALD: “In addition to hearing it from government officials, it's also alleged in the indictment that at least three times Mr. Libby discussed this information with other government officials. It's alleged in the indictment that on June 14th of 2003, a full month before Mr. Novak's column, Mr. Libby discussed it in a conversation with a CIA briefer in which he was complaining to the CIA briefer his belief that the CIA was leaking information about something or making critical comments, and he brought up Joe Wilson and Valerie Wilson. It's also alleged in the indictment that Mr. Libby discussed it with the White House press secretary on July 7th, 2003, over lunch. What's important about that is that Mr. Libby, the indictment alleges, was telling Mr. Fleischer something on Monday that he claims to have learned on Thursday. In addition to discussing it with the press secretary on July 7th, there was also a discussion on or about July 8th in which counsel for the vice president was asked a question by Mr. Libby as to what paperwork the Central Intelligence Agency would have if an employee had a spouse go on a trip.”

OK, now read that carefully. This is a White House employee doing his job, finding out the specifics about what happened and why. Everyone in the White House holds a Security Clearance, so there’s no crime at all in discussing confidential-level classified material in this way. Also, as Wilson’s lies have been exposed, it is obvious now that the White House employees were asking the logical questions which should have concerned Fitzgerald, like why anyone would be sent by the CIA on a trip because his wife wanted him to go, why Wilson was not held to nominal CIA security procedures, and why an issue that truly involves National Security (the Iraq War) would be publicly discussed by a man intent on thwarting national policy for his own ego’s sake? Once again, the question needs to be asked by Fitzgerald was not interested in the security violations by Joe Wilson, if indeed National Security was his focus? I can only conclude that National Security was not, in fact, Fitzgerald’s focus, but tangible results from his intended pursuit.

The Washington Post includes statements made by Fitzgerald from the question and answer session:

QUESTION: “Mr. Fitzgerald, this began as a leak investigation but no one is charged with any leaking. Is your investigation finished? Is this another leak investigation that doesn't lead to a charge of leaking?“

FITZGERALD: “I can tell you, the substantial bulk of the work in this investigation is concluded.”
FITZGERALD: “This grand jury's term has expired by statute; it could not be extended. But it's in ordinary course to keep a grand jury open to consider other matters, and that's what we will be doing.”
FITZGERALD: “And the damage wasn't to one person. It wasn't just Valerie Wilson. It was done to all of us.”

QUESTION: “Mr. Fitzgerald, do you have evidence that the vice president of the United States, one of Mr. Libby's original sources for this information, encouraged him to leak it or encouraged him to lie about leaking?”

FITZGERALD: “We make no allegation that the vice president committed any criminal act. We make no allegation that any other people who provided or discussed with Mr. Libby committed any criminal act.”

QUESTION: “Can you say whether or not you know whether Mr. Libby knew that Valerie Wilson's identity was covert and whether or not that was pivotal at all in your inability or your decision not to charge under the Intelligence Identity Protection Act?”

FITZGERALD: “Let me say two things. Number one, I am not speaking to whether or not Valerie Wilson was covert. And anything I say is not intended to say anything beyond this: that she was a CIA officer from January 1st, 2002, forward. I will confirm that her association with the CIA was classified at that time through July 2003. And all I'll say is that, look, we have not made any allegation that Mr. Libby knowingly, intentionally outed a covert agent.”
FITZGERALD: "The grand jury, by its terms, can serve -- was an 18-month grand jury. By its statute, to my understanding, can only be extended six months. That six months expired."

Here are the basics we can confirm:

[] Libby said something to the FBI and Grand Jury which was consistent, but which Fitgzgerald considered lies.
[] Someone leaked the name to Novak. It wasn’t Libby, but whoever it was, they were not pursued.
[] The White House became concerned when it became clear that Wilson was lying about his Africa trip, that his wife set him up for it, and normal CIA security procedures were ignored. Again, Fitzgerald chose not to pursue these issues, even though they were relevant to the investigation and National Security.
[] Libby was not charged for anything specifically related to the purpose for which the Grand Jury was convened. In fact, no one was.
[] Fitzgerald tacitly admitted he found no reason to believe the White House acted in the manner accused by Joe Wilson, or lied about the Iraq War.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

The Refined Product


Earlier this year, when the MSM was screaming nasty things about the Arab nations because oil prices were so high, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia sent Crown Prince Abdallah Bin Abdul-Aziz to meet with President Bush, a task both honoring and annoying the nobleman. Prince Abdallah, who ascended to the Saudi throne when King Fahd passed away in August, did not hesitate to remind President Bush that the problem of U.S. prices was not due nearly so much to the supply of oil, as the need for new refineries to produce the fuels in useful condition.

The last refinery built in the United States was in Louisiana in 1976. The estimated demand in 2003 exceeded Refinery Production by approximately 4,000 barrels a day (pg 4). The numbers are not yet known for 2005, but are expected to continue on a deficit trend.

Worse, the estimated cost of a new refinery is far beyond acceptable ranges most companies have available for capital expenditures. A single new refinery capable of producing 100,000 barrels of EDC refined product in a day would cost between 5.5 Billion and 6.5 Billion dollars to build (pg 15), and would require not only a six-to-ten year delay while the EPA conducted environmental impact studies and approved the proposed refining processes, but also tax abatements for property tax from the state and county governments to even make the project feasible. In addition, the provisions of the Clean Air Act of 1990 are so worded, that even if they approved the construction, if the EPA later believed that the new refinery was increasing ozone or nitrogen content in the air, the refinery would be shut down. There is no company willing to invest the money or effort to build a new refinery under such conditions.

The plans for most refineries, rather than trying to build new “grassroots” facilities, is to expand capacity at existing facilities (pg 14). The problems with that approach include the fact that Capacity and Utilization of U.S. Refineries has risen from 89.2% in 1949, to 92.8% in 2004. That is, half a century of innovation has only improved C&U by 3.6%, and as upper limits are approached, the task becomes more difficult.

Another consideration had been to bring refined fuel in from other countries, but other nations use different standards for acceptable refinement. According to the Hart International Fuel Quality Center, for example, in 2000 the United States limited Gasoline Sulfur Specifications (GSS) to no more than 120 ppm (parts per million). Europe held GSS to 150 ppm, while Brazil allowed 1000 ppm. In 2004, the United States had reduced allowed GSS to 30 ppm, while Europe still allowed 50 ppm, and Brazil still allowed 400 ppm. The difference in GSS levels allowed is an example of why refined fuel from other countries may not be a feasible solution for U.S. demand.

Another problem is the nature of the crude oil itself. Oil is not the same everywhere; West Texas Intermediate is much different from Light or Heavy Arab Crude, and both are different from Nigerian Bonny Light. Without going too far into geology and chemistry, when the oil is refined, different types of crude produce different amounts of the various products. Most important is the presence of “heavy bottoms”, material in crude oil that is all but impossible to refine and does not even burn at less than a thousand degrees Fahrenheit. As a simple comparison, Arab Heavy averages 27.2% “heavy bottom” material, making more than a quarter of every barrel effectively worthless. Bonny Light, on the other hand, has only an average of 3.4% “heavy bottom” material. (pg 130) In plain English, this means that the refinery is often built and equipped for a certain type of crude oil to process, and if the oil coming in is changed, the refinery needs to be refitted with the necessary equipment and the staff trained for the different type of oil.

Liberals have attacked “big oil” for all manner of supposed connivance against the average American, but a look at the historical record shows that oil prices have effectively dropped when compared in real dollars with CPI increases for non-food and non-energy expenses. The American Petroleum Institute observed that smaller companies were simply unable to survive in the “cheap oil” days from 1980 to 1998; the reason the industry depends on the big companies, is because only the big companies managed to survive the lean years. Certainly, there was no effort to protect oil companies when they lost money, the way there has been for airlines and banks.

So, in a nutshell, the United States had 324 operating refineries in 1981; in 2005 there were only 148, not deducting refineries shut down by storms this year or for required maintenance. The United States remains the largest refiner of oil, producing 17.1 million barrels or distilled oil per calendar day. However, other nations have begun to close the gap, including India (446 thousand barrels a day in 1970, now 2.25 million barrels a day), Brazil (502 thousands barrels a day in 1970, now 1.8 million barrels a day), and Taiwan (119 thousand barrels a day in 1970, now 1.2 million barrels a day), but the collective effect of these improved refining levels will increase demand for oil countries outside the United States, while American supply will be unable to meet demand, unless the strategic need of new refinery capacity is addressed as a very real national crisis. When Hurricanes Katrina and Rita struck the Gulf Coast, refining capacity in the Gulf Coast (where most US vehicle fuel is processed) dropped 28%, and retail gas prices shot above $3.00 a gallon.

The need for new refineries and capacity is already at emergency level. And the expedient demand that private companies alone absorb the cost and difficulty not only ignores the fact that construction costs are well beyond feasible capital expenditure, but also that ecological and bureaucratic opposition has prevented diligent efforts for three decades to address the need. Local and state governments have lied to themselves for a generation that the refining need could simply be pushed off onto somewhere else, but they would still get their gas and oil. Also, the oil industry is already coping with the conflicting weights of short-term and long-term demands, competing investment requirements and responsibilities to shareholders’ return on investment, price and availability of feedstock, alternative or substitute fuels, present and future regulations and restrictions, and of course the limits of safety and capacity production; they have pretty much done all they can do, and it is time for the federal government to act in defense of this strategic resource.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

The War Gerbil


I heard a story, some years back, about a junior high school which felt compelled to do away with their politically incorrect mascot, a fierce Apache warrior. The question remained, however: What to call themselves? A series of possible mascots were considered, but all were rejected as politically unpalatable, too common, or something which might offend someone. On the other hand, the school board did not wish to seem completely namby-pamby, and so wanted a strong symbol of pride and determination. And so, after many committee meetings, the school unveiled their new mascot – The War Gerbil.

I don’t know if there’s any truth to that story, but it made a point worth considering, that too many people are willing to negotiate away anything truly exceptional, to the point that they are willing to accept the truly absurd.

I leave it to the reader to consider the abundant evidence that the War Gerbil of my apocryphal story, has rather more basis in fact than many people might at first believe to be true.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Gasoline – Economics 303


In the comedy film “Trading Places”, the Duke brothers sit down street con artist Billy Ray Valentine, played by Eddie Murphy, and begin to school him in the ways of Commodities Futures. After a brief example using breakfast food, the light comes on for Billy Ray, who comprehends that buying Commodities Futures is like running a Numbers game. That sort of thinking was funny for the movie, but it also represents how many people see investments in Commodities, especially when the MSM plays it up to suggest a sort of cartel in the United States. Make no mistake, this was once the case in America, and still is in a number of places (Japan’s MITI comes to mind), but the modern condition is rather more sophisticated and deep.

A lot of the discussion about Oil has focused on the forces of Supply and Demand, but it needs to be observed that these exist in different temporal conditions as well. That is, a rise in prices can be spurred not only by a present shortage in available supply, but also by an anticipated surge in the future of demand, as happens in bad weather and during holidays. Oil should also be understood as a commodity with many different levels, in that it can be a fuel, a material (as in plastics), or even a sort of currency between nations. In negotiations between Communist China and Vietnam a few years back, neither nation trusted the other’s currency, so several major trade agreements used barrels of oil as the standard valuation between them. Oil for consumption also exists in many different forms, from the heavy sort used by industry to the light “sweet” petroleum used for internal combustion engines. And then there is the genie of future oil supply; in the Yellow and China Seas, for example, there are supposedly vast oil fields waiting to be tapped, based on geological research done in 1996. Unfortunately, while the oil is known to be there, getting it out has proven tricky, so that a dip in prices when the oil was discovered was lost when the troubles in drilling became known.

Thus, while the ANWR range is potentially huge, there is understandable skepticism waiting to see how the production works out.

The claim that “we are running out of oil” is at once both true and false. In that we have pumped oil out of the most of the easy places, we have reduced our ability to quickly increase oil production. However, new technologies make oil discovery more successful than ever, and the production of the refined product is more efficient than ever before. Also, the development of hybrid and other energy-efficient cars is helping to reduce non-essential consumption of petroleum. Essentially, this is market driven.

But that brings me back to the market of oil futures. A lot of people forget that oil is not generally purchased the same way you or I would tank up our car. In many cases, companies forecast their consumption needs for two-to-five years, then buy contracts to meet that need at a confirmed price. If they guess too high on the price, they lose money, but they have a secure supply and can plan on a known cost. And of course, if the prices climb above their contracted level, the company buying by contract locks in an advantage. As a result, it must be understood that the so-called “record profits” are not coming in immediately, but are in fact projected on a combination of trends, and in the end result may not materialize after all.

You might look at it the same way you would your mortgage. You make a certain amount of money, and you spend a certain amount every month on your house note. If you make more than you spend, you are ahead of the game, but you are still committed to making the payments on your mortgage. That’s how a contract works, and the good or bad of it rests on how well you plan for known costs and anticipated events. It’s just the same for an oil company; they plan within a reasonable range for the cost of research to find new oil, drill it, pump it, refine it, and distribute it. Some years the costs are higher than they planned, or the price drops below what they expected. Other years they get a good price and manage their costs well. Considering that an oil company must hurdle the obstacles of multiple government bureaucracies, uncertain weather and local conditions, fluctuating prices and opinion-impacting events, that they have managed to do well shows neither conspiracy nor greed, but careful management of opportunities and resources. And as people have already observed, the industry is driven by the market; perception of unreasonably expensive oil can impact the future operation of a company, far more than Microsoft or Coca-Cola has to fear from Congress.

Finally, if you are convinced that a certain oil company is going to enjoy profits for a sustained period in time, my advice to you would be to buy stock in that company now. The bottom line, after all, is that these are publicly held corporations, and the people who own their stock are the people who gain from their success.

Bearings Confirmation


After all the noise from the past couple weeks, I wanted to check to see if Conservatives were really that much different from Liberals. Fortunately, a quick look at an article from E.J. Dionne provides proof that the Liberal mind is very, very alien from the Conservative one.

Dionne’s latest offering is titled “The Cover-Up Worked”,
and once one begins to read, the reader discovers Mr. Dionne is discussing the Plame Affair and Patrick Fitzgerald. Anyone familiar with the facts would nod in appreciation that since Joe Wilson has not made any recent appearances in handcuffs before a judge, a cover-up does indeed seem to have happened. But it turns out Mr. Dionne does not believe in the cover-up suggested by the facts, but instead the cover-up drawn up in the paranoid minds of the farthest Left.

Dionne begins in disbelief that the subpeonae issued in October 2005 were not issued in 2004. Only the most naïve or conspiracy-prone would believe that an investigation in its early stages, as this was last year, should be allowed to influence a national election, especially as none of the candidates was believed to have any involvement in the matter. In actual fact, there still is no evidence of personal involvement by anyone running for the White House in 2004, which is effectively an admission of bitterness that Dionne wanted to bring up such an irrelevant attack.

Dionne, never one to worry much about getting facts straight, tries to fling mud at the Administration:

“the White House wanted Americans to think that officials such as Libby, Karl Rove and Vice President Cheney had nothing to do with the leak campaign to discredit its arch-critic on Iraq, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson.”

I love that statement, actually. Besides the plain fact that nineteen months after Joe Wilson tried his smear job, nothing at all has been produced to either support Wilson’s vitriolic charges or to suggest that President Bush or Vice-President Cheney has bothered to regard Wilson as anything more than the arrogant fraud he is. I find it amusing as well, that by tagging Wilson the “arch-critic on Iraq”, Dionne as much as admits the Left has nothing stronger than Wilson’s fables with which to press their case.

Dionne also has fallen in love with the legend of Valerie Plame, secret agent:

“As long as he was claiming that journalists were responsible for spreading around the name and past CIA employment of Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, Libby knew that at least some news organizations would resist having reporters testify. The journalistic ``shield'' was converted into a shield for the Bush administration's cover-up.”

You know, a reasonable person might wonder why, if Plame was really a secret agent and the Wilsons loved their privacy, as Joe has claimed, they did a photo shoot with Vanity Fair. One might wonder, if the Wilsons were so careful to follow the rules and maintain security, why Valerie Plame was the principal in persuading the CIA to send Joe Wilson on a mission, without so much as the standard secrecy agreement. One might wonder why Wilson’s press conferences to discuss intelligence information were not investigated for the damage they did to the process and the lives of agents in place in the Middle East, or the chutzpah of writing a book and going on a press tour to claim a violation of privacy. One might wonder why Fitzgerald never asked about the laws Wilson may have broken, or whether secrecy laws are even applicable to an employee with no undercover field status at the time of the alleged incidents. But Mr. Dionne does not trouble himself to consider such inconvenient elements.

Dionne, crafting a new fairy tale to press the attack, says of the President:

“You can tell the president worries this won't work because on Monday, he did what he usually does when he's in trouble: He sought to divide the country and set up a bruising ideological fight. He did so by nominating a staunchly conservative judge to the Supreme Court.”

Yep, that’s right. Bush, it seems, did not nominate Alito because he thought Alito was qualified, or because he knows the man, or because there happens to be an opening in the United States Supreme Court that needs to be filled before some very important cases arrive there. Nope, Bush just wants to distract the nation. Yeah, sure, just keep telling yourself that, E.J., and pay no mind to the overwhelming likelihood that Alito will be on the SCOTUS bench before you write a cogent article.

Dionne then tries to excoriate Alito. Here is the best he could manage:

“Judge Samuel Alito is a red flag for liberals and red meat for Bush's socially conservative base. Alito has a long paper trail as a 15-year veteran of the Court of Appeals and a right-wing reputation so strong that he has been nicknamed ``Scalito," after Justice Antonin Scalia who is presumed to be Alito's philosophical soul mate. All this guarantees a huge battle that will serve the president even if Alito's nomination fails: Anything that ‘unites the base’ and distracts attention from the Fitzgerald investigation is good news for Bush.”

Heh. A nominee with a long record on paper, whom Conservatives almost unanimously love, and which heals a lot of the rancor from the Miers feuding. And Dionne considers this ‘divisive’. Actually, he’s partly right. It will separate Liberals from their former portion of power on the High Court, but beyond that, only the most fanatical screed-writer could consider this only a feint. But then, I am writing about E.J. Dionne.

Apparently aware of how badly he has failed to make his case, Dionne turns to outright lies:

“The Fitzgerald indictment makes perfectly clear that the White House misled the public as to its involvement in sliming Wilson and in talking about Plame.”

Not in the least, Mr. Dionne. A prosecutor often wants indictments to show something for his work, and more than a few legal experts have said that at least three of the charges against Libby are extremely weak. At the very worst, there is still no evidence of any kind that the conspiracy alleged by Joe Wilson and repeated by the less sane on the Left, has any merit or substance. For all the digging and slander, there’s nothing to the charges, where the Administration is concerned.

The case against Libby is a sad, cautionary tale about letting Special Prosecutors run around with blank checks. It remains to be seen whether Libby did in fact, make statements in poor judgment, but there is no question at all that the initial purpose of the investigation, to determine whether an undercover CIA officer was endangered by a press leak, was abandoned because there was no danger to the individual, the leak (if indeed it happened) was not published (note that Novak’s column was never pursued), and the CIA employee involved was not in fact a field officer or undercover at the time of the alleged incident. The four sure things which come from review of Dionne’s column are these:

1. E.J. Dionne has still refused to return to reality, apparently so discomfited by Bush’s reelection that he prefers to dwell in a world of illusion instead of the one in fact;
2. The Joe Wilson attacks on the Bush Administration have failed utterly, even as their demonstrated falsity is hidden by their advocates;
3. That the Left would continue to attack and lie about Bush and Cheney is no surprise. That this is the best they can manage, shows how utterly bereft of strength and evidence they have become; and
4. The Conservative Movement may become fractious at times, and may hold heated debates. But there is no simply comparison between the Left and Right in terms of cogency or substance, and for the foreseeable future the Average American will come to understand that only one party has presence of mind; the other major party has simply lost theirs.

Monday, October 31, 2005

Gasoline Prices and Public Opinion


[Data collected from the Energy Information Administration]

Unleaded gasoline was selling for an average 60.5 cents a gallon in January 1976 (the earliest month with records for average unleaded prices). In November 1976, when Jimmy Carter defeated President Ford, the average for Unleaded was down to 60.2 cents. In 1980, when Ronald Reagan defeated Jimmy Carter, Unleaded gasoline had climbed to $1.25 a gallon, doubling in the four year span.

In November 1984, the average for basic Unleaded had dropped to $1.21 a gallon. When George H.W. Bush defeated Governor Michael Dukakis, the price had dropped all the way back to 94.9 cents a gallon for Unleaded. The price climbed back up again over Bush Senior’s term, and was selling at $1.16 in November 1992, when Bill Clinton defeated President Bush.

The price for Unleaded was still at $1.16 when the Republicans took over the House of Representatives in November 1994, and climbed only slightly to $1.26 a gallon when Clinton was re-elected in 1996. The price climbed sharply in 2000, and was selling for $1.55 when George W. Bush defeated Al Gore in the election.

In 2002, the price of a gallon of Unleaded had retreated to $1.45 by the Mid-Term elections. 2004 saw a surge in gasoline prices, crossing the $2 barrier as an average for the first time in May 2004. After that, they steadied however, selling for $2.01 in November when Bush was handily re-elected over Senator John Kerry.

The effects of manipulation by some OPEC members brought the average up to $2.32 by July 2005, and the effects of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in the Gulf forced the shutdown of major refineries, further bumping up the price. The September average was an all-time high of $2.93 a gallon for Unleaded. However, prices in most locations have come down in the past month as refineries came back on line, so that the average for October should be significantly lower. The single-month jump of 42.4 cents a gallon certainly had significant economic impact, and therefore it is reasonable to conclude that Job Approval for government officials would be much lower, but since the spike is temporary, the approval numbers should return, though historically they go up more slowly than down.

The larger question of whether gasoline prices should be considered a major influence in elections is more difficult to answer. While the 107.6% average price increase during the Carter years is serious and unique, and the fact that supplies were limited and so created an additional dimension of crisis is significant, it is also important to recognize other factors in the election, including Inflation, Unemployment, and a dismal Foreign Policy. Also, since this is Bush’s second term and he will by no means be running for office in 2008, the comparison to Carter becomes completely invalid. It remains to be seen, however, if and how candidates will package the issue for Congressional and State elections.

Frum Gives OK to Alito

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Washington (DC) – In a nod to the new order at the White House following last week’s interception and removal of Harriet Miers, Special Judicial Authority David Frum recommended the nomination of Samuel Alito to the United States Supreme Court, after consultations with Federal Justice Inquisitor Ann Coulter and Supreme Nomination Reviewer George Will.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist shrugged when asked if Senate Confirmation hearings will even be held. “The people who give the OK have already done so,” he explained, “but we may hold hearings, so Schumer and Reid don’t blow a gasket.”

Early indications that Alito would make it through the Frum-Coulter-Will gauntlet were promising, as none of the Deciding Three Who Speak For The Movement compared Alito to a low-level service employee, mocked his law school, or compared Alito’s appearance to any sort of farm animal. Rumors that Alito had to sign a Loyalty Oath to the DTWSFTM could not be confirmed, although there were unconfirmed reports that Alito was shining shoes belonging to the three shortly before the press conference.

In a related story, President Bush will be allowed to make speeches and present nominees, provided they are pre-screened for acceptable content, and for the time being Bush will also be allowed to reside in the White House and use Air Force One, especially for Republican fund-raisers. Laura Bush, however, remains on a sort of secret probation, and reportedly has been warned to pay more attention to the “right sort” of Conservative opinion.

What Do We Do Now?

!!! ???

One of the more regrettable effects of the Miers feuding in the Conservative Movement in general, is the way that specific individuals were treated. Without relighting old fires by pointing to specifics, grossly undeserved insults were thrown at Conservatives by other Conservatives, purely spiteful articles were written and broadcast, and once the nomination was withdrawn, there were many on both sides which wished to continue the fighting. While it is certainly wise to pursue ways to put the matter behind us, and to repair the damage done, it would be very foolish, as some are trying to do, to ignore that real damage has been done, and that victories in the future depend on addressing the present condition.

While it may seem arrogant to do so, I will take that chance and present my own name as an example. If one goes to Technorati and enters “DJ Drummond”, the responses include a variety of opinion. ApparatChick is very unhappy with me, says I am writing “screeds”, and Ember Days says I am no longer worthy of respect.

On the other hand, Antimedia says I am exactly right, and the Strata Sphere concurs with that position. Curiouser & Curiouser says I am right in line with his thoughts, and Red State Rant thinks I am correct.

An Avenging Cantelope (now there’s a blog name!) says “DJ says exactly what I have been reaching for”, and The Anchoress, in no way an extremist or fanatic, says “DJ Drummond makes some excellent points and probably is quite right”.

Am I taking those links to claim that Miers should have been confirmed? Not at all, nor am I saying the people opposing Miers did not have reason or right to speak their mind. However, the methods used, and many of the words chosen, have done damage, and it is very important to understand that I am not nearly alone in sending this warning.

The issue is not Miers now, but the Conservative Movement. Demanding people ignore the fact of very real injuries is simply not reasonable, nor would it be wise for people to seek to continue the feud. The question at hand is not an argument over things done, but the question about what to do to heal and regain momentum. While many Conservatives will find it easy to put this behind them, we have never had enough stability and unity to assume victory in key fights, which in fact is why we are still fighting so many battles in 2005, which ten years ago we would hardly have believed a Conservative-dominated Congress and White House would allow to linger. While we can dispute their number, there are Conservatives who voted in 2004, who are now inclined to sit out the next round. There are Conservatives who feel that they have been mocked and degraded, simply for their own principles, no less valid than the ideology which won the day against Miers. The Liberals, never reluctant to press an advantage, will certainly press this opening.

What, do you think, is the best thing to do to repair the damage?

Sunday, October 30, 2005

The Gospel According To Harry Potter


As I begin this article, I want to say several things. First, I am a Fundamentalist Evangelical (as in Bible-Believing) Christian, and I am not only aware of Spiritual Warfare, I have experience and wounds in that practice. This is an important part of the motive behind this piece, and hopefully will also lend perspective on my thoughts. Second, if you are a Harry Potter fan who has not yet read the Sixth Book, or if you do not want to read any “spoilers”, you might want to give this article a miss. Third, while this article is principally an examination of the Christian themes in the ‘Harry Potter’ series, I have tossed in some speculation about the stories and what may come in the final book of the series. None of this has been contributed or approved by J.K. Rowling, nor should any connection to Ms. Rowling be inferred.

Some years back, I heard about the ‘Harry Potter’ series from people warning me away from the series. ‘It’s teaching children to use magic’, one person assured me, and another said, ‘it’s subversive, replacing Christmas with Halloween, and promoting the occult’. So, I stayed away, but when my own mother began to speak highly of the stories, I began to wonder if I was missing something, and so I took it upon myself to read the six books already in print. Initially, I was pleased to find no obvious intent to subvert young minds, and the stories were very well-written. One rare quality Ms. Rowling has, is the ability to write a story which is interesting for both young and old. As a guide, I would think that Harry’s age in each book is the appropriate minimum for introducing children to the stories in most cases. As Harry turns eleven in the first book, I mean that adolescents should be the floor age for the stories.

But as I read on, I caught the sense of deeper themes in the stories, and certain echoes bumped around in my head. As I was a Literature major in college, that’s not surprising, but it occurred to me that Ms. Rowling had Christian themes in mind when she wrote the series. That’s right, the lady accused of trying to lure children away from Jesus, was in fact teaching about Jesus in her books. I was hardly the first; Dave Kopel has been writing about this more than a little while, and other bloggers have mentioned the connection, most notably La Shawn Barber, but I like to believe I have my own valid ideas on the subject, and so here we go.

Harry Potter, in case you are not familiar with the story, is a boy whose parents were murdered when he was just one year old. What’s more, the man who murdered Harry’s parents tried to murder him as well, but was unable to kill the infant Harry. Harry is sent to live with some rather distant and hostile relatives until he is eleven, when he is surprised to find out that he is a wizard, and has been accepted to a special school for Witches and Wizards, called Hogwarts. Throughout the books, Harry encounters adventure and all the normal and exciting things which happen to children his age, including all the annoying demands of school, which means both new friends and dealing with bullies, teachers he likes and teachers he hates, discovering things about himself, both good and bad, and a continuing effort by certain people to kill him.

OK, thus far there’s not am obvious Christian message to Harry Potter, but it shows up when you look deeper. For instance, Harry was saved by the deliberate sacrifice by his mother of her own life. This created a power that the “Dark Lord knows not”, and remains in effect years later. I wish I could claim it, but other writers spotted the effect of the Patronus charm, where Harry calls forth a spiritual protector against demonic attackers with the words, “Expecto Patronus”, or ‘I look for my Savior’, if you want to read it that way. And the Patronus Harry is able to call on, is in the form of a stag, often used as a Christ figure in medieval literature. Also, Harry’s story, especially the boy’s friendship with the great wizard Dumbledore, brings comparisons to the legend of King Arthur and the wizard Merlin. I noticed long ago, however, how the Arthur/Merlin legend comes in large part from the story of David and the prophet Samuel in the Biblical accounts of David’s rise to be King.

Another thing that I find interesting and worth noting here, is what Harry cannot do; he has not yet been able to kill anyone. Now granted, most of us can claim to have never yet killed another person, but when someone is actively trying to kill you, and sends monsters and minions out after you, it’s a neat trick staying alive without killing someone else, yet through six books and six years, Harry has managed that. It reflects a purity of spirit that is not only important to how Harry should be able to survive his final confrontation with Lord Voldemort (the chief villain), but also is consistent with his character through the books. Harry is not perfect; he lies, he gets into fights, he hates some people for the wrong reason. But he also stands up for misfits and outcasts, he looks into the hearts of people he meets, and he is able to love without condition. No, Harry is not a Christ symbol, but a symbol of a proper Christian. He makes mistakes and sometimes does something he should not, but he desires the right, he repents of his wrongs and makes amends, and he is thoroughly decent. If people want to know what the Gospel is about, they might consider that a Christian is just someone who has decided to do what is right, rather than just what is easy or what they would themselves like at the moment.

The series also has lessons for Christians. A very good example is the heart of Severus Snape. Potter fans have been debating, quite literally for years, about whether Severus Snape is a man who made a horrible mistake in serving Lord Voldemort years ago, and who has repented of his evil ways and spies on Voldemort to help the forces of Right; or whether Snape is a man who only pretended to repent, and who has been serving Voldemort and spying on Dumbledore and the Ministry of Magic. There has been little doubt that Snape hates Harry Potter personally, yet it is also true that in spite having many opportunities to harm or kill Harry, Snape not only has never physically harmed Harry, he has also protected and defended him. One possibility that occurs to me, is that Severus Snape is very much undecided himself. That is, he may be trying to play both sides against the middle while he sorts out his decision. The problem for Snape, is that what he would personally enjoy the most, his personal code of honor absolutely forbids. At the same time, Snape leaves no question that while he acts within the boundaries he accepts, he feels and thinks as he pleases, and considers himself the intellectual superior of almost everyone he knows. Such people find it very difficult to sort out their beliefs, and so it is very important to the story, that such people exist in the Potter books.

Rowling is presenting the Potter saga in seven books, not only because she is being paid very well for her work, but far more importantly, because she is quite detailed in each book,and determined to be clear in her lessons. Here are the six books, in brief:

Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone (Philosopher’s Stone in UK editions): Harry learns he is a wizard and goes to Hogwarts, the school in England for magic-using people. He learns that his parents were murdered by the evil Lord Voldemort, who was himself almost destroyed when the spell meant to kill Harry instead bounded back on Voldemort. Harry quickly makes friends with Ron Weasley and later with Hermione Granger, and the three act together throughout the books. He becomes enemies quickly with Draco Malfoy, a bullying and arrogant (racist as well) wizard. Harry and his friends are sorted into the House of Gryffindor, which prefers the bold and heroic. Draco is sorted into Slytherin, which house seems to prefer the self-serving and malicious. The other two Houses are Ravenclaw, generally for the smartest, and Hufflepuff, which looks for loyalty and fair-mindedness. The interaction between the Houses is important at different times of the story. Harry learns about the teachers at Hogwarts, especially Professor Snape, who teaches Potions and instantly hates Harry. Harry comes to believe that Snape is trying to steal the Sorceror’s Stone, which Harry knows is being kept safe at Hogwarts. As the story proceeds, Harry and his friends discover how the thief means to claim the stone, and in chasing him down they face danger and confusion, but are able to save the stone, but Harry discovers that Snape, rather than trying to steal the stone, was protecting it from the real thief, Professor Quirrel, who was under the possession of Lord Voldemort. Voldemort, not strong enough to keep his own body, took over Quirrel, but failed to steal the stone which would have allowed him to live forever.

(to be continued)