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Steve Likes to Curse
Writing, comics and random thoughts from really a rather vulgar man
Defending the indefensible — with gusto and without shame 
Wednesday, August 6th, 2008 | 12:19 pm [politics]
God help me, I agree with Bill O’Reilly on something.
It’s not as awful as it sounds. As far as political beliefs go, I agree with O’Reilly on a lot of things. I disagree with him on a good bit, too — he tries to mask his opposition to gay rights by acting ambivalent on the issue, but I suspect that when he says “I don’t care” he really means “I don’t want those homos to get married.”
What makes O’Reilly such a prick isn’t his politics; it’s that he’s such a prick. As the host of a basic cable news analysis show, he acts as though he single-handedly runs the entire country. The other day I heard Ben Stein on his radio show lamenting the fact that neither major party presidential candidate has suggested balancing the federal budget. “I called for it,” O’Reilly immediately insisted.
“Yes, but you are not running for president, sir,” Stein politely reminded him.
O’Reilly’s not just deluded about his influence — he’s a bully. He’s just as likely to send his henchman/producer Jesse Waters out with a camera and a microphone to ambush one of his critics as he is a crooked politician or one of those dastardly activist judges.
With all that said, I can finally give him a smidgeon of credit: he’s the only national voice on conservative talk radio (in addition to his Fox News show, he hosts The Radio Factor) who hasn’t spent the last year shamelessly apologizing for the oil industry. A few days ago — with his typical air of arrogant presumption, but nevermind that for now — he called on the companies comprising the five-headed hydra of Big Oil to voluntarily lower gas prices by narrowing their profit margin by 2%. It’s a pointless publicity stunt, since there’s not a chance in hell that the oil companies will go for it (as even O’Reilly admits), but still, it’s refreshing to hear a public figure — any public figure — other than a member in good standing of the partisan American left-wing demanding that Big Oil do the right thing.
There is no clearer demonstration of the corruption of the Republican Party than its response to the recent explosive rise of gasoline prices. With the petroleum industry pulling in record profits every quarter, most Republican politicians and their mouthpieces on talk radio bridle at the mere suggestion that they voluntarily act (or worse yet, be compelled by act of Congress) to lower prices at the pump. The better solution, they insist, is to turn the oil companies loose to drill in the Gulf of Mexico, the Alaskan National Wildlife Reserve, pretty much anyplace that might have crude under the ground that has not yet suffered their depredations. Coincidentally, this solution would enable the oil companies to swell their net income even further.
The deference shown the oil industry on conservative radio is appalling, given the financial extremity in which many American families find themselves, largely as a result of high gas prices. Tune into Sean Hannity at any point during his daily three-hour broadcast and you’re likely to hear him complaining about the amount of money the government makes from gas taxes, while the oil companies “explore, extract the crude, refine the product . . .” Hannity whips out that mantra every time a caller or guest challenges him on his “letting oil companies do whatever the hell they want is the answer” argument. He uses the phrase so often, with so little alteration, that I wonder if it wouldn’t be more efficient if he just pulled a sound-bite of himself saying it and played that over and over again, like the offending clips of Jeremiah Wright which he still plays ad nauseum on nearly every broadcast.
Yes, the oil companies do conduct the exploration, the extraction, the refinement. Yes, in most states a larger percentage of the per-gallon price of gasoline goes to taxes than to the oil company. Yes, the profit margin of Big Oil is only about 8-10%, smaller than that of many other industries. There is a key difference that the industry’s right-wing chickenheads overlook: oil, unlike tobacco, or computer software, or automobiles, is a necessity. Hannity and his colleagues like Rush Limbaugh and Mark Levin scream and yell about the free market and the obligation of a corporation to pursue profit for the benefit of its shareholders, ignoring the fact that the oil business is not a free market. It does not have to persuade consumers to buy its products — consumers need its products to heat their homes, power and lubricate their vehicles, and do a hundred other things which most people can’t give up without considerable distress. The five major oil companies don’t even compete much against each other — when was the last time you saw two gas stations owned by different companies with a difference in price of more than a couple of cents?
Given that they have most of us over a barrel, given that they benefit immensely from the apathy of the federal government, and given that they have reported all-time record earnings in the tens of billions, is it so unreasonable to ask these, the most successful businesses in the history of human civilization, to show an iota of concern for the consumers who are compelled to buy their products no matter how high the price rises? If you’re an ideologue like Hannity, Levin, or Limbaugh, it’s not only unreasonable — it’s communist.
Is it really communism to ask Big Oil to act on its own to bring a sliver of relief to people? Is there really so little distance between free range amoral capitalism and the Soviet Union? I don’t think so. Neither does Bill O’Reilly. I think O’Reilly is mostly just doing his usual self-serving “Hey, I’m just lookin’ out for the folks” act, but there’s also a part of him that sees what Sean Hannity refuses to see: that for an oil company CEO to make tens of millions a year while his fellow citizens struggle to afford his vital product, is an obscenity.
Wednesday, August 6th, 2008 | 06:48 pm (UTC)
Actually, John McCain promised to balance the federal budget by the end of his first term.

Wednesday, August 6th, 2008 | 09:36 pm (UTC)
Thanks for the link. I know McCain has traditionally been very up on fiscal responsibility, as they call it, but I missed this. Good for him. I wish Obama would set a similar goal. For the life of me, I can't think of a good reason why balancing the budget shouldn't be a standard plank on any party's platform.
Friday, August 8th, 2008 | 01:04 am (UTC)
Promising to balance the budget is all well and good, but anyone can promise anything (and they often promise opposite things simultaneously). I'll be impressed when a candidate presents a workable plan to balance the budget. Until then, I don't care.

Friday, August 8th, 2008 | 04:17 am (UTC)
You know, in the meantime between now and whenever someone actually balances the federal budget again, as long as they're spending money like it's about to expire, they could at least throw NASA a bone and increase its funding. And give a few extra billion to public broadcasting and the endowments for the arts and the humanities. What's the point of heedless fiscal recklessness if all you do with it is cut profitable industries tax breaks and fund arbitrary wars?
Wednesday, August 6th, 2008 | 10:04 pm (UTC)
Funny how the sheep blame the oil companies when the government taxes the hell out of them which they pass to consumers and then various levels of government takes even more from the consumers at the pump.

(We won't even mention the real reason for high prices, the printing of more money at the federal reserve)
Wednesday, August 6th, 2008 | 11:01 pm (UTC)
And how does the fact that they are heavily taxed excuse the oil industry from demonstrating the barest shred of social responsibility other than that which is forced upon them by government regulation?

I know that inflation is the reason why everything costs more, and while I don't see it as the ever-present boogeyman that the American Free Press set does, I do think dumping the Federal Reserve and returning direct control over the currency to Congress is a good idea.

But the fact remains that the oil industry is raking in unheard of profits — profits, not gross income — and still continue to charge far more than they have to for their products. They are taking advantage of the fact that their products are necessary to the operation of the economy and to the lifestyles of most people. Is it unreasonable to ask them to conduct themselves with a bit more concern for their captive customers?

And by the way, I don't let the government off the hook for high gas prices, either. For twenty years — longer — economists and people in the know about energy policy have argued that eventually our reliance on petroleum would come back to bite us in the ass, and instead of encouraging pursuit and development of alternatives, our Congress did nothing. They didn't even allow for the exploration and development of more of our own petroleum resources, which would have at least ameliorated the present problem somewhat.

Right now there is a small group of Republican Congressman putting on a show in the vacant House of Representatives, demanding that the Democrats call the House back into session so they can vote on a proposal for expanding domestic oil production. But where were these "heroic" public servants ten years ago? Or five years ago? Or last year? And if they want to take action to lower prices and break our dependency on oil (particularly the billions of metric tonnes we import from foreign countries), why have they not enacted reforms in areas over which they have direct control? Why have they not mandated all Federal automobiles be replaced by electric- or natural gas-powered vehicles? Why have they not acted to raise fuel economy standards, or increased funding to the development of electric cars, or cellulosic ethanol? Why are we not vigorously pursuing solar, wind, and geothermal energy sources to augment and eventually replace coal, oil, and nuclear power plants?

There are dozens of steps Congress could take that could start to alleviate the energy problem right now, and aside from a few Republicans arguing for more drilling on behalf of their patrons in the oil industry, nothing is on the table.

Yeah, I blame the oil companies. They're repugnant. But this isn't entirely their fault. Their gutless enablers in our federal and most of our state governments share the responsibility.
Thursday, August 7th, 2008 | 04:32 pm (UTC)
Increasing the amount of drilling and/or pumping might make sense if there wasn't a cartel by the name of OPEC controlling the amount of oil that is on the global market. If we were to increase the amount of oil on the global market, OPEC would only decrease the amount of oil their member nations produce.

The reason oil costs so much right now is because the global oil market is conducted in U.S. dollars and the U.S. dollar isn't worth much right now.

What I don't understand -- and I've written about this on my blog -- is why the cost of motor oil hasn't gone up the way gas has. It cost me around $20 bucks for an oil change 10 years ago. That's about what I pay now.
Thursday, August 7th, 2008 | 07:56 am (UTC)
Yeah Steve, how could you forget? The Fed is the source of all of America's problems. Please keep that in mind in the future.


Crazy Anonymous Man
Thursday, August 7th, 2008 | 07:52 am (UTC)
Hey Steve, when do you think that you'll get your first utterly insane comment that isn't anonymous? When a crazy person on LiveJournal uses his actual name (or screenname or what have you), do they cease to become crazy? Clearly, you won't be coming after these crazy people if they somehow let it slip that they're actually Johnny X from Memphis, TN or wherever, so what gives? These are questions that I have.
Thursday, August 7th, 2008 | 12:32 pm (UTC)
I don't know, but it would sure help me sort out the smug, strident libertarians from the childish homophobes if they would simply put their name or handle or something at the bottom of their crazy comments.

--Steve from Hagerstown
Thursday, August 7th, 2008 | 02:07 pm (UTC)
Far from being in short supply, petroleum is the second most abundant liquid on Earth. Contrary to what most people, including American oil company executives and some fool named Steve, believe, petroleum does not come from dead prehistoric animals and plants. Instead, it comes from "abiotic"—non-biological—processes constantly occurring under extreme temperatures and pressures deep within the Earth's crust.

And, of course, much of the apparent escalation of the price of petroleum actually reflects a steep decline in the value of the US dollar. Since Pinky and the Brain took over, it's fallen to the price of a bus token, and it takes a lot of bus tokens to buy a barrel of oil.
Now in the face of this strictly artificial, politically-induced shortage of energy, as we have so many times before, we're hearing all of the same old tired ideas from pundits who ignore both the actual causes of the mess we're in, and actual solutions that we should be pursuing.
Never, ever forget that the "dominant culture", the elitists who mistakenly believe they own this civilization (and do control most of its papers, magazines, TV, and radio stations), are not enthusiasts for the private automobile. They adore the current price of gas and fervently hope it will go higher. They figure that will deprive us of our individual mobility (and privacy) and force us all onto their nasty, smelly, dirty buses and their even nastier little toy trains. In any case, whatever "solutions" they propose, they are not going to make things any better, not from the viewpoint of the Productive Class.
One thing that all of their solutions have in common, whether it happens to be windmills, solar panels, fuel cells, ethanol made from corn or sugar cane, or synthetic fuel made from ethanol and other things is that they will make existing corporations richer. One reason petroleum companies continue to reject the abiotic theory is that, if petroleum is the second most abundant liquid on the planet, it will eventually become impossible to justify selling gasoline for more than a dollar a gallon.

--- Rob Thompson from Charleston
Thursday, August 7th, 2008 | 09:07 pm (UTC)
Thanks for signing your reply, Rob! You are a model blog commenter.

You state the abiotic origin theory as though it is broadly accepted and only the rubes like me and the guys who have billions of dollars at stake in the oil market have yet to embrace it. In fact, the opposite is true. The abiotic origin theory is a fringe hypothesis, backed up by no observations and only some arguable circumstantial evidence. The more traditional "dead dinosaurs" theory, on the other hand, is very well supported and widely accepted as the best explanation for where oil came from — though it's misnamed, since modern petroleum probably formed from the remains of ancient aquatic plants, not dinosaurs.

It would be nice if petroleum were an abundant, constantly replenished and nearly inexaustible resource, but I don't think it's true.

Here are a few articles on the implausibility of abiotic theory: Part I, and Part II of Whiskey and Gunpowder's examination, and a short entry at The Oil Drum on the subject.

This has no bearing on the validity of the abiotic theory, but I wanted to share this anyway: the major champion of the theory was Thomas Gold, who wrote the book The Deep Hot Biosphere which brought it to prominence. Gold had previously been one of the originators of the steady state theory of cosmology, which has since been almost entirely abandoned in favor of the big bang theory. It's not fair to color his entire scientific career with these two misfires — he was actually a distinguished and decorated astronomer who did a lot of other good work. He was just wrong in a big way about his two most popular theories.

The other major book promoting the theory was Black Gold Stranglehold, co-authored by right-wing xenophobe and conspiracy theorist Jerome Corsi, who also co-wrote the character assassination of John Kerry with Swiftboat Veterans for Truth, and the recent Obama hatchet job, The Obama Nation.

What is it about the abiotic theory of petroleum orgin that is so attractive to kooks?

Edited at 2008-08-07 09:10 pm (UTC)
Friday, August 8th, 2008 | 01:06 am (UTC)
I don't know, but I suspect that if it made sense, they wouldn't be kooks.

Friday, August 15th, 2008 | 11:41 am (UTC)
Having actually worked in the oil business, I know first hand about this. I have personally witnessed many wells that were empty and capped. Fifteen years later the same wells are full again yet various government agencies won't allow pumping to continue?

Why is the heavily subsidized and waste of energy ethanol, wind, and solar power scams so attractive to kooks?

Wednesday, August 13th, 2008 | 05:04 am (UTC) - Our Own Boston Tea Party
Is it niave to suggest that we, the common folk who are being raped at the pump, could at least organize a sit-in? The oil companies aren't going to give up a penny of their profits just because we ask nicely. The government seems to have it's own agenda, as we know, and drilling in our backyard will only line the pockets of the wong people. No one is going to come up with and orchestrate an alternative to fuel until the people are kicking, fighting mad. Period.

So my question is, is the price we're having to pay at the pump just not bad enough yet? I know we're all bellyaching about it, but besides that, what are we, the common peasants, doing about it? What is it going to take to get the people kicking, fighting mad?

Some very motivated people once told England where they could shove their Earl Grey. Think what they would have done if they were forced to pay $4.00 for a bundle of fire wood.

So here's my suggestion, we pick a day, one preferably not too hot or too cold and sit-in. Thousands and thousands of people make a promise to stay home, turn off their A/C, lights, water heater, the dish washer, the tv, etc, and we go absolutely no where for a whole day. Sure, it might be inconvenient, but what's one day if it kicks the greedy oil industry and government where it hurts? Maybe it might not put much of a dent in their wallets, but if enough people signed on, I'ld bet they would begin to think we mean business. I know the idea of a sit-in sounds a little 60s, but, nothing is going to get done about the problem if we just keep quietly busting our piggy banks to fill up the station wagon.

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