Protest this

As I write this, we’re a bit under 20 hours away from handing the executive branch of the United States government over to Donald Trump, a sentient bag of flatulence and grievance that has managed to masquerade as something approximating a human being for over 70 years. He is probably the least popular president-elect in American history, but he enters office with the potential to vastly reshape the American political landscape thanks to a Congress full of Republican bootlickers and years, if not decades, of sheer malpractice by the national Democratic Party. Protesting and resisting what these people are about to do to this country is absolutely essential. It may not mean much, but it will mean something.

It’s a little-known fact, because not that many people watch or listen to C-SPAN, that the average caller to their call-in shows is every bit as ridiculous as the average caller to any sports talk or political radio program out there. I imagine it’s all mostly the same population who calls into all of these things–people who feel they’ve been wronged, somehow (whether it was Barack Obama or the New York Mets who wronged them, the emotion is the same), and want to complain about it but can’t find any live human willing to listen. Anyway, I made the mistake of listening to C-SPAN this morning, and some guy called in and said anybody thinking about protesting Donald Trump should shut up and address their concerns in four years, like you’re “supposed to.” You know, like Republicans did. Fuck that.

We need to protest this administration, all the time, in every outlet, and at every turn, on every thing. We need to protest any Democrat who decides to “find common ground” with Trump, or whatever bullshit turn of phrase they use to dress up appeasement. We need to protest it because this is, already, the most corrupt presidential administration in American history: Continue reading

More than one way to skin a very crooked cat

Here’s a little tip from the Republican Party for all you little people out there: make your own world. Don’t rely on others to get the job done for you. Only you can control your destiny. It’s on your shoulders. That’s the American way.

For example, if you are having a problem adhering to basic ethical guidelines:

In an extraordinary move, Office of Government Ethics Director Walter Shaub publicly stated on Wednesday that President-elect Donald Trump did not consult with his office to formulate his plan to hand his billion-dollar real estate and licensing company off to his two adult sons.

Shaub said in an online livestream conducted by the Brookings Institution that Trump’s plan “doesn’t meet the standard that the best of nominees are meeting and that every president of the past four decades has met.”

“OGE’s primary recommendation is that he divest his conflicting assets,” he said. “Nothing short of divestiture will resolve these conflicts.” He added, “I don’t think divestiture is too high a price to pay to be the president of the United States of America.”

then get it together! You’re a grown human being, for Pete’s sake, so start acting like one! Get out there and do what you need to do to be an ethical person get rid of those pain in the ass people trying to enforce the guidelines:

The Republican chairman of the House Oversight Committee on Thursday issued a stern letter, including a veiled threat of an investigation, to the federal government’s top ethics monitor, who this week had questioned President-elect Donald J. Trump’s commitment to confront his potential conflicts of interest.

In an unusual action against the independent Office of Government Ethics, Representative Jason Chaffetz of Utah accused the office’s director, Walter M. Shaub Jr., of “blurring the line between public relations and official ethics guidance.”

He cited a bizarre series of Twitter posts that the office made in late November congratulating Mr. Trump for divesting from his business — even though Mr. Trump had made no such commitment. Mr. Chaffetz also said that the office had failed to adequately investigate Hillary Clinton, based on allegations that she had not properly disclosed fees paid for speeches she gave after leaving her post as secretary of state.

The OGE’s failure to adequately investigate the woman who no longer does and probably never again will hold any position in the federal government is particularly egregious and I applaud Congressman Tim Curry’s Character from Home Alone 2 if You Hit Him Square in the Face With a Cast Iron Pan for bringing it up. This aggression will not stand, man.

Hi, how’s it going? Thanks for reading; attwiw wouldn’t exist without you! If you enjoyed this or any other posts here, please share widely and help build our audience. You can like this site on Facebook or follow me on Twitter as well. Most critically, if you’re a regular reader I hope you’ll read this and consider helping this place to stay alive.

The best stupidity money can buy

You have to wonder whether the guy who recently wrote this:

Why shouldn’t the president surround himself with successful people? Wealthy folks have no need to steal or engage in corruption. Their business success demonstrates that they know how to achieve goals and convince skeptics that good deals can be made to the benefit of both sides. Isn’t this just what America needs?

knows what an unbelievable lie that is or is really stupid enough to believe it. I’d like to suggest a third option: willful stupidity. If Larry Kudlow thought about that sentence for five seconds, he’d realize it’s bullshit. But Kudlow has been very, very well-compensated precisely because he’s prepared to say this kind of crap without thinking about it. He’s stupid, but that’s his competitive advantage.

I look forward to Kudlow’s potential tenure as the chair of Trump’s council of economic advisers, mostly because at this point I think we all have to embrace the suck to some degree. I’m not a “heighten the contradictions” person, and in fact I routinely feel like I’m voting for the lesser of two evils and do it anyway. But the greater evil won this time and has been winning at every level below president for a while now, so it’s going to get bad and there’s not much anybody can do about it for the next couple of years. The steeper the dive, the less time this gang will have to stick around and wreck everything in a longer-term sense.

Hi, how’s it going? Thanks for reading; attwiw wouldn’t exist without you! If you enjoyed this or any other posts here, please share widely and help build our audience. You can like this site on Facebook or follow me on Twitter as well. Most critically, if you’re a regular reader I hope you’ll read this and consider helping this place to stay alive.

Cause of death: late-stage capitalism

According to the National Center for Health Statistics, in 2015 average life expectancy in the United States dropped, from 78.9 years to 78.8 years, the first time that’s happened since 1993. We know that the drop in 1993 had a few particular causes (AIDS and high homicide and accidental death rates, for example), and while last year’s dip seems to involve smaller increases in death rates due to a much larger array of causes, there is one thing that sticks out: opioid abuse. More people in 2015 died of heroin overdoses than were killed in gun homicides, which has never happened before.

Our worsening national opioid problem is one of those things I have been increasingly aware of but not all that knowledgeable about. But New York Magazine’s Jesse Singal has what strikes me as a pretty sensible theory as to the roots of the problem: Continue reading

Worst roller coaster ever

If you’re the kind of person who pays attention to oil prices, then first of all I share your pain and alienation, but second of all, you may have noticed that it’s been doing a lot of rising and falling lately around a midpoint of about $48-$49/barrel. We seem to be in the middle of another fall, as oil is back down around $50/barrel after almost hitting $52/barrel just a couple of days ago.

The reason for the recent climb in price is that OPEC and Russia reached a deal on November 30 to cut production for the next six months in order to increase prices. This was something of a minor miracle, first because OPEC managed to get non-member Russia to commit to a 300,000 barrels per day reduction on top of OPEC’s planned 1.2 million bpd cut, and second because OPEC itself managed to coalesce around a deal to cut production. Past attempts at cutting back were quashed by the same Saudi-Iran rivalry that dominates everything else about Middle Eastern politics lately, with the Saudis unwilling to cut production and risk losing market share to Iran and Iran unwilling to cut production at a time when nuclear deal-related sanctions relief finally allowed it to increase production for the first time in years. But I guess the decline in price has gotten critical enough to bridge even the unbridgeable Persian Gulf divide.

So with those cuts at least promised, if not yet implemented, why are prices back on the decline again? Continue reading

Oil prices and the Persian Gulf

My newest at LobeLog looks at recent changes in the oil market and how they’re affecting, and being affected by, developments in Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Iran:

Looking to the Persian Gulf, we can see how three of the world’s largest oil producing nations—Iraq, Iran, and Saudi Arabia—are both contributing and reacting to oil instability. Iran, barely removed from international sanctions that were lifted as part of the Iranian nuclear deal, has been trying to quickly bring its oil production back up to pre-sanctions levels. But after a promising May increase, its June production figures already show a significant decline. Iran has struggled to increase its presence in the European and African markets, but its efforts to increase its oil production capacity have been hampered by difficulties attracting foreign investment, difficulties that only recently seem to be diminishing.

I spend more time on Iraq than the other two because, well, Iraq is in desperate straits, particularly compared to Iran and the Saudis. Truth is I started writing a piece with a lengthy discussion of circumstances in each of the three countries, but when that got to around 1500 words with no end in sight I figured it might be time to pare back a bit. Enjoy!


Oil price ping-pong

Don’t look now, but oil prices are starting to rise again. After bottoming out around $26/barrel in late-January, they’ve come back up into the $50/barrel neighborhood in recent days. There are several reasons, but they all come back to basic economics: supply is down and demand is up. The latter is relatively simple: cheap oil leads to cheap oil products, and low prices lead to higher demand. But the former has several causes: wildfires in Canada are cutting tar sands production significantly, for example, and those low prices also made fracking unprofitable for a lot of US producers, so US production is down.

One new wrinkle involves terrorist activity in Nigeria, but not from Boko Haram. A new group, the “Niger Delta Avengers” (really), has been attacking oil infrastructure effectively enough to cut Nigerian production by hundreds of thousands of barrels per day. Not much is known about the NDA yet, but among their stated aims is a redistribution of more of Nigeria’s oil revenue back to the people in the Niger Delta, particularly in the form of some serious environmental remediation for all the pollution that the country’s oil industry has caused there over the years.

Foreign Policy is telling us that “The Era of Cheap Oil Is Coming to an End,” citing an International Energy Agency estimate that the world’s oil production and oil consumption will probably be about even for the rest of the year. And, hey, maybe that’s not such a terrible thing. Cheap oil (along, to be sure, with a hefty dose of bad governance) destroys people’s lives in Venezuela, makes it harder for the Iraqi and Libyan governments to restore some stability to their countries, and increases the chances of a hardline political resurgence in next year’s Iranian presidential election. Yeah it sucks at the gas pump, but there are some bigger issues at stake.

But wait–in May, Scientific American told me that “The Age of Cheap Oil and Natural Gas Is Just Beginning”! What gives? I think it all depends on how you define “cheap oil.” We probably shouldn’t expect oil to get back to the low $30s/barrel and stay there, but at the same time it’s unlikely to get close to $100/barrel again for quite some time. The reason, again, is supply. Libya, for example, might finally be put back together, which would allow that country to increase its oil production. Iran is already putting more oil on the market, and can probably be expected to increase its production a bit even beyond what it already is. The NDA might be defeated, or appeased, allowing Nigeria to ramp production up again. Those wildfires in Canada will eventually be brought under control–well, either that or they’ll grow until they eventually consume the planet, in which case oil prices probably won’t be an issue anymore. And, most crucially, if prices climb back to the point where fracking becomes economically viable again, US production can be expected to rise again. All of these things would put downward pressure on prices. On the other hand, if things continue to deteriorate in Venezuela that country might have to cut back oil production, which would put upward pressure on prices.

So the upshot is that oil prices will probably find an equilibrium somewhere near where they are now and stay there, give or take, for the foreseeable future. This probably means a return to the days of the oil price spike, where the market reacts immediately to bad news, though again probably not as dramatically as it did back in the days of ultra-expensive oil.