Capitalism and the heart of our economic system is based on two principles -- free markets and the laws of supply and demand.
What the current spike in gas prices has exposed, and I do mean exposed, is that the oil industry, which is clearly involved in unwritten and unspoken price collusion, does not price its product based on the laws of supply and demand but on another little talked about economic tool. Blackmail.
Unlike any other product in the United States, unlike sinus remedies, orange juice, diapers, laundry detergent, or any other product you can think of, oil and gasoline is unique in that without it the United States would virtually shut down. To call the U.S. dependent on oil is a gross understatement.
If the price of orange juice went through the roof, people would find alternatives until the prices came down. Or as with any other product, if consumers decided prices were too high, many would just stop buying. But there are no such choices with oil and gasoline. So oil companies, as long as they are careful and not too obvious about it, can manipulate the price of gasoline and other petroleum products based on what they can get away with. Not what the market can bear, but what people will bear.
The current artificial spike in gasoline prices has exposed all this.
The oil companies want you to believe that Libya has something to do with the spike in prices when it has nothing to do with it. Libya doesn't produce enough oil to make the slightest difference in the U.S. and the Saudi's could increase oil production tomorrow that could cover the shortfall without blinking an eye. As far as oil and gasoline reserves and supplies in the US are concerned, they are at record levels so supply and demand is having no impact on gasoline prices.
So what is it? Simple. Oil speculators have driven the price of a barrel of crude up and down during the Libyan revolt. But speculation is just that -- speculation. What the actual price of oil will be for, lets say June or July delivery, is yet to be determined. But oil companies use the speculating on a daily basis as an excuse to increase their prices when the oil being speculated on is months and months away from being refined into gasoline that ends up at the pump. No one today is paying $4 a gallon for gasoline at the pump because oil companies paid $108 a barrel for the crude.
And what if the price falls for June or July delivery? What if the price is $99 a barrel? The speculators lose money but the oil companies that raised their prices today based on the speculation that never came to be, get to keep their profits -- an increase in profits based on oil costing $108 a barrel when in the end it actually cost the oil companies $99. This is why oil companies like Exxon are now reporting record profits.
What to do about it is simple: Have congressional hearings where the CEO's of the major oil companies are asked to do one thing -- produce documentation and the relevant executives to testify under oath as to how they arrive at their pricing. Put it out there for everyone to see. All the memos and decision making.
Forget Obama and his Justice Department investigation. its nothing but a show pony that will preserve the status quo. The oil companies are doing nothing illegal at the moment with the way they price. But that is the point. Maybe their pricing based on speculation should be made illegal by congress.
Given the dependency the country has on oil and gasoline, the way oil companies adjust their prices based on day to day speculation and not what they actually paid for a barrel of crude is not free market economics, its not supply and demand, it's blackmail. Its what they think they can get away with. It's doing it because they can. And the fact that all of them raise their prices at the same time for the same hollow reason also exposes what is illegal -- price fixing. The problem with that is proving it.
At the very least, a congressional hearing into how oil companies arrive at their pricing could very well be a public relations nightmare for them once it's shown that it raises prices using speculation as the excuse, and it might force them to change the way they do business. Before congress does it for them.
No one is really surprised at what the recent release of Gitmo related documents by Wikileaks reveals. People arrested and incarcerated for no other reason than wearing a brand of watch known to be worn by terrorists. People without a shred of evidence against them held for years without a trial or hearing. People who were completely innocent of any crime, held with no representation, hearing, or due process.
Gitmo has been a stain on the United States since its inception by Bush and Cheney and was implemented for only one reason -- they knew, even if the press refused to hold them accountable, that their gross negligence in ignoring 8 months of specific warnings was the real reason the 911 attacks succeeded. The real intelligence failures had been at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue not at the CIA or FBI who had given Bush repeated warnings gathered from their intelligence that we were about to be hit by a major attack from Al-Qaeda and in the words of one CIA memo in August of 2001, that the attack was going to be " spectacular". Bush and Cheney ignored all of it including an intelligence report that Al-Qaeda planned on hijacking US airliners as part of their attack, and they knew they couldn't afford for it to happen again and still survive politically, and so every American value or law including the FISA law, everything that makes our judicial system the best in the world, was thrown out the window to create Gitmo.
Even that well known left wing radical Colin Powell has called Gitmo a disgrace and that if it was in his power he would close it immediately.
And Obama? Well, we all know about Obama and how as far back as 2007 when he first started to run he declared he would close Gitmo if he was president. He also had some prime vacation land in the Okeefenokee swamp to sell and most of the press and many Democrats bought that too.
Obama as recently as a few weeks ago made grandiose statements about why he was intervening in Libya, because, he said, our "values" were being attacked. At the same time Gitmo's very existence is an attack, and a self-inflicted wound, on our values. But being more concerned with conservative and Republican political backlash, his promise to close Gitmo is now under his very crowded bus.
The documents provided by Wikileaks simply re-enforced what everyone already knew. That Gitmo is a disgrace to the American system of government, violates not just the Geneva convention but the American system of justice and is doing more harm than good.
Recently a representative of the ACLU called those who created Gitmo "cowards" for not trusting the American system of justice. Maybe. Though the ACLU calling Bush and Cheney cowards is not exactly going to cause them to miss a meal. The real coward is Obama, who now, with no excuses, having all the facts, having promised many times to close it, knowing it has yielded absolutely nothing of value in the war on terror, and having attacked it while running for president, would rather renege on his own promises, statements and decisons then face Republican political attacks.
The White House did release a statement concerning the release of the Gitmo documents. It sounded a lot like Bush, calling their publication in the New York Times "unfortunate" and saying the detainees at Gitmo were there because the safety of Americans were the administrations highest priority. Obama, sounding like Cheney, concluded that the release of these documents" put American lives at risk".
What puts American lives at risk, are not the release of the documents, but as Colin Powell and others have pointed out, what the documents reveal -- the continued incarceration of innocent people for the flimsiest of reasons. Knowledge of what the US government is doing with Gitmo is not the problem, but what is being done may very well put American lives at risk overseas and in the middle east.
But like Bush and even Nixon before him, Obama thinks its knowing the truth thats the real problem, not what the truth reveals. Including the truth that his decision not to close Gitmo has more to do with his political weakenss and fear of political attack than in doing what is right.
By now it should be taken for granted that nothing Obama says ever matters. His words, trite and cliche as they are (the same trite cliches that supposedly passed for "soaring oratory" that produced the mindless swooning of many Democrats and the press like something out of a Lenny Bruce comedy routine) always had nothing behind them.
Misrata is now the latest and most dramatic example of the the empty self-serving words, the deceptions and deceit that is the Obama presidency.
Obama said only weeks ago, during a speech on Libya designed to do nothing more than promote his false image as a "leader" and take credit for things he didn't do in announcing cruise missile air strikes to support French and British fighter jets:
"I refused to wait for images of slaughter and mass graves before taking action".
The reality was the French and British decided they weren't going to wait any longer while Obama dragged his feet unable to make a decision and without consultation with the United States sent their own fighter jets into Libya who started bombing targets before Obama ordered a single cruise missile fired.
But Obama nevertheless went on television to proclaim his leadership role and to give as his reason for taking action his defense of morality and American values and how ordering cruise missiles to take out Libyan air defenses to help establish a no fly zone was his way of showing his moral outrage and sense of a moral imperative that human values must be defended where they are attacked.
He talked about how important it was that even though Libya wasn't a direct threat to our national security, we had to defend our values and beliefs and defense of human rights, and not sit by and watch as people, mostly civilians, were ruthlessly attacked and many slaughtered or maimed by Gaddhafi's forces.
Since that time,Misrata has been under constant shelling by Gaddhafi's troops who have surrounded the city. There are reports they are shelling hospitals and are making no distinction between civilian and military targets. There is no water or electricity and food is scarce. Civilians are being killed. This seemingly doesn't offend Obama's values or isnt part of what he calls "human values".
People are asking for help. And Obama, proving again how empty his words are (and always have been), has done nothing. And as far as anyone knows, doesn't plan to, other than to send money to the rebels though Im not exactly sure what he thinks they are going to buy with it. Misrata has no water and electricity but not because they didn't pay their bill.
The situation in Misrata as described by journalists inside the city is "devastation beyond comprehension". This is where the two photojournalists trying to document the devastation were recently killed.
But Obama does nothing because in the end, that's who he is and anyone who thought his words about defending our values as a reason for intervening in Libya had an iota of real meaning are still drinking his Kool-Aid and rejoicing over the public option and real healthcare reform, the closing of Gitmo and the elimination of the economically destructive Bush tax cuts.
These are the same people whose desire to see a black man elected president over rode every shred of judgement, honesty and integrity to nominate one of the most untrustworthy, deceitful, unqualified presidential candidates in history. You can thank the press and some genuine corruption on the part of the press and some DNC officials for that.
In Misrata, the slaughter that Obama claimed he wouldn't stand by and watch has been going on for two weeks. And those slaughtered are now buried along with Obama's other lies, promises and pledges buried in the same graveyard as the public option, financial reform, Gitmo and all the rest.
You can make a case that it is not our place to intervene in Libya militarily. But no one forced Obama to say what he said. No one forced Obama to proclaim his moral outrage and policy of intervention on behalf of American and human values, a policy that turned out to be as phony as all his others since as anyone sober knows, Obama never means what he says and will say anything anytime to anyone to try and make himself look good. Right now in Misrata he is looking pretty bad.
There is a phenomenon among those who supported Barrack Obama during the Democratic primary and continue to do so even after two years of the most underhanded, dishonest Democratic presidency in history, who suffer from what I call Battered Obama Syndrome.
After Obama lies, reneges,does violence to and beats up Democratic values because he has no integrity and cant deal with Republican criticism, he shows up at the door with candy and flowers and many of those who stupidly believed him in the first place, take him back. Only to get beat up again another time on another issue. Only to take him back again after he shows up with more candy, flowers and empty words.
Obama sold out the public option on healthcare reform, the most effective and fundamental change in healthcare in this country's history and the most far reaching legislation on an issue of justice since the Civil Rights Act in 1964 and he sold it out despite the fact that the votes were there in a Democratically controlled congress to pass it. Then blatantly lied in an interview on PBS when asked if he considered it a loss that he didnt get a public option and said he never campaigned for a public option.
Democratic supporters of Obama didn't get angry, didn't revolt, didn't threaten to leave, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid let him get away with it, and when Obama showed up with candy and flowers again making outrageously false claims about the four humped camel of a disastrous health care bill he did push through, ( "we got 32 million people insurance") the Battered Obama Syndrome crowd actually tried to make it sound like he accomplished something and that it was wonderful.
The same was true when he gutted financial reform, and the same was true when he didn't close Gitmo and the same was true when he capitulated to Republicans and extended the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy. Each time he beat up the values of those who supported him, each time he proved he was never what he pretended to be and each time those too stupid, naive or too blind to see him for what he really was and always had been, took him back even though by now they had two black eyes.
We are seeing BOS rear its head again after Obama's latest speech on the budget. This time he virtually swore, that yes, this time he will not extend the Bush tax cuts to the wealthy. He just wont. No, not this time. The Republicans are the ones responsible for the economic mess ( all true) and this time he's not giving in. Really. Promise.
The reaction by many from Rachel Maddow, to the Progressive Campaign Committee and MoveOn was predictable. Battered Obama Syndrome reared its head again.
Maddow called his speech " unexpectedly satisfying", the PCCC called it a "powerful speech" and MoveOn was moved. As if he had never said these things before, as if he had never made promises before, as if he never made pledges before, and as if he never looked people in the eye and lied through his teeth before, as he if never reneged on every promise he ever made every time.
They say the start to solving every problem is to admit you have a problem. When those Democrats finally admit they have a problem and their problem was both their own blindness and willingness to throw their own integrity out the window and look the other way in order to support a dishonest duplicitous and clearly unqualified politician simply because of his race, (not exactly what Martin Luther King had in mind), and they realize Obama is the product of their mistake and he will never be any different than what he has always been, then there will be real change. And it will start with Democrats finally walking out on Obama, looking for someone new, and not ever going back.
In his long awaited speech on the budget, Obama, as part of deficit reduction has proposed ending the Bush tax cuts for the upper 5% income earners ( along with making unprecedented cuts in Medicaid,Medicare and social security). Obama did say some good things. He finally did what Democrats should have been doing for years and that is lay the blame for the current fiscal mess entirely at the feet of the Republicans who are entirely, 100% responsible for the the deficit and it's unconscionable size, although he didnt do it as strongly as needed. A forensic accounting degree would come in handy here in order to pick the pieces of this mess apart. But while some of what Obama had to say produced a positive reaction from non-partisans like the Center For Tax Policy and the Concord Coalition, one thing has to be kept in mind about Obama -- he never means what he says and he never follows through on what he promises. Whether its closing Gitmo, promising a public option on healthcare reform, ending the Bush tax cuts, ending banks investing in derivatives, promising to use public funds in his presidential campagin, he has a history of saying what he needs to say at the time for personal political reasons and then always reneges.
Some of the speech was typical Obama, saying things that simply were not true. One example was his statement about bipartisan deficit reduction:
"We have come together before to reduce the deficit and we can do it again".
I don't know on what planet Obama was on when that happened but it wasn't the planet Earth. The parties have never come together to reduce or eliminate the deficit.
In 1992 when Bill Clinton introduced his budget which included a 5c a gallon gasoline tax all of which was earmarked for eliminating the deficit, every Republican in the House and every Republican in the senate voted against it. They called multiple press conferences where they all said the same thing -- Clinton's budget would explode the deficit, drive up unemployment and send the country into a deeper recession. It took Al Gore as president of the senate to end the deadlock and cast the deciding vote on Clinton's budget which passed by one vote and only with Democratic votes.
Clinton's budget ultimately resulted in the lowest unemployment in 40 years, eliminated the deficit, saw the greatest economic expansion in American history, balanced the budget and produced a $5 1/2 trillion budget surplus. The Republicans batted 1.000. They were wrong about everything.
So what will Obama actually do? Obama's proposed cuts in Medicare and Medicaid are already being met with strong opposition by Democrats. And John Boehner has said that any tax hike is a deal breaker. So will Obama stick to his guns on eliminating the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy?
There is a rumor Geico is readying a script for a commercial to run during the upcoming budget battle. It goes something like this:
"Will choosing Geico save you 15% on car insurance? Does Obama lie, renege, reverse himself, and sell out to Republicans?"
Of course, you can always do your own commercial. I'll save this one for 2012.
Once again the party whose policies and politics have contributed more to running the country into the ground than any party since the founding of the country, is showing the Democrats how to play the game, how to wield power, how to play politics, get things done and stick to their principles even if their principles are anathema to the country.
John Boehner is 4 months into the Republican congressional majority in the House, a majority achieved because Democrats didn't have the guts to stand up to Obama's duplicity and spinelessness on the public option, financial reform and tax cuts for the wealthy and they paid the price.
Boehner has stated publicly that he wants to get spending cuts passed with Republican votes alone. When he was asked by reporters if he would try and put together a coalition with Democrats to pass legislation to keep the government from shutting down, Boehner said, "not very interested".
The BBC also reported that Boehner had said that "Republicans would not be forced into accepting options they did not want to endorse".
Contrast that with the capitulating and spine caving sell out by Barrack Obama to the small Republican minority on the country's most important legislation even though Obama had the biggest congressional majority of any president in 60 years. Contrast that with Obama's scrounging for one Republican vote on the public option when the Democrats didn't need Republican votes at all, and then, not getting it, throwing the policy under the bus along with hundreds of millions of Americans who wanted real healthcare reform. Contrast Boehner refusal to compromise on principles with Obama caving in to Republicans on extending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest 5% of Americans, something Obama publicly stated since 2007 he would never do.
Republicans say they will not compromise or accept any options they don't endorse as a matter of policy. Obama caved in on extending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy then had the gall to accuse those Democrats who didn't want to go along of being "sanctimonious purists". And this is who the Democrats are going to support for four more years?
Its not all Obama's fault, of course. At any time the weak, non- leadership of the Democratic congress led by Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid could have rejected Obama's capitulation and passed what she and Reid knew was best for the country. Pelosi herself stated that the public option was the "centerpiece" of healthcare reform. But when Obama sold it out to healthcare lobbyists even though the Democrats had the votes in the House and senate to pass it with reconciliation, Pelosi and Reid folded their tents and their integrity and put a desire not to politically embarrass Obama ahead of what was best for the country. Had they stood up to Obama they would still be in the majority and none of the mess that is going on with the budget would be taking place.
The Democrats paid a deservedly heavy price for that last November. But incredibly, even after being led off a cliff by Pelosi and Reid, the Democrats in congress re-elected them as their leaders. It fits Einstein's definition of insanity of doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
And so what are Obama and the Democrats doing now? They are complaining that Republicans are refusing to compromise or cave in the way they did.
It's never too late to show some backbone, but if the Democrats couldn't show it with the biggest congressional majority in 60 years there is not a lot of hope they will show it now. They need new leadership and need a new collection of paid strategists and communicators who know how to frame an argument and a message and have at least some powers of persuasion. The Democrats have always had policy and ideas on their side. Just not enough backbone in leadership and probably the worst collection of political strategists and communicators in history.
As for Obama, he is missing the part of the male anatomy that James Carville pointed to, and had no real convictions, principles or integrity to begin with so there is nothing about Obama that is going to change. He is purely a politician and a gutless one at that with a 13 year political history of standing for nothing and fighting for nothing. Which is why Cornell West, the African American historian at Princeton recently said of Obama, " if you stand for nothing you fall for anything". Obama and the Democrats have fallen. Not only from power but from grace. Now it's a question of whether they will ever stand up.
NOTE: I just love when something happens that proves my point only hours after making it . On the floor of the U.S. senate at 6:32 p.m on Wed. April 6,. in addressing the budget impasse Harry Reid said, " On the budget cuts we agreed to meet the Republicans part of the way and they said no. Then we agreed to meet the Republicans half way and they said no. They we agreed to meet the Republicans more than half way and they said no. They we agreed to meet the Republicans all the way and they still said no."
That's giving 'em hell Harry.
2ND NOTE: A very telling WSJ/NBC poll has just been released. According to the poll 56% of Republicans say Republicans should stick to their guns on budget cuts and 38% say they should compromise. The same poll shows only 26% of Democrats say that Democrats should stick to their guns while 68% say Democrats should compromise. This is why Democrats ended up with a president with no convictons or principles and why the Democrats lost big in November. The old axiom is true -- people do get the government they deserve.
UPDATE: a shut down was averted when the House and senate agreed on a temporary continuing resolution to keep the government from shutting down. The Democrats didnt capitulate on the Republican attempt to gut Planned Parenthood on idelologichal grounds not related to the budget and the agreement left Planned Parenthood funded. But Obama naturally did capitulate showing again his word is as a good as confederate money. Obama said only a few days ago that he would no longer accept a temporary extension to keep the government running unless there was a broader deal on the budget. There was no broader deal and Obama signed the temporary extension.
But while congressional Democrats refused to give away the whole store to the Republicans this time, it was clear that it was more a matter of political survival than backbone since the Democrats knew full well what would happen to them with their womens' constituency had they folded. As it is the Republicans got most of what they wanted and it remains to be seen how the Democratic leadership will handle the budget fight in the future. One thing they did learn -- they can say no to Republicans and hold their ground and the roof wont cave in.
Most people agree that when most politicians speak hot air comes out of their mouths. But Obama is different. What comes out of his mouth is cold air. It starts off as hot air but reverses itself half way out of his mouth.
The Hitchcock thriller " The Man With No Convictions" starring Barrack Obama continues with Obama caving in and capitulating to Republicans on the 911 conspirators trial who will now be tried in a military tribunal at Gitmo. you remember Gitmo. That's the Guantanamo prison Obama vowed, pledged, swore he was going to close when he was pandering for liberal votes in the Democratic primaries.. So Obama's decision is a real deal: buy one lie, get one free.
This is the man who Nancy Pelosi said had the judgement to be president from day one. This is the man who sold out and threw under the bus what Pelosi called the "centerpiece" of healthcare reform, the public option. This is the man who swore to get rid of the Bush tax cuts for the upper 5% income bracket, then folded and called Democrats who didnt want to go along with his caving in "sanctimonious purists".
The decision to try the 911 conspirators in a civilian court was the right decision, and right for many reasons including our own rule of law. But Obama, wanting to keep his record of always making the wrong decision for the wrong reasons in tact, couldn't live with the right decision and had to reverse it.
Trying the 911 conspirators in a military tribunal is something conservatives have been howling about for months, trying to show that they are tough guys. Unfortuantely it plays right into the hands of the terrorists. Al-Qaeda believes they are in a holy war. They consider themselves soldiers in that war. They recruit new members and train them by indoctrinating them into believing they are soldiers. So the Al-Qaeda leadership is very happy that the U.S. is going to treat them like the soliders their propaganda says they are, instead of treating them for what they really are -- common criminals and mass murderers who dont deserve to be treated any other way. And so trying them in a military tribunal will be a great recruiting tool for Al-Qaeda, gloryifying who they are even more.
The visuals of these conspirators entering and leaving a civilian court every day in shackles, what the press likes to call a perp walk and having them sit in a U.S. court room shackled to chairs during their trial and having to endure that humiliation, is much more fitting then the dignity of a military tribunal. Trying them as criminals in a court room in New York would have been a public humiliation they deserve. But the Republicans thought a military tribunal more appropriate and Obama, as usual, couldnt stand the heat and finally gave in.
So one more policy statement by Obama bites the dust, one more promise, one more pledge reneged on, one more capitulation, one more policy reversal for political reasons. And you have to wonder the Democrats are feeling terrorized.
It didn't take long for president Obama to virtually renege on and reverse most of everything he said in his speech on Libya the other night. It never does take very long. Because he never means what he says anyway. For those with memories as short as Obama hopes they have, usually those with press passes, it was only a few days ago when Obama, blowing his own horn over his "decision" to use military force in Libya said:
" I refused to wait for images of slaughter and mass graves before taking action".
That refusal, that expression of a moral imperative based on what Obama said were our values even if our imminent security was not being threatened, lasted about 8 hours. Reports of slaughter and devastation poured out of Misrata, the Libyan city held by rebels but under severe attack by Gadhafi's forces. Outnumbered and out gunned, reports coming from the city described everything Obama said he was committing U.S. military forces to prevent. Witnesses inside Misrata said that " the carnage and destruction and human suffering is beyond imagination".
It's also considerably beyond Obama's imagination since the U.S. did nothing as Misrata was being overrun by Gadhafi's forces. And for some reason the "carnage and destruction" werent an attack on our values
This is what happens when "conviction" and "principle" are just something you use for political expediency. What was going on in Misrata fulfilled the definition of everything Obama said was the reason he authorized the use of military force.
This is not necessarily to advocate for the use of US military force in Libya since there are two sides to the argument, but it is to say that if you mean what you say when you say "Gadhafi must go", if you mean what you say when you say that you refuse to allow slaughter, and if you believe what you say when you acknowledge that the rebels are fighting on the side of democracy and American values and you will defend those values, then there is a clear decision to take military action on the side of the rebels. Instead we are hearing that the US is going to dramatically scale down its military involvement in a day or two.
If its NATO cover Obama needs to support the rebels, he could get it. Everyone know the U.S. runs NATO. But when you talk just to talk and when your talk is as empty as Obama's always is, then instead of ending up with your foot in your mouth there is another clear line of action to take, but unfortunately it is the one thing that is impossible for Obama to do -- stop talking.