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Posts Tagged ‘news’

When times are tough, you look for expenses in your household budget that maybe you can do without: “this is nice to have, but we don’t need it right now”; or, “we need this, but maybe we can be paying less for it.” Shouldn’t our State government be doing the same thing??

Instead, what does Beacon Hill do in difficult economic times? They go back, time and time and time again, to their own bottomless ATM (the Acquiescent Taxpayers of Massachusetts). They’re like some kind of rabid monster – “must get more revenue, need more revenue, can’t lose any revenue!!” As if raising revenue is the only option for dealing with budget shortfalls.

This morning we learn that *at the same time Beacon Hill is already getting $11 Billion from the Porkosaurus Rex stimulus bill* Governor Patrick is going to jack-up the gas tax by 19 cents per gallon (nearly doubling the state’s gas tax). God forbid the Governor actually trim some of the grotesque fat that oozes from every door jamb in the State House. Why don’t we just hand them our entire paycheck, and then they can give us a weekly allowance? Oh, and now we know why the Governor proposed a 50 cent gas tax last week – it’s the oldest political trick in the book: threaten a 50 cent tax, and then when everyone gets outraged, drop it to 19 cents…suddenly the ignorant masses think they’re getting a bargain. All this from a Governor who ran on promises of property tax relief – what an absolute joke!

And you know the saddest part? We aren’t going to do anything about it. The majority of voters in this state are spineless lemmings. Every November they go into the voting booth and check D-D-D-D-D-D, all the way down the page. Here’s the bottom line: if you voted for this Governor, if you voted ‘No’ on Question 1, if you continue to vote for all these incumbent Democrats, then you have no leg to stand on and ought to keep your mouth shut about this gas tax. Your votes already sent a clear message to Beacon Hill: “Keep doing what you’re doing, it’s fine with me.”

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The Club for Growth notes that over the last six months, Budweiser’s stock is up nearly 30% while the S&P 500 has dropped by about 30%. Hmmm…maybe there is a way out of this mess (click to see the way out): 

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Parents are outraged by this freaky looking doll that utters pro-Islam and satanic messages. People insist they can hear Fisher-Price’s “Little Mommy Real Loving Baby Cuddle and Coo” saying “Islam is the light” and “Satan is king.”

…don’t try pulling out the batteries….you’ll just makes it angrier

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Here’s how it works: I’ve plotted where each candidate falls along a spectrum of positions/abilities for 5 big-picture concepts that are important in this election. The descriptions for each concept basically represent opposite ends of each spectrum, and there is a gradient in between. They’re positioned along each spectrum based on their stated positions, voting records, and my opinion.

For example, at one end of the socio-economic spectrum are people who support socializing services/industries and distributing wealth/opportunity through government; at the other end are those who would leave the provision of these things entirely to the forces of free market capitalism and open competition (so, someone like Karl Marx would be on the very tip of the left end, whereas someone like Milton Friedman would be on the right end).

Or, take foreign policy – On one end you have those whose acumen for foreign policy essentially amounts to having twice breakfasted at the International House of Pancakes (i.e. totally inept); on the other end are those whose acumen merits the moniker of ‘commander in chief’. You get the idea.

I thought this would be a fun and interesting way to visually characterize their general disposition on key issues.

Personally, the right side of each spectrum is vastly preferable to the left side…so although neither candidate is ideal (gee, what a surprise), this does point to McCain as the preferable one by far. Obviously decide for yourself: on which side of each spectrum do you think our next president ought to reside?

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Two kinds of haze afflict, with appalling consequences, the people of China:

1) The unmitigated haze of pollution spewed daily by power plants, factories, and automobiles that clouds the atmosphere and is estimated to kill at least 10,000 Chinese per year, and

2) The oppressive “red haze” of communism spewed daily by a government that clouds reality in the eyes of Chinese citizens and the rest of the world by shaping the flow of information and falsifying everything from government statistics to Olympic fireworks displays.

During these Olympics China is using the latter to hide the former.

The satellite image below, taken in June, shows a suffocating haze of pollution shrouding Beijing and the entire area to the south in a uniform shade of brownish gray (skies appear relatively clear to the north and regular clouds appear bright white). This is a typical day in and around Beijing, where residents are often warned to spend as little time as possible outdoors because the atmosphere is a veritable pea soup of toxic gases.

Pollution Haze Over Beijing, June 2008

Pollution Haze Over Beijing, June 2008

We already know that China is very concerned about creating a perfect image – or, as it were, a mirage – during these Olympics (e.g., digitally enhanced fireworks, lip syncing singers, and “official” crowds to fill the stands). So it isn’t surprising that as China prepared to host the Olympics, they put “special pollution controls” into effect: Except for taxis and Olympic vehicles, automobiles were banned on alternate days, depending on whether their license plates ended in odd or even numbers. Most construction was banned in Beijing, and factories were shut down in Beijing and the neighboring cities of Tianjin and Tangshan.

These restrictions are expected to last for two months – just long enough to fool the world during the Olympics – and are reducing pollution. Here is an image of Beijing taken on July 21, after the restrictions were put in place. The haze drifting south from Beijing is relatively slight compared to June.

Pollution Haze Over Beijing, July 2008 (click to enlarge)

Pollution Haze Over Beijing, July 2008 (click to enlarge)

Bottom Line: China has temporarily reduced the haze of pollutionand in the process, demonstrated to the world that the “red haze” of communism is as thick as ever. I can’t decide which is worse, the fact the government can shut down whole industries and dictate when people can drive, or the fact that pollution will return to deadly levels just as soon as the Olympics are over?

Images from NASA Earth Observatory

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And you could be jailed for reading it…and we’d all be sharing a cell with George Will and the artists who drew these cartoons.

For only the third time in 72 years (Berlin 1936, Moscow 1980), the games are being hosted by a tyrannical regime, the mind of which was displayed in the opening ceremony featuring thousands of drummers, each face contorted with the same grotesquely frozen grin. It was a tableau of the miniaturization of the individual and the subordination of individuality to the collective. Not since the Nazi’s 1934 Nuremberg rally, which Leni Riefenstahl turned into the film “Triumph of the Will,” has tyranny been so brazenly tarted up as art.” George Will, 8/12/08

P.S. Did you hear about the little girl, Lin Miaoke, who won the world’s heart when she sang “Ode to the Motherland” during the opening ceremony? Well, it was a fraud. Lin was lip-syncing the song because China’s elite Politburo decided that the girl who was actually singing lacked sufficient beauty to be on stage. Instead, they hid the real singer backstage and put a “flawless” prop on stage to lip sync. The Politburo said it was done “for the national interest.” Never mind the interest of the poor little girl who sings beautifully but is too ugly in her country’s eyes to be seen in public. Disgraceful. 

Cartoon Source: Townhall

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July 14th – 15th marked the beginning of a sudden and dramatic reversal of the multi-year upward trend in crude oil prices and the multi-year downward trend in the value of the U.S. dollar. This sea-change points to, potentially, a significantly improved outlook for growth, inflation, and energy costs – but, is this really the long awaited turning point or just another false-top in oil and false-bottom for the dollar?

The value of the U.S. dollar compared to other currencies has been on the decline since 2002, losing about 38% of its value over that period – it bottomed against the Euro on July 14 – 15. The price of crude oil has increased by about 580% since 2002, and on July 14 – 15 was only about 1.5% below its all time high. The result of these steady body blows to our economy, over time, has been increasing inflation and a slow strangulation of economic growth that has brought us to the brink of recession (the mortgage situation hasn’t helped).

But three weeks ago both trends dramatically changed coarse, simultaneously. The figure below shows the price of crude oil on the left axis (data here) and the U.S. dollar index on the right axis (data here) since early June. Click image to enlarge.

Of course, these changes are not coincidental – oil and the dollar are very much linked, primarily because oil is priced in U.S. dollars in markets all around the world (all else equal, if the dollar falls the price of oil rises and vice versa). So, what is driving this? Is the dollar rising because oil is now falling, or is oil falling because the dollar is now rising? A little bit of both?

Its both, but I suspect oil is the key driver here. There are mountains of evidence that demand for oil is easing in response the run up in prices (for example, here), and more generally, economies around the world are slowing (albeit temporarily). At the same time, there are expectations of increased future supply from a wave of new drilling/exploration around the world and talk of offshore drilling in the U.S. (gee, what a novel concept).

On the other hand, there are other factors that could be helping to raise the dollar. The economic slow down in the U.S. has reduced inflation expectations here, which helps the dollar (still high inflation, but not as high). And there is the expectation that the European Central Bank will start cutting their interest rates, which will lower the value of the Euro. But then, even these factors circle back around to oil.

Bottom Line: It is a combination of all these factors – or at least, people’s expectations about them – that has seemingly reversed the course of oil and the dollar. Oil is still quite high and the dollar is still low, but we are going in the right direction now and this is a very good thing. But no one can predict where things will go from here – hopefully this is the real deal.

Addendum: This information also reminds us of the obvious: right now oil makes the world go around. And…More than 80% of the oil left in the world is controlled by Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Venezuela, Nigeria, and Libya. We need more domestic sources of energy: oil, natural gas, (clean) coal, nuclear, hydro, hydrogen, solar, wind, geothermal – All of ’em!

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