Friday, August 19, 2005

High gas prices

It cost me nearly $50 to fill up my truck (Ford F-150) this morning on the way to work. I paid $2.43 a gallon at the cheapest place I know to find gas (Sam’s Club with my 5 cent per gallon discount).
This is beyond ridiculous. It is outrageous!

And as if things weren’t bad enough already, it looks like they are only going to get worse.

Oil prices rose more than $1 a barrel on Friday, bouncing back from a dip this week as markets reacted to a fire at a massive refining complex in Venezuela and developments in Ecuador, where protesters had forced a halt to production.

One analyst quoted in the story says she expects the price of oil - currently at $64 per barrel - to reach $70 a barrel very soon.

So why are gas prices so high? The experts say it’s because global demand is so high. But shouldn’t we have seen this coming a long time ago and taken steps to deal with it before now? What about the new energy bill?

Bush officials are whining that it is not their fault. They say that no one can turn around gas prices instantly, and that Bush fought for years to enact his new energy bill that will take years to produce results.

''This is a problem that took decades to develop; it's not going to be solved overnight,'' Deputy White House Press Secretary Dana Perino said.

But Fadel Gheit, an energy analyst with Oppenheimer & Co. in New York, says our current government policy is not focused on encouraging consumer behavior that reduces the nation's dependence on petroleum, especially imported oil. He notes that the energy bill signed into law by President Bush doesn't do enough to define the nation's energy strategy.

"The only effective strategy is based on encouraging conservation because that's the only thing you can control," said Gheit. "You need incentives to encourage conservation."

This is not new. Average gasoline prices are nearly 40 percent higher today than when Bush was sworn into his second term seven months ago and they are 75 percent higher than when he first took office in January 2001. And now all we have in response is an energy bill that gives huge tax breaks to oil companies that already are enjoying record profits.
But what do you expect when you elevate a pair of oil men to the White House. Bush and Cheney are popping champagne bottles as gas prices rise ever higher knowing that their bank accounts just keep getting fatter and fatter as a result.

But at least we are making sure that the good people of Iraq have cheap gas prices:

What do you mean high oil prices? Gasoline in Iraq costs 5 cents a gallon

Drivers in Iraq pay as little as 5 cents a gallon for gasoline, according to the International Monetary Fund's first assessment of the Iraqi economy in 25 years.
Thanks to generous government subsidies on petroleum products - which the IMF criticized as a threat to the country's fragile economy - Iraq has some of the cheapest gas in the world.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Iran can make matters worse

Interesting story on A4 of the Wall Street Journal today:
Iran Holds Big Bargaining Chips in Dispute
Tehran May Use High Oil Prices, Iraqi Turmoil as Leverage in Nuclear Talks With the West

“Iran’s role as both an oil producer at a time of record prices and as a player in the politics of neighboring Iraq have made it trickier for the Bush administration to get tough on Tehran in the nuclear showdown. The administration has threatened to seek United Nations sanctions against Iran in the fall if the country refuses to accept international oversight of its nuclear program.”

Notice how our being stuck in this Iraqi quagmire has weakened our position in dealing with a more serious threat. Here we have the Iranian mullahs openly saying they will revive their nuclear-enrichment program and the best we can do is threaten them with U.N. sanctions sometime in the fall.

”The nuclear standoff comes at a particularly inopportune time for the Bush administration. In Iraq, the administration is scrambling to help the country’s factions overcome differences and hammer out a constitution, taking a crucial step toward solidifying the country so U.S. troops might eventually withdraw.
Iran, which shares a long border with Iraq, has huge sway over much of Iraq’s now-dominant Shiite population, and it could disrupt the constitutional process if it so chose. Western diplomats in Tehran say Iranian officials have been blunt in recent weeks on that point, threatening to cause problems in Iraq if the Bush administration tries to punish Iran with international sanctions.”

The story goes on to note that the most powerful man in Iraq today is the Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, whose approval has been central to every political twist and turn. And Sistani is much closer to officials in his native Iran than he is with the U.S.

”When Iran’s foreign minister, Kamal Kharazi, visited Iraq recently he visited Mr. Sistani - an audience so far denied to top U.S. officials. ‘It didn’t exactly please us to see the Iranians getting face time with Sistani,’ said a senior American diplomat in Iraq.”

But that is not the only leverage that Iran has right now. You think oil prices are high now? Just wait until they start messing around with oil shipments in the Middle East.

”Officials in Tehran have suggested that they might move to crimp tanker flows through the crucial Strait of Hormuz, which would have far more serious consequences. Around 15 million barrels of oil a day, and a large percentage of the world’s gas supplies, flow through Hormuz.”

Quiz time

Who said the following:

"I cannot support a failed foreign policy. History teaches us that it is often easier to make war than peace. This administration is just learning that lesson right now. The President began this mission with very vague objectives and lots of unanswered questions. A month later, these questions are still unanswered. There are no clarified rules of engagement. There is no timetable. There is no legitimate definition of victory. There is no contingency plan for mission creep. There is no clear funding program. There is no agenda to bolster our over-extended military. There is no explanation defining what vital national interests are at stake. There was no strategic plan for war when the President started this thing, and there still is no plan today"

Was it:

A) Howard Dean
B) John Kerry
C) Hillary Clinton
D) Tom DeLay
E) None of the above

For the answer click here.

San Antonio High Schools

If we stay put long enough, and I have no intention of moving anytime soon, our son may one day go to Sandra Day O’Connor High School. Knowing that we also have a high school here in town named after Ronald Reagan, that got me wondering about the names of other area high schools.
It seems that the local school officials have had a tendency to name schools after famous historical and political figures - particularly presidents and Supreme Court justices - with about a 4-1 preference for Republicans.

For instance we have six schools named after former presidents - three Republican:

Ronald Reagan
William Howard Taft
Theodore Roosevelt

and one Democrat:

John F. Kennedy

Plus two named for founding fathers Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, who were both members of the Democratic-Republican Party which is not directly linked to either of the two modern day parties.

Then we have six schools named after former Supreme Court justices.
Of these, two were Federalists - the nation’s first poltical party:

John Jay
John Marshall

one was appointed by a Democrat:

Thomas C. Clark

and three were appointed by Republicans:

Oliver Wendell Holmes
Earl Warren
Sandra Day O’Connor

Then we have two schools named after famous military figures:

Douglas MacArthur, who nearly ran for president as a Republican,
and Robert E. Lee, leader of the Confederate forces during the Civil War.

Finally we have one school named after the inventor Thomas A. Edison
and one named after Winston Churchill, who was the British Prime Minister during WWII (and the leader of Great Britain’s Conservative Party).

We also have one school named after G.W. Brackenridge, a leading citizen of San Antonio from the late 1800s and early 1900s. Plus a few other that I haven’t yet figured out what their names stand for - people or places? - including:


I don’t know if we have any junior high or elementary schools named after famous people. Most, I believe, are named after local figures like former school superintendents and the like.

I’d be curious to know how they come up with these names when they are building new high schools.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Tips for visiting Disney World

The next time we go to Disney World we are going to save up enough money to stay in one of the Disney Resort hotels. The convenience of having ready access to the parks without having to rely on taxis or a once-a-day shuttle service would be well worth it.
This time we stayed at a hotel that was just two miles away from Disney because of the special deal we got that included our free airplane tickets. But the shuttle service offered by the hotel would leave every morning at 7:45 a.m. and would not return before 6 p.m. or 10 p.m. respectively. This was not ideal for a 2-year-old who needed to sleep late after a long-day at the theme park with no afternoon nap. Also, despite its close proximity to the park, the shuttle would make numerous stops at different hotels so the trip would take at least a half hour. So we only took the morning shuttle one time and relied on alternative (and thus expensive) transportation for the rest of the trip.
If you are going to wind up paying $40 a day for taxis two and from the park you might as well add that to the cost of your hotel and upgrade to a Disney resort where the shuttles are more frequent and go to all the parks.

I would recommend that at least one time during your trip you go to the park early enough to see the opening ceremonies at Magic Kingdom at 9 a.m. While all the people are crowded around the front entrance waiting for the gates to open they have a troup of actors come out and do an opening song-and-dance number just before the train arrives carrying Mickey and all the other Disney characters.
Then once the park opens you have at least two hours where there is almost no waiting in lines for rides and shows until the crowd finally builds up by late morning.
Once the crowds build up you can still utilize the parks’ nifty FastPass feature to get on some rides. You go to the ride where there is a long line and you scan your park pass into a machine that spits out a ticket assigning you a time to come back - usually about an hour later - when you can then skip ahead of the line and be seated almost immediately.
All of the rides don’t have FastPass options and you are only allowed to have one FastPass ticket at a time, but it is still a nice way to avoid some of the long lines and give yourself more time to enjoy the rest of the park.
Of course, there are some times when standing in a line - provided that it is under shade - isn’t such a bad thing.

We found it convenient to carry a backpack with all of our son's diapers and wipes as well as his snacks and sippy cup. Other items I would recommend carrying include sun screen, a water bottle and an umbrella. There are lots of water fountains around the park where you can refill your bottle throughout the day and remember that it usually rains every afternoon around 4 p.m.
You may also want to carry a notepad and a pen, especially if you have small children, because the Disney characters are happy to sign autographs while having their pictures taken.
The other nice thing about staying at the Disney resorts is that if you buy things they can deliver them to your room rather than you having to lug them around the park for the rest of the day.

What I’m reading

I found a copy of What's the Matter with Kansas?: How Conservatives Won the Heart of America at Half-Price Bookstore the other day and have just started reading it.
It is a facinating, although somewhat depressing book, from my perspective. I could easily see how you could ask “What’s the Matter with Texas?” since the Lone Star State was also once a populist stronghold where progressive ideas held some sway.

Here is an excerpt:
Hard times, instead of snapping people back to reality, only seem to stoke the fires of the conservative backlash. Indeed, those segments of the working class that have been hardest hit by the big economic changes of recent years are the very ones that vote Republican in the greatest numbers. We seem to have but one way to express our anger, and that’s by raging along with Rush—against liberal bias in academia, liberal softness on terrorism, liberal permissiveness, and so on. Our reaction to hard times is thus to hand over ever more power to the people who make them hard. In fact, the election of 2002 provided a perverse incentive to the men who gave us the dot-com bubble and the Enron fiasco: Keep at it. The more you screw the public over, the more they will clamor to cut your taxes. The more you cheat and steal, the angrier they will become—at the liberal media that expose your cheating and stealing.

I’ll have more to say on this topic as I get further into the book.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Old School Democrat

You scored as Old School Democrat. Old school Democrats emphasize economic justice and opportunity. The Democratic ideal is best summarized by the Four Freedoms: freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear.

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Sunday, August 14, 2005

Why Cindy Sheehan matters

Cindy Sheehan has every right to be angry. She lost a son in a war that turns out to have been based on a lie - that Saddam Hussein's Iraq posed an imminent threat to our national security.
Whether President Bush knowingly propigated this lie, or was just duped by somebody else's lie does not matter - the results are the same.
Ever since Mrs. Sheehan decided to protest against the war outside Bush's vacation retreat in Crawford, Texas, she has been hailed by the left and vilified by the right.
The other day she gave an angry speech to a group called Veterans for Peace in which she at one point referred to President Bush as a "lying bastard" and later on used the word "bullshit".

For this she has been condemned by the right and called "a hate-filled, foul-mouthed toady of the anti-war movement".
This of course is coming from the same people who laughed when President Bush referred to a New York Times reporter as a "Major Leage a--hole" ("Big Time!" chimed in Vice President Dick Cheney). Or who thought it was no big deal when, on the floor of the Senate, Dick Cheney told a Democratic Senator to go and F@@@ himself.
It may not have been politically wise or correct to call President Bush a lying bastard, but Cindy Sheehan is not a politician. She is something much worse in the eyes of the Bush administration - she is a grieving mother who has not been consoled by all of the happy talk coming out of Washington about how we are advancing freedom and democracy with our military presence in Iraq.

Once it was determined that there were no WMDs in Iraq - the slender reed upon which Bush based his decision to invade - the rationale for our military intervention was cut down at the knees. They have since tried to shift the focus to promoting democracy and freedom - but quite frankly that is B.S., just as Sheehan said.
Given the choice, I think there would be very few people who would be willing to sacrifice their lives or the lives of their children and loved ones for that reason.
It may sound callous, but that is the truth. If our national security is not at stake, and we now know without a doubt that it was not, then folks are not going to line up to fight somebody else's battle. We all want the Iraqi people to live in peace and freedom, but we cannot step in and transform their society for them. We can give them aid and assistance. We can impose sanctions and support worldwide efforts to negotiate changes, but unless there is a genocide underway or some other extreme circumstance, we do not spend 100s of billions of dollars and lay down the lives of thousands of our soldiers.

Bush and Co. know this and they have been hoping that they can keep everyone distracted with the "War on Terror" so that we will not notice what has been going on. The war that they thought would last just a few weeks has now dragged on for two years and looks to have no clear end in sight. Now their worst fear is being realized in the form of Mrs. Sheehan and these other families who have lost loved ones and who are now demanding answers.
The answers won't be forthcoming because there are no good answers. The Bush team is currently trying to ratchet down expectations of what they hope to accomplish in Iraq and are busy making plans for a major troop withdrawal in time for the 2006 mid-term elections. Unfortunately for the Bush administration, Mrs. Sheehan is not going to go away any time soon and the rightwing efforts to vilify her are falling flat. Perhaps that is because she has already lived through the worst possible torture, so any name calling by Bush denizens today falls far short of having the desired stinging effect.