Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Hillary Clinton is unelectable

As we get deeper into the never-ending march to November 2008, various polls tell us different things. The Democrats, aka, “the gang who couldn’t shoot straight,” have a front-runner, in Hillary Clinton that couldn’t beat any of five selected Republican candidates.

A new interactive Zogby survey shows that Senator Clinton would lose to anyone of the following five GOP candidates; Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney, Fred Thompson, Mike Huckabee, or John McCain.

Consequently, both Barack Obama and John Edwards would beat all of the same five candidates, with the exception of an Edwards-McCain bout, which ends tied, 42-all.

I’m wondering why Zogby didn’t extend this out to include Ron Paul, who continues to raise money at an astounding clip and seems to be getting more truck from the mainstream.

It’s curious to me how often we hear candidates being framed as “electable,” or “unelectable.” According to this Zogby poll, Hillary Clinton falls into the latter category. Of course, I doubt this will change many minds on the Democratic side, since they seem to be comfortable in their role as America’s second party.

[Thanks to A True Believer's Weblog for the Zogby info.--JB]

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Turkey Day, Tryptophan and Politics

I hope readers experienced a festive and bountiful Thanksgiving, like I did. The long weekend from work (our office was closed, Friday) allowed me to enjoy some downtime with family, a good book and also afforded the opportunity for some needed relaxation.

While this space isn’t always filled with writing that aims at uplift (I prefer the term, “realism”), I felt fortunate during my own celebration to be breaking bread around a table with 17 other people, mostly family, but also, a few friends. Given the opportunity to reflect a bit, 2007 has been a good year for me personally.

Our son came home from Boston, arriving with his two roommates via Concord Trailways. My wife picked them up Wednesday afternoon and they were home when I arrived from work. Life changes when our children grow up and leave the nest. Mark is doing well and his two friends, both pursuing Ph.D’s in economics, were a wonderful addition to the Baumer household during their stay. While the news can be mixed when it comes to Millenials, these three make me optimistic for the future. Listening to Samson (who hails from Dubai) and Adam discussing economic theories with unbridled enthusiasm was refreshing. In fact, our extended family has a good mix of younger people, all in their 20s, who are engaged, articulate and care about the state of the world that they live in.

I spent most of my free time yesterday and today, engaged with Robert Draper’s hard-to-put-down, Dead Certain: The Presidency of George W. Bush. Draper’s book, a literary narrative of the Bush years in the White House, provides an arc and a portrait of our nation’s forty-third president that I think is truly unique.

Draper describes his idea to pen a straightforward narrative as nothing particularly novel, or so he thought. However, it is the only one that has been done and I think it captures Bush in a way that the partisan backbiting on the left and the sycophantic cheerleading on the right fails miserably at.

I’m slightly more than halfway through the book, which clocks in at over 400 pages, but reads very easily. I’ll have more to say on this, I’m sure.

Having taken an interest in presidential hopeful, Mike Huckabee, I watched Wolf Blitzer’s interview (on Late Edition) with the former governor of Arkansas, curious to see how he performed. I thought Huckabee was warm, articulate and answered all of Blitzer’s questioned confidently, including charges being leveled by Mitt Romney that Huckabee isn’t a “true” conservative.

As Iowa’s January 3rd caucus draws closer, Huckabee is hard charging according to the latest ABC/Washington Post poll and trails Romney by only four percentage points, 28 to 24.

If Huckabee can manage to finish a strong second in Iowa, anything could happen in New Hampshire, a state that operates at the grass roots. I’m not sure what kind of team Huckabee has on the ground in the Granite State, but I might be tempted to make a road trip soon, for some firsthand reporting of my own.

Speaking of New Hampshire, Secretary of State Bill Gardiner has announced a January 8th date for the state’s primary, keeping the tradition of being first in the nation with its primary.

The decision ends months of speculation, including the possibility that the state might actually move its primary into December to keep its spot at the head of the line.

New Hampshire stands to lose half of its delegates to the Republican convention, reducing the number to 12, because it moved earlier than party rules allow. But state officials are not concerned, considering it a small price to pay for the attention New Hampshire gets from its leadoff spot. Democratic rules allow New Hampshire to hold an early primary, so the state will keep all of its 30 delegates to the Democratic National Convention.

I’m pleased that New Hampshire was able to maintain its role as a leader in the primary field, particularly because it’s a state that forces candidates to get out and meet the voters, rather than relying on huge war chests of corporate contributions. Still, its days may be numbered, as the machinations of modern politics continually discount grass roots populism, pancake breakfasts and VFW rallies, in favor of videogenic presentation and not varying from the script.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Bush tells poor to "Piss Off!"

[Editorial note: Richard S. of the excellent blog, Commie Curmudgeon once again applied his razor sharp editor's eye and made a suggestion about my original first paragraph (written too early) being ambiguous. I've rewritten it and hopefully it clears up the confusion that he had with it when he read it. Make sure you add him to your blogroll--JB]

George Bush, whose administration has relied upon deficit spending throughout his term, has suddenly turned deficit hawk. Bush vetoed a bill Tuesday that would have increased funding for LIHEAP, an essential federal program that provides heating assistance to those in need.

While partisan politics often result in hyperbole and over-the-top statements from members of the loyal opposition, comments like Representative Carolyn McCarthy's is much more in line with the reality of those struggling to pay rapidly escalating oil, electric and natural gas bills this winter.

Congresswoman McCarthy (D-NY) is quoted as saying, "With energy costs consistently on the rise, more and more families must make the tough decision whether to heat their homes or put food on the table." She went on to say that, "We'll fight for the money."

If you don’t know what LIHEAP is, you probably aren’t one of those at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder, clinging to the bottom two rungs, hoping you don’t finally fall off into the abyss.

LIHEAP stands for Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, a federal assistance program, which helps low-income residents with energy costs associated with heating their homes during the winter. LIHEAP will provide a one-time benefit to eligible households and must be used solely to pay energy bills. The amount of the benefit is determined by income, household size, fuel type and geographic location. Recipients don’t have to be homeowners, but must be primarily responsible for heating costs. The source of heat isn’t limited to natural gas or electricity in order to receive assistance.

With last season’s high energy costs, the program was stretched thin and with 2007/2008s skyrocketing energy costs pushing ever higher, many of our neighbors and fellow Americans are facing being cold, sick and possibly, even worse.

I know that conservatives hate the thought of helping anyone with handouts, other than corporations and the very rich, but is this what you’ve come to philosophically? Feeling superior about your ideology that chooses to let fellow American freeze to death over the winter, just so a few of the well-heeled can have their tax cuts?

There’s much more to this issue than just tax cuts. The continued cost of the war in Iraq, which our President wages with pride, isolated and ignoring the will of the people, is also having a profound affect on the federal government’s ability to deliver domestic assistance programs. Once again, he’s asking for additional funding to the already criminal $470,000.000.000 we’ve pissed down a rat’s hole thus far. Please, all you lunatics out on the right-wing fringe; drug-addled Rush Limbaugh, the psychotic Michael Savage, the smarmy Glen Beck and Mr. Hair, Sean Hannity—what benefit has the war visited on the U.S.? Please don’t revert to your usual clich├ęd responses about “fighting them over there, so we won’t have to fight them over here,” either. We’re fighting a war over here, my rich right-wing friends and it’s called poverty, something you are fortunate to be isolated from. Savage, at least, ought to have a better sense of how working class people struggle, because he comes from that class, although something happened in that man’s brain (or heart) long ago that’s made him one of the most hateful of this pack of ideological freaks.

I know Senator Snowe spent yesterday at the PROP office, in Portland, listening to the stories of Mainers who depend on LIHEAP and will go without heat if funding isn’t reinstated and increased. The senator, who fought last year for increased funding, has once more stated that she will be aggressive in advocating for more funding for Mainers again.

With Thanksgiving just around the corner and Christmas not far off, it’s going to be a Dickensian holiday for many Americans, I’m afraid.

Friday, November 16, 2007

It might be time for a reality check

For younger Americans, the Great Depression means little, or nothing to them. Yes, for those who actually read their history books (if in fact history is still taught in our public schools), this was an actual historical event that happened over 75 years ago. The beginning of this economic downturn is associated with the stock market crash of October 29, 1929.

Those of us who are older have never experiencing a catastrophic economic downturn like that one, but we’ve heard the stories from our parents and grandparents about what that period of time was like. When you’ve met people who have been through hard times, particularly the kind of economic straits suffered during the Great Depression, you are haunted by their stories and it leaves an impression.

My father’s philosophy of frugality towards money and finances was no doubt shaped by being born during this economic slump. Born in the early 1930s, most his youth was spent growing up in the shadow of one of the nation’s most difficult economic periods. Ironically, when he reached adulthood after WWII, his generation was part of a long period of economic prosperity and a sense that things would be better, but I’m not sure he ever recovered from that previous sense of deprivation.

Born in the early 60s, I was 11 and regularly reading a daily newspaper and very interested in the news of the day, when the the oil embargo hit, in 1973. OPEC declared that they would no longer ship petroleum to nations sympathetic to and supportive of Israel in their ongoing conflict with Syria and Egypt.

This resulted in immediate affects upon the U.S. economy; gas prices quadrupled, rising from just 25 cents to over a dollar in just a few months. Many filling stations across the country had no fuel for a week..In other places, drivers had to wait in line for two to three hours to get gas. I remember seeing a gas line of a ¼ mile in Lewiston, at the Gibbs Station on Lisbon Street.

U.S. consumption of fuel dropped twenty percent, as Americans began to practice conservation, by carpooling, walking and using public transit, where available. Homes that utilized gas heat began switching to other forms of energy that were more affordable. My father installed a wood stove in our home, for the first time.

The federal government imposed a 55 mph speed limit, which helped to decrease consumption and the number of fatalities dropped. Gas stations imposed fuel limits of ten gallons and many closed voluntarily on Sundays.

The national mood shifted, for a brief period of time. Americans regained a sense of reality, not make believe, recognizing that the prosperity many took for granted, could disappear. The ease of motoring, perpetuated by cheap oil, was no longer viewed as a right and some even predicted that this shortage of oil could continue.

The oil embargo of the mid-70s is now just a memory. Jimmy Carter found himself voted out of office, because he dared to tell Americans that they needed to continue to conserve. Looking back, Carter’s prescience is obvious and even admirable. In 1976, however, Americans, much like we are today, were in denial about a lifestyle that might not be as conspicuously consumptive.

Here in the latter days of 2007, signs are obvious to some that we are headed for another dark period, economically. While we may not plunge to the depths of financial despair that Americans alive in the 1930s did, it seems quite possible that the economic doldrums of the 1970s are quite possible and more likely, probable. Interestingly, if you tell this to your co-worker over lunch, or mention it at the next family get together, see what kind of reaction you receive.

Americans refuse to face the obvious realities that are apparent if one takes a long hard look. On the other hand, however, these realities aren’t necessarily receiving wide dispensation from our mainstream media. Shouldn’t our leaders be helping Americans prepare for some bumps in the road, instead of insisting that we gather up our plastic and head to the shopping malls for Christmas?

Some of the financial spin that I’ve listened to for much of the past two our three weeks is utterly ridiculous and inane. Where is the analysis in various stories about high gas prices, the rollercoaster ups and downs on Wall Street? There is no connecting of the dots and little or no context to any of the news stories I've heard, or read. The shrinking dollar, soaring gas prices, housing slump and stock market fall, though inconvenient, are not the biggest threats to the economy. These are symptoms caused by deeper systemic problems. We need to learn from these events and begin to think about how are we going to build a more sustainable society.

Bad news, however, continues to seep through the denial and subterfuge. Wells Fargo CEO, John Stump, said Thursday that the nation’s housing slump is the worst since the Great Depression and is far from being over.

"We have not seen a nationwide decline in housing like this since the Great Depression," Stumpf said at a Merrill Lynch & Co banking conference in New York.

"I don't think we're in the ninth inning of unwinding this," he continued.

Today, Goldman Sachs announced that the mortgage wipeout could result in a $2 trillion cutback in lending and have dramatic implications for the U.S. economy, according to Wall Street investment bank Goldman Sachs.

The housing slump is expected to end up costing banks, hedge funds and other lenders an estimated $400 billion as defaults on home loans rise, according to Goldman economist Jan Hatzius. Meanwhile, the dollar continues to take a beating on the world currency market.

While this kind of blogging freaks some people out, there are those who believe that economic troubles might be exactly what Americans need. In a land that has become increasingly superficial and overly narcissistic, fueled by steroids, plastic surgery and conspicuous consumption, reconnecting with one another and recognizing what’s really important in life wouldn’t be a bad thing for most of us, in my opinion. It might even reacquaint some of us with the values espoused by our forebears and fixate less on the trials and tribulations of Barry Bonds.

Learning how to make due without a facial, or a visit to the nail salon, requires some depth of personality. Not driving an expensive sports car, or letting that overprice health club membership lapse, in favor of splitting your own wood is probably better for your constitution, if not your washboard abs. Then again, having a ripped body isn’t a prerequisite for survival.

I’m not necessarily hoping for economic hard times, but I’m not thinking about jumping off a cliff, either. Instead, I’m making sure I’ve got some things in order should things take a turn for the worse.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

A book idea arrives

I can’t believe it’s been two years since I released, When Towns Had Teams. At the time, my goal was to begin doing research during the winter of 2005/2006 and getting another book into the pipeline, for late 2006/2007.

Instead, I got bogged down by multiple ideas for a book and also, thinking that releasing someone else’s book would bring more legitimacy to RiverVision Press. As a result, here we are in late 2007 and no follow-up book by me, while RiverVision’s second book has been widely ignored, resulting in poor sales and frustration on my part.

For much of the past year, I’ve been feeling tension between wanting to publish books by other writers and also wanting to get back on track to begin research on a project of my own. About three weeks ago, while attending a business after hours in Auburn, hosted by the local Chamber of Commerce, a seemingly unrelated discussion planted an idea that I continued to ruminate about, on my drive home.

When I got home that night, after greeting my wife and catching up with her, about her day, I sat down with a beer and sketched out an outline for a book idea that excited me. Maybe that’s why I’ve had trouble sleeping of late, but I’ve been thinking about this idea, off and on, for the past three weeks.

Two weekends ago, I took a stab at some preliminary drafts and the results were disappointing. After about 200 to 300 words into an idea, I’d hit a wall. I continued to work at this a couple of nights later and I had a similar experience. While I’ve been blogging regularly for the past two years, writing 700 to 1,000 words has become almost automatic. I haven’t been faced with the prospect of coming up with 70,000+ words and I think the idea initially freaked out my subconscious.

It’s taken me a couple of weeks to come to terms with the idea and the reality of what’s involved, particularly now that I’m working full time. It’s no easy task, but I know it’s something I’ve got to do.

Amazingly, yesterday, which was a holiday from work for me, allowed me a brief period of uninterrupted time to write. I made the most of it and felt some energy to write and a sense of abandonment at the keyboard that I haven’t in quite some time. Then again, tonight, after dinner, a 30 minute walk with my lovely wife and my trusty sidekick Bernie, I came home, got out the laptop and again was able to write for over an hour, with the words just jumping onto the screen, as I hammered away at the keyboard.

I’ve put up a new blog that I’m calling, Words at Work. It’s very rudimentary, at this point, but it will exist exclusively to track the development of book #2 and, in fact, I’ll have some drafts posted, hopefully, in early 2008. I’ll also occasionally touch briefly on the craft side of the project.

Interestingly, I began the blog with the thought that it might help me to jumpstart my writing and allow me to post narrative that I was able to develop, which might lead to a book idea. In fact, you can see that was the rationale within my first post at the site. The next post shows me glomming onto an idea that I thought was going to be a book, but that idea subsequently fizzled.

Six weeks later, I truly have found the project that has rekindled my creative fires and feels very much like the initial epiphany that ultimately became When Towns Had Teams.

Daunting, yes; doable, I certainly hope so. Only time will tell.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Indians, Christians and the Devil in Florida

Passamaquoddy Play Race Card After Racino Defeat

Mainers went to the polls on Tuesday and by a close margin, let it be known that gambling, or at least a racino in Washington County, wasn’t an economic development option they were comfortable with.

On Wednesday, members of the Passamaquoddy tribe that were part of a pro-racino group in Maine’s easternmost county were deeming the vote an example of discrimination. Here are just a few of the quotes attributed to Passamaquoddy tribe leaders;

“I know in the voting equation, there are people who hate Native Americans,” said Clayton Cleaves, executive director of the tribe’s reservation housing authority.

“Well, the cowboys beat the Indians, again, said Passamaquoddy governor, Rick Doyle.

Later, Doyle, comfortable with flashing the victim card added, “Every time we propose something, we get put down,” said Doyle. “It seems to me that we continue to be oppressed by the dominant culture.”

No doubt, history shows us that Washington County has been a tough place to scratch out a living. However, other regions of the U.S., which for years have struggled economically, with new leadership and vision, have been able to develop economic development models of success.

Jack Schultz has a blog, BoomtownUSA, which highlights some of those areas, which folks in Washington County might want to look to, as possible examples of how to grow their economy, utilizing the natural advantages that they do have.

While the perception was that only rich interlopers from southern Maine opposed the economic sovereignty of the Passamaquoddy, rural counties struggling to grow their own counties, like Aroostook, Franklin, Hancock and Oxford, all voted against the racino idea.

Play the race card if that makes you feel better, but how about looking to economic development beyond gambling, environmental degradation (LNG terminal) and jail building? It’s been done other places and could be done in Washington County.

Why Does the Christian Right Hate Huckabee

If one casually looks at Pat Robertson’s recent endorsement of Rudy Giuliani, over Mike Huckabee, the true evangelical for president, it would seem not to make any sense, even to those who aren’t given to keeping track of the comings and goings in God’s kingdom.

For the uninitiated, the spiritual realm can be tricky terrain to try to understand. That’s why the mainstream media always gets things wrong when it comes to religion, particularly of the American evangelical variety.

Still, given that Huckabee has a pro-life stance, is given to a traditional understanding of marriage (one woman and one man), favors immigration controls and is an ordained minister in the Southern Baptist Convention, why would Robertson choose someone like Giuliani, whose religious credentials are dubious, at best?

What journalists and others don’t understand about the likes of people like Pat Robertson, once you get past the reality that the man is just plain whacko, is that things like the teachings of Christ, have little to do with his ideology, or worldview.

Leaders like Robertson, are driven first and foremost by the teachings of free market capitalism and the military/industrial machinations that make sure that his stock portfolio remains intact. Granted, when he’s looking to bilk some retiree, barely able to pay the rent on her one-bedroom apartment, out of a substantial portion of her social security check, he’ll pull out his bible, big enough to choke a mule and begin reciting scripture about giving to the work of God, which Robertson has no qualms about associating himself with. The rest of the time, Robertson and his ilk array themselves in the garments of their civil religion, justifying ungodly expenditures in defense spending and wealth transfers from the poorest to the types of leaders that Christ condemned. If Robertson was alive during the time that Jesus walked the earth, he would have been considered a Pharisee.

On Friday night, while driving home from work, I heard Mike Huckabee’s wife, Janet, interviewed by Michelle Norris, on NPR. Norris, like most journalists who know little about the private faith of women like Huckabee, was snarky, taking this typical journalistic posture, regularly trotted out in an attempt to ridicule evangelicals. To her credit, Mrs. Huckabee held her own and came across as genuine and considerably more human than our current Stepford First Lady.

As I blogged last week, Huckabee has the banner of a darkhorse, but one with considerable credentials. What he does lack, however, is the funding that ultimately will determine who gets the nod for the GOP, as well as the top of the Democratic ticket.

The obscene amounts of capital that it takes to run for president, let alone contend, are what have poisoned the well of presidential politics in this country. It’s also what keeps principled candidates like Huckabee, Ron Paul and Dennis Kucinich, on the margins.

The Devil Is Out In Tampa Bay

The Tampa Bay Devil Rays, have deep-sixed “Devil” from their name, to become the Tampa Bay Rays. While I’m sure that the religious element that makes up the American League's sad sack franchise are rejoicing, without a major overhaul of the Tampa Bay operation, from top to bottom, merely changing the name to one that’s even more lame, will do nothing to stop the losing.

Since entering the league in 1999, the former Devil Rays have been a study in futility, never winning more than 70 games in a season, despite regularly producing top notch prospects from their farm system. In fact, the Red Sox and Yankees can thank their lucky stars that having a weak sister like Tampa Bay in their division, regularly pad their win totals by 10-12 games per season.

When the club inked Lou Pinella in 2003 to manage the club, it was thought that Pinella's Yankee pedigree might rub off on the woeful clug and possibly provide the catalyst to make the team respectable. Pinella quickly lost patience with perennial inexperienced big leaguers who couldn’t do the little things that are the difference in big league ball. Plus, having a AAA-caliber pitching staff did little to help matters. After three seasons, Pinella was out and the club appointed a horned-rimmed nobody named Joe Madden to guide the club to another two seasons of 60, or so wins.

With attendance continuing to plummet, the club will continue to lose and at some point, will probably end up being moved out of Florida.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Elusive sleep

This week has been a challenging one for me. While I've never been one that requires more than six hours of sleep per night that number would have been a luxury this week. Maybe my circadian rhythms have been disrupted by Saturday night's time change, or maybe my focus on getting a new book project started down the publishing path has made sleep nearly impossible, but I've been up most mornings around 2:30 to 3:00 am. I'm sorry folks, but 3-4 hours of sleep sucks, particularly when, Tuesday night, I barely was able to drift off for more than an hour, tossing and turning until I finally got up around 1:30 am and worked until leaving for training! I'd welcome any non-pharmaceutical solutions to insomnia that readers have found helpful.

Complicating my lack of sleep this week was two full days of some very demanding training Tuesday and Wednesday, for work, a RiverVision book event last night in Saco, coordinating details on some part-time work I've acquired and the introduction of a new diet regimen designed to help this 40-something former athlete, regain his lean-and-mean pitching physique that at one time terrified opposing hitters. Actually, at this point, I'd be happy to lose 10 pounds and some of the spare tire that currently occupies my mid-section.

With everything happening this week, I've still managed to stay abreast of some of the news, some of it local, other stories with a national, or international peg.

While I don't have the time to write a full blog post this AM (I have a breakfast presentation that I've been asked to make about WorkReady), I hope to spend some time over the weekend putting together a full-fledged summary of one, or more of the following topics. Readers will probably be happy to note that I'll be taking a sabbatical from Peak Oil, which seems to scare the living sh#t out of most people.

Here are a few topics of interest that may (or may not) find their way to Words Matter over the extended weekend (Monday is Veterans Day).

  • Huckabee "too Christian" for the religious right
  • Two days in the presence of "passion personified"
  • Do Mainers hate the Passamaquoddys? (with the racino referendum goeing up in smoke, tribal leaders pull out the race card)
  • Tampa Bay dumping Devil

I'm actually feeling a bit sleepy, so maybe I'll head back to bed and see if I can grab 45 minutes of shut eye.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Oil Blows Through $100 Barrier!!

Tapis crude breaks $US100 a barrel
[From Reuters]

SINGAPORE -- Asia-Pacific light sweet crude benchmark Tapis hit three-digit levels for the first time, ahead of Western bellwethers, on fears of a winter squeeze in the Northern hemisphere, Reuters data show.

Malaysia's flagship Tapis crude for December loading rose to $US100.54 a barrel, up $US2.32 from its settlement on Tuesday, according to Reuters calculations.

"Phew," said a Singapore-based trader when told about the price.

The high-quality Malaysian grade is one of the most expensive crudes worldwide, and used as a marker for most Asia-Pacific light, low-sulphur crude.

Malaysia is a net oil exporter with an output of just above 500,000 barrels per day (bpd) of oil and condensate and state oil firm Petronas, which operates most fields in the Southeast Asian country, is reaping the profits of high oil prices.

Petronas posted net earnings of $US12.9 billion for the year ended March 31 from a revised $US11.4 billion in 2005/2006. The company makes nearly as much money as number-three US oil firm ConocoPhillips and contributes almost a third of Malaysia's revenues.

But surging prices are also forcing Malaysia to reconsider its fuel subsidies, which give it some of Asia's lowest petrol and diesel prices.

Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi told members of his ruling party this week that a rise in fuel prices could not be avoided while crude oil traded at record highs.

Oil has jumped nearly $US30 higher since mid-August, as investors braced for more fallout from the U.S. subprime crisis and sought shelter from the falling US dollar, while thinning oil stocks in the US ahead of winter added to the boil.

US light, sweet crude for December rose $US1.33 on Wednesday to a record-high of $98.03 a barrel on North Sea supply fears, as ConocoPhillips said on Tuesday it may be forced to shut five of its 16 oil platforms at the Ekofisk field due to a looming storm.

London Brent crude also hit new peaks of $US94.48 a barrel.


[Some people count sheep when they're unable to sleep--I track the surging price of oil. Not sure if it will bring peaceful sleep; probably more likely to cause nightmares.

It's interesting to Google "$100 oil" and see posts and other news clips predicting this, previously. This news release from Reuters was talking $100/barrel oil back in April of 2005.

I'm curious to see which presidential candidate (if any) reacts to this and what exactly they have to say. I doubt it will vary much from their typical, canned talking points that had grown stale six months ago. In fact, see if you can find any of the candidates, Democrat, or Republican, who have even uttered the phrase, "peak oil."

For anyone that's interested in pulling their heads up from the sand, stay tuned to The Oil Drum for news and commentary on the continued trend upward for oil prices. I don't even dare to spend much time writing (just yet) about water shortages.--JB]

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Bandwagon soundtrack

One of the more interesting developments and personally interesting storylines to the Red Sox run through the playoffs and ultimately, winning the World Series, has been the adoption of the Dropkick Murphys as the team’s postseason house band.

Unless you have more than a cursory knowledge of post-punk music, from say, 1990, onward, you probably haven’t a clue about the DKMs, other than “Tessie” got quite a bit of airplay at Fenway during the 2004 WS run.

For me, hearing the band getting played at Fenway and in particular, this year’s late season ratcheting up of the band’s status, particularly noting that they were the only band that got asked to play during the team’s Tuesday victory parade, is ironic.

For the uninitiated, the Murphy’s are Irish Boston working-class blokes, through and through. Unlike many of the “The Nation” (a term I’m so sick of, thanks to the nauseating marketing hype associated with it) of bandwagon riders who climbed aboard in 2004, only to dismount and get back on in late 2007, the DKMs are lifelong sports fans of many Boston sports teams, not just the Red Sox.

Watching how Red Sox fans have suddenly discovered the band, makes me wonder if bandmates Ken Casey, Al Barr, Matt Kelly, James Lynch, Marc Orell, John Wallace and Tim Brennan ever scratch their heads about the entire episode and being embraced by many that probably know nothing of their roots, or politics. Seeing that this band came out of the mid-90s punk scene and embraces unions, the working poor and have little use for our current president makes them an unlikely soundtrack for the thoroughly corporate world of Red Sox Nation.

Interestingly, there’s been talk about awarding the band World Series rings, which has touched off a flurry of comments at the Boston Herald’s site. Reading through these comments made me think of the late Kurt Cobain, who lamented that when “Smells Like Teen Spirit” blew up and Nirvana’s popularity went through the roof, Cobain would look out into the mosh pit and see the jocks that used to kick his ass in high school.

C’est La Vie at least in the consumptive world of today, where yesterday’s outlaws become today’s pop culture darlings.

Friday, November 02, 2007

GOP darkhorse gaining ground

For most, it’s too early to pay attention to the contenders for president. I can’t say I begrudge them. We are a year removed from having to pull the lever and a case certainly can be made that campaigns for president begin far too early. If all the media is going to do is handicap the horserace and report on non-issues ad nauseum, maybe we ought to look at a two month sprint to the finish line, rather than this capital intensive beauty contest.

Americans are busy people, having managed to get through the summer barbecue season and recently, the World Series. Fall’s here and it's time to focus on football, not to mention that holiday trifecta of Thanksgiving, Christmas and Super Bowl Sunday. Rather than be troubled with things like where candidates stand on the issues and whether or not Mitt, Rudy, Hillary, or Barack have a plan for exiting us from Iraq, we’re focusing our attention on what pie to bake for Thanksgiving and whether or not to buy that large screen television they’ve been hankering for and calling it a Christmas gift.

I’ve definitely dialed down my fixation (or what some might call, obsession) with following every detail of the presidential campaign. I used to regularly track the front-runners and follow the field all the way to the back of pack, where presidential posers reside, but I’ve backed off a bit from scrutiny of each and every nuance. I still regularly check polls, watch debates (or better, choreographed sound bites) and even look at each candidate’s website for policy details, to see if they actually have a plan on how they might govern.

On the Democratic side, there really isn’t much drama. Hillary Clinton will be the nominee, for better, or worse. Obama has been underwhelming, to say the least. John Edwards, freed from the constraints of being vice-presidential in 2004, has been acting like the attack dog, actually talking about issues that affect ordinary Americans and holding Clinton’s feet to the fire. Unfortunately, his wife’s occasional missives get more mainstream coverage than his solid grasp of the issues. The only other time Edwards seems to get any media up tick is when it’s time for him to get a haircut.

The real drama in this race seems to be on the Republican side. While Romney and Giuliani have been running towards the front of the GOP pack, far right conservatives have been lukewarm towards those two. Many representing the rabid element on the far right fringe are uncomfortable with Mitt, the Mormon and a so-called “moderate,” like Giuliani, because he won’t pass the one-issue litmus test on abortion with the bible-thumpers.

To satisfy elements at the base of the party, new blood, in the form of Fred Thompson, has mounted a challenge to Mitt and Rudy. Having played president on the silver screen, Thompson immediately gained traction upon his entry, for a party that has a propensity for actors in high places.

Recently, Arkansas Governor, Mike Huckabee, has been making a bit of noise, sprinting from the back of the pack and getting some exposure and press, heading into the Iowa caucus. A recent University of Iowa poll shows Huckabee in a virtual dead heat with the other frontrunner, Rudy Giuliani. This is great news for Huckabee, a virtual unknown to most Americans, outside of Arkansas.

The results of the poll, conducted October 17-24 and released Monday show Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, had 36.2 percent of Republican support, followed by Giuliani, the former New York City mayor, with 13.1 percent and Huckabee at 12.8 percent, the poll showed.

An analysis of the poll highlighted Huckabee's shift in support among voters, most likely evangelical Christians. In the August survey, taken right before the GOP straw poll in Ames, Huckabee had the support of less than 2 percent of Republicans.

David Redlawsk, a Univeristy of Iowa professor of political science and the co-director of UI’s Hawkeye Poll indicated that Republican candidates that want to challenge “must motivate Christian conservatives,” which is a group that Redlawsk recognizes as a key to Huckabee’s surge.

Well-known evangelical pastor, the purposeful Rick Warren, pastor of the Saddleback Church, one of America’s largest megachurches, recently issued the following statement on his radio program.

“I know most of the candidates running for president but I’ve known Mike Huckabee the longest, since we did our graduate degrees together in the late 70s. Mike’s a man of vision, compassion, and integrity. I’ve watched his uncanny ability to identify with normal people in ways that many leaders don’t. That’s probably why TIME named him one of the five best governors in America. He’s definitely presidential material. But honestly, what I find most appealing is his self-deprecating humor. That’s a key sign of a spiritually and emotionally healthy leader - someone who is comfortable with himself, is authentic, doesn’t wear a mask, and is secure enough to be humble. People love that.”

Huckabee, an ordained Southern Baptist minister, has the Christian cred to energize the followers of Jesus. Like another former Arkansas governor, born in Hope, Huckabee is someone that arrived at the dance late, without a lot of name recognition, but history tells us what happened to the other guy, who is out campaigning to become America’s first, "First Husband."

Like William Jefferson Clinton, Huckabee has some campaign skills and positions that connect with enough Americans to make him potential dark horse on the GOP side. Better yet, he actually has some qualities of governance that matter. Money will be an issue, as it is for everyone but the top four (Romney, Giuliani, Clinton and Obama); if Huckabee can finish a solid third in Iowa and make some solid early showings in New Hampshire, Michigan and Florida, heading into February’s Super Tuesday, he might just make it interesting on the right side of the presidential ticket.