Sunday, October 30, 2005

Tell me again why they need more tax breaks?

With the announcements this week of the record profits for the oil industry giants, I find I have less and less sympathy for the gnashing of teeth and cries of poverty.

The industry has consistently bemoaned the lack of refining capacity, and used that lack as a factor in rising gasoline, diesel, aviation and heating fuel prices.

However, the actual fact is that the lack of refining capacity is one that can be shown to be a choice by the industry, which has chosen to restrict both refinery development and oilfield development production, instead relying on shorted supplies, or market manipulation of prices, to drive profit taking.

After hurricane Katrina gasoline prices took an immediate spike, with the rationale given that refining capacity was diminished by the storm, even though the oil in the pipelines (and in the service station tanks) was already past the refineries. The second rationale given was that the prices were really "replacement cost" increase, where the distributors were charging what they expected the next truckfull to cost.

This is not an argument that gains much sympathy from me. And it appears that the oil companies either woke to that fact themselves, or they have had the possible public reaction (especially with the current push to cut social service programs to offset Gulf coast reconstruction costs) of these levels of profit coupled with the tax cuts given in the new "energy" legislation.

As an example, from the NYT of 10/26/05 we have the following article:

October 26, 2005
High Energy Prices Lift Profits at ConocoPhillips by 89%
ConocoPhillips said today that its third-quarter profits almost doubled after a series of devastating hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico curbed domestic supplies and pushed up oil and natural gas prices to record highs.

The Houston-based company said that it suffered losses from the impact of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, but that the disruptions to its operations were more than offset by higher energy prices.

Oil companies are benefiting from a once-in-a-generation surge in profits this year as demand shows no signs of slowing down despite a doubling of crude oil prices in less than two years. Natural gas prices also doubled since the beginning of the summer.

The companies are now facing criticism that they did not invest enough in either refining capacity or new production projects to increase supplies. The pressure is likely to mount this week as
Exxon Mobil and Chevron, the top two American oil companies, report their quarterly earnings on Thursday and Friday, respectively.

In response to suspicions of gasoline price gouging this summer and accusations of profiteering leveled by several consumer groups, Senator Byron L. Dorgan, Democrat of North Dakota, introduced legislation last month to impose a windfall tax on oil companies. More recently, the House speaker,
Dennis Hastert
, Republican of Illinois, called on Exxon Mobil, BP
and Chevron to increase their investments in refining and endorse a $20 billion pipeline that would bring natural gas from Alaska.

At ConocoPhillips, the first big American company to report earnings for the third quarter, net income jumped 89 percent, to $3.8 billion, or $2.68 a share, compared with $2 billion, or $1.43 per share, last year.


Friday, October 28, 2005

Friday Kitty Fever

Here we have Pye, our mixed-breed Old Girl, who is Big and Fluffy and Fat.

The one wearing the red shirt is our three year-old.

It appears that Pye thought that he looked lonely when he was having his nap and needed company.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Now *thats* an understatement for a headline...

FRom today's Washington Post:

Oil Doesn't Want Focus on Big Profit
Companies Stepping Up Advertising
By Frank AhrensWashington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 26, 2005; Page D01

Gigantic oil companies generally do not enjoy the best PR.

Pick your poison: Oil companies have caused tanker spills, proposed drilling into the Arctic wildlife ranges, crafted ties to shady nations and meddled in the affairs of others, and produced products that pollute.

As oil companies prepare to announce large quarterly profits, House Republican leaders yesterday said they need to spend more to expand the nation's refining capacity.

Now, even as high gasoline prices continue to anger motorists and aggravate financial problems at General Motors Corp. and Ford Motor Co., the oil companies have begun to report record quarterly profit. Yesterday, British energy giant BP PLC reported a $6.53 billion third-quarter profit, up from $4.87 billion in the same period last year. And tomorrow, analysts expect Exxon Mobil Corp. to show that it earned nearly $9 billion over the past three months -- the largest corporate quarterly profit ever.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Cost of the war.

This is an interactive photo essay by photographer Paul Fusco.

Fusco served in the U.S. Army in Korea and is now a photographer with Magnum.

He has been with Magnum since 1974.

After the first two images click in the "skip" icon on the bottom right to proceed to the contents.

There is audio commentary accompanying the images.

Linked from Daily Kos

Redress Board Deadline approaching, ...

... but many in US may be unaware of the Board at all.

The Boston Globe recently ran a story in their "Local News" section about the upcoming deadline of December 15, 2005, for applications for financial compensation from the Residential Institutions Redress Board in Ireland. The Redress Board is a commission that was established in 2002 to take compensation applications and determine the relative severity of, physical, emotional and sexual abuse inflicted on inmates of over 120 "institutions" that housed children in Ireland and that were mostly run by the Roman Catholic Church, with funding by the Irish government.

The deadline is quickly approaching for these applications, and there has been no advertising, by the Redress Board, in the United States, despite assurances given, to the Boston Globe in 2002, that there would be advertising in this country about the Boards and its purpose, even though American cities such as Boston, Philadelphia, New York and Chicago holds large numbers of Irish immigrants.

The contact address for the Redress Board is:

Residential Institutions Redress Board,
Belfield Office Park, Beech Hill Road
Clonskeagh, Dublin 4

The appplication process, and forms, are available here.

It would seem that certified international mail, with receipt signature required, should be the option to use. But then I'm used to dealing with the requirements for businesses and government agencies in the U.S., where you have provide proof you have Really! Truly! Complied! With Notification Requirements for everything from mortgage payments to tax returns.

In an arrangement that seems familiar to those of us who have looked at "gag order" clauses in settlement cases, anybody who appears before the Board is subject to remaining silent, under penalty of $3000 and/or 3 months in jail.

The Redress Board even has a published matrix that says how the monetary
awards will be weighted. I know it probably makes things more transparent, to a degree, but it is still something that I find disturbing.

Even after working for several insurance companies, and dealing with actuaries, off and on, for almost 20 years, the essence of calculating just what a shattered life is worth in dollars still shakes me.

More detailed background is available at my background post here.

Redress Board background

This is background for another post in the blog (see here)
Sometimes we all think of ourselves as being in a part of a universe where most of the troubles outside our immediate vicinity are "someone else’s troubles" and not really like what we go through.

In a way that is a correct perception. No matter where we are, our own neighborhood/city/state/country are unique, with unique conditions and problems. Or perhaps not.

One of the dogged issues that has been plaguing us in the U.S. over the last several years that has been that of abuse of children by caregivers or others we thought that we could trust. Some of it in a faith-based background, others in a strictly secular setting.

Not many of us have paid attention to these abuses outside of the U.S., especially in the nations that our immigrant forebears hailed from. Including Ireland.. This perception, for Irish-Americans, was changed with the 2003 release of the Miramax film "The Magdalene Sisters."
Although the film focused on the Magdalene laundries, there was an entire network of "services" that the Church ran on the behalf of the government: the aforementioned Laundries, hospitals, reform schools, orphanages and so-called "industrial schools" (residential schools that "took in" children of indigent parents).

All run with the compliance of the government of Ireland, both pre- and post-partition.

More, under the fold...

Friday, October 21, 2005

Retrograde Gun Reform

Yesterday the House of Representative passed the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (S. 397), and the bill is now going to go to the White House for presidential approval. (You can use the THOMAS Search engine to find the bill (use either the title or the bill number) )

This bill, in effect, prohibits all lawsuits against gun dealers, importers, exporters and manufacturers for crimes committed by guns that they have made or sold.

The bill also nullifies all current and pending suits in this area, without giving any recourse to those seeking redress through the courts. The opponents of the bill have already stated that they will seek to overturn at least that portion of the bill after it is signed.

More under the fold...

New Bugs for Old

I've rearranged things a little here.

Short posts will be in their entirety, but most of the longer posts will be shown with just a headline and an extract from the article, with a hyperlinks marked "under the fold" that will lead to the full text.

This should make the main page easier to read, and you can go after further detail on articles if you wish.

Comments/trackback can be either on the main page or in the text page, but be aware that the two lines of comments may not connect.

Have fun!

Even the Emperor's Propaganda Has No Clothes?

By now we all know that Armstrong Williams was paid to promote the NCLB act, but he "forgot" to disclose that he was doing the promotion for cash. Which, technically, may well be against the law (at least the GAO thinks so). Some of us call that kind of PR, when done for a government, as "propagandizing."

Now, it appears that Williams billed, and was paid for, propagandizing he didn’t, well, actually do.

More under the fold

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

We're Going To Have A Merry Fitzmas?

By its nature, Blogging has engendered the coinage of new words ("blogs," "trackback," "pingback") and new uses of preexisting terms ("memes" and "viral marketing").

One of the new ephermeral words that have appeared in the "blogosphere" lately is "Fitzmas." A reference to the anticipation, either for "truth, justice and the American Way," cynical anticipation or simple entertainment value, of the indictments expected/hoped-for to be handed down by the grand jury working with DoJ Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald who has been tasked with investigating the events the culminated with "outing" of CIA operative Valerie Plame in columnist Bob Novak's column.

Because of the subject matter, this term will have a very short shelf-life, but it has prompted some houmerous writing.

One that I've found amusing is a clone of the "10 things" lists that comedian/talk-show host David Letterman puts on his show. This list is from a diary writer on the Daily Kos blog:

Ten Tips for Dealing with Fitzmas:

More under the fold

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Cindy Sheehan is getting more private time?

David Schraub, on Joe Gandleman's The Moderate Voice notes that an article in the Bay area's Tri-Valley Herald says that Cindy Sheehan is planning more "private time." And dismisses her with a "Good Riddance, I say"

I agree that Sheehan may not be everybody's cuppa, but she certainly energized comment in the nation, as few others have been able to do.

Yes, she attracted the wingnuts and the moonbats.

She also attracted a lot of very ordinary people, from both wings of the political spectrum, that allowed them to see that the members of the "other side" were neither demons with forked tails and burning eyes nor drooling morons.

More under the fold
commenting and trackback have been added to this blog.

Ed Shultz radio show pulled from AFR before Starting

Ed Schultz has a radio show heard across the country, and, for a short time, was slated to be heard on Armed Forces Radio (AFR) as well. Ed had received a signed letter from AFR confirming that his show would be heard on AFR, which, until now, has only had Rush Limbaugh and James Dobson's Focus On The Family radio offering general commentary. That was on 9/29/05.

All seemed to be going well, with the Ed Schultz Show scheduled to start on Oct 17.

That is, however, until someone at the Pentagon noticed that Ed was actually awake and breathing, and able to notice that when the Bush White House tried to build a "Potemkin village" using the U.S. troops in Iraq when Bush recently made a "conference video call" to what was (according to the White House press secretary) an unscripted and unrehearsed dialog between Bush and the soldiers.

Unfortunately for the White House, when specifically asked, they claimed that there would be no scripting, and no pre-vetting of questions. Because of *that* response, it was all the more embarrassing when there was a live cable feed, before Bush started his part of the call, when Pentagon staff went over exactly what the procedure would be, and what kind of questions Bush was going to ask, and who should yield the mike to whom. Including an admonition, at one point, on just what to do if the call got "off the script."

Ed actually had the temerity to make the call that this was contrary to the earlier stated pronouncements by the White House, and mentioned it on his show. And it showed even more gall to actually play a clip of Allison Barber doing the coaching.

Yesterday morning (Monday, 10/17/05) Ed was informed that he would not actually be airing his show on AFR that day after all.

More under the fold...

The Game Remains The Same

There was outrage at the order suspending federal "prevailing wage" rules for government contractors in there wake of hurricane Katrina with supporters saying it will get the government more "bang for the buck" and opponents decrying the exploitation of the work force that desperately needs work.

My own opinion leans towards the latter view, with the thought that if you want to get the most for the dollar (if that is to be the primary deciding basis) just bring back debtors prisons and chattel slavery.

At least be honest about what the motivation is -- it isn't really about getting the most effort for the government's dollar, it's about getting the most profit for the "connected" companies.

Not far behind the no-bid and sole-source contracts are the "recruiters" who are bringing the migrant and undocumented workers to the reconstruction efforts, and the conditions are as expected, as is the deception, when the "usual suspects" are involved.

More under the fold...

Monday, October 17, 2005

House Republicans Embrace Cuts to Social Services

In the wake of hurricane Katrina the GOP-controlled House have moved to make cuts in a number of programs in order to pay for the rebuild.

There was no apparent stomach for the GOP members to propose rolling back some of the tax cuts that were lavished on the top 2% of taxpayers by the GOP-controlled Congress.

Instead, the public was treated to a variety of press conferences and "events"on the steps of the Capital where members of the House proposed that spending should be cut in programs such as Medicare, food stamps, jobs training programs, PBS and farm subsidies.

The most vocal of those proposing the cuts have been members of the Republican Study Committee (RSC), who have been stymied under the DeLay leadership.

Tom DeLay (R-TX) has not been eager to embrace the program cuts that the "ideological purists" have wanted, perhaps seeing the prospect of huge cuts in programs pushed too quickly as a danger to the dominance of the GOP in the House and Senate. If the public were to view the party as being too quick to cut the poor, the working poor and the elderly adrift without any resources it could affect the vote in the midterm..

Today's Washington Post brings us the story that the RSC is taking advantage of the lull in leadership in the House, with Delay having to step down from his leadership post due to his impending legal battles in Texas...

More under the fold

Sunday, October 16, 2005

The Times is finally on record

The NYT has finally put themselves on record with the stories about Miller, Libby and Fitzgerald.

See the Times story about the whole mess here and Judith Miller's personal take on it here and a timeline for the whole escapade-to-date(from Wilson's trip in 2002 to Miller's release and testimony this week) here (with Miller's personal timeline here).

My personal opinion is that the NYT dropped their shorts on this story, and failed to keep its editorial ducks all in their rows, in how it handled both Miller's relations with the grand jury and about how the paper handled its own reporting of the paper's involvement.

As for Miller, I do not think a reporter of her experience would really not "remember" her source for such an explosive detail as the first reference, in her own notes, to Valerie Wilson's maiden name (to me, the misspelling as "flame" indicates that this was the first reference she had to that name), nor to why her notes, from another meeting with Libby, use Valerie Wilson rather than Plame.

Frankly, I think that Miller is soon going to take a long sabbatical to work on her book, and the NYT editors and publishers need to take a long and hard look at how they allowed themselves to, through Miller's pre-Iraq war coverage, and the attempts by Libby to spin the official White House line about Cheney's non-involvement, to become largely uncritical shills for this White House.

The paper needs to do this as a service to itself, to its readers, and to the thousands of U.S. soldiers and Iraqi soldiers and civilians killed and maimed in this distraction from actually pursuing the people who really attacked the U.S. -- the terrorists.

It only took two minutes..

...for the blog/comment spam to start after I put up the first post. So, to prevent spambots from posting, the flags are on to require you to be a "registered user" and that you fill out the "word verification" test (the little bit where you are presented a box with an image of a jumble of letters, and you have to stroke in the text you see)when posting a comment.Sorry, else you would be seeing an algae bloom of spam in the comments area.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

I've been contemplating adding my voice to that of others in the Brave New World of the "information age," but the recent activities by the White House and the Congress have
made the decision for me.

As a "New Deal" progressive, I find truly disturbing the attitude that the way to "balance the books" for the feds in order to pay for the rebuilding of the Gulf Coast after natural disasters is to cut services for the most needy in our society, rather than rollback some (or all) of the tax giveaways to the wealthiest taxpayers and the wealthiest corporations.

As a person who considers themselves religious, I find offensive and threatening the New Right's push to have overt religious trappings in our Pledge of allegiance,and now, to have the President of the U.S. make, very public, pronouncements that his selection for the post of Justice for the United States Supreme Court partially hinged on the fact that he saw her being a congregant of the Right Religion.

As a citizen, I find appalling the practice that the security of the United States can be so casually compromised, as in "Plamegate," because deceitful grounds for starting a war, where U.S. service members will be called upon to kill and be killed, that serves no real purpose but the aggrandizment of the Chief Executive and a very small circle of friends. Or even more appalling, and frightening, that this same war is viewed by some as an opportunity to hasten the Bibical "end times" and bring the world to an end.

I started my "political consciousness" by requesting (and getting) a change in my draft status from A-1 to A-1-O, yet still considered myself as a middle-of-the-road conservative. Since then, I have seen the nation maim itself through its participation in a war to "spread democracy" and (more important to some planners) to "fight communism."

I saw the government, my government, support and, in some cases, install, out-and-out dictators whose "governance" made the Stalinist regimes in the old USSR, Bulgaria and the Balkins look benign and enlightened.

I saw the dismantling of the safety net for our citizens, not to be replaced with a newer and more effective one that would give greater access to education and advancement, but to be replaced with one that takes away opportunity, and tries to gear the administration of these programs toward those who will make the most profit, or who will gain the largesse because, again, they are of the Right Faith.

These have each been reasons for me to despair for my country, and to raise my voice to be heard.

I harbor no illusions about how loud a voice it will be, nor how influential it will be.

But If I do not speak up now, when I see the need, when else?