Pump and Circumstance

Debating the correlation between gas prices and midterm elections.

Daniel Gross’ review of the various ways in which the Bush administration could be manipulating gas prices prior to midterm elections was the talk of Moneybox, with some seeing corporate conspiracy where others see the pure economics of supply and demand. 

Noting that “oil has lubricated politics from its earliest days,” revrick gives an excellent historical primer on the subject, ranging from John D. Rockefeller’s “take over of the early oil industry [with] the willing complicity of the PA legislature and their pals in the Penna Railroad” to “Lyndon Baines Johnson’s … ties with Brown and Root, now a subsidiary of Halliburton.”

nutrprofe frames falling prices at the pump as a matter of economic interest, with no conspiracy needed for price manipulation:

If I were an oil company official setting gas prices, I would slash them during the election season. This would be a smart business decision. Why? It is in the oil industry’s interests to have Republicans in office at all levels. Lower gas prices mean more votes for Republicans. Any temporary loss of profit, even if it runs to hundreds of millions of dollars, will be richly repaid if Republicans stay in control. Lowering gas prices is a better investment than donating money to Republican campaigns, and is exempt from campaign finance laws.

No involvement of the government is needed, just oil companies following their own economic best interest. A conspiracy between competing oil companies is also not necessary. Once one company decides to slash prices, even at the expense of profits, they are undercutting every other company and they must slash prices too. Raising prices in unison would be trickier than cutting them in unison –one company might decide to raise prices less and grab more market share. But no such cooperation is needed for across the board price cuts.

Similarly, brlaub sees no need for “any overt collusion; just a recognition of what best serves the collective interest.” Moreover, the “highly concentrated and oligopolistic” structure of the industry would lend itself to this sort of internal strategizing, with “the ‘hyphenates’ Exxon-Mobil, Chevron-Texaco, etc.) control[ling] every aspect from exploration, production, refining and distribution.”

MaxBuff points to “one crucial price driver” unmentioned by Gross: “market traders who bid up the price of crude when its supply is threatened by natural or manmade events”:

It would take a real dummy not to notice that prices go up when Bush addresses menacing remarks to Iran or Venezuala or when he stands idly by as war spreads in the Middle East as has happened during the recent Israel-Hezbollah conflict.

It seems that GW and Condi have been models of restraint recently. Bush seems to be supporting the European negotiations with the Iranians and has made no “all options are on the table” remarks. He has ignored the foolish provocation by Hugo Chavez at the UN. He’s made no threats recently and, consequently, there’ve been no price spikes.

C0mmonsense urges us, however,  not to jump on the paranoid bandwagon:

Before we put a lot of stock into 42% of americans believing oil prices have been manipulated let us remember that a signifigant number of americans are still convinced that Lee Harvey Oswald was not President Kennedy’s assassin or that there was some larger conspiracy involved in his assassination. Americans seem to feel a need to believe in conspiracies because they are more interesting then the mundane truth that is reality…Even if the Bush administration did manipulate ALL of the oil companies in the US there is no way they could manipulat OPEC, they don’t even like Bush, and if you have been keeping up with the news OPEC has been trying to cut production and get prices back up to where they were as they were enjoying the high profits.

While the link between gas prices and presidential approval ratings is well documented, this graph provides a nice visual illustration of that correlation. AC5:11pm

Monday, Oct. 2, 2006

“What happened between April 2004 and September 2006 that has so deadened American outrage [at the use of torture]?” So asks Dahlia Lithwick, in “Photo Finish.” Her analysis of this question, however, may put the cart before the horse. Has the hit television series 24 or congressional debate over detainee treatment caused Americans to support the state-sanctioned use of torture? Or are these phenomena merely the effects of a momentum shift in American public opinion? The Fray provides disheartening evidence that these policies enjoy widespread affirmative support.

The Jurisprudence Fray features many excellent posts decrying the use of torture. Utek1 points out the historical precedent for the humane treatment of unlawful enemy combatants. An excellent post by melvil compares the legal issues of defining torture with American pornography jurisprudence. Aroyfaderman ably defends the procedural basis for objecting to torture. But if you already oppose the use of torture, the more informative arguments come from supporters of the practice.

KnownSoldier was outraged at the disclosure of the Abu Ghraib scandal:

I was outraged at what the media would call torture. I was outraged that the American media would put the lives of American soldiers fighting in a foreign theater in jeopardy because they were offended at people being made to get into a half-naked pyramid.

I don’t think that the average person considered what they saw in those photographs to be torture, regardless of what the media called them. When the average American thinks “torture”, I believe that they think of something like severe beatings, broken hands, bags of rats over heads. I don’t think that we consider making someone walk on a leash to be torture. I heard one guy say that he saw more violent behavior at S&M swingers clubs in the 1970s. And those people came back every weekend.

So, yeah, the pictures did “numb” Americans to the media’s claims of torture. Because we didn’t agree with the media. To a famous liberal target, the naked breast of Justice was porn – did the fact that most of us didn’t agree make us all pornographers?

3yellowdogs isn’t writing his congressman to oppose the Detainee Treatment Act and doesn’t believe his fellow constituents will, either:

The reason that the President got what he asked for and that congressional Democrats didn’t sufficiently “express horror over the brutalization of enemy prisoners” is that their constituents, from the very first, had little or no objection to what they saw. […]

Confronted with the media-driven firestorm that was Abu Graib in April of 2004, just two and a half years after the 9/11 attacks, the vast majority of Americans looked at the photos and came to the conclusion that if we have to pile up some naked enemy prisoners and humiliate them a little to get valuable information that would save lives in Iraq and possible at home, then so be it. […]

The idiotarian wing in both houses is big and loud enough to have taken full advantage of this issue if they thought it would benefit them back home at the ballot box. But with few exceptions, they concluded that isn’t the case.

Many argue that the photos of Abu Ghraib do not actually depict torture. Others consider the range of activities authorized by the Detainee Treatment Act to fall short of actual torture. But a surprising number of posters see no need to dodge the label of “torture” at all. As case42tlc puts it:

Torture of the innocent is immoral; for the guilty, however, it can become a moral imperative. The world is full of people who deserve to be tortured, and we have lost the moral clarity to identify and deal with those who no longer deserve to be thought of as human.

Who no longer deserves “to be thought of as human?” For Mombo_Man, the answer appears to be Muslims in general:

We’re dealing with a bunch of animals and we should not fight by the Marquee of Queensbury Rules. These people hate us, they want to kill us and there is no real chance of “dialogue” in the equation. I’m not going to get into an argument over torture and if it is an effective tool. If it doesn’t work, don’t do it, if it does work, let the authorities knock themselves out.

Somewhat more generously, Jack_Cerf restricts the category to enemy guerrillas:

The United States is now at war against an enemy whose essential tactic is to disguise themselves among the civilian population for tactical advantage. These people are not criminals – they deem themselves at war against the United States, and they may be taken at their word. Nor are they the uniformed soldiers of any de jure or de facto government. They are beyond the protection of the law of war and may be treated in whatever manner their captors consider advantageous.

To joe62, American rights are not universal values, and foreigners should be treated accordingly:

The argument that these individuals should have the same rights as a US citizen denigrates US citizenship. Illegal immigrants are just that…illegal. Various terrorist captured on battlefields are just that…terrorist.

Giving whole new meaning to “desensitized,” A-pen makes an even more disconcerting argument:

Our country doesn’t go to war to promote the constitution. It goes to war to defeat an enemy with as much expediency and least loss of our side’s resources as possible. There is no point in blessing your enemy with kindness and fairness at a time when he is going to kill you because he cares not for your way of life.

Our system provides for the good of the many not individual rights when it is practical. Just get hurt at work and you’ll see the system turn your American dream into a pile of bills and permanent loss of earnings capability and do it with no conscience at all. Just get in a car wreck and watch as your life goes to pot when the insurance runs out and the lawyers stop answering your calls when they get paid. Just let any statute of limitations run out while you are disabled or preoccupied or unable to secure representation and you will see how our fair system works on its own people.

The world is a dangerous place and I think our country is only obligated to serve justice in proportion to the need of victory.

According to Lithwick, “with a handful of sick exceptions, people who could agree on nothing else could agree that this was an unacceptable way to treat prisoners.” After reading through the Fray, one has to wonder—how exceptional are the sick? Judge for yourself in our Jurisprudence FrayGA4:00am PDT

Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2006

Featured in Today’s Pictures, the photographs of Africans in Paris, taken in 2001 by Alex Majoli, are intriguing, mesmerizing. Offering a glimpse into this underclass of French society, les sans-papiers, they document the very immigrants whitewashed out of Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s portrait of the heavily ethnic 18tharrondissement in the 2001 international box-office hit Amélie.

august offers these observations:

I think this may be the hardest fray to write for. Even though our language is visual, somehow it (or rather, mine) lacks the vocabulary for pictures. I’ve tried to write this post several ways, and each time it comes out like I’m talking about a cartoon.

Through most of the essay on Africans in France I was worried that the images would be of, well, black on tricolor. The only one that really matched that fear that of the Senegalese souvenir salesman in front of Montmartre. Another, of Noureini Tidjani-Serpos, had the Eiffel tower in the background, but my impression differed because the picture conveyed to me prestige (“this is the view from my office”) rather than nationalism (“we are all French”) or overdrawn sentiment ("how can such inequality be seen on the streets of Paris?”).

The quotation is interesting:
“With photography, I like to create fiction out of reality. I try to do this by taking society’s natural prejudice and giving it a twist.”
Martin Parr

I wonder what he means by “natural prejudice”? And I wonder if Majoli’s best images do something different. My favorite is the guy waiting on a train at the Gare du Nord. The captions tell you this is about Africans in Paris, but I like thinking of alternate shows this one could be in. “Suits I have loved.” “Waiting for trains.” “Concrete palettes.” The photograph is of a drab world, but it nevertheless invites me in. And I love the lights on either side, as if the wall were a museum installation. It’s fine photograph, worth thinking about in both its broadest and most quotidian contexts.

On a separate note, rundeep rebaptizes Amsterdam Penis Nation based on Martin Parr’s racy images of the city’s red light district:

I find it sort of refreshing that the “Sex in Amsterdam” pictures involve, predominantly, penises rather than female body parts. In this country, of course, women are exposed to the point of absolute dullness in everything but Saturday morning cartoons, and it’s nice to see the noble male organ revealed as interesting.
On the other hand, I have to say that the pictures reveal to me the reason why women are usually featured over men. The penis is a really strange-looking thing. Not particularly attractive, bizaarely colored, and overall looks to be kind of poorly designed. (that fearful symmetry!)

Mind you, I am certainly fond of the equipment and its uses, but ya know, it’s just not pretty.

This oft-overlooked Fray awaits your contribution. AC6:09pm PDT

Sunday, Sept. 24, 2006

So if you are around, stop in and let us look to how Socrates died at the end. I came into this world in an inarticulate scream; I would like to go out of it doing something better.—Meletus, Goodbye.

The Fray received word over the weekend that one of its finest posters, Meletus, has passed away from lung cancer at the age of 34. Slate welcomes anonymous contributions to its Fray. Meletus availed himself of that anonymity through the very end. We do not know the man who passed away on Sept. 13. We cannot even say with certainty that a corporeal man has died at all. We can say with confidence, however, that his voice will be missed.

We offer our condolences to his cherished wife and family. We haven’t a formal protocol for funerals online, but those who knew him are invited to share their remembrances hereGA11:30am PDT

Saturday, Sept. 23, 2006

Josh Levin’s blistering critique of Zach Braff as both a filmmaker and self-appointed representative of the twentysomething generation prompted fans to react quickly in the star’s defense. Fronk dubs the review “a petty, inappropriate smear on a bright rising star.” For hollydai, Levin’s metawhine “about how annoying other whining twentysomethings are” is “even more annoying.”

Joseph37 points out that criticism of Braff’s oeuvre is premature, “a concentrated attack on a man who is just starting his career. He’s made a couple of movies and already Levin is psychoanalyzing him and his entire fan base: He’s a narcissist because he had too much screen time in Garden State. People like him because he looks ‘doofy.’ “

As for Braff’s representational status, ohigetit characterizes the actor as “Hollywood’s antihero to the other side of his generation: pant-waists-to-the-knees, skateboard riding, meth-addicted young adults who run in same-sex packs oogling the other sex, rather than venturing into the world as adult beings.”

canuckle agrees “it’s a mistake to call Braff the voice of our generation based on an above-average date movie. These are same people that made the mistake of calling Kevin Smith the voice of our generation based on Clerks. Still, above average date movies are hard to come by. Most of them are unwatchable. Give Braff some credit for pulling it off.”

It should be noted, however, that Levin is not without sympathizers in the Assessment Fray. The Zach Braff backlash comes as a comfort to FreddiedeBoer here and to Charles3: “As both a lover of film and a former resident of New Jersey, I passionately loathed every trite and indulgent second of GardenState. Almost all of my friends adored it and I thought I was going crazy.” AC7:05pm PDT

Monday, Sept. 18, 2006

Nancy Grace’s television audience tunes in to revile the hostess, rather than her guests. That’s my hypothesis, judging from reader reaction in The Fray, to “Graceless,” our weekend headliner by Dahlia Lithwick. In a fit of general prosecutorial zeal, Fraysters have indicted everyone but the ham sandwich for Melinda Duckett’s suicide.

In the main court, 3rdChimp submits his case against Grace herself:

Nancy Grace is easy to root for when she’s on the trail of really bad people. Her problem is her dishonesty. Virtually everyone is guilty in her spin. I’m no prosecutor, but I “knew,” from day one that Karr was just a freak show. Not Nancy: she milked that story for all the flogging she could deliver. Kobe and the Duke lacrosse team accusers’ stories made little sense from the start, but no matter to Nancy: the men were guilty. Even if they clearly did not do what they were accused of doing, Nancy did not like whatever the Hell [they] did do. The law and truth be damned: fry’em.

lancemh delivers a devastating closing summary:

Nancy Grace’s “credibility” flows from base sensationalism, as well as the manipulation of people and facts - not sound, objective, and unbiased legal analysis.

GoodSamaratan is bringing conspiracy charges against Grace, Bush, and Netanyahu:

Nancy lost her college sweetheart to a mugger, W’s dad almost killed by Saddam and Bibi’s brother was killed in Entebee. And now they all want to take on the world to tell them how pissed they are and try to bring everyone to justice.

I don’t know what it is about this culture that allows for such bitter people to spew their anger and let all hell break lose regardless of the consequences.

TinaTrent has arraigned the defense bar for the crimes of Nancy Grace:

OK, Nancy Grace is channeling pecans. But she isn’t, as Lithwick argues, “the nation’s foremost legal activist.” That title, and the second, third, fourth and so on, go to those who advocate for the accused, no matter how craven, murderous, rapacious or predatory their clients may be. People don’t flock to law schools to become prosecutors; they imagine themselves, like so many Atticus Finches, saving the poor, benighted, wrongly accused. Many who become prosecutors do so to gain training before moving on to the lucrative and sexy role of defense counsel. To wit, Nancy’s latest TV pal, Josh Ashi, who has moved from Atlanta Prosecutor to celebrity tv defense attorney. Our tax dollars trained him – now he gets to play with the big, pony-tailed boys getting off the same creepy child rapists he used to, allegedly, try to put away. Why wouldn’t this make anybody crazy?

JohnLex7, a defense attorney in his other life, calls the nation’s prosecutors into the stand:

The prosecutor has a duty to the system that defense attorneys do not have. They are charged with enforcing the laws that society has made. That is a large responsibility, and an enormous power. Only those who can truly handle the responsibility and the power should have it. Nancy Grace clearly proved, while she was a prosecutor, and now, that she never should have had that power.

Hopefully, her actions, not just in this instance but throughout her career, might make some prosecutors look in the mirror and wonder, even for a minute, if they are properly exercising the enormous power they have.

Next door, Fingerpuppet draws up a bill of charges against broadcast media:

There’s practically no arena of our civil society that hasn’t been debased by the commercial demands of broadcast media. We’ve already got news and politics being served up on cable talk shows with all the dignity of a high school food fight; why should the justice system be any different? Why waste time on boring details about policies, institutional procedures, history, perspective or nuance? Most viewers want to cut straight to the good stuff—the dirt, the moral lapses of the scum of society, the kind of depravity that lets any schmoe feel the delicious rush of righteous indignation.

Kicking the case upstairs one level of generality, satish_desai has submitted information blaming the modern press for the murder:

Yes, the press has freedom to report and speak out. But they do not have freedom to obstruct justice because justice is part of the freedom of the people other than the press. Their freedom of speech is no more and no less than the freedom of speech of ordinary citizens. […]

For a long time, the reporters have been behaving as if they are above the law, that they can keep their sources secret in the middle of a criminal investigation, that they can assassinate someone’s character to make their talk-show popular, that they can pursue celebrities in their bedrooms and in their restrooms, that they can conduct a public trial on the talk-show. […]

It seems to me that Nancy Grace should be charged with obstruction of justice, for causing concealment or destruction of material evidence in the criminal case of teh disappearance of a toddler. She may also face civil lawsuit from Melinda Duckett’s family for causing unnecessary grief.

Think twice before turning on your television this evening. You don’t want to catch jc_miller’s scathing subpoena of TV viewers.

Almost every time a child is hurt, the perpetrator isn’t a stranger like the one she was kicking around, but instead one of the Moms, Dads, Grandmas, or Uncle Jimmys watching her show. […] Some observers might ask what possible psychological forces exist powerful enough to drive an audience to tolerate the self righteous posturing and moral superiority pouring from the screen. We already have those answers. We experience them viscerally in the rush of sweet, righteous, distracting anger at the villains she gives us, then the relief, the release from anxiety – damn that bastard, he oughta be …. “He”, not us. Every condemnation, every angry judgment carries with it an intoxicating hit of moral superiority that is [an] escape from anxiety around our own moral culpability. […]

“Nancy Grace no more killed the mother of a missing toddler last week than you or I did.” wrote Ms. Lithwick. Exactly right, no more and no less than we did. Ultimately the questions we need to face are more about us than about Ms.Grace. We desperately need “Nancy Grace”, and we will likely see that a woman’s suicide is a small price to pay for a nightly supply of good dope.

Amicus for the court Neill_Q_Hamilton files a supporting affidavit against society:

The problem is that America responds to the simple and the easy. Nancy Grace’s selling point is that it is all so simple. And indeed nothing could be simpler then shouting “You did it!!” over and over. When she had the poor woman on the air she was not interested in the woman’s story or that the situation might be complex. This is a problem.

In Engineering, [there’s] a saying: “For every difficult problem there is a simple solution that is wrong.” The Nancy Grace’s are the endless proponents of the simple and wrong. But it sells. […] Accusations are simple, and work best if you are unwilling to listen to explanations.

So the short answer is Nancy Grace didn’t kill the poor woman, everyone who watches and supports Ms. Grace, and refuses to listen to the complex killed Ms. Duckett. Shame on us all.

As an accomplice to the law, the press, and society in general, I’m thinking I should turn myself in to face the music for all this. Competent counsel will be required in the Jurisprudence Fray.   GA1:40am PDT