Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Will declining gasoline prices save the Republicans? 

Until yesterday, I had gone ten days without buying gasoline because I was holed up in a camp -- such as the one at right -- in the Adirondack woods. By the time I emerged, the price had fallen significantly. Traders think that they could fall below $2.50 per gallon by November.

If gas prices fall fast and far enough, will it be in time to bail out the Republicans?


By Anonymous Anonymous, at Wed Aug 30, 11:31:00 PM:

I'm surprised that no one has claimed that the falling gas prices are a Rovian conspiracy to help Republicans in the mid-term electiosn. After all a barrel of oil is still about $70.


By Blogger Papa Ray, at Thu Aug 31, 01:56:00 AM:

There are going to be more than gas prices falling between now and voting time. Some of them will be attributed to Bush the others to Rove. The congressvarmits are all going to ground soon, they will try and stay out of the line of fire as much as possible.

I think we will also have another chance to blame Israel again for our troubles before the votes are cast.

Nothing good will come out of worrying, but a lot of us still will.

Those of us with kids and a low fixed income worry more than most.

Papa Ray
West Texas

By Blogger The Mechanical Eye, at Thu Aug 31, 02:06:00 AM:

This has always bothered me.

Others have noted how Bush's popularity has often risen and fallen with the gas prices - it doesn't speak well of the GOP that it has to rely on the price of a single commodity to carry or dash our chances of success.

Maybe this is a success of the Democrats to tie Republican policies with oil, sure, but its a sad fact of life for now.


By Blogger K. Pablo, at Thu Aug 31, 06:43:00 AM:

Mechanical Eye, it's not just Republicans whose popularities rise and fall with gas prices -- it's the party in power. It wasn't THAT long ago that Bill Clinton felt compelled to dip into the Strategic Oil Reserve because of a blip in oil prices (Summer of 1998? Anyone? Bueller?)  

By Blogger TigerHawk, at Thu Aug 31, 07:07:00 AM:

K.Pablo, you speak truth. Indeed, it goes deeper than that. Louis Freeh alleged with more than a little credibility that Bill Clinton's fear of high gasoline prices was so great that he would not pressure the Saudis to allow the FBI to interrogate the Khobar Towers suspects before they were executed. We now know to a fairly high level of certainty that the Saudis would not let us in because they knew we would learn that Iran was behind that attack, and Saudi Arabia did not was us to learn that fact. By the time we did, Mohammad Khatami was in power and Clinton made a further fateful decision not to retaliate. Gas prices have become a hotter third rail in American politics than Social Security, I think.  

By Anonymous Phrizz11, at Thu Aug 31, 10:36:00 AM:

Does anyone else look at this kind of thing and just start to feel hopeless?

Does anyone actually disagree that, if you reduced the western dependence on oil, our situation would dramatically improve both domestically and internationally? Domestically, because of the effects mentioned in TH's post, and internationally, because if you deprive your enemies of their only source of money, you win without firing a single shot!

It's so sad that the country is unwilling to spend money to reduce dependence on foreign oil. Consider our budget: we spend about 1 trillion dollars every year on defense, all of which battles the symptoms of the problem and not the underlying cause. According to the documents in http://www.cfo.doe.gov/budget/07budget/Start.htm,
we're spending $6.6 billion *total* on all basic and applied energy research programs at the DoE.

What would you say if you had a sick relative whom you took to the hospital, and the doctors told you that their proposed treatment plan was to spend 99.5% of their efforts on treating the symptoms of the problem, and 0.5% of their effort treating the root cause?

I'm of course biased since I'm a physicist, and my line of work would directly benefit, but cmon! I look at the numbers and I have to think that there are two possibilities why more money isn't spent on energy research (both basic and applied):
1) The pervasive anti-intellectualism that exists in this country, especially when you get away from the coasts/big cities. See also the distrust of science that is bred by the religious right.
2) Oil company conspiracies.

1) is probably what I dislike most about America today.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Thu Aug 31, 11:38:00 AM:

Gas is already less that $2.50 a gallon in my neck of the woods (Ohio).
My guess is that the big oil companies were sitting on large reserves built up (drive up prices?) to offset another big disruption from Gulf of Mexico production, such as Katrina and Rita in 2005. Now that the hurricane season is half over, they are releasing their reserves and prices are dropping (supply and demand, anyone? Bueller?) . There are also some new wells that are coming on line in the Gulf of Mexico (1.25-1.75 mmb/d domestic production) this fall.
Of course it all could be a 'big oil conspiracy'.
With respect to Phrizz11, I don't know so much about how strong the "anti-intellectual right" is in attacking science and its handmaiden, technology, but there is also a great deal of "luddite" behavior anywhere you look in society. Not-In-My-Backyard (NIMBY) attitudes toward the siting of big facilities like nuclear power plants, refineries, etc. I would say that we scientists and engineers have to do a better job of explaining the costs/benefits of science applications, and not allow politicians to sugar-coat these things. Making ethanol from corn is one of my pet peeves. This is so non-competitive from a strictly economic point of view, yet IT IS in our best interest to subsidize it, probably.
Remember (or not) the things SOME people said about nuclear power in the '50's ? "Electricity will be so cheap we won't even need meters on our houses to measure it"; stupid stuff like that. And persistently mis-leading and faulty statements and exagerrations about things like "global warming", really put-off the average layman.
I remember about 5 years ago having a discussion with the wife of Ph.D. about "Carbon Dioxide" emissions, and how she was appalled that this wasn't an important pollutant to regulate. I sorta understand this from the "global warming" debate, but CO2 is an important part of our ecosystem.
Without some CO2 present in the atmosphere, there is no photosynthesis (is that important?), and the climate gets A LOT cooler (ice age?). But what is the right amount, and how well can MANKIND control it? These are scientific and engineering questions, at heart, and not really political, until we really can understand the consequences and the numbers involved, and can put the real benefits and consequences to the voters.

PS we also don't spend ~ 1 trillion dollars a year on National Defense. About ~ $460 billion, which is still a heckuva piece of change.


By Blogger TigerHawk, at Thu Aug 31, 11:44:00 AM:

Phrizz11, I agree that it is idiotic that we have not done more to move away from petroleum. I do not think that primary blame lands on the oil companies, though, or that the federal government should spend a lot of money on "research." I think the problem is deeper than that.

First, everybody knows that the best way to move away from our dependence on petroleum is to increase its cost, gradually but relentlessly, over a period of years. The best way to have done that would have been with rising taxes since 1980, when the last real "energy crisis" broke. The problem is, the people who ordinarily believe in market solutions -- Republicans -- are (1) ideologically resistant to taxes and (2) politically dependent on rural states, where there is particular sensitivity to high gasoline prices (because low population density drives much more gasoline useage per capita). The Democrats, who might support a tax in the abstract, are opposed in this case because of fears that it will be regressive. They prefer "command" regulation, such as the CAFE standards, which are exceedingly costly and inefficient compared to the benefit.

The other problem is that the left has become almost reflexively opposed to economic growth. Lefties do not seem to like the American car culture. Accordingly, the left pushes for solutions that are politically unrealistic. In Princeton lefty activists knock on our door all the time. They complain all about global warming and call for massive reductions in carbon output, but in the same petition want to abolish nuclear power. When I observe, politely, that a warming climate and rising sea levels will increase our energy requirements, they say that we can "conserve" and revert to solar and biomass! Again, we are asked to choose between self-inflicted poverty and the destruction of the world because of an ideological objection to nuclear power. It's no wonder that we all opt to put our head in the sand.

My own view is that we should immediately impose a 25 cent/gallon federal tax on gasoline, and declare that we will raise it 10 cents per year for the next 20 years. We should also "federalize" the siting of power plants, and perhaps establish special courts that take NIMBY litigation out of the hands of state courts. We should create a process by which a utility can site a power plant and clear away all legal objections within two years of filing the first piece of paper. I think that if we do those two things, plus some other mild tinkering, we can get to a pretty good place over the next generation.  

By Blogger Georgfelis, at Thu Aug 31, 03:18:00 PM:

Silly Tigerhawk. Rising gas prices are always the fault of the Republican Administration and Big Oil. Falling gas prices are… Oh look, there’s a story on a long-unsolved child murder.  

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