Pain in the Pump?

Sometimes a little perspective is in order, and as gas prices hover at the $3/gal mark, it is one of those times. Yes, I remember pumping gas at my Dad’s Gulf station for $0.63/gal. And I remember when it broke $1/gal and everybody said it was the end of the world and nobody would ever pay that much for gas. Everybody is saying that now about the $3 mark. But we need to understand that our reactions to this are largely emotional responses. The math doesn’t hold.

What people forget is what inflation does to money. Because a dollar bill looks the same now as it did 20 years ago, the perception is that it’s worth the same. At least it feels that way. Most of us know that’s not true, but that doesn’t influence the emotion. Inflation drives both prices and wages (albeit not always at quite the same rate). The reality is that while we have been getting a bargain at the pumps in recent years, what we are paying now is not so different from what we paid from 1979 – 1983 in inflation adjusted dollars. The price was also this high during the depression in the 1930’s. This chart shows historical inflation adjusted gas prices. If you want a trip down memory lane, plug the prices you remember of other goods and services into this handy little calculator.

This is not to say that the recent steep price increase doesn’t hurt our wallets. Relative to a few months ago, the extra expense is clearly a drain. And no one would argue that there has been a sudden increase is wages to compensate. So the short term pain is absolutely real. But we need to get a little long term perspective here. It’s been this bad before. It will probably get better. The odds are with us.

An additional perspective is provided by this overlay of historical events onto gas prices. Note the strong correlation between peace in the Middle East (specifically Iran and Iraq) and the price of gasoline. This chart certainly suggests that we are directly responsible for the recent price increases. We invaded Iraq and created the instability which is driving the price up. Now it is likely that should we succeed in bringing stability to the region as Bush is planning, the price of gas will go back down. However, should we bomb Iran, your should prepare for seeing $4/gal in your rear view mirror.


Wastin’ Away Again in Country Geezerville

We were in the mood last night to go listen to a band. So I checked the local listings and there was one playing at The Jukebox at 9pm. But they had more of a rock sound, and the preference was something a little more country. I ran across the name of a guy I’d never heard of before playing at a small local pub I’d never been to before. The good news was he started at 8pm and the investment was small so we figured we’d check him out. If he turned out to be good, great. Otherwise we move on down the road to The Jukebox.

As we stroll in the place, it’s suddenly obvious that we are the youngest patrons by at least 20 years. I am not making this up. You have never seen such a collection of polyester and bolo ties. The bar maid (matron?) said the place tended to draw an “older crowd”, and then quipped there would be walker races in the parking lot later that evening. I mean, we should have known something was up when the bar special was Pepsi.

Still, the band was just setting up and it was too early to head to the 2nd venue just yet. When the band started, it was like somebody put the cardio paddles on these folks. Up they popped and headed to the dance floor. One couple had clearly taken a few country swing dance lessons and were floating nicely across the floor. Although she had nice footwork, her face was set in a scary stone scowl. If this was an expression of fun, I’d hate to get her mad. There was a table of women in swishy pant suits near the door who proved to be quite popular. The old guys would teeter over there and ask them to dance, hold them close for 3:20, and return them gently to their seats. And then there was Cowboy Bob. Brown poly pants, a red western style shirt, turquoise bolo tie, and a cowboy hat with lots of geezer bling on it. He was like a wind-up toy out there, just twitchin’ and two-steppin’. Actually, it was more like n-stepping, where “n” equals however many steps his feet happened to take at the moment. You see, Bob had a lot of enthusiasm, but no discernible sense of rhythm.

The music was passable, but as a people watching place, it was ‘da bomb’. Still, Kim could only flirt with so many cute little old men as they came to the bar for another round of Diet Pepsi, so after a fashion we did head on down the road. It was quite an experience though.


Failing to Be Abreast of the Situation

C’mon, this is only the stuff of urban legends, right? A 76-year-old man claiming to be a doctor went door-to-door in a Florida neighborhood offering free breast exams, and was charged with sexually assaulting two women who accepted the offer. Honest! – Look here.

Now it’s tempting to say what a vile act this was on the part of the old guy, but I can’t help but think that if you’re gullible enough to fall for this, maybe the guy should get away with feeling you up.


Take My Wife… Dammit

…and take my kids, and my brother, and my Aunt Rosita.

In what may be one the most telling developments in the ongoing immigration debacle, Mexicans, living in Mexico, are calling for a Mexican boycott of American companies, goods, and services in Mexico. Stay home from your jobs at American factories, don’t eat KFC, and don’t watch American TV.

On the one hand, this is somewhere between stupid and ironic. American business has been advocating and lobbying hard for the illegal immigrant amnesty program, and against stemming the tide of incoming aliens. They are the last organizations the Mexicans should want to punish.

But that’s not the telling part. We now have a separate country demanding that we adopt and embrace their citizens as our own. Not that the Mexican government has instigated the boycott, but they certainly haven’t spoken out against it. And the people are the ones demanding adoption. This is not an asylum issue. The Mexican government is not an oppressive one. But clearly they are not creating a society people want to live in.

To my mind, this cements as valid one of the strategies I proposed in a previous post. America should not stand in such contrast to Mexico that their people long to be here. We need to stop being such an attractive target. This means that pressure needs to be applied to the Mexican government to improve the economic situation in their own country. They also need to take their part in border control, and also need to inspire a sense of cultural and national identity in their citizenry.

And I also think Americans need to begin to contrast the cultural differences between the countries. Yes, we’re a melting pot. And no, I don’t dismiss the value of any other culture, or reject the adoption of other cultural nuances into the American culture. But maybe it’s time that we recognize that there is an American culture. And maybe it’s time that we insist that if you want to be an American, you need to adopt our language, our values, our behavior, our culture. Not because it’s better, but because it’s part of what makes us American.

That’s not to say that any of us can’t celebrate and preserve our cultural heritage. My great-grandparents were Irish. And while I still recognize and take pride in that heritage, I also recognize that they had to work hard to assimilate into America when they got here. They didn’t demand or expect that America would conform to them. They knew when they left Ireland, that they while they were bringing some things with them, they were leaving much behind.

I think it’s important that Mexicans begin to adopt that same attitude. If they want to be American, fine. There’s a process for that, and we welcome you. But if you want to be a Mexican living north of the border, that’s a different situation altogether. It doesn’t make you bad, but it doesn’t make you American, and it doesn’t give you all the rights and entitlements that go along with being American. To be here, to be one of us, you need to leave something behind. Life is full of hard choices. And maybe if that choice was harder, fewer would be rushing to make it… at least illegally.


Lying About the Truth to Protect a Lie

You really couldn’t make this stuff up. Bush now says he declassified the CIA material on Saddam’s alleged nuclear ambitions in Niger in an effort to “give the public a better sense of what he was saying in his speeches,” but he didn’t tell Scooter to leak it. He did it because, “He wanted people to see the truth.”

Okay, let’s stop there for a moment. Bush clearly has the legal authority to declassify documents. (We’ll ignore for now that his own press secretary said he declassified it 10 days after Scooter leaked it.) But even George Tenet, Director of the CIA, who was responsible for the document in question, was unaware that any part of it had been declassified by the President. There was no press release of the newly declassified information. In retrospect, the declassification of the document was a better kept secret than its contents. So how exactly does this show the public the truth? How did Bush envision that this “truth” would get out to anyone?

Further, the information Scooter leaked was a gross exaggeration of the actual document. Scooter told the NY Times’ Judith Miller, “Iraq was vigorously trying to procure uranium.” But the CIA officials who wrote the document in question say that this was never a judgment asserted in the document. And if Scooter thought he was merely passing along information which had been properly declassified, why did he insist that Miller say the information had come from a “former Hill staffer” rather than owning up to it. After all, if the purpose of the declassification was to get the truth to the public, shouldn’t it be done via a credible rather than an anonymous source?

You don’t need a lot of imagination to connect these dots. Bush has admitted declassifying the information. But the fact that the only use of the information was a covert “leak” to an administration reporter for the purpose of discrediting a political adversary makes Bush complicit in Plame-gate. And Cheney’s clearly wrapped up in this somewhere, but you can bet we won’t hear any statements from him. But that’s the whole cast of characters. Bush – Cheney – Libby. No one else knew the info had been declassified. Did Bush release it, Cheney spin it, and Scooter deliver it? Probably. And we may never know all the detail. However, the real crime will be if Scooter goes down alone for this.

As a people, can we continue to sit here and be treated like this by our own elected government? How stupid are we? Wait… don’t answer that.