19 June 2008

It's FINALLY here

Today is the day.

In 29 hours, I'll be landing in Rome. My plane leaves in 10 hours. I cannot wait. Land of espresso, art, Renaissance, and architecture, here I come.

I must finish packing, not much. Have to pack shampoo, toothpaste, etc, but not until I've had my shower this morning.

I'll return July 4 and will hopefully have a ton of photos to post.


18 June 2008

He Said It First

Yeah, that's who I want running the country. Old news or not, it's still newsworthy to me.

Oil, Gas, and Futures

So, you wondering why it costs so much to fill-up lately?

Ice, Ice, Baby

This from page 1 of the Executive Summary of that Senate investigation, there is this one troubling line: "Today, U.S. oil inventories are at an eight-year high, and OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) oil inventories are at a 20-year high."

That’s odd because, in 2006, just like today, the media reporting covered the serious international shortage of oil and justified oil’s high price. Even more troubling is that the House of Representatives held a hearing this past December, ominously titled "Energy Speculation and Price Manipulation." How did it pass under the radar that both the Senate and the House studied the issue of price manipulation in our energy markets and both concluded that it was unregulated, massive trading in one futures market that was really driving up the price of oil and natural gas? And given that conclusion, why has Congress done nothing about it?


A week ago Goldman Sachs issued a new investor note, suggesting that somewhere between six months to two years, the price of oil could go into a "super spike" and prices jump as high as $200 per barrel. It became the major story of the night. Ignored in the reporting frenzy was that many legitimate and well-respected oil analysts dismissed Goldman Sachs’ prediction as groundless.

Get ready for the next shock to your system. In the past month we have added 11.9 million barrels of oil into our stock reserves, giving us 32.3 million more barrels of oil than we had on hand January 1. On May 5, we found out that for the second time in as many years, Iran was storing its excess crude oil on tankers in the Persian Gulf, because it had run out of storage space in the desert and was awaiting buyers for its heavy crude. That same day Saudi Arabia cut the discount price for its Arabian Heavy crude to $7.45, hoping to entice more buyers for immediate delivery. We didn’t hear that news, either.

It’s amazing how quickly we forget our recent history. Congressional hearings in 2001, blasting certain Wall Street executives for using the media to sell the public on stocks in order to bid up the price – so their firm could divest of its shares without taking a beating. Meanwhile, other trusted advisors pushed stocks that were fundamentally worthless, because their affiliated banks had large loan agreements with those companies.

The year before Enron had been caught manipulating the California energy market, even forcing rolling blackouts across the northern part of their state apparently just for effect – to support their claim that there just wasn’t enough electricity to go around. Again, we now know that claim was untrue. It was Enron shutting down certain power generation plants, while placing bets on their unregulated energy futures market. The net cost to California consumers was almost $8 billion.

Ice, Ice, Baby - The Conclusion

Record high prices without record low oil inventories, analysts saying that so much money flows into oil commodities that it gives the impression of shortages, when in fact no shortage exists. That mirrors the situation in the commodities market for food, as Bloomberg pointed out in its April 28 article, "Wall Street Grain Hoarding Brings Farmers, Consumers Near Ruin": "Commodity investors control more U.S. crops than ever before, competing with governments and consumers for dwindling food supplies." That’s right; food, oil and gasoline have become an "asset class." No longer are you fighting a neighbor at the supermarket over the last box of Cheerios®; now you’re fighting the futures traders, who are actually determining what you will pay for that cereal.

We started as a society that worships hard labor and the basic business ethic of building value into the goods you create. How’d we get from there to worshiping Wall Street’s billion-dollar boys — who create nothing, build nothing, own nothing and deliver no goods, and yet can throw so much money into products made by others that they determine what we consumers will pay for those goods?

It wasn’t always this way.

In the past, the Commodities Futures Trading Commission acted as the cop on the beat, ensuring that buyers in the market were not distorting or manipulating prices beyond what supply and demand normally dictate. Certainly, if a hard frost hit Florida and cost growers an orange crop, then bidding up the price of the remaining oranges was both a wise investment and allowed under the trading rules. Right now investors know that if they borrow and invest huge amounts in commodities futures, they can create a shortage on paper – which drives prices up just like an actual shortage of any given product would. What kept traders from cornering the market that way in the past were the government’s anti-manipulation rules.

The late, infamous Enron head, Ken Lay, realized in the eighties that he could make more money bidding up energy in the futures market than by actually creating and selling energy. But, under then-current rules, how much you could make swapping paper was limited. Fortuitously, Lay had excellent Texas political connections; and in November of 1992, the head of the Commodities Futures Trading Commission moved to exempt energy-derivative contracts and related swaps from any government oversight.

A vote was hurriedly put together before the Clinton White House would take over, and so Lay could finally start "dark" – unregulated – futures trading. The head of the CFTC was Wendy Gramm, wife of Texas Senator Phil Gramm; five weeks after she left, she became a board member of Enron in Houston.

Fast-forward to late 2000 and H.R. 5660, the Commodity Futures Modernization Act of 2000, sponsored by Republican Congressman Thomas Ewing of Illinois. That bill went nowhere, even though Tom Delay’s wife Christine was then working for a Washington lobbying firm, Alexander Strategies – which Enron had paid $200,000 to push through legislation for permanent energy deregulation in these "dark" markets.

Six months later came Senate Bill 3283, also named the Commodity Futures Modernization Act of 2000. This time around the sponsor was Republican Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana, and now Phil Gramm was listed as one of the bill’s co-sponsors. Like it had in the House, this bill was destined to go nowhere until, late one night, it was attached as a rider to an 11,000-page appropriations bill – which was signed into law by President Clinton.

Now traders had an officially deregulated market for energy futures. Worse, that bill also deregulated many financial instruments – including the collateralized debt obligations that are at the center of today’s mortgage crisis, which may well cost us more than $1 trillion before it’s over.

17 June 2008

John McCain Debates Himself on Supporting Bush

So Mr. McCain, do you happen to know which way is up?

Interesting site I stumbled across this morning


I'm still checking it out, but it is quite interesting thus far.

First, 538 is the number of electors in the electoral college.

Now, from the site's FAQ:

How is this site different from other compilations of polls like Real Clear Politics?

There are several ways that the FiveThityEight methodology differs from other poll compilations. Firstly, we assign each poll a weighting based on that pollster's historical track record, the poll's sample size, and the recentness of the poll. More reliable polls are weighted more heavily in our averages. Secondly, we include a regression estimate based on the demograhics in each state among our 'polls', which helps to account for outlier polls and to stabilize the results. Thirdly, we simulate the election 10,000 times for each site update in order to provide a probabilistic assessment of electoral outcomes.

16 June 2008

More interesting information on the man who wants to be president

McCain's Secret, Questionable Record

The New York Times' front-page story about McCain declining promotion to admiral lacks credibility for other reasons as well. For example, McCain had been promoted to captain on August 1, 1979, so he wouldn't have been due for another promotion by March of 1981.

Retired Admiral Peter Booth, who was promoted to rear admiral in 1981, flatly disputes Lehman's claim about McCain. "No, John McCain was not selected for flag rank, for admiral. With all due respect, I think I was selected that same year, and I have never heard anything even remotely like that. To begin with, John Lehman did not select Navy flag officers. That was done with a very august selection board headed by a four-star admiral. The Secretary of the Navy does not appoint. He is in the approval chain, but he is not on the committee.

"I have never heard a story, even remotely, that John McCain was going to be a flag officer. I was early selected for captain, in 1976, and I was regular selected for admiral in 1981. So it's probably five or six years, I guess. I've never heard of anybody being selected for flag rank within three or four years of making captain, ever."


Is McCain now getting away with more by hiding his official history and by having his national security adviser inflate McCain's resume with a bogus promotion to admiral humbly declined? If so, McCain may be attempting to hide why the Navy was in fact slow to promote him upwards despite his suffering as a POW and his distinguished naval heritage.

One possible reason: After McCain had returned from Vietnam as a war hero and was physically rehabilitated, he was urged by his medical caretakers and military colleagues never to fly again. But McCain insisted on going up. As Carl Bernstein reported in Vanity Fair, he piloted an ultra-light, single propeller plane -- and crashed another time. His fifth loss of a plane has vanished from public records, but should be a subject of discussion in his Navy file. It wouldn't be surprising if his naval superiors worried that McCain was just too defiant, too reckless and too crash prone.

Regardless, McCain owes it to the country to release his complete naval records so that American voters can see his documented history and make an informed decision.

Interesting scenario

When McCain Drops Out

When the Republicans choose their candidate on September 4th, there is a very real chance that they could throw the election into an unexpected chaos as they pull a genuine September Surprise.

I think there is every reason to believe John McCain won't be the nominee. Ok, let me say that again. McCain will not be the Republican candidate in November.


The reasons are simple. He can't win. Now that Obama is the presumptive Democratic nominee -- the polls all show that McCain's pro-war stance and Bush endorsement make him a lost cause in November. That combined with soft stand on litmus test conservative issues make him an unpopular candidate among the base. I know some Democrats that think the Republicans are planning to let McCain lose and 'sit this one out' so that they can hang the democrats with a bad economy and a war that is a morass. But that just isn't how they play. They play to win every hand -- think about 2000 with a popular Democratic president and good economy and a solid VP running for president. Why did they put up Bush? And why did they fight so hard? Because, you don't ever throw a game. And they're not going to throw this one.

14 June 2008

I cannot believe it

First, I must say, rest in peace Tim Russert. You were one of the best, if not the best. I cannot imagine the run up to November without your input and insights. Your smile and obvious zest for life was infectious. The tributes from your colleagues have been touching and heart warming, giving those of us a look into your life and the Tim Russert we didn't know.

It's almost time. I leave for Italy in just 5 days and 6 hours. I don't really have a whole lot to say that isn't political or about Italy and this wasn't going to be a political post but I did want to do something since I've been so lack in blogging. So, here's some more pictures of places I will get to see.

on this last one, that blue in the distance is the Adriatic Sea. I think that's the bluest blue I've ever seen when it comes to water. I cannot wait to step into that!!!!

10 June 2008

John McCain... Electable?

Our nation and the world cannot deal with 4 years of McCain.

Watch this video. It's only 8 minutes long and it gives you some insight into McCain.

So you don't like Obama. Please look into Bob Barr, Ron Paul, or anyone but McCain.