Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Flip Flop Flip Flop Whattya do when your numbers drop?

(Sung to the old Alka-Selzer plop plop fizz fizz tune)

Here's our steadfast great leader George W. Bush in 2000 when the Clinton-Gore administration released oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve:

George W. Bush, trying to slow Al Gore’s momentum and overcome discourag-ing polls, accused his rival on Saturday of engaging in “a disturbing pattern of embellishments and sudden reversals.

He then referred to the Strategic Petroleum Reserve:
"The strategic reserve should not be used as an attempt to drive down oil prices right before an election," Bush said. "It should not be used for short-term political gain at the cost of long-term national security. It was created for cases of war or a sudden disruption of America's energy supply," Bush said. "That's why it's called the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, not the Strategic Political Reserve."

Remember all the digs at Kerry about being a flip-flopper? Here's our Great Leader yesterday:
Tuesday, Bush, facing an outcry from his own party leaders, called high gas prices "a hidden tax on the working people" and said he would stop purchases and deposits to the reserve in order to increase supplies for consumer use. "By deferring deposits until the fall, we’ll leave a little more oil on the market," Bush said. "Every little bit helps."

What happened to that steadfast, clear-eyed leadership? Of course, it's not that we haven't had an energy plan:

"Laurence Lindsey – President Bush’s senior economic advisor at the time — argued in 2002 that the Iraq war would increase oil supplies and lower prices. From the Washington Times, 9/19/02:

As for the impact of a war with Iraq, “It depends how the war goes.” But he quickly adds that that “Under every plausible scenario, the negative effect will be quite small relative to the economic benefits that would come from a successful prosecution of the war.”

“The key issue is oil, and a regime change in Iraq would facilitate an increase in world oil,” which would drive down oil prices, giving the U.S. economy an added boost.

Yeah, that worked well.

The New Republic has an article by John Judis just out today that finally notices. The article starts off:
It's not fashionable to say this, but the Iraq war was about oil. Not entirely, but certainly more than it was about weapons of mass destruction or a link to Al Qaeda. The 1991 war with Iraq was also about oil, and if the United States goes to war in the future with Iran or with China, it will likely be about oil.

Not fashionable to say it? Jesus. Isn't it, wasn't it, blindingly obvious? Good to know our intellectual elite are catching on! Speaking of finally catching on, the article has some interesting quotes from Condaleeza Rice, who has just popped into Baghdad for a surprise visit.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice summed up the challenge from China, Iran, and Venezuela in testimony in April before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. "We do have to do something about the energy problem," she said. "I can tell you that nothing has really taken me aback more, as secretary of state, than the way that the politics of energy is--I will use the word 'warping'--diplomacy around the world. It has given extraordinary power to some states that are using that power in not very good ways for the international system, states that would otherwise have very little power. It is sending some states that are growing very rapidly in an all-out search for energy states like China, states like India that is really sending them into parts of the world where they've not been seen before, and challenging, I think, for our diplomacy."

What to do? The Democrats seem to be using this opportunity to bash Bush, which is all good fun and richly deserved, too, but in reality Bush can't do much about this and neither can they. The sooner that we all grasp this, the better, because until it becomes clear to everyone that one day we will long for the day when gas was just $3.00 a gallon we are likely to think of this as just one more temporary price hiccup, to be endured for a short time until gas prices return to "normal". It may be that demand for gasoline is mostly inelastic at $2 and $3 a gallon, but at some point, that elasticity starts to give and at $4 or $5 or $6 people start changing their behavior in more ways that just driving away from gas stations without paying more often. I've paid $6 a gallon before (in the UK, not the US) and it blows. It'd sure have me thinking hard about what I drove, when, where and how often.

Whatever pain folks are enduring at the pumps, it could be worse. Midas, the muffler and brake people, ran a contest to find the longest commute. The North Country Times has an article about Dave Givens, who drives 186 miles each way to his engineering job at Cisco Systems in San Jose. He does it in a 2005 Honda Accord he bought new in June and which now has 74,500 miles on it. It takes him about 12 gallons of gasoline a day to make this round-trip. I guess he's not a candidate for bike commuting!

Er, I'm getting ready to publish and Slate comes out with an article entitled I Smell Gas: A subject that makes Congressmen stupid that makes many of the same points and even uses some of the same quotes. It's really good, it explores more of the political dimension of this, how free-market Republicans suddenly want to investigate price-gouging and how environmentalist Democrats suddenly decry the high price of gas. If you're a Democrat, high gas prices are good, they'll cut consumption and therefore pollution and they'll send the price signals that finally institute some change; if you're Republican, they are good too, a part of the workings of a free market where prices work towards the supply and demand balances. Nobody dares speak the hideous truth, though, posturing and maintaining access to power and its privileges is a higher priority than levelling with us. They think we can't handle the truth.

We deserve better.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

The Butcher's Bill

The butcher's bill is in for last year: 43,200 highway fatalities in 2005, up from 42,636 in 2004. That's a rate of 1.46 deaths for every 100 million vehicle miles travelled, up from 2004's 1.44. About 55% of the passenger vehicle occupants who died were not wearing seat belts compared to an overall seatbelt usage of 82%. Of course, not everyone gets killed; there were 2.68 million injuries in 2005, down a bit from the 2.79 million in 2004. It gets expensive; the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that these highway crashes cost the nation $230 billion, or $820 a person.

These are from a preliminary NHTSA report; the final report later this summer will contain additional information. It is notable that our two-wheeled compatriots on motorcycles died in larger numbers, too, 4,315 last year, up from 4,008 in 2004 and the eighth straight year's increase. It looks like bicyclists are holding about steady, at 720 dead in 2005 compared to 725 in 2004. However, we got injured more, 45,000 injuries versus about 40,000 in 2004.

I'd love to see how many people have died in highway crashes since I started driving, in 1974. There is an excellent data set at FARS (Fatality Analysis Reporting System) which I supplemented with some InfoPlease stats going back to 1983. From 1983 to 005, there have been 987,764 people killed in highway crashes. The figures from 1974 through 1982 would take that up another 400,000 dead, I expect (there were more than 50,000 killed in 1975 alone), for a total in the 1.4 million dead range since I first took to the roads in a car.

At some level we accept these brutal and random deaths as part of the cost of convenient transportation, but it's still worth contemplating the full extent of the slaughter, about 5 people an hour (if the deaths were evenly distributed throughout the day, which they're not) day in, day out, all year long. As a useful comparison, the roughly 2,900 dead on 9/11/2001 shocked us as a nation and has led to huge consequences in foreign policy, domestic freedoms and our nation's direction. Part of the shock of that morning was the random nature of the deaths, window washers, waiters, secretaries, titans of Wall Street, all caught up and suddenly killed in the midst of their daily routine. Given the 118 people a day, on average, killed on our nation's roads, about as many people have died since April 1 with much the same sudden randomness but with little attention unless the victims are famous, particularly cute or if they died in a particulary harsh way.

The NHTSA press release came out, appeared briefly on the news tickers and was pushed down by later stories, discontinuing oil into the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, Brett Favre's staying with the Packers, rumours of a new White House Press Secretary and all the other daily white noise. Forty three thousand dead hardly merits any attention.

Be careful out there.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Three Articles

Haven't had much time to blog and am down in Iowa on Dad duties again this weekend, but there were three articles I thought were interesing today.

First, in Newsweek, there is a My Turn article on neighborhoods and sidewalks at Sidewalks Can Make a Town a Neighborhood in which the author notes how we've evolved to be dependent on cars and how un-neighborly that is. Quoting: "For kids today, geography is understood from the back seat of a car, rather than through the scents and textures of heart-beating, muscle-flexing, self-motivated expeditions that connect one place to another, one person to another. The destination has displaced the journey."

Also in Newsweek, Jane Bryant Quinn notices our addiction to oil in The Price of Our Addiction. She rumbles through some of the Peak Oil arguments, points out that our military is becoming an Oil Protection Force and concludes "We're running a faith-based energy policy—still addicted to oil. If something goes wrong, it will go wrong big." It hasn't gone wrong yet, but I bought gas tonight and it was $2.85 a gallon for the cheap stuff. We're bound to hear more about this.

Finally, in Slate the Shopping article is entitled Avoiding The Bicycle Thief which rates, of all things, locks. It's an interesting read, and it you just want to cut to the chase, get the Kryptonite New York Fahgettaboudit U-lock for $90. Nothing's perfect, of course, but this is the best of the ones he tested.

I have been out riding a bit, the Atlantis on high-pressure tires a revelation after the Marin with it's knobbies and studs, my main mount for the winter. It felt good to click into the SPDs again, quick shifting, fast cruising. I'm looking forward to getting out some more.