Tina K. Russell

December 12, 2008

Relativism

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , — Tina Russell @ 3:48 am

Op-Ed Contributor – Grand Theft Nautical – NYTimes.com
There was some semblance of law and order in 2006, when the Islamic Courts Union, loosely linked with Al Qaeda, took over much of the country and imposed Shariah law. Though there were cruel tradeoffs, the Islamists virtually eradicated piracy. The crime was a capital offense punishable by beheading.

When Ethiopian forces, supported by the United States, replaced the Islamists with an ineffective transitional government in 2006, piracy returned with an intensity not seen since the 17th century.

It is evident that no nation can impose its will on Somalia; the colonial British and Italians learned the hard way. And certainly no nation can force Somalis to stop the best business in town. But if the West really hopes to eliminate the scourge of piracy in these strategic shipping lanes, then it should consider involving the courts union, the only entity that has proved it could govern the country, and its militant wing, Al Shabaab, in a new government.

If there is movement to talk to the Taliban in Afghanistan, then there should be some effort to talk to the fundamentalists in Somalia. If the Islamists were permitted to form a viable, functioning and effective government, this shattered land might be able to return to the community of nations — and supertankers will be able to deliver oil to the United States without fear of getting hijacked.

Yes, you read it here first. Who needs human rights when we have cheap oil?

I’ve written here before that I don’t think the West should be obsessed with keeping the “Islamists” out of power in Somalia; I don’t approve of religious rule or Sharia law, but it’s not my place to decide what governments other countries should have. (That, and bloody, endless wars hardly advance the stated aim of upholding human rights.) The concept of international intervention is hotly contested, but I think we can all agree that it’s the sort of drastic step with such dramatic consequences that it should only be used in international emergencies, such as genocide. If we fired our guns on every country with a miserable human rights record, we’d have to start with Saudi Arabia and China on down, a mess that would hardly justify itself.

This op-ed writer, though, takes the opposite extreme; we should endorse cruel, abusive regimes in the interest of stability. We should help them come to power. (I should note that the sort of desperation caused by war, the kind of war advocated by militant idealists and interventionists, is what helps extremists come to power, but that’s a separate subject.) Yes, yes… that’s why the West installed or helped install the Shah in Iran (twice!), Pinochet in Chile, the Taliban in Afghanistan, etc. In fact, he doesn’t even discuss any human need for stability, speaking only of a need for safe, cheap passage for oil tankers. Anything else would be unacceptable!

I need a shower.

August 15, 2008

Something is rockin’ in the state of Denmark

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , — Tina Russell @ 4:33 pm

This is Thomas Friedman. Check out what he Danes to suggest.

Op-Ed Columnist – Flush With Energy – Op-Ed – NYTimes.com
Unlike America, Denmark, which was so badly hammered by the 1973 Arab oil embargo that it banned all Sunday driving for a while, responded to that crisis in such a sustained, focused and systematic way that today it is energy independent. (And it didn’t happen by Danish politicians making their people stupid by telling them the solution was simply more offshore drilling.)

What was the trick? To be sure, Denmark is much smaller than us and was lucky to discover some oil in the North Sea. But despite that, Danes imposed on themselves a set of gasoline taxes, CO2 taxes and building-and-appliance efficiency standards that allowed them to grow their economy — while barely growing their energy consumption — and gave birth to a Danish clean-power industry that is one of the most competitive in the world today. Denmark today gets nearly 20 percent of its electricity from wind. America? About 1 percent.

And did Danes suffer from their government shaping the market with energy taxes to stimulate innovations in clean power? In one word, said Connie Hedegaard, Denmark’s minister of climate and energy: “No.” It just forced them to innovate more — like the way Danes recycle waste heat from their coal-fired power plants and use it for home heating and hot water, or the way they incinerate their trash in central stations to provide home heating. (There are virtually no landfills here.)

That’s pretty excellent.

August 13, 2008

Merkley’s crude remarks

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , — Tina Russell @ 8:31 pm

Merkley, Wyden offer fuel for thought – Breaking News From Oregon & Portland – Oregonlive.com
Senate candidate Jeff Merkley promised Wednesday to move aggressively against high gas prices, hoping to turn voter anger over $4 gas into votes that will fuel his drive to the U.S. Senate.

“As long as we’re hostage to oil sheiks overseas, we’re mortgaging our future,” Merkley said, standing with Wyden at the Portland gas station.

I’m voting for Merkley, but oh my god. Did he really just say that? Talking about “oil sheiks” would be like saying we’re held hostage by “media rabbis” or something, in that it’s both hateful and inaccurate. The biggest exporter of crude oil to the US (as of 2007) is Canada, followed by Saudi Arabia, then Mexico, then Venezuela, then Nigeria. I wonder if we’ll start hearing about the “Canucks of crude” or the “petroleum padres” any time soon. 20% of our oil is from the Persian Gulf, so it’s true that our oil is disproportionately Middle Eastern, but it’s nowhere near overwhelming.

I’m all for energy independence, I’d just rather not see the “scary Arab” trotted out to sell the policy. (The “scary speculators” thing is similar, though speculators probably aren’t in danger of having their houses firebombed.) Fighting the oil addiction means a change in us, not just railing at those around us.

With Merkley joining him in the Senate Wyden said Oregon would benefit, predicting that the state would “become the Saudia Arabia of renewables.”

I have no doubt about that. 20 years ago Oregon was a state reeling from restrictions on logging (which I should note are, in part, so that the industry doesn’t simply log itself out and put itself out of business), but we invested in high-tech industry and we’re now home to an Intel campus and to Linux creator Linus Torvalds. However, with Abu Dhabi (in Saudi Arabia’s neighbor, the United Arab Emirates) investing in clean energy from the bundle they’ve made in dirty energy, we may want to hurry before Saudi Arabia because the Saudi Arabia of renewables.

June 24, 2008

This isn’t just because Tina is very fond of Brazil, promise

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — Tina Russell @ 9:27 pm

Obama Camp Closely Linked With Ethanol – NYTimes.com
Ethanol is one area in which Mr. Obama strongly disagrees with his Republican opponent, Senator John McCain of Arizona. While both presidential candidates emphasize the need for the United States to achieve “energy security” while also slowing down the carbon emissions that are believed to contribute to global warming, they offer sharply different visions of the role that ethanol, which can be made from a variety of organic materials, should play in those efforts.

Mr. McCain advocates eliminating the multibillion-dollar annual government subsidies that domestic ethanol has long enjoyed. As a free trade advocate, he also opposes the 54-cent-a-gallon tariff that the United States slaps on imports of ethanol made from sugar cane, which packs more of an energy punch than corn-based ethanol and is cheaper to produce.

Here’s another thing: you don’t eat sugar cane. Much as I strongly feel that the country needs the healing balm of an Obama presidency and needs a McCain presidency like it needs an outbreak of the plague, I do have to call this issue for McCain. I’m sick of free-trade hypocrisy in America, where we tell other countries to drop all their tariffs and subsidies, and then binge on them ourselves when no one is looking. (Both parties engage in this, certainly, and it’s a disaster for developing economies overseas.)

June 12, 2008

Raising Keynes

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , , — Tina Russell @ 10:47 pm

Letter – Helping Jobless Youths – Letter – NYTimes.com
Seventy-five years ago, Franklin D. Roosevelt took two crises — a decayed environment and wide unemployment — and combined them to form a single success: the Civilian Conservation Corps. In the C.C.C. three million young unemployed men dramatically improved the nation’s infrastructure and public lands, combating erosion, planting millions of trees and in the process creating roads, park trails and bridges.

The C.C.C. did more than restore America’s natural resources. It also gave young Americans living in poverty hope, opportunity and the chance to provide for their families. A major new national service initiative focusing on energy efficiency can do the same today.

Hell yeah. This is the kind of policy proposal I always support. Where there’s a problem, there’s an opportunity. It doesn’t make sense for us to have sustained unemployment at the same time as our infrastructure is crumbling.

This letter supports a government clean energy initiative, which would also be a good idea. It’s time to tell the truth: global warming and oil dependency are tremendous ecological threats, and clean energy is a tremendous economic opportunity.

June 10, 2008

The Tina Russell Economic Money Hour of News Program

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — Tina Russell @ 6:33 pm

In my previous post, I talked about the proposed windfall profits tax. As I understand it…

1) For the duration of the energy crisis, oil companies will be limited to making “reasonable” profits, wherever we can manage to set it. (I say bargain hard; we don’t have to worry about them not fighting back hard enough to save a reasonable profit for themselves, given the influence they weild on the Hill.)

2) Oil companies say that the change will have the unintended effect of discouraging excavation and production, which could in turn raise gas prices. (Unintended consequences are a bitch, and common in the blunt and rusty world of law, but I’ve always been wary of any “but it will have the opposite effect!” argument, even if it is sometimes true.)

The problem is, if I have my basic economics right, profits are revenue minus expenditures; that is to say, what you earned minus what you spent. This is to make sure that the oil companies are actually spending the money on improving their operations (incentives are offered to invvest in clean energy, for instance), rather than simply hoarding it for a far-off rainy day while Americans are hurting now. It’s similar to how we require charities to spend at least five percent of their endowments each year (yes, yes).

So, that would put new investment in the “expenditures” category… meaning the windfall tax would encourage, not discourage, it. Basically, it says, if I understand it right, that if the companies don’t take the initiative on investment, the government will. That doesn’t sound like a bad policy at all.

The oil companies’ framing is totally backward. They should invest in a new one.

Windfall profits

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — Tina Russell @ 6:19 pm

I have always been weary of a “windfall profits tax” on oil companies, thinking it sounded kind of mean-spirited and shirking our duty of developing alternatives to gasoline (see, that’s the real way to piss off oil companies: don’t buy gasoline). But, this actually sounds fairly reasonable:

Senate debates windfall profits tax on oil – OregonLive.com
The Senate proposal would impose a 25 percent tax on profits over what would be determined “reasonable” and would allow oil companies to avoid paying the tax if they invest the money in alternative energy projects or refinery expansion.

The tax breaks that would be rescinded, given by Congress over the past five years, are expected to save the five largest oil companies about $17 billion over the next 10 years. The Democratic proposal would funnel the money into tax incentives for renewable energy sources such as wind and solar, and to promote energy efficiency and conservation.

I can see why, during an energy crisis, we’d want to mandate that companies spend most of what they make and ensure they’re not merely hoarding their wealth for a rainy day, the same way we require charities to spend at least five percent of their endowments each year (and how we should require the same of universities). We’re not against profits, we just want to ensure the money we’re sending these companies is spent well. Since the government is my only element of bargaining power in these things, I don’t mind having ’em step into the ring for me.

Meanwhile, here’s a familiar refrain:

Most Senate Republicans have a different approach to dealing with the growing energy crisis — pump more oil and gas.

And they say liberals are naïve!

I’ve always disliked this argument:

Oil executives, testifying before Congress last month, called the proposed taxes “punitive” and warned that they would discourage domestic oil and gas exploration and production, possibly causing prices to rise instead of fall.

And, of course, oil executives are powerless in regard to their firm’s excavation decisions. I don’t like it when companies testify before Congress and say, “you can’t do that, it would discourage us from doing this!” That’s what we call a veiled threat, and we might want to call their bluff one of these days.

I just realized the problem here… the argument the oil companies are making is not just disingenuous, it’s nonsense. More next time.

May 12, 2008

How to Lower Gasoline Prices

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — Tina Russell @ 1:52 pm

Buy less gasoline. Of course, this means you won’t get to partake in the lower prices.

Sorry, but the rules of economics don’t bend to political posturing, be it hokey eleventh-hour policy proposals like tax holidays or windfall profits taxes (we’ll pay for cutting the taxes of oil companies… by taxing the oil companies! That’s a shell game if I ever saw one), glib e-mail messages begging you not to buy gasoline for one day or other short-sighted schemes, or angry rants at China and India. If there’s only so much gasoline, and demand for it goes up, so do prices. That’s the first thing you learn in economics, besides maybe “here is the syllabus, here’s when the finals will be, some rules about honesty,” etc.

It’s kind of like losing weight… sorry, but the only way to do it is to change your eating and exercise habits, not to go on a diet and then gain it all back afterward. We need to get serious and realize that the price of oil is not going to go down any time soon, and there’s no way to tell China and India not to live like us. If you’re bitten by high gas prices, there are things you can do: take public transportation, learn to ride a bike, etc. The economy doesn’t bend to your will, though, and pretending we can take our anger out on our gasoline prices is unhealthy and counterproductive.

I’m honestly in favor of a sales tax on gasoline, to pay for infrastructure improvements and a much-needed change in our energy and transportation mindsets. (Now you see why I’m not running for office.) Think of the modern public transportation systems we could build with that money, the alternative-energy research we could fund, the bridges we could fix and the roads that we could modernize. Lovely Portland, Oregon (come and visit!) is well-established as an excellent city for bikers and bus riders in America, but it ought to be a model for the rest of the country instead of an outstanding example.

It’s clear that long-term changes are needed for this crisis to subside, and those changes may be painful, but they’re necessary. Any kind of poking or posturing on this, be it from your friend who forwards too many shock e-mails or pandering politicians running for the nation’s highest elected office, is rather offensive to the plight of America’s drivers.

April 26, 2008

Cohen on ethanol

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — Tina Russell @ 2:10 pm

I’ve been one of those big ethanol skeptics for a while, distasteful of the idea of turning food into fuel during a food shortage. Roger Cohen sets the record straight by letting us know that, down in Brazil, they have a much better way of making ethanol: not from corn, but from sugarcane, and it’s more efficient as well. If your concern is for the Amazonian rainforest, he addresses that in the full article as well. It’s a great piece.

Bring on the Right Biofuels – New York Times

Hundreds of millions of people have moved from poverty into the global economy over the past decade in Asia. They’re eating twice a day, instead of once, and propelling rapid urbanization. Their demand for food staples and once unthinkable luxuries like meat is pushing up prices.

Those hundreds of millions of Chinese and Indians now eating more will be driving cars within the next quarter-century. What that will do to oil prices is anybody’s guess, but what’s clear is that ethanol presents the only technically and economically viable alternative for large-scale substitution of petroleum fuels for transport in the next 15 to 20 years. It’s not a panacea, but it’s a necessary bridge to the next technological breakthrough.

The question is: which ethanol?

Right now, the biofuel market is being grossly distorted by subsidies and trade barriers in the United States and the European Union. These make it rewarding to produce ethanol from corn or grains that are far less productive than sugarcane ethanol, divert land from food production (unlike sugarcane), and have dubious environmental credentials.

What sense does it make to have a surplus of environmentally friendly Brazilian sugar-based ethanol with a yield eight times higher than U.S. corn ethanol and zero impact on food prices being kept from an American market by a tariff of 54 cents on a gallon while Iowan corn ethanol gets a subsidy?

Blog at WordPress.com.