Monday, July 9, 2012


We heard a lot of criticism directed at President Obama when gasoline prices started to climb earlier this year. Republicans, knowing how easily many voters can be manipulated, thought they had a campaign issue: just remind everyone that gas prices are going up, ignore the complex set of factors that explain the rise, especially Wall Street speculators, and just blame the President.

They lined up at the mic to do just that:
      In February, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell made the laughably inane claim that “This President will go to any length to drive up gas prices and pave the way for his ideological agenda.”
      In March,  Mitt Romney declared, “He gets full credit or blame for what’s happened in this economy, and what’s happened to gasoline prices under his watch..."
     In April, House Speaker John Boehner said, “The president holds the key to addressing the pain Ohioans are feeling at the gas pump and moving our nation away from its reliance on foreign energy. My question for the president is: what are you waiting for?”

As it turned out, Boehner didn't have long to wait. Now that gas prices are falling, he and other Republicans have grown silent. Romney said Obama deserved credit, as well as blame, for what has happened. That is simplistic nonsense, of course; the fact that Congressional Republicans have spent three years obstructing the President apparently is not a factor for Romney. Let's be clear on that point: you may agree with Republican tactics and say the Dems must be stopped, etc., but you cannot later ignore the Republicans' role in the Washington logjam and pretend it wasn't a factor.

In any event, Romney is a little slow about giving Obama "full credit" on gas prices. Now one might say that Obama doesn't deserve much credit or blame: The White House inherently has few short-term options on oil prices and cannot be expected to simply step in and ratchet down gas prices. American presidents do not have that kind of power.

But that doesn't mean Obama didn't have some options, or that he didn't use them.

What's that? You didn't hear all about it? And some people still think our corporate-owned media has a liberal bias. To make a bad situation worse, the White House has done a poor job of sharing Obama's message and accomplishments. It's as if he believes the media is an honest broker and is motivated to get the full story out. Peter Cohen, writing for Forbes, captures this frustrating imbalance:
When he was running for President in 2008, Barack Obama struck me as a gifted orator. But now that he’s running for re-election, it feels to me that the messaging power of his political opponents is like Hurricane Katrina blowing against a chipmunk’s squeal. So I am confident that a piece of excellent news for drivers resulting from a little-noticed policy from Mr. Obama will get no attention at all from the media.
In April, I predicted that President Obama’s $52 million plan to increase the margin requirements and otherwise tighten the screws on oil speculators — who borrow huge sums to bet on the direction of oil without taking delivery — would cut oil prices by 10 percent. He’s beaten that prediction, and the lowered price of gasoline has added $78.4 billion to its consumers’ spending power.
Cohen has much more to say on the specific steps Obama has outlined to combat high prices, including:
  --Increase by a factor of six Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) surveillance and enforcement staff “to better deter oil market manipulation,
  --Boost 10-fold, to $10 million, the civil and criminal penalties against “firms that engage in market manipulation,
  --Give the CFTC authority to increase the trader margins — the amount of their own capital that traders must set aside for each bet...
These and other factors, including increased domestic oil production, have driven down oil and gasoline prices. Cohen puts it in human terms:
So just how much has Mr. Obama stimulated the economy through his April crackdown on oil speculators? Well, if my experience is any indication, the answer is quite a bit. After all, I was paying about $4.05 a gallon for mid-grade back then and this week the price had fallen to $3.49.

That 56 cents a gallon decline would amount to me saving about $582 a year — assuming that I fill up my 20 gallon tank once a week. But if the AP is right, that same 56 cent a gallon drop would add $78.4 billion to U.S. GDP.

That’s not much for a $15 trillion economy, but it represents a 1,508 percent return on Mr. Obama’s $52 million investment, in two months.
In the final analysis, I notice a double standard. Republicans attack Obama for not doing something about high gas prices. He, in fact, did something, including increased drilling and permit approval. Not a sound of approval from his critics, and not much coverage in the media. In the spring, Obama also outlines his plan to rein in speculators. By the first day of summer oil prices were off 21% from their April highs.

Republicans blame Obama for not doing something about gas prices even as they insist government should stay out of free markets. He does something, brings down prices, and they call it government meddling. Weren't you the guys blaming him for not doing anything?

Feckless assholes

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