Oh Goody

Great news, huh?

The cost of filling up your car is about to go higher.

Seasonal influences account for much of the expected increase that many analysts say will push gasoline (at a nationwide average of $2.70 yesterday) to at least $3 a gallon this spring. Rising oil prices also are a factor in higher gasoline prices.

Wholesale prices for the April gasoline contract on the New York Mercantile Exchange are about 10 to 12 cents higher than the March contract, which expired Friday. Much of the rise comes from refiners’ switching to more expensive summer blends of gasoline designed to meet tougher pollution standards in effect between April and September. The higher prices should make their way to the pump over the next few weeks.

At $3 per gallon, a typical motorist using 50 gallons of gasoline would pay about $150 per month for fuel. That is about $15 a month more than current prices, according to OilPrice Information Service.

Prices have moved higher the past two weeks, approaching the 2010 high of $2.7583 per gallon set on Jan. 14. In the past week prices climbed 5.7 cents and are now 78.4 cents higher than year ago levels.

A House On Fire

Jack Metzgar from the Chicago Institute for Working Class Studies, on the need to address the unemployment crisis before it becomes further embedded:

The American labor movement has been making that 9-1-1 call to the White House for several months now, and not getting through. Unions in coalition with the Center for Community Change and the National Urban League are backing variations of “A Five-Point Plan to Stem the U.S. Jobs Crisis”. The plan would create (or save) more than 4 million jobs. Though it would add $400 billion to the federal government deficit this year, it would be paid for over the next 10 years by a small (1/2 of 1%) tax on stock trades and other financial instruments — a tax initially proposed more than a decade ago to discourage speculative investment of the sort that led to the financial meltdown in 2008. In other words, the tax is probably a good idea anyway, would be paid only by investors, and it would allow job creation now to reduce the national debt in the long run. Economists from the AFL-CIO and its rival Change to Win met with White House economists to advocate for this program about the same time as Don Peck’s article appeared. The response, I’m told, was “politely dismissive.”

As a Chicagoan who roots for our home-town heroes, I’ve been especially forgiving of Barack Obama. Most of his critics seem to me to underestimate the level of difficulty Obama has faced given the character, severity, and timing of the Great Recession, the anti-functional rules of the U.S. Senate, the complexity of health care economics, and many other things. But it is not difficult for a U.S. President to prioritize a house on fire over a crack in the foundation. Part of the President’s job is to set the agenda for what gets public attention. By establishing a bi-partisan commission to address the national debt while presenting a budget that basically says double-digit unemployment is acceptable for the next couple years, the President is making errors of both mind and heart. It also seems like really dumb politics. Pick up the phone, Barack, the house is on fire.

Ungodly Women

I’d say that like most extremists, the people handing out these pamphlets are likely far too consumed with their own fantasies of what “ungodly women” do with their genitalia.

I mean, it’s a fairly well-known fact that the way rape victims dress has nothing to do with their rape. As I recall, the latest research shows you’re more likely to be targeted if you’re modestly dressed.

But that kind of misses the point, doesn’t it? You’d think religious groups could, you know, just tell men not to rape. If they believe gay men can become straight through prayer and willpower, why do they make this blanket exemption for heterosexual men, blaming women for inciting them to rape instead of telling them to keep their junk in their pants and NOT RAPE PEOPLE?

If I were a young rape victim and someone handed me something like that, I think I’d have to break something – probably their car window.

Punish Them

When even Warren Buffett, who is no Boy Scout himself, is calling them out, you know it’s bad:

NEW YORK (MarketWatch) — Warren Buffett, the world’s most famous investor, launched an attack Saturday on big-bank executives, calling for penalties for those who led their companies to near-ruin.

In his latest letter to shareholders, the chairman of Berkshire Hathaway Inc. decried the fact that while shareholders suffered during the recent crash, the top people at the banks got off relatively lightly.

“It has not been shareholders who have botched the operations of some of our country’s largest financial institutions,” wrote Buffett. “Yet they have borne the burden, with 90% or more of the value of their holdings wiped out in most cases of failure. Collectively, they have lost more than $500 billion in just the four largest financial fiascos of the last two years. To say these owners have been ‘bailed-out’ is to make a mockery of the term.

“The CEOs and directors of the failed companies, however, have largely gone unscathed. Their fortunes may have been diminished by the disasters they oversaw, but they still live in grand style,” added Buffett.

Finacial ‘Reform’

There goes Krugman, making sense again:

So here’s the situation. We’ve been through the second-worst financial crisis in the history of the world, and we’ve barely begun to recover: 29 million Americans either can’t find jobs or can’t find full-time work. Yet all momentum for serious banking reform has been lost. The question now seems to be whether we’ll get a watered-down bill or no bill at all. And I hate to say this, but the second option is starting to look preferable.

[,,,] There’s no question that consumers need much better protection. The late Edward Gramlich — a Federal Reserve official who tried in vain to get Alan Greenspan to act against predatory lending — summarized the case perfectly back in 2007: “Why are the most risky loan products sold to the least sophisticated borrowers? The question answers itself — the least sophisticated borrowers are probably duped into taking these products.”

Is it important that this protection be provided by an independent agency? It must be, or lobbyists wouldn’t be campaigning so hard to prevent that agency’s creation.

And it’s not hard to see why. Some have argued that the job of protecting consumers can and should be done either by the Fed or — as in one compromise that at this point seems unlikely — by a unit within the Treasury Department. But remember, not that long ago Mr. Greenspan was Fed chairman and John Snow was Treasury secretary. Case closed. The only way consumers will be protected under future antiregulation administrations — and believe me, given the power of the financial lobby, there will be such administrations — is if there’s an agency whose whole reason for being is to police bank abuses.

In summary, then, it’s time to draw a line in the sand. No reform, coupled with a campaign to name and shame the people responsible, is better than a cosmetic reform that just covers up failure to act.

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