Your Virtual Front Page, Monday, April 25, 2011

Man, I am still worn out from my Easter weekend — went to the beach. Hope yours was nice. Here are the headlines:

  1. NATO Strikes Qaddafi Compound (NYT) — A lot of news outlets are leading with Syria right now, and they’ve got a point. But I’m going with the thing that we are actually, currently, materially involved in. Especially since this represents an escalation.
  2. Syria Military Intensifies Crackdown (WSJ) — Things are coming to a head, and it’s ugly.
  3. Hundreds escape from Afghan jail (BBC) — 470 escapees? Hilts would have said, “You’re crazy. And you’re crazy, too…” The Great Escape, Taliban-style.
  4. Italy ‘to join attacks in Libya’ (BBC) — So if this turns into a World War, this time we’ve got Italy on our side…
  5. GOP’s Barbour will not make 2012 run (WashPost) — Already told you about that. Closest thing I’ve got to a timely “local” story for the front today. Local in the sense of us having the first-in-the-South primary.
  6. Fuel prices causing financial hardship (WashPost) — No doubt about it; I certainly feel it. I’m sure y’all do, too. The question is, are higher gas prices (still lower than in Europe) actually a bad thing in a big-picture sense?

26 thoughts on “Your Virtual Front Page, Monday, April 25, 2011

  1. Doug Ross

    “Are higher gas prices actually a bad thing in a big picture sense?”


    From an Andrew Sullivan link just posted yesterday:

    “The data suggest even a large gasoline tax isn’t likely to cut demand significantly.
    In the short term, a 50% price increase [in the price of oil] produces a 1.2% decrease in consumption. In the long term, it produces a 4.7% decrease.”

    The impact on the travel and tourism industries in a country as large as the U.S. is devastating. The impact on food prices is immediate.

    We need to stop spending on NASA and the military and focus those resources instead on alternative energy.

  2. bud

    The Italians didn’t help the Allies cause much in WW I. Nor were they particularly useful to the Germans in early WW II. And they hardly contributed to the Allies cause after switching sides late in WW II. I doubt things will be much different now.

    Interestingly enough they fell flat in the dessert campaign against the British in 1940-41 and had to be rescued by the Germans. That was in about the same place where the fighting is taking place now. In fact Benghazi was a very important place in 1940-42. My how history has a funny way of repeating itself.

  3. Tim

    NASA and and the military are both pretty important in the energy economy, for basic research (NASA) and the implementation of fuel efficiency (military). DARPA is doing quite a bit of research on fuel efficiency, since the most expensive gallon of gas in the world is one shipped into Afghanistan via C-130.

  4. Mike Montgomery

    One often unmentioned problem is that because we are not drilling here, higher oil prices ship dollars abroad — further harming our trade balance and enriching folks who aren’t interested in doing nice things for the U.S. It seems our government policy on oil exploration and drilling is the most shoot ourselves in the foot policy possible. The only evidence is that drilling here is safer and cleaner than anywhere else in the world. Our drilling is more regulated than that everywhere else — thus we are exporting dollars and jobs on a “NIMBY” theory — We will all be better off if we can increase domestic drilling and supply. Perhaps we can spend dollars on green technology for that purpose — they’ll produce more benefit to our Nation and population than some of the boondoggles which we’re funding offshore now.

  5. Steven Davis

    “Actually not feeling it. Get a fuel efficient car, like a Prius…”

    So the solution to $4.00/gal. gas is to buy a $30,000 Prius. Is that really the most economical way to deal with high gas prices… other than from the mouth of a Toyota car salesman?

  6. Cotton Boll Conspiracy

    “So if this turns into a World War, this time we’ve got Italy on our side…”

    Not exactly reassuring, given Italy’s recent history in warfare.

    Match ’em up against the French, though, and that might be interesting. Neither have had much to brag about over the past 150 years.

    At least the Italians would go into battle with far better looking military vehicles.

  7. bud

    One often unmentioned problem is that because we are not drilling here, higher oil prices ship dollars abroad.

    Of all the conservative baloney this one is at the top of the list. We have more oil wells in the U.S. than any other nation in the world. As of 2009 there were a staggering 363,000 oil wells in the U.S. We drill in the harsh winter climate of the north slope of Alaska, 2 miles under the ocean in the Gulf of Mexico and increasingly in out-of-the way regions of North Dakota. Our oil drilling infrastructure is maxed out so it’s not even possible to drill more even if there were no restrictions. There just aren’t many big fields left to exploit in this country. Oil in the U.S. peaked in 1970 in spite of extreme efforts to bring it to market. We had a couple of mini-peaks since. One was in 1988 when the North Slope oil was peaking. And another last year when many wells in ND and the Gulf came on line along with a mild hurricane season in the Gulf. But regardless of what we do the trend will ALWAYS be down.

    It’s time to face the fact that we need to get around using something other than a dirty substance that’s becoming increasingly expensive and dangerous. The end of the oil era is upon us. And there is no stopping it so we need to accept it and move forward. And yes Steven, cars like the Prius are an important part of that solution. Soon $4 gasoline will seem like a bargain.

  8. Kathryn Fenner (D- SC)

    A new Prius can be had for less than $25K, and there are also plenty of used ones on the market, and Consumer Reports says they have held up great.

    There are also plenty of other fuel efficient vehicles for even less….

  9. Steven Davis

    So the answer to $4.00/gal gas is to buy a $22K Prius (or a $10K one that’s at the end of it’s battery life).

    I can see myself impressing my friends by telling them I saved $200 in gas last year buy spending $22K on a hybrid.

  10. Brad

    What I would say about that, Steven, is that Kathryn’s comment that it can be had “for less than $25K” illustrates a big difference between her and me.

    I last bought a NEW car in 1986. It cost $13,000. I’m still ticked off about that, and feel like I was ripped off. Consequently, I’ve only bought used cars since, and never paid five figures. To me the $5,000 or so I paid for a new VW in 1978 and a new Mazda in ’82 is pretty much the limit on what a car is worth.

    This presents a problem in contemplating buying a Prius…

  11. Brad

    Oh, and that Mazda GLC was awesome. I am SO sorry we traded it in on that station wagon in ’86. It was a far less reliable vehicle. I should have traded in the Rabbit, even though it would have brought less on the trade. I think I’d still be driving that Mazda today.

    And why a station wagon? Our fourth child had just come along, and it was for the first time impossible to fit the whole family into one of our vehicles. Otherwise we would have stayed in compacts, which we preferred.

    I don’t know what to say about these couples you see who have their first child and think they have to run out and get a van, or worse, an SUV… We didn’t make a move like that until it was actually necessary…

  12. bud

    Let’s do some math. A Prius gets around 50 mpg. That big ole ’05 F-150 Pickup with the huge V-8 that will impress everyone gets maybe 15 mpg on a good day. Drive each 15,000 miles and you spend $1200 in the Prius and $4000 in the truck given a $4/gallon gas price. That $2800 savings would make a nice impression on my bank account. And that’s something more worthy of impressing that a bunch of backwards yahoos who can’t even solve a simple math problem.

  13. Doug Ross

    And don’t get too hoity-toity over the gas savings you’re getting from the Prius. Several states are beginning plans to tax drivers on miles driven instead of using gas taxes.

    And in addition to that, “the CBO has released a report on a potential mileage tax at the behest of Democratic Sen. Kent Conrad (N.D.), the chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, the Hill reports. While tracking mileage was once considered infeasible, the CBO concluded that new technologies have changed that. ”

    I’d like to see Obama have the guts to try and push that tax through before 2012. We all know it won’t be touched until after the election.

  14. Steven Davis

    I’m looking at new cars, but refuse to have what appears to be another mortgage payment coming out of my checking account each month. Looks like I’ll be driving my current vehicle for a while longer.

    Even a $25K loan comes to around $500/month for 4 years. And don’t get me started on people who finance a vehicle for 5-6 years. If you can’t pay it off in 4 years, you can’t afford that vehicle.

  15. Pat

    I’ve thought about getting a Prius a lot. I have a Camry now and get good mileage. A trade-in, should really bring 25k down. I get that Brad has done the math and it really is more cost effective to get the 1st year depreciation out of the way, but then Brad is probably better at judging an older car than I am. Kathryn, does it have to be charged on a long trip or does the gas engine charge it? I don’t really understand how it works. I did hear on NPR today that an insurance company judged 2 (hybrids, I guess)as safer vehicles. one was a Nissan.

  16. Pat

    On the economic effects of high gas prices, groceries really go up and never come down. People can decide not to take vacations but high groceries prices make it hard for the average American. The fact that the OPEC oil crisis was 30 years ago and we still have no viable energy policy makes me angry.

  17. Steven Davis

    Okay let’s try this again.

    @bud – That’s half the equation, you need to factor in the cost of the 50 mpg vehicle… since there isn’t one in my driveway.

  18. Kathryn Fenner (D- SC)

    FWIW, Doug, we have 45K on a 2007 model–not bad, and that includes at least 4 2,000 mile vacations, and my weekly trips to Chucktown.

    I didn’t say you’d impress your friends, Steven–you could save some money, though, if you looked around.

    and Brad–my remark was directed at Steven’s remark that he didn’t have $30K for a Prius. Your life is kind of an outlier, I hope. Most people would find a $23K new car a deal, especially if it got amazing gas mileage, had a back-up camera, and so on….and you can also get plenty of reliable fuel efficient vehicles for less than $10k according to the April issue of Consumer Reports. I hope more people will make that choice.

  19. Steven Davis

    @Kathryn, It’s going to look kind of funny trying to pull a 5th wheel camper with a Prius, or have to take 30 trips to go buy 30 bails of pine straw.

    By “impress” I meant the fact of spending $22K to save $200 in gas. There was a study out that stated that buying a Prius for the sole purpose of saving money on gas was a losing proposition, that the car would be worn out before you reached the break even point over buying a non-hybrid version of a similar sized vehicle.

    To use bud’s numbers, I don’t see spending $4800 in car payments each year to save $2800 in gas useage. You don’t have to have a PhD in Accounting to realize that is a bad investment. Now maybe when it’s time to buy a new vehicle, but not just off the cuff.

  20. Steven Davis

    Cross-country roadtrips in a Prius? That has to be brutal. To me this is a commuter vehicle.

    Why would anyone need a backup camera on a vehicle that small? You could turn around and put nose prints on the back window.

    Even buying a used $10,000 vehicle still calculates into additional costs to get an extra 20 mpg. Can anyone really get by with only a Prius as their only vehicle? Do you pack up your husband and two dogs and head off for the week in your Prius?

  21. Kathryn Fenner (D- SC)

    Use a tent or rent a larger vehicle when you need it. We haul a lot of bales of pine straw in the hatchback of the Prius.

    Now, we aren’t landscapers, but you can get six bales in the back of our car.

  22. Kathryn Fenner (D- SC)

    The Prius is very comfortable, and it’s the second largest vehicle I’ve ever owned–seats five tall adults quite comfortably.

    Our German Shepherd and Weimaraner go in the smaller Jetta–with our week’s worth of luggage–but we travel fairly light.

    My husband and I went for a week in my old BMW Z3 once…including some kitchen stuff.

  23. Pat

    To me, one would only buy a car when it was time to buy a car. I’ve read buying a new car can be efficient if you plan to keep it 10 years. I’ve had mine 8 with 133000 miles. If I were wise, I would save the equivalent of a car payment and pay cash when I bought.
    @Steven, certainly lifestyle would play into a decision, but I still wouldn’t want a gas hog for my daily trips. We do have a yard and keep an old truck to do the dirty work.
    But this conversation isn’t just about saving money, it’s about reducing our dependence on foreign oil, lowering our country’s demand for it. Supply and demand determine the price. Then there is the health factor with smog, ozone, etc. It is a responsible consideration when purchasing a vehicle. And as a government, we need a comprehensive energy policy.


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