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powderkeg america
molotov cocktails? not at $5 per gallon.
by russ carr (@DocOrlando70)

If you haven't contemplated blowing up something or someone by now, you must be either stupid or ignorant. I'm prepared to bet hard currency for the former, but in case it's the latter, read on; I'm going to take away that crutch.

For starters, wrap your head around this number: $515,129,536. That's over half a billion-with-a-B dollars. That's how much money, as of April 21*, the three leading presidential candidates (sorry, Ron Paul) have raised for their campaign war chests, according to Federal Election Commission reports. Add to that the $221,837,789 in party coffers, and you're up to $736,967,325. That figure doesn't include the roughly $56M the other candidates of both parties spent before dropping out. That puts us at just under $800 million so far.

But that's not all. For instance, Hillary Clinton raised $10M in one day in the wake of her Pennsylvania primary win last week. Only Jerry Lewis can pull down more money in 24 hours. It works out to roughly $416,000 per hour.

By contrast, minimum wage in the United States is $5.85 an hour. At minimum wage, a worker would need to work for 1,709,401 hours (and 42 minutes) to earn $10 million. Working an eight-hour day, that works out to...821.8 years...with no vacation.

Explain to me again how Hillary is just plain folks.

Barack Obama has raised significantly more (~$235M) than Hillary (~$175M). John McCain, by contrast, has raised only $75 million. That's not out of the neighborhood of a really good Powerball jackpot. But it's still more money than I, and probably you, will ever see. It's virtually assured that in the remaining six and a half months, well more than $200M will be cajoled and extorted from American pockets, pushing campaign budgets past the $1BN mark for the first time.

One billion dollars on a pissing contest. That's an apt analogy, given that all that cash has essentially been flushed down the crapper. That one billion dollars isn't feeding or housing anyone... except the candidates and their minions. It's not reducing personal debt, protecting our shores, improving the environment, administering justice or protecting civil liberties. It's one billion dollars that will purchase nothing but rhetoric and promises, weighed against the certainty that despite all the money spent by all the candidates, only one will win.

Now the next thing.

Economic reality smacked my face last Thursday afternoon. First, I went grocery shopping at this little international market I know. Walking into this place is like visiting another planet. Some of the stuff they sell might even give Anthony Bourdain pause. But there's a common culinary denominator in the place: the big bags of rice that sit on pallets by the front windows. Everyone buys it. As of this week, there's a limit on how many you can buy. I'd heard about recent grain rationing in Asia and Africa. Then it came to Sam's and Costco. Now it's at my mom and pop market. I wasn't buying, nor have I ever bought, rice in 25 lb. sacks. But suddenly I considered the profit potential of dealing rice to tapped-out Vietnamese. A mercenary tactic, but in today's economy, I guarantee you someone's gonna do it.

On the way home, I saw gas for a staggering $3.41 a gallon. But I pulled into the station lot and waited in line to fuel up, because every other station I'd seen had already jumped to $3.59. When the guy I'd been waiting behind pulled away, I started to move forward, when out of nowhere, a woman in a minivan came charging in from the opposite direction, gesticulating wildly and mouthing unheard commentary. She appeared willing to accept whatever dings and dents would come from claiming her territory. I prefer my car unbent, so I settled for the next available pump, though it required significant wriggling into position, as I could no longer go around Her Majesty's Odyssey. I fueled, I paid, I left. I may have muttered some unimaginative conjecture about her breeding (no AKC, she) as I pulled from the parking lot.

But here's the real bitch in the story. Chevron, America's #2 oil company, posted a company-record $18.7 billion dollar profit last year. ExxonMobil, the big kahuna, cleared $40.6 billion. But to hear an interview with PR flacks from either company, they're selling gas at a loss. Through some weird logic, they've determined that they're selling gas too cheap to pay for all the oil, which means they're going to have to produce less, and sell for more, just to break even.

Seems like they're doing their damnedest to break even as fast as they can, and then some.

People are dependent on gas, and yes, they're going to keep buying it because they have to. But they're going to buy less, and they're going to stop buying a soda and a bag of chips inside the adjoining minimart. Gas prices then rise to compensate for the diminished sales, and the vicious cycle continues. Gradually more and more people will face the "food or gas" dilemma. Of course, they won't be able to afford the food, either, because the high cost of fuel has jacked up transport costs, which in turn forces retailers to raise their prices, and/or to simply order less food. That leads us to high prices and food rationing.

And that leads to riots, at least in southeast Asia and Africa. But tomorrow the riots could be at Sam's and Costco, or the mom and pop market. Or down at the Exxon station.

Think it can't happen here? Give it time. Wait 'til summer, when gas is well over $4 per gallon, when food prices continue to escalate and rationing becomes more widespread. Wait 'til the weather heats up, and people can't afford to run their air conditioning. Wait 'til our billion-dollar candidates are on TV in full-on huckster mode, slinging pie-in-the-sky while people go hungry. Wait for the rancor of the Democratic National Convention.

This summer is going to be a powderkeg.

*According to reports from the Federal Election Commission.


If the media is the eye on the world, Russ Carr is the finger in that eye. Tune in each month to see him dispersing the smoke and smashing the mirrors of modern mass communication. The world lost Russ on 2/7/12, but he lives on.

more about russ carr


read 'em and weep
corporate newspapers, time to suck it up
by russ carr
topic: news
published: 2.18.09

without control, there's only chaos
it's time to get smart and 86 the 99
by russ carr
topic: news
published: 11.23.11


robert melos
4.28.08 @ 2:48a

I'm all for anarchy.

jeffrey walker
4.28.08 @ 10:05a

To quote ol' Bill Clinton, "I feel your pain." Probably a lot of us do. Sadly, I'm not sure that it's translating into widespread outrage in America. People keep taking hits to the pocketbook like Rocky took hits from the Russian in IV, but they continue moving forward like zombies. Where's the hate?

alex b
4.28.08 @ 7:26p

In a smaller context, I heard that Hillary's campaign spent $5,000 just so all her people could have 212 numbers- a badass-looking Manhattan area code- for their cellphones. 5 grand didn't feed anyone here either. "Plain folks" my ass. I'm with Robert.

reem al-omari
4.28.08 @ 7:35p

There is a picture I will always remember from the depression of the 1930s. It's a picture of a woman with her two young sons, just sitting there, waiting. Her face is weather-beaten. Her clothes are rags and her sons are leaning on her and hiding their faces. The look on her face is that of someone wondering where the next meal is gonna come from.

That picture has been coming into mind a lot lately, and I think it's very fitting.

robert melos
4.28.08 @ 10:59p

Walker is right, people just keeping taking the hits. The price of gas keeps going up and in my area all I hear people saying is, "what can you do?" They shrug and fill their tanks. I also see them using a lot of credit cards, and I know many of them are just paying the minimum, as am I now. You never get out of debt that way, but you need to survive for the moment. No gas means I don't drive, not driving means in my line of work I don't work. Not working means I don't pay my mortgage, and that means I lose my house and am living on the street begging and hitting up social services for welfare. From there things just get ugly and I don't want to think about them.

The American people are too much the sheep. I'm all for anarchy, and so are many of them, but they need it organized and scheduled in-between soccer games for their kids and play dates, hair appointments. True anarchy in America is just a very nice dream.

russ carr
4.29.08 @ 8:24a

Three cheers for Shell! More record profits thanks to us, America:

AMSTERDAM, Netherlands - Royal Dutch Shell PLC reported a 25 percent rise in first-quarter earnings on Tuesday, crediting strong increases in oil prices.

Europe's largest oil company said its average selling price of crude oil leaped by 66 percent to more than $90 per barrel from the first quarter a year ago.

That sent net profit soaring to a record $9.08 billion, up from $7.28 billion. Sales rose 55 percent to $114 billion.

lucy lediaev
4.29.08 @ 11:53a

I'd kill for gas at $3.41 a gallon. I just filled the tank on my Prius (thank God!) at $3.93 a gallon. California, where much of the oil is pumped and refined and where we have ports, has the highest prices in the country. Go figure! When I go anywhere with one of my friends, we take my Prius and not his top of the line classic Jag!

I feel for families who are on limited or fixed incomes and are driving elderly gas guzzlers. Hard choices: feed your kids or have gas to get to work? Heat your house or buy your kid new sneakers? I expect to see crime rise here in the LA area, because we have a large population of minimum wage earners with few skills and limited English. Nonetheless, they have to feed their kids.

russ carr
4.29.08 @ 12:57p

This isn't exactly 1968 all over again, but the thought of it kept rolling through my mind while I wrote the column. There's an unpopular war, a lame duck president, dissention in the ranks of the Democratic party (simultaneously feeding into racial issues) and substantial economic uncertainty. We have not, thank God, had any assassinations -- even attempted ones -- but that's not to say that reflections on MLK didn't hover over the campaign trail at the early part of this month, and it's a sure thing that we'll hear more about Bobby Kennedy before the summer is out.

Now I read that Howard "YEEEEAHHH!" Dean is putting the screws to the two Democratic candidates, that one of them needs to drop out by June for the good of the party, so that there can be consensus going into the DNC. Even if Clinton or Obama were to drop out, do you honestly think that's going to be a miracle cure? It seems like every week I see a poll where registered Democrats claim they'll vote for McCain if their preferred Dem. candidate doesn't get the party nomination.

Dean did a ham-fisted job of trying to browbeat states into following his schedule for the primaries; can we expect he'll be any better at trying to wrangle both the candidates AND their delegates?

jeffrey walker
4.29.08 @ 1:07p

I see a poll where registered Democrats claim they'll vote for McCain if their preferred Dem. candidate doesn't get the party nomination.

BS! Does anyone seriously believe this? Is ANY democrat really that upset?

Please. It's as much of a sham as the lie that Nader cost democrats the 2000 election. In fact, I think that this is a lie put forward BY democrats as a planted scapegoat if and when they can't manage to win this election.

And Dean has no control. Read more carefully his statement - he says that the DNC isn't forcing anyone out, but claims that by June, "they'll know" if it's time to get out. -- we'll see.


erik myers
4.29.08 @ 1:15p

It seems like every week I see a poll where registered Democrats claim they'll vote for McCain if their preferred Dem. candidate doesn't get the party nomination.

There's a lot of that going around, but I don't see it as any sort of reality. For hardcore left Dems, a vote for McCain really is a vote against their core values. At the end of the day, many of the differences between Obama and Clinton comes down to style, rather than substance.

But! Not why I wanted to comment: Your oil thing is dead on, but something has always bothered me about it.

So, they're selling gas at a loss, and are struggling to break even, and then posting billion dollar profits.

Am I misunderstanding the definition of "profit?" Profit = net income. It means that income exceeds cost of goods by (ugh!) $40.6 BILLION.

Seriously? wtf?

russ carr
4.29.08 @ 1:37p

There's a story on CNN's politics page today about how the candidates would deal with the gas price issue. Apparently Clinton and McCain are both in favor of a "Gas Tax Holiday" this summer, which would pull something like 19 cents off the price of gasoline, and about 24 cents off the price of diesel. Clinton would go one further, levying a "Windfall Profits Tax" on Big Oil, demanding 50% of any profit over a certain amount.

I have a feeling that oil company profits would plummet...but that gas prices wouldn't necessarily follow. I'm sure there are all kinds of ways that overage could get recirculated in the budget. They're already claiming they're not making money. They just have to be even better at not making money.

robert melos
4.29.08 @ 5:27p

I see a poll where registered Democrats claim they'll vote for McCain if their preferred Dem. candidate doesn't get the party nomination.

BS! Does anyone seriously believe this? Is ANY democrat really that upset?

I considered McCain. I don't particularly like him, although since I don't care one way or the other about health care because I don't believe a word out of any doctor's mouth and would not take any meds other than pain killers, his solution for the health care problem doesn't interest me. His solution for the war isn't good, and I really don't know what he or anyone else can do to correct the economic problems in America.

On the other hand I don't like Obama. He doesn't move me. I've listened to his speeches, and they don't make me believe in him, or believe he can make this situation any better.

I know Clinton lies. I also know she will do whatever it takes to get what she wants, and I like that in a person.

I still stand by my belief that people in America won't riot in large numbers if they riot at all. Civil unrest just won't happen in an organized way that would make a difference. If people did riot against gas prices as a form of protest it would probably take place in the porrest cities, or poorest sections of cities and they would only end up destroying their own neighborhoods.

Even if anarchists attacked the oil companies the big companies would only pass the costs on to the consumer. I love the windfall profit tax on the oil companies, but the chances of that happening are slim to none, and I agree the price of gas might not come down much or any because the corporations would find a way of redirecting the profits.

mike julianelle
4.29.08 @ 6:25p

I read a cool fairy tale of a column on Slate.com proposing that Obama drop out.

The logic was:

Hillary will NEVER drop out, so Obama drops out to spare the party the conflict, all the bullshit Obama supporters vote for McCain, who wins easily, the Democratic party implodes, Obama stands as a pillar of integrity, the "true to his word and values" guy, takes unquestioned leadership of the party and rebuilds it with his base, then takes the White House in 2012, hands down.

dan gonzalez
5.7.08 @ 2:51a

Look, this is just democrats being democrats. Big-time bigots, but they somehow have the market cornered on 'diversity' and the other horseshit ideals that they exploit for partisan gain.

The DNC motto has effectively become 'just roll over America, and bite the pillow if it hurts. It is, after all, in your best interest, you ignorant 'working class' assholes!'.

So this is only a big deal because the dems have not one, but two mascot candidates that they are oh so eager to endorse, but they can't decide which horribly victimized minority deserves to be president first.

They are effectively stuck, but they also feel, with their highly-tuned, ultra-sensitive emotions and all, that this is a huge year, and one they want to make a statement in.

Dumb-asses. WE DO THIS EVERY FOUR YEARS! Let's not act like a bunch of fucking schoolkids voting their own personal homecoming queen every time.

lucy lediaev
5.15.08 @ 4:32p

Note on SoCal gas prices: Passed a Mobile station today where regular unleaded gas was $3.95. Next step up was $4.05, and the top one was $4.15. I filled up a couple of days ago at "only" $3.89 for regular unleaded. I buy gas mostly in the San Fernando Valley. Other areas in the LA basin are higher AND prices in No. California are higher yet. Today was "ride your bike to work day" and I saw only three (non-kid) bike riders on my 20 mile drive to work today.

Going to a play in Long Beach from Burbank tonight. Will try the subway to light rail system for the first time. For once, the rail system is actually going somewhere I want to go. Driving LA freeways on Thursday evening is torture, even without the volatile and ever-rising gas prices.

russ carr
6.5.08 @ 9:59p

Well, at least one woman has decided to strike a match in protest, even going so far as trying to take out a Starbucks for good measure:

Woman accused of setting gas price protest fires

DANVILLE, CA - A Danville woman faces arson charges after she allegedly set fires at two gas stations and a coffee house, saying she was protesting high gas prices.

The woman, 64, remained Thursday in a Contra Costa jail on $810,000 bail on suspicion of premeditated arson and burglary.

Police say the woman used a fireplace log and a lighter to set fires in the restrooms of an Arco station, a Chevron station and a Starbucks on Wednesday. No structural damage was reported at the locations.

Police later found the woman at a nearby fast food restaurant with eight fireplace logs with her. She told officers that she was behind the fires and said she woke up that morning wanting to do something about high gas prices.

Police say they don't know why she targeted the Starbucks.

Charges have not yet been filed, and it's not clear if the woman has a lawyer in the case.


russ carr
7.31.08 @ 8:56a

Update! From CNN's front page, just a moment ago:

"Exxon Mobil once again reported the largest quarterly profit in U.S. history Thursday, posting net income of $11.68 billion on revenue of $138 billion in the second quarter. That profit works out to $1,485.55 a second. That barely beat the previous corporate record of $11.66 billion, also set by Exxon in the fourth quarter of 2007."

adam kraemer
5.19.09 @ 10:58p

Or not.

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