Obama goes back to Bush playbook and declares war on “price gouging” oil companies

"I’m concerned about higher gasoline prices. The government has the responsibility to make sure that we watch very carefully and investigate possible price-gouging, and we will do just that." — George W. Bush, 4/17/2006

Congress is vowing to take actions that it believes will reverse runaway crude and gasoline prices. Oil rose above $136 a barrel on Monday – more than double what it cost a year ago – and gas hovered around $4.07 a gallon.” – CNN, 6/24/2008

"We are going to make sure that nobody is taking advantage of American consumers for their own short-term gain." – Barack Obama, 4/20/2011

gasprices21Whenever the price of gas spikes the call goes out from Washington to investigate price gouging. Unfortunately, this leads to one of the great intellectual challenges of capitalism: Defining price gouging. Problem is no one can separate “taking advantage of consumers for short-term gain” from what is usually called profit taking.

To quote Collateral Damage Sr.: "In a society that has a free market fetish, if not a religion, what is price gouging? Is nine percent profit gouging the price? Or 15 or 50 percent? At what price point does profit change into gouged profit?"

Well, here are a few samples from people who have tried to split that particular hair.

First, former Rep. Bart Stupak, (D-Mich), from 2006:

When we were doing the Energy Policy Act last fall, in the town of Midland, right by my district there, gas went up 90 cents in one day. Now, is that not gouging?

If you take a look at it, from September 2004 until September 2005, refineries have increased their prices 255 percent. Isn’t that gouging?

I mean, I think we all know what gouging is. What we need is a federal standard so we can hold the oil companies’ feet to the fire and make sure we know what factor goes into every gallon of gasoline, so at least the American public will have some transparency and get a fair shake on what goes into a price of a gallon of gasoline.”

Next up:

New York State law prohibits price gouging during a state of emergency. The law specifically provides that, in order to prevent any party from taking unfair advantage of consumers during an abnormal disruption of the market, the charging of "unconscionably excessive" prices is prohibited.”

I like that one the best because it is by the former Attorney General/Governor of New York, Eliot Spitzer. Did he wonder about price gouging as he paid all those ladies of negotiable morality?

And finally this one from the very accurately named blog, Neutral Source:

There is no objective definition. Economists–who specialize in price theory and the behavior of markets and can study these things ad nauseum–have no definition for it, either. In fact, economists have avoided the term as if it were a social disease. A review of all the microeconomics textbooks on Neutral Source’s bookshelf reveals that none have as much as an index entry.”

Price gouging, like porn, is in the eye of the beholder. One thing everyone agrees on about it is that it is always committed by someone else.

For businesses price gouging is "when my competitor gets away with charging more than I thought to charge."

For the general public, price gouging is when a company that I don’t work for or have investments in is charging me too much. Profits are when my company is making enough money to not lay me off.

Actually addressing this problem would involve fundamental changes in our system that are much needed but which no one is willing to actually contemplate. Instead we will get more of this Kabuki Theater. The next act will come when the oil companies declare their quarterly earnings. This will be followed by bi-partisan denunciation of  their “excessive profits” and a number of bills will be proposed which will go nowhere.  Then the oil companies will attempt some sort of PR move to show that they are really nice guys and that will be that.

 

Congress waffles in face of national Eggo shortage

eggohide1Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi  is calling for swift action in response to a national Eggo frozen waffle shortage. In a speech today at the International House of Pancakes, Pelosi (DNot Amused) said the nation could not wait while the nation’s children were forced to pick something else for breakfast.

“This poses a threat to the entire educational system,” she said. “The time lost to choosing another breakfast food will cause massive delays of school start times which could snowball through the entire school day.”

The issue of how to handle the shortage, expected to last until at least next summer, has further polarized an already divided, split, segmented and bisected Capital Hill.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, (R-Cranky), accused the Obama administration of having a socialist Eggo agenda that posed a threat to national security and the economy. “Eggo! Al Qaeda! Dow Jones! Eggo! Al Qaeda! Dow Jones! Eggo! Al Qaeda! Dow Jones!” he said, until Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-To The Right Of You No Matter What) whacked the back of his head.

Earlier in the day, McConnell addressed the issue on a Fox News special, French Toast Sticks: Threat or Menace? At that time McConnell blamed the liberal media before offering to wipe some syrup off the chin of host Glenn Beck.

Pelosi said she would consider a bailout for the waffle industry and a public option for either butter or margarine. In a move widely seen as an attempt to placate moderate Democrats she promised there would be no government mandate for syrup.

Pelosi shattered any possibility of bipartisanship when she decried Republican attempts to link the crisis to Rep. Barney Frank’s waistline. Frank (D-“Those” People) defended himself by saying he owed his chubbiness to Dunkin’ Donuts. “The Massachusetts’ state constitution requires every resident to start the day with an extra huge coffee, regulah, and the donut of his or her choice.” Frank, who has an aide bring him his daily serving,  acknowledged that he may have a donut problem. “I don’t care if it’s sprinkles or coconut or icing,” he said. “But it BETTER HAVE SOMETHING!”

In an unprecedented move, the Obama administration offered a straight-forward opinion on the issue. When asked about the shortage First Lady Michelle Obama sighed, rolled her eyes and made us all feel silly for bringing up the issue in the first place. Later, she was crowned queen of Europe. Her husband is reported to have done something, too.

The shortage is a result of problems at Kellog’s Atlanta and Rossville, Tenn., plants. Eggo production won’t return to normal until it until the middle of 2010, said company spokeswoman Kris Charles. Already customers are noticing near-empty Eggo shelves on the freezer aisle at many grocery stores. This has scared many shoppers until they noticed the store brand frozen waffles.

Congress doesn’t even want to fiddle while Rome burns

I’ve got a gig as a guest blogger over at BlownMortgage.com. Here’s the start of my first post:

Every news story about the bailout makes it sound as if Friday is some sort of do-or-die deadline. It’s not. It is just the day Congress wanted to adjourn so they could get home and do some campaigning. Given the magnitude of the crisis and the size of the pig in this particular poke, it’s time for Congress to get its priorities in order. If ever there was a piece of legislation that needed to be carefully considered, this is it.

Click above to read more.

This is truly a bipartisan issue. Regardless of your political affiliation I urge you to do what I have already done and call your rep, senators and the Speaker of the House about this.

Do I think calling these people will make any difference? No idea. I take the approach of the baseball manager who was asked why he argued with the ump. “It’s all I can do.”

Huzzah for Cynthia McKinney

CynBefore we become consumed by the media frenzy over in what could to be start of the fat lady singing for George Bush, I would like to take this moment to salute the Official US Democratic Rep. Whacko of Collateral Damage, GA Rep. Cynthia McKinney. When last we heard from Ms. McK she was introducing legislation calling for a federal investigation into the murder of Tupac Shakur. But that is history and this week — in case you had the misfortune to miss this story — the Right Hon. Ms. McKinney "was confronted by the officer last week after she went around a metal detector, as lawmakers are allowed to do, in a House office building while not wearing the congressional lapel pin that would identify her as a member of Congress. The officer apparently did not recognize McKinney, who recently changed her hairstyle, and she reportedly poked him with her cell phone when he stopped her." Go to CNN or somesuch and see if you can find the footage of her responses to the incident, it's better than Seinfeld. She later alleged that racism was involved in the whole thing and then later apologized as her fellow Dems were seen to be ducking away her from faster than Dick Cheney's hunting partners. I do not have space to do justice to The Right Hon's lunacy over the years but suffice to say there is an excellent sitcom waiting to be written there.

That said I must throw open the nominations Official US Republican Rep. Whacko of Collateral Damage. Many of my favorites have shuffled off the political stage … where have you gone B-1 Bob Dornan, Helen "Dumbest" Chenoweth, Randy "Duke" Cunningham and Tom Delay? The chair is open to suggestions …

And speaking of Weasel-Like Animals

Joe “More Boring Than Al Gore” Lieberman and La Hillary continue their efforts to grab headlines, I mean protect the US from the threat of video games. Apparently Tweedledee and Tweedledum are tired of wasting just their own time on this — now they want the Centers for Disease Control Prevention to investigate the “impact of electronic media use.” Hmmm, let’s list our priorities for the CDC: Cancer, flu pandemic … video games. Huzzah, I suppose for bipartisan stupidity: Hill & Joe’s legislation calling for/funding this research is being cosponsored by GOP Sens. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania and Sam Brownback of Kansas. Too bad they can’t get together and agree on something that actually matters.