Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

Eight predictions for 2015

These are from The Federalist.

The list:

  1. The oil stimulus
  2. The EPA’s war on energy
  3. The Supreme Court gets another shot at ObamaCare
  4. Republicans will have just enough power to fight over it
  5. Will anyone challenge Hillary?
  6. A police rebellion
  7. Russia will be in trouble and will be trouble
  8. Did anybody tell the enemy the war is over?

Here’s the one I want to highlight, because it’s the one that concerns me most, at least until we get a Republican President:

7) Russia will be in trouble and will be trouble.

One of the most enjoyable consequences of the oil price collapse is seeing how it takes the wind out of the sails of a whole collection of evil regimes.

Oil is the dictators’ best friend. It is a steady source of revenue that can be maintained and controlled by the government, often with the help of foreign subcontractors, even when government controls, corruption, and cronyism have crushed the rest of the economy. So a collapse in the price of oil is a disaster for the bad guys.

Nobody is getting hit worse than the regime in Venezuela, which is now on the verge of defaulting on its debt. Since Venezuela has been a big economic sponsor of the regime in Cuba, you can see how a Venezuelan collapse will affect Cuba—and may well be the reason the Castros are seeking a lifeline from President Obama.

But the big geopolitical implications will come from the impact of the oil collapse on Russia. For years, the conventional wisdom has been that Europe is dependent on buying Russian oil and gas; now we’re about to see to what extent Russia is dependent on selling its oil and gas to Europe.

The downside is, as Megan McArdle puts it, “Russia’s Problems Are Everyone’s Problems.” “[T]he world is about to experience a major financial crisis in a country that seems to deal with its internal troubles by slicing off bits of neighboring countries.” Like its leader, Vladimir Putin, Russia is a country with a Napoleon complex: the smaller and weaker it gets, the more belligerent it becomes, as a form of overcompensation.

But shirtless macho posturing only gets you so far when you don’t have the cash to back it up. There is some speculation that a financial crisis could lead to defections in Russia’s “near abroad,” its ring of former Soviet republics and fellow kleptocracies. Then there’s the fact that Putin’s aggression has permanently alienated Ukraine, which is now taking steps toward joining NATO. Meanwhile, the Baltic states are increasing their defense budgets. One hopes that other European nations will follow, at a time when Russia is not in a position to match their spending.

I think Russia is weak enough that Putin would slink away with his tail between his legs, if we had an American leader with the guts to call his bluff. But that’s not going to happen, so in 2015, look for a volatile mix of greater belligerence and diminished capability.

When I hear about the collapse of the Russian currency, it makes me worry that we could a lot of scary scenarios as Putin tries to hold his state together.

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Good news: Venezuelan President complains that fracking is “flooding” oil markets

Gas prices vs domestic oil production

Gas prices vs domestic oil production

(Click for larger image. Source)

Why are gas prices so low all of a sudden?

Well, let’s ask the communist President of Venezuela:

The broadcast networks may not want to give credit to hydraulic fracturing for increasing U.S. oil production and lowering global oil prices, but at least one angry world leader did just that.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro complained that fracking in the U.S. has “flooded” the world market and contributed to lower oil prices, a connection that broadcast networks’ evening news reports barely made recently.

“The oil they’re taking from (shale deposits) and the gas. They’ve flooded the international market to batter the Russian economy …, Iran and to hurt us, Venezuela,” Maduro said in a broadcast on VTV, a state-run TV channel in Venezuela, according to Fox News Latino.

Fracking has been one cause of increased oil production in the U.S. That increased production helped lower oil prices by more than 30 percent since September 29. The decline in oil prices since June has severely impacted Venezuela, since oil exports were a major source of government income. “Some estimates put the break-even price for Venezuela to balance its budget at around $121 a barrel,” CNBC reported on December 7. That’s more than double current oil prices. Oil closed at $59.15-per-barrel on December 11.

As of January 2014, Venezuela’s state-run oil company brought in 96 percent of foreign earnings, according to The Economist. Maduro announced on December 2 that the government would cut spending by 20 percent.

[…]Venezuela was experiencing particular difficulties. That economy was on the verge of collapsing, CNBC said on Dec. 1. If low oil prices continued, Venezuela may face a “game over” situation and “barbarity and people looting.”

Do you know who else is hurt by this? Russia. I sure hope they don’t do anything aggressive to their neighbors while their economy feels the pinch of lower gas prices.

It’s a good thing when villains shake their fists at us, but it’s a better thing when consumers pay less for gas:

Thanks in part to the widespread use of technologies like hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling, global oil prices plummeted in 2014. Energy experts even predicted the U.S. could be the top oil producer in the next several years.

[…]Fracking and other advanced technologies helped the U.S. nearly double its average daily output of oil, from 5 million barrels in 2008 to an expected 9.42 million barrels in 2015. The huge supply increase was one factor sending crude oil prices down. Crude fell by more than 32 percent, from $93 to $63 just since Sept. 29. This already drove gas prices down to a national average of $2.66 for regular on Dec. 9, according to AAA.

This is great news for consumers and businesses which could save as much as $1.3 trillion worldwide because of lower oil prices, according to Julian Jessop, chief global economist at Capital Economics in London. Here in the U.S., Americans could save $230 billion if prices remain low for the next year, The Washington Post said on Dec. 1.

The only bad side to this story is that fracking is an expensive way of drilling, so as the price of oil drops, energy companies will be scaling back fracking until it becomes profitable again.

I think this story is important, because it helps to explain what the people who oppose the Keystone XL pipeline are concerned about. They know that there are two results to allowing that pipeline to be built. First, a hell of a lot of jobs will be created, reducing dependency on government. Second, the price of gas at the pump will go down further. That’s what the environmentalists (and their Democrat allies in Washington) are seeking to avoid. They want more government dependency, and higher gas prices.

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Democrat who has served 38 years in Congress down 14 points in latest poll

Michael Barone reports on it in the Washington Examiner.

Excerpt:

Here’s an astonishing poll: David Freddoso at Conservative Intelligence Briefing links to a report by the Washington Post’s Aaron Blake that West Virginia 3rd district incumbent Rep. Nick Rahall trails Republican challenger state Sen. Evan Jenkins by a 54-percent to 40-percent margin. The poll was conducted by the Tarrance Group, a Republican firm which, like several Democratic and other Republican firms, has had a good record for reliability over the years.

This is astonishing for several reasons. Rahall, first elected in 1976, is now the seventh most senior member of the House, with three of the more senior members retiring (John Dingell, Henry Waxman, George Miller) and another with a serious primary challenge (Charlie Rangel). Moreover, his district in southern West Virginia has historically been very Democratic; in its previous boundaries it voted for Walter Mondale overRonald Reagan in 1984. Rahall won in 1976 by 46 percent to 37 percent over Ken Hechler, his predecessor in the seat, who after losing a Democratic primary for governor ran as a write-in candidate; the Republican nominee received only 18 percent of the vote. From 1978 to 2008, Rahall was re-elected with at least 64 percent of the vote, except in 1990 when he beat Republican Marianne Brewster by only 52 percent to 48 percent.

But this is coal country, and Rahall’s margins have gone down after President Obama was elected president. In 2010, Rahall won by a reduced margin of 56 percent to 44 percent, and in 2012, his margin was only 54 percent to 46 percent. Obama’s unpopularity surely cost him: John McCain carried the district within its then-boundaries by a 56-percent to 42-percent margin in 2008, and Mitt Romney carried the current district 65 percent to 33 percent in 2012. Rahall is ranking Democrat on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and was Chairman of the Natural Resources Committee when Democrats had a majority in the House; these are committee positions of importance to a mountainous coal district, but apparently they are not enough to help him now.

So, this time the culprit isn’t Obama’s terrible health care policy, it’s Obama’s terrible energy policy. Remember, the Environmental Protection Agency basically banned construction on all future coal plants which cost a lot of jobs. Not only that, but coal plants have been closing because of Democrat energy policies. Lastly, restrictions on coal production by Democrats have made energy prices go up, especially in the South. So people who are connected to the coal industry in Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, etc. should really be thinking a second time about supporting the Democrats in 2014 – and 2016, too.

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Romney wins CNN debate against Obama and biased moderator Candy Crowley

Romney brought up the Obama administrations lies about Benghazi as well as the Fast and Furious gun-running to Mexican drug cartels to seal the victory. Although the Democrat moderator lied about Obama calling Benghazi an act of terror, it wasn’t enough to save Obama from Mitt’s constant repetition of the horrible performance of the economy under the socialist Barack Obama.

Romney narrowly won, but it could have been better if he had pressed the attack on the security failures in Benghazi with more facts. He pulled his punches there, and he had no reason to.

There are two stories to this debate. First, the CNN moderator lied to protect Obama about his Benghazi security failure:

CNN correspondent and second presidential debate moderator Candy Crowley disgraced herself tonight, repeatedly intervening to save a floundering President Obama and showing why many Americans were rightfully suspicious of her ability to moderate a presidential debate fairly.

Her most outrageous act tonight was her incorrect seconding of Obama’s statement that he declared the Libya terrorist attacks to be “terror.” While Obama did indeed use the word, this is not what he meant by it. Instead, he was simply referring to “acts of terror.” There was no mention of Al Qaeda or any of its affiliates with respect to the actual attack on the U.S. embassy in Benghazi.

Here is the full Obama statement in reference to “terror” in Libya.

“No acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation, alter that character, or eclipse the light of the values that we stand for. Today we mourn four more Americans who represent the very best of the United States of America. We will not waver in our commitment to see that justice is done for this terrible act. And make no mistake, justice will be done.”

Perusing the full Obama speech reveals that the president and Crowley misstated the facts…

She has now admitted that Romney was correct about Benghazi.

Second, the CNN moderator cut off all discussion of Obama’s Fast and Furious gun-smuggling to drug cartels, after asking a planted question about “assault weapons”:

As I reported earlier, the topic of Operation Fast and Furious came up at tonight’s presidential debate in New York. During Mitt Romney’s remarks on the deadly subject, President Obama sat in the background where he smirked and at one point, laughed.

[The] debate moderator Candy Crowley quickly changed the subject away from Operation Fast and Furious and when she was done speaking, President Obama failed to address the issue. After the debate in the media spin room, the Obama campaign wasn’t interested in discussing the details either.

[…]Fast and Furious has damaged the relationship between Mexico and the United States, not to mention, it’s laughable to hear President Obama talk about gun control when his own Justice Department armed Mexican cartels with thousands of AK-47 style weapons.

“It’s a vital issue. The President promised to run one of the most transparent and open administration in history. That’s not the case in fact literally today the Justice Department filed suit trying to get out access to records thrown out of court. The President is so upside down on Fast and Furious. He’s never directly addressed the question. He was asked specifically by Univision and he said he would get to the bottom of it but nobody has been held accountable and they haven’t provided the documents to Congress,” Rep. Jason Chaffetz, who sits on the House Oversight Committee, told Townhall. “I’m glad to see Mitt Romney mentioned it and actually talked about it in a proactive way as something that was wrong on every facet.”

Here are some of the other key points about tonight’s debate:

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GAO study: EPA regulations will kill coal plant jobs and raise energy prices

From CNS News.

Excerpt:

New regulations issued by the Environmental Protection Agency will lead to the closure of older, coal-fired power plants and boost electricity prices in some parts of the country, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office.

The GAO, at the behest of Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), reviewed a host of information from government sources such as the EPA and Energy Information Agency (EIA) as well as private energy-sector forecasters to determine the likely impact of four new EPA regulations aimed at coal-fired power plants.

[…]GAO found that as many as 12 percent of coal-fired power plants may be closed because the EPA regulations make it too expensive for power companies to operate them, despite coal being one of world’s cheapest fuels.

“It is uncertain how power companies may respond to four key Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations, but available information suggests companies may retrofit most coal-fueled generating units with controls to reduce pollution, and that 2 to 12 percent of coal-fueled capacity may be retired,” GAO said.

These changes – either installing expensive retrofits or closing power plants – will drive up electricity prices by as much as 13.5 percent in some areas of the country.

“Available information suggests these actions would likely increase electricity prices in some regions,” GAO said. “Regarding prices, the studies GAO reviewed estimated that increases could vary across the country, with one study projecting a range of increases from 0.1 percent in the Northwest to an increase of 13.5 percent in parts of the South more dependent on electricity generated from coal.”

Coal is the country’s single-largest source of electricity, accounting for 42 percent of power generation in 2011, GAO reported.

[…]The regulations at issue were all put in place by President Obama’s EPA to deal with power plant emissions and industrial waste called coal ash, the byproduct of burning coal.

This is another issue to communicate to everyone who will be voting in November. We already have price inflation from rising gas prices due to insufficient energy production at home, as well as currency inflation from several rounds of money printing and debt monetization. If we have to add to that higher electricity costs, then we really will be in trouble.

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