The Grammy’s, Lin-Sanity, Jon Stewart (and Iran)

This is another column about the burgeoning crisis between the US and Iran. Since I have yet to gain any traction with this issue I have decided to sprinkle gratuitous pop-culture references throughout the piece to generate interest.

This column first appeared in the February 16th, 2012 edition of the Long Island Press.

Over the past couple of weeks my frequent collaborator, Dorian Dale, and I have set the burgeoning conflict between Iran and the United States in our sights, determined to bring this potential disaster further forward in our nation’s collective consciousness. But while Whitney Houston’s body is in search of an arena large enough to hold her mourners, talk of the next Great War generates barely enough interest to fill a teacup.

Therefore, I have decided to shamelessly sprinkle gratuitous pop-culture references throughout this column in order to reach a larger audience. (References are bolded for navigational ease.)

Iran is the slow moving accident you can’t take your eyes off of. It’s LIN-sanity. For that matter, so is the global economy, the crisis in the Eurozone and the price of oil. Let’s add in the GOP primary season for good measure to bring this tainted stew to a boiling point because the decision-making process in America this year will be guided by partisan politics rather than practical policies.

New Yorkers would be wise to look up from their smartphones for a moment to see what’s really happening. Not only is New York home to the United Nations and ethnic communities from around the globe, it bears visible scars of terrorism. Many of its residents’ livelihoods are directly or indirectly tied to the world financial district, and don’t forget that The Daily Show with Jon Stewart is also taped in the city. Moreover, conventional wisdom (if there is such a thing) has it that should the wheels come off the Obama train, our current governor will be a top Democratic contender to challenge whichever GOP dipshit is lucky enough to hoodwink America into voting for him.

One way for Obama to lose the upcoming election is if oil prices continue to get out of hand. As it is, we are already experiencing higher-than-normal pricing during the winter months. Analysts are already warning that if the trend continues and conflict with Iran steers toward the inevitable, oil could hit $200 per barrel this year, translating into approximately $6 at the pump. If this were to happen, Barack Obama’s chances at re-election would be slimmer than Adrien Brody.

Many in the media have dismissed the likelihood of confrontations between the U.S. and Iran as “saber rattling,” but there have been some very real world occurrences that are beyond rhetoric. The attempted bombing of the Israeli embassy in Bangkok this week by an Iranian man and successful assassinations of nuclear engineers within Iran over the past few months have heightened tensions between Israel and Iran. For its part, the United States is positioning itself to defend against the threatened closure of the Strait of Hormuz, a key “choke point” for oil tankers in the Middle East. Along the way, the United States rescued Iranian fishing vessels twice in one week—events that garnered brief, but small international attention as opposed to George Clooney’s performance in “The Descendants,” which has received international acclaim and Oscar nominations.

While the world does its familiar dance of deadly brinksmanship, consider for a moment the case of Morgan Stanley. Never has one company had so much to say about, or perhaps to gain, from the pressing issues at hand. Morgan Stanley embodies the intersection of finance, politics, oil and war more than any other corporation on Earth. If ever there was an example of the “corporatization” of America, this is it. I’m reviving my frequent criticism of Morgan Stanley so we may, in the words of Belgian-born artist Gotye, “Walk the plank with our eyes wide open.”

First off, trying to drill down into Morgan’s structure is like jumping down the rabbit hole in search of Johnny Depp.  The list of Morgan Stanley subsidiaries is a 25-page, single-spaced document with 207 corporations registered on the Cayman Islands alone. What most people, and even some savvy investors, don’t realize is that among them you will find a host of companies directly related to or involved in the oil industry.

Take, for example, Heidmar, a global oil shipping company with 120 vessels. Or TransMontaigne, which controls a third of the oil terminal business in the United States. Both are wholly-owned subsidiaries of Morgan Stanley. Furthermore, Morgan owns $1.2 billion in shares of ExxonMobil and $900 million in shares of Chevron. Oh, and many of the oil futures contracts are traded on the Intercontinental Exchange in Atlanta, which was founded by Jay-Z. No, jk, lmfao. It was founded by Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs and BP.

Piece this together and you will quickly understand that there are two things of critical importance to Morgan Stanley where the oil business is concerned: price and volatility. When you add to the equation that the leading energy analysts in the world who predict the future price and volatility of oil are from… you get the point.

To borrow from the Occupy Wall Street movement—This is what democracy doesn’t look like.

Now let’s get our conspiracy freak on for a moment and take a look at whom Morgan Stanley is backing for president of the United States. No, it’s not Steven Colbert. Morgan is steadfastly behind Willard “I support military action in Iran” Romney. In fact, it is Romney’s third top contributor in the 2012 election cycle behind only Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan, two companies that also know a little bit about gaming the financial markets.

Allow me to go one step further. Conflict in the Strait of Hormuz would be the best thing to happen to Morgan’s oil interests, as they deal mostly in the Western Hemisphere and would benefit greatly from their own prognostications of skyrocketing oil prices. Because the United States is officially now a net-exporter of oil, the American petroleum business and those financial companies that profit from it would experience a boom like never before.

The very thought of gas and oil prices going even higher sends chills down the spine, especially here in New York where we rely so heavily on home-heating oil and transportation in our daily lives. But don’t worry, New Yorkers, we’re in good hands there, too: Morgan Stanley owns the majority stockpile of home-heating oil reserves in the Northeast. Charlie Sheen can only dream of “winning” as much as Morgan Stanley.

 

All photos from the Associated Press. 

Chuck Pumps It Up

Obviously emboldened by the fact that either no one cares about his role in this disaster or no one understands how deep his involvement is, Schumer and his PR machine have continued to push the envelope of denial while pointing a crooked finger in the direction of everything but himself and the robber barons on Wall Street he has been protecting since taking office.

Charles Schumer Oil Shell Game
This fancy chart is another great way for me not to tell you why gas is so high at the pump

A couple of weeks ago Sen. Charles Schumer responded to a piece I had written claiming that he alone was responsible for the high price of oil. The point of the column was to illustrate the responsibility inherent in his position as the one senator who sits on the committees with oversight and authority to investigate and recommend legislation that would restore prudent checks and balances to the wildly unregulated commodity exchanges at the root of skyrocketing gasoline prices.

Because I was hoping to provoke a legitimate response from New York’s Democratic senator, I stopped short of detailing how intimately involved Schumer was in creating and subsequently covering for the irresponsible deregulation that allowed investment banks and oil companies to trade oil futures contracts without any oversight of a completely opaque and shadowy marketplace.

I was being polite.

As a result, the senator’s minions clearly viewed my rebuke as somewhat tongue-in-cheek, answering with the exact type of benign platitudinous response Americans have been conditioned to accept from our public officials. Schumer’s letter to the editor, which we published in its entirety the following week, ran sans snarky commentary from yours truly. (Those comments were left for my website.) Obviously emboldened by the fact that either no one cares about his role in this disaster or no one understands how deep his involvement is, Schumer and his PR machine have continued to push the envelope of denial while pointing a crooked finger in the direction of everything but himself and the robber barons on Wall Street he has been protecting since taking office.

His most recent diversion was to send a letter to Jon Leibowitz, chairman of the Federal Trade Commission, asking him to investigate U.S. oil refineries in connection with price fixing. Sounds logical, right? That’s our Chuck. Man of the people. But this is the perfect example of “gorilla dust” whereby two gorillas face off against one another in a spectacle of chest-thumping and screaming, throwing dirt in the air to create a commotion for the purpose of actually avoiding an altercation. The problem is that Schumer equivocates so often on this issue that his face and words have become wallpaper to Americans. He’s beating our collective will into submission by the sheer volume of deceptive statements.

To highlight the senator’s subterfuge, I have taken the liberty of explaining or translating his statements. Hopefully you will find this helpful.

Schumer: “Recent reports have indicated that U.S. refiners are cutting back on U.S. gasoline stockpiles in order to artificially keep prices high and inflate their bottom line… while gasoline use is declining, U.S. gasoline inventories remain below average and refining margins continue to rise.”
Planet Earth: The truth is that we have an over-supply of oil right now because, as Schumer admits, we are using less gasoline. The refiner doesn’t choose how much oil to refine, the market does. The market also determines how much the refinery is paid, and the oil companies such as Exxon Mobil and investment banks such as Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs are the market. All Chuckles is trying to do here is shoot the messenger and create a distraction from his beloved Wall Street funding sources.

Schumer: “I’ve called for the elimination of (oil) subsidies to help reduce our deficit and stop wasting taxpayer money subsidizing oil companies that don’t need any help.”
Planet Earth: Talk of eliminating oil subsidies is politically sexy and practically worthless unless we put an end to Big Oil’s ability to manipulate the market by simultaneously setting prices and driving the volume of trading. Eliminating the subsidies without fixing the fundamental market problem will bring in, or retain, more revenue for the government but the oil companies would have already taken it out of the consumer’s pocket to achieve the same bottom line margin by jacking prices at the pump.

Schumer: “I helped to protect a $100 million loan guarantee to build the Taylor Biomass Energy facility in Orange County that uses a process called gasification to convert over 95 percent of the waste received at its facility into cleaner energy.”
Planet Earth. Gasification, indeed. There’s only one thing spouting hot gas right now, and it ain’t the Taylor Biomass Energy facility. For the record, these projects are great for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. But let’s be clear about the energy potential. The energy captured from the average landfill is enough to power approximately 7,200 homes annually. That’s the equivalent of two on-shore GE wind turbines. Two, yes, two.

The well-documented back-room maneuverings done by Schumer to repeal Glass-Steagal in 1999, his assistance in creating the Enron Loophole in the Commodities Futures Modernization Act in 2000 and his silence as a member of the banking committee when the Bush administration obliterated all transparency in the commodities and derivatives market in 2006 makes him a central accomplice in the dirty dealings that precipitated the global financial meltdown and today’s spike in oil prices. His chicanery in addressing a fearful public represents the true nadir of the crisis.

So let me be absolutely clear this time in addressing our fair senator and be assured, sir, that my tongue is neither planted in my cheek nor forked as yours appears to be. Rather, it speaks a truth some part of you understands but no part of you wants to acknowledge. Save your minions the time and effort of responding as there is no more room in this paper for your spurious replies. As you are funded by the oil and bank oligarchy you helped to create, I hardly expect you to continue this conversation anyway. Regardless, for every dishonest press release you issue or diversionary press conference you hold, a growing number of informed citizens will know to offer this refrain:

Chuck Schumer is responsible for the price of gas.
Chuck Schumer is responsible for the price of gas.
Chuck Schumer is responsible for the price of gas.

Now, go forth and spread this word. If you made it all the way to the end of this column and have connected the dots that draw a picture of corruption please forward, digg, like, stumble, reddit, send it to everyone you know who is watching their savings flow from their wallets and into the coffers of Wall Street and Big Oil.