Thursday, March 31, 2005

Fingerprints on the 'Tyranny Protection Act' - Nevada's SB 150

This is a cursory case study in the creation of bad law. In the past couple of days I’ve pieced together partial picture of the personalities behind Nevada’s Senate Bill 150, which I have relabeled the ‘Tyranny Protection Act’. This would be law is designed to criminalize any complaint made against government employees, should another public employee deem it false.

Let me not sound too alarmist about this insult to the First Amendment and to the concept of Equal Protection. In the opinion of one long time associate who is active within Nevada legislative circles, the bill’s ultimate death is a virtual certainty. While I consider this gentleman's view qualified, I'll suggest that it pays to be vigilant. If we assume its demise, we do so at our peril.

One reason to be on guard: The Tyranny Protection Act has the support of two powerful unions representing publicly paid workers, the Las Vegas Police Protective Association and the Nevada State Education Association.

Besides giving you a sense of the bill's history, this article is also intended to serve as a 'contact sheet' for those of you who are inclined to chastise the lawmakers responsible for giving SB 150 life and to persuade those who now have the power to extinguish it. Just follow the links provided below for the various legislators.

Revision, 04/03/05: On this date, it was indicated in a Las Vegas Review-Journal editorial that Senator Maggie Carlton is the one who generated this legislation. Subsequently, the chairman of the Senate’s Governmental Affairs Committee, Warren Hardy brought it to the attention of his colleagues on February 28, 2005, saying that he ” . . . had a Bill Draft Request that needed to be introduced.” There is no record of any discussion, just that Randall Townsend so moved, supported with a second by Vice Chair SandraTiffany. The motion passed unanimously.

Thus, the sponsorship of SB 150 can be attributed to the entire committee, the remaining members including two of Senate's most powerful, Republican majority honcho WilliamRaggio and Democrat minority honchette DinaTitus, along with TerryCare and JohnLee. All were present at this session and any one of these elected officials had the option to try nipping this tripe in the bud. From all indications no one stood up in opposition, thereby sanctioning a waste of additional time and money. This entire crew deserves a chorus of boos.

On March 1, 2005, the Tyranny Protection Act made it to the floor of the legislature, as planned. It was assigned to the Senate Judiciary Committee, where it still sits as I write this piece. The legislation was on the March 10 agenda of this body, with no action taken. Minutes are not available for this particular gathering or any of this panel's meetings since SB 150 was received.

Looking at the upcoming meetings of the Judiciary Committee, there is no indication that the bill is slated for discussion. This group's membership includes Terry Care from Government Affairs, along with Chairman Mark Amodei, Vice Chair Maurice Washington, MikeMcGinness, Dennis Nolan, Valerie Wiener and Steven Horsford .

The individuals on this committee need to know your perspective and to be aware that their decisions regarding the Tyranny Protection Act are being watched.

Previous articles on this topic, containing contributions from Ms. Juli Alexander, are available for your perusal. One is titled Stifling Citizen Complaints and the other The Tyranny Protection Act: More on SB 150.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Gas & Oil at a Glance: 032905

The toll for gasoline set another record in the U.S. this week, up 4.4 cents, to reach an average of $2.153 for a gallon of Regular Self Serve Unleaded. In contrast, the grade that I use for oil in these reports - West Texas Intermediate (WTI) Crude that is traded in Cushing, Oklahoma - closed yesterday at $54.05 for a 42 gallon barrel, down $2.57 from last week. The silver lining accompanying the dark cloud may be that the push for premiums to continue upward is diminishing.

With oil having backed off from its flirtation with $58.00, the piece of the pie for those involved in the refining and marketing of petroleum has grown. It is moving closer to where it should be, if one considers where it has been in the past. This week, the 'Spread', the tag for a gallon of petrol at retail, minus the cost for the same quantity of oil, shot up by more than 10.5 cents to 86.61. That's slightly more than the average for all of 2004.

Likewise, the 'GOP Ratio' – that's my encapsulated expression for 'Gas to Oil Price Ratio' – rose to 1.67. On a weekly basis, there have been 10 times when oil has sold at above the $50.00 mark. The 1.67 GOP Ratio is the second highest within this category. As I read the data, generally, the higher the GOP, the less likely we are to see its ongoing elevation.

One more indication of lower price pressure came in the form of a fast and large drop off last week in the cost of the West Texas Intermediate crude. Coincident with the Texas City, Texas refinery explosion on March 24, this grade of oil that's sold in the neighboring state to the north slid precipitously down to the $48.00 range, before recovering almost as quickly to its present price just above $54.00.

From what I noticed, that decline was not mirrored in the trading of oil on the New York Mercantile Exchange, frequently referred to as the NYMEX. Since sales on the NYMEX are the ones most widely reported in the media, it's my impression that most people weren't aware of the exaggerated volatility that was taking place at this other major center of oil commerce in Oklahoma.

Keep in mind, I'm not suggesting that I foresee conspicuously contracting fuel prices on the immediate horizon. If anything, were I laying money on the line, I would bet that we'll see gasoline go a bit higher. Up another dime? As I indicated this past Tuesday, gas nationally at $2.25 is not at all out of the question. But another quarter, as we've endured over the past month? I now doubt it. Having to brace for another round of really large leaps in the next month or two appears to be much lessof a probability, to my way of thinking, at this point in time.

Incidentally, I decided to use the Cushing, Oklahoma WTI oil as my benchmark, because weekly numbers for it have been made available by an 'official' source, the Energy Information Administration, tracking a period that spans nearly 20 years.

For further background about this report, including a description of the methods that I use for it, please refer to this post. See ya next week.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

The Tyranny Protection Act: More on SB 150 - Part II

Further case citations, applicable to this bill:

1. There can be no sanction or penalty imposed upon one because of his exercise of constitutional rights, Sherar v. Cullen, 481 F.2d 946 (1973). Free speech is a right, and not a privilege. Privileges may be revoked; inviolable rights may not and shall not.

2. No man in this country is so high that he is above the law. No officer of the law may set that law at defiance with impunity. All the officers of the government from the highest to the lowest, are creatures of the law, and are bound to obey, Butz v. Economou, 98 S.Ct. 2894 (1978); U.S. v. Lee, 106 U.S. at 220, 1 S.Ct. at 261 (1982). Police must suffer scrutiny as they can, in their capacity, wreak so much havoc upon citizens. All laws that apply to any citizens apply equally to police officers.

Further issues:

1. Remedy exists already in the civil arena. Surely the police trust the courts they routinely work in to mete out justice.

2. The courts are already bogged down, and the prisons too, and the police are asking for more police. All of those governmental entities want more taxpayer dollars to grow larger. Do we really need to add a new type of crime to the roster, which will costs citizens even more money to delete down the road as unconstitutional?

Recent LV Review Journal articles say a lot... Chief justice seeks help on caseloads, (Review-Journal 3-3-05), and Law-and-order bills add to state’s prison crunch (Review-Journal, 2-14-05) and Caseloads put judges in real bind, (Review-Journal 2-14-05).

Even the American Bar Association has admitted that the Justice System is broken, and that with soaring prison populations, the U.S. must seek alternatives. According to the Department of Justice, corruption probes are on the rise and the number of public officials indicted is rising at a dizzying pace.

The FBI itself is under investigation by the Department of Justice. The Justice Department, even as we speak, is examining the local police with regard to excessive force charges. Government needs to act responsibly and responsively now.

3. The Las Vegas police are already under investigation for policy brutality by the Department of Justice. They cost millions of dollars in lawsuit settlements every year, of which the taxpayer has to assume burden. Even if SB 150 was constitutionally sound, it makes no sense to give more rights and privileges to a governmental entity that is struggling with its lawfully mandated duties as it is.

4. DNA Exonerations illustrate clearly #3. All false convictions start with police error. The police must remain under the strictest of scrutiny, and citizens must feel free to report police misconduct.

Be wary, be cautious, for throughout history whenever a tyrant first appears he always comes as your protector. The comment was made during a speech to the National Association of Broadcasters at their annual convention, by JACK VALENTI, Chairman & CEO, Motion Picture Association, in Las Vegas, Nevada, April 23, 2001. He’s 100% correct.

Back to Part I

The Tyranny Protection Act: More on SB 150 - Part I

As you can see from this page's title, I thought it appropriate to rename this proposed pap ‘The Tyranny Protection Act’. Yesterday, in the March 23 edition of the Las Vegas Review-Journal I managed to sneak a zinger in the Letters to the Editor section, regarding Nevada Senate Bill 150. Since the R-J is now charging to access anything in their newspaper over seven days old, I figured I’d better get it up here for posterity - or is that posterior? Anyway, here’s the copy.

Considering Nevada Senate Bill 150, the proposed legislation to penalize those who make false statements about individuals serving in government, a few questions come to mind.

What recourse would average citizens have when someone tells a harmful lie about them? If SB 150 is deemed sufficient for this segment of the population, why is it not applied to the general public? On what basis should persons who make a living at taxpayer expense be entitled to special treatment? Would this render null and void the constitutional mandate that all of the people are to be afforded equal protection under the law?

This past Monday, Juli Alexander, who has previously contributed on this topic, appeared on Jon Ralston’s Face to Face television program, opposite Las Vegas Metro detective and sometimes maligned Police Protective Association honcho David Kallas to debate this ludicrous legislation. In Nevada, Juli is the most visible person saying no to this bad law and she has been kind enough to share with us the content of her upcoming presentation to the Legislative Committee on the Judiciary. Here goes:

Passing Senate Bill 150 would be a violation of the legislative oath.

A review of the Legislative Oath of Office (NRS 282.020) states that: I, ........................., do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support, protect and defend the Constitution and Government of the United States, and the Constitution and government of the State of Nevada, against all enemies, whether domestic or foreign, and that I will bear true faith, allegiance and loyalty to the same, any ordinance, resolution or law of any state notwithstanding, and that I will well and faithfully perform all the duties of the office of ................, on which I am about to enter; (if an oath) so help me God; (if an affirmation) under the pains and penalties of perjury.

The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution states, Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or the press; or of the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Therefore, Nevada Legislature cannot lawfully pass SB 150. Further, litigated case law applies, which shows that SB 150 is dead on its face:

1. New York Times v. Sullivan (free speech is protected against public officials even when there is intentional disregard for the truth); 376 U.S. 254

2. Falwell v. Flynt (same applies to public figures); 485 U.S. 46; We have therefore been particularly vigilant to ensure that individual expressions of ideas remain free from governmentally imposed sanctions. The First Amendment recognizes no such thing as a "false" idea.

3. Huminski v. Corsones (even judges are not immune from liability when violating a citizens’ free speech) - The First Amendment is the essential right that separates this country from a police state.

Continue to Part II

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Gas & Oil at a Glance: 032205

Gasoline prices at the pump were up another 5.3 cents over last week, as crude oil rose in tandem. The average price for Regular Self Serve Unleaded across the U.S. is $2.11, according to figures released on March 21 by the Energy Information Administration. Crude ended yesterday up $1.67 over the seven day period, when it closed at $56.62.

Proportionally, the cost of oil increased right along with gasoline. On March 14, the Gas to Oil Price Ratio stood at 1.57 and was virtually unchanged yesterday, calculating out at 1.56. The 'Spread', the total going to the refiners, marketers and the tax man after deducting for the cost of oil, rose slightly, up a little more than one and a quarter cents to 76.09 cents. It has steadily been creeping up over the last month however. On February 21, it stood at 69.07 cents.

Along with just about every report that I'm coming across, it looks to me as if the record prices that we now have are due to be broken soon. Most often cited is price pressure because of refiners reorienting their facilities for the production of summer blends, putting a strain on capacity for formulas that are more expensive to produce.

From another perspective, one which can be gained by studying the spread data, the conclusion is the same. Looking over the last four years, from 2001 through 2004, the average spread during the second quarter, from April through June, has been 88.87 cents, nearly 13 cents more than it is now. If oil continues to sell in the mid 50's, it suggests that another 10 to 15 cents per gallon for gasoline is in the cards for the coming weeks and months.

In comparison, the spreads have been notably greater during the second quarter during the 2001-2004 period. In other quarters of this recent era, they have averaged 75.2 cents during the first quarter, 81.77 in the third quarter and 75.17 in the fourth.

What's more foreboding: the spreads have been known to balloon well above their average in spring time and early summer. Just last year, for a few weeks, from late May through the middle of June, they were in the $1.10 range. Should this recur, with oil remaining in the neighborhood of its current level, we've got gasoline approaching $2.50 a gallon.

Let's pray that we have no problems with refineries or with the already generally acknowledged tight supplies, or it could get worse. The real blessing would be the cost of crude dropping off, but little that I have come across anticipates that eventuality any time soon. Give it some more time however, say several months down the road, and I have the feeling that consumer adjustments in response to the higher prices and the transition into the fall will combine to soften demand for oil. At that point, a decrease at the pump, with gas retreating somewhat below $2.00 could become a reality.

By the way, with respect to the surprisingly wide differences that I have been seeing between the various organizations that report average national gas prices, up to eight cents per gallon, they have diminished. As I publish this post, the AAA reveals this figure to be $2.095, with GasPrice Watch at $2.12. Trilby Lundberg along with the Energy Information Administration came in between those two numbers.

To get a sense of where I see gasoline prices going, sooner as well as later, and why I believe we all have more control over them then we give ourselves credit for, please take a look at this article, just posted within the last 48 hours.

For further background about this report, including a description of the methods that I use for it, please refer to this post. See ya next week.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Gas & Oil: A View of the Future - Part II

As an ebb and flow in supply and demand is typical, seeing the tab for gas relax back to $1.90 or so during the latter portion of 2005 isn't out of the question. At the same time, I wouldn't be looking for it to descend well below that, nor to see it remain at such levels forever.

What about those posing the prospect of petrol hyper inflating, with oil approaching $100 for a barrel and gasoline going to $3.00 a gallon? Obviously, while anything can happen, my sense is that, should a spike to that extent
come to pass, it will not be long lasting.

Why not? Sensibly, James Flanigan of the Los Angeles Times cites the power of human nature: “Rather than sit idly by and let oil prices erode their standard of living, people will react and make changes in the way they do things. Industrial practices, technology, even our lifestyle — all of these will inevitably evolve, tempering the surge in petroleum prices.” As one point supporting his argument, Flanigan reflects upon how folks adjusted in response to the energy shocks of the early 70's. For access to the complete article, click here. (Free registration will be required)

The thought that people will become resourceful in the face of challenging circumstances has revealed itself before and it will again. An example of one innovation now available in the U.S. is
EnviroMaxPlus, a fuel catalyst that is relatively new to the mass market. EMP's primary benefit is to increase gas mileage, and it's a product that I believe worthwhile to promote. Standing alone, it can make a tremendous difference in fuel consumption. After looking at data on consumption, I've concluded that, were EMP to be used on a widespread basis, it would negate the need for the importation of any OPEC oil to the United States. Now that kind of impact is nothing to sneeze at.

To restate my conclusions, because of a sea change in demand flying in the face of a resource that has become more difficult to discover, recover and process, the era of $2.00 a gallon gasoline is with us to stay. This includes a good chance that prices in the coming months will go up 10% to 25% beyond the two buck benchmark before retrenching. And, while a larger escalation isn't beyond the realm of possibility, alternatives exist for people to discover and embrace. Individually and collectively, as people make the needed adjustments, the effects of exploding demand and restricted supply will be moderated, just not to the degree that we'll see 'cheap' gas again.

In the end, as always, time will tell regarding the accuracy of my prophecies. What's much more certain to me is that, separately and together, we are in charge of our energy future to a far greater extent than we may believe at first blush. Prognostications aside, that's some good news.

Back to
Part I

Gas & Oil: A View of the Future - Part I

Prediction can be among the most foolish of fool's errands. When I read that oil analysts were confident oil prices would be dropping this past week, I took note. After all, how could so many who know so much ever be so wrong? Well, what happened? Oil proceeded to go up by several bucks.

That notwithstanding, being one who is ever so slow to learn, I'm going to stick my neck out and gaze into that crystal ball myself.

From my regular reading about energy markets, the expectations for oil and
gasoline boil down to three scenarios. One, a view seemingly held by a diminishing minority, is that oil and gasoline prices will settle back to pre 2004 levels. Many in this camp, such as Brian Newbacher, of the AAA Ohio Motorists Association, are inclined to blame investor speculation for oil's rise to the mid 50's per barrel.

A second set of opinions, perhaps what's becoming the conventional wisdom, is that petroleum is going to remain essentially at the levels we've been experiencing for the past year or so.

The third outlook is for fossil fuels to skyrocket even more. You know, the talk of $90.00 a barrel oil and $3.00 or more for a gallon of gas.

Contrary to those who believe that oil is due for a colossal fall, it is becoming increasingly evident to me that the world is seeing a stronger and longer standing demand, pushing up against tight supplies. In other words, I think 2 bucks a gallon is here to stay. In the shorter term, say over the next six months, I envision an upsurge in costs, probably to the $2.30 per gallon level for gasoline as the U.S. national average. It wouldn't surprise me to see it hit $2.50. Of course, a change in circumstances, particularly on the demand side, could drive the price of oil far south, but I don't think that's going to happen.

Of course, fuel costs remaining elevated is not my original idea. Among others, it was posed by Jim Jubak of CNBC a while back. Jubak's assertion is seconded in ' The End of Cheap Oil: Cyclical Or Structural Change in the Global Oil Market?' a credible paper put out by the Middle East Economic Survey. Author Herman Franssen explains in detail the restricted growth in oil supplies and why they are likely to remain so. He goes on to elaborate upon a thirst for oil that has surged, to the astonishment of many in the industry, a shift that he tends to think is an ongoing, long term trend, not just a protracted blip on the charts.

Adding fuel to the fire, my conclusions, based upon the more or less technical analysis that I publish early each Tuesday - 'Gas& Oil at a Glance' - supports a climb in cost as well. Both the 'Gas to Oil Price Ratio' that I calculate, and the 'Spread' – what is paid for retail gasoline, after subtracting the price of oil - are at very low levels, relatively speaking.

If these numbers regress towards their historical averages, as I have to conclude they will, the only direction for gasoline prices is up. Also, keep in mind that when gas at the pump first hit $2.06 on May 24. 2004, the going rate for oil was only $42.03, some 14 dollars less than it is now.

Continue to Part II

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Stifling Citizen Complaints: Nevada SB 150, Part II

It's my privilege to publish the following piece by Las Vegas based Juli Alexander, in which she rightfully rails against a proposed bill currently in the Nevada State Senate, one that would make it a misdemeanor to file a complaint considered false against any public official. Coming from the perspective of an active and experienced justice system critic, Ms. Alexander, a mainstay in an organization known as Redress,Inc., poses insightful arguments against this atrocious notion. An abbreviated version ran in the LasVegas Review-Journal on March 16, 2005, but her work warrants exposure in its entirety. Residents of states beyond Nevada should be equally concerned, because, if this unconstitutional crap passes for law in the Silver State, it just might also in yours.

Does that mean that the police ran the DNA evidence through the national DNA data bank in order to identify the real murderer? Nope. Does it mean that the charges against Ruffa were dropped? Nope. Does it mean that the real murderer is out there but that the State, having jumped to a wrong conclusion is trying to convict anyway; perhaps to avoid litigation for false arrest? It happens. The national DNA scandal shows that completely innocent folks have been convicted right up to the death penalty. It's far too easy to convict the innocent.

Ruffa, having asserted his right to a speedy trial, has now been waiting almost three years for a trial which, based on Collins "police tactics" should not even take place, all to the detriment of the taxpayers.

Nevada did a good thing by setting up the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Review Board, which has been facing legal challenges by police who don't want to suffer the scrutiny that their positions demand. That's costing tax dollars, also.

What about the citizen victims of false police reports generated by the police themselves? It happens, people. It scares me that so many citizens still innocently believe that police never lie. I do volunteer work in legal reform, and believe me, I have read enough false police reports by police officers, and transcripts of court cases to state with certainty as a prudent person that not only do police officers lie (and often get away with it), it appears to be common practice.

When jurors believe those lies, innocent victims go to prison. When innocent victims go to prison (more tax dollars) and the guilty party roams free to cause more harm, it's a double travesty of justice. Because, after all, if a person is arrested, they must be guilty, right? Guilty until proven innocent?

Police need far more scrutiny, not less. Police who perjure themselves must be prosecuted for perjury. Police who engage in fraudulent tactics in order to gain a conviction are a scourge on society. Sure, it's a tough job. It takes exceptional people to be good police officers. We have some excellent officers who won't stoop to misconduct and the good ones don't cost us excess tax dollars.

A Senate Bill like this one is just plain scary. I don't want to live in a "police" state. I want fairness and justice. I don't want any person creating laws that could harm me as a person. If "false" complaints levied against them by criminals; even when determined to be unfounded, can ruin careers and take away an officer's effectiveness, there is another solution, and it doesn't involve tampering with our free speech rights... deal with it.

Police lies have ruined Ruffa's life, and so far, remain unpunished. What's good for the goose is good for the gander. You may think that a police officer could never do thisto you... but what will you do if it does?

And oh, by the way... we are passing far too many laws, and society is not getting better as a result of it. This is another attempt to criminalize America. It's just wrong.

Back to Part I

Stifling Citizen Complaints: Nevada SB 150, Part I

It's my privilege to publish the following piece by Las Vegas based Juli Alexander, in which she rightfully rails against a proposed bill currently in the Nevada State Senate, one that would make it a misdemeanor to file a complaint considered false against any public official. Coming from the perspective of an active and experienced justice system critic, Ms. Alexander, a mainstay in anorganization known as Redress, Inc., poses insightful arguments against this atrocious notion. An abbreviated version ran in the LasVegas Review-Journal on March 16, 2005, but her work warrants exposure in its entirety. Residents of states beyond Nevada should be equally concerned, because, if this unconstitutional crap passes for law in the Silver State, it just might also in yours.

Senate Bill 150 is just wrong. It's wrong for citizens, it's wrong for Nevada. Those who wish to be in positions of power over the rest of us must suffer scrutiny for all their behavior; after all, the taxpayers are on the hook for their salaries and all ancillary costs. When they make mistakes, whether intentionally or just through incompetence, it costs all of us big money; money to pay prosecutors, defense attorneys, bailiffs and other court personnel, and of course judges, money to pay judgments on lawsuits.

Legislators may think that passing such a law would save the State some of the millions of dollars paid out every year for police misconduct cases. But what it would actually do would be to empower police to engage in greater misconduct with less fear of liability. In essence, we could eventually be reduced to living in a "police state".

Tampering with our right to free speech is also wrong. States which pass laws that can't pass a Constitutional legal challenge wastes taxpayer dollars. We have passed too many of those laws in the past. Any attempt to criminalize free speech, in itself, is an attempted crime by the authorities we pay to enforce the law. Part of public service is being open to public censure.

Police misconduct is a serious issue, and false allegations against citizens is an equally serious issue. We as citizens don't have protection when we are falsely charged with misconduct, whether criminal or civil in nature. Therefore, the police are not entitled to special protections.

Example: David Ruffa was arrested and charged with homicide by officer Gerald Collins of Henderson. Collins called Ruffa's friends and family telling them that Ruffa was a murderer and that Collins had Ruffa on videotape killing his wife. At the preliminary hearing, Collins was forced to admit it was a lie, that he was just using "police tactics". And what do you know... the DNA evidence has excluded Ruffa as the murderer.

Continue to Part II

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Gas & Oil at a Glance: 031505

Both gasoline and oil are near record levels. The average price of gas is approaching its all time high, ending Monday at $2.056 per gallon. According to numbers available from the Energy Information Administration, gas ratcheted up another 5.7 cents compared to last week. The all time high was $2.064, recorded by the EIA on May 24, 2004.

Even so, the relationship of the cost of gasoline to the price of oil, expressed numerically as the 'Gas to Oil Price Ratio' – 'GOP' for short - remained virtually the same at a low at 1.57, as the benchmark West Texas Intermediate crude increased $1.06 a barrel to $54.95. The 'Spread', the difference between what is paid for a gallon of gas minus the cost for the same quantity of oil, rose to 74.77 cents, a little more than 3 cents higher than last week.

Considering the trends of the past year, the present levels for both the GOP and the Spread remain well below their averages. As I read it, these are ominous indications that, unless crude oil backs off substantially, even higher prices over the near term are just about inevitable.

But, extending the time horizon, with talk of $3.00 per gallon gas and $90 per barrel oil bubbling up, are we in for a new round of permanent escalations at the pump? Or, as has happened on occasions in the past, will oil prices collapse, taking us back to buck a gallon gasoline? My focus on petroleum as I prepare this report has led to the review of some diverse and provocative viewpoints and has helped me to clarify my perception of where things are likely to go. Perhaps this week, I'll find the time to assemble these thoughts in a separate post.

Last week, I wondered out loud what was happening with the difference in estimates of average national gasoline prices between various organizations that deliver this information to us. Recently, I've found them to be as large as 8 cents on any given day, with the American Automobile Association tending to be lower than GasPriceWatch, the Energy Information Administration and the Lundberg Survey. This past week, and the AAA were messaged by me in search of some insight. While I have not received a response from GasPriceWatch, I can share AAA's answer with you.

"The AAA Fuel Gauge Web Site is the most current and most accurate source of gasoline prices available. . . The AAA Fuel Gauge Web Site is derived from credit card transactions at over 60,000 stations around the country. Prices shown are combined averages of the last card swipe of the previous day with the exception of Saturday and Sunday. . . . AAA's understanding is that the US Department of Energy retail gas price survey is based on prices at fewer than 1,000 stations nationwide, and sites such as Gas Price Watch usually rely on Internet users posting prices they see on the street. AAAbelieves the survey method used by its data supplier, Oil Price Information Service, is the most accurate and statistically reliable available by far; especially when tracking daily prices at the state and local level which requires a constant stream of price data from avery large number of stations.”

At first glance, the AAA data collection method appears impeccable. Yet, it's unsettling that the other three sources have been closer together on prices, steadily showing them to be higher than the AAA, at least over these last few weeks when I've been paying very close attention. Until I learn more, for these time sensitive communiques, I plan to rely upon the Energy Information Administration figure for the prior day.

For more background and an explanation about the methods underlying this weekly report, please access this post.

Monday, March 14, 2005

The Opera Browser's Advantages: A Personal Testimonial

As promised in a prior discussion about Internet browsers, I'm coming back to you with my personal list of features that I find appealing after having used Opera for approximately the past one and a half years.

But before that, a few disclaimers are in order. First, the list provided here is limited to those characteristics that I have found desirable in my personal experience using the software. Opera offers other features that, given my preferences and patterns, I have not taken advantage of. You can get a fix on them by clicking here.

[Buy Opera!]Second, I now often run the Firefox browser alongside Opera on my personal computer for some purposes. Even so, I still prefer the latter to the former. Having said that, since I don't have as much experience with Firefox as with Opera, I may be selling it short.

Third, for my present basis of comparison with IE, most of my use of Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser now takes place during frequent visits to Bluffton, Ohio's small but none-the-less excellent public library. This facility provides a cove of contemporary personal computers with fast connections to the Internet. But, as probably prevails in like places across the U.S., IE is the only browser option.

Finally, using Opera will not mean that you can be totally free of Internet Explorer, especially if you use the Windows operating system. My understanding is that IE integral to the Windows, so it can't be removed. As well, there will probably be situations when IE will be your sole choice. In my case, when I want to send a jazzed up email using my Yahoo account, or to access a page via the EnewsBar that I've put on my pc, IE is the sole choice.

Now, on to why I'm navigating the web with less hassle and greater efficiency using Opera.

FASTER BROWSING – If you're still slogging in the slow lane riding a dial up connection as I am on my home computer, this benefit will be much appreciated. On the other hand, if you have some form of broadband, it shouldn't make much difference. Opera touts itself as the “fastest browser on earth” - a claim that has been independently confirmed - and from what I've seen, I have to agree. Even though all of the elements of a web page may not be downloaded – graphics being the best example - Opera routinely renders web pages readable more rapidly than does the competition. In this instance, I'm not only talking about IE, but Firefox as well.

VIRUSES VANISH – The frequency of those bug bites and waylaying worms has diminished to zero after Opera became my main browser. What a relief.

POPUPS NO MORE – With one minor exception that I haven't yet figured out, the popups, popunders, popovers and all that ancillary nonsense is nonexistent with Opera. Of course it still happens with IE down at the library, which is an ongoing annoyance. And, during those limited instances when I must use IE at home, my spyware program invariably arises to interrupt my surfing with its warnings. Never with Opera.

TABBED BROWSING – Boot up Opera once, and you can then open several pages at the same time, without the clutter of a whole bunch of little icons in your system tray, as is mandatory with IE.

SAVE YOUR PLACE – As far as I'm concerned, this feature alone is worth the transition to Opera. When Opera is opened, you have the option to continue from the last session, so the web pages displayed when the browser was last used come right back up. If you typically want to be where you were the last time your computer was running, or simply to access two or more web sites upon start up, it's quite a time saver.

FEWER CRASHES – There are times when Opera goes down - it's usually an 'illegal operation' - but these shutdowns have taken place substantially less often than with good old IE.

PAGE PROGRESS BAR - At the bottom of the browser, Opera gives detailed information while a page is coming in, such as the number of images contained, the total size of the page, the speed of the feed, and the amount of time it is taking to download. This is handy for those times when a page seems to be 'hung up' over the network, and aids in the decision to terminate or to continue the process.

A 'STOP' BUTTON THAT ACTUALLY STOPS – Have you ever had a page go haywire on you, and using IE, you are not able to abort the download? With Opera, when you click 'STOP', that's exactly what it does.

EASY PAGE SIZE ADJUSTMENT – Have you had a page that displays too large or too small on your screen? Simply punch '0' using Opera and the page size instantly increases by 10%. Hit '9' and the page is reduced in size by 10%. Very convenient.

MOVING BACK OR FORWARD, SANS MOUSE – At times, I find it a bit inconvenient to use the mouse to go back to the previous page or move forward to the next, as must be done with IE. Using Opera, simply press the 'z' key to return, or the'x' key to move ahead. When I'm down at the library, I'll catch myself doing this out of habit, but of course, no can do with IE.

MISCELLANEOUS ADVANTAGES – Opera delivers a quick way to record any notes that you may wish to keyboard in when browsing, a dictionary that you can open to define a word you've highlighted and a readily accessible way to translate any word, sentence, paragraph or page into one of several languages. You can also receive the increasingly popular RSS feeds, and enjoy the benefit of a separate page that appears when downloading a file, a feature giving you more knowledge of and control over the process.

The biggest knock against Opera might be its weak marketing. It has not come close to matching the market share gains recently enjoyed by Firefox at the expense of IE. Though I have nothing against Firefox – and if you aren't enticed by Opera, in the interests of moving away from Microsoft, I'd encourage you to use it - Opera remains the better browser, given my head to head evaluation.

Opera can be obtained at no cost, with the proviso that you are exposed to a couple of Ads by Google at the top. For me, this poses no problem whatsoever. Purchasing a license will remove that business and get you tech support to boot. But, whether getting it as a freebie or buying it outright, give Opera a shot. I believe you'll be glad you did, gaining an improved web experience and doing your good deed in reducing Microsoft's long standing and dysfunctional dominance in the realm of browser software.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Gas & Oil at a Glance: 030805

Gasoline prices shot up another 7.1 cents, comparing federal government Energy Information Administration figures from February 28 to March 7, 2004. We've effectively reached the $2.00 per gallon average across the USA's 50 states for the first time since November 8 of last year. But the week over week rise is the highest since May 10 of 2004, when it skied up by a 14 year high of 9.7 cents.

In the larger historical context, this leap has even greater significance. Since the EIA has been kind enough to make data available for every week since January 21, 1991, I took a look and found that this current 7.1 cent increase is tied for the fourth highest over that long time span, exceeded only by the May 2004 'all time' record, followed by a 7.9 cent advance on March 11, 2002 and by a 7.7 cent spike on May 7, 2001.

Despite this rapid rise, the contemporaneous relationship of gasoline to oil prices has not budged. The GOP Ratio as I call it – aka the Gas to Oil Price Ratio in long form – remains at a low 1.56, as it was the prior week, because the price of oil has gone up commensurately. Budging barely, the 'spread', the price difference in cents between the per gallon retail gasoline price and that for an equivalent amount of oil, has increased only slightly, edging up an even two cents over last week.

As I suggested last Tuesday in my maiden post for this series, these figures suggest anything but the cost of gasoline decreasing in the coming weeks and months. Whether one studies the last year or peruses the previous five years, it's easy to see that the GOP Ratios and spreads are down from their typical levels. For instance, considering that the average spread for 2004 was 86.72 cents, a national average that's higher by some 15 cents, around $2.15 per gallon, would be called for from that perspective.

Plus, we're closing in on the April - June quarter, when refineries revamp for summer driving season, an event tending to drive up costs. And, from the news that I'm reading, we don't appear to be victim to any big supply disruptions at this time, such as those attributable to 'geopolitical' upsets or to some sort of weather event. With available oil already regarded as tight, introduce a man made crisis, a devastating hurricane or some other unexpected one-time occurrence and $53 a barrel might seem cheap.

Now that I am trying to acquire petroleum price information as up to date as possible for the publication of this post, unfortunately, I'm finding a rather meaningful difference between the numbers released by the widely relied upon AmericanAuto Association and others like the Energy Information Administration, Trilby Lundberg and

For March 7, the AAA released a national mean of $1.938. On the same date, Gaspricewatch, relying for the most part on volunteer spotters, reported a $2.01 average, and the Energy Information Administration was at $1.999, the figure used for this report. For March 4, Lundberg came in at $1.97. So, one of my projects for this week is to try to get at the reasons for this discrepancy. I'll letyou know what I find.

For more background and information on the methodology behind this regularly scheduled report, please see this prior post. See ya next week.

Monday, March 07, 2005

IE Bye Bye: Change Your Browser, Change the World

It was about a year and a half ago when Internet Explorer started chronically wheezing, coughing, spitting and puking, before crashing. Because of that aggravation, I decided to give Opera a try. This difficulty turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as it led me away from one of those less productive reliances that persisted merely because of habit. Even though the spy ware, virus or whatever demon infecting IE had been eradicated, I've never gone back to it as my primary browser. Opera has given me fewer hassles and a multitude of advantages not available in Internet Explorer, which I'll detail in the followup to this piece.

[Buy Opera!]For the sake of your efficiency, your sanity and in consideration of superordinate ends, my aim is to encourage you to invest the small slice of time required to make the move from IE and to give Opera a full and fair shot. That I'm promoting their browser on this JonnymoOps blog is the consummate testimonial to my belief in the product.

Let me insert a disclaimer here. My thoughts are not based upon an exhaustive review of all web surfing software available. The only other browser that I have been using regularly – not to the extent that I do Opera - is the up and coming Firefox, which I recommend as another excellent alternative to IE. However, despite the fact that Firefox has achieved substantially greater market share because it's been promoted more effectively, in my opinion, when the smoke clears, it is still not the equal of Opera.

Whichever direction you decide to go, there is a greater good to be gained from saying 'IE Bye-Bye'. The key point here: The less dependent we are on Microsoft, the more competition we foster. The more competition we foster, the better off we'll all be.

Stimulated by the enticement of opportunity and the exaltation of innovation, the standard for excellence rises, and we'll all be the beneficiaries of the best products available for our digital world, as we bestow upon this developing haut monde the ultimate dignity it deserves.

The short term objective is not to destroy Microsoft, just to put a large dent in its dominance, a realistic outcome for the near future. And diminishing the importance of their browser is a logical place to start. As Rob Enderle of the Enderle Group reasons, "IE is a linchpin product. If they lose IE, they lose a lot of connected offerings are now much more connected to IE than they are to the operating system. So as goes IE, so goes Microsoft." By making a minor effort, you can contribute to this changing trend and, in the process, benefit from a better web, internet and computing environment.

If you don't believe that an open, competitive context makes a difference, just consider the browser
wars. Is it any coincidence that, after Microsoft effectively dismantled the Netscape nemesis in 1998, improvements in IE slowed before coming to a standstill? Within a Wikipedia article on this topic, it is noted that, “The browser wars ended when Internet Explorer ceased to have any serious competition for its market share. This also brought an end to the rapid innovation in web browsers; there have been no new versions of Internet Explorer since version 6.0, released in 2001 (which itself was little different from version 5.5, as the main purpose of version 6.0 was to bundle it with Windows XP).”

Last, consider one of the most damaging consequences that, if it has not already, will most certainly sneak up to bite you from behind, if you conduct business as usual: Viruses. A predominant IE invites these worms, as the preceding piece points out: “ The almost universal adoption of Internet Explorer has also been a factor in the success of many mass computer attacks by computer worms, which exploit software vulnerabilities to propagate themselves. The more machines exposing a given vulnerability, the more easily a worm will propagate.”

The short answer: Change your browser, change your life, change your world. It is a bigger deal than it may look like at first glance.

In another post coming soon, I'll list my personal slate of features I've discovered that, from my perch, make Opera a superior vehicle for wending through the World Wide Web. Stay tuned.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Vegas Closed Case Mysteriously Reopens; Two Judges Recuse

Previously, I reported the weird dismissal of a law suit in Las Vegas in which I have more than a passing interest. You can locate my original post by clicking here.

The case, in which Rolando Larraz, Las Vegas Tribune part owner, editor and obsequious suck up to gin swigging mayor Oscar Goodman, is essentially being charged with defrauding an investor in the newspaper, has been reopened. The revival of this action transpired in a manner as incomprehensible asits closing, given the information now available to me.

But the plaintiff, Frank Vipperman, credits this outcome to the invaluable assistance of a woman by the name of Juli Alexander. Ms. Alexander has been assisting Frank with the suit, which, out of financial necessity, he has been forced to file on his own. With Frank's recent health problems complicating matters, he has not been able to handle all of the necessary legwork, which she has been kind enough to perform in his stead.

My review of Clark County Nevada District Court records not previously available on the web show that the first judge assigned to the case, Jackie Glass, recused on January 24, 2005, with the following notation inserted: “Court stated it knows Mr. Larraz and to avoid the appearance of impropriety and implied bias, this Court hereby disqualifies itself and ORDERS, this matter be REASSIGNED at random. COURT FURTHER ORDERED, future dates VACATED.”

The suit was reassigned to Judge Jessie Walsh on the same day. On February 3, the record reveals, without explanation, “Case Closed Per Department”. Then, on February 18, once more lacking any clarification, the case was reopened. Finally, on February 22, Judge Walsh backed off. Her reason was worded exactly as is was for Judge Glass. Now, the case has been assigned to Judge Sally Loehrer. Let's see how well this justice'knows' Mr. Larraz.

Given the strange and mysterious ways in which courts seem to act, especially those in Las Vegas, you can bet I'll be keeping my eye on this one. It will be telling to see to whether connections or justice prevail in this situation.

An aside about Ms. Alexander is in order. She's deeply involved with the organization Redress,Inc., which describes itself as “a forward thinking 501c3 nonprofit corporation formed to serve people traumatized by the American Justice System, and by corruption or incompetence by those
in positions of authority.” The organization seeks to rectify wrongs done within the court system, in law enforcement and within government funded programs. The Redress web site could stand a
makeover – who am I to talk – but it's well worth a visit, as it's packed with information and references, and is a great resource regarding an area that we all should be aware of and
concerned about.

Frank praises the lady's dedication, energy and effectiveness. I welcome the chance to become personally acquainted with Ms. Alexander in the near future.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Gas & Oil at a Glance: 022805

As you should be suspecting, what we're paying for gasoline, especially during the last couple of weeks, is way out of whack with where oil prices have been going, especially with crude surpassing $50 per barrel again. Considering the predominant ratios and spreads in recent times, to keep paying in the low 190's for petroleum, we will ultimately need to see oil about $10.00 per barrel cheaper than it is now.

In 2004, the average ratio of gasoline prices to oil - I call it the 'GOP Ratio' for short - was 1.9. Right now, the GOP stands at 1.56. Since October 11, 2004, it has been under 1.6 five other times. Yet, going back to the end of 2000, there have been no other instances of it having been this low. Plus, from 2001 through 2004, the GOP has tended to be higher during the second quarter, compared to the others. Last year, it averaged 2.11. A rise in the GOP Ratio seems a virtual certainty.

Then there's the spread: The difference between the retail price of gasoline and the cost of crude oil. In 2004, it averaged 86.72 cents. Right now it's 17 cents less, at 69.59. The spread has only been below 70 cents 15% of the time going back to the end of 2000. Compelling signs to expect the spread to 'regress' to more frequently occuring levels.

As I see it, if oil remains in the low 50's for any length of time, look for gasoline to average nationally at $2.05 . . . that's if we're lucky. Unfortunately, in the coming months, it may be more likely that we'll see gas in the $2.25 range. And, that the price could sky well beyond two and a quarter per gallon is well within the realm of possibility.

Bottom line: if we long to continue shelling out about the amounts that we do right now for gasoline, pray for oil to retreat to the low 40's. That looks like our best case. It's hard to imagine any scenario for motor fuel outlays to lessen significantly any time in the near term. It's far easier to envision them schlepping higher.

You can peruse a brief background and explanation of my methodology for the OGRS by proceeding to this post.