(MoneyWatch) COMMENTARYWill President Obama’s new plan to reduce oil prices work? As a former commodities options trader, I’ll hedge my answer with, a “yes, maybe”.
Let’s start with a recap on why oil prices have spiked from $75 per barrel in October to $104 today. In general, the increase is attributable to the general pickup in the U.S. economy, rising demand from China and India, and anxiety over Iran. The problem is that any and all of the factors driving up oil and gas prices can be magnified by speculation in the markets.
The advent of liquid futures markets makes it easy for banks, hedge funds, and even ordinary investors (through mutual and exchange-traded funds) to bet on the direction of oil. Although the same can be said of virtually every market these days, the reverberations can significantly impact the economy when it comes to the oil market. That’s why I have previously advocated stricter “position limits,” which caps the size of the bets that speculators can make, and higher margin requirements, as a way of controlling speculation. Such measures are a better lever for lowering oil prices than tapping the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, which is meant for emergency supply disruptions.
I know that traders hate this idea, but it’s clear that speculators have come to play too large a role in a market that affects ordinary Americans and the economy as a whole. How big a role is subject to debate. But in 2008, when crude oil peaked at $147 per barrel, the Commodities Futures Trading Commission concluded that 81 percent of oil trading volume was conducted by speculators. According to economist Ed Yardeni, president of Yardeni Research, as recently as the end of February, “Speculators and traders, in effect, held a record 43.8 percent of U.S. inventories.”
How could that be, you ask? A series of bipartisan, deregulatory efforts over the past two decades paved the way.
Read all of this HERE.
Long-Lost 18th Century Portrait of Transvestite Spy Rediscovered
Gilbert Stuart’s portrait of the French spy, diplomat, and transvestite Chevalier D’Eon, painted in London in 1792 when D’Eon was performing in theaters in drag as a fencer, is the oldest known formal portrait of a transvestite. It disappeared from view in 1926, but re-emerged at a New York auction last year, and is currently on public display in London.
The painting — which Londoners can visit at Philip Mould & Company, 29 Dover St, through April 20 — disappeared from view in 1926, when, according to Art Market Monitor, George III’s ex-doctor sold it to an American collector.
The portrait re-emerged when Philip Mould recently spotted it in a New York showroom. Though the painting initially appeared to portray a woman with masculine features, restoration of the pigments revealed hints of facial hair, and further research confirmed that it was indeed the long-lost portrait of D’Eon. Now, Mould says, London’s National Portrait Gallery is considering acquiring the historical oddity.
D’Eon, for those unfamiliar with their early histories of sexual difference, was born Charles-Geneviève-Louis-Auguste-André-Timothée d’Éon de Beaumont (seriously) and lived the first five decades of her life as a man, before dressing and behaving as a woman for the final 33 years of her life. She began her spying career at age 28, when King Louis XV sent her on a secret mission to Russia, where she may have posed as a lady of honor to Empress Elizabeth.
After drafting the peace treaty that ended the Seven Years’ War D’Eon spent much of the rest of her life in London, though her pension from Louis XV ceased when the king died, and she spent much of the 1790s competing in fencing tournaments to earn a living, until she was injured in 1796. She eventually died in poverty in 1810 at age 92.
If the NPG does purchase Stuart’s portrait of D’Eon, it would be the first oil painting of a transvestite in its collection.
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This Year’s Fight Over Taxing the Middle Class—And the Rich
Our 100-year fight over tax rates has taken some surprising twists and turns since the income tax went universal under FDR.
Inscribed in stone on the exterior of the Internal Revenue Service headquarters in Washington are the words “Taxes are what we pay for a civilized society”, a quotation taken from a 1927 Supreme Court opinion written by Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.
The phrase was often repeated by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, for it was during Roosevelt’s presidency that the personal income tax for middle class Americans came into existence and tax rates for the wealthiest Americans topped 90 percent. While the 16th Amendment to the Constitution, allowing Congress to levy a national income tax, was ratified in 1913, it initially applied only to those earning $4,000 or more, about $80,000 in today’s dollars. They were required to file a 1040 form — that’s what it was called from the beginning — and to pay one percent of their income in federal taxes. The highest earners, those whose incomes were greater than $500,000 — equal to about $11 million today — paid a top rate of 7 percent.
It wasn’t until World War II — and the attendant need to fund U.S. participation in the war — that the withholding of taxes from the wages of middle class workers was instituted. By the end of the war, even the lowest bracket of wage earners paid about 20 percent of their earnings in income taxes — making the tax system truly universal. Meanwhile, by 1944, those on the top end of the income scale, with incomes over $200,000 ($2 million in 2011 dollars), were levied a 94 percent tax rate.
And with that run-up and expansion in taxation was launched a political fight that has stayed with us, and which again threatens in 2012 — when a host of tax cuts are set to sunset at the end of the year — to bring the federal government to its knees as the White House and House Republicans again clash over to how best to raise revenue, what programs to fund, and how or whether to slash the deficit during a sluggish economic time.
Read all of it HERE.
This is freaking hilarious! And I know more than a few women who can relate to this guy!
Who can make it through all 18 of these heartbreakers with nary a tear? Only someone without a soul. “That first video should’ve been batting clean-up instead of lead-off,” one Reddit user said. Challenge accepted.
The space shuttle Discovery flew its final mission today, piggybacking on a Boeing 747 from Kennedy Space Center to D.C., where the shuttle will take up permanent residence as part of the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum. To commemorate the end of the shuttle era, NASA launched an extensive Flickr feed for citizen journalists in the flight path, and a roundup of landing pics can be found here. And if that’s not enough Discovery for you, there’s video here and here, and also a Twitter feed. Phew.
What’s Wrong With This Headline?
The shooting of two dogs during a police raid on April 13, 2011, has led to a civil lawsuit against the city by their owners, James and Aisha Keten.The couple’s three-year-old daughter was eating breakfast at the kitchen table in the Humboldt Avenue North house when police entered the front door on a warrant. As soon as the officers entered the house, they shot and killed one dog, Kano, in the living room, then moments later fired “multiple, hollow-point rounds towards the kitchen table, killing another of the Keten’s dogs,” Remy, that was lying beneath the table, the suit alleges. The Ketens say neither dog displayed aggression and the bullets passed very close to the 3-year-old.The officers then restrained James Keten, 28, with plastic zip ties and beat and kicked him in the head, neck and face while he lay on the floor, the suit alleges. After a search of the house, Keten was not arrested or charged with any crime.
How they deal with jaywalkers in South Africa.
BASHIR: Mr. Romney’s spokesperson has just said that he believes everyone needs to be civil. But no sign yet of him rejecting Nugent’s endorsement.
You have to hand it to Mitt and Ann Romney. Even their righteous indignation is as fake and as two-faced as everything else that marks their presidential campaign.
(note, this bashir shit should be fired from msnbc! he is just a racist son of a bitch. imho)
Your typical euro leftist asshole.
(Daily Mail) — Ken Livingstone was ‘appalled’ by the killing of Osama bin Laden, he revealed today.
The Labour veteran stunned observers at a Westminster lunch by declaring that the United States had been wrong to kill the world’s most notorious terrorist.
Mr Livingstone, who is trailing Tory Boris Johnson in the London mayoral race, has courted controversy over terrorism in the past with his outspoken support for Irish republicans and Palestinian militants.
But his comments on the death of a man who masterminded the deaths of thousands of innocent civilians around the world are likely to raise further doubts about his suitability for high office.
Speaking at a lunch for political journalists he said: ‘I was appalled to see Osama bin Laden in his pyjamas shot in front of his kid.
‘The best way to demonstrate the values of a western democracy is you put Osama bin Laden on trial and challenge what he says.’
So a bunch of Muslim-American comedians travel across the country, and… that’s the punchline! In a new documentary — called, naturally, The Muslims Are Coming! — they fight Middle America’s misconceptions and prejudice with humor and wit, and they document the fallout so we can crack up alongside them.
Remember they might be funny, but islamics still want to kill us, one way or another.
Geesh…make a freaking liberal islamic loving asshole an ambassador?
A CNN pundit who has advocated nuclear containment of Iran and expressed antipathy towards American democracy is said to be on the short list for a top diplomatic post in a second Obama administration—perhaps even secretary of State. That is raising red flags across Capitol Hill and within foreign policy circles.
Fareed Zakaria hosts CNN’s “Fareed Zakaria GPS,” a weekly program focusing on international issues and American foreign policy. Zakaria is also an editor-at-large for Time magazine and a columnist for the Washington Post, where he regularly praisesthe president’s policies.
Zakaria has gone to great lengths to ingratiate himself to Obama, frequently flattering the president and vociferously attacking his critics on both sides of the political aisle. This could be the reason Obama is so keen on the pundit, sources said.
“Every column he’s written in the Washington Post for the last two years has been a job application,” said one longtime Washington foreign policy insider who requested anonymity. “He’s just climbing the greasy pole.”