The Reality of Lower Gas Prices

Everyone is aware of the recent drop in oil prices. Poor and middle class Americans, who have spent the better part of a decade dealing with increasing prices, have breathed a collective sigh of relief as the struggle to afford just normal everyday travel has become less burdensome. Democrats everywhere sarcastically rejoice PhotoGrid_1453156219692-1.jpg, while conservatives secretly rejoice in the lower prices. I think it’s important to ask a few questions though. Why the sharp drop in prices? Are there any negative impacts to the price drop? What does cheaper gas mean for our immediate and far off futures?

So why the sharp drop in prices? Three words: supply and demand. Not too long ago we were dragged through a peak oil hysteria. We thought the demand for oil would continue to rise as growing economy’s demands for oil grew. There was talk of shortages, potential world wide wars over oil, and overall panic set in as forecasts about oil demand got bleak. Then two major things happened. The global economy has been tanking behind the continuing collapse in China and increased supply due to US production. The world’s oil supply is overflowing right now, particularly due to America’s fracking boom. Fracking – a method of extracting natural gas from shale rock deep below the earth’s surface – has pushed US oil production to its highest level in 30 years. With such an abundant supply of oil on the market the price has sunk drastically. According to officials in Venezuela, the world has an oil surplus of 2 million barrels daily. The result is that current projections say the drop in oil prices will continue through at least 2017. It seems OPEC’s strategy is to push US oil fracking companies out of the market. Its cheaper to drill in Kuwait than it is to frack in middle America. Even still American fracking seems committed to continued production. They are aided by the fact that extraction costs have dropped almost 50% over the last year due to new technologies, and extraction costs continue to drop.

One of the immediate impacts of the drop in oil prices is the tumultuous impact the fracking bust is having on the American mid west. As recently as September 2014, we were still hearing about how fracking was revitalizing the rust belt, but by March of 2015 the bottom was already clearly falling outUS-rig-count_1988_2015-03-13oil This boom began right as the crash of 2008 was hitting us the hardest. Now regions that were managing to do ok since the 08 collapse, buoyed by the oil industry, are now joining the rest of America in our “recovery” we keep hearing about.

Beyond the economic impacts on oil industry dependent regions there are the obvious negative impacts of low oil prices on the environment. We’ve already seen proof of people’s short memories. Nicole Friedman commenting for Barrons.com writes

Bullish investors point to robust demand as a key reason that they expect oil prices to start recovering in the second half of 2016. It’s not just that drivers are hitting the road more, they say. They’re also buying less fuel-efficient vehicles, such as big SUVs, which suggests that demand could stay high for years. In addition, U.S. drivers traveled 2.6 billion miles in the first 10 months of 2015, the highest number for that period on record. And U.S. car sales also hit a record high in 2015, with many consumers opting to buy larger vehicles.

Those of us on left understood that gas prices were too low even before the drop in prices, and have an even harder road ahead if gas prices remain low. I know what those who support lower gas prices say, “Isn’t this good for struggling Americans?” As a working class person I understand the strain higher gas prices place on the budgets of working class people, but I also understand that our continued oil dependency is bad for our foreign policy and bad for our environmental policy too. Automakers want to continue to sell gas guzzling vehicles. The auto industry does not want Americans (or the rest of the world for that matter) to transition to different eco-friendly technologies, and they do not want Americans to consider the benefits of mass transit on road congestion, pollution, and auto accident related deaths. Only gun related deaths are trending to surpass auto related deaths as the number one cause of death in the US. Cheaper gas prices can only hurt the efforts to move past the multiple issues we face with continued reliance on personal vehicles, and gas, for our everyday travel. With climate change already impacting our lives in real ways will we sit and wait to act until it is too late to reverse the effects of our negligence?

We don’t quite know what this drop in oil prices really says about our global economy. Some economists present a mixed picture. They are unsure how strong the global economy will be with so many world conflicts ongoing, the slow down in the Chinese economy, and with comparatively high and rising debt burdens across a number of advanced and growing market economies matched with incomes constrained by sluggish growth… Let’s just say it may be a bumpy ride for the global economy in coming years. We know that gas prices are expected to rebound some with increased demand over the next year or two. We know that fracking is not likely to go anywhere, and it’s impact on earthquakes and local water supplies will still be a huge concern.

With all these things I’ve just discussed the reality of low gas prices is clearly a complex one. What’s good for our pockets may not always translate to what is good for us overall.

MLK The Leftist Hero

MLK Day is a day full of varying emotions for a leftist. I find myself infuriated at the way he is often remembered. Tavis Smiley, who has written a must read book on the life and politics of Martin Luther King Jr’s last year of life, has commented that people often think King gave the “I Have a Dream” speech, the mountain top speech, and then he was assassinated. Folks often don’t know about the really radical positions that Martin Luther King Jr. adopted in  the years after the “I have a Dream” speech became his iconic oratory moment. This happens a lot with radical figures in history. The public is often sold a sanitized and convenient image of radical figures. King’s message would grow and his outlook would change. American foreign policy, specifically the Vietnam War, would help to shape his growing radical conscious. MLK’s message of unity and color blindness delivered in the IHAD speech is often studied and included in textbooks, but speeches that include quotes like,

“The greatest purveyor of violence in the world : My own Government, I can not be Silent.”

are often pushed to margins of history. The radical message he had is often abandoned from the public consciousness until writers like Smiley and others focus us back in on the truth of his status as Leftist Hero.

Outside of the fury his whitewashed image can create, I also find myself feeling hopeful on this MLK Day. You have to feel a real pride in the fact that such a remarkable example of the human spirit, human intellect, and human compassion could be made in America and that it was exemplified in a young, southern, black preacher. I don’t spend too much time examining MLK the man, although I think it is important to understand that he was just a man. He was flawed, he was human, and that does not take away from his accomplishments. Its makes them all the more impressive in my estimation. When thinking of MLK’s legacy I spend most of my time trying to understand his lack of fear. How did he stand up there on the mountain top and never flinch at the impending doom? I like to think I’m ready to die in the pursuit of righteousness and the advancement of the human condition, but the truth is everyday I accept the horrible things done in the advancement of the American capitalist agenda, and I do not do nearly enough about it. Many of us don’t. It’s why I can look to MLK’s example and I’m filled with hope. I know that kind of courage is possible. King exemplified it. We just have to commit ourselves to living without fear.

Why I think it’s important to understand MLK in the context of “Leftist Hero” is that its exactly in opposition to his image as just a leader in the fight for the advancement of black civil rights. He stood for the advancement of human rights. He understood racism as a tool of capitalist oppression. He knew that poor white folks should not be the enemies of poor black folks.  He knew that we all are being abused by a system that creates extreme economic inequality.  King made it very clear his understanding that “injustice anywhere is a threat the justice everywhere.” He expressed that not only should we not be divided by race as Americans, but that we should not be divided by nationality and against other poor people in the world. His speech on why he opposed the Vietnam War is an important moment for the American left.

This speech is where we get that damning quote from above declaring that America is in fact the greatest purveyor of violence in the world, but this speech gives us so much more. It gives us a critique of class warfare. In this speech he says

I was increasingly compelled to see the war as an enemy of the poor

and he goes on to say

Perhaps a more tragic recognition of reality took place when it became clear to me that the war was doing far more than devastating the hopes of the poor at home: it was sending their sons and their brothers and their husband to fight and die in extraordinarily high proportions relative to the rest of the population. We were taking the black young men who had been crippled by society and sending them eight thousand miles away to guarantee liberties in Southeast Asia which they had not found in southwest Georgia and east Harlem. So we have been repeatedly faced with a cruel irony: watching negro and white boys on TV screens as they kill and die together for a nation which that has been unable to seat them together in the same schoolroom, though we watch them in brutal solidarity burning the huts of a poor village we realize that they would hardly live on the same block in Chicago or Atlanta.

These are the words of a Leftist American Hero. Not only is he attacking how race divides us at home, he is also discussing the hypocrisy of supposedly exporting ideals we haven’t even achieved here in the US. He masterfully explores the sick irony of the poor and oppressed youths of America being sent off to kill and be killed by the poor and oppressed people of Vietnam. This message still ever important as the years creep on of our continued presence in the middle east. We have young and mostly poor and middle class Americans again waging war against their global counterparts, american neighborhoods still as segregated as ever, neoliberal economic warfare on the poor only intensifying and the gap between the wealthy and the poor only increasing over these last several decades since his murder. King came to understand that the color blind dream for America he had before was an incomplete vision.  Harry Belafonte has quoted MLK as saying

“I’ve come upon something that disturbs me deeply. We have fought hard and long for integration, as I believe we should have, and I know that we will win. But I’ve come to believe we’re integrating into a burning house.”

Here is MLK accepting that assimilation into the capitalist and white supremacist paradigm is not the solution at all. King understood we must reject the crimes against justice being perpetuated by America and stand up in opposition to them. King discussed how we needed to free ourselves from the triple headed albatross of  imperialism, racism, and economic exploitation hanging from the neck of America. He went even further asserting that America might indeed go to Hell if we don’t. We can’t continue to hold on to that too popular image of him that erases the leftist legacy he left for us. It is time to reclaim his image, review these words, and rally around the message he so eloquently spells out for us here.

Reclaiming Mlk” is what the left in this country has to do. He is one of our leaders. He joins a proud Black American tradition of truth tellers, martyrs, visionaries, and thinkers who rose up from the margins to try to lead us on the path to liberation. Let us memorialize him as the Leftist Hero that he was, and may the tradition of the left live on in us all.

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Will black masculinity survive the era of the skinny jeans?

Of course I am half kidding. The era of the skinny jeans is really better aptly titled the “Era of Non Conformity.” That is essentially what we are referring to when we discuss what makes a black male in skinny jeans so abhorrent to “real black men.” Real black men apparently too MASCULINE, too MANLY, too CIS-GENDER to ever consider form fitting clothing.

We’ve all seen the discussions on social media surrounding black males who venture too far away from “acceptable” black male wardrobe. Take Russell Westbrook. Whether you find his often changing and edgy apparel appealing is one thing. Comparing him to a woman is really something else.  Misogyny is what is being employed when Russell is compared to a woman in a disparaging way. Even if that is what Russell is attempting to do with some of his fashion choices, dress I suppose in a way Russell must think is feminine, what’s inherently bad about that? Who decided that manhood and masculinity is related to the fit of your pants or the cut of your shirt? I know, I know… You aren’t homophobic if Russell’s “girly” outfits disturb you. No one is these days. Even if they are espousing homophobic ideas no one is homophobic anymore. Sometimes we just skip the pretense and call non conformity like many truly see it, the promotion of  black male homosexuality. In more cautious circles they call it the “plot to emasculate the black male.” These non-homophobes want it to be clear it’s really a white supremacy plot, and Russell Westbrook is either a pawn or too weak minded to see it. Another successful black brother lost to white supremacy. RIP to Russell’s manhood. Never is non conformity in black male fashion seen for what it is, self expression, and freedom to engage in full self expression is actually an assertion of your humanity. Individuality is a often almost uniquely a white  person’s privilege. Especially if the way that you choose to express your individuality in any way approaches on androgyny.

We’ve seen other examples of this with rap artists like Young Thug youngthuggay and the ever evolving non conformity of hip hop prince, Jaden Smith.FFN_Coachella_PRCPRO_041715_51714224 These examples are met with lots of the above discussed misogynistic critiques, but these non conformists true to the name, continue to push through the criticism to express themselves in new and daring ways.

The original question still looms; will black manhood survive the era of the skinny jeans? Well, we’ve already attacked the notion that black manhood is related to what one wears, so how IS black masculinity defined? I would argue you can’t define it. That any definition falls short, because all definitions of masculinity trace back to hetero white cisgen male standards. This is what the idea of black male masculinity is based on. Black male masculinity shifts back and forth between trying to measure up to the standard and rejecting it. I would argue many want to establish the inherent superiority of black males as a response to their treatment within white supremacy. They want to establish that the black male is actually BETTER than their white counterparts. Some have gone so far as to sometimes blame Greeks and Europeans as the source of homosexuality, and often trying to out patriarchy the white male patriarchy that sets the standard. Perhaps that is unfair. Patriarchy is after all a disease, and the ways it can impact your thinking are often subconscious. Talking about patriarchy as a disease Cornel West writes,

I grew up in traditional black patriarchal culture and there is no doubt that I’m going to take a great many unconscious, but present, patriarchal complications to the grave because it so deeply ensconced in how I look at the world. Therefore, very much like alcoholism, drug addiction, or racism, patriarchy is a disease and we are in perennial recovery and relapse. So you have to get up every morning and struggle against it.

Accepting Dr. West’s assertion that patriarchy is indeed a disease, we have to consider how it shapes even what we think of as rejections of white supremacy. We have to define ourselves not in opposition to the white hetero cisgen standard, but free of it.  We must pave a new path of discovery towards a black masculinity that does not seek to limit self expression, but in fact applauds it. A black male framework that embraces non conformity and seeks to explore the limits of self expression, because again the freedom to express every side of your personality and identity is essential to your right as a human being.

So…no. Black masculinity will not survive the era of the skinny jeans. I posit that it will be transformed in this era. A transformation that hopefully results in freedom of self expression being much more equally accepted among all racial subcultures and less self policing of the non conformists among us.