GOOD NEWS, BAD NEWS. The price of oil fell below $44 dollars a barrel Aug 26, reports Scott Peterson of the Christian Science Monitor, but simultaneous attacks on 20 different pipeline sites will surely move us a few steps closer to that "magical threshold" of the $50 barrel. Says economist Phillip Verleger, "If you look down the road ... you can make the case that what we're seeing right now is a first squall of a major energy hurricane that's going to overwhelm the global economy." For those who doubt such dire terms are warranted, consider this: For every $10 added to the price of oil an estimated 1%, or $255 billion, is knocked off the global GDP; this according to the International Energy Agency (IEA), who also warns that higher oil prices could "undermine significantly the prospects for continued global economic recovery." Nevertheless other experts council calm, noting that in terms of supply and demand today's oil crisis is actually less serious than the shortage of the 1970s. "The major difference is that when I drive into my filling station today, I can buy as much as I want," offers Robert Ebel, chair of the Energy Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. "In the 1970s, you could only buy 10 gallons, or fill certain cars on certain days. There was a supply shortage." The fact that the US market is balanced in terms of supply and demand leads experts to look for other causes of the artificially high oil prices. One is the "fear factor" fed by terrorist attacks, another is the fact that OPEC nations are at capacity production even in the face of a "surging global demand," and a third is an "increasing number of speculators coming into a volatile oil market."
ROBO VOTE. Bev Harris is worried about electronic voting machines ... and with very good reason. In the August 24 In These Times Harris produces a wealth of evidence that these machines are nowhere nearly as accurate as their manufacturers would have the voting public believe. In her words: "I published a compendium of 56 documented cases in which voting machines got it wrong." By "got it wrong," Harris means produced a result opposite to the will of the people. Here are a few of the instances she identifies: In a 2002 race in Wayne County, N.C., machine error reversed the outcome for state representative. In Orange County, Calif., voting machines made a 100% error, reversing yes and no votes on a school bond referendum. In 2002 in Clay County, Kan., it was reported that a candidate had garnered 48 percent of the vote and lost. In fact he had received 76% of the vote and won in a landslide. In 2002 in Scurry County, Texas, poll workers became suspicious at two landslide victories for Republican candidates. They requested a new chip and also counted the votes by hand, finding that in both races the Democrats "had won by wide margins." Mrs. Harris is not alone in her findings. She cites the Wall Street Journal report of a voting machine in the 2000 general election (for president) that "was fed 300 ballots and reported 4 million votes." Also, in 2003 Boone County, Ind., officials "wanted to know why their MicroVote machines counted 144,000 votes cast when only 5,352 existed." These machines seem remarkably adept at adding or losing votes, but when it comes to correcting themselves (or allowing human correction) things get trickier; some, like the new Diebold touch-screen system are "unauditable."
OUTED GAY-BASHING CONGRESSMAN STEPS DOWN. US Rep. Edward L. Schrock, R-Va., an outspoken foe of gays in the military and supporter of a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriages, abruptly ended his bid for a third term Aug. 30, citing unspecified allegations that, in his words, have "called into question" his ability to serve. Shrock said that he has "come to the realization that these allegations will not allow my campaign to focus on the real issues facing our nation." He declined to comment further on his decision or the nature of the allegations, but the Associated Press noted that a weblog has published claims since Aug. 19 that Schrock solicited sex with another man on a gay telephone dating service. Republican leaders nominated Thelma Drake, a real estate agent and state legislator, to run against David B. Ashe, a Democratic lawyer and Marine reservist who served last year in Iraq. Schrock, 63, a retired career Navy officer, was a member of the House Armed Services Committee and in 2001 was elected president of the Republican House freshman class.