Sunday, March 6, 2022

Last Call For It's A Gas Gas Gas, Con't

U.S. gasoline prices at the pump jumped 11% over the past week to the highest since late July 2008 as global sanctions cripple Russia's ability to export crude oil after its invasion of Ukraine, automobile club AAA said on Sunday.

AAA said average U.S. regular grade gasoline prices hit $4.009 per gallon on Sunday, up 11% from $3.604 a week ago and up 45% from $2.760 a year ago.

The automobile club, which has data going back to 2000, said U.S. retail gasoline prices hit a record $4.114 a gallon on July 17, 2008, which was around the same time U.S. crude futures soared to a record $147.27 a barrel.

The most expensive gas in the country is in California at $5.288 a gallon, followed by Hawaii ($4.695), Nevada ($4.526) and Oregon ($4.466), according to AAA.

U.S. gasoline futures , meanwhile, soared to a record $3.890 per gallon on Sunday.

Gasoline price provider GasBuddy said the average price of U.S. gasoline spiked nearly 41 cents per gallon, topping $4 for the first time in almost 14 years, and stands just 10 cents below the all-time record of $4.103 per gallon.

GasBuddy said that weekly increase was the second largest ever, following a jump of 49 cents per gallon during the week of Sept. 3, 2005, after Hurricane Katrina tore through the U.S. Gulf Coast.

"Increasing oil prices continue to play a leading role in pushing prices higher," AAA said in a release, noting "pump prices will likely continue to rise as crude prices continue to climb."

U.S. crude futures soared more than 12% to $130.50 per barrel late Sunday, their highest since July 2008, as the United States and its European allies consider banning imports of Russian oil. read more
Gas prices around here went from $3.29 to $3.69 this week.  I expect it's going to get a lot worse before it gets better in the weeks and months ahead, too. The Biden administration is already reaching out to OPEC, who admittedly, would like to cash in on oil prices spiking to record levels.

President Biden’s advisers are discussing a possible visit to Saudi Arabia this spring to help repair relations and convince the Kingdom to pump more oil, Axios has learned.

Why it matters: A hat-in-hand trip would illustrate the gravity of the global energy crisis driven by Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Biden has chastised Saudi Arabia, and the CIA believes its de facto leader, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, was involved in the dismemberment of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi. 
The possibility also shows how Russia's invasion is scrambling world's alliances, forcing the U.S. to reorder its priorities — and potentially recalibrating its emphasis on human rights. 
Biden officials are in Venezuela this weekend to meet with the government of President Nicolás Maduro. Some Republicans and Democrats in Washington suggest Venezuela's oil could replace Russia's, according to the New York Times
Any visit to the Persian Gulf would come amid a busy presidential travel schedule during the next few months. 
Biden will likely take trips to Japan, Spain, Germany and, potentially, Israel, Axios has also learned.
THat's right, the Biden administration is cozying up to the regimes in both Saudi Arabia and Venezuela, who frankly want to money but would also love to tell Biden to go screw himself.  

Morals take a backseat to realpolitik, and I've run this blog long enough to more than accept that there are time where that will happen.

We'll see how this shakes out, but if this is Biden's Plan A, you probably don't want to know the political fallout of Plans B through whatever.

The Road To Gilead, Con't

Texas's unconstitutional abortion "bounty" laws remain in effect pending the Supreme Court's upcoming decision later this spring, and as such we have data on how women in the state are dealing with getting the healthcare they need, either through medication-induced abortion or by going elsewhere.

In the months after Texas banned all but the earliest abortions in September, the number of legal abortions in the state fell by about half. But two new studies suggest the total number among Texas women fell by far less — around 10 percent — because of large increases in the number of Texans who traveled to a clinic in a nearby state or ordered abortion pills online.

Two groups of researchers at the University of Texas at Austin counted the number of women using these alternative options. They found that while the Texas law — which prohibits abortion after fetal cardiac activity can be detected, or around six weeks — lowered the number of abortions, it did so much more modestly than earlier measurements suggested.

Combined, the data points to what may happen to abortion access if the Supreme Court decides to overturn Roe v. Wade when it rules on another abortion law this summer. The data shows the limitations of laws restricting abortion. Yet it also shows how restrictions erect significant obstacles, which will cause some women to carry unwanted pregnancies to term.

“The law has not done anything to change people’s need for abortion care; it has shifted where people are getting their abortion,” said Kari White, principal investigator of the university’s Texas Policy Evaluation Project and the lead researcher on the new out-of-state abortion study. She expressed surprise at how few abortions were prevented by such a sweeping set of restrictions: “The numbers are way bigger than we expected. It’s pretty astounding.”

But for the architects of the Texas law, even a modest reduction in abortions is a success.

“There’s no hesitation from our side to declare this a victory for actually protecting pre-born children from elective abortion,” said John Seago, the legislative director of Texas Right to Life, who was involved in the creation of the law. “We’re realists around here, so the best we can do is incentivize women to have their children.”

Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican who said the bill “ensures that the life of every unborn child who has a heartbeat will be saved from the ravages of abortion” when he signed it, declined to comment on the new numbers.

As state legislatures await a Supreme Court ruling and take stock of the Texas experience this year, several have passed new abortion restrictions, even if they conflict with Roe. On Thursday night, the Florida Legislature voted to ban most abortions after 15 weeks. Somewhere between 21 and 26 states are expected to ban or substantially restrict abortion if the Supreme Court permits it. On Monday, an effort by Senate Democrats to codify abortion rights into federal law failed to attract enough votes.

Each month in the period between September 2021, when the Texas law went into effect, and the end of the year, an average of 1,400 women went to one of seven nearby states, according to one of the new studies, released Sunday. That was 12 times as many as typically sought abortions out of state before the law.

The study included seven nearby states: New Mexico, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Arkansas, Kansas, Mississippi and Colorado. Nearly half of Texans who traveled went to Oklahoma, and a quarter to New Mexico. It counted Texans who visited 34 of 44 clinics, so the total was probably higher.

An average of 1,100 women ordered abortion pills online each month from Aid Access, an overseas service that sends pills in the mail while sidestepping U.S. abortion restrictions, by connecting women with European doctors and Indian pharmacies. That is more than triple the number who ordered pills in an average month before the law, according to the second study, published last week in JAMA Network Open.

Before, there was an average of 11 requests a day. Immediately after, that spiked to 138 requests a day, and has leveled out at about 30. The study could not determine if all medication requests resulted in abortions.

“The law is semi-effective; it will not stop all abortions,” said Abigail R.A. Aiken, an author of the study, who teaches public affairs and leads a research group studying self-managed abortion at the University of Texas at Austin.

Those who were unable to get abortions are most likely to be poor, a variety of research has found. It’s expensive to travel to another state and pay for transportation, child care and lodging in addition to the procedure.
It's that last paragraph that's the key. Those who can afford it will get abortion as health care. Those who can't will have to either bear the child, or turn to other means. It's these other means that Texas and other red states will target next, including making crossing state lines to get an abortion illegal, as well as outlawing abortion pills.

Should SCOTUS allow states to make their own laws, abortion is restricted severely. Should SCOTUS allow states to outlaw legal abortion entirely, the same thing results. Tens of millions of women will effectively not be able to get safe, effective abortion as health care.

This was always where the Road to Gilead was taking us next.

Sunday Long Read: Bragging Wrongs

In an update, and correction, of my post last month about how the Manhattan DA's criminal case against Donald Trump fell to ashes, the NY Times reports in our Sunday Long Read the detailed story of how DA Alvin Bragg became convinced that charging Trump would lead to an unwinnable trial.

On a late January afternoon, two senior prosecutors stood before the new Manhattan district attorney, hoping to persuade him to criminally charge the former president of the United States.

The prosecutors, Mark F. Pomerantz and Carey R. Dunne, detailed their strategy for proving that Donald J. Trump knew his annual financial statements were works of fiction. Time was running out: The grand jury hearing evidence against Mr. Trump was set to expire in the spring. They needed the district attorney, Alvin Bragg, to decide whether to seek charges.

But Mr. Bragg and his senior aides, masked and gathered around a conference table on the eighth floor of the district attorney’s office in Lower Manhattan, had serious doubts. They hammered Mr. Pomerantz and Mr. Dunne about whether they could show that Mr. Trump had intended to break the law by inflating the value of his assets in the annual statements, a necessary element to prove the case.

The questioning was so intense that as the meeting ended, Mr. Dunne, exasperated, used a lawyerly expression that normally refers to a judge’s fiery questioning:

“Wow, this was a really hot bench,” Mr. Dunne said, according to people with knowledge of the meeting. “What I’m hearing is you have great concerns.”

The meeting, on Jan. 24, started a series of events that brought the investigation of Mr. Trump to a sudden halt, and late last month prompted Mr. Pomerantz and Mr. Dunne to resign. It also represented a drastic shift: Mr. Bragg’s predecessor, Cyrus R. Vance Jr., had deliberated for months before deciding to move toward an indictment of Mr. Trump. Mr. Bragg, not two months into his tenure, reversed that decision.

Mr. Bragg has maintained that the three-year inquiry is continuing. But the reversal, for now, has eliminated one of the gravest legal threats facing the former president.

This account of the investigation’s unraveling, drawn from interviews with more than a dozen people knowledgeable about the events, pulls back a curtain on one of the most consequential prosecutorial decisions in U.S. history. Had the district attorney’s office secured an indictment, Mr. Trump would have been the first current or former president to be criminally charged.
Mr. Bragg was not the only one to question the strength of the case, the interviews show. Late last year, three career prosecutors in the district attorney’s office opted to leave the investigation, uncomfortable with the speed at which it was proceeding and with what they maintained were gaps in the evidence. The tension spilled into the new administration, with some career prosecutors raising concerns directly to the new district attorney’s team.

Mr. Bragg, whose office is conducting the investigation along with lawyers working for New York’s attorney general, Letitia James, had not taken issue with Mr. Dunne and Mr. Pomerantz presenting evidence to the grand jury in his first days as district attorney. But as the weeks passed, he developed concerns about the challenge of showing Mr. Trump’s intent — a requirement for proving that he criminally falsified his business records — and about the risks of relying on the former president’s onetime fixer, Michael D. Cohen, as a key witness.

This is why the civil case that state AG Tish James is proceeding. The burden of proof is much lower than in a criminal case, and James's case has much more believable witnesses, depositions, and evidence. Trump was never going to be charged with criminal wrongdoing in a state corporate tax fraud trial. In the civil case, James can recoup the lost tax revenue and levy penalties and fines, but that's about it.

The problem is that both of the prosecutors who resigned say the case was solid enough to go to trial. Bragg's decision to not do so is very much a political one, and I don't like it.

Criminal charges are going to have to come from Merrick Garland, and frankly, he has the same problem that Bragg does: being able to prove Trump's actions as criminal beyond a reasonable doubt, much less bringing a trial to a jury without absolute bloody chaos dogging the proceedings every step of the way.

Or worse.
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