Glancing through the morning papers

Happy New Year, all!

New Year 2015 formed from sparking digits over black backgroundA few observations on interesting articles from today’s morning papers.

Foreboding in Kabul

Kabul, Afghanistan

Kabul, Afghanistan

Washington Post columnist, Pamela Constable, braves the desolation of a Kabul, Afghanistan largely abandoned by both Westerners and affluent Afghans as the Taliban closes in on what can only be described as a city waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Taliban terror attacks, suspicion, and dread of the potential return of extremist Islam has emptied a city still showing signs of its foreign-driven capitalistic Western influences. Constable braves suspicious stares as she takes a look behind the capital’s facade of urban bustle.

If you read the book, The Kite Runner (Khaled Hosseini), you develop an appreciation for how vibrant a city Kabul once was … before the Taliban rose to power the first time, before 9-11 and our just war to oust them, and 13 years of foreign occupation in attempts to prop up a government that most likely never had a chance to unify a “nation” artificially created out of tribal and religious chaos.

The natives, always the ones with their ears closest to the ground, are fleeing, if they can afford to flee, because they sense what’s next. All this to the surprise of absolutely no one!

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All about the frack … and taxes

One of our local Pennsylvania State Representatives, Madeleine Dean (D, Montgomery County) penned an op-ed in The Philadelphia Inquirer on the State’s “obligation to tax gas extraction”. This was a big issue in PA during the recent Governor’s race, where Democrat Tom Wolf ousted incumbent Republican Tom Corbett.

Of course many here – even Republicans – take the bait on making the natural gas industry (NGI) pay more for the privilege of extracting natural gas and – oh, by the way – providing Pennsylvania with a future of fuller employment in high-paying technical jobs and off-shoot business opportunity in support industries.

What many fail to realize is that the NGO already pays Impact Fees intended to offset the costs to infrastructure and to help local communities take full advantage of these developing opportunities. And let’s not forget, like all Pennsylvania businesses, they are saddled with the highest Corporate Tax Rate (9.99%) in the country!

The State faces a $2 billion deficit, a big chunk of which results from the loss of federal stimulus funding that former Governor Ed Rendell had specifically devoted to education funding. This damaged Corbett in the Governor’s race, despite not being of his doing.

Now I’m all in favor of Big C corporations chipping in to resolve fiscal problems in the state in which they may do quite well. But if you price the NGI out of production profits, all those cool, high-paying jobs and business opportunities will move elsewhere.

The current price of oil in the international market will be a huge influence in those decisions, a lesson not wasted on Saudi Arabia’s oil market decisions. Which also brings us to …

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We all scream for ice cream … especially in Venezuela

Another Washington Post piece by Nick Miroff looks at the “rocky road” of ice cream in Venezuela’s “melting economy”. The Heladeria Coromoto, an shop that boasted 863 flavors (!), including trout and mushroom in wine sauce (Yeah, I don’t get it either.), and a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records (undoubtedly for most bizarre flavors) closed in Merida.

The owner claims milk shortages as the cause; but of course the Madura Government blamed the owner’s status as an “opposition supporter .. in a low-intensity war against the present government.” This on the heels of a toilet paper panic (always a sign of impending social collapse) and shortages in basic food stuffs.

Hugo Chavez (left)

Hugo Chavez (left)

Of course it’s difficult to imagine a capitalist, even one in Venezuela, resorting to closing down a successful money-making venture in a “low-intensity war”.

What’s odder in all this is Venezuela’s status, sitting on the world’s largest petroleum reserves. How does such wealth, often used to sling barbs at U.S. foreign and domestic policy (See Citgo), become such a wasted commodity?

The HUGE Hugo Chavez socialist spending spree is raising it’s ugly head. Falling oil prices aren’t helping either, with Venezuela’s oil going for less than $50 a barrel, most likely the result of Saudi Arabia’s determination to drive the oil market’s value down and capture a much bigger market share.

Saudi Arabia?!?

That’s karma, baby!

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