Archive for January, 2015

Pro-life proliferation in Texas

In January 1984, President Reagan declared the 3rd Sunday in January as “Sanctity of Human Life Day.” The 3rd Sunday falls closest to the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, January 22, 1973. 

Since Reagan’s first declaration, every pro-life president has made similar annual declarations. Each pro-choice president has not. In years without a presidential decree (e.g., 2015), pro-life groups still commemorate the occasion. Henceforth, January 18th was Pro-Life Sunday.

It’s a good time to review the landscape of a controversial topic. Some call abortion the great issue of our time, not unlike William Wilberforce’s quest to end the slave trade in England in the early 1800s or Abraham Lincoln’s acts to abolish slavery in America half a century later.

Others, of course, say the issue is an ultimate test of civil liberty: what one can or cannot do with his or her body.

Let’s start with a recap of the numbers. Planned Parenthood is the nation’s leading provider of abortions. It receives $550 million per year from the United States government.

Guttmacher Institute, a government-funded “reproductive health” research group formerly associated with Planned Parenthood, reports that more than one million abortions occur in the United States each year.

If abortion were listed among the leading causes of death in the U.S., it would rank at the top above heart disease (595,000 deaths per year) and cancer (550,000 deaths per year).

According to Guttmacher and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control:

> Roughly 1 in 3 women will have an abortion by age 45.

> About half (49%) of abortions happen in women and teens under the age of 25.

> Eighty-four per cent of women who have abortions are unmarried.

> African-American women make up 13% of the female population but 35% of the abortions.

The National Down Syndrome Society estimates 92% of babies prenatally diagnosed with Down Syndrome are aborted. I thought the world was missing some joy.

Pollsters are showing the country more or less divided on the issue. Technology is clearly driving increased opposition. Higher definition and three dimensional sonograms are showing parents just how lifelike fetuses can be despite their in utero status.

Policy decisions are also supporting pro-life efforts. Conservative legislatures like Texas’ have required parental permission, waiting periods, counseling sessions and sonogram viewing, all aimed at reducing the procedure’s prevalence.

In 2013, Texas passed a law requiring abortion clinics to be overseen by a doctor who can quickly get a patient admitted to a nearby hospital should something go wrong. Roughly half of the state’s forty abortion clinics lacked such an overseer and were forced to close.

The 2013 Texas law also required clinics to be outfitted like surgical centers. This part of the law is presently under further review by the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans as it would likely cause another 12 Texas clinics to close.

Pro-life proponents advocate for reform in light of the cruelty of Dr. Kermit Gosnell, the Philadelphia abortion doctor convicted in 2013 of multiple counts of first degree murder. The travesty is recounted in vivid detail in the documentary “3801 Lancaster: American Tragedy” (www.3801Lancaster.com).

The Gosnell clinic was surely a worst case scenario. However, its gruesomeness makes me want not to even get close to the possibility again. The more safeguards we can put around the lives impacted by abortion, the better.

 

Kevin Thompson writes weekly for The Boerne Star in the Texas hill country. He can be reached at kevin@kwt.info.

The oil slump and its effect on Texas

Texas Railroad Commissioner David Porter recently quoted the president:

“We cannot drill our way to lower gas prices.” – Barack Obama, March 2010

Well, Mr. President, it appears we did – at least in part. Here’s a synopsis of how a barrel of oil sells for $100 in June and $50 six months later.

  1. American Ingenuity. Through rock fracturing and horizontal drilling,  U.S. oil companies figured out how to extract oil from previously unproductive lands. With barrel prices north of $75, it made economic sense to drill relatively expensive unconventional wells in rural U.S. locations and then transport the runs to market.
  1. Arab Stubbornness. Since oil flows like water in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), they don’t need costly setups to increase production. They can turn it up or down at will. Historically, they have throttled back to keep oil prices relatively stable. Whether the Saudis are irritated that the United States failed to topple Syria’s rogue regime or simply perturbed that U.S. producers haven’t restrained their production, they have decided not to turn off the spigot this time. They seem content with $40, even $20, oil in exchange for a return to their historical market share.
  1. Laws of Economics. Supply is up due to the aforementioned reasons and the resumption of production in Algeria, Libya and Iraq. Meanwhile, global demand has moderated for several reasons. First, China overstated its growth and overstocked. Second, Europe’s economy remains sluggish. Third, stiffer machine efficiency requirements are reducing fuel needs.

 High supply and low demand has caused the price of oil to fall to a new equilibrium.

 A big question among U.S. producers and oil & gas states like Texas is: For what price does oil need to sell in order to maintain profitability? Most seem to think between $60 and $80.

A bigger question is: Was price stability sufficiently considered in recent years or was the focus more on whether wells would produce?

My hunch is companies considered capacity more than price. It was more “Will the ground produce?” and less “Will the market pay?”

Oil firms have begun laying off workers (e.g., Schlumberger recently announced it will cut 10% of its workforce). With Texas’ unemployment rate lower than the national average (5.1% vs. 5.8%), we have some room to absorb.

And Texas’ economy is more diverse today than thirty years ago, though only in terms of employment base. JP Morgan Chase economist Michael Feroli has noted that the industry’s share of state economic output is roughly the same as it was in 1985.

This is cause for alarm, as is the high level of leverage that oil companies used to put wells and pipelines in the ground. Banks now own billions in oil industry loans and trillions in derivative contracts (i.e., oil price hedges).

If prices don’t bounce back in the next 6 – 12 months, banks will sustain hefty losses in the form of loan defaults and underwater contracts. That will limit access to capital in other industries.

Finally, the oil field services companies that sprang up in the last decade will be collateral damage if prices don’t rebound soon. Hopefully, all these players have set aside bounty from the boom to buffer a bust.

Retired Southwest Airlines co-founder Herb Kelleher knows that’s not likely the case. He recently recalled a bumper sticker from the late 1980s: “Dear Lord, give me another boom and I promise I won’t screw it up.”

Follow Kevin Thompson at http://www.kwt.info.


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