Something smells rotten

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 10, 2005

The experts said last year’s record gas prices were due to instability in the flow of oil from the Middle East caused by the war in Iraq. But gas prices started rising even before the first troops were deployed to the area and they continued to rise long after US military forces had quelled any major resistance.

While there are still some terrorist problems to contend with in Iraq, gas prices continue to spiral out of control and will set new record highs before summer, I predict. A barrel of crude oil is going for $55 now and is expected to hit $60 soon. That, by the way, represents a doubling of the price for crude oil in just two years.

But nobody’s squawking about it. It seems to just be business as usual. But the price of gas does make a difference, not just to us poor shlubs who have to drive to work, but also to the economy as a whole.

So why is the price of a gallon of gas already at $2 this spring? The media, slavishly reporting what they’re told by the oil industry, says it’s because of uncertainty in the Middle East and turmoil in Venezuela.

Sorry, I don’t buy it. I don’t believe a word of it. I still remember the ’70s and I still don’t believe a darned thing anybody in the oil industry tells me. And I’m very sadly disappointed in the national news media for letting the oil industry shills get away with their big, fat lies.

I remember an interview a couple of years ago between a reporter for NPR (National Public Radio) and oil industry spokesman about why gas prices were rising then. The oil industry guy was explaining that more profits were needed because the oil industry had experienced a bad year for profits. Sometimes, he said, things are good and the price of oil goes down, but he recalled one particularly bad year during which the oil industry only made $5 billion in profits. An awful, awful year.

There was no irony in this statement. He genuinely thought that making a $5 billion profit was a major catastrophe. Well, $5 billion certainly isn’t $25 billion, but most businesses speak of the lean years as the years they broke even or even lost money. The oil industry is not suffering and I think they’re still raking in those &uot;windfall profits&uot; they were not really punished for taking after the Arab Oil Embargo.

So, if the American public is being ripped off by oil companies, why doesn’t the federal government step in and help us out? Both the Republicans and the Democrats keep saying how concerned they are about Middle Class families and those struggling to keep their heads above water. You’d think something as important to the pocketbooks of regular folks would generate some concern, right?

Wrong. Neither party cares about what record high gas prices mean to individuals who have to commute to work. And the commute is the key. High gas prices for trips you don’t have to take, such as vacations, are something you choose to bear or not bear. High prices to get to and from work are far more serious because most of us have no choice – you either bear the cost or go on the public dole.

So we work and we fill up our cars, trucks and SUVs with gasoline. The cost of everything we use and buy is going up because of the higher transportation costs, so we’ll just have to scrimp and save and try to get by the best we can. Americans are already saving far less money than their parents did, and even though there is rumbling in the Bush Administration about cutting back on Social Security benefits, we won’t even be able to save that little bit.

For both Republicans and Democrats that’s okay, as long as the energy companies continue to support their multimillion-dollar election campaigns. They can both tout their tax-cutting schemes, which put a couple or three hundred bucks into the family coffers. Of course, we probably will spend several thousand dollars on higher energy and transportation costs over the course of the year, but I guess the politicians figure the expenditures will be too gradual to notice and even if there are some ill feelings about not having anything left over from each week’s paycheck, folks will forget all about it come tax rebate time when they get that check.

The long and the short of it is that our economy is going to be wrecked by this problem unless the government and the private sector begin doing the work that needs to be done to wean this country from petroleum products.

Bush makes Social Security out to be in crisis, but he says nothing about the true crisis facing the United States – oil. Sure, he’s got troops poised in the Middle East to step in if any countries decide to embargo the oil, but what’s he going to do when the oil dries up?

For those of you still expecting gas prices to go down after we get through this little &uot;rough patch&uot;, I’ve got some bad news. It ain’t going down. By the end of this year, and maybe by the end of summer, we’re not going to see gas dip below $2 per gallon again. Ever. It’s going to keep going up and up and up until a great many of us won’t be able to drive. Good for the environment, I guess, but it means the majority of Americans will have a much lower standard of living. The good old days may well be over.