Wednesday, May 3, 2006

Four-Dollar Gasoline? Get Over It

Starbucks_1Starbucks_2America can accept CEOs making (not earning, making) $18,500 an hour and hardly blink an eye at paying $4.50 for a Starbucks Frappuccino. No one takes much notice, rummaging for their size among the piles of $250 designer jeans or questions why Nike rakes in over a hundred bucks for their middle-line running shoes.


But let gasoline hit $3.50 a gallon and Congress falls all over itself making asinine proposals and President Bush asks for permission from that same over-wrought Congress to mandate mileage requirements for automobiles.


Permission?


Bush_gasThis is the same president who ran down Congressional oversight in his SUV when he wanted to sic the FBI on Americans’ phone calls, so I guess we know how serious he is. The same president who interpreted some 750 laws the Congress made, any way that he felt like.


Argggghhhhhhhh!!! Get over it, people!


America is the last industrialized country on the face of the earth where gasoline is cheap. Iraq, where lots of it is produced and has long been subsidized by the government, gets about two-bits a gallon, unless we buy it over there from Halliburton and then it’s ten times that, but you’ll have to ask Dick Cheney why, ‘cause I don’t know.


EuroperailEurope has been paying $5 to $7 a gallon for decades now and part of the legacy of that is excellent public transportation across the continent. Cheap gas in America bought us Amtrak, strip-malls, two-hour commutes and socially isolated suburbs where the kids have nowhere to hang out but the malls.


It also bought us a ruined automobile manufacturing industry, total energy dependence, a severely degraded environment and screwball economics.


Band-wagons were everywhere in Washington, being jumped on


  • George Bush is using the ‘gas crisis’ as additional evidence for the need of extended tax giveaways to the rich. How the two are connected is anyone’s guess.

  • Congress was going to give us a hundred bucks to fill up, until they were laughed off their announcement podium. Sen. Jim Talent, declaring, "It will show people that Washington gets it," only confirmed how much they don’t get it. But Republicans are desperate to beat Democrats to the gift counter, so we can expect something before November.

  • A few conservative Republicans dropped their pants, as well as their ‘philosophical opposition’ to tax hikes. Philosophy is the first thing thrown overboard in an electoral storm. They suddenly began complaining loudly about oil companies and the auto industry.

  • Last week, Bush talked about diverting oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. “No, no,” he claimed, “this is not the political stunt I accused the Democrats of two years ago, this is my political stunt.”

SenpetedomeniciThe wagon with no band on it is Senator Pete Domenici’s encouraging the development of renewable fuels and hybrid vehicles. Pete is twenty to thirty years late with that and he’s been in the Senate, representing New Mexico for 34 years, so what’s the excuse, Pete?


The other reason Pete’s great ideas won’t work is the fix has to be in time for November’s mid-term elections and renewable fuel research is a little further away than most Congressional horizons. Ditto Ford, Chrysler or GM rolling out a workable hybrid.


Global warming, skyrocketing deficits, kids getting killed in Iraq, the FBI and CIA spying on Americans and our president reading Congressional law creatively, are all things that can be talked around and spun this way or that. We’re not likely to go to war with Iran before November, even George isn’t dumb enough to do that. But the sabers will be mightily rattled, enough to scare those on the edge of withholding their vote to come into compliance. That stuff can be handled.


GaspriceWhat maybe can't be handled is that Americans are mightily displeased about the cost of filling up their cars. Republicans promised there wouldn’t be a crisis, that we could keep on buying those SUVs and now, here we are, in deep doo-doo big-time.


What’s at stake in this mid-term is control of Congress. If Republicans can't hold on to that, Democrats are going to establish investigatory commissions, pull the rug out from under all that administrative stone-walling and wreck any chance Bush has to save his legacy, whatever the hell that means. He may well be indicted. Rabbits will be pulled from hats.


What needs to happen is Congress slapping on an additional buck-a-gallon federal tax. That would bring gasoline to around $4.50 a gallon, still $2 below Europe and the rest of the realistic world. Consumption would drop, alternative energies would blossom, the national debt would be brought under control and the nation would benefit. But it would take courage, foresight and statesmanship and all of those attributes are woefully short in this Congress or administration.


CostofdrivingConsider that the average driver in America clocks 12,000 miles a year on the family sedan and that his mileage averages 24 mpg. That’s 500 gallons of gas or diesel a year. At $1.25, it costs him $625.00 and at $3.25 his fuel bill jumps to $1,625.00. An extra grand a year. Not the end of the world as we know it.


If the Fed slapped another buck in taxes, his total extra load would be $1,500.00.


Instead of that, our president and our Republican Congress is extending Bill Gates’ and Ted Turner’s tax breaks. That will cost you tens of thousands in deferred deficits and won’t run your car an extra block and a half. But when that bill comes due, George Bush, Pete Domenici, Trent Lott, Dennis Hastert and Bill Frist will no longer be in office.


Who ya gonna call, Ghost Busters?
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