· Gasoline prices have gone through the roof yet again. Oil industry spokesmen vaguely blame the price spike on "unrest in the Middle East" and labor problems in Venezuela, but the AAA says that there is absolutely no reason for prices to be rising at all, let alone by 15-20 percent in the past few weeks.
The thing is, we've all been through this before--some of us several times--and it's pretty much our fault that we let them get away with it.
It would be one thing if something happened that, under the laughably absurd "rules" of economics, restricted the supply of incoming oil and therefore caused the price of a gallon of gas to rise by 10 percent over a period of a few months. Instead, the industry "foresees" this situation and raises the price of gas by 20 percent immediately in "response to a possible future shortfall," and then they tack on an extra 10-15 percent as the months of "crisis" go by.
After they've gorged themselves at the consumer trough, prices begin to inch downward, but never at the rate at which they originally rose and almost never going back to the original starting point.
Or, the more likely scenario is that they act not in response to an actual shortage but because of the mere threat of one. They get bored with making obscene profits, so they decide to go for a burst of really obscene profits. They have some guy go out in the middle of the desert and whisper, "Uh-oh!" Acting on that, they see a perceived threat of maybepossiblycould-besortofpotential shortages and they take the preemptive measure of raising prices at the pump, which history has shown doesn't cut consumption. All it does is raise profits for the suppliers.
Most times, these "threats" have as much substance as (in the words of Abraham Lincoln) "a soup made from the shadow of a crow that had starved to death."
Those of us who are old enough to have seen 1973-74 (after the Yom Kippur War) know the oil companies did scandalous and criminal things. The politicians railed and screamed, but then after a while, they just shut up and let Big Oil keep the windfall profits. How can you really blame the oil companies for doing it again (and again)? We all know what's happening. The oil company executives are doing to us what some guy named Turk would do to them if only we would put them in prison where they belong.
The American consumer (with the apparent memory of a gnat) became a willing accomplice in the scheme. Within three years of the first "oil crisis," Detroit was churning out big cars again (remember the 1977 T-Bird?) and every Republican administration since then has relaxed federal fuel-economy standards.
One of the catch phrases these days is, "If you drive an SUV, you're helping Saddam." Or Osama. Our government tells us that they're inextricably linked. I don't actually believe that, but I do think that if you drive an SUV, you're helping the oil companies.
And one thing I'll say for Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden: At least they don't pretend to be on the side of America and its people.
· One of the things that bothers me--like many Americans--the most about this whole Bush-inspired Operation Make Up For My Daddy's Screw-ups campaign against Iraq is that we'll be striking the first blow, and that goes against what I think America stands for. Throughout history, we've been attacked first, our national nose has been bloodied, and then, with the sympathy of much of the world on our side, we've fought back and kicked the living crap out of people.
Oh sure, maybe American operatives did blow up the Maine, touching off the Spanish-American War. And perhaps we did let the Germans know the Lusitania was carrying armaments for the British, so that its sinking would give us an excuse to jump into World War I. But at least we went to the trouble of making it look like we were the wronged party. This Iraq nonsense makes us look like the big bad bully just flexing our muscles.
And for what? To impress Jodie Foster?
If we want to do this thing, at least let's do it the American way. Let's buy Iraq! Heck, we have corporations that could buy the country with the tax savings they accrue from moving their headquarters off shore with the blessing of the Bush Administration.
We could buy the whole place and give the Kurds the northern third of Iraq so they can have their own country. That way, we'd have at least one country that would vote with us in the United Nations (at least for the first couple years, and then they'd probably switch sides).
Saddam's many castles could become tourist attractions or they could be rented out to big-time contributors who find sleeping in the Lincoln Bedroom too outré.
For that matter, why think small? We could turn the place into an amusement park. Six Flags Baghdad. It's worth a try.