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As Long as We Remember...

March 21, 2006

Oil and Politics

Edward Lulie III

These days are troubling for motorists. A cough at an oil refinery and some executive pushes some buttons and the price at the pump rises a dime in just minutes.

They excuse this blatant price gouging by claiming that oil is a like a precious metal, gold or silver; so that you can justify the huge profits.

Reality check. Last time I looked, gasoline was a fuel which burns upon usage. The gasoline delivered to your local dealers came from oil fields to refineries months ago. The cost of buying and refining was set months ago. So how do big oil companies justify the present day looting at the pumps?

Competition! The truth is that there is a grain of truth in that, except it' s the lack of competition not the existence of it that helps cause the problem.

Much of the trouble stems from money. Politics runs on it as much as our cars run on gasoline. Money also buys friends. Look at some of the richer local developers and their spokesmen, any question what they are trying (and too often succeeding) to buy?

Now big corporate oil is rich enough to buy loyalty from both sides of the political spectrum, left and right. They have done so, it appears, with stunning success. The billions collected in profits last year justify their continuing efforts to unlock regulations and controls.

The United States economy has continued steaming along despite the huge increases in energy costs. Yet commuters, some of whom actually vote, have been getting hit hard.

Political consequences will follow. In Frederick the pro growth club despises anyone that dares to call them "developers" because with voters that word has sunk to a level along the lines of "mold spore" or even worse.

Of course, the phrase is correct, that's precisely why the howls and screams are so loud. I heard Rush Limbaugh try to excuse the price gouging by alluding to some vague fluffery that sounded like "competition."

There are other terms that apply - like price-fixing and predatory monopolistic practices. When there are only a handful of oil companies in business, a few friendly phone calls might easily serve to get them together and to keep prices as high as they can.

Where's the risk when Congress and the White House don't enforce existing laws and won't pass new ones? And there is just so much money to be had.

Republicans have the same reflexive bowing and scraping adoration of large corporations that Democrats have to big unions. That's not to say that Democrats wouldn't be just as accommodating of big oil as Republicans. But Republicans are in charge. If they don't see the anger brewing with voters, they are blind.

Democrats are still operating under Howard Dean's blissful delusion that stumbling by President Bush will equal a new socialist revolution in the United States this fall. They are wrong. But if they act fast and attack big oil profits and the GOP they could at least have a shot at regaining some seats.

The GOP risks much by sitting idly by and wringing its hands helplessly over huge oil profits. Many Republicans would tell you that much of the increase was justified because the left has crippled our ability to build new refineries and lower demand by using nuclear power.

They are absolutely correct, but they seem to forget that soccer moms not only vote but they all drive. Every time the price of gasoline rises 10 cents a gallon overnight, without apparent cause or explanation, it raises the level of frustration, if not outright anger.

Unless the GOP wakes up quickly and acts, this frustration at the pumps will come back and haunt them in the elections this fall. After all, most of their voters have to drive to get to the polls.

Woodsboro - Walkersville Times
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