Monday, May 16, 2011

You think gas is expensive now? Wait until it's 55 cents a gallon!

Time to round up the usual suspects.

Let's go ahead and settle some accounts.

We'll drag 'em in for a little come to Jesus-ing.

Last week, the United States Senate Finance Committee summoned the grand poo bahs of Big Oil, the American chairmen of Exxon-Mobile, Chevron, B.P., Conoco Phillips and Shell for a public flogging. Brooks Brothers brushed awkwardly against Armani as the five Caucasian millionaires sat abreast, facing down a legion of angry senators (who coincidentally, also happen to be millionaires).

No Mary Poppins. No spoonful of sugar. Straight medicine.

Predictably, the topic of conversation was the skyrocketing price of crude oil. The execs mostly sat quietly as the politicians took turns in the art of rhetorical query. I decided to pay close attention, to peel through the layers of rhetoric and truly grasp the core of the communication. After combing through pages of the Congressional manuscript, I've boiled it down to two key questions:

1) Sir, what the hell is wrong with you?

and 2) Seriously, sir, what the hell is wrong with you?

The rest was like listening to a teenager receiving a lecture for missing curfew...including the same amount of listening by the tongue lashee.

The oil suits presented a united front. When informed by Charles Schumer, D-New York that Congress must decide between reducing tax breaks for Big Oil and cutting funding for Medicare/Medicaid, one executive asserted that any tax increase to his company would only cause oil prices to climb further and be passed along to the consumer.

He claimed that, even though these corporations have recognized record profits recently, they reap only six cents profit to each dollar.

Let's see. What's six cents times three hundred twenty seven gazillion?

I'm not really sure what the point of this entire exercise is, anyway. These modern day robber barons have been around since early day robber barons, and in between there were medium day robber barons.

Even so, up until the early 1970s, Americans enjoyed the benefits of cheap fuel and massive automobiles. When my family traveled to New York and back twice in our 1965 Chevrolet Bel-Air station wagon, we three kids caromed comfortably and unsafely around the car's spacious back end. Gas was only about thirty-one cents a gallon, so my parents could have easily afforded to purchase another kid along the way if one of us flew out of the car or was forgotten at a Carl's Jr.

But around 1973, a group of Arab oil producers known as OPEC, decided they were a bit chapped about American and Western European support for Israel, who had been cleaning the clocks of a few oil-rich Arab nations.

I wasn't in the room for the unanimous vote, but the statements probably resembled, "Righteous. Let's do this bitch."

And stick it to us they did. OPEC created an oil embargo, thereby drastically diminishing oil exports to the West. Basically, they employed the "If you're here to see the movie, a box of Raisonettes will cost you seven dollars" approach.

Shortages ensued and prices shot up from thirty-five to fifty-five cents a gallon between 1973 and 1974. I still remember my dad grabbing an extra maple bar as he got up early to join the gas queue every Saturday morning.

I love maple bars.

Anyway, gas theft became common in my neighborhood. A mouthful of siphoned petrol became a paltry price to pay for a few free gallons from someone's topped off Gran Torino with simulated wood grain paneling. People grew angry, really angry.

Imagine someone from the 1970s looking angry, like Burt Reynolds.

And America responded. If it weren't for the greed of a few Middle Eastern aristocrats, we would never have been blessed with such fuel efficient innovations as:

The Chevrolet Vega

The AMC Gremlin

and The Ford Pinto

The Pinto had some small issues with its gas tank exploding due to a flimsy reinforcing structure between the back panel and gas tank.

Who ever said driving a car is risk free?

Our auto industry wouldn't be the Clydesdale of the American economy if it weren't for those three subcompact workhorses, bolstering the ever-expanding middle class of our great nation, seeing us through times both difficult and prosperous.

God bless our insatiable thirst for fossil fuel.

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