Published on Saturday, September 3, 2005 by CommonDreams.org
'A Balanced Life'
by Ralph Nader
For over two years I have been saying that the Mayor of Baghdad, George W. Bush, should be paying attention to America, including its massively unmet public works needs. But the President, who scheduled five weeks in Crawford, Texas, to assure "a balanced life," is now finding his political status unbalanced and hanging by fewer and fewer threads.
The unfolding megadisasters in New Orleans, Mississippi and Alabama have torn the propaganda curtain away from this arrogant President and is showing the American people just what results for their daily livelihoods from an administration obsessed with the fabricated Iraq war and marinated with Big Oil.
"No one can say they didn't see it coming. Now in the wake of one of the worst storms ever, serious questions are being asked about the lack of preparation," writes the conservative New Orleans daily newspaper-The Times-Picayune. Nearly one dozen articles in 2004 and 2005 came out of this constantly warning local newspaper, citing the Iraq war budget as a training diversion for the lack of hurricane and flood-control dollars, according to Will Bunch of Philadelphia Daily News.
A hurricane like Katrina was forecast for the Gulf lowlands and New Orleans more than any predicated natural disaster in American history. No hindsight is involved. This is Bush country and he paid no attention to the warnings, official and unofficial, except to cut the Army Corps of Engineers budget for the New Orleans area by $71 million this past year, except to weaken FEMA and steer it and the Department of Homeland Security to a dangerous tilt toward terrorist risks and away from the officially predicted onset of a prolonged period of ferocious hurricanes now and in the next twenty years.
Will this no-fault ruler in the White House ever be held responsible for the consequences of his inattentions, his negligence and his boorish refusal to listen to anyone other than his cronies and patrons? Mr. Perfecto can't even admit to any mistakes, although many, many innocents have paid for them on both the American and Iraqi sides. Let's look at one area of escape from responsibility-the large and ever merging oil giants whose network has provided Bush with 41 high administration officials. Reaping profits beyond their dreams of avarice, the ExxonMobils virtually won the Bush regime, wrote his energy legislation full of subsidies and more tax breaks for this pampered breed, and hover over the Congress showering their campaign money over their keystone legislators.
Gasoline was averaging $1.36 per gallon on January 3, 2000, and is now racing towards $4 a gallon, having soared over $3 per gallon in many localities this week. Oil analysts are not reporting any shortages of supply worldwide, until the rigs and refineries were hurricaned last week in the Gulf of Mexico region raised such specters. OPEC has been pumping oil at record levels. There has been no sudden spike in demand. But OPEC is no longer the only price-fixer factor in the price of oil. Oil futures in the New York Mercantile Exchange is now where the financial action resides. Oil has now become a speculative commodity big time. So when you hear about the barrel of oil's price going up, think of the Mercantile Exchange. How does the Bush Government dampen such speculation? One way is to raise margin levels to make borrowing by the speculating traders more difficult. Nothing heard from Bush or the SEC on this point.
If the price of wheat suddenly doubled, why would the loaves of bread in your supermarkets suddenly be marked up or the loaves on their way in transit? The price hike for wheat would not have reached them. Then why does the price of oil and gasoline spike up when these supplies were already purchased at previously lower prices?
A concise answer to this question came from an unlikely source during the state of Hawaii's antitrust suit settled in 2002. Maxwell Blecher, attorney for defendant Tosco Corp. (now Phillips Petroleum) declared in court "High gas prices in Hawaii are the result of a lack of competitive market forces, not collusion. Once you decide it's an oligopoly, you've got an explanation for the phenomenon of the high prices, the high margins, the high profits, the lack of vigorous price competition. That explains it all." A compelling report by the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights (www.consumerwatchdog.org) described the ever growing joint ownership of production, refining and distribution facilities including pipelines, by the large oil companies that people believe are competing with one another. The Bush and Clinton Administrations' antitrust cops did nothing to stop this merged, joint venture mockery of classical competitive systems.
Nor did Clinton and Bush do anything about the gas guzzling vehicles lumbering on the highways. Worse, they sat by and watched the average decline in fuel efficiency of the motor vehicle fleet in our country go down, not up, compared to the levels in the 1980's. To make matters worse, Bush successfully opposed a bill in the Senate by Senators John McCain and John Kerry in 2002 to require a one mpg increase in average fuel efficiency for the next 15 years. Now the people at the pump are paying the price and the winter heating oil season is around the corner. Consumer Federation of America reports that if vehicle fuel efficiency in the last fifteen years had increased at the same rate as it had in the 1980s, "our nation would consume one-third less gasoline." Every penny increase in the price of gasoline takes out $1.5 billion dollars from consumers.
In our nation's past, excessive profiteering by oil companies has led to an excess profits tax. The Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights recommends a "windfall profits rebate."
Tight refinery capacity has been viewed by officials and industry insiders as a factor in higher gasoline and heating oil prices. Why have the oil companies closed down about two dozen refineries in the past twenty years and not built new, cleaner ones on the same sites? Partly because they prefer importing cheaper refined products from abroad, which spell bigger profits.
The oil companies have longer term contracts with the oil producers like Saudi Arabia at a fixed price. How extensive are these contracts? And why, if ExxonMobil is getting crude at lower prices from these earlier contracts, is their price going up as if they are paying nearly $70 per barrel for all their crude oil?
Such questions are not on the minds of Bush and Cheney, who hail from the oil world. Imagine - experts in the industry that is gouging America that they are, and they keep leaving America and Americans defenseless.
Maybe Bush and Cheney will be defeated at the gas pumps where they cannot hoodwink so many people, as they did with their cover-ups and distractions during the election of 2004.