I pulled into the Mobil gas station on 11th Ave. in Manhattan yesterday for my weekly stickup from the oil companies.
Their take this time was an astonishing $3.05 per gallon for premium unleaded.
"Every three or four days the price goes up," said Patel, the man in charge of the station. "Lots of complaints from my customers."
Complaints from everyone except oil executives.
Last year, Exxon/Mobil, the world's largest corporation, posted the highest profits of any company in history - more than $25 billion. The oil giant, based in Irving, Tex., is on track to shatter that mark this year, with revenues that now approach $1 billion per day.
Which brings me to Pat Robertson and Hugo Chavez.
Robertson, the right-wing evangelist and friend of the Bush family, publicly called this week for the U.S. government to kill - or at least kidnap - Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.
"This is a dangerous enemy to our south, controlling a huge pool of oil, that could hurt us badly," Robertson said. His less-than-Christian remarks ignited an outcry and forced him to issue an apology of sorts, though he still insisted that he had at least "focused our government's attention on a growing problem."
That "problem," quite simply, is that Chavez, a radical populist who has been voted into office repeatedly by huge majorities in his own country, controls the largest reserve of petroleum outside the Middle East.
Neither Robertson, nor former oil executives George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Condoleezza Rice, nor their buddies at Exxon/Mobil, Chevron, etc., are happy about all this.
Even more scandalous for Big Oil, Chavez is using Venezuela's windfall not to fatten his own country's oligarchy but to benefit the Venezuelan poor and help neighboring countries.
Yesterday, while Robertson was issuing his half-baked Chavez clarification, the Venezuelan president was in Montego Bay, Jamaica, where he announced a new oil agreement with that country's prime minister, P.J. Patterson.
Under the agreement, Venezuela will supply 22,000 barrels of oil a day to Jamaica for a mere $40 a barrel. That's far lower than the current world price of about $65 a barrel. With the price of gasoline in that destitute nation already more than $3.50 a gallon, the Chavez plan means more than half a million dollars a day in savings for Jamaica on oil imports.
Chavez also announced his government will provide $60 million in foreign aid to Jamaica and finance the upgrading of that country's oil refineries.
The agreement is part of a broader Chavez plan called Petrocaribe, which he unveiled at a Caribbean summit in Venezuela last June.
At that conference, Chavez offered the same kind of deal to the leaders of more than a dozen other neighboring nations, including Dominican Republic President Leonel Fernandez and Cuba's Fidel Castro.
Fernandez jumped at the offer because his government is nearly bankrupt from oil prices. Last year, the Dominican Republic spent $1.2 billion on oil imports; this year, it expects to fork out more than $3 billion. The price of gasoline in Santo Domingo has zoomed past $4 a gallon in recent days.
Pat Robertson looks at Chavez and sees a devilish danger. He wants our government to "take him out." Over at the White House, Bush and his aides may use more restrained language, but their goals are not much different.
But there's a whole different view down in Latin America, where a half-dozen nations have seen liberal and populist governments swept into office in recent years.
Down there, Chavez has become the new miracle man of oil. Unlike Exxon/Mobil and the Big Oil fat cats, who wallow in their record profits while the rest of us pay, Chavez is spreading the wealth around.
A dangerous man, indeed.
© 2005 New York Daily News