It seems petty to complain about gas prices at a time when a major American city has been washed off the map and a half million of our citizens are newly homeless.
But petty resentments are what drive politics in this country. Political careers are built on whipping up small-minded hatred toward some of the most powerless groups among us - minorities, gays and liberal Democrats.
So it shouldn't be any surprise that a sudden surge of 50 to 75 cents in the price of a gallon of gasoline could have even greater political consequences than the Bush administration's incompetent cutting of flood control projects for New Orleans.
It's pretty bad that in 2004 the president slashed by 80 percent funding requested by the New Orleans district of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to hold back the waters of Lake Pontchartrain and made further cuts this year.
But what really gets folks' blood boiling is $3.50-a-gallon gasoline and the growing suspicion that local service stations, big oil companies and a government run by and for oil executives are playing us for fools.
As usual, the big players behind the scenes are the ones making out like bandits while the poor saps running the corner filling stations are taking most of the heat.
The resentment is understandable when gas prices immediately surge upward based on headlines. Motorists are pretty sure the gas they are pumping was delivered at lower prices before any shortages could possibly hit.
But station operators say they only keep one to three days supply on hand. They claim they have to raise prices immediately to afford the next delivery of higher-priced gasoline.
It doesn't really matter whether we believe them or not because there is no law against price gouging in Wisconsin. Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager is drafting such a consumer protection bill with Sen. Dave Hansen, D-Green Bay, and Rep. Josh Zepnick, D-Milwaukee.
Whether the bill has any chance of passing in the Republican-controlled Legislature depends solely upon how angry Republican constituents are about paying $70 to fill up their SUVs.
Lautenschlager also has joined the attorneys general of Illinois and Iowa for a joint investigation into whether the oil companies and wholesalers and retailers have manipulated the market in the Midwest.
Political investigations have been launched in the past into the oil companies' manipulation of gasoline prices. Little ever comes of it. The oil companies are too good at it.
Besides, oil executives who steal millions from all of us never go to prison. Prisons are reserved for small-time crooks who hold up gas stations for just a few bucks.
The real gauge of just how much we've all been taken will be the profit reports of the oil companies. Those show up back in the business section instead of on the front page.
That's because obscene profits by oil companies aren't considered news by the media. They're only of interest to those reaping the benefits. And quite excessive profits they are, thank you.
During early 2005, earnings at companies in the energy sector jumped a whopping 40 percent. The soaring current prices will only pad those incredible profits even more.
But average figures gloss over the individual success stories. Let's just look at one company. How about if we pick Halliburton, the oil services company Vice President Dick Cheney used to run, that somehow managed to land no-bid government contracts in Iraq worth billions. Surprise, Halliburton already has multimillion-dollar contracts to clean up New Orleans.
A share of Halliburton stock sold for $8.60 in early 2002. Last week, a single share hit $63.44, setting a record for the first time since 1997.
Oil profiteers are merely doing what comes naturally to them as rapacious capitalists.
The bottom line of Big Oil's rented politicians is the same as that of the oil profiteers - to line the pockets of the oil companies. But the politicians publicly pretend to be concerned about the little guy, the hard-pressed consumer trying to make ends meet.
So they take advantage of public anger over gas prices as an excuse to further plunder our natural environment or try to dismantle environmental protection laws.
We're already hearing dishonest politicians claim the way to bring down gas prices is to allow the oil companies to rape and pillage the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
Of course, drilling in the refuge might take a decade and produce only a few months worth of oil. But, hey, if you can't take advantage of a national disaster to despoil one of the last, pristine, protected areas on Earth, what good are national disasters?
Citizen anger over gas prices will be a good thing if it focuses attention where it belongs - on energy conservation and unregulated banditry by the oil companies.
Joel McNally of Milwaukee writes a weekly column for The Capital Times. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
© 2005 Capital Times