Monday, August 29, 2005

Summer in Review (and Politics too)

It’s good to be back on campus and writing for 1832 after a long, yet amazing, summer spent in central Florida, Las Vegas, Chicago, Milwaukee’s beautiful Corner Bar, the Metrodome watching the Twins desperately attempt to catch the White Sox, and (mostly) a cubicle at Wells Fargo in Minneapolis.

As you might be able to tell, I spent a great deal of time traveling this summer, including a weekend trip to Florida’s coast in early July. Before returning my rental car to Orlando’s sprawling airport, I took the last exit off of the turnpike and desperately attempted to find a gas station, in hopes of avoiding the $4.99 per gallon refill fee that the company crazy enough to rent me a silver Focus promised to impose. Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted a Chevron, which I gladly decided to patronize. Maybe it should have seemed weird that their prices weren’t posted alongside the road, but I was late for my flight and had other things on my mind. So imagine my surprise when I walked up to the pump and noticed that the going rate was $2.85 per gallon, a full $0.50 more than gas everywhere else in Florida at the time. I chalked this up to the fact that tourists would rather pay this than the exorbitant refueling fees, swallowed my pride, and paid around $24 to top off my average Detroit machinery with eight regular gallons, relieved that I would never have to pay that much for gas again.

Well, I spoke too soon, and found myself paying exactly that much just last week, at my neighborhood gas station in a Twin Cities suburb. I mentioned this to my ardently Republican grandmother, who said “That’s outrageous! Something has to be done about this, now” in her annoyed Tex-Italian accent, which sounds something like a cross between the voices of Renee Zellweger and Tony Montana. Anyway, when she said that, I cracked a bit of a smile, and asked her a simple question – “What did you expect?”

The current administration is ridiculously friendly with America’s large oil companies, providing them with two direct sources of higher income. On one hand, they champion causes like the war in Iraq that create serious demand (therefore raising prices) for gasoline and other petroleum-based products supplied by these corporations. At the same time, they offer gigantic subsidies and grants to the same organizations. One of the most recent examples of this is the $1.5 billion in potential money provided to oil and gas businesses that engage in (perhaps intentionally) loosely-worded “innovative exploration and production techniques”.


Of course, in typical short-sighted fashion, Bush’s administration has neglected the largely negative effects of these actions to industries that are benefited by the availability of cheap oil. The biggest example is America’s automobile sector. The three largest conglomerates have all resorted to “employee pricing deals” this summer in an effort to stimulate demand for their largely fuel-inefficient flock of vehicles. And this probably deserves (and probably will get) an entire topic in the future, but the US airline industry is a complete wreck as a result of the constantly increasing prices of gasoline. Looks like we got what a tiny majority of us asked for after all.