Senators are blowing smoke on gas

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I DON’T MIND all the whining about gas prices. That’s what you’re supposed to do at the end of an empire.

“These lions aren’t crunching Christian bones loudly enough!” “This orgy is full of fat Spartans!” “My Escalade costs too much to drive to go hiking!”

But for the Senate to waste its time on this is another matter. Don’t our elected officials have fake Alaska bridges to build?


The Senate, in a pathetic attempt to get attention, recently spent hours grilling oil executives about why their companies’ profits are so high and what they were going to do with the money. I think the lawmakers were hoping for “Free Gas for Senators Day.”

It’s not that I trust oil companies. These are people who are still trying to outsmart us with that 0.9 of a penny trick. But the idea that greedy oil execs are just taking our gas money and spending it on hunting trips with Dick Cheney isn’t true. The profits are going to the masses of people who own mutual funds that hold oil stocks, only a small portion of whom are rich enough to go on hunting trips with Dick Cheney.

Gas, like everything else, has its price set by supply and demand. No company charges what it thinks is fair. They charge as much as they can get away with. That’s the way the system works. If the job of the Senate was to keep prices reasonable, there would have been hearings on the cost of Beanie Babies, real estate and drinks at the Bar Marmont.

The reason gas costs so much right now -- and frankly, it’s substantially less than it was a month ago -- is that there’s a limit to how much you can pump out of existing wells every day, and emerging economies such as China’s are guzzling the stuff, thus increasing demand.

The Senate can’t do anything about that, other than export American-made cars to Beijing until the Chinese get so frustrated by their inferior performance they give up driving altogether. I really should be president.

Prices fluctuate. That’s the deal with this capitalism thing. When gas was selling at $1 a gallon in the summer of 1999, we didn’t demand that the Senate investigate why prices were so low. We were too busy running through gasoline-spewing sprinklers and drinking gasoline wine in a gasoline haze.


Today’s gas prices are startling partly because unlike food prices, which are hidden on those tiny misplaced stickers on supermarket shelves, gas stations are the only places run by people stupid enough to build the largest price tags in the world.

It’s a little disturbing that gas prices are so volatile. It’s not like every time you go to Ralphs, the price of Jujubes jumps up or down 50%. But that probably explains why there aren’t billion-dollar conglomerates that drill for Jujubes. Though, to be honest, I think that would be a wonderful world.

I don’t pretend to understand why some things are cheap and others are expensive. DVD players should cost more, house paint should cost less. Salt has been trading at record lows for the last 600 years.

I know the high cost of energy takes an unfair toll on the poor because it’s a much bigger percentage of their income. Those people are always getting screwed: checking account charges, easy-credit rip-offs, hangin’ in a chow line. OK, most of what I know about poor people comes from watching “Good Times.”

But the government should be helping them more directly with aid programs and public transportation. It’s not going to help to slap the oil industry with some special end-of-the-year tax, as some propose. Or begging the oil companies to donate to poor people’s heating bills, as Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles Grassley did. Helping people in need is the government’s job, not something we should rely on business for.

And those taxes and handouts would result, of course, in higher gas prices to make up for the loss, because Saudi Arabia isn’t going to lower prices to ExxonMobil just for Grassley. It does that only for Bushes.


I bought a car in January after not owning one for 11 years in Manhattan. So I’m as freaked out as everyone else at how much I’m spending.

But the truth is, in a capitalist system, you don’t have a right to affordable energy any more than you have a right to affordable Rolexes.

Plus, I’m feeling sweet revenge for all the mockery I got for buying a Mini Cooper.