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Are We Really Powerless Against Gas Prices?

03/14/2012 07:27 pm ET | Updated May 14, 2012

2012-03-14-HPgas.jpg This station isn't waiting for summer (photo Charles Karel Bouley II)

The headline on the iPad news program was grim..."What can the President do about gas prices? Not much..." As I sat thinking about being oil company victims, I looked up. And there it was: $5.12 per gallon. As the rest of the country talks about how gas could reach that mark by summer, here it is, in downtown Los Angeles, at the base of the oldest street in Los Angeles, Olvera Street. Union Station, the main post office and the best French Dip in L.A. at Philippe's surround this Chevron that is a harbinger of things to come, and motorists are literally lined up two deep to buy the product. It's one of the few gas stations in downtown Los Angeles, and it appears to be taking advantage of location, location, location.

Taking advantage is the operative phrase, because all this national gouging at the pumps boils down to is greed; pure and simple. Gas is $4 and $5 per gallon because they want to charge it and we will obviously pay it. In Europe it's been upwards of $7 per gallon for years, topping out in some countries at $11 per gallon or more. We didn't care because that was "over there" and they would never try that over here. Guess again.

The oil companies pull out their same litany of excuses; unrest in the Middle East, weather issues, refining issues, the moon being in the wrong phase, but ultimately they are just that: excuses. Gas is this price per gallon because oil companies want it to be; they want to maintain their record breaking profits, profits that have remained strong even in the worst economy since the Great Depression. Business is still very, very good for them.

I look around Philippe's while waiting for my turkey double dipped, chili, no beans, crackers, fresh lemonade and pie of the day (coconut) and see families, locals, tourists, those who have been coming here for decades (like myself) or newbies. Each of them trying to get by, trying to make it and have some life. It's not hard to overhear a conversation that centers around money, and gas prices inevitably come up.

"Pretty soon, gas will be as much as this sandwich," ($6.50) a patron can be heard, only partly joking.

Where is the inquiry in to oil prices and why gas is so high? It was promised by the Obama administration on April 21st, 2011, before Osama Bin Laden was killed in a villa in Pakistan, wrapped in sheets, and buried out to sea on May 2, 2011. Oil stayed in the news for 11 days and then Bin Laden got center stage and the noise about the oil inquest went away.

Now, it's back, people upset, Republicans blaming the President for not drilling and the President talking about green energy yet again. And what relief does this bring at the pump? None.

In fact, nothing anyone is talking about will help gas prices, short of demanding oil companies lower prices under threat of nationalization. Yup, I said it. I'm tired of socializing debt and not profit. We need to nationalize energy, period.

But short of that, oil companies are not going to go too far down unless there's a mandate. Why would they? We demand nothing of them or of the auto industry that we so happily saved.

Yes, we saved the auto industry. Why didn't big oil, why did we? Why didn't the loans come from BP, Exxon Mobile, Shell? After all, the only things cars really do well is connect your fuel tank to the oil company's bank accounts via your wallet. 30,000 people a year die in cars, so traveling in them is not that safe. There's almost no automation to prevent crashes, regulate speed for better flow of traffic or simply driving to the address for us via automation (Google has a car doing this right now). Cars are extensions of our selves instead of transportation from point A to point B and both Detroit and big oil know it. We'd all be in smart cars or on two wheels if it were about transportation.

I am. Two wheels. For years now, since the last gas increase. My fill up, at $5 is under $20 and takes me over 200 miles. No politician has ever pushed motorcycles and scooters as a safe, reliable way to get around in our nation. Why? Big oil doesn't want them to promote fuel efficient ways of getting around. Instead, they demonize two wheel transport, when in every other country cycles and scooters are as plentiful as cars where oil is a factor. Not here, here they are seen as niche, a thing for tough guys, midlife crisis or those with a disregard for their own safety; each of those things being so far from what cycling and scooting is really about it's just sad.

But cars are status symbols, offices, living rooms, day care, make up parlors, meeting rooms, they are so much more than transportation to us and that's why big oil knows we'll pay whatever they ask; A: we've been given very little alternative and B: we don't really want one.

And we don't. We talk a good game about green energy and decreasing our dependency on foreign oil, but since the gas lines of the late 1970s what have we really done about it? Cars back then got better mileage than now, we've gone backwards in many areas. Our CAFE standards are a joke, under 30 mpg when they should be 70 to 100 by now. In fact, as the administration touts the standards they set, I laugh. Yes, in 13 years, in 2025, cars are supposed to get 55mpg. What a disgrace. By 2025 we still plan on being on oil, and getting under 100mpg. Slaves, still, to big oil. When we bailed out Detroit, we did so with no preconditions. We'll save you, but you give us a 100 mpg car that's under $15k. They can. They won't. Why would they? You'll still buy some beast that only gets 25 mpg and find it acceptable. See, it has a DVD screen in the dash and signs on to Facebook. Mileage? Who cares.

And even the new headlines about how helpless the President, or any world leader is, at the hands of OPEC and others are outrageous.

Because the President is not powerless. Oil companies only respond to threats or dangers. So, give them one.

We need jobs. We need new energy. Stop talking to us until you're blue in the face about green energy and start making some. Saudi Arabia is. Many other countries are. Why? To sell to us, of course.

For instance, we can grow an algae that makes oil as a byproduct. Yup, real, live, refinable oil that can be turned in to gas (biodiesel), plastic and all other things for which oil is used. We simply have to grow it and refine it. Announce today a multi-billion dollar plan to grow enough in the next five years to supply the entire country. Break ground on plants in a few weeks. Retool, rethink, reboot and go. Don't get off gasoline, make it out of something else, something sustainable and green: algae. Algae biodiesel is real. By 2018 according to the industry we could replace regular gas. According to Wikipedia, it would take 15,000 square miles to grow enough algae, or roughly 1/2 the size of Maine. The algae can be grown in saltwater, fresh, using wastewater and the C0-2 produced from burning it is absorbed by the new algae as it grows and produces the lipids (oil). Stop talking about it and do it, the industry is waiting. And so are we.

Because I don't know about you, but I don't like being a hostage. Republicans take us hostage all the time, this or that policy, this or that vote, held up or possibly killed unless they get their wants (usually to leave their overlords, the one percent, alone). And so do the oil companies. Because truly, what are you going to do?

In most cities, public transportation is a joke because oil companies want it to be. High speed trains exist in most civilized countries except ours. Many cities have cut back their bus and train services with the economic downturn, instead of increased. Cities are spread out, not easily walked or biked. And even the best car for sale, hybrid or otherwise, pretty much caps out at 45 MPG, 50 if lucky (again, that's the starting mileage on a motorcycle, but I digress). And all of this at the oil company's design, not ours.

Through legislation over the decades oil companies have made sure we have no where to turn and no other way to get around; no high mileage solutions. We are trapped if we want to get from point a to point b effectively. I'm 49, and my entire life I've heard promises of getting us off oil, of new cars that get incredible mileage or use other fuel, and they have never, ever appeared en masse. Why? Oil companies don't want them to.

We've set up a system where Presidents and paupers alike are at the whim of big oil. Don't like it? Walk. Stay home. Of course, that costs more because all costs go up with oil; food, services, everything.

Stop talking. And stop leaving us victims to the upper one percent. Put real actions behind your words, President Obama. In the next month announce a national works plan to put Americans back to work producing algae for biodiesel. Tell oil companies we, the people, are going to own the refineries, are the ones growing the algae. We will control the price of the biodiesel for our people. Their services are no longer needed.

And stop acting powerless to the multibillion dollar multinationals. You know how to scare them? Meet with world leaders and socialize energy. Have each country claim eminent domain over the land and mineral rights of every coal mine, oil well or energy source there is. Revoke every license. What are they going to do? Gather their oil armies and launch a war? BP versus the US. OK, bring it on. The coal, the oil, the wind, air, sun, all of it within our borders belongs to all of our people, not just the rich that buy the licenses to refine it. In one meeting of world leaders it could be done. Take energy out of the hands of private industry since oil is the blood that flows through America's veins. We need our own blood bank, our own source.

But why even bother? Make oil companies obsolete by switching to green energy that works, that we can replenish simply by growing more, and isn't controlled by BP -- and stop acting helpless.

Meanwhile, enjoy giving oil companies record profits as you drain your savings, your extra money, your kid's tuitions, your life's blood from pump to tank paid for with the meager earnings some other corporation sees fit to pay you. Transfer the money from one of the big banks that are gouging you as well to one of the big oil companies: BofA to Exxon, Wells Fargo to Arco, Citibank (first bank of Saudi Arabia) to BP, the path your money takes without you ever seeing a dollar of it. You show up at work each day, you get points in your bank account for it, and then that bank transfers those points to an oil company each week for you every time you pull up to the pump. What a lovely racket they have.

If we don't break the cycle, it will, in fact, break us. So as you see me passing you by (I'm the one on the high mileage motorcycle or scooter) at the gas station, as you leave $80 to $100 for a fill up, remember, there is a better way, but no one wants you to have it except you. And that just isn't enough.

Karel's Book, Shouting At Windmills, BS From Bush to Obama can be purchased at the Amazon.com bookstore, Kindle bookstore and at CreateSpace. Links to the book can be found here.

Karel is heard each day on radio (seven days a week), online, podcast and through his Apps for both iOS (Apple) and Android. The Apps are free, and contain the podcast, live show, HuffingtonPost columns, videos and more. Get the apps here: