The oil and gas crisis is putting an escalating number of Americans in peril of losing their livelihood. Skyrocketing fuel prices are affecting everything from the five-day work week and family vacations to essentials like clothing and food. In Hawaii, for example, residents are paying $8 for a jar of Jif peanut butter, $5.50 for a loaf of white bread, $6.50 for a gallon of milk and $7.19 for a half-gallon of orange juice.
Everywhere you turn, from bakeries, grocery stores and restaurants to ice cream shops, owners are posting signs apologizing for having to raise their prices. Small towns are being wiped out. The ability of the average American to make ends meet is getting harder and harder. And we haven't even hit winter yet, when heating bills will kick in with a vengeance.
With retail gas prices in the United States expected to surge well over $4 per gallon by August, Americans are understandably feeling powerless and frustrated. And to hear the politicians talk, there's not much they can do about it.
Granted, there are a lot of factors that contribute to the skyrocketing price of gas. But if the American government really wanted its citizens to have access to cheaper oil and gas, surely it could find a way that does not involve invading another Middle Eastern country.
After all, the five largest oil companies in the world -- ExxonMobil, BP America, Shell, ConocoPhillips and Chevron -- are all based in the U.S. Yet in typical fashion, Americans are paying record gas prices at the pump, while these companies (which made record profits of $123 billion last year) continue to receive billions of dollars in tax breaks -- at taxpayer expense.
The United States buys more oil than any country in the world (although China and India are not far behind). That gives us bargaining power. It's time to put that power to work and play hardball with the oil companies. In other words, it's high time that our so-called representatives in Congress do their job.
Unfortunately, Congress has been bought out by the gas and oil interests. Since 1990, the oil and gas industries have contributed more than $200 million to the election campaigns of Republicans and Democrats, with the majority of those funds going to Republicans.
As investment columnist Jim Jubak pointed out several years ago,
"Think it's a matter of chance that we don't have a meaningful national energy policy? Wondering why oil and gas companies don't pay higher royalties to the Treasury now that oil is over $55 a barrel? Amazed that Washington loves to talk about energy research with promise 15 years down the road, but won't put significant money into alternative technologies that could reduce energy consumption now? For answers to all those questions and more, just follow the money."
The money trail leads right to the legislators who look out for the best interests of the oil and gas industry. Said Jubak: "[T]he industry keeps its eye on the prize. If you want to keep oil and gas royalties low; if you'd like to drill in environmentally sensitive areas; if you want to keep the government from admitting that global warming might exist; if you want to make sure that money flows to research in alternative energy technologies for the future but not to commercialize alternative technologies today, then you give to the key people who can get those jobs done."
It's no coincidence that the top four recipients of gas and oil money in Congress -- Kay Bailey Hutchison, Phil Gramm, John Cornyn and Joe Barton -- all hail from Texas, a big oil state. Then there's all the money that's being poured into the race for the White House. John McCain, Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were among the top recipients of campaign contributions from the oil and gas industries during the 2007-2008 election cycle.
If our representatives weren't so afraid of upsetting the lobbyists, special interest groups and mega-corporations that pull their purse strings, we might actually have a chance of alleviating this crisis. But there is hope.
Remember, this is an election year, and we've got the power of the ballot box behind us. It is Congress' responsibility to protect the American people. After all, oil is a natural resource. In a sense, it belongs to all of us. And if our representatives, with all their collected resources and knowledge, can't figure a way out of this mess, then we need to elect people who can. As Jubak urges his readers, "vote your convictions. Throw this year's bums out. They certainly deserve it."
Whatever we do, we'd better start now. This is just the first wave. We're in a recession, but things could turn for the worse soon. And if we don't deal with it now, then there won't be much hope for stabilizing the economy.
If it means that we stop acting like a warring empire and start practicing diplomacy with other oil-producing nations such as Iran, Russia and Venezuela, fine. If it means regulating the oil monopolies so that our natural resources are put to better use for the good of the American people, not just an elite few, so be it. If it means establishing a government-owned company to produce the oil and keep gas prices low as a benefit to the nation's citizens, as they do in Venezuela and Saudi Arabia (where gas costs less than a dollar per gallon), then let's pursue that option.
The American people are not helpless. Anyone with a pen or a computer can and should be bombarding Congress and the White House with letters and emails voicing their discontent over this state of affairs. It's time for "we the people" to speak up, and speak up loudly.
Americans have been too long-suffering for too long. Folks, it's time for a revolution.