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as seen on phillyBurbs.com

News cooks with gas
Movies, dead dinosaurs and strange bed fellows.

It's like a shell game or three card Monte. Call it the politics of distraction. But lost in the furor of the special 9/11 commission, President Bush's re-election bid and the War on Terror, is Congress' failure to investigate the gouging of Americans at the gas pump.

I simply didn't understand why it costs me nearly $2 per gallon or more than $20 to fill my tank now - months ahead of the summer travel season - at a time when Americans are dying in an oil-producing foreign nation.

In the past when we shed blood for oil, at least we got a break on the high cost of fueling up.

Remember, the first Gulf War and the ten-year hiatus it seemed to grant us on gas hikes? This time, nothing. Zippo. If anything, we're paying more now than we did before we invaded Iraq to get rid of Saddam Hussein a year ago.

Something just doesn't add up, which prompted some research. Somebody has to be making out, I figured.

It isn't the government. That is, unless you count the $2.14 million in contributions pumped into mostly Republican political coffers so far this election cycle by oil and gas PACs.

Federal gas taxes remain fixed at 18.4 cents per gallon. And so is Pennsylvania's 25.9 cents per gallon tax on gas - the fourth highest in the nation behind Wisconsin, New York and Montana.

As for the oil companies, their profits and gouging seemed to peek before the war in Iraq. Not that they aren't posting new records, but some online sources point the blame on Shell, which allegedly overestimated Nigerian oil reserves by 20 percent to pump up that country's production under OPEC rules.

In fact, the "Wag the dog" joking of the Clinton era has given way to a new brand of conspiracy theory. That, under Bush, we are living out the fictional scenario described  in "Three days of the condor."

In that movie, CIA analyst Robert Redford stumbles upon a secret plot within the Company to practice the invasion of oil-producing nations when America's need for oil outweighs its moral compass. His discovery sparks a killing spree. I can still remember the speech his boss, played by Cliff Robertson, gives at the end:

Cliff Robertson: "It's simple economics ... There's no argument. Oil now, 10 or 15 years it'll be food, or plutonium. Maybe sooner than that. What do you think the people will want us to do then?"

Redford: "Ask them!"

Robertson: "Now?" (shakes his head) "Huh-uh. Ask them when they're running out. When it's cold at home and the engines stop and people who aren't used to hunger ... go hungry. They won't want us to ask. ... (quite savagely) They'll want us to get it for them."

That movie was shot 30 years ago. Last year, a team from Sweden's University of Uppsala found the world's oil reserves are up to 80 percent less than predicted and that production levels will peak in about 10 years' time.

So what if the deposits of decomposing dinosaurs are nearly depleted and we're not actively researching greener alternatives? It's not as if I'm about to go "Road Warrior" in a Hummer anytime soon.

No, but it does help you understand the news a bit better.

For instance, at the same time that Bush is fighting America's War on Terror, Libya's Moammar Gadahfi has become his pen pal and possible partner.

Isn't this the same Gadahfi that President Ronald Reagan tried to bomb in 1986? The same Gadahfi that admits he had a hand in blowing up a Pan Am airliner over Lockerbie, Scotland two years later?

The same Gadahfi that stockpiled 44,000 pounds of mustard gas and had his nation buy $100 million worth of nuclear equipment from a Pakistani scientist's underground network?

The same Gadahfi whose oil exports were banned from the U.S. in 1982 and who was hit with American and U.N. sanctions 10 years later?

The same Gadahfi whose country two weeks ago signed the first of what is expected to be multi-billion dollars worth of contracts with Shell.

It makes you wonder. Like, will I have enough hair left for a mohawk when the gas finally does run out?

Dave Ralis' Pave The Grass column appears on Mondays. You can send him an e-mail at  or call him at 215-269-5051. To read his previous columns, click here.

April 5, 2004