What's All This Then?

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Thursday, November 10, 2005

Sometimes I think that Congressional hearings are a waste of time. Not all of them of course, but many are little more than a way to provide Senators and Representatives with an opportunity to showboat. I guess they think hearings give them a better chance of getting on the evening newscast and being seen by millions - even if it’s only for a few seconds - rather than rely on the lesser number of late night viewers of CNN, willing to watch and listen to lone figures talking endlessly to a virtually empty chamber.

In the waste of time category, I would have to put most of the hearings about oil and gas prices that have become routine for the past few years. The prices go up. Politicians voice their displeasure and vow action. Hearings are held and nothing happens.

Yesterday’s hearing was a real doozy. Alaska’s "don’t mess with my $223 million bridge to nowhere" Ted Stevens - who has been in Congress way to long, wasn’t about to let his oil friends testify under oath. "No way. Bug off" or words to that effect in response to a request that they be sworn. After which, these bozos with their multi-million dollar salaries and multi-million dollar annual bonuses, defended their obscene profits of this past quarter - the largest ever earned by any company in the history of American business - and mouthed the same gobbledygook that we’ve heard year after year from oil "experts" about market forces and supply and demand and on an on.

To their credit, some Senators tried to probe for answers - but as is always the case, their questions arise from the premises that the oil industry establishes for them, the aforementioned influences and problems of market forces and increased demand and refinery capacity etc., - and so simple questions - the kinds that the poor suffering public would like asked, never are.

Here are some simple facts. There’s been no shortage of gas at the pumps. Whatever industry problems may exist, the gas has kept flowing. So my questions to the oil experts would be - other than the desire and ability to come up with any price you want to charge for your product - how much has the cost of producing the gasoline that we’ve been using this year increased? We know the price we have to pay for gasoline has gone up and up and up, so we have to assume that that is because the cost of bringing that gasoline to our pumps has increased. So how much have production costs gone up? From pumping it out of the ground, to transporting it to refineries, to producing various grades of gasoline and delivering to our gas stations. What were those individual costs before the price of gas began to soar and how much are they now? Are the workers in the Saudi oil fields being paid four or five or ten times more than they were a few months ago? Has drilling equipment increased a few hundred percent in price? Has the oil tanker industry raised its prices through the roof? Where oh where do these price increases come from??

Those are questions that the average motorist would understand - as they would any answers that aren’t clouded in gobbledygook They understand supply and demand affecting prices. They know why some fruits and vegetables cost more at certain times of the year. They understand it even more clearly when those fruits and vegetables are not always available in the stories. But if they were available year round - and in such abundant supply that not all could be sold before they rotted and had to be thrown away - and still they were priced higher at certain times of the year - shoppers would demand to know what was going on and demand that their elected representatives found out. And they wouldn’t accept gobbledygook for answers.

I’m not an advocate of imposing a windfall profits tax on the oil companies - mostly because I think the money would be swallowed up and not provide any kind of relief to the suffering drivers paying the high gas prices. What I am an advocate of is not wasting the time and energy of our elected officials going through meaningless motions at Congressional hearings that are guaranteed to accomplish nothing. It’s not just a waste of their time and our money. It’s an insult to the voting public. If our Senators and Representatives are not prepared to do something about these fat cat gougers - at least make them mouth t their gobbledygook under oath - then they shouldn't insult us by holding these "hearings" in the first place.

Advice for Tony Blair

According to conventional punditry, Tony Blair has lost much of his clout because 49 members of his own party joined with opposition M.P.’s to defeat his legislative proposal to hold terrorist suspects for 90 days without charge. He had to settle for 28 days and some political observers are saying that this "stunning defeat" has reduced his influence to just about zero.

I have some advice for Tony that can turn the whole situation around in a heartbeat. If you get to a point where you’ve arrested someone for suspected terrorism, do what British legal authorities have been doing for centuries when they arrest someone. Charge them!!!

Maybe if you do it, you can pull a reverse lap dog maneuver and persuade your pal Dubya to come up with a limit on how long our terrorist suspects can be held without charge. So far, that "limit" seems to be forever. Maybe that’s why all those members of your own party voted against you. Maybe they looked at the cost of following the U.S. into Iraq - a move made over the objections of a majority of UK voters and which very likely was the reason for Labour’s substantial losses at the last election - and concluded that they didn’t want to follow Dubya’s lead and throw a long history of due process out the window in the name of "homeland security."

At least Tony didn’t try to emulate Cheney and ask Parliament to approve torturing suspects while they’re being held without charge. Maybe he figured they didn’t need that after one "terrorist suspect" was taken care of in a London underground station.