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Failure to defend an inalienable right

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  • Ram Lau
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    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 29, 2006
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      http://www.hamiltonspectator.com/NASApp/cs/ContentServer?pagename=hamilton/Layout/Article_Type1&c=Article&cid=1146261013922&call_pageid=1020420665036
      Failure to defend an inalienable right
      Being a pal of Big Oil can spell big trouble for George Bush this summer
      (Apr 29, 2006)

      You know something is afoot when Ted Kennedy and Bill O'Reilly start
      singing together. The senior senator from Massachusetts and the
      pundit-in-chief of Fox News can usually be relied upon to produce
      nothing but discord.

      But when it comes to rising prices for gas, they are in perfect
      harmony. Americans are being ripped off at the pump! "Greed-heads" are
      manipulating the market and gouging the little guy! Something must be
      done!

      Such sweet agreement spells big trouble for George Bush. There is
      lively debate in America as to whether the "penumbras" and
      "emanations" of the Constitution include the right to abortion. But,
      as Steven Hayward of the American Enterprise Institute points out,
      there is no debate as to whether these penumbras and emanations
      include the right to cheap gasoline.

      Americans are convinced that the rising price of gas -- the average
      price of a gallon has reached $2.90 and some places are charging more
      than $3 -- is nothing less than a violation of the rights they won
      from King George III; and they have no doubt that the people doing the
      violating are the oil companies.

      Aren't the oil companies making record profits? And didn't the
      chairman of Exxon, Lee Raymond, just get parting "compensation" worth
      about $400 million? "Does everybody love Raymond?" asks O'Reilly. "I
      don't. I think he's a greed-head."

      You can quibble for all you want about the economics of all this. You
      can point out that the price of gasoline is fixed by global forces --
      from rising demand in India and China to political instability in
      Nigeria and, particularly, Iran -- rather than devilish CEOs.

      You can point out that, so far, rising gas prices have had remarkably
      little impact on the economy. The oil shocks of the 1970s sent
      inflation soaring and tipped the world economy into recession. Today
      the American economy is motoring along on a full tank, with low
      inflation, low unemployment and rising consumer confidence.

      You can point out that Americans don't know how lucky they are -- a
      gallon of gas costs $6.40 in Britain. You can even argue that it is
      their fault for driving gas-guzzling SUVs and living in McMansions
      miles from anywhere.

      But you might as well hold your breath for all the difference it
      makes. No less than 69 per cent of Americans think that the rise in
      gas prices has already caused them either severe (23 per cent) or
      moderate (46 per cent) hardship.

      Nearly two-thirds think that the president has a lot of influence over
      the price of gas. The result is that a presidency that has already
      been battered by Hurricane Katrina and bruised by the Iraq war is
      being bombarded by soaring gasoline prices.

      Bush's approval ratings are at an all-time low of 32 per cent;
      economists warn that the price of gas will rise more as the summer
      driving season starts; and pundits suggest Bush may be a Republican
      Jimmy Carter, destroyed by Middle Eastern terrorists and rising oil
      prices. All he needs is a cardigan and a liking for the word "malaise."

      The Democrats are bashing Big Oil with predictable relish. Herb Kohl,
      a senator from Wisconsin, has introduced a bill to prevent petroleum
      firms from colluding to keep prices high. Big Oil has unquestionably
      enriched itself, he says.

      Carl Levin, a senator from Michigan, has urged Bush to impose a
      windfall tax on the oil companies' "obscene profits." On April 20 the
      Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee recommended that
      candidates for office hold campaign meetings at gas stations -- and
      pledge that as members of Congress they will "fight for families...not
      the oil and gas executives."

      And those stalwart friends of big business, the Republicans?
      Naturally, they have fired a few shots at the Democrats. How can the
      Democrats have the nerve to complain about rising gas prices when they
      have systematically blocked attempts to increase the production of
      oil? And when they want to bring in "green" taxes that will push the
      price of gas much higher?But for the most part they are content with
      me-too company bashing.

      The best that can be said for Bush is that he has avoided making
      obvious mistakes. He was much faster off the mark than he was over
      Katrina, giving several speeches on high gas prices.

      He produced a four-point "practical plan," which at least gives the
      impression of activity. He sounded the right populist notes about
      fighting fraud and manipulation and depriving oil companies of some of
      their tax breaks.

      But his speech was essentially bluster and hot air. What he offered
      was a combination of empty gestures (calling a temporary halt to
      feeding the strategic petroleum reserve, when deposits to the reserve
      are less than 30,000 barrels a day in a country that consumes 21
      million barrels a day) and sensible ideas that will take decades to work.

      Most of Bush's disasters are largely his own creation: Iraq because he
      chose to invade the country, Katrina because he ignored the warnings
      and was lamentably slow to respond afterwards.

      But gasoline prices are different. Bush can't rig the international
      oil markets. He can't pretend that his administration is not top-heavy
      with oil men. He can't change the subject as the summer driving season
      approaches.

      The Bush family has reaped more than its fair share of benefits from
      Big Oil over the years. This summer, it is proving a dangerous friend
      to have.
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