The price of gasoline is about to go over USD 3 this week and Americans are psychologically "ready to go to war." President Bush held a press conference to address the gasoline crisis, Americans are boycotting gasoline stations, and there is the usual talk about conserving gasoline, car-pooling and even buying those cumbersome “hybrid” economy cars, which cost more than a luxury limousine.
Many of America’s 50 states have launched investigations into allegations of price-gouging by the local gasoline station.
Of course, the U.S. government needs to beat the war drums on this issue. The fact is, when you break down the cost of gasoline, one of the largest benefactors is the U.S. government. Out of the USD 2.50 for a gallon of gas, the government takes about 50 cents. The rest is divided between the actual cost of the oil, the refineries, and distribution.
Blame the foreigners
Listen, don’t worry. Americans will soon get over this whole problem the way they always do. They’ll blame the “foreigners,” and then go back to their usual habits. Buying the biggest luxury gas-guzzlers on the road.
The fastest growing car in the United States is not the gas efficient economy model but the big gas-guzzling Sport Utility Vehicle, or “SUV.”
One of the most popular SUVs is the Hummer, a vehicle that began as a military assault carrier but that has given post-September 11 Americans a sense of “readiness.”
This grotesque monster of an SUV gained in popularity after Hollywood tough-guy turned Californeeeya Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger started driving one.
Gasoline comes from oil and the price of a barrel of oil, about USD 19 in 1999, has topped USD 70 a barrel.
It’s easy to get into the blame game. Let’s blame everyone else, except ourselves, of course. That’s the American way. We don’t need an average of two cars per family. The majority of Americans drive cars, most alone, and fewer than 5 percent identify "public transportation" as their main form of transportation.
If gasoline came from American cows, believe me when I tell you the price of gasoline would be way over USD 10 a gallon.
White milk crisis?
It was all confusing until I heard a friend of mine, Maz Jobrani, explain it the other day. Jobrani is a standup comedian and Hollywood actor (The Interpreter) who is part of a popular comedy team of Middle Eastern performers called “The Axis of Evil Comedy Tour.” The tour also features hilarious standups Ahmed Ahmed, Aron Kader and Sam Tripoli. They invited me to join them on stage during a swing through Chicago last week.
“I don’t understand this whole thing about the price of a barrel of oil. Is USD 70 for a barrel of oil a lot?” Jobrani asked. “I don’t know. I’ve never had to buy one.”
Jobrani added, “I paid a lot more than that for a pair of Nikes. Let's invade Cambodia - where they make Nikes.”
Starbucks charges USD 3.65 for a venti (large) latte with organic milk. A gallon of milk costs more than a gallon of gasoline. Bush didn’t hold a press conference to address the “white milk crisis in America.” And he's not planning to invade and occupy American dairy farms.
Boycotting the oil companies is a very popular war cry these days in America. In the little American town of “Beeville,” the 13,000 citizens there organized a boycott of local Exxon Mobil gas stations. Exxon made more than USD 36 billion in profit last year, and that was with gasoline prices at just about USD 2.
Never mind that Beeville is deep in the heart of Texas, which, more than any other state in the union, has profited the most from oil and gasoline.
Exxon is a sibling of the Standard Oil Company, founded by oil baron John D. Rockefeller. He later changed the company name to AMOCO (American Oil Company). But in 2000, AMOCO was bought up by British Petroleum.
As they fired AMOCO’s American employees and as the price of oil started to rise, the people at BP changed their logo to the slick, misleading phrase “Beyond Petroleum,” lest anyone think that BP is a foreign-owned company.
Greater stench of hypocrisy
They know how much Americans like to blame all their troubles on everyone else, especially those foreigners.
The American auto makers could have done something about all this long ago, too, making cars more efficient. They started to make Hybrids available to the public, at a price higher than the average car, which is one reason why so many Americans are now driving foreign-made cars.
Hey, the foreign car makers are not dumb, either. Take the Mini Cooper, for example. They’re smart. They recognize the confusion about the cost of oil. They have two separate advertising campaigns to promote their sales, one for Americans and the West, and another for the Middle East.
In the West, the Mini is proudly featured on billboards with the slogan “OPEC, Schmopec.” That’s an American expression of disdain. The Mini is telling people in the West that buying a Mini is a great way to stick it to those big, bad oil producers, mostly Arabs.
Ah, but in the Middle East, the Mini Cooper has a whole different approach.
They’ve placed Arab flags on the hoods of each Mini, parked them side by side, and argued that driving their little economy car is just as prestigious as driving a luxury limousine.
Clearly among the smell of the gasoline is also the greater stench of hypocrisy, all the way around.
Ray Hanania is an award winning Palestinian American columnist, author and standup comedian. He can be reached at www.hanania.com