Sunday, September 28, 2008

The Gas Shortage Rant

You may have heard about the gasoline shortages in the Southeast U.S. Although mainly confined to Georgia and North Carolina, I'm here to tell you they're real.

Where to get gas is the subject of every conversation around here. Who's selling gas? Shoppers are asking supermarket cashiers, diners are asking waiters, patient Starbucks' customers are asking one another while in line, neighbors are asking over their fences. Employers are worried about their workers showing up on Monday morning. It's almost like a domesticated version of a Mad Max movie.

The typical rumor I keep hearing is that some station or another, typically located on the opposite side of town, was selling gas yesterday, but only $20 per customer and, besides, now they're out. Some stations are accepting cash only. All the charging over $4.25 per gallon.

Today I tried to beat the crowds by going out this morning while all the good Christians were at church. I had a quarter tank in my car and cruised the neighborhood. All of my local stations were closed - plastic bags over the pump handles, sometimes saw-horse barricades in front of the entrance. I drove in a widening spiral around my home - down Peachtree, back up Northside, down Howell Mill, back up Peachtree, down Piedmont, and so on.

Eventually, I found a pair of open stations at Paces Ferry Road and Northside, near Interstate I-75. No one was directing traffic even though there were lines in all directions. I selected the station at the northeast corner of the intersection and got in a northbound line. The tricky part was getting past the cross-street - while I held back to let the traffic pass by, a few cars jumped in line in front of me.

It would be fair to say the situation was a barely controlled panic. Everyone drove right up to the bumper of the car in front of them so as to not let anyone else in. Although successful for that purpose, it had the unintended consequence of prohibiting other customers from getting out of the station once they had purchased their gas, resulting in gridlock. Other cars tried to seize any crease they could find in any of the lines, including throwing their vehicles into reverse and trying to zip back in front of someone who had been kind enough to have paused to let another customer leave. I wouldn't be at all surprised to hear about violence breaking out at some station somewhere.

All of this reminds me of the gas shortages of the 1970s, the days of the OPEC embargo at the end of the Nixon administration. I'm old enough to remember gas lines then, and to only be able to buy gas on odd or even days depending upon your tag number, and being limited to $5 per purchase (almost 10 gallons back then).

Now we're at the end of the Bush Administration, arguably at the end of the Reaganomics Era (hopefully at the end?). It has been, by any measure, a catastrophe. On television, the Senate and House are in partisan squabbling over a $700 billion bail-out of Wall Street. Banks are foreclosing. Stocks are plummeting. The nation is engaged in two separate and financially ruinous wars, both of which are dragging on endlessly with no solution in sight.

With all of the buy-outs and loans to failed businesses (Bear Sterns, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, AIG, et cet.), the only difference between George Bush and Hugo Chavez at this point is that Chavez nationalizes profitable companies (and doesn't pass the cost on to the taxpayer).

I've tried to minimize my partisan political opinions on this blog, but the truly historic events of the past week demand comment. Over three crisis-laden days, Republican Presidential candidate John McCain admitted he couldn't find the time to read the 3-page, original bailout plan, arguably the most important document of the moment. After first claiming that "the fundamentals of the economy are strong," then demanding a 911-style commission to find out "what went wrong" (it's your own deregulation policies, stupid), then saying as President he would fire the SEC Commissioner (a position immune from Executive influence), McCain claimed that he was putting his campaign "on hold" to go to Washington to straighten out this mess. And while his advertisements still aired on television, and his surrogates continued to make their rounds, and his campaign continued to accept donations, McCain succeeded only in obstructing a nearly-completed bail-out plan (the compromise plan announced today is very similar to the one McCain railed against). But remember, this is a candidate who, by his own admission, doesn't understand economics very well.

But even while McCain was calling for tax cuts for the wealthy while simultaneously deploring "Wall Street greed," portly Georgia embarrassment Newt Gingrich called McCain's campaign suspension gambit, "the greatest single act of responsible leadership ever taken by a presidential candidate."

Meanwhile, his vice-presidential candidate has looked increasingly incompetent during each successive press interview, and couldn't cite an example of McCain pushing for oversight of Wall Street, telling Katie Couric: "I'll try to find you some, and I'll bring 'em to you." And mean old Bill Clinton can't stop singing McCain's praises, from Larry King to The View to Letterman to Good Morning America.

We're at war. The economy's crashed. We can't get a handle on controlling greenhouse gas emissions or achieving energy independence. Three years after Katrina, the gas shortages in the Southeast are apparently due to the inability of the Gulf Coast refineries to recover from Hurricanes Gustav and Ike and resume production. And seven years after 911, Osama Bin Laden is still at large, and Al-Qaeda and the Taliban are resurgent.

If at this point you're not running to the polls to vote for Barack Obama as early and as soon as possible, then I don't understand you at all. In fact, I'll go further: if at this point, you're still supporting the same failed policies that have brought this great nation of ours to its knees, then go away - this blog is not for you, to you, about you, or even particularly interested in having you around. At this point, the only reason to oppose Obama are unfounded fears of raising taxes, creeping socialism, or, frankly, racist suspicions that he's some kind of "half-breed, communist Muslim." If these are your views, this is what you sound like to me (Warning: this is painful):

What's truly frightening is that these are real people, not a parody. This is what passes for political discourse in parts of the South (Kentucky in this case). This is what's between Obama and the Presidency.

Good luck, America.


Mettai Cherry said...

At last... Something good about living in SW Gwinnett County! The tank farms are in Doraville, so we get the trucks before everyone gets in line behind them!

GreenSmile said...

Hardly a word about the matter of gas shortages up here in the north east. Gas prices have not been hit too hard either. The "speed of sound" in the supply chain, which is how fast a tank truck can move, must be one way of accounting for the delayed news.

There are lots of ways, more new ones every day that reveal just what the "new American century" will actually mean to ordinary Americans. [some of us are ordinary right?] We are headed straight for a place among the nations where our economic and political clout are more in line with our moral stature and collective foresight.

One would like to be less agitated since agitation in itself is unaimed. The nature of that beast is way too much like the beasts of nature. Politics can hardly cloak that and rarely harnesses it except to pull things down.