Title: Peter Reuell: Pump it in, and rip yourself off
Metro West Daily News
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By Peter Reuell/ Metrowest Daily News Staff - A Herald Interactive Paper
Friday, July 28, 2006


Pump it in, and rip yourself off

Attention American public: You are being ripped off.

There's nothing new about that, per se. Ripping off the American public is a business strategy with a long and storied history.

No, what's new about it this time is that it's not only going on right in front of our very eyes, but that there's plenty of people -- cough, cough, Republicans, cough -- who'll try to tell us it's good for us.

I'm not talking about the Big Dig, although that definitely was, and is, a rip-off.

I'm not talking about the war in Iraq, even though it's one, too.

I'm not talking about no-bid contracts for politically connected companies -- cough, Haliburton, jeez, I've got something in my throat -- who brazenly overbilled taxpayers to the tune of millions. To be sure, that's a rip-off of near-biblical proportions.

No, what I'm talking about is a corporate theft you've almost certainly been accomplice to, maybe even this very morning -- when you pulled into a gas station for a fill up.

Unless you drive a hybrid, I'm sure you're feeling my pain. In its weekly survey of gas prices, AAA of New England found a gallon of self-serve now goes for $3.05, on average.

But it's not the high gas prices that've got me steamed, it's that the oil companies are gouging the little guy, and pulling in record profits by doing it.

In a financial report released yesterday, Exxon-Mobil announced it made $10.4 billion in profit in the second quarter alone. Yes, that's billion, with a "B."

Big deal, you say. Oil companies always pull down big coin.

Let me put this in perspective for you.

At the rate Exxon rakes it in, the company in the second quarter was pulling down just shy of $400 million a week, or almost $57 million a day. In a single hour, Exxon pocketed a cool $4.7 million, or $79,000 a minute.

For three months, the company made $1,318, every second.

I'm not one to begrudge a company its profits, but things are getting out of hand around here.

Look, I know oil prices went up after Katrina.

And I know oil prices went up when Iranian President Mahmoud Ahma...Ahmatotalnutcase started enriching weapons grade uranium for "peaceful purposes."

I know oil prices went up because Israel is blowing up two-thirds of Lebanon, and Hezbollah is zipping rockets indiscriminately across the border.

But I'm beginning to suspect the main reason gas is still $3 a gallon is because they know we'll pay it.

I can remember seeing gas at $3.26 after Katrina.

Did I grumble about it? You bet. But did I pony up the dough in the end? Do you even have to ask?

The problem, of course, isn't just that gas is expensive, or that the high price of transportation pushes up the prices of virtually every other consumer good.

The problem is that the pinch is disproportionately felt by those closest to the bottom.

Think about it: if you're Exxon-Mobil's CEO, chances are you're pulling down hundreds of thousands, if not millions, in annual pay, not to mention what're likely to be hefty bonuses for keeping the green flowing. [continue]

So what if the price of gassing up your Hummer goes up by a few bucks? You can afford it, right?

But, consider the difference if you're a single mother, working 60-plus hours at, say, Wal-Mart, with no benefits.

If you're already having a hard time paying the rent, buying food and medicine, keeping the lights and heat on, and making sure you can get to and from work, that extra $20, $30 or $40 suddenly seems like a lot.

But the gouging certainly won't stop at the pump.

It's July now, and temperatures are something just short of frying-an-egg-on-the-sidewalk levels, but soon enough, colder weather will come, and with it, concerns about the cost of home heating oil.

Oil companies will tell you you'd better lock in the best price you can get now, because they'll only go up.

But what they conveniently fail to mention are reports that so much fuel oil is being produced now that companies are literally running out of places to put it. The same goes for natural gas.

Will Exxon pass on the savings of a few bucks to us, the consumers? Don't make me laugh.

Instead they'll keep doing what they've always done -- make money from those least able to pay, then hide behind a regulatory structure they've virtually constructed themselves.

Where's that leave us? Just where they want us -- stuck on the side of the road, or freezing at home.

(Peter Reuell can be reached at 508-626-4428 or at preuell@cnc.com.)
 

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