Warren Spieker: ‘While I’m no fan of oil companies or high gas prices, doesn’t it sound a little too conspiratorial (is that a word?) to suggest that gas prices are being manipulated around the election? After all, oil prices have declined roughly 23% from their peak while gas prices have declined significantly less. And you aren’t suggesting that oil companies control the worldwide market for oil are you? If there really were a conspiracy, wouldn’t the gas prices decline MORE than the oil price?’

☞ Yes, conspiratorial is a word, and, yes, Friday’s suggestion may be just that. But I no longer dismiss such things out of hand as I would have before we became a nation that does not torture (we just waterboard) and a nation that does not go to war under false pretenses (we just ‘fix the intelligence around the policy’).

It’s may be far-fetched – but maybe not.

On the drop in gas prices, remember that the gas taxes of roughly 45 cents a gallon don’t change when the world oil price drops, and neither does the cost of moving that oil from the wellhead to the gas pump or the cost of running the gas station, so you wouldn’t expect gas prices to fall by the same percentage as oil prices. (Imagine that the world oil price fell by 100%, to zero. The price of gasoline would not fall by 100%. After the 45-cent tax, the cost of transmission, and the cost of running gas stations, gasoline might still cost close to a buck.)

Warren also asks whether, with summer driving over, prices don’t always decline this time of year. And ‘James’ writes in to say ‘oil prices fell 17% last year and 18% the year before during this time.’ If that’s true, the TV reporters should have said so. (‘Motorists are happy to see that, right on schedule, the annual sharp drop in gasoline prices has shown up at the pump, Brian. Of course, they had best not get smug – if history is a guide, prices will be back up as the heating oil season kicks in.’) But I didn’t hear them say that, perhaps because it’s not true. A too-quick Google search brings me to this (scroll down to the 8th of 17 pages), showing that in 2003 gasoline prices went up sharply from July to September, stayed flat in that period of 2004 (an election year, by the way), and went up sharply in 2005.

I do believe that, between the oil industry and the Saudis and other friends of the Bush Administration*, there are ways the gasoline price, and even the world oil price, could be affected for a few weeks before the election.

* E.g., the membership list of Dick Cheney’s energy task force. Except, oh, wait, I forgot – even a lawsuit by the Government Accountability Office could not pry loose that secret list.

I don’t know – or claim – this has been done. But we have been taught by this Administration – ‘by far the vast majority’ of whose tax cuts would go to ‘benefit those at the bottom end of the economic ladder’ – to be skeptical.

We have been taught by this Administration – in its promise to invade Iraq only as a ‘last resort,’ for our self defense – to be wary.

We have been taught by this Administration – that would not exercise its clear authority to keep the California ‘energy crisis’ from draining billions of dollars from California to Texas – to wonder what’s really going on.

We have been taught by this Administration – and the Republican Secretaries of State in Florida and Ohio who simultaneously chaired their states’ Bush election efforts – that this crowd will do almost anything to win.

Which brings us to . . .

VOTER SUPPRESSION

From Thursday’s New York Times, in part:

One of the cornerstones of the Republican Party’s strategy for winning elections these days is voter suppression, intentionally putting up barriers between eligible voters and the ballot box. The House of Representatives took a shameful step in this direction yesterday, voting largely along party lines for onerous new voter ID requirements. Laws of this kind are unconstitutional, as an array of courts have already held, and profoundly undemocratic. The Senate should not go along with this cynical, un-American electoral strategy.

The bill the House passed yesterday would require people to show photo ID to vote in 2008. Starting in 2010, that photo ID would have to be something like a passport, or an enhanced kind of driver’s license or non-driver’s identification, containing proof of citizenship. This is a level of identification that many Americans simply do not have.

The bill was sold as a means of deterring vote fraud, but that is a phony argument. There is no evidence that a significant number of people are showing up at the polls pretending to be other people, or that a significant number of noncitizens are voting.

Noncitizens, particularly undocumented ones, are so wary of getting into trouble with the law that it is hard to imagine them showing up in any numbers and trying to vote. The real threat of voter fraud on a large scale lies with electronic voting, a threat Congress has refused to do anything about.

The actual reason for this bill is the political calculus that certain kinds of people – the poor, minorities, disabled people and the elderly – are less likely to have valid ID. They are less likely to have cars, and therefore to have drivers’ licenses. There are ways for nondrivers to get special ID cards, but the bill’s supporters know that many people will not go to the effort if they don’t need them to drive.

If this bill passed the Senate and became law, the electorate would likely become more middle-aged, whiter and richer – and, its sponsors are anticipating, more Republican.

Court after court has held that voter ID laws of this kind are unconstitutional. This week, yet another judge in Georgia struck down that state’s voter ID law.

Last week, a judge in Missouri held its voter ID law to be unconstitutional. Supporters of the House bill are no doubt hoping that they may get lucky, and that the current conservative Supreme Court might uphold their plan.

America has a proud tradition of opening up the franchise to new groups, notably women and blacks, who were once denied it. It is disgraceful that, for partisan political reasons, some people are trying to reverse the tide, and standing in the way of people who have every right to vote.

Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company

☞ Which brings us here, to find out how to find out whether you’re registered – and where to vote if you are, what kind of ID you’ll need when you get there, and how to become a poll worker. And here to find your state’s deadline for registering.

Spread the word.

 

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