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Monday, Apr. 11, 2005 - 10:05 a.m.

Gripes per gallon

Man, with all the baseball writing and now the warmth and nice weather, I just find it harder and harder to remember, Hey, I've got a journal on Diaryland too. Oops.

Spring officially arrived yesterday when, on my drive to Scranton, Pa., for a Triple-A minor league ballgame, a bug met its yellow-splattered demise on my windshield. In all, I believe I have three insect crime scenes across the glass, so next time I get gas, I'll have to wash it off. I'm holding off on a car wash until I return from D.C. on Friday, at least. Probably next week.

But we've hit rock bottom here in New Jersey, though I suppose it would be more accurate to say we've crossed a line from which we can never truly go back.

I had to pay more than $2 per gallon for gas last week. I realize prices are high all over the country, and today I saw that the average is $2.29 per gallon (though the people who forecast such things believe that they may have just peaked). On one website that tries to track these things to help people find cheap gas where they live, it listed the lowest recorded price in the country at something like $1.97 in Cheneyland -- er, Wyoming. I knew I was screwed.

New Jersey's prices are among the lowest in the nation, in part because of the refineries here in the state and our low taxes, so when I can't find gas under $2/gallon for regular unleaded at about half a dozen stations I drive by frequently when I'm running low, it's significant.

So on the hour-long drive home Thursday night after filling up at $2.01 per gallon, I started stewing. The president and Congress can help alleviate gasoline prices, but the White House won't because it's in bed with the oil industry, and Congress won't toughen fuel economy standards, though studies have shown that it can be done without terrible costs to the auto industry. Yet they won't, because the car makers refuse to accept even the smallest cost increases, even in the name of a higher concern -- that of air cleanliness and overall environmental improvements.

I thought back to the week before Easter. Actually, it was the week before the week before Easter, Tuesday March 15. I was on the eliptical trainer watching Tony Danza's jokes fall flat when ABC broke in with "Breaking News." The President was about to hold a press conference. It's a shame that in this age of information, what was once a regular presidential exercise is now a breaking news story. As soon as he walked up to the podium, I felt trapped. Eight minutes left on my workout and the only TV near me, the only one I could hear was about to give me a snow job on social security reform and all the hunky-doryness in Iraq. This must be what it felt like to be a handpicked supporter at his campaign stops or his recent social security "town hall meetings." I was stuck, trapped, unable to leave. The only difference was I wasn't screened, didn't have my financial background and voting history checked before I was admitted inside.

One of the first things he said in his opening remarks was that he felt it was important to have one more press conference before "I leave for the Easter week holiday." A week-long Easter vacation? It's only a one-day holiday! A three-day weekend if you take into account Good Friday. Jesus didn't even rest that long. He worked right up until the end, holding business suppers before the weekend, then getting up and going right back to work on Sunday.

This president is a manipulator. I cringe at the way he rests one elbow on the podium, leaning toward the press corps as if to say, "Look, here I am relaxed and comfortable in front of you. Let's all be friends and play softball." He tries to appear comfortable, approachable, but only comes off as arrogant and smug. His administration does nothing but spew propaganda and skew the data. They commission reports on the environment, for example, then ignore the results when they don't show what the administration had hoped they would. He likes to say that the Democrats in Congress are hindering government progress by holding up his judicial nominations, arguing that they're more restrictive than previous Congresses. Not true: Bill Clinton had just as many nominees confirmed as Bush has. And Clinton, working with a Republican-led Congress nominated nothing but moderates of either side. Bush continues to throw up radical right-wingers, some of whom have missed the last 40-60 years of human rights and civil rights progress in America.

He's nothing better than a corrupt CEO. Like the heads of Enron, Tyco and WorldCom, he cooks the books to put more money in his pockets and cover up his mistakes and embarassments. He's bending the rules to allow the U.S. to torture prisoners of war, essentially using any doctrines from the Geneva Convention as a coaster. He's allowing the government to extradite criminals to countries where we know torture is routine. He's allowing hacks into the White House press room. He goes against his own prior principles when he thinks it will make him look good in the eyes of the people. Bill Clinton was impeached by Republicans for a personal, non-governmental matter behind closed doors. Dan Rather was forced to resign because fact-checkers and lawyers at CBS couldn't discern Times New Roman font from a 1970s typewriter. George W. Bush is getting away scot-free for numerous visible atrocities and flat-out lies. Rather is thrown under the bus for a news report, but saying in the State of the Union that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction, or continually linking Saddam Hussein to Osama bin Laden means nothing?

And on Thursday, I'll have to endure the inconvenience of long lines and security screening just to get into a baseball game because he just has to be there for the first major-league game in Washington in 31 years. I suppose it's an appropriate event for the president, but he doesn't deserve it.

But the Mets open at home today, so there are happier thoughts ahead. I gotta get myself to the 7 train now.

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