Thursday, February 21, 2013

Round Trip, A Losing Bet

As our cartoonist Paul stays warm inside our home office in Nebraska, the rest of our staff still have tasks that require traveling in a car today - and may also include putting more gas in the tank. While that kind of pain may not be like the blinding snow hitting the Midwest, fueling most vehicles these days is like gambling with a slot machine where you have no chance of winning.

If it seems to you like the price of gasoline has unexpectedly been going through the roof lately, you're not alone.

Gas prices have risen for 35 straight days across the nation, and could potentially hit record highs well before the traditional summer driving season. Refinery shutdowns have played a small part in driving up the price of oil early this year, and they've certainly been drilling - but the real monster grabbing your paycheck at the pump is the same one that's been drilling Americans ruthlessly for years: The speculators of Wall Street.

What may anger you more is that you may have been helping them do it.

Back in 2010, a Democratically led U.S. House and Senate passed the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, which boosted the regulatory power of agencies like the CFTC and the CFPB - the Commodities Futures Trading Commission and Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

The problem with Dodd-Frank was that it did not go far enough - and it has not been allowed to go even as far as it was intended to. In July of 2012, two-thirds of Dodd-Frank regulations were not in place. In the latest progress report for the legislation, fully sixty percent of Dodd-Frank rules are still in limbo.

This problem has been made even worse by Republicans like Mitch McConnell in the U.S. Senate, all of whom - like unruly children at bedtime - have insisted on nearly every delaying tactic known to humankind to prevent President Obama from installing powerful directors at agencies like the CFPB. Politically, obstruction is the only tool the GOP seems to currently have, that they know how to use.

What's worse, with the looming sequester on the way, what few lower-level regulators there are may end up like nearly a million other government employees - furloughed, if the sequester cuts go into effect.

Meanwhile, the Wall Street speculators will continue their unethical practices, effectively unchecked - practices nearly identical to the ones that drove the Great Recession of the Bush economy, just over four years ago.

The next time you pull up to the pump, to pull that lever or push that button and get some fuel, you really need to drive that blame bus round trip.

Before you start cussing out the greedy corporate oil executives, or the barely restrained gambling oil speculators on Wall Street, or even the craven and cowardly politicians in Washington, you need to go back to the person who grabbed the wrong lever or pushed the wrong button in the first place. That same person who pushed the button for his or her candidate - but then never pushed that candidate, once elected, to follow through and represent that person's needs. That person who simply yanked the lever and bet that everything would be ok if the candidate whose TV ads they liked won the election, is really the one to blame for not putting the right people, in the right places, to strongly regulate this mess.

That, most likely, would be you.

Too bad our cars and trucks don't get the same milage our American blame game gets.