Monday, September 19, 2005

The Gouge & The Fall of the Escalade ...

It's very easy to draw cynical conclusions when faced with $3+ a gallon of gas on a fuel in-efficient vehicle and a shoestring, middle or working class budget. There seems no logic in the exorbitant increases in oil prices; and it's easy to assert that, perhaps, oil companies are taking us for a ride, that the media (still riding Katrina's high) is letting both Bush Administration and the gas companies off the hook: devastating hurricanes hitting critical oil refineries does seem like a good excuse to gouge consumers at the pump. We welcomed a much more critical assessment from a recent editorial in the Philadelphia Daily News:

Many economists and others say price gouging at gas stations is actually a myth. The law of supply and demand and free market competition makes it too difficult for station owners to gouge the public ... But when there are wild swings, it's fair to ask if greed and a desire to take advantage of the public is playing a part. That's why we support Gov. Rendell's decision to require retail gas dealers to keep records of fuel price quotes and delivery invoices, which the state will examine in a month. Retailers with big price margins could face investigation for price gouging and unfair trade.

We're alson in support of Rendell's decision and other states, such as Maryland and Virginia, that are closely examining price gouging and the impact such unscrupulous business practices are having on consumers. While we're on that, we're hoping that media observers can also take a more balanced and objective approach to the issue of price gouging at the pump rather than the easily drawn conclusion that it's "just Katrina" or "just Rita" wreaking havoc on refineries. There are a whole host of other issues, such as Americans wanting it both ways: we want to lessen reliance on foreign oil, yet our foreign policy is deeply entrenched in a regional quagmire that ultimately rests on the future of oil. Meanwhile, there are reports of OPEC playing games with oil prices, with Saudi Arabia " ... not seeing demand for more crude.". Americans are showing a greater desire for a cleaner environment, but haven't been able to shake the lure of automobiles that aren't fuel efficient, despite declining sales in SUVs.

However, the silver lining in the 2005 hurricane season and the "nostalgia" of the $2.50 gallon (as the Philly Daily News called it) is that people are becoming much more aware of the oil market, its impact on our environment and its depressing drag on the American pocketbook (we haven't even discussed heating oil prices, yet). A paradigm shift is occuring, recently highlighted by Ford Motor Co.'s decision to significantly flood the market with their award-winning hybrid vehicles, such as the Escape SUV hybrid. Our hope is that such a shift and positive focus on the health of our planet will have its desired effect on the African American consumer who, in 2005, accounted for nearly a quarter of all Cadillac Escalade sales (and GM won't be paying for those $100+ gas sales and the 30-70 percent heating oil increases when winter hits). It is a very difficult task, considering contemporary Black culture is so influenced by the image of high profile entertainers and hip hop "ghetto-fab" extraordinaires driving gas guzzling street beasts on 20-inch rims. Acclaimed "underground" and "conscious" lyricist Mos Def is caught stroking GMC's Denali luxury SUV and chart popper Missy Elliot is pimping Jeep Cherokees in her latest "Lose Control" video. We don't expect to see a Toyota Prius blazed under hip grinding dancers in a Hype Williams video anytime soon ...

We all breath the same air and share the same earth. It's saddening that we haven't seen a more serious discussion within the Black electorate and public policy establishment concerning the state of our environment and the scope of Black awareness on the subject. That dialogue is well overdue.