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Over a Barrel 

by TED S. McGREGOR JR. & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & W & lt;/span & e're like a bunch of pathetic meth addicts. We got hooked on that sweet stuff -- light sweet crude oil, that is. Our dealer was cool, life was good -- like eight cylinders a-blazing, convertible-top-down, forget-the-world good. Then our dealer raised the price (a lot), and we started really scraping to get our fix -- but it wasn't enough. Now we're selling our furniture and hocking our wedding rings. Could this be the story of how America got plundered?





Here's how it has played out: By paying crazy gas prices these past several years, we've simultaneously enriched nations like Saudi Arabia and driven our own economy into recession. (The reasons for recession are complex, but any economist will tell you that near-$100-a-barrel oil is a very big part of the equation.) Having made bad investments, American banks like Merrill Lynch and Citibank are failing, and now those same enriched countries are dipping into those vast reserves of oil dollars, as happened just last week, to buy big stakes in those American financial institutions. It gets worse: Saudi Arabia, along with China and others, has financed a lot of our national debt -- we owe them trillions of dollars.





They'll keep the oil pumping, and they'll keep loaning us back the money we're spending on that oil, but we've got to hand over the family jewels.





It wasn't supposed to turn out this way. We hired a guy from the oil industry to run the country -- a tough guy who would put those oil pushers in their place. Invading Iraq was to help secure our oil supply, as Alan Greenspan has said, so why did we have to endure last week's spectacle of George W. Bush, hat in hand, asking the House of Saud to boost production?





"I hope OPEC nations put more supply on the market," he told reporters while in Saudi Arabia.





Hope!? So the economy is faith-based, too.





Some mid-level Saudi functionary answered, saying, "We will raise production when the market justifies it. This is our policy." (Translation: We are making so much money off our oil right now, we'd be crazy to do anything to cut the price.)





That image of Bush begging for relief and being rebuked by some underling just as the Saudis were buying up our banks will be remembered as the sad epitaph on a failed presidency. Saudi Arabia, home to most of the 9/11 hijackers and known financiers of al Qaeda, is supposed to be our friend -- after all, on that same trip Bush was trying to secure an $11.5 billion arms deal for them. And let's not forget, we dealt with Saddam Hussein for them not once, but twice. As the saying goes, with friends like these...





& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & I & lt;/span & t's all adding up to an emperor-has-no-clothes moment. Apologists finally might have to admit that Bush has failed to manage the American economy, but they would add that at least he has kept us strong and safe. That might be a comfort to some, but the truth is national security and economic security are one and the same. We can't afford a strong military if we are bankrupt. (The national debt has doubled, to $5 trillion, since Bush took office.) We can't project power to protect our interests if we continue to make our enemies (Iran, Venezuala) and even uncertain friends (Saudi Arabia, China, Russia) ridiculously wealthy. And it's chilling to contemplate what might happen if we need American banks and other companies to help turn our economy around, but the foreign national owners subvert such plans. Where's our sovereignty in that scenario? What kind of national security will we really have if our economy is sold off like an African nation during the colonial era?





These are dark developments, and what's worse is that the answer from the White House (and the campaign trail) is to push more consumer spending. Everybody has an economic stimulus package, measured by how much money each plan would put in every American's pocket. Is $300 enough, or should we rebate $650 to each taxpayer? Never mind the additional debt we'll take on to write those checks, these plans aren't really dealing with the problem. Buying a new 'fridge or taking a cruise won't turn things around. The stimulus we need is to break our addiction to oil.





& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & B & lt;/span & ack in 1927, when the oil business was just getting going, the socialist muckraker Upton Sinclair wrote Oil! about the greed that black gold was already inspiring. He called it, quite presciently, "an evil power which roams the earth, crippling bodies of men and women, and luring the nations to destruction by visions of unearned wealth..."





Now the filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson has made a movie based on Sinclair's book, There Will Be Blood, and though it's set in the early 20th century, its theme of depravity in the name of the dollar is still very much with us today. New Yorker critic David Denby says the film is "about the driving force of capitalism as it both creates and destroys the future..."





So maybe Anderson's vision of an oil apocalypse is apropos of everything that's going on today. But as we wait these next 12 months out, we have to wonder which presidential candidate will have the guts to take the nation, cold turkey, into rehab. Mitt Romney? He just promised a bailout in Michigan, so they can build more gas-burning cars.





Ironically, at last week's North American International Auto Show in Detroit, we may have caught a glimpse of the post-oil future -- the Extreme Hybrid SUV from AFS Trinity, a Bellevue, Wash., company, which can run up to 40 miles on electricity alone. Plug in your car each night -- ideally to clean, non-global warming electricity from either hydro or wind -- and you're to work and back without the guilt of enriching our enemies and bankrupting America.
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