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So I’ve been reading a lot lately about the pain of independent gas stations and how they’re struggling with falling fuel prices.  It seems they haven’t been buying gas often enough to mark down their prices as quickly as their chain competitors.

Funny, but I don’t recall independent gas stations raising their prices more slowly than their chain counterparts. In fact, I remember them following rising prices lockstep.

Seems to me, if independents were buying gas as often then as they are now (i.e,, not as often as their bigger rivals) they would have been stuck with lower-priced gas. Thus, they could have raised their prices more slowly and undercut the competition, albeit at the expense of higher profits.

If you recall that happening, let me know. I could be wrong, as most mom-and-pop gas stations in York County, PA are gone — I can think of only two).

It’s easy to work up sympathy, but the effort shouldn’t cloud logic. If they were smart, independent-station owners have some extra cash left over from the days of skyrocketing prices (credit-card fees notwithstanding).

Or, like Wall Street titans, they thought “up” was the only direction prices could go.

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Set your hypocrisy radars on high alert. Just don’t expect anyone to reconcile the AIG bailout with the values of a government supposedly in thrall to the belief that the market is the ultimate arbiter of all that is good and true.

As we’re learning, the market can dish out some ugliness, too. But is it really a new lesson? Not for the workers who used to make Ford minivans. Or the workers that used to make toys, lawn mowers and televisions. Nor is the market’s ability to inflict pain news to anyone who has to fill up a gas tank or pay for their own health insurance.

But in all of those cases, we let the market do its work, or at least profess faith in its ability to do so over the long run – if, for example, we could clear out those silly government bans on offshore drilling. But when you’re an investment bank or an international insurance company, I guess drill, baby,  drill – or retrain, baby, retrain – isn’t the answer. The answer is a multi-billion-dollar loan.

I laughed when morning news anchors on CNN lamented AIG’s interest rate of 11.5%, calling it high and an incentive for the company to look elsewhere. Funny, but I don’t recall any journalists wringing their hands over the rates charged to people with credit cards (20%-plus) or the rates charged to subprime borrowers.

Seems to me, if your business is a credit risk and teetering on the edge of collapse, you should pay higher rates. No lender throws good money after bad at a low rate. Well, not anymore, anyway.

Another ridiculous argument in all this is the claim that the collapse of AIG would lead to higher borrowing costs. Higher costs for whom? Certainly not for people buying cars and houses, the two major purchases for most consumers.

The automakers would go lower than 0% if they could and I don’t see that changing – unless they get a bailout of their own. The same incentives apply to housing. If rates rise, home prices likely will fall, making them more affordable in the long run, not exactly the worst news in the world.

Yes, it sucks if you already have a house and the value falls or simply doesn’t go up year after year. But look on the bright side. You own a house. And now you own an insurance company, or at least a 79.5% stake in one. I can’t wait for my first dividend check.

Republicans normally embrace calls for personal responsibility. But that doesn’t seem to be happening in the debate over gas prices and what to do about them. That’s the irony in the recent mockery of Barack Obama’s mention of properly inflating tires.

Set aside all the studies showing savings from adequate inflation versus gains from domestic drilling. It’s also a moral issue, the kind Republicans would embrace in most other arenas. Why shouldn’t people be encouraged to take charge of their own lives and curb energy use wherever they can? The market may set an outrageous price for a gallon of gas. But we don’t have to sit back, play the victim and demand government action.

We can use fewer gallons. Or, at least when it comes to political debate, we can just move on to the next brouhaha. But not before I share with you the lead on this real-life press release (written by someone who clearly deserves a raise):

BETHESDA, Md., Aug. 7 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — No matter where the presidential candidates are on the campaign trail, the issue of skyrocketing gas prices is always a top concern. The Car Care Council applauds both candidates who have recently discussed vehicle maintenance as a way to save energy, citing proper tire inflation and regular tune-ups. In fact, according to the survey by the Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association (AAIA), 75 percent of drivers said they are better maintaining their vehicles because of rising gas prices.

Say what you will about the contest to see which presidential candidate (and which presidential candidate’s wife) is more patriotic. At least it managed to knock Bill Clinton back out of the headlines. The economy, the war, fuel prices, none of that stands much of a chance of seeing much airtime anyway between now and November.

I nearly fell down laughing when I heard someone on CNN talk about how the patriotism debate switched the topic of most news away from the economy, etc., an alleged switch that apparently benefits John McCain. I just don’t remember hearing much about those other issues. But I do recall heated exchanges over the motives and whereabouts of Bill Clinton in the aftermath of the Democratic primary.

I can’t quite understand the media’s fascination with the Clinton-Obama story line. Well, no. I can, given the obvious drama. But it seems that health care, the housing crisis, the war in Iraq all offer plenty of drama, too. They’re just more complicated and require a little more digging outside the beltway. Just don’t expect anyone to pick up a shovel.

In the meantime, I suspect Barack Obama is going to start taking a real beating from the netroots, given his penchant for announcements like this and this. But I suspect the campaign must believe it will help Obama appear more centrist if he is consistently under attack from the left. After all, the same strategy works for McCain, only with attacks coming from the right.

Obama’s decision to spurn public financing and the resulting storm, I first put down as some inside-the-beltway issue that wouldn’t much resonate. But the more I think about it, the more I think he made a mistake there. You don’t jettison systems or principles you supposedly believe in just because they’re inconvenient. Isn’t that the lesson of the last seven-plus years?

I don’t think Americans would be able to tolerate — let alone organize — this kind of roadway chaos, no matter how strongly they feel about fuel prices:

I’ve solved the energy crisis, at least the political one. Republicans want more drilling and refineries and Dems want more conservation and cars with better fuel efficiency. Why not have both?

If cars and SUVs and pickups really do end up traveling more miles per gallon, we won’t need more refineries or more drilling — but at least oil companies will have the option. Everyone gets what they want and gas can fall back to $1.30/gallon (I remember one colleague complaining when it hit that mark nine short years ago),

But, of course, Washington doesn’t work that way, at least for the moment. It’s more fun to yell and scream and block the other side from getting what it wants than it is taking a risk and figuring out how to satisfy everyone. And it is a risk.

But some country singer appearing on Glenn Beck’s show had a good metaphor for why we need more domestic drilling — he compared it to surgery (and no, I don’t think this particular singer had much background in energy policy, but so what?). Sure it might hurt, but you gotta do it.

The analogy worked for me, and then I figured it was worth approaching conservation and fuel efficiency in a similar vein. That’s like the special diet you have to go on after, say, a gastric bypass operation. In many cases, surgery alone won’t cure you. It just postpones the agony.

Is it just me or is anyone else noticing a greater amount of pedestrians on roadsides these days? Maybe they’ve always been there and I’m only now noticing them, but that’s unlikely. People walking in Central Pennsylvania tend to stick out, even in our urbanized areas. But I’m seeing them in suburban and rural stretches.

I saw a middle-aged couple today pushing a shopping cart full of groceries. They were going against traffic in a right-turn lane along Route 30 at the intersection with Memory Lane, not exactly a pedestrian-friendly zone. (hint: there’s no sidewalk within several hundred yards and it’s right before Route 30 turns into a high-speed autobahn between York and Lancaster. In this photo, they would have been up ahead along the guardrail where you can see the arm of the traffic light sticking out. They were heading towards the camera.)

I imagine at least a few people are choosing to walk rather than drive, what with gas prices being, uh, high. I wonder if we’ll soon be seeing news stories about higher-than-normal deaths among walkers.

The debate over the gas-tax holiday has gone far enough. It’s mostly a showpiece with little real-world effect (what would politics be without that sort of thing anyway?) Still, I’m willing to go along with it if we can come up with a more creative solution: force people to stop driving their SUVs and monster pickup trucks unless they’re hauling three passengers and/or a load of stuff.

Every time I venture out in my little Honda Civic, I’m surrounded by solo drivers in huge machines. It’s time for a little trade-off. I’m happy to spare those drivers some pain at the pump, but only if they’re willing to stop being the biggest, self-inflicting cause of it.

A friend of mine in a state that voted before PA warned me that I’d be burned out on the presidential race after the primary. He was right. It’s not worth following right now. It’s all about the horse race and the strategery, and I guess it will be for the next six months. Barack Obama has failed, in some respects, to move the media conversation off its sinking foundation in poll numbers, public gaffes and explosive preachers. Oh well.

I can’t complain too much, since I engaged in a little horse-racery myself. But we seem to have suffused the entire presidential process in a cynical brew. When John McCain denounces a negative ad, he’s seen as employing a backhanded trick to keep the ad in the news while keeping his own distance from it.

It’s probably ever been thus. Politicians are human and humans aren’t exactly the noblest of breeds, though we fight pretty hard sometimes to do good things. However, the crises do seem to be piling up pretty thick at the moment, from high fuel prices to food shortages to global warming to an unfinished war to nuclear terrorism (this site graciously lets you imagine the consequences of a bomb in your own hometown!).

Maybe it would be too much to ask people to pay significant attention to the bad stuff. Still, it’s no accident that the stories dominating headlines before 9/11 were about shark attacks and Gary Condit. We want to hear about a disaster only as long as it’s happening to other people, not to ourselves. The major media, safe in their NY/DC bubbles, are as insulated as our politicians, but not any more prone to seeking insulation than the rest of us.

I doubt that people whose homes have been hit by a tornado turn on the TV news to watch the aftermath — at least for now.

Here’s a summary of the trucker convoy and its impact on our nation’s capital. Not quite the million-trucker march that might have made a difference (photo credit to the Washington Post)…