A little more than 10 years ago, Ross Perot warned of a “giant sucking sound” – American jobs fleeing to Mexico.

The new sucking sound you hear today is of dollars flying out of the pockets of U.S. families and into the pockets of oil companies and resource-rich oil countries.

In 2001, oil was $32 per barrel. Now it’s more than four times that. The difference is showing up across the board in the U.S. economy, most visibly at the gas pump.

The oil and gas industry is, as one petroleum analyst pointed out last week, the only business in the country that posts its prices daily in foot-high numerals along our streets and highways.

As a result, there is hardly an American who doesn’t know, to the penny, how what they just paid to fill up their car or pickup compares to what they paid last week.

As consumers worldwide start doing the same, the laws of supply and demand dictate that gas prices will eventually stabilize and, perhaps, even drop. Let’s hope.

In the meantime, the lifestyles of Americans are eroding before our eyes. It’s one thing to drive less, or skip this year’s vacation. But Americans will need to heat their homes, and the cost of doing so seems certain to be much higher this fall.

They still need to buy food, the cost of which has risen nearly as dramatically. More corn for ethanol means less for food production, which means higher prices across a range of staples, including milk and corn syrup.

The unprecedented cost of diesel fuel has increased the cost of almost everything which arrives by truck or rail, from the steel in new buildings to the shirts on our backs.

Higher jet fuel prices mean flights to some cities have more than doubled in a matter of months.

That’s all frightening, but even more frightening is the almost complete lack of a national strategy to resolve this problem.

President Bush laments that he doesn’t have a “magic wand” and, if he had one, he would be waving it by now. In effect, he says, the problem is beyond his control.

Sens. Hillary Clinton and John McCain proposed a gas-tax holiday, which experts seem to agree is a bad idea which likely would only worsen the problem.

Sen. Barack Obama, meanwhile, seems silent, except for his criticism of his opponents.

Meanwhile, Congress finds itself unable to cut subsidies to farmers who are already raking in record profits from record prices.

Congress recently renewed tax breaks for oil companies, which clearly do not need them, while failing to extend tax credits for wind and solar development, which will expire in December.

All of which helps explain the results of a recent survey that found twice as many Mainers feel they are worse off today than they were a year ago. Meanwhile, only 19 percent feel their situation will improve over the next year.

They hear, without doubt, that “giant sucking sound.”

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