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Letter from New York
Mathew Tombers is Managing Director of Intermat, Inc., ( a television company which executive produces programs and consults with industry companies on a variety of issues. Intermat, Inc. is currently involved in approximately thirty hours of television in various stages for a variety of networks. He is one of the Executive Producers of OFF TO WAR, a ten hour series for Discovery Times and for a one hour on international adoptions for Discovery Health. He has consulted a variety of companies, including Ted Turner Documentaries, WETA, Betelgeuse Productions, and Creation Films, Lou Reda Productions as well as many others.

May 2, 2006

As I drove into the train station today, the commentator on NPR began a commentary by asking the question: do you remember the last time you ran out of gasoline?

As a matter of fact, I do. It only happened to me a couple of times and neither time was I driving. I was with my friend Tom Fudali, who had, when we were in high school together, an unnerving habit of running close to the bottom of the tank and had an equally uncanny ability to run out of gasoline in a place where it was possible for him/us to coast into a filling station.

The point of this was that it may well be, according to this particular commentator, that we, as a world, have not been paying attention to the global fuel gauge. There are signs everywhere. Gas is rising to unthinkable prices in America and it is beginning to cause real havoc in the country. Recently I read a report that in certain parts of the country business is up dramatically at pawn shops as the working poor pawn possessions to top off the tank.

As I topped off my tank on the return leg of a trip, I heard two well-dressed ladies complaining that the price of gas had jumped by a quarter since one of them had been in Europe for a couple of weeks. When in Scottsdale for the wedding of my godson Scott, who is in turn the son of the aforementioned Tom, the local Arizona paper trumpeted that small was the NEW big in cars while another article declared that Americans had not altered their vehicle buying habits. I wasn't quite sure what to believe given these two diametrically opposed opinions, opining to myself that the truth might depend on your socio-economic group.

Certainly on the train I hear more conversation about the price of oil; it is now checked more regularly by my fellow travelers than the movement of the stock market.

When the idea of a $100 rebate to help pay for gasoline was floated by the Republican party, there was widespread derision at a party I attended - we would give everyone $100 so we could give it back to the oil companies, increasing their profits while we, as a country, would need to borrow money, probably from the Chinese, to pay for this largesse. And it is the burgeoning consumption of the Chinese which is contributing to the elevation of the price per barrel of oil.

The ever growing demand for petroleum from emerging economies like China and India has elevated the pressures on the market as has the slowdown of oil flowing from Iraq, the nuclear generated jitters regarding Iran's intentions, a leader in Venezuela who delights in tweaking the nose of the U.S., civil unrest in Nigeria, etc.

We could be moving toward the perfect petroleum storm. Even if, as some experts claim, there is enough oil for our immediate needs still in the ground, the whole house of cards could tumble due to the above mentioned political uncertainties, not to mention havoc that could be wrecked on refining by another Katrina.

There are howls of protests, even from Republicans, about the record profits of oil companies. Personally, the idea of record profits wouldn't bother me so much if I thought the money was going into genuinely turning oil companies into energy companies; I am afraid it isn't.

The current trifecta of troubles has been brewing for years while we have sailed lazily on, seduced by oil prices less than half of Europe's and fed by the apparent American belief that bigger is always better, in all things, from homes to meals to cars. We have not developed a breed of efficient cars, to provide options available in Europe where my friend's Citroen, fueled by diesel, gets sixty miles to the gallon.

All of this is, I am afraid, reflective of the difficulty Americans and, indeed, the whole world, has in making long range plans before the knell of the doomsday bell.

It is my sincere hope that we will, like my old friend Tom, have the luck to be able to coast into the filling station because without that luck we'll be stuck on the side of the highway, thumbing for a ride.