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Motorists victim of highway robbery

Everyone has heard the names of some of America's most notorious outlaws: Bonnie and Clyde, Frank and Jesse James, "Babyface" Nelson, just to name a few.

Well, those notorious outlaws of yesteryear would be equally home in modern day times, only they'd be armed not with a firearm, but rather a gasoline nozzle - or more precisely a cash register.

This week, presumably in a reaction to the news that the petroleum industry has been damaged in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the gas pumps begin spinning out higher and higher rates. In Atlanta on Wednesday, motorists lined up to purchase fuel at nearly $6 per gallon.

Highway robbery. That's what Bonnie and Clyde would think if they were walking among us.

Although when the subject of exactly who is to blame comes up, everyone in the petroleum industry begins doing a virtual "who's on first" routine of confusing doublespeak and finger-pointing.

From local gas stations all the way up to the corporate executive suites, the buck needs to stop somewhere and it needs to stop quickly.

It seems these folks will use any means whatsoever to justify driving the gas prices up so high that most consumers are left penniless at the pump.

Despite urging by the government to keep prices steady and President Bush's plan to open up the nation's strategic oil reserves, gas stations across the Tri-State - along with most others in the country - jacked the cost per gallon up.

The price gouging has begun.

Some folks will say that it is not simply price gouging, but rather the market reacting to the immediate shutdown of eight refineries in the gulf region. Each of those has been shut down due to the hurricane. The exact, long-term implications of the shutdowns are not known, only that the refineries represent approximately 12 percent of the domestic capacity.

That hardly explains the more than 50-cent per gallon increase on Wednesday. Somebody is looking to make a buck at the expense of the American consumer.

Unfortunately, the problem may get worse before it gets better.

With record high travel during recent holidays, AAA has shown that people will pay, no matter what the cost. The folks with the oil know this, but that doesn't make it right to overcharge.

Some robbers are little more discreet but that doesn't make them any less villainous.