Since I don't believe in "peak oil" (the notion that world production is peaking and will soon slide, plunging the world into economic chaos) and regard oil "shortages" as contrivances by the oil companies, allied brokers and middlemen to run up the price, I fill my aging fleet of '50s- and '60s-era Chryslers with a light heart. Although for longer trips these days I fill an '82 Mercedes 240D with diesel. True, diesel these days costs more than high-octane gasoline, but the Mercedes gets 35 miles to the gallon, whereas the '59 Imperial ragtop and the '62 Belevedere wagon get around 18 mpg, which is still way ahead of the SUVs.

Part of my light-heartedness comes from the fact that gas guzzling these days can be a revolutionary duty, like puffing Montecristo No. 4 Cuban cigars back in the '60s as a way of doing one's bit for the Cuban revolution. A while ago, Citgo stations were owned by City Services, which was controlled by the W. Alton Jones family, who amassed a vast fortune thereby. Subsequently, the Alton Jones family foundation exercised -- via strategic disbursement -- control over much of the environmental movement, such as World Wildlife Fund, National Wildlife Federation and Worldwatch. As with the other big donors such as Pew Charitable Trusts, the Alton Jones foundation cut loose any green group showing signs of disruptive militancy.

So I used to give Citgo a wide birth, until Citgo and its 14,000 gas stations and eight oil refineries (undamaged by Katrina) passed into the hands of the Venezuelan national oil company. Alas, Citgo signs aren't a prominent feature of the landscape in northern California or west of the Rockies. I just drove across Texas, and Citgo outlets are everywhere, as they are in Florida and the Carolinas. But even if you can't pump Citgo gas, guzzling keeps up overall oil demand, and hence oil prices, thus helping not only Venezuela, but also Russia, which needs every ruble it can get.

Not so long ago, Venezuela's president, Hugo Chavez, said Venezuela could afford to slash Citgo's prices by cutting out the middlemen. He outlined a plan to set aside 10 percent of the 800,000 barrels of oil produced by the Citgo refineries and ship that oil directly to schools, religious organizations and nonprofits in poor communities for distribution.

Chavez has yet to take up my suggestion that Citgo start offering its customers gift vouchers THAT could be redeemed in the form of free consulations over the Internet with one of the 16,000 Cuban doctors in Venezuela. But surely it's only a matter of time. Already he's made a wildly popular foray into the Bronx and promised social action in the Chicago area, as well as along the Gulf coast. Maybe Bush should throw in the towel and make Chavez the head of FEMA. After all, Chavez is a military man, and Bush wants the military to take a lead role in emergencies.

You might suppose that Citgo's competitors might strike back by raising signs, rather in the manner of some motel-owners here battling the Gujarati families now controlling 70 percent of the business, urging motorists to patronize "American-owned" filling stations. But that would cut out Shell and BP, and the latter, like Chevron-Texaco and Mobil, is in partnership with Petroleos de Venezuela, the national Venezuelan oil company and would not want needlessly to offend the government.

Since the failure of the coup against Chavez it backed in 2002, the U.S. government has subcontracted its public propaganda against Chavez to Pat Robertson, who, given Reverend Falwell's fade-out, has been trying to consolidate his position as America's leading ayatollah. Robertson promptly overplayed his hand by calling for Chavez's assassination and most recently accusing the president of planning to build up a nuclear arsenal. Someone ought to tell Robertson that accusations pertaining to WMD haven't got a high retail value these days. He'd be better off saying Chavez had labs working on avian flu strains designed to target Protestants of Scotch origin.

Then, Chavez wrong-footed Uncle Sam again by telling Ted Koppel that the Pentagon was working on a military coup, Operation Balboa, designed to overthrow his government. Having learned that pugnacious verbal exchanges only increase Chavez's popularity across Latin America, the U.S. ambassador in Caracas issued a low-key denial saying that yes, there was an Operation Balboa, but it was four years old and Spanish in origin. The plan included Venezuela in "a simulated military exercise." This takes us back to the attempted coup of 2002, of which Chavez has accused former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar of playing a role. And what sane person does not believe the Pentagon and CIA are working diligently, in collaboration with Colombia, to oust Chavez?

So fill up at Citgo, at least until the price of oil drops and Chavez decides to sell the chain to the Chinese.

And what of "peak oil," the theory that oil is about to run out? Since we're all supposed to be dying of avian flu in the near future, who cares, since there'll be no one around to work the pumps or even drive up to them? I don't believe in any effective role of manmade CO2 in global warming, a natural cyclical trend. I think the mad rush to throw money at the pharmaceutical companies for an avian flu vaccine is ridiculous. And increasingly, I don't believe we're about to run out of oil. I hang my hat on the views of Dr. Thomas Gold (founding director of Cornell University Center for Radiophysics) as outlined in his 1998 book, "The Deep Hot Biosphere."

Gold's view, supported by many well-qualified people, is that oil doesn't come from dead dinosaurs and kindred organic matter. Gold argues strongly that oil is a "renewable, primordial soup continually manufactured by the Earth under ultrahot conditions and tremendous pressures. As this substance migrates toward the surface, it is attached by bacteria, making it appear to have an organic origin dating back to the dinosaurs." Oil, Earth's renewable resource! Ethanol is an attractive alternative, as Brazil is proving. But ethanol will be a tough sell here, so for the time being, I'll stay with the winning side.

Alexander Cockburn is coeditor with Jeffrey St. Clair of the muckraking newsletter CounterPunch. He is also co-author of the new book "Dime's Worth of Difference: Beyond the Lesser of Two Evils," available through To find out more about Alexander Cockburn and read features by other columnists and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at COPYRIGHT 2005 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.