A look ahead

We are definitely in the home stretch of this semester. This is the no-man’s land, where a semester’s worth of work is overshadowed only by the anxiety of finals to come. For many, including other writers with this newspaper, this semester marks the end of the undergraduate experience. For the rest of us, this semester only leads us to wonder about the next. While it is impossible to predict the news stories that will dominate next semester, there are many issues that seem unlikely to change in any positive way.

Gasoline prices: Despite the warm embrace and welcome of Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah to President Bush’s Crawford, Texas, ranch, the short-term indication is little relief from high gas prices.

The Saudi plan, introduced prior to this week’s meeting, includes raising output production of oil over the next decade. This increase, along with the volatile proposal to drill in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge, is poised to exacerbate the problem rather than provide relief at the gas pump. No matter how much output is increased, the fact remains that a new refinery has not been built in this country since 1976.

While it can be argued that nobody really wants a refinery in their backyard, the truth is that oil companies reap financial benefits from limiting the supply of domestic refining capacities. Add to this conundrum the fact that the peak summer driving season lies ahead, and we are positioned to experience little change in the price of a gallon of gas.

Political partisanship: Whether the topic is the next representative of the United States at the United Nations, judicial nominees or proposed changes to Social Security, the partisan posturing is at an all-time high.

Despite a closer election than the often-used term “mandate” would suggest, the president has seen his “big tent revival” road show for Social Security reform collapse and his approval rating set record lows. While admittedly many of the president’s nominations this term seem sub-par, the Democrats risk a great deal with opposition to nearly everything. Eventually the Democrats will enjoy greater representation in Congress and perhaps even hold the White House. Perceptions of obstructionist tactics today might very well guarantee little success for them in the future.

While the phrase “choose your battles” seems appropriate, for both political parties there seems little indication that the partisan tone of today will change markedly anytime soon.

Textbooks: While alluding to problems with textbook pricing in previous columns, the end of one semester and start of the next seems an appropriate time to raise some issues about an industry resistant to change.

If your own experience of buying or attempting to sell back a textbook isn’t evidence enough of a problem, the State Public Research Groups recently released a survey of the most widely purchased textbooks at 59 colleges and universities across the country. They found that new editions are published, on average, every three years and cost 45 percent more than the used copies of previous editions.

Particularly disturbing is the rise of the bundling of books with study guides, CD-ROMs, solution manuals and other materials. These items seem to be rarely used and as the same survey indicated, the “bundled book is, on average, 10 percent more expensive than its unbundled counterpart.” While skyrocketing textbook prices seem unlikely to abate in the future, online textbook retailers are providing more competition in a market that the campus bookstore would enjoy monopolizing.

No matter whether your return to campus is during the glorious, compressed summer semesters or next fall, these issues will remain as challenging as they are today. While seeking a more fuel-efficient vehicle or limiting driving, ignoring political rhetoric and refusing to pay for overpriced texts may temporarily ease a personal distaste, these painful realities will continue to affect us all. The status quo in these areas ensures a greater loss of cash in the student pocketbook and greater apathy toward the politics of partisanship.

See you next semester for the judgment on my prognostication.

Aaron Hill is a juniormajoring in economics.oracleaaron@yahoo.com