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As we all fill up our Japanese cars and find that it takes $18 to buy what $12 bought last July, we should congratulate each other for the triumph of the democratic process.

Our squawking forced President Bush to jawbone the oil companies into holding down a 55-cent-a-gallon increase to a mere 30 cents. And it forced Congress to reduce a proposed nine-cent-a-gallon tax to a mere nickel.Nice job. Keep those cards and letters coming, folks. If we stick together like this, we'll soon negotiate ourselves a 45-hour work week and an extra $4 or $5 a month in payroll deductions.

We should all just be glad we don't live in Italy.

Gasoline costs $5 a gallon over there. The Italians - meek and passionless people with no great interest in sleek automobiles like the Ferrari - seem to have accepted this price and adjusted to paying a huge gasoline tax to their government. The tax is adjustable in Italy. When world prices go up, the tax goes down, and vice versa. That way, people and organizations and commercial enterprises can sort of figure from month to month how much their fuel bills are going to be and plan accordingly.

The price stays about the same, during shortages and gluts. Consequently, the oil shock from the current Persian Gulf crisis has scarcely affected anyone's life even though it has sent world oil prices soaring past $40 a barrel.

These Italians lead such monotonous lives. They are forever denied the hunt for cheap gas. Remember the thrill all of us had back in '86, seeing our first 75-cent sign shimmering on the 100-foot standards out in the country after Saudi Arabia ran amok and started pumping oil as fast as it could be sold. What a glut that one was! We pumped like crazy and didn't worry about spilling a little. And we all traded in our four-cylinder compacts and got us something with a little legroom and an engine that would snap your head back and a great big tank that would hold lots of cheap gas.

Now, we're back to paying $1.50 again. Some economists say we ought to be paying $1.75, based on the world price, but the president talked the big oil companies into holding it down for a while because people wouldn't understand.

One thing is sure. We'll never let Congress do what a lot of economists think should be done - and that's put in a big adjustable tax increase, like a dollar or two, that could keep petroleum prices level.

Listen, we should just all be glad we don't live in Italy, where they never have any excitement like we have down at the service station.