Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Happy Motoring On The Road To Ruin

Last Sunday, business writer Nelson Schwartz of the New York Times wrote this extensive story outlining many of the opportunities missed up to our present hour of (approximately) $144 a gallon for gasoline (which, strangely enough, was the wish of this murdering maniac).

There are a lot of people responsible for the situation we currently face (more Repugs, but plenty of Dems too), so let’s begin, shall we?

…low-priced gasoline has long been part of the American social contract, according to Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker and Republican leader. While in office, Mr. Gingrich battled efforts to modulate demand through tools like increased gas taxes and tighter fuel standards, and he argues that voters won’t support such measures even now.

“They will work if you coerce the entire system and if you pretend the American people are Japanese and Europeans,” Mr. Gingrich says. “Our culture favors driving long distances in powerful vehicles and the car as a social expression.”
Doesn’t sound like “real change” that takes “real change” to me, Newt. Oh, and by the way, how’s that plan for a space-based air traffic control system going?

And by the way, let us take a moment to wash our white-hooded robes and extinguish the fires on our crosses for a minute and pay tribute to the happily-now-departed Jesse Helms, for he is mentioned in the following excerpt…

In 1990, Richard H. Bryan, a Nevada Democrat, teamed up in the Senate with Slade Gorton, Republican of Washington, and proposed lifting fuel standards again over the next decade, with a goal of 40 m.p.g. for cars. Amid furious opposition from Detroit, liberal Democrats from automaking states, like Carl Levin of Michigan, joined conservative Republicans like Jesse Helms of North Carolina…to block new corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards. “It was one of the most frustrating issues in my Senate career,” says Mr. Gorton, who left the Senate in 2001.

Dan Becker, then a lobbyist for the Sierra Club, still remembers his shock when he saw Mr. Levin and Mr. Helms, diametrically opposed on most issues, walk amiably together onto the Senate floor to cast their votes. “This wasn’t East-West, right-left, or North-South,” he says. “But had we passed that bill, we’d be using three million barrels less oil a day now.”

That amount may not sound like much, given total global consumption of 85 million barrels a day, but it’s more than OPEC’s spare capacity now.
Somehow I’m sure this untidy little episode was forgotten at Helms’ eulogy yesterday, with the services no doubt paid for in their entirety by Phillip Morris and R.J. Reynolds (I mean, they paid for much of Helms’ other expenses – why not this too?).

And by the way, don’t think I’m giving Levin a pass on this.

Continuing (with another Michigan Dem doing yet more damage)…

(Representative John D. Dingell, the powerful Democrat from Michigan who chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and a man) who has defended the automakers fiercely during his 52 years on Capitol Hill, decided to support the stronger CAFE standards last year. But he does not apologize for his longtime stance. “The American auto industry has sold the cars people wanted,” he says. “You’re going to blame the auto industry for that or the American consumer? He likes it sitting in his driveway, he likes it big, he likes it safe.”
There’s an element of truth in that, of course. But then again, you guys didn’t exactly give “him” a choice by manufacturing and marketing more fuel efficient automobiles at the expense of SUVs. Maybe you could have had an eye out for that in the event of the “rainy day” we are experiencing right now?

(Full disclosure; we have an SUV, but we bought the most fuel efficient model we could afford some years ago with the best product ratings. When you find something with similar economy that you can use to schlep around two adults and a child on vacation with all of our stuff, let me know, OK?)

A much more effective approach would be to simply raise taxes on gasoline, Mr. Dingell says, because higher prices are the easiest way to change buying habits. Some Europeans agree with this, noting that policy changes engineered through taxation can alter consumer choices without impeding economic growth.
And I love the response from Lee Raymond, former CEO of ExxonMobil, who says, “There is no quick fix to this. By the time you panic, it is way too late,” as if he actually cares.

The article discusses how Congress tried to raise the CAFE standards on vehicles and the firestorm of opposition they ended up facing primarily from Republican conservatives, but also Michigan Dems such as Levin and Dingell.

Not to worry, though; Newt and company managed to prevent sanity from prevailing here…

Congressional Republicans made matters worse in 1995, when they attached a rider to a huge appropriations bill forbidding the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration from spending any money to raise fuel standards. That law, in effect until 2001, made any change in CAFE standards impossible, says Representative Edward J. Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat who has pushed for better fuel efficiency.

Other veterans of those battles cite lobbying by the domestic automakers as a main factor in the failure of Mr. Markey’s legislation. “The auto companies didn’t see the handwriting on the wall,” (Sen. Charles) Schumer says. “The auto companies would go to people and say, ‘If you vote for CAFE standards, the auto plant in your district could shut down.’ They got the message.”
(The threat was that raising standards would eliminate the SUV and put autoworkers out of their jobs, just to let you know).

But for the opposing view…

Susan M. Cischke, group vice president for sustainability, environment and safety engineering at Ford, says the recollections of Mr. Schumer and (Repug U.S. House Rep of Delaware Mike) Castle are “way over the top — you don’t just pull up or put down auto plants.” Instead, she says, when lobbying on CAFE, “we talked with our friends and indicated what it did with jobs. You want support.”
Translated: Schumer and Castle are right.

In closing, let me bring to you the words of a U.S. political leader who communicated the following words on the problem we currently face…

"Energy will be the immediate test of our ability to unite this nation, and it can also be the standard around which we rally," he observed. "On the battlefield of energy we can win for our nation a new confidence, and we can seize control again of our common destiny ... . It can rekindle our sense of unity, our confidence in the future, and give our nation and all of us individually a new sense of purpose."

“From now on, every new addition to our demand for energy will be met from our own production and our own conservation…”
And this person also requested "the most massive peacetime commitment of funds and resources in our nation's history to develop America's own alternative sources of fuel -- from coal, from oil shale, from plant products for gasohol, from unconventional gas, from the sun."

Were these words spoken recently by Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton or John Edwards? No, but they were spoken by a Democrat, who was right 30 years ago (if only we’d listened).

Smart fellow, that Jimmy Carter.

Oh, and by the way, Richard Cohen of the WaPo is getting a measure of praise for recalling Carter’s words also recently here, with Cohen also criticizing The Sainted Ronnie R for gutting everything Carter tried to do on energy and most everything else once he took over the White House in 1981.

Well, my problem is that Cohen apparently knew how delusional Reagan truly was based on this Media Matters post recalling how Cohen criticized Al Gore – falsely, as it turned out – while praising Reagan’s “charm.”

If a president doesn’t recognize the difference between reality and fantasy, it is one’s duty to stand up and say so in a public forum and to make that plain to one’s elected representatives also. But because Cohen, and way too many other people, felt a measure of devotion to “the Gipper” and his “optimism,” we are hosed on this vital issue as well as others, including terrorism (al Qaeda started in Afghanistan under Ronnie’s watch).

Would that Cohen, and many others, had been a bit more strident in Carter’s defense when it truly mattered.

Update 7/13/08: I wish to God I could embed this, but please go to Crooks and Liars from this link and watch Governor Ahh-nold. He echoes a lot of what is said here and shoots way up on my list of politicians with actual guts as far as I'm concerned.

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