Wednesday, May 31, 2006

A Quick Fix for the Gas Addicts

The New York Times May 31, 2006
Op-Ed Columnist Thomas L. Friedman

Is there a company more dangerous to America's
future than General Motors? Surely, the sooner
this company gets taken over by Toyota, the better off our country will be.

Why? Like a crack dealer looking to keep his
addicts on a tight leash, G.M. announced its
"fuel price protection program" on May 23. If you
live in Florida or California and buy certain
G.M. vehicles by July 5, the company will
guarantee you gasoline at a cap price of $1.99 a
gallon for one year — with no limit on mileage. Guzzle away.

As The Associated Press explained the program,
each month for one year, G.M. will give customers
who buy these cars "a credit on a prepaid card
based on their estimated fuel usage. Fuel usage
will be calculated by the miles they drive, as
recorded by OnStar, and the vehicle's fuel
economy rating. G.M. will credit drivers the
difference between the average price per gallon
in their state and the $1.99 cap." Consumers
won't get any credits if gas prices fall below $1.99.

"This program gives consumers an opportunity to
experience the highly fuel-efficient vehicles
G.M. has to offer in the mid-size segment," Dave
Borchelt, G.M.'s Southeast general manager, said
in the company's official statement. Oh, really?

Eligible vehicles in California include the 2006
and 2007 Chevrolet Tahoe and Suburban (half-ton
models only), Impala and Monte Carlo sedans,
G.M.C. Yukon and Yukon XL S.U.V.'s (half-ton
models only), Hummer H2 and H3 S.U.V.'s, the
Cadillac SRX S.U.V., and the Pontiac Grand Prix
and Buick Lucerne sedans. Eligible vehicles in
Florida include the 2006 and 2007 Chevrolet
Impala and Monte Carlo, Pontiac Grand Prix and Buick LaCrosse.

Let's see, the 6,400-pound Hummer H2 averages
around nine miles per gallon. It really is great
that G.M. is giving more Americans the
opportunity to experience nine-miles-per-gallon
driving. And the hulking Chevy Suburban gets
around 15 miles per gallon. It will be wonderful
if more Americans can experience that too — with G.M.-subsidized gas.

Our military is in a war on terrorism in Iraq and
Afghanistan with an enemy who is fueled by our
gasoline purchases. So we are financing both
sides in the war on terror. And what are we doing
about that? Not only is GM subsidizing its
gas-guzzlers, but not a single member of
Congress, liberal or conservative, will stand up
and demand what most of them know: that we must
have some kind of gasoline tax to compel
Americans to buy more fuel-efficient vehicles and
to compel Detroit to make them.

Where are the presidential aspirants on this
issue? I have yet to hear John McCain, Mitt
Romney, George Allen, Al Gore or Hillary Clinton
support at least a $3.50 floor price for
gasoline, so that it will never fall below that
level and the alternatives can really flower and spread.

But if you go to G.M.'s Web site, here's what you
will see: an ad with a young African-American boy
saluting an American flag, above the following
offer for U.S. military personnel: "In
appreciation of your commitment to our country,
G.M. extends a $500 exclusive offer to active
duty military and reserves when you purchase or
lease select 2005, 2006 or 2007 G.M. cars, trucks
and S.U.V.'s — just show your military ID!"

That's really touching. First G.M. offers a
gasoline subsidy so more Americans can get hooked
on nine-mile-per-gallon Hummers, and then it
offers a discount to the soldiers who have to
protect the oil lines to keep G.M.'s gas guzzlers
guzzling. Here's a rule of thumb: The more
Hummers we have on the road in America, the more
military Humvees we will need in the Middle East.

You want to do something patriotic, G.M., Ford
and Daimler-Chrysler? Why don't you stop using
your diminishing pools of cash to buy votes so
Congress will never impose improved mileage
standards? That kind of strategy is why Toyota
today is worth $198.9 billion and G.M. $15.8
billion. G.M. is worth just slightly more than
Harley-Davidson, the motorcycle company ($13.6 billion).

President Bush remarked the other day how
agonizingly tough it is for a president to send
young Americans to war. Yet, he's ready to do
that, but he's not ready to look Detroit or
Congress in the eye and demand that we put in
place the fuel-efficiency legislation that will
weaken the forces of theocracy and autocracy that
are killing our soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan
— because it might cost Republicans votes or campaign contributions.

This whole thing is a travesty. We can't keep
asking young Americans to make the ultimate
sacrifice in Iraq and Afghanistan if we as a
society are not ready to make even the most minimal sacrifice to help them.

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