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Charles Cutter

America's Fundamental Questions
By Charles Cutter (www.cuttersway.com)
Apr 29, 2005 - 6:47:00 AM

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George W. Bush, speaking of America’s dependence on foreign oil: "See, we’ve got a fundamental question we got to face in America." In typically overwrought style, he asks, "Do we want what is necessary to achieve greater control of our economic destiny?"

As gas prices rise and his approval rating drops, Mr. Bush wants Americans to understand that "This problem did not develop overnight, and it’s not going to be fixed overnight." (Yet another example of the "accountability president" whining, "Don’t blame me.") While it’s true that this country’s energy problems have been growing for years, it’s also true that Bush & Co. have consistently worsened the situation. They have addressed the problems of the energy industry, not the energy consumer - they’ve focused on corporate profits, not affordability or fuel-efficiency.

Dick Cheney, you’ll remember, dealt with this issue early during Mr. Bush’s first term. Cheney dismissed fuel conservation as "a personal virtue…not a sufficient basis for a sound, comprehensive energy policy." To ensure such a "sound, comprehensive" policy, he met with energy company executives and allowed them to write their own rules for government regulation.

True to his nature, Mr. Bush is now trying to use the increasing price of gasoline as a means to benefit his corporate sponsors.

More oil refineries? Let the oil industry use abandoned military bases. (This idea seems to have been stirred up by Bush’s recent meeting with Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Abdullah, who blamed the rising price of gas on too few American refineries.) The government property would be leased or sold "in open bidding," we’re assured - but keep in mind that this is the same administration that’s been handing out sweetheart deals in Iraq to favored friends like Halliburton.

More nuclear plants? Provide "federal risk insurance to mitigate the additional cost of unforeseen delays." Significantly, the White House declined to speculate on the cost of such a program. Mr. Bush insists that Social Security is nearly bankrupt, but believes the government can afford a blank-check for the nuclear power industry. (It should also be noted that - in this administration - conservation is simply a personal virtue, while radioactive waste is a government policy.)

More liquefied natural gas? Import it! (Which, of course, does nothing for America’s energy independence.) And - while you’re at it - give federal regulators the authority to select new import terminals, since local opposition has been effective in blocking such projects in several areas.

Note the consistent theme running throughout these proposals - a dramatic increase in the scope and authority of the federal government in private energy corporations. We’re not talking about federal oversight on issues like safety, fair business practices or environmental concerns. These proposals offer federal land and taxpayer money to large corporations, while further diminishing a community’s right to decide what’s in its own best interest.

Since this is a Bush plan, you know it couldn’t stop with simply favoring corporate America. No, it has the added benefit of not even addressing the real problem - in the short-term or the long-term.

As noted in the Kansas City Star (4/28/05): "Independent energy experts said it would be several years - if ever - before Americans might see any benefit from Bush’s proposals."

In an article from Business Week (4/28/05), John Carey writes: "Plenty of evidence indicates that the White House’s sudden interest in energy policy is driven far more by politics than substantive policymaking…[T]he President’s proposals don’t match up with the problems they purport to solve. They carefully avoid the difficult steps that actually would take America farther down the path of energy independence…[T]he goals of energy efficiency and independence won’t be spurred by anything this Administration is currently proposing."

Mr. Bush’s aides - as well as many political pundits - claim that the president’s declining popularity can be attributed to rising gasoline prices. (He earned only a 47% approval rating in a recent ABC News/Washington Post poll.) While this is certainly a bit oversimplified - Mr. Bush has been making a number of well-publicized missteps of late - it is nonetheless true that most Americans vote based on economic issues. (As famously stated during Bill Clinton’s ’92 campaign, "It’s the economy, stupid.")

But consider the broader issues we’re confronting in Mr. Bush’s America. We’re still mired in an illegal war. The Bill of Rights is under attack. Environmental protections are being scrapped. Our government has an ongoing policy of illegal detention and torture.

In this context, it’s both shallow and immoral to use the price of gasoline as the prime factor in rating a president. The more pressing issues we’re facing concern American ideals, personal freedom, respect for the planet, and basic human dignity.

In Mr. Bush’s ineloquent words, we’ve got some fundamental questions we got to face here in America.


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