Archive for November, 2008
By Edward Flattau
For decades, the big three auto manufacturers have thumbed their noses at criticism they were ignoring environmental reality in favor of greed, and one day would pay a heavy price for their dereliction.
Now that time has arrived. Consequently, the mismanaged, cash-strapped industry should be read the riot act by Congress and be given a strict mandatory schedule that it must follow for producing “green” market-competitive automobiles if it wishes to receive taxpayer help. Better yet, as a condition of the industry attaining $25 billion in additional governmental aid, Washington should insist on having a representative added to Detroit’s management team to monitor progress and make certain no further stonewalling takes place. [Congressional Democrats have proposed an oversight board.]
Stonewalling has been the name of the game for more than 40 years despite well documented complaints from various politicians, scientists, public interest groups and media that the industry was undermining the future national interest with its emphasis on giant gas guzzlers. In their quest for immediate profit, the Big Three automakers were not concerned about pollution, conservation, and passenger safety, and they lobbied tenaciously to block regulations in that regard. To the extent they were successful, and for a long time they were, a complicit majority of Congress must shoulder part of the blame for the current sorry state of affairs.
I know there are many like me who have long been frustrated with the manner in which Detroit has spurned “green” oriented products even when the sale of such vehicles was proven profitable by the Japanese.
Let me give you a personal reason why I feel the way I do. I have been writing a syndicated environmental column since 1972, and here are just a few excerpts from past pieces that were published in scores of newspapers (as if that made any difference to the “Big Three”).
August 1, 1973—“Gasoline shortages and higher prices are making General Motors President Edward Cole and his counterpart at Ford, Lee Iacocca, stir uneasily as they rhapsodize about their countrymen’s love affair with large, gas-guzzling automobiles….Congress should regulate the weight of autos and the size of their engines. Lawmakers have already introduced bills which would tax new cars on the amount of gasoline they used and would mandate a minimum fuel economy improvement each year before vehicles could be marketed.”
January 29, 1975—“President Ford has a choice in the days ahead. He can cut through Detroit’s bluster by endorsing such measures as a horsepower tax and mandatory performance standards to accelerate the trend towards smaller, cleaner cars. Or he can swallow industry’s bluff to buy time for short-term profit at the expense of public health and a sound long-term energy policy.”
August 31, 1984—“By the mid 1990s’, world oil production will begin to level off and we will start to feel a pinch in gasoline prices if not availability. We thus have an unequivocal obligation to future generations as well as ourselves not to allow profligacy
to rule the roost…These auto executives have determined that their companies can earn far more money by selling large, energy inefficient cars with lots of frills than by retooling their entire fleets for better mileage purposes…To permit the marketplace, so often artificially primed or randomly conceived, to determine alone the rate of national energy consumption and conservation invites eventual chaos.” (and this particular column appeared in the Detroit Free Press!)
These automobile executives can no longer be cut any slack. They need to expedite the retooling of their assembly lines and production of a truly competitive product. If that means a reduction in their profit margins, so be it. The important thing is they keep their operations afloat to provide employment for millions of Americans and produce affordable cars that will be in demand and contribute to improving the nation’s environment. Hopefully, it will not be too little, too late.
@Copyright 2008, Edward Flattau
By Edward Flattau
If Alaska Governor Sarah Palin is the future of the Republican Party, the GOP doesn’t have any. Her conservative, predominantly Caucasian Evangelical Christian base, which makes up no more than a quarter of the current electorate, is rapidly shrinking percentage wise as minorities increase their share of the general population. More importantly, most of her policy stances are extreme and would have little traction beyond her narrow base of support. The reason that her views have not been better publicized is because the GOP vice presidential nominee was kept under wraps and let loose only to attack Senator Barack Obama’s candidacy. She did not hold a single free wheeling, wide open press conference during the campaign. Obviously, her handlers felt that at such a no holds barred interrogation, she would be asked the hard questions that would focus the national spotlight on her politically damaging views (and limited experience).
Her plummeting approval rating during the campaign was due more to her amateurish demeanor, lack of informational depth, and abrasive mudslinging than the nature of her policy positions. Wait until the public gets a full dose of her stances on social and environmental issues!
What views are we talking about? Palin supports an abortion ban with no exception for incest and rape, an ideological posture that puts her at odds with most Americans of every political stripe and ethnicity. She has expressed unstinting opposition to embryonic stem cell research, with all of its potential to cure intractable diseases. It is an intransigence that even some hard core religious conservatives cannot countenance, veteran Republican Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah being a case in point. Palin has refused to acknowledge that human beings are a primary contributor to global warming. Hence, she does not share the overwhelming majority of the scientific community’s sense of urgency in addressing the problem nor empathize with the public’s growing concern. Palin has thus set the stage for relaxing federal regulatory restraints on the greenhouse gas emissions of her corporate polluting buddies if she ever gets the chance. This is despite Alaska experiencing the negative effects of climate change more than any other place in the nation. Hers is simply not a wining strategy for the 21st Century.
Palin has displayed a pro-development bias that runs roughshod over wilderness preservation. Witness the pollution of the once pristine lake in her native town of Wasilla due to the absence of any serious zoning or environmental sensitivity during her term as mayor. Then there is her dismissive attitude towards endangered species, with an especially unsympathetic stance towards polar bears and beluga whales off the Alaskan coast.
In the cultural field, Palin in her mayoral capacity even entertained the idea of relieving the Wasilla public library of some books she found objectionable. Let’s just say that a proclivity for censorship of literature and fidelity to religious zealotry are not an ideal combination for attaining national office.
Palin bears the added burden of being an uncannily similar version of George W. Bush, not the sort of public image a politician would want to cultivate unless historians (and the American people) revise their initial harsh evaluation of the current president’s performance.
In Alaska, Palin has followed Bush’s example, exhibiting a low level of intellectual curiosity, a penchant for secrecy in deliberations, and an inveterate resort to cronyism in executive branch appointments. She has displayed Bush’s same ideological rigidity in decision-making as well as intolerance for dissent within the official inner circle.
Palin may have left Alaska as the governor in the nation boasting the highest approval rating among constituents, but she won’t return that way. Too many warts have been exposed during the intense scrutiny of the presidential campaign, a scrutiny she was never subjected to in Alaska. Scandals now await her when she resumes her gubernatorial duties. She will have a number of awkward questions to answer about her previous conduct in office, including the use of public money to cover travel expenses of her kids on trips not related to state business. There are fewer mesmerized Alaskans now than there were three months ago. Palin may just have worn out her welcome.
@Copyright 2008, Edward Flattau