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We all share some of the blame in U.S. car crisis

I read everywhere in editorials and letters to the editor that the U.S. car companies should only blame themselves for their current economic plight. True, they built the wrong vehicles versus their competitors, but they did build the cars, SUV's and trucks that U.S. consumers wanted over the last 10 years. It has only been in the last year as gas prices spiked to over $4 per gallon that their strategy has been questioned. The collapse of the financial markets this fall and the lack of availability of loans then created a perfect and perhaps fatal storm for U.S. car manufacturers.

So, we consumers share some of the blame. We continued to demand large, inefficient vehicles as recently as the beginning of this year. As has been our custom in the past, we again fell for the trap of cheap gas and the catastrophic oil policies of Congress and the Administration. Therein lies the real culprit, a total failure of political leadership.

Over the last 15 years, when Congress and the Administration should have been calling for and voting for policies which end our dependence on oil, whether from OPEC or domestic sources, they have promoted oil as our primary energy source by providing enormous tax subsidies to U.S. oil companies. As a result, the petro-dictatorships of the world supplying the U.S. oil companies have benefited from trillions of petrodollars we have sent them. Can it be in U.S. interests to make countries which detest us stronger and to make our economy dependent upon their whim in supplying U.S. oil?

We are now in another cyclical decline in oil prices caused by the global economic recession. Now is the time our political leaders and we as voters need to enact an energy policy which focuses on eliminating our addiction to oil. Thomas Friedman, in his wonderful, eye-opening book, 'Hot, Flat and Crowded,' strongly advocates for a gasoline tax which keeps gasoline prices high - $4 or $5 per gallon. The high price, while painful at the pump, encourages the consumer to demand more efficient vehicles and greener energy sources, which in turn cuts oil demand, gasoline prices, and the dollars going to the petro-dictators. The additional tax revenues could be used for alternative energy research and development here in the U.S.

Friedman further says that having a gas price floor of $4 to $5 per gallon also encourages alternative energy investments by eliminating investor fear that lower gasoline prices could render their investments worthless at any time.

No one likes higher taxes, but Friedman maintains we are already paying higher gasoline 'taxes' in the form of supply and price manipulations by OPEC. Remember also that the first Iraq war was initiated by Saddam's invasion of Kuwait for its oil wealth. Some would claim that even our second war in Iraq and its enormous costs in dollars and lives are another form of 'taxes' we pay for oil. Would we rather pay OPEC for oil or ourselves for development of alternative energy sources?

So, let's not place all of the blame on the U.S. car companies. We all share some of the blame. If we ever want to hold our own economic destiny in our hands again, we need the courage and the intelligence to vote ourselves out of our oil addiction despite the short-term pain.

Gordon Umaki is a resident of Lake Oswego.