More Dogs on Main Street
May 9, 2008
The grass is finally green at my house. At least it was until it snowed again on Wednesday and covered it all up. Spring is having a rough time getting here this year. There isn’t a hint of a leaf on any of the trees yet. Last year, when spring broke unusually early, I had the irrigation water on the farm already. This year, the fields are still too wet to have done any preparation work. Looking back over the years, this is probably the more normal schedule, and there’s always the June snowstorm lurking out there before it’s really over. Last year there was snow on June 7. So keep the shovel handy. In the meantime, there have been a couple of great sunny afternoons.
When the storm rolled in on Wednesday, I was out working in the yard. I got the first mosquito bite of the season, right in the center of my back where I can’t reach it to scratch, and then about an hour later it was snowing. In most of the world, that would be quite strange. Around here, it’s perfectly normal.
Earlier in the week, I had the news on TV and watched Laura Bush give a press conference about the terrible situation in Myanmar, where possibly 100,000 people have died as a result of a hurricane. It sounds horrendous, but I have to admit that I couldn’t find Myanmar on a map. It’s a little hard to make a connection.
It seemed odd that Laura Bush was giving the official statement of the U.S. government about how we wanted to be of assistance, and were being blocked by the Myanmar government. Why the Myanmar hurricane landed on the First Lady’s desk instead of, say, the State Department, is anybody’s guess. Aside from the delicious irony of the Bush administration chiding anybody about an inadequate hurricane response, I have to admit that she sounded great. She spoke in full sentences, and they linked together into full paragraphs that made sense. Her position was clearly stated in firm but diplomatic language. The situation on the ground is unspeakably awful, and we are ready to help if the Myanmar government will allow it.
Of course, we couldn’t get emergency help to New Orleans in a reasonable time, so one has to question whether we can get it half way around the world. But at least the offer is being made. Former FEMA director Mike "Heckuvajob" Brown is standing by.
I didn’t hear her whole statement but caught a couple of minutes of it. She seemed smart, dignified, prepared presidential. Where has she been for the last seven years? All this time we’ve had the wrong Bush in charge. Does this signal that even Laura Bush has had enough and has quietly taken over the White House? We can only hope. You have to wonder how much better off we would have been if Laura Bush had been calling the shots instead of George. We’ve got another seven months of W’s term to endure. Let’s hope he spends a lot of the summer months on his mountain bike or cutting brush down in Texas rather than showing up for work. Let Laura cover the office for a while. She may be able to clean up the mess.
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Oil broke above $120 a barrel this week, and the price of diesel hit $4.50 at the gas station in Francis. So far, it seems like people are just absorbing it. There really aren’t a lot of options. People who bought big vehicles are more or less stuck with them. For people who need a heavy truck for work, trading the F-350 for a Prius really isn’t an option. But every item on the shelf of every store got there on a truck. The high fuel costs add to the cost of everything we buy. It may be a nickel or dime here and there, but it begins to add up.
Clinton and McCain have both proposed a "gas-tax holiday" as a solution to the problem. While the savings to trucking companies would be substantial, the savings to most people is trivial. Over the three-month summer season, the 18-cent-a-gallon reduction might amount to $30 to somebody who drives 15,000 miles a year. If somebody had a really inefficient vehicle, it might amount to $50.
But when you multiply that by the millions and millions of vehicles on American roads, it is a great big pile of cash that is all spent on highway repairs and maintenance. So if you liked the bridge collapse in Minneapolis, pulling the funding mechanism out of the repair budget is a sure way to get more of the same. "Bring it on," as they say.
There are all kinds of reasons for the increase. Wall Street vultures speculating and forcing the price up artificially; people in India trading their donkeys in for Fords; the Chinese converting from bikes to cars; and general population increases everywhere. Basic laws of supply and demand getting kicked around by supply disruptions in Nigeria and elsewhere (Iraq). All of those, and more, factor into it. Nobody is saying we will ever be back to $2 a gallon gas again, no matter what happens. (I’m old enough to remember filling up the car for 28 cents a gallon back in high school those days are long gone!)
But instead of a discussion of a long-term policy and program to deal with the inevitable, we are arguing over a temporary $30 savings gimmick that, at its base, is headed the wrong way. Lowering the price of something in short supply generally encourages consumption. That’s not exactly the target. I don’t know what the solution is. We have a society and economy that is based on transportation. This is not a trivial problem, or one we can reasonably ignore for another eight years. But none of the presidential candidates is talking about it in serious ways or making substantial proposals.
Tom Clyde served as Park City attorney in the 1980s and is the author of "More Dogs On Main Street." He has been a columnist at The Park Record for nearly 20 years.