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Tuesday, October 14, 2003
A couple days ago I forwarded the Tom Friedman column below to some friends. Inspired by one friend's response to the first message (someone who had voted for Bush -- or at least seriously considered it), I've decided that I am going to put my money where my mouth is and start charging myself a $1 tax on each gallon of gas I purchase. It starts effective Sep 1 this year and will continue through Aug 31 of next year. At that time, I will make a donation in the total amount of my patriot tax to whomever the Democratic candidate for president is (unless perhaps it is Joseph Lieberman.)

Taxes assessed thus far: $37.74

Ask not what what your country can do for you, etc.

The Real Patriot Act

October 5, 2003

This is a column about the war of ideas - but first a word
about gasoline prices and Hummers.

In case you missed it, OPEC just decided to slash its oil
production to keep gasoline prices high. I guess it would
be foolhardy to expect that maybe Saudi Arabia or Kuwait
would use its influence in OPEC to hold down prices at a
time when Western economies are struggling to climb out of
recession. Everybody's just looking out for themselves. So
why don't we?

There's all sorts of talk now about how to finance the $87
billion price tag for the reconstruction of Iraq. I say,
let's make OPEC pay - indirectly. Let's have a $1 a gallon
gasoline tax and call it the "Patriot Tax." We could use
the revenue it would raise - about $110 billion a year - to
finance the entire reconstruction of Iraq, with plenty left
for other good works.

Here's the logic: The two things OPEC hates most are
falling oil prices and gasoline taxes - and the Patriot Tax
would promote both. The reason that OPEC hates gasoline
taxes is that if anyone is going to benefit from higher
prices at the pump, OPEC wants it to be OPEC, not the
consuming countries. It drives OPEC crazy that the
Europeans pay roughly twice as much per gallon as Americans
do, because their governments slap on so many taxes.

A $1 a gallon gasoline tax, phased in, would not only be a
huge revenue generator (even with tax rebates to ease the
burden on low-income people, farmers and truckers) but also
a huge driver of conservation and reduced oil imports. Not
only would it mean less money for Saudi Arabia to transfer
to Wahhabi clerics to spread their intolerant brand of
Islam around the world, but it would radically improve
America's standing in Europe, where we are resented for
being the world's energy hog.

President Bush could even say that this tax is his
long-promised alternative to Kyoto, because the amount of
energy conservation it would produce would result in a much
greater reduction in U.S. energy consumption, and
greenhouse gas emissions, than anything Kyoto would have

In short, a tax that finances the democratization of Iraq,
takes money away from those who would use it to spread
ideas harmful to us, weakens OPEC, makes us more energy
independent, reduces the deficit and overnight improves the
world's view of us - from selfish, Hummer-driving louts to
good global citizens - would be the real patriot act. (It
would also encourage Iraq not to become another
oil-dependent state, but to build a middle class by
learning to tap its people's entrepreneurship and
creativity, not just its oil wells.)

"Until we raise energy prices we really aren't fighting the
war on terrorism, because we're doing nothing to deny the
countries who fund terrorists the cash they need to destroy
us," says Philip K. Verleger Jr., the energy expert. "We
could use the excess revenues to fund a true Manhattan
Project to cut U.S. oil consumption in half by 2007,
thereby permanently making OPEC irrelevant. That would be a
truly patriotic move."

Yes, yes - I know, the Bush team would never even consider
such a tax. But that's my point. When you have an
administration that will not even consider undertaking the
most obviously right course - a gasoline tax - that would
produce so many strategic, economic and political benefits
for America, then how do we win this war in the long run?
Because this war on terrorism is not simply a military
fight. That's the easy part. More important, it is a war of
ideas. And to win a war of ideas we need to do two things:

First, we need to successfully partner with Iraqis to
create a free, open and progressive model in the heart of
the Arab-Muslim world to promote the ideas of tolerance,
pluralism and democratization. But second, and just as
important, we need to set an example ourselves, in order to
get others - both potential allies and longtime adversaries
- to buy into our war, to believe that we are not just out
to benefit ourselves or protect ourselves, but that we
really are out to repair the world.

Unfortunately, this president - for ideological reasons,
because of whom he is beholden to economically, and because
he knows that the American people never demanded this war,
so he cannot demand much from them - will not summon
Americans to set that example. He will not summon us to be
the best global citizens we can be. The Bush war cry is:
"Do as we say, not as we do. Good ideas for Iraqis,
gluttony for Americans."

That is so wrong. We may not get a better Iraq out of this
war, but let's at least make sure we get a better America.

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