Gasbag deluxe 

As a means of self-preservation, News Hits purposely avoided watching last week's State of the Union address on TV or even listening to a radio broadcast. That much exposure to George Bush's grating voice would surely have resulted in a brain aneurysm. So we waited till the next day and read the speech online. But even that still produced what felt like a dangerous cerebral throb.

What had us close to blowing a vascular gasket was the line "America is addicted to oil." Now there's a revelation. We know the Bushmaster is old enough to have been around during the early 1970s, when Americans were left sitting in gas lines for hours like so many junkies desperate for a fix. Uncurious George hit the sauce hard back in those days, so maybe he was in some extended blackout for a decade or so and really doesn't recall all that. But he's supposed to have been sober for some time now, which means there's no legitimate excuse for not remembering as far back as, say, last October, when he signed a horrendous energy bill into law. Did it not occur to our president as recently as five months ago that our nation had a severe gas-guzzling problem? Apparently not.

There was no mention of that bill in Bush's speech last week, and with good reason, says Tyson Slocum, an energy specialist for the group Public Citizen. Four years in the making, and filled with secret input from the energy industry, the legislation, Slocum says, is completely devoid of policies aimed at reducing America's demand for oil.

"If the president is talking about weaning us off of foreign sources of oil, we have to address consumption. The U.S. uses 25 percent of the world's oil every day."

But pumping money into mass transit doesn't seem to be an idea that has occurred to our prez.

Another thing Slocum says could be done almost immediately to produce real reductions would be to mandate higher fuel efficiency standards for cars and trucks. But that isn't going to happen under this president either. The word "conservation" just isn't part of Bush's mangled vocabulary. As his former spokesman, Ari Fleischer, said back in 2001 when asked whether Americans needed to curtail their energy consumption: "That's a big 'No.' The president believes that it's an American way of life, and that it should be the goal of policymakers to protect the American way of life."

Instead, automakers will be free to continue pushing their low-mpg SUVs unfettered by stricter government regulations. But if they do, it'll be a losing bet. As Slocum predicts, "We're going to see oil at $100 a barrel before we'll ever see it at $30 a barrel again."

As anyone who's been through rehab knows, admitting there's a problem is the first step toward recovery. But that's just the start.

"The president's call for reduced oil dependence and new energy technologies is laudable," writes Steven Nadel, executive director of the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, "but to be credible, the administration must reverse its record of cutting overall funding for energy efficiency and other clean technologies."

In other words, put up or shut up.

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