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U.S. ammunition wouldn't be pretty in car war with Japan

Apparently, we are about to embark on a trade war with our old friend, Japan.

I'm no expert on economics. But the way I understand it, we're mad at the Japanese because they refuse to buy our automotive products, like that ugly, round Chevy Caprice Classic. Have you seen that baby? It looks exactly like a flying saucer. If it landed in some Midwestern cornfield, you'd see a story in the National Enquirer the next week: "Aliens Land, Complain About Poor Design Work."

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It's a car no sensible American would buy either, except perhaps the Coneheads, who are possibly French.

Because the Japanese won't buy the Caprice Classic, or Uncle Ben's rice, or anything else made in America except Steven Spielberg dinosaur movies, what we're threatening to do is slap big, ugly tariffs on their sleek, fancy cars like the Lexus and the Infiniti, which are way-cool cars which even have cool names.

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I have been inside an Infiniti, the fancy one with all the numbers and letters on the end. It's so smooth, you don't even worry about those unsafe Japanese-made seat belts.

If the tariffs go through as proposed, the Infiniti would cost about $100,000. Which, to me, seems like a good thing. In fact, it's OK with me if the Infiniti costs $300,000.

Because, let's face it, I can't afford the Infiniti without the tariff. I'm driving an '87 Toyota. As long as the tuition bills keep coming, I'm not allowed within three miles of a car lot.

My theory on economics is simple, neat and concise: If I can't afford something, why should anyone else have it? Most Americans probably agree. They won't mind this trade war just so long as the negotiators stay away from, let's say, Hondas. And Sony CD players. And Panasonic TVs. You know, the stuff that we can't live without.

I don't want to get too populist on you here, but let's look at who gets hurt in this luxury-car war.

You've got Japanese car companies. You worried about Japanese car companies?

You've got rich Americans, who will simply buy Beamers or a Mercedes instead. I say slap a tariff on them, too, especially the Baby Benz, which looks like a $40,000 Yugo.

You've got car salesmen. Yeah, I feel bad for them.

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You've got spouses of car salesmen, who, I figure, deserve whatever they get for marrying car salesmen in the first place.

You've got the kids, who are always the innocent victims in any war.

Nobody can be surprised by this threat of war. Although technically a peace-loving nation, we seem to be at war about every other year. Which is great for generals and CNN ratings. Of course, CNN has asked that we not engage in any major wars until the O. J. trial is over.

But if you have to have a war, trade wars are the best kind. They're not as messy as real wars, where people tend to get killed. Trade wars are fought over lunch tables. About the most violent thing that happens is that one of the trade representatives gets mustard on his Armani suit. Instead of medics, they've got dry cleaners.

These trade negotiators are guys who participate only in wars exclusively without gunfire. They don't even shout. They brings flow charts and hang around a lot in places like The Hague.

Admittedly, this is not a good TV war. Dan Rather would rather talk about Connie Chung than trade deficits. As a topic, it's nearly as confusing as the weakened dollar. (If you can tell me why the dollar goes up or down, you've been spending way too much time watching Louis Rukeyser.) It isn't really a war unless John Wayne would be in the movie, or somebody plays a bugle.

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The best TV war was, of course, the Persian Gulf war. Not many Americans got hurt. And it was basically a mega-fireworks display. Ex-generals got to do the color commentary, and the active generals got millions to write their autobiographies. The Kuwaiti emirs got back their gold-plated faucets. Most everyone went home happy.

In this war, I don't think U.S. Trade Representative Mickey Kantor's going to get a book deal.

And yet, there are at least several things you have to like about the trade kind of war. There's very little likelihood of a kamikaze attack.

And if we drop the big one, it would probably be a Chevy truck. Like a rock.



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