Monday, December 22, 2008

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Looking for work?

Install solar panels -- earn good money and save the world.

For a glimpse of the future as it arrives, give this NY Times article a look:
"Up on the Roof, New Jobs in Solar Power"
Let's get 'er done!
Big Three Rescue Loans
Here's a note I wrote to our great leader (I assume it will have zero effect on its recipient, but ya never know):

Mr. President,

I would appreciate very much if you could act quickly to provide loans to the Big Three auto makers. While I would not disagree that these companies have focused on short term profits instead of long term solvency, I do disagree that their employees should bear the burden of their employers' bad decisions. UAW members work hard for their money and they have made numerous financial concessions to management to help insure the health of the industry. The insolvency of the Big Three would wreak havoc on our national economy and would leave millions unable to find living wage work for the foreseeable future.

I do not believe that an "orderly bankruptcy" is preferable to bridge loans, or even possible. Bankruptcy will mean that sales will decline more precipitously than they already have. Consumers will lose whatever little confidence they have left in the American auto industry, and the industry will never recover. Also, this is about more than the "Big Three." There are 3000 suppliers, employing at least 600,000, that will also face bankruptcy. This will not be orderly in any sense of the word.

Please act with the same due haste to provide loans to the auto industry as you did to bail out the banking industry.

Thank you.

Update: Great gawd almighty, Mr. Bush did the right thing. Here's my comments on the NY Times article, "
Bush Approves $17.4 Billion Auto Bailout":

"Automakers should not have to demonstrate viability by March 31, they should have to demonstrate that they can manufacture something our nation actually needs. Say windmills, photovoltaics, light rail cars, trolleys, buses, high efficiency appliances. Stuff that will help instead of hinder our national prosperity. Ford re-tooled post haste during WWII to build B-24 bombers, so don't say it can't be done (which is what car maker management always says).

I'm glad to hear this last shred of American manufacturing will get a leg up, but let's not squander this opportunity or destroy our unions' hard won collective bargaining rights in the process. Let's see some real progressive thinking instead."

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Our Public Schools

Here's something that everyone who claims to give a damn about our future should read...and then act:

SaintOwensTemporaryClassroom, by Stacia SaintOwens

published in the Willow Springs literary journal, which makes its home at Eastern Washington University.

Monday, December 8, 2008

A submission to President-Elect Obama's "Join The Discussion" page:

How is the current economic crisis affecting me? Forgive me, but here’s my long-winded answer.

It is depressing the hell out of me. The one shining light in all this darkness is Mr. Obama’s incurable enthusiasm for the thankless job he’s undertaken.

As I see it, we need the following if we’re going to survive:

1) A sustainable energy policy -- no nukes, no clean coal, no oil, no corn-based ethanol, please.

The Big Three auto companies might be going bankrupt, but I live in Detroit, and I can assure you that there are plenty of eager, talented and experienced plant workers, machinists, and engineers who can turn on a dime. Management screwed up, not these guys. They can put their shops to work building the windmills, photovoltaics, light-rail trains and trolleys, high-efficiency appliances, etc. that our coming “green” economy requires.

But first, conservation is the greatest resource this country has at its disposal in the battle against ascending energy prices and global warming. Conservation is like a huge puddle of oil sitting right in front of us, except it’s carbon free, and requires no new technology or time lag to tap it. Implementing conservation gains will require skilled American tradesmen, technicians, and engineers to manufacture and install the required components, which means living wage jobs, across the entire country.

At the same time that we squeeze every watt of efficiency out of our energy network through conservation measures, we can install photovoltaics on every viable rooftop and above every parking lot; install micro-turbine windmills on every viable property, with batteries for nighttime, and cloudy, windless days. Energy generated close to where it is used increases efficiency -- less is lost through transmission lines and transformers -- and saves on power grid capacity. Energy generated near where it’s consumed also gets cheaper over time, as most wind generators and photovoltaics will outlive their “payback” time -- the value of the energy provided will exceed purchase and maintenance costs.

Next, we can build the vast wind farms, fields of photovoltaics, geothermal and ocean wave generators required for industrial demands, and to distribute power to distant regions when short-term demand exceeds local on-site supply.

And yes, it might be easy to shoot holes in the aforementioned scenario -- coal, oil, and nuke company lobbyists have been doing so for years -- and yes, the devil is in the details, but there are numerous projects going on right now around the world that demonstrate viability and cost effectiveness. And yes, such changes will require lifestyle changes, but most of these are improvements: cleaner air, more comfortable homes and workplaces, less time spent commuting. Visit if you want to read some case studies (BTW, I’m not affiliated with RMI).

2) Revitalization of our manufacturing sector. Free trade is not free. If workers overseas are de-facto slave labor, then it is not free trade. If those folks are employed by companies that require workers to put in fourteen hours days, require them to reside in pestilent dormitories, and fire them when they are too sick or injured to work (due to exposure to hazardous chemicals and unsafe machinery), then they are not free. They are indentured servants at best. Unless we are willing to consign laborers in this country to similarly grave circumstances, then we need to demand that the countries we import products from comply with the same employment and environmental standards that our employers do. And, we must insist that overseas workers have the right to organize trade unions, just as workers in this country have the right to do. Then, American workers can compete with their peers oversees, and we can buy back the manufacturing superiority that our shortsighted captains of industry so eagerly sold out. Even if a product manufactured in the U.S. -- say a t-shirt, or an MP3 player -- cost twice what it did if it was manufactured in China, I’m willing to bet many folks would not complain if they could also secure reliable, living-wage work in the companies that produce those products in their communities.

3) Universally accessible, government regulated health care. It’s ridiculous to continue our vain attempt to let the free market provide cost-effective, quality health care. The market is amoral -- it doesn’t have emotions, and it doesn’t care if someone dies prematurely because they didn’t get the care they needed soon enough. That’s why the market requires human -- make that humane -- intervention. A country with as much wealth as ours should not have climbing infant mortality rates, people dropping dead from tuberculosis, and families bankrupted by medical costs. It’s shameful, and if someone wasn’t profiting so much from our misery, I bet we could have fixed it by now. So lets cut the profiteering, and fix it.

4) Government -- national and local -- that is not beholden to corporate lobbyists. Without this precondition, the first three priorities -- sustainable energy, manufacturing revitalization, and health care -- are impossible. Lobbyists deliberately mislead and misinform politicians who lack the scientific or financial savvy to cut through their mendacious rhetoric. Lobbyists oversell the potential of unproven technologies, and politicians believe them. They want to believe them -- they need the campaign contributions attached to the false promises. Think defense boondoggles: ballistic missile defense; or, energy: cheap electricity from nuclear power plants; or, financial: deregulation of the commodities market (oil futures), and deregulation of the banking industry -- all promised far more than they can hope to deliver. Still, politicians bought the pitch because they weren’t well informed enough to reject it on a rational basis, or honest enough to reject it on an ethical basis. Instead, they grab the contributions (bribes) that follow the soft sell, and happily regurgitate the lobbyists' folly to their constituents.

5) Oh, yeah, I forgot to mention education. We need an informed electorate in this country. We get the government we deserve, and our education largely determines what we deserve. We all need to have a working grasp of basic economics, geography, history, mathematics, reading and writing, etc. But others will say more about this, and say it better, I’m sure.

How is the current economic crisis affecting me? I’m depressed and optimistic at the same time. A conflicted combination if ever there was one. I hope I can continue paying the mortgage on my old house that I just finished renovating -- I paid cash for the materials and did the work myself over six years of weekends. I’m mostly out of work (I do some part-time stuff), and the auto industry ain’t what it was when I moved to Detroit eight years ago. The value of my home has fallen well below what I paid for it. Things don’t look so great for the future. Still, I’m a lot better off than a lot of people, and I feel a lot worse for them. And, we’ve got Mr. Obama, we’ve got hope, and we’ve still got good old American ingenuity.

I’m fired up. Let’s get ‘er done. Yes, we can.

Friday, December 5, 2008

A few modest proposals (an open letter to the Obama Transition Team)

From America’s Working Federation of United Leprechauns (AWFUL):

Dear President Elect Obama:

Congratulations on your heroic campaign and successful election to the office of President of the United States.

We Leprechauns (and associate members: Gnomes, Trolls, Elves, Sprites, and Dryads) watched from the Headquarters of AWFUL with breathless trepidation and awe as your votes piled up on election night. When finally the election was declared in your favor, we rejoiced in high-pitched ecstasy. Windows, mirrors, and even a few cheap, plastic, banquet-hall wine glasses were heard to crack under our resonant squeals of delight. At that moment, we knew, for the first time, that we had an ally in the White House.

In return for our early and unfettered endorsement of your campaign, we ask for nothing.

But, we would like to remind you of a few of the things we hold dear and consider bedrock values of our ancient and honorable culture.

First, while our traditional means of employ is known to be cobbling, during the last eight benighted years of unregulated capitalistic fervor we met the ballooning demand for trinkets and charms of good fortune by cultivating vast fields of clover on federal lands. Now burdened with windfall gains, we must insist on reduced taxes for Leprechauns who toil in the dark of each and every night for an entire two weeks every planting and harvest season, and so by our enterprising efforts (and free gov’t. land leases) earn over $250,000 per annum. If you think finding a four-leaf clover is hard on a fulgent summer’s day, try finding one under cover of darkness as we are bound to do according to our tradition, which precludes daytime work. Joe the Leprechaun will tell you: our efforts justify our salaries.

Second, to augment our profitability and further the production of a vital national resource we respectfully request that generous government subsidies be granted to provide floodlight illumination of all 90,000 acres of American clover fields during planting and picking seasons. While we acknowledge that such lighting will cost enormous sums, consume gobs of electricity, and make a substantial contribution to global warming, we contend the gain far outweighs the cost and would merely compliment current agricultural policy. Doubters need only contemplate the downside: the grim faces of hapless gamblers in the Las Vegas and Wall Street dens of iniquity when they are unable to acquire acrylic-embedded four-leaf clovers (FLC’s) with which to forestall misfortune.

Thirdly, to insure steady demand for our beneficent product we suggest an Executive Order requiring all patriotic American citizens to carry on their persons (or in their pockets) an example of the aforementioned acrylic-embedded FLC. While pagans and miscreants insist that such talismans are merely superstitious, we subscribe to a literal interpretation of our sacred Book of Hypotheses (BOH), which states: “all manner of spirits evil may be held at bay with a raising of the sacred Leaf of Four.” While arrogant proponents of Science often pretend to have all the answers with their so-called facts, methods, proofs, and self-congratulatory peer-reviews, we humbly proffer our Book of Hypotheses, which does, in fact, have all the answers -- assuming of course that you don’t ask any heretical questions (why would you want to?).

Fourth, it is often assumed that we Leprechauns are possessed of great fortunes of gold, squirreled away in sturdy pots somewhere underground. Each time a glistening rainbow follows a roiling thunderstorm, we are met by strangers with cold, lingering stares, freighted with the expectation that we will reveal the location of our bountiful pots. Let us state for the record, once and for all, unequivocally: there are no pots. Nothing can be further from the truth. It is a myth. Our wealth, what little of it there is, is safely ensconced in offshore hedge funds. Furthermore, ours is a story of assiduous labor and constant striving. We were not born rich. At least, our great-great-great-great grandparents were not born rich. We are descended from struggling immigrant stock who came to this great nation during its infancy when it was but a sprawling wasteland of un-roaded forests, un-dammed streams, un-fenced wildlife, and peopled with un-friendly natives. We found our niche in the nascent nighttime shoemaking industry, and through diligent exploitation of other less cunning and ethically unburdened immigrants, built a solid foundation of wealth in our community. Our noble ancestors fought hard to equitably redistribute wealth, to justly concentrate capital in the hands of those who benefit our great society the most: the leisure class. Thusly, out of respect for our great heritage and our spirit of noblesse oblige -- we contribute over one-one-hundredth of a percent of our annual after-tax earnings to worthy charities -- we request that the capital gains tax be reduced to 0.1%, and that the death or so-called “inheritance” tax be repealed entirely. We encourage this bold stroke of justice with the recognition that all citizens will benefit via the well-known and highly regarded Trickle Down theory.

Our fifth “suggestion” (keeping in mind, we humbly reeled in an estimated ten-million grassroots votes on your esteemed behalf via cautious and judicious use of faith-based hexes and charms) would be for the relaxation of fuel efficiency standards for privately owned vehicles. We believe, and our sacred text so states, that it is every free persons’ divinely granted right to “go forth in mighty chariots so that he who is troubled by diminutive stature or modest mental girth might feel justly inflated and duly glorified.” Thus, to move about the land in immense, fuel-squandering vehicles of life-threatening proportion is taken by all Leprechauns (and associated members of AWFUL) as not a privilege, but a right to be upheld and protected. It is silly and unprincipled to suggest that lumbering about in six thousand pound buckets of iron could be anything but righteous when doing so makes us feel so big and so powerful, big, and powerful, and big...and powerful. Deny us this satisfaction, and what’s next? Will the churlish energy misers knock on the doors of our modest four thousand square foot McMansions, perched on meager 2-acre flag lots, and demand that we move into cramped tenements?

Our sixth proposition: to insure the continued flow of cheap and profitable energy to our floodlights, SUV’s and McMansions, free our great patriotic and generous oil and coal corporations from the restrictive, soul-draining regulation and taxation so despotically imposed on them by left-wing purveyors of socialism. Indeed, we urge you to also do away with whimsical and costly restrictions on pollution and land use. Ours is a nation built on the blind unwavering faith that those who appear to exploit our land and coastlines for personal gain are in fact doing so for the benefit of all mankind. Our titans of industry have followed their flocks of pre-tax profits to the warm and sunny Cayman Islands and found such fruitful climates good. By heroically dumping suffocating quantities of CO2 into the air, these proud barons unselfishly seek to make our entire nation as warm and cozy as those islands. By unselfishly dumping mercury and radioactive isotopes into the air, they strive to make us a tougher, more resilient people, able to stand up to the importuning, cry-baby, energy-scarcity-obsessed masses who clutter old Europe, and Asia, and Africa, and South America, and Australia.

Our seventh, and final request -- we proudly being a weak-limbed, flaccid class -- is that all restrictive firearm laws henceforth be repealed. All patriotic citizens, at least those of us possessed of great fortunes, must protect our birthright by any means necessary -- even if that means taking up arms (or hiring delusional proxies to do it for us). So, in the spirit of our wise founding fathers, we beseech you to release all patriotic American arms dealers from any and all restrictions on those weapons they might proffer to patriotic patrons. From pitchforks to slingshot, to surface-to-air missiles and wolf-hunting Apache helicopters, such items should be available to any and all with the means to pay for them (credit cards accepted) provided said patrons are willing to state earnestly and for the record that such weapons will be used for defensive purposes only. The unfettered distribution of arms is the only sure way to defend against the unwashed masses, hailing from liberal East Coast bastions of lawlessness, who may rise up and trample over our citadels of free enterprise; our cherished gated communities (with beach, pool, tennis and 18-hole golf course access).

The proud members of AWFUL salute you, President-Elect Obama, and on your behalf you can be sure we’ll apply all-manner of hexes and charms at our disposal to further your ambitious agenda -- provided you do as we say. To show our goodwill and to insure your ongoing providence, we have forwarded an FLC key-chain bearing the regal insignia of AWFUL.
Auto Industry Bailouts

A letter that I sent to the New York Times and my representatives in Congress:

Re: New York Times
Back on Capitol Hill, Auto Executives Still Find Skeptics
Published: December 4, 2008

It is unfortunate that Congress and, according to polls, the rest of the nation are willing to let the auto industry wither and die. Of course, the execs have mismanaged the business. That’s what American business has done for the last forty years in the pursuit of unrealistic short-term profits. The tragedy is that the execs will, as always, walk away with piles of cash to sustain them while they search for new prey to bleed dry. It’s the assembly line crews I worry about. I live in Detroit (well, one mile north) and I worked in the automotive industry (engineering & management) long enough to understand the hyper-conservative, me-first attitude of management that prevents the great ideas of engineering peons from becoming great products. But if you visit an assembly plant, you will meet men and women who work hard every day -- I mean with their arms, legs, and backs -- and know the manufacturing process as well as anyone and are eager to help wayward engineers find answers.

When I visited plants, the thought I always came away with is that my cushy salary was carried on the backs of these folks. Assembly line workers procured union benefits through long and violent battles with management. Perhaps union leaders overreached, but to let the auto industry wither and further undercut unions would roll American labor relations back to the brutal first days of the industrial revolution.

There are lots of ways the engineers and assembly line workers could be productive, Congress just needs to be imaginative. Detroit is a vast repository of industrial know-how, a national asset we can not afford to lose. Save the auto industry today, and if they still can’t sell cars tomorrow, put these smart people to work building the windmills, photovoltaics, and public transportation of the future. We put a man on the moon; we can put men and women to work building a sustainable and proud future for this country.
Suggestions submitted to President-Elect Obama's web site:

Energy is the most significant issue facing the U.S.; it affects Everything Else. To confront energy scarcity in a rational way:

1) Create an initiative to place photovoltaics on every home and commercial rooftop, and over every parking lot in the nation.

2) Create an initiative to put small-scale wind turbines in backyards and parking lots. Really. Power generated near where it's consumed is much more efficient than transporting it long distances.

3) Visit: Rocky Mountain Institute to find great ideas for energy conservation (I'm not affiliated with this organization, just an admirer.)

4) Create an initiative to weatherize and increase the efficiency of homes, including:
-- New windows (made in U.S.A.)
-- Fiberglass insulation for attics and basements
-- High efficiency, American-made appliances
-- Add-on exterior shells framed with recycled plastic
to envelop and seal older homes.
-- Net result: all American homes insulated and sealed to meet stringent LEED standards, all appliances meet "Energy Star", or better standards

5) Promote mass-transportation and high-density apartment construction; tax suburban sprawl, tax vehicle registrations (based on the size and efficiency of the vehicle) and use the money to subsidize intelligent design...of housing.

6) Abandon corn-based ethanol -- it's a farce in so many ways. Please, please, please get wise to this before tons more money is wasted on it.

7) Abandon "clean" coal (carbon sequestration will never work). Please, please, please...same as above. And, increase BLM rates charged to coal industry for mining federal land for the coal we currently use so at least taxpayers are better compensated for their land, and coal prices will more accurately reflect the true cost of the stuff.

8) Abandon nuclear -- it's an overpriced dead end. Every dollar spent on nukes is a dollar for real solutions lost. Please, please, please...same as above. (Visit RMI -- see above -- if you're not convinced.)

9) Help restore our manufacturing industries: impose tariffs on offshore manufacturers who don't meet our labor or environmental standards. Our current notions of free trade are delusional and have decimated our once proud engineering and manufacturing capacity.

10) Impose strict standards on factory farms for waste disposal and the treatment of animals -- we are addicted to cheap, unwholesome meat -- we should be ashamed.

11) Support small-scale farms: cut subsidies to big Agriculture -- small, organic farms are cleaner, healthier, and more efficient and we don't need to be ashamed of what we eat if we get our food from them.

All of the above can be done in ten years or less, would ultimately pay for themselves, and would fuel domestic industry...if we could just persuade politicians to find the will to get educated and act (and sever their ties with big oil, coal, and agriculture). None of the above requires research and development -- the technologies exist NOW.

Thanks & good luck!