Friday, February 26, 2010

Connecting the Dots to Economic Recovery

I have a lot to be thankful for today.
I have a new follower, Patricia Bator, a neighbor over in Scranton, Pa.
Patricia makes and sells very appealing-looking beeswax candles. I've found it increasingly difficult to find nice taper candles, so I'm sure there are some locally handmade beeswax candles in my future. Patricia's variety of candles can be seen @ Welcome, Patricia!
I'm thankful that we still have power here in the country. With snow ever-falling, cars looking as if they're nothing more than large, white lumps, and an estimated 650,000 northeasterners w/o power, I'd say I'm pretty fortunate to be connected and typing away!
Portsmouth, N.H. was hit with winds topping out at 91 mph - that's high category 1 hurricane force!
Last but never, ever least. My beautiful, smart, independent "little girl" (she was the youngest for 9 years!), Molly Sarah is turning 21 tomorrow! This young woman has been holding her own, living independently, staying in school and gainfully employed, way down south in Florida, since she graduated from High School in 07. I miss her, at times painfully, I love her , and I am oh so proud of my Molly!

Four news stories stood out this week, illustrating the humongous mess our country is in, said messes' decades-spanning creation (and the tendency of many to ignore the hulking mess as it burst out of its clothing, wreaking wide spread havoc across the decades), and the bull-headed inability of the masses & our government to connect the dots, so to speak, that will lead our country (eventually) to a satisfying, productive conclusion.
Remember connect the dots? If a reasonably smart little kid could pay attention and follow the numbers, the result would be a pretty picture. I never once encountered a fellow little kid who didn't love connecting the dots.
First off, it was simple to master once you knew your numbers. Second, and best of all, there was always a pay off, a reward, a thrilling surprise- the pretty picture!
A simple concept that I believe can be applied to more daunting issues.
OK, Dot#1. From 2/22 and the Christian Science Monitor we have the Bloom Box.
An it's-about-time-we've-been-talking-energy-crisis-since-the-70s, by-all-appearances, out and out miracle!
(I love the Christian Science Monitor. Its correspondents almost always possess the gift to write clearly and concisely- it is magnificently understandable.)
According to the CSM's Husna Haq, the Bloom Box (created by Bloom Energy of Ca. & its CEO, K.R. Sridhar) is a collection of fuel cells (skinny batteries) that use oxygen and fuel to create electricity with NO EMISSIONS!
Beautiful in its simplicity, not unlike connect the dots.
The fuel cells themselves are made of baked sand and each has the potential to power one light bulb.The fuel cells are stacked in a refrigerator-sized "Bloom Box."
The Box draws in oxygen on one side, fuel is fed into the other side. It can be fossil fuel, bio-fuel or solar power. The fuel and oxygen combine within the fuel cell and produce a chemical reaction that creates energy VOID OF burning, combustion and power lines (creating a prettier picture!).
Currently, the corporate Bloom Box retails for a prohibitive-to-most $700,000 to $800,000.
Sridhar aims to whittle the cost down to $2,000 per box. He envisions a Bloom Box in every home by 2020.
Is this too good to be true? It may be.
Let's just think about the power companies that exist today, mercilessly squeezing every last penny from our already defeated, deflated wallets. It's hard to muster any sympathy for them. But what about (millions of?) power company employees nation-wide? Will a Bloom Box in every home add to the already outrageously high numbers of unemployed workers?
I fear that it will, unless Bloom Box, its agents, subsidiaries, etc, plan to gather power-company employees and train them to be Bloom Box employees.
Will the Bloom Box industry create a sufficient number of jobs to employ the legions of power company employees? And will keeping the jobs in the U.S. be cost effective, allowing the home Bloom Box to be affordable to all? That remains to be seen.
On to Dot#2: 2/24's semi-annual address to Congress by Federal Reserve Chair Ben Bernanke.
According to ABC News, Bernanke predicts that high unemployment and low interest rates will continue through 2012 as the country continues to undergo a "nascent" economic recovery. That word troubles me. Nascent, as far as I know, means "in idea form," or "just forming."
I deferred to Mr. Webster, and found "coming into being, beginning to form or develop, said of ideas."
The description just doesn't inspire confidence, it doesn't conjure images of strength, but that's just my opinion.
Bernanke went on to point out that the country's economy expanded at a 4 % rate during the second half of last year. But to me, he waxed a bit cryptic, or at least not as enthusiastic as he could have waxed (OK, I know he's not a cheerleader! But still . . . ) by adding that once the government pulls back rescue efforts, recovery depends on the private sector.
I have faith in American ingenuity, strength, will to succeed, etc. But I got this fleeting image of a mommy-dearest type maniacally pulling a rug out from under a little child. Go ahead, public, see if you can manage to stand up without government bail outs! Maybe it's just my wild imagination!
Bernanke told Congress that it and the administration must come up with "some kind of program, some kind of plan," that will "credibly show how the U.S. government is going to bring itself back to a sustainable position."
Those are very serious words. Those words need to be heeded NOW, as Bernanke added,
"It's not something that's 10 years away as it affects the markets today. The longer you wait, the harder it's going to be."
Dot # 3 was reported today by ABC News. The Senate failed to extend unemployment benefits and other programs for laid-off workers late yesterday.
The package also included programs and loans for small businesses, highway funding and saving Medicare payments to physicians from a 21 % cut.
Take that, public! We'll kick you while you're down!
Honestly, I don't believe that the government should be responsible for every citizen's basic needs all of the time.
But the government (many administrations), and the apathy of its citizens, and corporate greed did cause this mess (that's been decades in the making).
One man stood in the way last night, and I believe he was correct in his opposition.
Republican Senator Jim Bunning of Kentucky didn't support the legislation. Bunning believes it should be paid for by what's left in last year's economic recovery package kitty.
And if there's enough left over, why not?
Why add (as the majority proposes) to the massive U.S. debt, projected to hit 1.5 TRILLION this year?
Why not save the estimated 1.1 million citizens who will lose unemployment benefits next month without adding to the deficit? (But we do need a permanent fix - jobs!!)
I'm an Independent, I'm not a Republican.
I have to further research and discover if the amount left over in the recovery package can sufficiently save unemployment benefits, small business loans, highway programs and medicare payments.
This Bunning fellow may just be blowing smoke. But if he's not, why isn't his proposal worthy?
Dot #4 is another one from today's ABC News site.
With the national unemployment rate just under 10 %, there's a shortage of long-haul truck drivers. I want to scream, but those who would hear me are used to that!
The shortage will grow worse over the next 10 years (there's that same 10 years again), as the "least desirable jobs" go unfilled because they require the truckers to be away from home for weeks or more.
I say "boo-hoo." One has to step up and do what may be inconvenient, uncomfortable and down right hard to survive - to eat and to keep a roof over his or her family's heads, to provide clothing and health care.
Nothing lasts forever, and these days, a job is a job!
The trucking company officials interviewed are looking to attract truckers by offering higher wages if the jobs remain vacant.
Fewer truckers equate to fewer goods arriving regularly for consumers to buy.
SO naturally, the cost of goods rises. Another blow to the common citizen!
Let's connect the dots, shall we?
Connect the Bloom Box people with others in the private sector who need to come up with a plan - pronto! (I say disconnect the government, but that's just me. I guess I can allow the government to seek advice from Bloom Box, too)
For heaven's sake, Colin Powell is on Bloom Energy's board of directors. Surely he and Sridhar and other private sector movers and shakers can help rally the troops!
This is a man and a company who seem to have solved a problem that has spanned centuries! This will satisfy Bernanke's call for a viable, sooner-rather-than-later plan.
Bloom Energy should also help solve the unemployment problem.
As previously suggested, Bloom should train workers in the myriad capacities I'm sure exist and will develop over time thanks to the Bloom Box.
If there's going to be a Box in every home in 10 years, Bloom will need sales and advertising reps, technicians, installers, satellite offices, the list goes on and on.
Now connect the shortage of truckers to unemployment. And for a temporary fix, if Bunning's on the level, if he's all about integrity and responsibility, let's follow his example and seek viable ways to fund programs without adding to the deficit!
It seems kind of simple, and maybe I am being too simplistic, too idealistic.
But it creates a pretty picture, doesn't it?
What do you think?

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