Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Add Another To The List

I've never quite understood why people actually want to be President, and I surely don't understand why anyone would want to be the 44th President of the US. I can't imagine facing the huge, mountain-sized problems facing the next administration, which include the following:

Two on-going wars which are going badly, a third war which no one is talking about, but which involves US troops' incursions into Pakistan without authorization from that country's government, and a potential fourth war with Iran, depending on the level of malicious paranoia still operating in the Bush White House.

Global climate change, which is getting worse with each passing day as more species disappear, more glaciers melt, and more storms, each more intense than the last, surface in all regions of the planet, all because we are tied into carbon-based energy.

Finally, the problem du jour, the economy (stupid), currently in crisis all over the world because, well, because someone found a currently legal way to scam trillions of dollars out of the economy of the most prudent of investors. Even the most conservative of nations are madly printing currency to bail out the international bankers lest the whole house of cards collapses, thrusting the world into the darkness of the 1930s.

Now, it seems to me that there are some common threads connecting all of these crises: greed (of course), energy dependency (well, duh), intentional incompetence (how else would you describe the Bush Administration?), but most important of all, short-sightedness.

This article in the NY Times is a prime example of what I mean. Because of the economic turbulence, it's hard for the next generation of alternative/renewable energy sources to get the capital needed to move on with implementation of the currently available technology and the development of the next level of technology.

For all the support that the presidential candidates are expressing for renewable energy, wind, solar and other alternative technologies are facing big new challenges because of the credit freeze and the plunge in oil and natural gas prices.

Shares of alternative energy companies have tanked even more sharply than the rest of the stock market in recent months. The struggles of financial institutions are raising fears that investment capital for big renewable energy projects is likely to get tighter.

Advocates are concerned that if the prices for oil and gas keep falling, the incentive for utilities and consumers to buy expensive renewable energy will shrink. That is what happened in the 1980s when a decade of advances for alternative energy collapsed amid falling prices for conventional fuels. ...

The central questions facing renewables now, experts say, are how long credit will be tight and how low oil and natural gas prices will fall. Oil and gas are still relatively expensive by historical standards, but the prices have fallen in half since July. Some economists expect further declines as the economy weakens.

It's not just that right now these alternative energy companies can't get the loans they need, it's also that with the prices of the existing energy sources (which are still finite and becoming more expensive to pump, extract, and mine each day) have dropped from the unbelievably (and speculatively, see "greed" above) high prices of eight weeks ago to prices which still are 50% higher than they were a year ago, investors don't feel the need to put some money into the future. We have become a nation and a world that has bought into the quarterly earnings statement.

Short term gratification used to be a nasty phrase for those who never grew out of puberty. Now it's the measuring rod for economic stability. What the next US President will have to face is choosing between short term fixes and a thorough-going analysis of what's wrong and what will really be required to fix it. Then he has to sell it to his Congress and to his country. I think Sen. Obama can do it, but whether or not he will do it to a great extent depends on us. We need to make it clear that we want more than a superficial dressing on a deep and festering wound.

Those of us who are ancient and who have watched our 401(k)s turn into 101(k)s in a matter of weeks will have a rough time of it, but we remember the stories our parents told us about how they made it through the Depression, and I think we can manage. Just give us some help for the duration and make it clear that our kids and grandkids have a future.

Those of us who are younger, but who are struggling just to make the mortgage payment or the rent, have to be reassured that there is a future and we can be part of it. We have to know that there will be jobs, that there will be health care, but that everyone will be asked to contribute to make that happen.

And, most importantly of all, it has to be made clear that everyone will shoulder the burden, not just the bottom 95%.

That's what President Obama must be made to understand.

Like I said, I wouldn't want to be the next President.

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