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OpEdNews Op Eds    H4'ed 1/12/10

We can get in the game, or get run over.

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On the north side of Capitol Expressway, perhaps a half-mile or so west of McLaughlin Avenue, in San Josà , are a couple flagpoles from which, naturally enough, fly flags. In addition to the flag of the United States, is that of Vietnam. This memorial acknowledges the fact of the massive immigration of Vietnamese into Silicon Valley that gained full force in the '80s, and the extraordinary role the new Americans were playing in shaping the area's destiny.

Many, most especially Whites, who were born in the US and had long ties to the region resented them. I couldn't have been more delighted. While the student offspring of the native population was caught up in the same interests as their fathers, the exploits of Joe Montana and Jerry Rice and Steve Young, the high school children of these newer citizens were caught up in deciphering the academic complexities of algorhithms and quantum theory.

The saw that began to obtain valid currency was that one could either be a geek, or work for one. My own sons, respectively, were in one of San Josà 's middle schools and high schools. It was a rare to non-existent phenomenon when the top grads did not have the last name of Truong or Nguyen. The bar had been raised, and I could not have been happier.

It is indeed a tragedy that so many today are unemployed. I neither dismiss nor diminish that fact. That said, for those American parents who take more interest in and feel greater pride in their kid's athletic achievements than in their scholarship: You are the tragedy! Rather, you are a tragedy in the making for your children. Football is wonderful amusement. The bottom line, however, is that it is absolutely irrelevant to playing the game of life; the scrimmage to earning a living. And when a parent places greater emphasis on athletic prowess than on honed academic skill sets, that parent is putting a millstone around the necks of their children, knowingly or unknowingly. Why would any parent do that? And could doing that not be somehow perceived as child abuse?

Absolutely, I am fully aware there are unemployed electrical engineers and computer programmers in Silicon Valley. But I ask this question: Exactly who do you think will be hired back sooner, find a good paying job more quickly, the engineer or the high school football star? Understand this basic fact of life: no one has a right to a job. As the old Smith-Barney commercial used to put it, you "earn it." Until parents across the land say to their sons and daughters, "You had a great game, but how are your grades in math and science?" this country will continually lose in the life and death war of international economic competition. And much more damaging than anything Al Qaeda can ever hope to do to us is what we have been doing, and are continuing to do, to ourselves. As a people, we're simply not cutting it.

What brought this issue front and center today were Tom Friedman's New York Times column, "Who's Sleeping Now?" (click here=&emc=th&pagewanted=print) and a C-SPAN Washington Journal interview with Peter Hart, of Peter Hart and Associates.

First to the latter. Hart's company does political research, primarily on behalf of the GOP. November 30, ( Mr. Hart conducted a focus group in Philadelphia to learn where Americans were in their political feelings. To clarify, regardless whether the research is on behalf of Republicans or Democrats or is non-partisan, the overriding objective of the research, whether it's in a focus group setting or via surveys, is to be as completely objective, as non-partisan as is humanly possible. The client, similar to how a patient regards his physician, wants to know the factual lay of the land, not what he wishes it was. Only by having as accurate as possible an information base can that client formulate as winning a strategy as possible.

In other words, the 11 participants in the group were selected to secure as close an approximation of the population as human endeavors will ever permit. Take a look at the video. After viewing it, you may report as do I, that this country is in pretty rough shape. By and large, over the range of word-association responses and elaborated opinions sought by Hart, the participants were embarrassingly hopelessly incompetent. As example, more of which are available via the video, when Mr. Hart asked the participants to provide him with a one-word description of what pops into their mind when he asked, "What material do you think of when I say President Obama's spine?" only two grasped the qualifying notion of one word. And of those two, one had to be repeatedly pushed and reminded it was a word-association question, not something that sought an extended paragraph! Regardless how he had struggled with the first responder, the majority who followed were nonetheless unable to follow the 1st-grade level assignment. What else came clear was the dense fog of ignorance that envelopes Americans.

Folks, we can do better! Stupidity and incompetence are not conditions we are sentenced to, they're apparel we voluntarily don every single day.

"Who's Sleeping Now?" Forget how you may feel, positively or negatively, towards Tom Friedman and/or the New York Times. It's not the messenger, it's the message that we need to read . . . then heed. The article speaks to and is encouraging of greater participation by the United States in going green via what Friedman calls ET, Energy Technology. It is of no import whether one agrees or disagrees with the issues surrounding climate change. What is critically consequent and of no debate is the fact that going green via ET is where the world market is headed, and will be. It is the future regardless how anyone in this country feels. We can either get on board all the way, and now, or, for at least the rest of the lives of anyone living today, be groveling for whatever scraps we can beg.

China, very closely followed by the US, is the greatest contributor to life-suffocating green house gases. Or, it's the other way around: the US is the leader, closely followed by China. It all depends on the sources you refer to. But it just doesn't matter. What does is that China has seen what it can barely see through, and, not liking the opaque view, it is charging ahead to correct that circumstance, and is developing the ET it will employ to counter a future it does not see as inevitable, and -- oh, by the way -- in the process, also sell to the rest of the world, including the United States. (Need I suggest you visit a Wal-Mart, flip over any article of inventory, and observe where what we're already wearing, cooking with, eating from, and just about every other implement we use daily was manufactured?)

Anecdotally, I've traveled I-10 between LA and its intersection with I-75 in Florida several times. On the Texas plains and plateaus and just west of Palm Springs, wind machines dot the hills as few Cascade forests do. The obsolete, rickety, early 1900's metal-frame oil derrick look a-likes were built here. You do not want to guess where the newer, highly efficient versions were made. What you have every right to demand an answer to is why we quite voluntarily elected to send the industry and technology somewhere else. We're using it. We're going to use it more and more. So, why the heck did we let that one get away? This time it had absolutely zero to do with any discrepancy in wages. Rather, this time it had to do with voluntary idiocy.

Following the Arab Oil Embargo, President Jimmy Carter (And look, how you feel, or have been led to feel, about Carter is a distraction, nothing lese.) established a national energy policy of conservation that he claimed would make the United States energy independent of OPEC by the "end of the century." However he may have over estimated in his assertion, what is not open to serious debate is that, had the country followed his program, we would not today be beholden to Middle East oil, and not being beholden, it's rather unlikely we'd have been as enmeshed in Middle Eastern countries' internal affairs as we have been, and not being so enmeshed in their business, it's also improbable that bin Laden would have flown airplanes into two New York City buildings. And had bin Laden not slung those airplanes into those towers, Bush would have been short at least one excuse for invading Iraq. Short that one excuse, forget that even that one was stitched from whole rawhide scraps, it's equally improbable that congress -- albeit a Republican congress -- would have giddily gone along. GAO says that right this moment we're $1.7 TRILLION into Iraq and Afghanistan, way mostly Iraq. So . . . about that budget deficit and national debt . . ..

Upon entering office, the very first thing Ronald Reagan did was to remove the solar panels on the White House roof that Carter had had installed and to dismantle Carter's entire energy program. And we still don't know the details Cheney worked out with his oil buds at the commencement of the Bush-Cheney administration. My uneducated guess is that, whatever they were, they were not to the benefit of the United States; to the benefit of a select few in the United States, but not to the 300 million Americans who are not among the select few.

Forget Carter. Forget Reagan. Now is now. Concentrate on what is, what will be, and what can be, not what was. To that, I want to include just two paragraphs from Mr. Friedman's article.

"Here's e-mail from Bill Gross, who runs eSolar, a promising California solar-thermal start-up: On Saturday, in Beijing, said Gross, he announced "the biggest solar-thermal deal ever. It's a 2 gigawatt, $5 billion deal to build plants in China using our California-based technology. China is being even more aggressive than the U.S. We applied for a [U.S. Department of Energy] loan for a 92 megawatt project in New Mexico, and in less time than it took them to do stage 1 of the application review, China signs, approves, and is ready to begin construction this year on a 20 times bigger project!"

I want to pause a moment to ignore somewhat what certainly sounds like a highly optimistic forecast, to pounce on a sentence that is anything but: "China is being even more aggressive than the U.S." I added the bold emphasis and the italics to emphasize what, given the Right's perpetual swaggering monolog about good ol' American entrepreneurial can do, ought not ever to be. And I ask, why are we doing this to ourselves? Like . . . wait a minute, I want to grab some sticks and jab them into my eyes . . . so that, blindly I can follow a leader, which obviously ain't us.

Here's the second paragraph for your consideration: "In the last year alone, so many new solar panel makers emerged in China that the price of solar power has fallen from roughly 59 cents a kilowatt hour to 16 cents. Meanwhile, China last week tested the fastest bullet train in the world -- 217 miles per hour -- from Wuhan to Guangzhou. China has nearly finished the construction of a high-speed rail route from Beijing to Shanghai at a cost of $23.5 billion. Trains will cover the 700-mile route in just five hours, compared with 12 hours today. By comparison, Amtrak trains require at least 18 hours to travel a similar distance from New York to Chicago."

As I did with the first paragraph, I want to emphasize a part of the second: ". . . the price of solar power has fallen from roughly 59 cents a kilowatt hour to 16 cents." I insist that you cease reading this, and in the stead sort through your files for your last electric bill. Tell me, has it gone up, stayed the same, or has it gone down? Next, would you guess that over the next months and years, will the base rate of that bill go up, stay the same, or go down?

And now a basic economic proposition for you to ponder: I realize it's one heckova lot more than this, but I'm thinking of just one component of your total monthly outlay. If say an additional 10% of your income was going to go somewhere and that you had no control over that percentage, it was going to be 10% no matter what you wanted or could do, would you rather A.) See it stay in the United States, either with the government, dedicated to energy independence or to American private enterprise, again, dedicated to energy independence, or B.) Go to our friends in Venezuela or in the Middle East? Understand, the money is going to be leaving your pocket, no matter how you feel about it. And that that percentage was going to climb ever higher and higher and your air would get dirtier and dirtier under B. It might not be much different under A, but that's a probably or a perhaps, under B it's a certainty. What do YOU want?

Essentially that's the current energy issue in congress, once they return. The only reason energy demand is relatively low today is attributable to the recession and the level of unemployment that prevents consumers and businesses from demanding more of it. I doubt many in this country wish to keep energy prices either stagnant or at acceptable rates of increase on the back of a recession and high unemployment. If we exit this pit, when we crawl out, demand for more energy will rise with it, and with increased demand will come higher prices for it. (And, NO! we cannot "Drill baby, drill" our way -- whether in Alaska, or off either of Florida's coasts, or off California's -- to energy self-sufficiency.) One way or the other we're all going to be taxed for our energy consumption. The only question is to whom will that tax be paid, to us, the US, or to folks who don't care much for either us or the US.

We have choices to make. We can work to influence our national and personal futures. Or . . . "Man! Did you see that touchdown pass my son threw in last Friday's game? You should have seen it. Oh, I know his grades ain't all that great, but . . . man, what a pass. And he's got great plans for when he graduates from high school. Once this Great Recession is over and Wal-Mart and McDonalds start hiring again . . . Or, maybe at the grocery store. Nothing dishonorable about hard work I'll tell ya."

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An "Old Army Vet" and liberal, qua liberal, with a passion for open inquiry in a neverending quest for truth unpoisoned by religious superstitions. Per Voltaire: "He who can lead you to believe an absurdity can lead you to commit an atrocity."
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