July 2010

On a blog I read occasionally I saw this proposal for moving the country to more sustainable energy use:

My proposal is that electric utility companies currently heavily invested in their own coal-fired generation consider adopting the model used by Bell Telephone in the 1950’s. In exchange for a modest installation fee (say a few hundred dollars that could be prorated over a period of time) well within the budgets of middle and working class families with “green values,” the utility company would deliver and install solar panels on the consumers home — but, and here’s what I think is a new idea (at least as applied to electricity generation) the utility company would retain ownership of those panels in perpetuity, and charge the consumer a monthly fee for the electricity consumed from those panels.

Here’s the details — the one’s that I think would make this idea appealing to both the consumer and to the utility company. The individual solar installations would 1) be large enough to provide for ordinary, peak daylight hours electricity use and 2) would be tied into the grid allowing for both inflow and outflow. The utility company would benefit, because all excess electricity generated would flow into the grid for use by other customers (and unlike the situation where a household customer owns the solar installation, the utility company would own that excess flow outright and not be paying the customer with the installation for it). With each household or business that added solar generation, the electricity generating capacity of the entire grid would be expanded. The capitalization costs would be spread out over time — no huge up-front investment in generation capacity years before any new power can be generated. Moreover, following current phone company and cable company practices, the utility company could charge a very small (a few dollars) monthly maintenance fee to consumers, to cover costs of periodic maintenance and repair.

The consumer would benefit in two ways: they would have the assurance that in the absence of sunlight they would still have electricity, and conversely, during widespread power outages due to downed transmission lines they would also still have their locally generated power. Indeed, if several households in a neighborhood had contracted with the utility for solar panels, the entire neighborhood circuit might be protected from electricity loss during a widespread outage….From the utility company’s perspective, they are able to gradually expand their generating capacity, using “green” sources, with small, periodic expenditures of capital that can be partially charged to the customer (installation fees), and also recouped by feeding all excess electricity generated into the grid. Customers without the panels who depended solely on the grid would pay the standard rate for their electricity. By dispersing solar generation through out the households served by a utility, there would be a substantial increase in efficiency, as electricity would be consumed closer to where it was generated, reducing the losses to long distance transmission. Most of all this idea allows utility companies to make the transition to renewable electricity generation gradual and incremental, and thus less painful and more acceptable.

Intriguing idea, particularly since it lays the ground work for a far more radical shift. Once solar installations had penetrated a significant percentage of housing units, the citizens could stage a take-over of power-generation. Instead of “nationalizing” the power industry, we could “communitize” the power industry. Okay, I made that term-up by what I mean is transferring ownership of means of production to community or neighborhood groups. So even though this proposal, on the surface seems to expand the power and reach of utility companies, it does have within it the seeds for a more radical, decentralized energy economy.

I’m pretty much of a news hog. I no longer get a daily paper on paper, but read several news daily on-line, and I peruse the cable news sources regularly (unlike most folks I actually watch news networks that have opposing political philosophies as well as those with which I agree), so I usually see most of the major news stories. Which is why I’m wondering why I missed the story about Johannes Mehserle shooting Oscar Grant in the back on a Bay Area Rapid Transit platform.

There were plenty of stories today, given the rioting and looting that broke out after the verdict — guilty of involuntary manslaughter — was rendered, although most of the ones found through Google are from papers in California and other western states.

I checked with a number of my other news hound friends — most who like me are far left. None of them had heard of the trial before today as well.

Why did this story only become newsworthy when black people started public violence? Why not more national attention after the crime itself, and during the trial? Could it be because a white law enforcement official shot a black young man?

I don’t have enough information to make my own judgment on the judgement of the jury, I’m just struck the lack of attention to the story by national news outlets.

Saw this data on another blog and checked out the data myself at the Bureau of Labor Statistics, where you can choose any range of years to examine.

Under Reagan unemployment rates rose higher and stayed there for longer than under Obama. Here’s the data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Ronald Reagan, President
Recession of 1982-83



Total number of months unemployment was above 9% under Reagan was 19, number of months unemployment was above 10% under Reagan was 10 months.

Barack Obama, President
Recession of 2008-2010


Total number of months unemployment was above 9% under Obama so far has been 14, number of months unemployment was above 10% under Obama was only 3 months, less than one-third the number of months above 10% under Reagan.

So my question is, why isn’t anyone reporting on this? Who’s conspiracy of silence is this? Even the Obama administration themselves aren’t making enough of this information. Yeah, I know, no one should be bragging about unemployment rates of 9.5%, but still, this is far better than the Reagan record on unemployment.

The longer that the oil continues to gush from the Deepwater horizon well, the more oil that contaminates the gulf, the greater the destruction of the Gulf, the better it is for the oil industry. Seriously.

What does the oil industry hate the most — all those safety and environmental regulations. Even when they don’t really follow them, they still have to waste the time of paid employees to go through the motions of complying with environmental and safety regulations, of regulatory visits and all those forms to fill out.

So, what if the gulf is so polluted, so toxic that all marine life is just gone. No dolphins, no whales, no fish, no fishing industry, no shrimp, no shrimpers. All the beaches contaminated, all the tourist industry gone elsewhere. If it’s all destroyed then protecting it becomes moot. No more need for all those troublesome regulations. The oil industry will then be able to drill where ever and when ever they wish in the gulf. No one will care (at least politically) if the wells leak because the damage is already done.

A toxic swamp gulf is exactly what the oil industry needs.

The right wing seems to think that the political climate in the U.S. is ripe at the present moment for getting rid or at least drastically scaling back unemployment insurance. I hope they are wrong and that general public sentiment is not represented by the Tea Party types who so dominant the news coverage by both those who approve (fox news) and those who disapprove (msnbc left of center prime time).

Stopping the extension of unemployment insurance payments for the long term unemployed is all upside for the republicans and conservatives.

First it throws 1.2 million people into dire straits that will help put even more downward pressure on wages, not only for those forced to take poverty level jobs in lieu of unemployment, but also for those still in jobs, whose position becomes just that much more tenuous and thus vulnerable to employer pressure.

But even more importantly, throwing long term unemployed off unemployment in really bad economic times will appear to “work” as a tactic for reducing unemployment. Those receiving unemployment must actively seek work to receive their checks, by actively seeking work they fit the labor department’s official definition of unemployment. But once the checks stop and the pressure from unemployment offices to seek work, within weeks, those in areas where there are no jobs (which is most of the country right now), will soon become discouraged. People don’t keep on actively seeking work when there is no work to be had, unless they are required to do so to get unemployment. When their active work search stops, they don’t have a job, but they also no longer fit the official definition of unemployed, and by magic the unemployment rate will decline. Of course the number of people employed doesn’t rise, and the labor force declines, but most people don’t understand the way in which unemployment numbers are created.

Within months the republicans will be able to point to the declining unemployment numbers and say “see our strategy of cutting people off of unemployment insurance works — unemployment has declined.” Democrats will of course, try to educated the public, explaining about discouraged workers and declining size of the labor force, but it will be for nought. That strategy didn’t work well in 1985-86 when official unemployment under Ronald Reagan finally began to drop below 10 percent. The average person doesn’t want to know that official unemployment numbers are really not a very good indicator of the economic health of society.

A friend of mine who lives and works in a very conservative, community in Appalachia called my attention recently to a phenomenon on Facebook that he calls the “I love Jesus more than you do” competition or what I’d like to call “competitive Christianity.”

Facebook appears to serve as an arena of social competition for many social circles. Who can post the cleverest, most humorous status? Who can find the most pertinent political reference or video to post? Who can post the most beautiful photos, or the ones that make the most people go “aww” and “how cute!” Who can garner the most comments to their status posting?

However, the competition in my friend’s circle of Facebook “friends” from work and his local community centers around declarations of love for Jesus/God. The competition seems to involve one-upmanship in showing verbal devotion, and in seeing how many people to “like” your post or make agreeing comments.

Here are just a few of the Facebook status quotes my friend shared:

…God is so Good and I just want to Praise Him for all things! We can do all things through Christ who gives us strength. So lets pray one for another.

…needs patience, though one would think I would be loaded with it by now…God, make me more teachable, so I can see the lessons You have planned for me.

…is so grateful to GOD

…”It is God who arms me with strength and makes my way perfect. He makes my feet like the feet of a deer; he enables me to stand on the heights. He trains my hands for battle; my arms can bend a bow of bronze. You give me your shield of victory, and your right hand sustains me; you stoop down to make me great. You broaden the path beneath me, so that my ankles do not turn.”Psalm 18:32-36

…Thank God that they found your camera…those are memories that you could not get back…GOD IS SO GOOD!! Thank you Lord for watching over my loved ones and bringing them home safe!

…I KNOW! When she came back on the phone from checking the lost & found, she said, “yes, we got it” I said,”PRAISE GOD!” 🙂 And He sure watched over us on the way home, VERY heavy rain, there was a tornado warning in one or two cities we drove through.

…just wanted to let you know you have been on my mind and I have been praying for you. Hope all is well.

…I have just look [sic] at one of the most beautiful babies that my Lord has ever made. He is so loved by all of us and he is so happy. God is so Good . I do praise His Name!

Neither my friend, nor I are Christians, and our knowledge of Christianity is “academic.” For example, I’m aware of several texts in the New Testament, in which Jesus warns his followers against making a big show of their faith and prayers, such as in Matthew 6:5-6:

And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.

6 But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.

So, it would seem to me, as an outsider to the faith, that Jesus would not have approved of this type of Facebook display.