Chuck McConnell: Solutions needed

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The economy of the U.S. obviously is in serious trouble. Without sound strategies, the crisis will tear down our standard of living and comfortable way of life. Our political leaders choose social engineering and almost totally ignore the obvious solution. They tell us that our economy miraculously will turn around by 2010. This simply is not true.

Advances in technology have facilitated highly efficient worldwide trade, capital flow and human resource exchange - economic globalization. Skilled workers in China, India, Brazil and Mexico now produce high quality, highly demanded goods and services. Workers in India are easily trainable in jobs for which Americans have until recently been considered the exclusive work force, and two-thirds of India's population exists on less than $2 per day. America needs high-paying, non-exportable job creation right now.

The American automobile industry cannot compete in global auto production with its unrealistic legacy costs. The industry is an outdated, failed business model. The untold reality is that the pain now felt by automobile workers will spread to the majority of American households. Throuhgout time, labor-cost equilibrium, a natural process by which world labor rates will increase and American rates will decrease as developing nations enter a more realistic global economic profile, will inexorably evolve.

Faced with these dire consequences, the "economic solutions" our politicians are selling to us only exacerbate our problems. Even at currently depressed prices, home values in the U.S. still are artificially high. Billions to bailout our underwater home mortgage holders requires government borrowing, ultimately higher taxes and interest rates. This only succeeds in transferring tax money from people who made good financial decisions and pay their mortgages to those who bought overpriced homes they could not afford. Contrary to the ill-conceived Carter era Community Reinvestment Act, not everyone in America can afford a new home. And how does President Obama's $900 million gift to Gaza and $100 billion pledge to the IMF provide progress for Americans caught in the economic morass?

Those are the problems. Our golden opportunity solution is American energy independence. Energy independence from renewable sources will give us a global competitive advantage for years to come, reduce the real risk we now face depending on crude oil from unfriendly countries and produce high paying non-exportable jobs. So far, the political solutions contain only a small fraction of what is needed for energy independence.

Why energy independence? I spent most of my career as a chemical engineer working in all phases of the petroleum industry. Petroleum is a finite resource and simply will not be available at some time in the future. We cannot stand by and watch gasoline prices accelerate back to $4 per gallon and, ultimately, much higher.

Technology now exists in wind, solar and nuclear power generation to achieve independence from unfriendly sources within 10 years. One proof of this is T. Boon Pickens' (a successful energy man and entrepreneur) privately financed, profit-motivated $10 billion wind project in West Texas. Politicians must immediately direct the billions now being spent on poor solutions to initiating Manhattan Project magnitude publicly financed-privately owned and operated renewable energy projects.

To reduce our energy risks surrounding imported oil throughout the interim 10 years, we must develop our huge domestic natural gas resources. Our Colorado politicians are fighting hard against natural gas drilling (even though gas drilling has virtually no negative environmental impact) and the thousands of jobs it will produce. This resistance is popular with their small liberal cohort but suicide to our economy and future.

In present leadership's economic approach, the light at the end of the tunnel is a blown-out candle. Without nurturing entrepreneurial, free-market capitalism and rejecting the siren song of socialism, we all will see our financial way of life permanently erode at an alarming pace. We must demand our political leaders to place our precious national treasure where it will give America a global competitive edge and not simply self-serving social engineering. That is the way America has always prospered.

Chuck McConnell

Steamboat Springs

Comments

Howard Merken 5 years, 8 months ago

That's a great article! I like the free enterprise model better than socialism, as long as it doesn't become an unfettered system of monopolistic enterprises.

I once read or heard that building a nuclear power plant uses more fossil fuel that the plant will save, and that nuclear power plants don't last long anyway. If this is really true, then solar, wind, and hydroelectric power seem best--and they don't create nuclear waste.

Counties like Denmark and Israel are getting a grid of power stations that work off solar and wind power, stations that are really "gas stations", places to refuel automobiles that run on batteries. This is according to Thomas Friedman, whose column is often in our newspaper. Do I have to go overseas to see the newest technology?

When I was studying chemistry in graduate school, I noticed that half the chemistry grad students were foreign, generally from India or China. The chemistry grad school slots are there, but enough Americans to fill them are not. What has happened to American science? I teach science, but find too little interest on the part of the students. Yes, it's hard, and often abstact and impersonal. And many college students that like science want to go to medical school. Here's our chance to become as innovative as the classic American frontiersman, but armed with computers and education instead of rifles and racism. Let's innovate and produce!

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Scott Berry 5 years, 8 months ago

Great Article! Thanks for you effort to enunciate a clear pathway to a sound future based on our instinctive capitalistic capabilities.

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toboyle105 5 years, 8 months ago

The city of Steamboat Springs could do their part by converting their vehicle fleet to CNG as opposed to buying diesel electric buses that are expensive and still require a polluting energy source. They could also promote use of CNG in a state that has a plentiful source.

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toboyle105 5 years, 8 months ago

By the way, there is no free lunch. What will happen to all those millions of depleted battery cells? How much energy is required to manufacture them and then recycle them at the end of their life? Or will they just end up in our landfills like so many other things in our society that is too expensive to properly recycle.

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ybul 5 years, 8 months ago

Howard,

Maybe we need to get the kids involved in making a methane digester, give a speech on the topic, write a synopsis on the project and integrate the whole of learning into one classroom.

As opposed to our current model which fragments each subject, gives students a very short time frame each day to be typically lectured to about something that they find no interest in.

Maybe more hands on experiential learning like the montessori model is needed. The Chinese are importing a friends brother to develop a Montessori school system as they see that it offers the best educational system.

We have a foundation for it here and parents outside the program comment about how much farther ahead other children seem.

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Howard Merken 5 years, 8 months ago

ybul, I have tried my best to implement a hands-on approach to science at Christian Heritage School (CHS). We're doing ten or eleven dissections this year in grades 5-7. We don't yet have the equipment for a lot of physical science labs, besides prisms, magnets, and other simple things. The fragmented approach to education is being replaced in some circles by a classical approach, which considers developing the mind and learning skills in the early years a prerequisite to science and higher math in the latter years. Classical education seeks to break down the barriers between disciplines. From what I've read and heard, it can work quite well. It certainly has a couple of thousand years of proven results. I also brought students up to Colorado Mountain College twice (different groups), where Jimmy Westlake gave them a terrific hands-on approach. I still find that too many students shirk from science. The hands-on approach is great, but expensive. CHS gave me a fantastic budget this year, five times what I had as a science department head at a small university years ago, and CHS students have benefited tremendously. It would take some grant writing for a methane digester and other more expensive pieces of equipment. But the real problem is student motivation. For some reason, or probably a host of reasons, American students don't fill in the slots available to them in the sciences, hence our need to import scientists, export jobs (they work cheaper overseas anyway), and lose the edge we enjoyed from perhaps the end of WWII until recently.

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toboyle105 5 years, 8 months ago

You bemaon the so called death of "American Science" but where do you think all the innovation comes from? American universities and research centers, that's where. The MIT's of this country. Immigrants have been coming to this country from the get go because of that. They just happen to take a lot of that back to their home countries because it has become worth their while. What you need to ask is why is the so alled American Child become so fat and bloated with their ipods and xboxes and game boys. They have everything they want so who needs an education much less one that takes a lot of study and hard work. They want instant gratification. Things will change the day you go to try and plug in one of your electronic babysitters and it won't work. Innovation comes from desperation, the need for something to fill a void.

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Howard Merken 5 years, 8 months ago

Well, I can see that. As a grad student in chemistry, I could ask my professor for some chemical. He'd call it into Aldrich Chemical on a Friday, and I'd have it the next Wednesday--five calendar days later. One young lady from India in a nearby lab mentioned that in her country, this took seven months.

Yes, we have the world's best research facilities. And we have the world's most spoiled kids, it seems (and I've worked in five countries and studied in three). Our educational levels are plummeting here in the K-12 system, despite good universities and excellent graduate schools.

Interestingly, I noticed that graduate students and postdoctoral fellows don't return to live in their native countries. The only exception I've seen is if a married couple comes over here, that couple will return home. If one comes single, he or she will stay, usually marrying here. My Chinese lab mate in grad school married a Chinese girl here after graduation, and they both stayed. (That was years ago, and I've lost contact with him.)

This is a neat place to live. If you strike out on your own and fail, the company you left won't see you as disloyal, and might even take you back (maybe not now with this new recession, but it used to be like that). You learned something, no hard feelings. I read that this is not the case in Germany or Japan, where leaving the company to become an entrepreneur is seen as disloyalty. The problem, as mentioned in the blog above, is that people born here take the USA for granted. We haven't had really hard times, we can go to college and choose our majors, and we don't get thrown in jail for expressing political views (although take out the DVD "1968 with Tom Brokaw" from the Bud Werner Library to see some exceptions). Yes, we get spoiled. But then we pass it onto our kids, so the cycle intensifies.

I'm a teacher. I'm appalled at the lack of educational and behavioral discipline I see today. If today's kids are tomorrow's future, we'd better wake up.

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toboyle105 5 years, 8 months ago

What is sad is that there have been few people who have any comments about the above story. The energy independance theme has been going on for more than 30 yrs and yet we just dig the hole a little deeper. Where is the same anger that has been out there against our twin wars. Our energy needs are going to get worse as the population continues to grow. By the way today's kids need to take some responsibility of their own. They can follow in the steps of the current crop of cry babies and blame someone else for their failures and poor decisions in life or they can sit up and learn. It's their future, they had better wake up.

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Howard Merken 5 years, 8 months ago

I remember as a child how much less garbage we had. Our green Coke bottles were returned and refilled. The milkman took our milk bottles from a little metal box outside our door, and the milk bottles were reused. The diaper man took our cloth diapers for cleaning. And we didn't have all that trash from fast food.

We don't even need new technology to start living a little greener. We need the old habits of 40-50 years ago. How much energy does it take to clean and refill glass bottles, as opposed to making new ones? Disposable diapers are petroleum products. Water to wash cloth diapers might be scarce in some places, but how much water is used to make disposable diapers? As we look forward, let us also look backward.

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Howard Merken 5 years, 8 months ago

I hate to admit it, but there is also a religious element to ignoring the environment. There's that belief that we're supposed to "develop" at any cost, and that anyone who calls for environmentalism is a communist or, these days, perhaps a New Ager. I know this argument well, for I have walked in conservative Christian circles for well over thirty years now. Remember the days of Ronald Reagan, of James Watt, of Jerry Falwell? I'm not running these people down, but I differ from them. The Bible does not say to rape the earth for all it's worth, in order to advance civilization. A careful analysis of the law of Moses shows this. Look at the verses on not cutting down certain trees, for example. The Bible gives us neither a worship-Mother-nature mentality nor a pave-the-whole-planet agenda. It has been right versus left for too long.

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Wendy Powell 5 years, 8 months ago

Man is it hard to remain optimistic!

I don't understand the excessive spending that is taking place, one story topping another. We have ignored decades of warning about our gross consumption, we have saddled this next generation with trillions in war debt, then we add this bailout and now a bunch of good will and here we sit bleeding. This economic disaster gnaws at the center of souls and makes hardworking productive community members feel like failures.

Young people today that are very talented in science and math don't really have an interest in saving the planet like other generations have had. Perhaps they feel that there is nothing left to discover, it has already been done, there is nothing adventurous about it.

Without optimism, it is faith that will carry on.

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toboyle105 5 years, 8 months ago

I have no idea what today's child has to be depress about. They have access to a good education if they want one. There is opportunity out there if you so desire. Ipods a plenty. My parents grew up as young adults during the depression. They were both from large families. They never talked of those times as the end of the world. The families hung together and made the best of it. My generation, those born in the 50's and 60's have become a bunch of greedy hippocrits. They smoked dope and preached change only to go about life as a way to one up each other. Look at the houses that have been built in the last 20 years. These huge energy hogs that are empty palaces of their dreams. Their children are distant and uninvolved. We are all now paying for gourging ourselves on materialism. You know at some point a local used to own all that expensive land that is Steamboat and at sometime a local cashed it in. A community is only a sum total of its members, rich and poor. Get too greedy and we all end up sloshing around in the muck.

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