Category Archives: Economy

An Opportunity for Clean Coal

People say there’s no such thing as clean coal, but there is a such a thing as cleaner coal. Coal gasification plants convert coal to gas, and emit much less carbon than regular coal plants. The Bush Administration made much of this—then permitted around 30 coal plants in the American West, none of which were gasification plants.

The rationale? Too expensive. These plants do cost more to build, and of course, that drives up the cost of power, which in turn drives up the cost of most everything else. Coal is one of the cheapest sources of electricity we have. In a recession, who wants to pay more for such a basic commodity?

But now we have a major opportunity to clean up our air, one the Obama Administration, the Democrats—and everyone else, really—might be hypocritical to miss.

As I mentioned in my last post, China, India, and other rapidly growing third-world economies are making a bid to buy U.S. coal. Which means coal prices are going up anyway. If that’s the case, why not say no to foreign buyers, build the gasification plants—build even more of them than we planned, and consume more of our own coal? Our own demand would compensate U.S. suppliers.

And then, while we’re generating all that extra capacity, why not hook it up to some factories to build some wind turbines and solar panels for the large-scale production we’re going to need not too far down the road?

U.S. consumers are going to take a hit in coal prices either way. We might as well channel that production domestically and gain the benefit of cleaner air and a direct investment in the coming switch.

A Dear John Letter to the Democrats

You’ve taken me for granted, haven’t you? Women have been a core constituency of yours and now we’re deserting you. Wondering what you did wrong? I heard you were telling yourself we wanted to spend more time with the girls—you know, Sarah Palin and the other cool chicks—but that’s ridiculous. We didn’t even like girls like her in school.

You and me, we never got married. I always stayed unaffiliated, but all the same, I never voted for anyone else. I never even dated anyone else. I’m not sure I’ve ever even slept with a Republican. It just didn’t sound like any fun.

So, I won’t be voting for them, even if you tell me it’s the same thing. But for the first time in my life, I don’t think I’ll actually be voting for many of you. I know, I know. I’ve heard all the arguments about opting out of democracy. I’ve even made them time and again. But I think I’m going to try celibacy for a while. Wake me up when it’s over.

Oh, you’re asking why? Well, you never call, you never write. Then, every six months or so, you send this slick, handsome guy to sweet talk me, on TV usually, or on a whirlwind tour though my state. He’s hot all right, and he says all the right things. But it’s always too little, too late, and (in)actions speak louder than words. Mom always said so, and you know what? She was right.

One thing I’ve noticed about you, and the same is true about the other party, is that you don’t know or care about the middle class. Oh, you get the poor, and you get the rich, but you don’t get me. When you talked about healthcare, you were all about insuring the poor. Don’t get me wrong, I think they need access to medical care, and I guess it’s all just as well, because by the time you get around to me, I’ll be among them anyway.

I just read that China and India will be buying up U.S. coal, and apparently you will allow this to happen. That means the cost of power will go up, which means the cost of everything will go up for middle-class people like me. Of course, I would like it if we didn’t need so much coal, but I can’t trust you to be effective at leading the switch to renewables. And anyway, we need our coal today in order to manufacture enough wind turbines and solar arrays to deliver our future power needs. I was expecting you to have started doing way more of that already, by the way. Selling off our coal advances neither economic nor environmental recovery, and it shows how little attention you are paying to anything.

You might not have been the one who got me into this mess, but you sure kicked me when I was down, and I’m not going to forgive you. I’m going to the polls, because I believe in voting, but I won’t be voting for most of the mainline candidates.

I saw an ad from recently from the Democratic party with a bunch of people saying how they “just can’t” vote for a Republican senatorial candidate in Colorado. Neither can I. But I just can’t support you, either.

I can’t stand being taken for granted.

Withholding Benefits on New Hires

This’ll be a short post because I’m nearly speechless. It’s bad enough to be without a job. But it turns out people who are finally getting them are being told that there’s a waiting period before they can have benefits. Three, and in some cases, six months. Before they can have health insurance.

I’ve experienced this practice with 401(k)s, and that was obnoxious enough, with all the job hopping we’ve had to do in the past 10 years and the spottiness this has led to regarding our retirement savings. But health insurance? Um, what are people and their families supposed to do? It’s pretty hard as it is with companies not paying for dependent premiums, which can run  to outlays of $700-$900 per family per month (think of all the college savings that’s not happening because of this), which if you’re a teacher or work in public child welfare or something can eat close to half your salary.

Meanwhile, what are these families supposed to do if something happens in those first months on the job? And how are they covering prescription meds, especially if their savings have been exhausted by long periods of unemployment and COBRA expenditures? I was just wondering, because this new-hire situation just happened to someone I know and I’d never heard of it before.

I’ve got a feeling that #hcr is not going to address this issue.

Longer Life Spans and Social Security

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Again, they’re talking about increasing the age of social security payouts—to age 70, it’s been proposed, for those born in 1968 or later. Which means that any moment now the discussion will shift to those born in 1965. Then 1963. This is because we’re all living longer.

They say. This is based on the fact that baby boomers are living longer.

They say. Because the Greatest Generation lived pretty long.

It’ll all get better for each generation, because progress is a given in America.

Right. Here’s why I have my doubts that my generation (X-Boom cusp) will either live as long or be as healthy when we get there: 

  • We don’t have wives
  • We don’t have steady, secure jobs, so we’re spiking cortisol at the wrong time in our lives and building up lots of arterial and brain plaque
  • We work much harder, with longer hours and with shorter and fewer vacations (jeez, some of our parents took entire months at the lake or the Cape)
  • We don’t have time to work out or cook the way we used to, even 10 years ago, because of outsourcing and other demands at work—so even when we think of ourselves as fit and healthy, we’re probably not
  • We had children much later and no one knows the long-term effects of this on hormone balance, sleep patterns, and life span
  • We suffer from unprecedented levels of sleep deprivation, estimated to kill you about 10 years earlier
  • We take tons of prescription drugs for reasons no one in our parents’ generation ever even heard of, and again no one knows how this will affect us long-term
  • Obesity and diabetes are rampant, and while some of us may want to distance ourselves from those who make “lifestyle choices” associated with these conditions, this will nonetheless mess up our overall actuarials
  • Pollution, fertilizers, genetic modifications, pesticides, and general soil depletion will have unknown consequences

I see no reason to assume that the longer life spans currently enjoyed by today’s retirees can be projected for younger generations. And even if, by some streak of luck, we do live as long, there are a host of genetic issues that healthy lifestyle choices can’t change, including hearing impairment and vision degeneration (healthy choices, such as running, can even cause joint damage), and that insurance agencies and employers may not want to underwrite.

The Boomers and the Greatest Gen got to retire a few years before their quality of life was affected by these conditions, and they ran around on our tab. I hope we can enjoy a few years of retirement also, before we go blind, deaf, and lame.

By most accounts, we’ve worked harder than they did, and harder than GenY is likely to.