Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Congratulations President Obama

Many congratulations to our new President. May his time in office be successful!
Yesterday's inauguration was indeed historic, because for the first time, a black man became President of the United States of America. Yet for me, apart from the history of that event, President Obama's skin color has no bearing on his work as President. It would appear I am not alone in that view. Juan Williams has expressed similar thoughts (of course, much better than I could!). In all, I think that his thoughts and mine are also summed up in those famous words of Martin Luther King Jr. about a man being judged by the content of his character not the color of his skin - truly great words.
I am sure I am not always going to agree with President Obama, but when I do disagree, I hope that I can do so within the guidelines set forth in this article by Andy Levy. If I can do that, I will not only be doing good things to advance political dialog in the US, but will also be showing myself to be more mature than those who have suffered from BDS these last eight years. A worthy goal, I think!
So, here is my first area of disagreement (didn't take long, did it - but that is the beauty of the US - I am FREE to disagree with anyone!). Instead of a bunch of stimulus spending that is inevitably going to be earmarked, wasted and go to feed political and other types of corruption, why not simply suspend the payroll (FICA) taxes for one year. Everyone who earns pays a little more than 7% of their wages in FICA taxes on the first $100K or so of their earnings. The company that employs them (or they themselves, if they are self employed) matches this payment. To not pay it for one year would reduce government income by $625 billion (see this report). This is less than the $850 billion (and climbing) currently proposed in this (first) stimulus package. Plus, this puts one's faith in the ability and collective wisdom (or lack thereof) of the American people, as opposed to the ability and collective wisdom (or lack thereof) of a bunch of politicians in Washington DC. How about it President Obama?

Friday, January 2, 2009

Starting to Think About Energy

Just some initial thoughts about the US energy situation. We use energy as a nation primarily in three ways: we use electricity, we use energy for travel (primarily gas and diesel at present) and we use energy for space heating (some of this is electric, some gas, some heating oil, some wood burning, some coal, and no doubt a little bit of geothermal and solar).
Any coherent energy policy has to think about all these uses, rather than just one in isolation. As an example, suppose we decide that our policy is going to be to encourage electric cars (plug in hybrids or some such). We had best plan on increasing our electrical generating capacity significantly or we will not be able to charge those hybrids when needed.
Wikipedia has an interesting overview page on energy usage in the US. It includes a number of charts and so forth which provide some useful background. The above chart shows energy usage (not just electricity) in the US in 2004. About 45% of the residential usage is for space heating and water heating, while about 19% of commercial usage is for those purposes. Most of transportation is oil based, whether aviation (12% of transpo), diesel (21%) or gasoline (61%). The net result of this is that at least 60% of the total energy usage in the US (probably more than this, since some of that space and water heating will be electrical) has to be generated by electricity.
All of this will have to play into the mix as we try (if indeed we do try - as far as I can tell we haven't had an energy policy ever in the US, so you could argue that we don't need one now!) to work out an energy policy for the US. More to follow!

Thursday, January 1, 2009

New Year's Day

Greetings to all my loyal readers (which, of course, assumes I have any, which in turn seems unlikely!):
It being New Year's Day, and all, it seems an opportune time to do some thinking about the coming year. First of all, how about grounding me in reality - take a look at my last few blogs (from before the election) and see just how wrong I was - talk about Oops! In fact, about the only prognosis from last year on which I was remotely correct was one I did not talk about and did not (to my own loss) act upon. And that was my prediction that the price of oil would drop down to below $100 a barrel before the end of the year. I actually thought it might get as low as $80 a barrel, so I did not see how low it would go, but if only I had shorted oil when it was $147, I would now be amazingly rich! Of course, much more likely is that would have guaranteed that the price of oil stayed high. So, what do I know?
All of which means that my prognostications are not terribly useful, so I will try and refrain from them for the duration of the year. However, what I will do on this blog is share my thoughts about what we need as a Nation (after all, why aim for simple things?) especially in regard to energy, infrastructure, and education (about all three of which I know a bit) and the economy (about which I know almost nothing, but that won't stop me :)).
In regards to my goals for the year, well I turn 50 this year, and I need to get myself fit and healthy (a good way of celebrating that birthday milestone). To get specific, I have to lose significant weight, with a goal of 168 lbs (although I would be thrilled with anything below 180!). How big is that challenge? Well, I am 211 lbs today, so...
Of course, to get there I will need to follow the Bloom County diet - eat less and exercise! I want to do some exercise every day on either the treadmill or the elliptical, and cut back on fattening foods. On the food side, I want at the end of each day to be able to easily identify five fruit or veggie servings I have had that day. So far today, three - two satsumas and an OJ. I have also done my exercise today (48 minutes on the treadmill) so for one day at least I am being pretty good.
Other resolutions - I will have to think about those some. One good thing though - I got the last of four reports submitted yesterday, so my desk is clear of major writing assignments at this time. That means I should be able to finish one book this year, and get another well forward, and yes, those are resolutions.
So, in between my postings on energy and the like, I will try to intersperse my progress on my resolutions - we shall see...