Thursday, July 17, 2008

No Good News

The price of gas has tripled during the last eight years. Oil companies have posted record profits, and their CEO’s are enjoying unbelievably high bonuses. We the people are now reaping the rewards of having oilmen in the White House, record high gas prices, and record high food prices. If it weren’t so painful, I’d be amused listening to the complaints of those who seem surprised by what’s happened. After all, we can’t say we weren’t warned.

We’ve been here before. The OPEC embargo of 1973-74 caused a shortage of oil and gas in the US. President Nixon ordered thermostats turned down to 68, reduced highway speed limits, and air travel Carpooling and public transportation increased as gas stations closed or limited sales.

Our much-reviled former President Jimmy Carter developed a comprehensive energy plan in 1977. The oil embargo was still fresh in his mind, and he saw a chance for us to take control and diversify our energy sources with the future firmly in mind. If we’d listened to him, we wouldn’t be in the mess we’re in now. Instead, he was ridiculed for putting on a sweater and asking us to turn down the thermostat. Carter had solar panels put on the roof of the White House, and ensured that tax credits were offered to those who chose to purchase solar energy systems. Say what you will about Carter, he showed real leadership on the issue of energy. When Reagan took office, he had the solar panels ripped off and eliminated the tax credit. That’s pretty typical of the GOP energy plan: Oil, Oil, Oil, (subsidized by taxpayers) and nuclear power (subsidized by taxpayers.)

So, now we find ourselves being pinched at the pump, worrying about heating our homes, and paying for food – because of our glutinous addiction to oil, war, and of course, our consumer driven economy. When jobs disappear, paychecks remain static, and the cost of living skyrockets, it seems likely that we’ll be buying less cheap crap from China. Since we don’t manufacture much of anything any more, it will be interesting to see what happens with the economy that George Bush described this week at a press conference as “basically sound,” despite troubled financial institutions. When asked why he wasn’t asking Americans to conserve energy, he said that people were “smart enough to figure out whether or not they were going to drive less” and that “the marketplace works.” The unemployment rate in the US has hit a 2-year high, and long-term unemployment has climbed 37 percent in the last year. All of those folks are surely feeling the invisible hand of the market – flipping them the bird. There will be no leadership on the nation’s energy needs coming from the limping duck in the White House.

This week, we were treated to the comedic stylings of McCain economic advisor Phil Gramm. Gramm was quoted as saying we’ve become “a nation of whiners” and the country is only in a “mental recession.” Gramm, who is employed by Swiss Bank USB, is now a hot contender for the centerfold of the GOP compassionate conservative calendar. Presidential candidate John McCain has said that drilling offshore would provide a “psychological” boost for the country. We wouldn’t see any benefit from drilling for 10-20 years, but apparently we’ll feel better if we imagine that we’re seeing lower prices. If we can imagine hard enough, maybe we can imagine that recession away. Click your ruby slippers, folks!

The cost of gas and oil is going to have a profound effect on the economy of our area. We can’t blithely march forward into the future thinking that the steady stream of SUV’s will continue to park at our hotels, outlet stores, and chain restaurants. Some friends in Conway had to move heaven and earth to put up a windmill on their property. It’s time to rethink outmoded zoning regulations. It’s time to rethink our local energy needs, and the future of our local economy. It’s also time to rethink the bypass. It’s a waste of money. The state would be wise to invest that money in fixing bridges and dams around the state. We’d also be wise to think about reinstituting rail travel to the area, and investing in public transportation.

This week, 21 New England lawmakers sent a joint letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi asking for a $9 billion boost in federal heating aid. They also asked for an increase of $1 billion for weatherization programs that would help homeowners conserve energy and save money. They’ve asked that these funds be included in new economic stimulus bills. Our Congresswoman, Carol Shea-Porter was one of those who signed the letter, and spoke at a group press conference, as was CD 2 Congressman Paul Hodes. Our NH Congresspersons understand that the winter ahead is going to be very difficult for many NH residents.

The NH Food Bank, which supplies food to shelters, food banks, and soup kitchens around the state, reported this week that their supplies are lower than they’ve ever been. As gas and food prices increase, so will the need. Local food pantries are also feeling the pinch. All who can afford to donate food or money to local food pantries will find a printable list for Carroll County here:
Please be as generous as you can.

“Unsustainable situations usually go on longer than most economists think possible. But they always end, and when they do, it’s often painful.” Paul Krugman

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