The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It

What constitutes winning leadership?  The answer that has come back from study after study is that whether it is in a family setting, in the workplace or in government it is that those who direct our activities are consistent in their behavior.

It seems to be an innate part of our nature that we like certainty.  We wake up each morning expecting the sun to be there; we catch a regular train on our commute to work; we have our favorite spots to go for meals or certain special foods that we enjoy eating at home; we look forward to March Madness and the Super Bowl; we enjoy the feeling of festivity and friendship and warmth that comes from sharing the Holidays with our relatives and friends.  Such is human nature – and as a member of that group – I share those feelings.

As I reflected on this I thought about the leadership that we have seen out of Washington, D. C. in recent years.  I thought about this in terms of two separate but very important areas which affect all of us – the first being the omnibus healthcare legislation which is now being reviewed by the Supreme Court and the second, our energy policy.

On the surface and without engaging in a debate as to the delivery mechanisms, it would seem that a caring society would want to include as many if not all its members in a program to ensure their health and well-being.  That is how President Obama’s healthcare plan has been presented to us and those who are supporters will find comfort in their belief that this is good legislation.

So for purposes of conversation, let’s accept that it is just that – good legislation and good policy.  Its inclusiveness will reach out to those who currently are unable to purchase healthcare insurance – which should include a significant number of our financially poorer citizens.  As a person who believes that helping others is both a personal responsibility as well as a societal obligation, I endorse the theory and presumed motivation behind this concept.

Now let’s look at the administration’s views on energy.  I re-blogged a post yesterday by Green Mountain Scribes entitled “Out of Touch Obama”.  This article makes a very strong case for the administration’s determination to see that energy prices increase significantly – in order to push us towards a more environmentally-friendly solution to develop clean fuels and sources for our energy needs.  Again, I support that concept of reducing our carbon emissions – but let me share with you the reality off that quest.

Several years ago I investigated the possibility of installing solar panels on my house.  I had already taken as many steps as I could to reduce my energy consumption – improving insulation and just turning things off.  So I finally found a company that had the capability of installing solar panels on my home and eliminating any electric demands I would have to make on NV Energy – our local electric utility.

After the Federal and Nevada credits were applied, my net cost to totally solarize a modest-sized home was approximately $120,000.  (As the market in housing had already started on its precipitous decline – I could have purchased two or perhaps three small houses here for that investment).  So I reviewed the economics of this and ultimately decided that it would take me approximately 80 years to recover my solar investment – but I stood a far greater chance of being able to develop a rental income and perhaps make a profit on the sale of the alternative home investment if that were the route that I pursued.  As it turned out, I did neither of these.

It is my understanding that with the improvement in the production and cost reduction in solar panels, three years later (and without benefit of government subsidies), I could now have that installation done for a cost of about $75,000.  Based on my current electric usage that still would require about 50 years to recoup my investment.  In other words, we are a very long way from getting the costs of environmentally-friendly solar panels down to where they are affordable for the average individual.  And, of course, they have a limited geographical value because of the presence or absence of consistent sunlight.

But in the meanwhile, rising oil and gas prices have a very direct and immediate impact on all of us.  As I drove from the dog park two weeks ago, I remember one day as I passed a 7-11 on my way home that the price at the pump was changed twice that day and again the following morning.  (By changed I mean raised).  So the current administration’s policy is having the effect of draining spendable dollars, vitally needed to get our economic recovery on track, and putting those dollars in their gas tanks so that those who still have jobs can get to work.

But there is a far more insidious consequence to all of this as it relates to the health of our citizenry.  Rising prices for fossil fuels means rising costs for utility services.

I remember reading, during periods of extreme weather both hot and cold, about how many elderly people and young children died because they or their parents couldn’t afford to pay their utility bills and did without the benefits of heat or air conditioning.  An increase in the price of these services will certainly mean that even more people should expect to succumb to this fate should we again experience extreme weather conditions which are apparently becoming more the norm than the exception.

As we work toward a viable renewable energy system (which by the most optimistic estimates will provide no more than ten percent of our needs), is it reasonable or moral to treat the most vulnerable members of our society as mere pawns, readily sacrificed for the ultimate greater good?  This question is particularly important as it is these very people whom we purportedly seek to benefit in our strategy of expanding our healthcare system.

I for one would rest more comfortably if I felt that those who are making decisions that affect all of us were true leaders and made decisions which were consistent.



  1. I’m very glad that you wrote this because you have explained the whole ‘Green Energy’ nonsense in a way that is far more understandable than what I, or the rest of us in the field, can do. We all get so bogged down in the marshy weeds that we lose sight of our goal. Thanks.

    Your point on solar is exactly what I have found, the return on Investment (ROI) is so unbelievably bad (even with tax subsidies) that no one who can add 2+2 is going to do it: thus Solyndra and the rest.

    As to fuel prices, I couldn’t agree more. The people that are hurt most by these policies are the defenseless ones. Many of us in better circumstances can actually control our energy expenditures better than say the clerk at the Quick Shop. Often we can work from home sometimes or whatever, they can’t, that have to physically be there.

    Leadership is pretty much leadership, and if the goal is to better the life of the highest proportion of the population; we are getting precious little of it right now. And yes, Consistency is necessary.

  2. Thank you so much for your comment.

    Even my self-educated Eastern European grandmother could have figured this out. She was educated in the school of “hard knocks” and applied one principle consistently to her decision making. It was called “common sense”. I am ever grateful that she taught me about this rarest of commodities.

  3. And that is the answer to almost all of the dilemmas we face. Common sense, if only it was.

    My backround isn’t that different, my dad in the ’20s buried his dad while in the 11th grade and went to work. he was the oldest at home. He managed to work all the way through the depression and learned plenty in that school of which you speak, I think he got his doctorate. I’ve had some lessons but nothing to compare with him or your grandmother. But mine (and yours, I daresay) put us ahead of about 90% of our contemporaries.

  4. Some of the important issues facing us all today are climate change, and the wanton waste of resources which will eventually run out. So most governments are trying to wake us up to future necessary changes in our lifestyle, and that leads to the deliberate rising price of services. Unfortunately this is something we all must adjust to even though it will reduce the personal wealth we’ve been accostomed to. I just can’t believe how much it would cost in the US to go solar. Something is definately wrong there as it only cost me a fraction of that cost to put solar on my roof.

    • I think that part of the difference in cost is that most panels are manufactured in Asia – so there is less shipping involved. But that can only account for part of the price gap. Perhaps you Aussies are just more advanced than we here in the U. S. and you are getting a price benefit because of higher demand. Beyond that – I really don’t know the answer.

    • Easy with the climate change, the IPCC this week said there is no basis for man caused climate change. It’s the bloody sun, and volcanoes and all that.

      I know nothing of Australia’s resources but in the US we have far in excess of 200 years worth of coal and natural gas, petroleum itself not as much but our reserves are rising. Canada is much the same, maybe more so. Our only real problem is a runaway train of an evironmental protection agency.

      We never really seem to say it out loud but the solar we tend to talk about is photovoltaic or PV, which is the direct conversion of sunlight into electricity. Because it uses thin film technology (like a transistor) but on a huge scale it’s a difficult technology and therefore expensive. The cost of production on a commercial scale is approximately 5-8 times that of coal. It’s also expensive (and privacy invading) to connect it properly to the grid.

      It’s entirely possible to build an air-to-air heat exchanger for space heating inexpensively. It’s also reasonable to use a solar air-to water system for something like 60-75% of heating (obviously depending on climate), especially with hydronic heating which doesn’t require very high temperatures; around 60 degrees C.

      But like the exotic stuff such as Trombe Walls, earth sheltered buildings, and lots of thermal mass it works better in new construction than in a retrofit scenario.

      In truth we still have effects echoing around the economy from banning chloro-fluorocarbons (CFCs) 20 years ago due to the hole in the ozone layer.

      As to transitioning to new technologies, we, and for that matter you, have always done that in the free market without government intervention, which is far more efficient.

      • The abuse heaped upon Mother Nature has finely awakened her wrath which she now expresses by lashing out at the human race through climate change.

      • OK, now explain, according to your thesis, say the Medieval warming period, or the Ice Age when, the English Channel, the Bering Strait, and the Straits of Gibraltar all dried up. Who was she taking her wrath out on then?

      • I’ll put it to you this way conservatives have outright lied about the effect of their economic policies a little too often to be considered credible in regards to global warming. Even the Bible tells us that the father above will destroy those who destroy the earth. Rev. 11:18 And the nations were angry, and thy wrath is come, and the time of the dead, that they should be judged, and that thou shouldest give reward unto thy servants the prophets, and to the saints, and them that fear thy name, small and great; and shouldest destroy them which destroy the earth.

        The Holy Bible : King James Version. electronic ed. of the 1769 edition of the 1611 Authorized Version. Bellingham WA : Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1995, S. Re 11:18

      • Links, if you want to accuse me of being a liar, you would be well advised to support your case.

        East Anglia was hardly conservative, nor were any of the so-called objective studies done. It’s a theory, one nonconforming output degrades it severely, it’s not revealed truth.

        And how many straw-men are you going to set up before you answer my question?

        “And God blessed them, and God said to them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
        American King James version.

  5. Re: is it reasonable or moral to treat the most vulnerable members of our society as mere pawns, readily sacrificed for the ultimate greater good?

    Conservatives have already answered your question in the affirmative in their defense of the very corporations who treat their employees as pawns and their willingness to allow those who can’t afford medical care to perish.

    In regards to renewable energy way back in the 70’s President Carter saw the hand writing on the wall in regards to fossil fuels and set the nation on the path to develop affordable renewable energy. Which of course conservatives opposed and Reagan shut down when he entered office so that those clean technologies were never developed to the point of being affordable.

    The reason that gas prices are so high and going higher is for two reasons: 1) the law of supply and demand and 2) even though it is cheaper to refine oil into gasoline here in the us of a the refineries prefer to sell the gasoline they produce here in the states in the marketplaces of other countries where the price of gas is much higher. As opposed to providing gas at lower prices for Americans.

    The lesson to be learned: Is to be careful for what you wish for as you just might get it.

    Now conservatives have two choices: 1) they can lie in the bed {along with the rest of us} they so willfully made. Or 2) they can stop whining, roll up their sleeves and stop being part of the problem by working towards an honest solution.

  6. “Re: is it reasonable or moral to treat the most vulnerable members of our society as mere pawns, readily sacrificed for the ultimate greater good?”

    No, it is not. It is something that only a progressive/collectivist/ or progressive would do. Conservatives believe in letting each and every individual act in their own best interest.

    Which corporations would you be referring to here? Judging by your Avatar you have clothes made by a corporation, I would guess that after your Nebraska steak with Idaho potatoes wou would enjoy some California strawberries in Wisconsin whipped cream, all grown or raised by businesses and shipped to you by American corporations, after dinner, you sit down at your computer developed by IBM using software by Microsoft to spew your nonsense while talking to your friends on your cellular (or landine) phone, all brought to you by American Corporations. Of course, all the energy you expend for this lifestyle is also brought to you by corporations.

    Are these the corporations you were referring to? The very ones that have kept you from starving to death while freezing in the dark, as you might have as recently as the mid 19th century. Or were you, perchance, referring to the crony-capitalists who bought Obama an office so they could sponge off the hard working people of this country, while living better than any king of legend?

    You go ahead and lie in that bed. We’ll continue to do the hard work necessary to support the useless mouths, just as we always have.

    Juwannadoright, I beg your pardon if I’ve overstepped the bounds of propriety here. Some days…

    • Unfortunately the political actions of the conservatives prove otherwise. The plain and simple fact is that conservatives claim one thing and do another while their ultimate goal is to dismantle our government {shrink} it to the point where it can be drowned in a bathtub.

      • When did we ever claim anything but that we want to shrink the government? Drown it in a bathtub, no. We’ve read enough history to know that a proper constitutional government is necessary. That’s why we replaced the Articles of Confederation.

        You’re confusing conservatives here with both Republicans and Libertarians. we all have some congruent interests but, are not the same. If you study your history you’ll find that while Reagan had some very good conservative ideas, the last really conservative preesident was Harding. He had a recesion that was far worse than Hoovers, but it lasted barely a year.

  7. Re: Conservatives believe in letting each and every individual act in their own best interest.

    No they do not.

    Conservatives believe in allowing doctors and those who make medicine to harm those who rely on them for medical care without the fear of punishment. That is why conservatives champions laws like the one here in Georgia that was struck down by the Georgia Supreme Court that takes away a patients right to sue.

    Conservatives don’t believe in individual freedom without undue influence by the state which is why conservatives champion laws that place the state between a woman and her doctor in regards to pregnancy.

    It was conservatives believe that corporations have the right to sell poisoned food, to dirty the nations drinking water supply and pollute the air we breathe.

    Conservatives promote economic policies that will in time ultimately recreate the conditions here in the us of a that led to the French revolution in France.

    Conservatives believe in providing health care only to those who can afford to pay for it. This is why Bush 2 signed into law while gov. of Texas a law that allows hospitals in Texas to withhold treatment from terminally ill patients and takes away their right to sue.

    When it comes right down to it the ideology of conservatism and those who promote it are just as ungodly and deficit in morals and ethics as the liberals they profess to hate.

  8. Grover Norquist a conservative activist made that statement.

  9. Re: You’re confusing conservatives here with both Republicans and Libertarians.

    I suggest then that conservatives stop voting republicans into office.

  10. Document your assertions, if you can, which I doubt. I’m not a lawyer, let alone one practicing in Georgia or Texas, so I’m not very familiar with their tort statutes. I do know this, the federal law that mandates emergency care for all patients would override any such Texas statute.

    Undue influence? Oh you mean like Warren Buffet using his influence on Obama to kill the keystone pipeline so that his railroad, the BNSF, could make money hauling Canadian oil? I told you not to confuse capitialists with crony-capitalists.

    Grover Norquist is about as much of a conservative as Barack Obama by the way.

    Document, with credible links, otherwise you’re just throwing unsupported talking points out, and I have actual work to do.

    • “In 1999, then-Gov. Bush signed the Advance Directives Act, which lets a patient’s surrogate make life-ending decisions on his or her behalf. The measure also allows Texas hospitals to disconnect patients from life-sustaining systems if a physician, in consultation with a hospital bioethics committee, concludes that the patient’s condition is hopeless.”

      “While Congress and the White House were considering legislation recently in the Schiavo case, the Texas law faced its first high-profile test. With the permission of a judge, a Houston hospital cut off life support for a badly deformed 6-month-old baby last week against his mother’s wishes after doctors determined that continuing life support would be futile. The baby died almost immediately.”

      The major problem with conservatives is that their actions never measure up to their words and they keep on voting into political office those who use words to deceive by talking the talk who then refuse to walk the walk once in office.

      This is the danger of voting for the lesser of two evils as by doing so conservatives have forfeited their claims to credibility.

  11. Holy crap! I had no idea the cost. That’s ridiculous!
    “…is it reasonable or moral to treat the most vulnerable members of our society as mere pawns, readily sacrificed for the ultimate greater good?”
    My answer: a resounding NO.

    • Well, ridiculous or not that is the current state of our solar science. I truly wish things were different – but they aren’t. The only thing to do is to be personally responsible for conservation – which is what I try to do.

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