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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Debt Brought US Down, Only We Can Rescue Ourselves

If your not life is not being impacted in any way by the current economic disaster you must be a subsistence farmer working your fields on the side of a mountain somewhere. Even those farmers have almost no access to modern health care, education or future opportunities for their children.

Mountain Village of Ossanite 00002

I do not advocate buying nothing of foreign origin whatsoever. Rising nationalism and trade embargoes were among the primary causes of World War Two. However, it is important to understand the true reasons your daughter or son or you yourself cannot find a job. 

Do not rush to blame the Bernie Madoffs and Lehman Brothers in New York just yet. It is true those people are having an impact on our economy but they are not the primary reasons our nation may soon default on all debts and collapse in an economic heap. These large financial crimes hurt mostly the very wealthiest people, although we are all being forced to pay for their huge crimes. Retirement funds and 401ks are where most people put away cash for their senior years. Those funds can lose a great deal of money when major financial firms fold.

Reasons for 2008 Recession

  • The piling of many risky home mortgages into one large investment, an investment that often failed.
  • Rich people pulled back many other investments, putting the money into gold or art or other "safe" investments, like government bonds.
  • Investments in emerging markets were drastically reduced.
  • Businesses laid off employees as customer bases shrank.
  • People stopped buying big ticket items like washers or cars.
  • Families and individuals took fewer vacations.
  • People on unemployment spend less. Far less. They also miss home mortgage payments, and lose their homes to foreclosure.

We spent more than we will earn for too many years. This major fault line runs though our nation and our individual lives. It is the primary cause of what is happening in the U.S. and around the world.

USS Freedom 076492

We borrowed more than we could ever repay to build our mighty Navy and Army. We borrowed to buy a house in the suburbs and the car to get us back and forth to our distant jobs. We borrowed from the value of our homes, using home equity loans, to take vacations, pay for extra rooms, or buy digital television sets. We borrowed to go to college and we borrowed to take our wives to that fancy restaurant down the street.

We failed to save for a rainy day and now that rainy day is upon us.

Our government has no choice but to borrow more money from the wise Chinese. China decided to save up much of the money Americans spent on Chinese goods; at discount stores or electronics outlets.

Enough about the problems, what solutions must we consider?

Right now many Americans are staying home more nights, saving what little they can after the credit cards, bills and home mortgage are paid. For some families, this is probably a very good thing for them to be doing. Personally, I have worked out my budget for the next few years and set aside some money every week to spend at locally-operated establishments where I socialize or buy essentials. If I do not spend some money in those places they will close up. Many neighboring businesses already have gone out of business. If I soon fail altogether, there are places in the Third World that will welcome a talented computer, farming and language instructor. Been there, done that.

Failed Market House, Annapolis 073941

If you can afford it, you must continue to spend some of the money left over after the bills are paid. Consumer spending makes up 70% or more than two thirds of the U.S. economy. If you stop spending in your local community, the businesses will close and crime and property taxes will go up. If you stop spending money on American-made products, American private-sector jobs will nearly all vanish. Finally, the value of your home will continue to fall well below the value of the mortgage you are trying to pay off. In most places in our country 90% of our fellow citizens are still employed.

Murphy's Law at Castlebay 074285

If you work for the government or a place that exists primarily to fulfill government contracts, do not fool yourself into thinking this problem is not your problem. You may soon need a second job or even another job. My dear friend just returned from a trip to California, she told me she saw more homeless people in the streets than she has ever seen in her life, anywhere in the world. Of course, she has never lived in Kolkatta or Port au Prince like I have. Many of those homeless people my friend saw were formerly working on government building contracts. California may not have the money to make the state payroll as soon as next month.

Down and Out, Annapolis 48669

I do not want to sound like former President Bush after the events of September 11, 2001, telling everyone to go out and spend. I do suggest that those who can afford to support local establishments do so, within their means. Buy American products if the choice is there before you, unless you somehow expect Japanese or Chinese firms to give you a job. I realize there are Americans working for Honda, Toyota and other foreign-owned firms. For them it may well be a good thing to send part of their earnings to Tokyo or Beijing. For most Americans that is not a wise choice, unless you plan to start living on incomes equivalent to poor laborers in China, India or Japan.

Market Day,  Purulia District 00018

These are difficult times that require tough choices. China and India are still growing, albeit at a slower pace. The governments and people in those places will adjust to life with fewer exports to Western nations. Many people are already returning to family farms to ride out this recession. In the United States most of us simply don't have the luxury of returning to subsistence farming.

Amish Women 026

Links

New York Times article
Washington Post article
Second New York Times article

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Cleaning Up Our Act: Ethically and Environmentally

Strange Bedfellows: Pollution and Greed

Lately there is a growing amount of public attention in being paid to moral standards and hazards to our environment. These two concerns have rarely shared the limelight at the same time in history.

New York City 18656

In the past collapsing markets have turned scam artists like Bernie Madoff into floaters, rising to the surface of financial cesspools. Certain types of fraud, like Ponzi schemes, only function as long as the general public attitude remains optimistic. In rapidly growing economies corruption is perhaps viewed by some leaders as just one more cost of doing business. It was rare to hear government leaders complaining about CEO's annual million-dollar salaries and private jets while campaign contributions and quarterly dividends kept arriving on schedule.

Power Plant 050039s

In contrast, real environmental threats have often been overlooked when there was no money to support such causes. The original Kyoto Protocol exempted the pollution of poor China and India. In developed nations some coal-burning power plants were granted exceptions to the requirements for expensive smokestack scrubbers. Ships and airplanes have been allowed to continue spewing waste for the sake of global commerce. This is all changing now for a good reason: total cost in terms of health to human society. China, for example, is slowly recognizing that chronic air pollution is sapping productivity.

St Louis, Missouri 00002

Now that money is tight and unemployment is rising it is easy to see why attention is being paid to corporate thieves. Most people find it unthinkable that one man is paid a bonus of $25 million dollars for a year's work, no matter how skilled that person may be. When that same corporate executive comes crawling to government leaders for an emergency loan it takes no genius to cry "Foul!" Like pollution, corporate greed is also sucking the life out of economies all around the world.

Currency 077497s

Mismanagement in Exchange for Millions

The system of executive compensation has grown into quagmire. The only solution the top dogs can come with is to fire all the people making $50,000 a year. Five hundred people get shown the exit door to the save the cost of employing one CEO. Finally, the bosses decide to issue more stock and the existing stockholders lose all hope of returns and head for the exit themselves.

These supposedly genius leaders never stop to listen to the solutions offered by the little people. Proposals made by ordinary employees or stockholders are too quickly rejected by the MBAs upstairs. It is time someone in-charge started to listen to the people that invest all their time or money in the enterprises they are running into the ground.

Public Health as a Shared Cost

You need to think outside the banks to discover the reasons leaders are paying attention to the small voices crying out over the environment and public health.

Air pollution, food contamination, and the declining health of the world's oceans are all signs of a greater immorality. Almost everyone is implicated when it comes to the hydrocarbons spewing from our tailpipes. Food producers thought they were saving money by using a cheaper supplier of peanut butter. Baby formula allowed new mothers to quickly return to work, albeit at a cost to their children's immune systems. Now many new mothers are learning they can feed their babies naturally and still go back to work. The chemicals and waste pouring into our bodies, the seas, and skies are the results of our daily decisions, along with a measure of corruption, to be sure.

Sleeping Baby 15751

The convenience of private cars, cheap labor, and Similac sometimes comes at a steep price in terms of public health. Health care is a public expense in many parts of the world and moving quickly in that direction in places like the United States, India, and China. When people get sick and everyone must pay for it the issue draws more public scrutiny.

People will need to be hired if we are to solve the problems associated with health care and food quality. We can reduce the cost of healthcare paperwork and mistakes by using computers. The jobs of some claims processors may be lost while computer programmers, accountants, and trainers find more work. More food safety inspectors will need to be hired and trained.

White House, Washington DC 077787

Forward-thinking leaders are even starting to envision the job of cleaning up our planet as a stimulus for economic growth. There are new industries to be created in the fight against global warming. Developing new solar panels, wind turbines, electric cars, and other sources of clean energy will require new technologies as well as re-tooling factories. President Obama seems to understand this equation even as most Republican leaders refuse to. India is another place where the leaders have already started listening to the little people.

Leaders must do more than say they are willing to take $1 salary for a year. The bosses need to learn to listen more carefully to the people far down the ladder that support, serve, or invest in them. There are voices and minds out there offering real, workable solutions. It is not just a matter of forsaking pride now, it is a matter of survival.

Links

New Yorker Magazine on Breast Feeding
New York Times column on India's environmental ideas

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Could Ice have brought down Flight 3407?

UPDATE 02/15/09: It is rather disturbing to learn that the pilots decided to continue flying on auto-pilot even as they discussed the icing issues they were having. That model of Bombardier aircraft had a very sophisticated de-icing system installed.

The exact cause of last night's tragic crash of Continental Connection Flight 3407 from Newark, N.J.will not be known for some time. The National Transportation Safety Board is always very thorough with investigations. It is important, however, to review a widely known hazard to flight safety: ice.

New York from Newark 08876

The facts that are known at this time hint at several possible scenarios. The plane was flying at a low altitude of perhaps 2,500 feet above the ground level (AGL). It was flying in a snowstorm. The pilots of other aircraft flying in the same region at approximately the same time reported ice accumulation on their wings.

The Bombardier Q400 aircraft involved in the accident was a turbo-prop or propeller-driven aircraft. It is a very advanced model but, like all aircraft, still very susceptible to weather and pilot error, the two major causes of most accidents.

A recent (January, 2009) article on a website called "America's Flyways" provides significant details about the impact ice has on an aircraft in flight. I remember my flight school instructors telling me in no uncertain terms how accumulating ice reduces the ability of an aircraft's wings to provide lift. The ice actually changes the shape of the wing, in addition to adding considerable weight. Ice has long been proven to have a very great impact on aircraft propellers. Even though planes are equipped with various types of de-icing systems, there is always the threat of the ice striking the various surfaces of the plane as it is removed by these systems during flight.

Here are two outlines of the de-icing systems installed on the Q-400:
  • The Ice Detection System (IDS) assists in determining ice build-up and sends this information to the pilots in the flight compartment so that they can take the appropriate action.
  • The Pneumatic De-ice System (used in this airplane) removes ice accumulated on the leading edges of the wings, horizontal and vertical stabilizers, and the inlet lip of the engine nacelles.
  • The leading edges of the propeller blades are electrically de-iced.
  • The Anti-icing Systems are thermal, using electrical heating elements to prevent ice formation.
The Ice and Rain Protection System (IRPS) have these sub-systems:
  1. Air Intake De-icing
  2. Pitot and Static Anti-Icing System
  3. Windshield and Windows Ice and Rain Protection
  4. Propellers Ice Protection
  5. Ice Detection System
  6. Airframe De-icing Systems

Annapolis Ice Storm 70358

As I stated in my opening paragraph, it is important to let the NTSB investigators do their job. But it never hurts to remind pilots to be more cautious when flying into winter storms.

Links:

America's Flyways article
New York Times article
Washington Post article #1
Washington Post article #2

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Fixing America's Job Application, Training, and Job Placement Monster

Today U.S. firms announced they are eliminating at least another 43,000 jobs. Each month nearly 500,000 jobs seem to vanish from the U.S. economy. Yet, many politicians and news outlets seem to be trying to direct our attention to all kinds of other problems like health care, terrorism, and Wall Street. Sure they all mention the job losses but after the numbers and company names are given the story seems to abruptly end.

Obama on Corcoran Gallery 077801

President Obama has clearly stated that job creation, or at least stopping job losses will be a priority for his administration. The amount of money Washington is talking about spending in attempts to jump-start the economy is huge. That latest figures put that number at the better part of one trillion dollars!

One major issue no leader or news source seems to want to address in detail is the fractured employment application, training, and placement process.

U.S. Capitol, Washington DC 077583

Ask anyone who has been hunting for a job about the problems with the process. Talk to anyone who has been unemployed for more than a few weeks and they will tell you all about this huge problem. It all relates to three major areas of serious national concern, except there seems to be little concern for any of these three areas.

  1. Job Location and Application Process
  2. Career Training and Re-training
  3. Job Placement or Hiring

Before going into the details and associated problems with each of these important job-related areas, I want to state one undeniable fact.

There absolutely needs be a better way to get millions of people back working again.

Avocado and MacBook 077481

Our country has created some of the best computers and computer software ever invented. While there may be a shortage of scientists there is no shortage of human resources professionals. There is probably more than one computer for every man, woman, and child in this nation. Surely we can put all these important pieces of the puzzle together to create a better, more efficient way for people to find a job, perhaps receive some additional training, and ultimately get hired.

That is the goal of this research project. In the days ahead there will be an examination of each step in the current job application process. There will be solutions offered to many important questions about getting hired. Finally, there will be an outline and description of what a vastly improved job application and hiring process should look like.

NOTE: Most of this project stands completed on my desktop right now, but it exists on multiple pieces of paper and computer documents. If you are currently unemployed, please continue to apply for jobs the old way. There may be little chance that any organization, public or private, actually wants to improve the job application process. I am doing this project with the slight hope that perhaps some group will become interested in the actual process of getting millions of people back working again. Thank you for your patience.

I. Job Location and Application Process

There are private job search sites out there like Careerbuilder, Monster, and SimplyHired. Most newspapers have some sort of employment section. There's Craiglist, Snagajob, and many other aggregators of potential work opportunities. At the government level, each state along with the federal government and many individual agencies have thousands of web pages dedicated to job listings and the job application process. Most private corporations have a "Careers" section hidden somewhere on their home page. On top of all this most employment counselors will tell you the majority of open jobs are not listed anywhere, you have to know somebody to find out about the vacancy.

No matter how you find about a job opening you might possibly qualify for, your uphill struggle is only just about to begin.

To begin each on-line job application you will usually find it necessary to create a new account with a different web site. Applicants then must begin to learn how to use each employment web site, because no two job application web sites are exactly alike, not nearly. Some companies require the applicant to use Microsoft Internet Explorer, but only a few actually tell you this important fact. Many job sites are really just a back door to another web site. That other web site requires you to create a different account. Sometimes there is almost no clue provided to the name of the company you are actually applying to work for. Quite a few job applications will never even be seen by a human, computers read them, look for a few important terms and toss the rest of the applications in the Recycle Bin.

If and when you wade through all the web pages required to complete one job application don't expect to ever hear about that application or job again. Most web sites seem to eat up your job application and provide very little or even no details about what might happen next. If you are lucky you will get a confirmation e-mail saying that you application was successfully completed. If you are unlucky you will start to receive SPAM messages about fake jobs or jobs that have nothing to do with the one you thought you were applying for.

Now you are all ready to begin this mind-numbing process all over again with the next possible job.

Cover Letters

There are still many employers that want you to write a cover letter and mail or e-mail that letter along with your completed application or résumé. This is an important step you will want to be extremely careful about. One small error anywhere in that cover letter will get result in your application being tossed into the garbage.


II. Career Training and Re-training

There are still some jobs available in most communities, no matter how dire the situation may seem. One big issue is that the remaining jobs require a very specific set of skills and experience, with no exceptions indicated by most employers

Tom at Suitland HS 000170

III. Job Placement or Hiring

Would you consent to being interviewed for a job through the Internet? Would you be willing to talk with an actual human resources person at an actual company, using your computer? What about doing this face-to-face, with a webcam? What if almost the entire hiring process could be done through a voice-activated or even visual interface, with very little typing required?

That is how many people will be hired for jobs in the years ahead. Despite any fears you might have about doing things that way it is going to happen soon or later.

In this next section there will be small and large improvement to all the different steps involved in the job placement, interview, and hiring process.

Creating New Jobs


It is also very important for us to identify significant areas and ways to create new and useful jobs for the unemployed. In this section we will examine many different places in private and public organizations where new positions would make the most sense.

Public and Private Education Initiatives

There seems to be widespread consensus that America lacks skilled employees in certain key fields. Computer scientists, math or science teachers, nurses, and general practioners are just a few occupations that immediately come to mind. Many business managers can also point out the need for new skills among existing employees. Local community colleges report a deluge of people applying for software training and computer courses. Rebuilding America's roads, bridges, and other public works will require armies of skilled tradesmen. If there really are shortages of people with these skills then these shortages need to be viewed as opportunities to create new, long-term positions for courseware developers, educators, trainers, administrators and all the other people required to operate productive schools.

It is obvious that some skilled positions require years of training. To achieve the goal of filling these and many other critical-need positions we need to begin the education process soon. Now is the perfect time.

What about Food Inspectors and other empty Government positions?

Military bases, intelligence agencies, and their contractors have thousands of jobs available. They cannot find the people they need to hire for these jobs. They just don't have enough American applicants they can trust. It is all a matter of who has the top-secret security clearances required for these jobs. So all those jobs related to national security remain unfilled, year after year.

There is also a backlog of people waiting for their security clearance to come through.

Many other people that started working at intelligence agencies after 2001 have quit. They got tired of the bureaucracy that kept them from doing their jobs properly.

Unemployment offices across the nation are understaffed. They are falling critically behind with the task of processing new claims for unemployment benefits. Job placement counselors are in short supply. Yet, they also are continuing to lay off staff at unemployment offices in many states.

There is a salmonella outbreak spreading across the nation. The FDA admits they do not inspect every food plant. In fact, they do not require plants that discover contamination to even report this issue. It is obvious there simply are not enough food inspectors working at the FDA.

The U.S. Army does not have enough people to check the hearing of soldiers.

The Security and Exchange Commission (SEC) did not have enough examiners or training to detect scandals like the Madoff Ponzi scheme or Lehman Brothers failure.

The U.S. State Department needs more people in the foreign service.

The Peace Corps has fallen short on their goals for recruitment.

Many school districts across the nation do not have the teachers they need to teach the students enrolled. They are still continuing to lay off teachers due to budget problems.

All of these issues are real and they are preventing people from getting back to work at important jobs that really need to be done. These are government jobs, not auto factory or retail or airline jobs. They are all empty and yet they need to be filled, in many cases public safety is compromised by keeping these jobs vacant.

Many U.S. citizens are in need of jobs. At the same time it is apparent we need thousands of additional workers like the food inspectors or unemployement office workers, at the state and federal level. How about hiring and training the unemployed to fill these jobs? That sounds like a very wise use of a small part of the $1 trillion financial stimulus package. Or shall we keep giving the money to bankers so they can spend millions redecorating their offices and buying private jets?

Realistic Retirement, For the Good of the Nation

As a graduate of Pennsylvania State University, I do appreciate the contributions of head football coach Joe Paterno. I really do. I am also very grateful for the contributions of many U.S. Senators including Massachusett's senator Ted Kennedy and West Virginia's Robert Byrd. There are very elderly college professors that provide us with some of the best educational experiences possible, but there are some that need to consider retirement. These workers and thousands of others in their late 70s and 80s need to seriously consider letting other people take over their roles.

I love and respect senior citizens. I spend more time with them than most people I know. I certainly am not speaking to the 70-year old man or woman that needs that job at Wal-Mart or McDonalds in order to supplement a meager Social Security income. I am suggesting that seniors that have made a significant amount of money and could easily afford to retire do just that.

Certainly they should stay around long enough to train the person or persons that will fill their shoes, if necessary. Maybe the next best place for their unique services is in the expanded education programs mentioned above. But now is an opportune time for them to contribute their jobs to the rapidly shrinking pool of positions available. Obviously someone already employed will likely get the positions held by such respected elders in any organization. Another person will get the vacancy that the new coach or senator leaves behind. Finally, perhaps even far down the organization chart, new jobs will open up. This is the way viable firms operate.

It should not be left up to governments to mandate new retirement ages or enact any new laws to require people to leave their jobs at any particular age. The individuals themselves should consider the positive or negative benefits and proceed with the best course of action for them, their employers, and their society.





References and Links

Washington Post Article

Federal government jobs

Careerbuilder
Monster
SimplyHired
Craiglist
Snagajob

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

First Coca-Cola, now Wal-Mart is using Diesel-Electric Hybrids

A few months ago I spotted a new trend on the streets of Maryland's state capital. Coca-Cola had suddenly started using diesel electric hybrid delivery trucks. This hardly seemed surprising with the cost of diesel fuel edging up to $5/gallon at the time.

Hybrid Coca Cola Truck, Annapolis 062151

Now Wal-Mart is considering the use of these diesel electric hybrid trucks.
Reuters article:Wal-Mart testing new hybrid trucks.

London Financial Times article:Wal-Mart tests diesel-electric

Although this truck is a Kenworth, they are looking at the Peterbilt models that use the Eaton hybrid drive system. Medium Duty Hybrids, from Peterbilt site

The leader in this medium-duty hybrid field seems to be Paccar. They are supplying the engines used by Kenworth and Peterbilt.

Hybrid Coca Cola Truck, Annapolis 062154

Link to Paccar

Mind of Mike

Earlier Alternative Energy Posts

Oil and Power Resist Alternatives
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