Friday, December 22, 2006

Jack Valenti doesn't get it

In an op-ed piece in Thursday's USAToday, Jack Valenti decries the lack of appreciation that the younger generation possesses for the sacrifices of our soldiers in battle. He says, "watching [Flags of Our Fathers, the new Iwo Jima movie by Clint Eastwood], watching ordinary young men performing extraordinary feats of heroism, broke my heart. They put to hazard their own lives not to win medals, but because their country was in danger. Why, then, a casual indifference to this story by so many young people? Maybe it's because we have been so benumbed by war, particularly this Iraq war, and because so few youngsters have worn a uniform. A movie about a battle a half a century ago carries no umbilical connection to them. That's understandable. But it ought not to be."

Jack's lamentation that the younger generation lives with this indifference is in a crucial application of the words he chose: "their country was in danger." Yes, in WWII, the USA was in danger from the Axis powers, threatened by both the Nazis from the Atlantic and the rising Japan empire at the Pacific. However, there is nothing dangerous about the wars we wage today. Iraq did not pose a danger to the United States. The UN inspectors found nothing in the way of weapons of mass destruction, and despite occupying the country for over three years now, we similarly have found no evidence to suggest Sadam was an imminent threat to our country's survival and prosperity.

Thus, to pour billions of dollars, thousands of deaths of our service men and women, and all the diplomatic shame that this war has incurred upon us, is it any wonder that the average 20-something American doubts the valor of battlefield feats? This was not a war in which we can look to and be proud of our involvement, which is a key distinction between Gulf War II and WWII. We had reason to be proud of our actions in Europe and Asia. We were securing our future, while liberating allies who were at the mercy of a Fascist who wanted to rule the world. Those were noble goals. Iraq was removing a second-rate despot, and then plunging the country into confusion and rebellion.

There should always be respect paid to those people who lay down their lives in the line of service, even if we disagree with why they are there in the first place. And there is no doubt that the feats performed by the generations who fought in the world wars deserve a place of honor and respect in our hearts, for they worked to preserve liberty at home and abroad. But with the quagmire that we are finding ourselves in with respect to Iraq (not to mention Afghanistan), it should prove no suprise that impressionable people are having their glasses tinted in a way that strikes against the gung-ho military viewpoint carried by some previous generations. That is not to say we don't respect people in service. Far from it. It means we demand more from our armed forces than rushing into a situation guns blazing. Modern warfare, especially at the outset, requires planning, reconstruction, diplomacy. This is not the 40s, this is the 21st century. Update our military accordingly.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Creating jobs from Smart Energy Policy

Some choice pieces from an opinion piece by Carl Pope.

At the moment, America lacks any real plan for bringing smart energy solutions into the mainstream, and it's missing out on major job opportunities as a result. Consider the manufacturing of wind turbines as just one telling example. Iron ore mined in northern Minnesota gets shipped abroad to make steel. Danish, German, and Spanish companies then use that steel to make wind turbines. These turbines are then shipped back to the United States on boats through the Great Lakes to Duluth, where they are placed on trucks and hauled to Iowa and other states with great wind resources. America provides the raw material and pays for the finished product but gets almost none of the economic benefit, foregoing increasingly dear manufacturing jobs. As if that isn't enough, NASA invented the technology itself.
Hmm, strange how capitalism can come back and bite you in the ass, eh? Free markets can indeed strip the championing nation of its wealth. But if we were to embrace the future of energy rather than hide behind the slick curtain that will prevent us from maintaining our leadership in the world, then we are only to blame.

America does not have a national plan that requires utilities to produce any power with renewable energy, but it could. And there's no reason why the United States couldn't decide to power 10 million homes with solar roofing. To be most effective, such policies ought to be matched with incentives and publicly assisted financing to get domestic manufacturers on their feet. In fact, there are many, many things this country could be doing to create a home-grown, renewable energy economy. It's been too busy giving subsidies to oil companies to do most of them.
I would second the call placed by Carl to generally plan for our nation's energy future. Do so, and invest the money here, in research and development, manufacturing, sales, and maintenance, and you will create a hybrid industry from the energy/engineering/environmental sectors which will have a market niche and room to grow. There are some states that have already started playing this game.

It's no coincidence that California has set a goal of producing 20 percent of its energy from renewable sources, and that Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has an ambitious initiative aimed at putting solar power on a million roofs in the Golden State in the next 10 years. The state also makes a point of investing its state pension funds in companies that push the green envelope. Earlier this year, Nanosolar, which has seed money from Google executives, announced that it would build the world's largest solar manufacturing facility near San Francisco, creating several hundred new jobs in the process.
If only the rest of the nation could be on board. As a whole, the federal government could wield a huge power, should they chose to, and spark this green revolution off in a positive direction. Here's hoping the tide turns soon.