There is some cruel irony in Labor Day this year since the unemployment rate is about double in these parts in comparison to where it stood last September. Ten years ago in our area, the unadjusted unemployment rate was listed at 2.2 percent. By 2008, that number was still only 3.9 percent. This year, the rate has more than doubled and it’s more like 9 percent — though the news has gone from steadily worsening to a little more mixed in recent months. It is possible that unemployment peaked around June and we are now slowly climbing back from the abyss. Let’s hope so. Nationwide, unemployment is at a 26-year high. Longer term, experts still see labor shortages as a potential issue going forward as the baby boomers retire. (Do you know anyone who still plans on retiring?)
* * *
Another piece of good news: natural gas heating bills should be substantially lower this winter. Although it too early to predict how much lower, they could be down by as much as a third in many areas of the country. That’s not all good news, but some of it is. The good part is that new technologies are facilitating upward revisions in the amount of natural gas available, leaving us with the highest level of known reserves in around four decades. The bad news is that soft demand from slowed and shuttered industrial operations is a big part of the glut. When gas prices begin rising again, the mixed blessing is that more people are likely to have the income to pay for them. In the meantime, I calculated the drop on the “natural gas costs” portion of my company’s residential gas bills between July 2008 and this month at 76.5 percent. That’s big savings, if it prevails into the heating season — and it could be an even larger figure for October.
* * *
Green Bay area BOGO boobs billboard makes CNN via WLUK:
* * *
Some people are trying to say Congressman Dave Obey is “hiding” after he elected to hold a teleconference call on health care reform that attracted 13,000 participants. I listened in and I thought it was a good use of technology. Moreover, it’s clear that some people out there are more interested in trying to create embarrassing moments for Youtube than in actually discussing the issue because their minds are made up. We now have some parents objecting to schools showing an address for the Nation’s school children by President Barack Obama because they feel it is a political move. One commented that he or she even objected to schools showing the Inauguration last January. I have a few observations on this.
First, let’s remember that we’re talking about the President of the United States, who was elected with a margin of nearly 10 million votes less than a year ago. School kids didn’t put him there and they won’t keep him there, either. People need to respect both the office and the will of the electorate. Some folks seem to think that they need to carry on the campaign 365 days a year, every year. Hiding kids from hearing the President smacks of desperation politics and it is the antithesis of patriotism. I’m happy that my grandkids got to see George Bush speak, even though I disagreed with many of his policies. Patriotism isn’t just about supporting our system when you’re getting your way.
Second, I’ve run into Congressman Obey and spoken with him three times in the past few weeks. Just because he’s not willing to host a venue for detractors to try to make the kinds of scenes that they’ve been staging all over the country doesn’t mean he’s not talking about the issue, he’s not listening or he’s not accessible. I admire U.S. Senator Russ Feingold greatly for soldiering on with his listening sessions in every Wisconsin County year this year, but I don’t fault others for using a different approach. If you haven’t heard how Congressman Obey feels about health care reform, then you’re either not listening or you’re deaf. Would-be opponents in the 2010 election can stage all of the events that they want and try to act like they should be on an equal footing with actual policymakers, but the fact is that talk is cheap and they’re not. (Of course, talk may also be expensive if you’re paying to have John Stossel rally your troops, but he’s not a policymaker, either.)
* * *
On the subject of health care, let’s not pretend that there aren’t real problems with our present system or that the free market is going to solve them. It leaves nearly 50 million people on the outside looking in. It leaves tens of millions more with inadequate coverage and routinely puts new people at risk. About a third of the resources are expended on administration. This system will continue to bankrupt individuals, companies, the government and our economy if it is allowed to continue along its present trajectory. When I first began discussing this issue with people in the 1980s, health care was consuming about 12 percent of GDP. It’s now up to 17.5 percent. Even if we LIKED this system – and I don’t, even though my own coverage is pretty good by most standards — it would need to be reformed.
* * *
I liked what George Will had to say about Afghanistan this past week. How about we get the hell out of there as quickly as we possibly can?