) -- The most amazing thing about our country in 2011 is that despite all the obstacles we create for ourselves, we occasionally get something done.
In fact, at the moment, we are living through a period of development of three transportation miracles: the Volt, the Dreamliner and the California bullet train.
These three miracles have much in common. They should help us to reduce our dependence on Middle East oil. They cost billions more than expected. They took, or are taking, years longer than expected to build. And all three have faced or continue to face harsh criticism.
No doubt Henry Ford, the Wright Brothers and Leland Stanford ( a big time railroad investor in 1861, when railroads were an emerging technology) got criticized too. But was it as bad then as it is now?
The Volt is in the news this week for
a safety issue. A battery fire is a major issue by any definition.
executives discussed the issue on a conference call with reporters on Monday. They made the point that 100 years ago, when Chevrolet was just getting started, the internal combustion engine had a lot of problems too.
Also on that call, Mark Reuss, GM North America President, referred to the Volt as a "moon shot," an indication of how transformational this particular car might be.
We hear lots of criticism of Volt. The price is too high. The dream is too unrealistic. The lithium ion battery technology is flawed.
It is widely (and caustically) debated whether President Obama's decision to bail out the automaker was a stroke of genius or a payoff to the United Auto Workers. At an extreme level, it could be said that Obama haters also hate GM.
The California bullet train, meanwhile, represents a government effort to create a spectacular piece of public infrastructure.
Like Obama, California has many haters. On the plus side, California is beautiful. As a negative, 37 million people is a crowd. Also, California's dysfunctional legislative system enables all 37 million residents to vote on every single legislative question. It's democracy on steroids.
The bullet train on paper seems rather expensive. It is projected to cost $98 billion. But it's also projected to create 100,000 jobs and enable a two-and-a-half-hour trip between San Francisco and Los Angeles. Oddly, when China develops new bullet trains, we look on enviously. When our biggest state (by population) tries to do the same thing, we see it as a boondoggle.
miracle airplane was developed under a slightly different scenario. Boeing created a ridiculously complex production model that was supposed to save money, partially by transferring work from unionized employees to global contractors, who would absorb some of the cost.
Many analysts say that as a result, the Dreamliner won't be profitable until Boeing sells 1,000 airplanes. But Boeing also developed an alternative accounting system that enables it to say that the Dreamliner
is profitable right now. This is an advantage of being a private business: Angry shareholders can simply sell their shares without participating in our dysfunctional political debate.
A brief explanation of the world's most pressing geopolitical problem would say that in order to support its huge appetite for oil, the U.S. supports various Middle East kleptocracies. The kleptocracies subjugate their populations. As a result, their populations hate us.
Now Boeing, GM and California are in various early stages of addressing this problem with breakthrough technologies
Shouldn't that make us all happy?
-- Written by Ted Reed in Charlotte, N.C.
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