Thursday, January 27, 2011

To Manufacture or Not To Manufacture, Is That The Question?

The Huffington Post writer Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins posted an article titled, "The Economic Choice: Should America Hold onto the Past or Prepare for the Future?" I disagree with what seems to be the main premise: that the US should pursue the manufacture and installation of renewable energy sources to the exclusion of other manufacturing ventures. Here's my comment:

Couldn't we do both? An aggressive transition to renewable energy could create a net gain (after subtractin­g dirty energy jobs lost) of 4.3 million jobs. And add $4.7 to the US economy. But 4.3 million jobs are not enough. I appreciate the sentiment of your story, that companies like Koch Industries want to dismantle the EPA because clean air costs the Koch brothers precious money, but it is quite possible for "old" manufactur­ing to coexist with robust environmen­tal standards. We need to hang on to all of those machinists­, tool and die makers, steam fitters, electricia­ns, and factory riggers -- all the folks who enable an industrial­ized society -- we need to hang on to them and the skills they possess, or we will end up too ignorant to walk back the mistake of giving away our manufactur­ing base. The US should preserve the know-how to manufactur­e all of the things our society requires. OK, let's have competitio­n from abroad, but they have to play by the same safety, wage, pension, health care, and environmen­tal standards US manufactur­ers do. Or, we slap tariffs on importers that violate those standards. No one has the courage to stop savvy MBA's who cry "free trade" every time they shutter another American plant and sell off its assets for pennies on the dollar -- and pocket a princely commission­. If we do not change our trade rules, or at least enforce existing rules, the US will continue it's sad slide into impoverish­ed obscurity.

Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

Sunday, January 23, 2011

End Egregious Fossil Payola, Encourage Cost-Effective Renewables

US soldiers at the Rumeilah Oil Field in southern Iraq. One of the damaged oil wells is seen gushing out of control in the background. Several wells were set alight by retreating Iraqi troops during the invasion by coalition forces in March 2003.
Did you know the Department of Energy runs an "Office of Fossil Energy," which includes:
  • Clean Coal Power Initiative
  • FutureGen
  • Fuels
  • Power Systems
  • Natural
  • Gas Technologies
  • Petroleum – Oil Technologies
  • Fossil Energy Environmental Restoration
  • Cooperative Research and Development
According to the Energy Institute of America, as of 2007, US taxpayers coddle and cuddle the fossil fuel industry at a cost of about $10 billion annually. Fossil fuels are an established industry, they post healthy profits every year. Do you really want to funnel tax dollars into the profit margins of dinosaur corporations that pollute our air and water, and irrevocably destroy our landscapes? If you do, write 'em a check. But let's not tax everyone to top off executive salaries.

Here's about forty pages of fun, fun, fun on fossil subsidies from the Environmental Law Institute:
Estimating U.S. Government Subsidies to Energy Sources: 2002-2008
The vast majority of federal subsidies for fossil fuels and renewable energy supported energy sources that emit high levels of greenhouse gases when used as fuel.
• The federal government provided substantially larger subsidies to fossil fuels than to renewables. Subsidies to fossil fuels—a mature, developed industry that has enjoyed government support for many years—totaled approximately $72 billion over the study period, representing a direct cost to taxpayers.
• Subsidies for renewable fuels, a relatively young and developing industry, totaled $29 billion over the same period.
• Subsidies to fossil fuels generally increased over the study period (though they decreased in 2008), while funding for renewables increased but saw a precipitous drop in 2006-07 (though they increased in 2008).
• Most of the largest subsidies to fossil fuels were written into the U.S. Tax Code as permanent provisions. By comparison, many subsidies for renewables are time-limited initiatives implemented through energy bills, with expiration dates that limit their usefulness to the renewables industry.
• The vast majority of subsidy dollars to fossil fuels can be attributed to just a handful of tax breaks, such as the Foreign Tax Credit ($15.3 billion) and the Credit for Production of Nonconventional Fuels ($14.1 billion). The largest of these, the Foreign Tax Credit, applies to the overseas production of oil through an obscure provision of the Tax Code, which allows energy companies to claim a tax credit for payments that would normally receive less-beneficial tax treatment.
• Almost half of the subsidies for renewables are attributable to corn-based ethanol, the use of which, while decreasing American reliance on foreign oil, raises considerable questions about effects on climate.
Here's a shorter piece from the Global Subsidies Initiative about subsidies and their hidden costs that offers some useful dollar and carbon figures:
An introduction to energy subsidies
The upshot is: the fossil energy industry would not exist without ongoing taxpayer support -- witness our defense policy, interstate highway system, and BLM royalties on Federal lands strip-mined for coal. But since the price of fossil energy doesn't represent the true cost, many assert we can blithely ignore all the externalities that are hard to put a price on. What's a Pennsylvania aquifer worth? What is coral reef worth? What is an Appalachian valley and its surrounding peaks worth? Fossil-based energy is a dying industry. We can sit around and watch it die, and die with it as price and environmental degradation escalate.

Or, we can wise up, like every other industrialized country on the planet, and migrate toward renewables and the broad prosperity that will come with the associated domestic manufacturing expansion that consistent subsidies and fair trade rule enforcement could engender. But if we continue to cut renewables off at the knees with on again, off again energy policy muddled by oil, coal, gas, and nuclear industry lobbyists, and corrupt trading partners, we will never get there. When the renewable industry finally gets off the ground, subsidies could be terminated, as they should be now for fossil fuels and nuclear power.

If temporary subsidies and strict enforcement of trade rules are the price of a sustainable, healthy future with expanded domestic industry -- like China has proven quite possible -- then so be it. And we can do it with union wages, and Western worker safety and environmental standards -- you are a coward if you claim we can't -- the US has met bigger challenges than that.

Fossil fuels are a mature industry -- they don't need subsidies if they are truly viable energy sources. (Same for nuclear.) Renewable energy is a newborn industry surrounded by baying wolves -- they do need subsidies to survive. Let's be generous -- to ourselves. Let's take care of those in need, and let the overfed fend for themselves.

read more about energy in my blog:

and here's a much more expansive view of energy subsidies, "ANALYSIS OF THE SCOPE OF ENERGY SUBSIDIES AND SUGGESTIONS FOR THE G-20 INITIATIVE: IEA, OPEC, OECD, WORLD BANK JOINT REPORT", which put global fossil  fuel subsidies somewhere around $700 billion annually (click the link or find it here: )

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Let's Not Hunt Whales

photo: Cosmos
Update, February 21, 2011
In Japan, a victory for the whales: Activists rejoice as Japan recalls a fleet of whaling ships weeks before the annual hunt was meant to end.

Greenpeace sent me an e-mail requesting I write a letter to the editor of local papers on the topic of the ongoing whale hunt:
Presently, the Japanese whaling fleet is in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary hunting whales.

In Japan, customers wait for the whale meat.

Yet, the Japanese government claims to allow whale hunting only for scientific purposes. The plea of hunting whales for science by the Japanese government is pure obfuscation.

Whale hunting is brutal and barbaric. It is a long, painful, bloody death for the hunted whale. And the offspring, and peers of the hunted are tormented by the trauma of witnessing such an unnatural end to one of their kind.

President Obama made the statement that, “Allowing Japan to continue commercial whaling is unacceptable.” Let's urge him to act. Preventing this vicious spectacle would be a politically safe, filibuster-proof demonstration of the President's commitment to humanitarian goals, which must include protecting defenseless animals, too.
Click here to send your own letter to President Obama.

The President will be glad you did. So will the whales. Let's put the human back in humanity. Hoo-rah!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Duh, We're Dying On The Vine Here! Quit Coddling China, DC!

Saw this on a Yahoo Finance page this morning:
7:30AM A-Power Energy receives $10.2 mln government subsidy for its acquisition of Evatech (APWR) 6.22 : Co announced that it received a ~$10.2 mln cash subsidy on January 6, 2011 from the Liaoning Provincial Government in support for the acquisition in January 2010 of Evatech. The co's acquisition of Evatech qualified it for certain subsidies that the Liaoning Provincial Government makes available for the acquisition of non-Chinese enterprises that have important technologies and patents. The subsidy is equivalent to approximately 20% of the total cost of the acquisition. The acquisition, completed in January 2010, was valued at $49.9 million and was paid for with cash.
Evatech is a Japanese company, but the rules are the same for American companies. China cares not at all for any of the niceties of free-markets or free-trade. They care about the bottom line. And to insure they stay in the black for a long time to come, they intend to dominate every industrial sector. We already lost the global renewable energy market to China. Could we at least keep the US market? Probably not. We do not seem to have the courage to fight.

photo: NY Times
Another article, this one in the NY Times, aptly titled "To Conquer Wind Power, China Writes the Rules" offer a few -- OK, sorry, a lot of -- choice quotes:

[Chinese wind turbine manufacturers,] aided by low-interest loans and cheap land from the government, as well as preferential contracts from the state-owned power companies that are the main buyers of the equipment. ...have flourished and now control almost half of the $45 billion global market for wind turbines. ...
Chinese companies acquire the latest Western technology by various means and then take advantage of government policies to become the world’s dominant, low-cost suppliers. ...
So as Gamesa [a Spanish turbine company] executives see it, they made the right bet by coming to China. And they insist that they have no regrets about having trained more than 500 Chinese machinery companies as a cost of playing by Beijing’s rules — even if those rules have sometimes flouted international trade law. It is simply the table stakes of playing in the biggest game going.
“If we would not have done it, someone else would have done it,” said Jorge Calvet, Gamesa’s chairman and chief executive. ...
On July 4, 2005, China’s top economic policy agency, the National Development and Reform Commission, declared that wind farms had to buy equipment in which at least 70 percent of the value was domestically manufactured. ...
A top executive at a rival of Gamesa and Vestas, who insisted on anonymity for fear of business retaliation by Beijing, said that multinationals had another reason [besides the notion that being present in China would provide them with negotiating leverage] for going along with China’s dictates: “Everybody was too scared.”...
Within weeks after Beijing’s issuance of Notice 1204, Gamesa sent dozens of Spanish engineers to Tianjin. The engineers did not just oversee the construction of the assembly plant, but fanned out to local Chinese companies and began teaching them how to make a multitude of steel forgings and castings, and a range of complex electronic controls.
One Chinese supplier here became so adept at making a 10-ton steel frame that keeps a wind turbine’s gearbox and generator aligned even under gale-force conditions, and making it so cheaply, that the Spanish company now ships the Chinese frame halfway around the world for turbines that Gamesa assembles at its American plant in Fairless Hills, Pa. ...
It was not until the summer of 2009, when senior Obama administration officials started looking at barriers to American clean energy exports, that the United States pressed China hard about Notice 1204. The Chinese government revoked it two months later.
But by then, the policy was no longer needed. Some Gamesa wind turbines exceeded 95 percent local content. 

“The objectives of the local content requirement were achieved, and probably more achieved than anyone expected,” said Steve Sawyer, the secretary general of the Global Wind Energy Council, a trade group based in Brussels that represents wind energy companies from around the world, including China. ...
Li Junfeng, an official at the National Development and Reform Commission who oversees renewable energy policy, defended the local content policy.
“It was localization support,” Mr. Li said in an interview. China is a developing country, he said, and developing countries need to do what they can to foster industrial development. ...
But the United States investigation of China goes beyond local content, and the W.T.O. has other weapons at its disposal.
[WTO], for example, has authority to order the repayment of subsidies a government gives to its export industries to the detriment of foreign competitors. [A United States] steelworkers’ petition cites various forms of subsidies and support that China has given to its industries in potential violation of international trade rules. That includes low-interest loans from state-owned banks and grants of cheap or free land, as well as other perks not available to foreign companies operating in China. ...
Those policies — all potential W.T.O. violations, according to some experts — are an open secret. [against which the US fails to retaliate] ...
Sinovel [the largest Chinese wind turbine manufacturer] is among the Chinese companies now opening sales offices across the United States in preparation for a big export push next year. They are backed by more than $13 billion in low-interest loans issued this past summer by Chinese government-owned banks; billions more are being raised in initial public offerings led mainly by Morgan Stanley this autumn in New York and Hong Kong. ...
[At the China Wind Power conference:] “You cannot be called a winner if you are the leader for three or five years,” Mr. Li told the Chinese executives. “You can only stand on the top line if you are the leader for 100 or 200 years.”
The Chinese presidents sat quietly and respectfully, chins down. Senior executives from the foreign manufacturers — including Vestas, G.E. and Gamesa — sat alongside them, staring straight ahead in stony silence.

 Note the recurring themes:
  • China invites foreign firms to enter the Chinese market with imports.
  • China demands that products sold in China be manufactured from a large percentage of local content.
  • The foreign company trains Chinese companies to provide that local content (content that the foreign company had previously exported to China).
  • The Chinese companies trained by the foreign companies, once up to speed, compete with the foreign company while receiving illegal Chinese government subsidies.
  • The foreign company's market share in China dwindles to almost nothing while Chinese companies enjoy a boom.
  • China begins to export the newly acquired technology to the home territory of the foreign companies, undercutting the foreign companies in their native territory.
  • The foreign company goes bankrupt, and China owns the market segment.
  • Meanwhile, the US, European, and Japanese governments roll-over and take no WTO action, while Chinese officials argue they have the right to illegally subsidize their industrial sector because they are a developing nation -- all while claiming membership in the WTO (despite repeatedly flouting the rules), and receiving most-favored nation status from the US.
  • Conclusion: US trade negotiators are a bunch of feckless wimps. And we didn't even get to the lax environmental and labor standards in China that keep costs down...

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Smoot-Hawley Argument Imports Red Herring

Comment on an article in Seeking-Alpha, “Free Trade: The Big Issue for Green Energy in 2011”:

Well said, Mr. Kanellos. Your detractors always seem to mention Smoot-Hawley, as though the economic malaise that followed enactment of that law proves conclusively that wide open free-trade with trading partners who mock every notion of free trade is the best thing that could possibly happen to the US economy.

You need only glance at the current state of the US economy and the decimation of our manufacturing sector -- along with the unions and the middle class it supported -- to see that we are heading into something substantially worse than what followed Smoot-Hawley (the Great Depression). But suggesting that Smoot-Hawley precipitated or even greatly worsened the Great Depression is specious.

Further, the most prosperous periods of US history (for industry, not speculators) occurred during the late 19th century and early to mid 20th century, when the US did impose tariffs on imports. (

Here's some fun quotes from Wikipedia:
Hawley & Smoot, 1929
Using panel data estimates of export and import equations for 17 countries, Jakob B. Madsen (2002) estimated the effects of increasing tariff and non-tariff trade barriers on worldwide trade during the period 1929–1932. He concluded that real international trade contracted somewhere around 33% overall. His estimates of the impact of various factors included about 14% because of declining GNP in each country, 8% because of increases in tariff rates, 5% because of deflation-induced tariff increases, and 6% because of the imposition of nontariff barriers. [So, Madsen concludes that of the total 33% international trade reduction, 8% was due to increased tariffs in many countries, not just the U.S. :completelybaked]
The new tariff imposed an effective tax rate of 60% on more than 3,200 products and materials imported into the United States," quadrupling previous tariff rates.
Imports during 1929 were only 4.2% of the United States' GNP and exports were only 5.0%. Monetarists such as Milton Friedman who emphasize the central role of the money supply in causing the depression, downplay the Smoot-Hawley's effect on the entire U.S. economy.
However, (after Smoot-Hawley was repealed) the American Tariff League Study of 1951 which compared the effective tariff levels of 43 countries found that only seven countries had a lower tariff level than the U.S. (5.1%). Eleven countries had effective tariff rates higher than the Smoot-Hawley peak of 19.8% including the United Kingdom (25.6%). The 43-country average was 14.4% ± 0.9% higher than the U.S. level of 1929.

I do not suggest blanket tariffs of 60% on ALL imports! What I do suggest are tariffs on imported goods that are illegally subsidized, and manufactured in conditions that do not meet minimal environmental and worker safety standards. It's not like we will export much less. We hardly export anything now, anyway (except trash and raw materials, like coal and timber). Tariffs will give us a chance to restore our manufacturing base, and the good, union jobs that go with it.

There's lots of ways to interpret history, but I don't think what has happened to US manufacturing, and the middle class as a result of “free” trade are particularly ambiguous.

So, call me a mercantilist. 

What US Needs to Compete With China And Rebuild Middle Class

An article in the NY Times, “For Chinese Leader’s Visit, U.S. to Take a Bolder Tack” this morning (January 18, 2011) says, “President Hu Jintao of China is coming to town Tuesday, and American officials say President Obama will be taking a far more assertive stance as he greets his biggest global economic rival.”

Right. Based on historical precedents in the ongoing colonization of the US by China, it is clear that nothing positive will come out of this meeting.

If Mr. Obama were serious, he would loudly clamor for this:
  • A Value Added Tax, like every non-colonized industrial state has. A VAT promotes exports, discourages imports, discourages offshoring of corporate profits, and encourages domestic saving.
  • Impose tariffs on Chinese goods that are manufactured under conditions that do not meet our environmental and labor health and safety standards.
  • Impose tariffs on Chinese goods that receive government subsidies that confer a comparative advantage to Chinese manufactured goods (almost all of them).
  • And for good measure, eliminate US subsidies for fossil fuel suppliers, and grant more subsidies for a sustainable future with a real middle class: let’s subsidize our renewable energy industry just like China does, and create millions of well-paid, union jobs for Americans.
read more: free trade

Monday, January 17, 2011

Press Release:: Envirocapitalists: Landfills to Spas

From this:
to this:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE, January 17, 2011:
Republican members of Congress, allied under the banner of “Envirocapitalists,” gathered today under the bright glare of January sunshine, on the steps of the Capital, to announce a bill authorizing a new form of subsidy to promote small business development: “The Landfill to Spas Initiative: Making Gas Work for America.

As freshman Congressman, and former Tea Party member, Peter Pompkeneter (R - OH) put it, “We’ve got a lot of gas that needs a purpose, and this bill creates that purpose.” 

His colleague, Chad Hanginzaer (R - FL), interrupted Rep. Pomkeneter to expand on this idea, “When you’ve got so much gas in one place, you really start to think. And that’s what we did, my colleagues and I. The idea that really stood out, just shot right out -- I think Rep. Blomee (R - OK) came out with it: what better use for our otherwise wasted landfill gas than private spas?” 

Blomee jumped in, “Now, we -- entrepreneurs, that is -- will profit from all that seeping gas, and at the same time provide a vital service: saunas, jacuzzis, mineral baths, and all the other amenities that go along with a first class spa...” 

Pompkeneter interrupted, “These will be first class establishments modeled on the finest American...spas. And good for the environment, you know? Something everyone needs, and the whole public will enthusiastically endorse and make ample use of.” 

Blomee added, “We’re gonna be a much more relaxed nation having put our gas to good use. Americans will thank us for turning smelly old landfills into luxury spas, and protecting the environment. And now we’ve got a good reason to build even more landfills.” 

Hanginzaer added, “Everyone can use a luxury spa! And that’s what Envirocapitalists are all about!”

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Black gold...or, money for nothin'
The US imports too much oil, and sends too much of its treasure to other nations. How much, you ask?
2010 Total Imports of Petroleum
(Top 15 Countries, $100/barrel)
Country Thousands
% of Total
CANADA 2,516 $251.6 $91.83 24.09%
MEXICO 1,263 $126.3 $46.10 12.09%
SAUDI ARABIA 1,090 $109.0 $39.79 10.44%
VENEZUELA 998 $99.8 $36.43 9.55%
NIGERIA 1,037 $103.7 $37.85 9.93%
RUSSIA 626 $62.6 $22.85 5.99%
ALGERIA 503 $50.3 $18.36 4.82%
COLOMBIA 366 $36.6 $13.36 3.50%
ANGOLA 409 $40.9 $14.93 3.92%
VIRGIN ISLANDS 263 $26.3 $9.60 2.52%
KUWAIT 207 $20.7 $7.56 1.98%
ECUADOR 198 $19.8 $7.23 1.90%
BRAZIL 275 $27.5 $10.04 2.63%
UNITED KINGDOM 265 $26.5 $9.67 2.54%
IRAQ 429 $42.9 $15.66 4.11%
Total 10,445 $1,044.5 $381.24 100%

You can draw lots of conclusions from this revealing table, source data courtesy of EIA, "Crude Oil and Total Petroleum Imports."
  • First, we send a ton of money to Canada, almost twice as much as we do to Saudi Arabia -- not what most people assume.
  • Second, After Canada and Mexico, the list contains a bunch of semi-savory, autocratic, or pseudo-democratic states (Brazil excepted). Do you really want to buy guns for dictators instead of schoolbooks for American kids? Do you really like sitting in traffic breathing exhaust?
  • Third, this table reflects our consumption of imported petroleum. According to the EIA, we import about 51% of the oil we consume. In 2009, we consumed about 21.3 million barrels of petroleum products per day. At $100 / barrel, we then spend about $778.05 billion annually on petroleum products (this is a bit rough -- we are talking about petroleum products here, and many of these cost a lot more than $100 / barrel.  So, these numbers are conservative.).
  • Fourth, if we cut our oil consumption by just 10% (easy with better fuel economy in vehicles, and more diesel or electric vehicles), we would have an extra $80 billion to spend on things like trains... 
    • Trains powered by electricity generated from renewable energy? Jobs!
    • Trains manufactured in the US? Tracks laid down, and stations built by Americans? Jobs! 
    • People on trains are people not idling in traffic, burning fuel and time for nothing. 
    • People on trains can read books and get work done, instead of listening to talk radio.
    • People on trains powered by clean energy means people not on airplanes burning tens of thousands of pounds of aviation fuel every flight. 
    • People on trains means less oil bought and burned, ...more money freed up for more trains, ...less oil burned, ...more school books for kids, more jobs for Americans: a virtuous circle.
  • Fifth, burning less oil means we mitigate global warming and leave a planet for our kids to live on, we lead by example, and we become a nation that people in other nations admire and emulate. Again.
  • Wow. It would be better for everyone -- except oil company executives -- if we didn't waste so much money on oil, and buy so many guns for dictators, and Lear jets for executives, ...and so few books for our kids, and so few commuter and intercity trains for hardworking people who would rather not sit in traffic, or chauffeur their kids all over town (an overlooked upside to public transportation).
  • I know, I'm nuts. Or, a socialist, right?
Read more fun petroleum facts and figures at:

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Leaked? Republican Manifesto?

A strange e-mail appeared in my inbox last night. It was sent from a gmail account, so it could be from anybody. Still, the text expresses an unusually candid view of modern Republican Party ideology.

I feel conflicted about making the document public. While I think it is an honest and accurate representation of RNCC principles, I also think it casts a broad net. Many members of the party signed up decades ago before the party was helmed by duplicitous corporate henchmen. These days, citizens with a libertarian, small-government bent who are not rich, scheming plutocrats might register with the Republicans unaware that the original charter of the party has been co-opted by morally corrupt demagogues.

Or, perhaps new recruits are  mean-spirited, and motivated purely by self interest -- surely, plenty of Democrats and Independents could be accused of that, too. For that matter, I reckon most Democratic politicians are owned and operated by deep-pocketed corporations, unions, and law firms. Politicians from both parties are corrupt, but it's a question of degree and long term impact, for which the Republicans are uncontested for first place.

With those caveats stated, whatever their explanation for calling themselves Republican, I think most of the party rank and file are not actively scheming to destroy our country and our planet. My quarrel is not with them. Nor, I suspect, does the source of this document have any quarrel with Republican rank and file. Our quarrel is with the short-sighted, venal Party elders.

With that in mind, I offer for your inspection:

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Former Senator Fritz Hollings: Wake Up, America

From Senator Hollings on the Huffington Post -- December 20, 2010 (link below):
The United States was founded in a trade war. The Mother Country forbade manufacture in the colony and required exports from the colony to be carried in English bottoms. The Boston Tea Party that triggered the Revolution framed a Constitution calling for Congress to regulate trade -- not freeing trade. In fact, the forefathers agreed to regulate trade four years before they could agree on first amendment rights. The first bill to pass the United States Congress on July 4, 1789, was a protectionist tariff. We didn't pass the income tax until 1913. We financed and built the United States into an industrial power with protectionism for the first hundred years, causing Teddy Roosevelt to exclaim in a letter: "Thank God I'm not a Free Trader."
In globalization, the task is for the President and Congress to make it profitable to produce in the United States. Congress can make it profitable and jump-start the economy by eliminating the corporate income tax and replacing it with a 5% value added tax. The corporate tax estimate for 2010 is $156.7 billion in revenues. A 5% VAT reaps $600 billion. Exemptions for the low income for food, health and housing still leaves $350 billion to start paying down the debt. Since the VAT is rebated on export, it promotes exports. Canceling the corporate tax releases $1 trillion in off-shore profits that can be repatriated tax free to invest in creating jobs in the United States.
Cheers! Bring the VAT, Senator. I applaud your efforts. A VAT is a proven means to encourage exports and domestic savings, and discourage imports. Every serious industrialized nation has a VAT. We don't. Let's restore a manufactur­ing base in this country...­if we still have the know how. There's an awful lot of shuttered tool and die shops in my neighborho­od here in the Detroit suburbs. Used to be we had the know how. Now, it's no how. We are a pathetic shadow of our former selves...p­eace out.

Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

Friday, January 7, 2011

Democracy Dies

Last night, I read a sobering article by Henry A. Giroux on truthout's website titled, "In the Twilight of the Social State: Rethinking Walter Benjamin's Angel of History." It details the decline of American, if not global, democracy, and the transcendence of individual greed over sacrifice for the greater good -- witness the latest extension of the Bush tax cuts. It chronicles a few other nasty and brutish trends, too. Read the whole thing, and you'll see. It's pretty long, though, so I clipped two paragraphs that leaped off the page:

One measure of how the economic elite is destroying America and waging a war on the poor, working class and middle class can be seen in the fact that, despite being one of the richest countries in the world, the United States has the highest poverty rate in the industrialized world. Over 44 million people or one in seven Americans live below the poverty line.(37) In recent years, the steepest rise in poverty has taken place among children, with some experts predicting that six million kids will be living in poverty in next decade.(38) In addition, over 50 million people cannot eat without food stamps, and a stunning 50 percent of US children will use food stamps to eat at some point in their childhood. Regarding health insurance, a staggering 50 million have none, a figure that becomes even more disturbing when a runaway unemployment rate of 20 percent is factored into the equation. If we count all the "uncounted workers - 'involuntary part-time' and 'discouraged workers' - the unemployment rate rises from 9.7 percent to over 20 percent."(39) On top of this, we have three million people who are homeless, while over five million have lost their homes; by 2014, it has been predicted that this last figure will rise to 13 million. The standard of living for the average American plummeted during the economic crisis - "the median American household net worth was $102,500 in 2007 and went down to $65,400 in 2009."(40) Meanwhile, against such staggering poverty, loss, human despair and massive inequality in wealth and income, the top 1 percent of the population has massively increased its wealth and power. For instance, Matt Tiabbi claims that the top 1 percent has seen its share of the nation's overall wealth jump from 34.6 percent before the crisis in 2007 to over 37.1 percent in 2009. The top corporate executives collect a salary that gives them $500 for every $1 earned by the average worker. The wages of the 75 wealthiest Americans "increased from $91.2 million in 2008 to an astonishing $518.8 million in 2009. That's nearly $10 million in weekly pay!"(41) As Robert Reich points out, "The top one-tenth of one percent of Americans now earn as much as the bottom 120 million of us."(42) In addition, the top 1 percent owns 70 percent of all financial assets, an all-time record. In light of these trends, it is hardly surprising to read that "the 400 richest families have a combined wealth of $1.57 trillion more than the combined wealth of 50% of U.S. population"(43) and that "the top 1% took in 23.5% of nation's pretax income in 2007 - up from less than 9 percent in 1976."(44) In spite of the fact that every 34th wage earner in America in 2008 went all of 2009 without earning a single dollar,(45) Wall Street handed out $150 billion to its executives.(46) As David McGraw points out, "100% of these bonuses are a direct result of our tax dollars, so if we used this money to create jobs, instead of giving them to a handful of top executives, we could have paid an annual salary of $30,000 to 5 million people."(47) And as the "'bonus culture' of greed, ambition and excess"(48) continues, middle- and working-class families are ending up in food pantries, homeless shelters or worse. Yet, Lloyd Blankfein, the CEO of Goldman Sachs, claims that the "bonus culture" produced by the current crop of financial zombies is "doing God's work."(49) Without any irony intended, Blankfein publicly asserts this arrogant comment knowing full well that, under the grip of the recession caused by those "doing God's work," teachers are experiencing massive layoffs; public servants are taking salary and benefit cuts; schools are hemorrhaging under a lack of resources; and the war in Afghanistan endlessly siphons off financial resources needed by the federal and state governments to address the nation's housing, employment and economic crises.
If you don't read the whole piece, you should read the last two paragraphs of the article, too:
Not only has the American public lost its ability, perhaps even its will, to talk about public values such as sharing, caring and preserving, but it can no longer distinguish between a market-driven society and a democratic society. As Sheldon Wolin has insisted, the supportive culture for a viable democracy - "a complex of beliefs, values and practices that nurture equality, cooperation and freedom"(61) - is incompatible with the market-driven values of neoliberalism and their emphasis on a crude consumerism, over-the-top materialism, brutal competition, a culture of lying, a possessive individualistic ethic and an aggressive battle to privatize, deregulate and commodify everything.
The promise of democracy and economic justice and social rights necessitates a new language of public purpose, rationality and formative culture embedded in democratic public values, collective struggles and a social movement willing to fight for a new kind of politics, democracy and future. We don't need privatized utopias, but models of a democratic society and social state in which public values and democratic interests are expressed in a range of economic, political and cultural institutions. We need a new army of critical and passionate winged messengers alert to the need for progressive social solidarities, social agency, collective action and a refusal to stare hopelessly at the rotting corpses, gated communities and the walking dead that turn the promise of democracy into an advertisement for global destruction.
If you do read the whole thing, don't be put off by the slightly obtuse academic speak in the first dozen or so paragraphs. Get through it, it's worth it. If you want to be discouraged and depressed, that is.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor Rides The Campaign $$$ Gravy Train... First Class

Eric Cantor (R - VA), the new Majority Leader in the House, shoveled in a nice pile of cash for the 2010 election season -- about $6 million dollars. For comparison, the former Speaker of the House received about $2.6 million, and the new Speaker of the House, John Boehner (R - OH) received about $10 million.

Note the PAC contributions: $600K under "Finance, Insurance & Real Estate", and $420K under "Health" -- You can be sure Mr. Cantor works hard for Goldman Sachs, health insurance providers, and for-profit hospitals...and works not so hard for plain-vanilla voters.
Top 5 Contributors, 2009-2010, Campaign Cmte
Comcast Corp$33,950$23,950$10,000
McGuireWoods LLP$28,050$23,050$5,000
Dominion Resources$27,900$17,900$10,000
Goldman Sachs$27,650$17,650$10,000
Blue Cross/Blue Shield$22,500$0$22,500

Top 5 Industries, 2009-2010, Campaign Cmte

Securities & Investment$464,500$347,600$116,900
Real Estate$362,547$282,147$80,400
Health Professionals$228,750$57,750$171,000
Total PAC Money for 2010: $2,334,956
Number of Contributions: 1063

Sectors, 2009-2010

Energy & Natural Resources$189,000
Finance, Insurance & Real Estate$587,300
Lawyers & Lobbyists$60,750
Misc Business$333,750
Based on Federal Election Commission data available electronically on Monday, December 13, 2010.

2009 - 2010 Cycle PAC Contribution Breakdown

legendIdeological/Single Issue$69,606(3%)
Based on Federal Election Commission data available electronically on Monday, December 13, 2010.
Feel free to distribute or cite this material, but please credit the Center for Responsive Politics. For permission to reprint for commercial uses, such as textbooks, contact the Center.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

John Boehner Hits The Big Time, Campaign $$$ Proves It

Beware of the bronze fellow. He'll be Speaker of the House today, when the 112th Congress comes to order. Mr. Boehner, always flawlessly tanned, is a faithful lackey to some toxic sugar daddies: embezzling bankers, polluting energy executives, and uncaring health care executives. Make no mistake, he works for these folks, not his little-guy, wage-earning, tax-paying constituents. And he means to step through the revolving back door of Congress one day, and into a corner office in a gold-plated lobbying firm. Here's a top 5 rundown of his campaign contributors, from

Top 5 Contributors, 2009-2010, Campaign Cmte

AT&T Inc$40,250$30,250$10,000
American Financial Group$38,900$38,900$0
Boehner for Speaker Cmte$36,000$36,000$0
American Electric Power$28,450$18,450$10,000
Altria Group$26,400$16,400$10,000

Top 5 Industries, 2009-2010, Campaign Cmte

Securities & Investment$207,650$74,400$133,250
Health Professionals$175,450$21,450$154,000
Electric Utilities$168,050$27,050$141,000
Everything's on sale! Everything must go! No offer refused...

Total PAC Money for 2010: $2,471,740
Number of Contributions: 995

Sectors, 2009-2010

Energy & Natural Resources$250,500
Finance, Insurance & Real Estate$609,090
Lawyers & Lobbyists$69,150
Misc Business$355,750
Based on Federal Election Commission data available electronically on Monday, December 13, 2010.

2009 - 2010 Cycle PAC Contribution Breakdown

legendIdeological/Single Issue$56,100(2%)
Based on Federal Election Commission data available electronically on Monday, December 13, 2010.
Feel free to distribute or cite this material, but please credit the Center for Responsive Politics. For permission to reprint for commercial uses, such as textbooks, contact the Center.

Monday, January 3, 2011

non-toxic, edible food? right on, birke baehr!

I'm a big fan of organic, local, preferably vegetarian food. This man understands why, and delivers his message with grace and charm. I've got nothing to, without further ado:

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Get the Renewable Energy Story Straight, Big Media

Holding the Sun -- Solar Ninja
In nearly every article I read in mainstream media -- The New York Times, The Washington Post, The LA Times -- I see the same mistake: the suggestion that a transition to GHG-free, renewable energy will cost a lot of jobs and money.

True. It will cost some coal and nuclear power executives their jobs. So what? And some coal miners. OK, that is troubling. But if we say to hell with whining coal and nuke executives and do the right thing for our planet and its citizens of more modest means, we could put those coal miners back to work building, installing, and maintaining renewable energy infrastructure; or implementing efficiency improvements in existing building and manufacturing stock. That would create 4.5 million jobs, over and above those lost by coal miners, and other dirty-energy workers. And it would add $4.3 trillion of domestic revenue to our economy.

Another mistake that mainstream media makes is that technology for renewables and efficiency improvements is way, way off on a distant hope horizon. Unlike carbon fantasy capture and unsafe, toxic nukes, proven technology for a renewable energy supply and vastly improved efficiency have been around for decades. It hasn't been subsidized and advertised at consumers expense, like coal and nukes. That is why nobody seems to know about it -- your friendly mainstream reporter and duly elected politician especially.

Finally, mainstream media always appear to accept the assertion by politicians on the nuclear power industry take that "nuclear power must be part of the future low-carbon energy supply mix." Wrong. Nuclear power is not a least-cost, or least-delay source of energy. For every dollar spent on nuclear energy, we lose the equivalent of $10 that we could have gained in efficiency, or up to about $2 gained from rapidly deployed clean, safe renewable sources (E05-15_MightyMice.pdf [page 5]), and we loose precious time -- no nuclear plant, if construction started today, would have any meaningful impact on mitigating the climate crisis we face. Nukes are too slow to build to do any good. So, be reasonable. Rule out nukes now, before we waste precious money and time.

Here's a brief article (3 pages) from 1995 (15 years ago!) that outlines efficiency improvements available four our building stock:

The Super-Efficient Passive Building Frontier
Amory Lovins, Rocky Mountain Institute
ASHRAE Journal June 1995

And here's a really slick way to transition to renewables and save tons of money and carbon and do quite nicely without high-cost, high-risk nukes:

Mighty Mice
Amory Lovins, Rocky Mountain Institute
This article discusses the benefits of decentralized micropower for generating energy, as compared to nuclear power. Amory Lovins argues for decentralized energy systems based on data showing that micropower is more efficient and has already eclipsed nuclear power in the global marketplace. Micropower and its natural partner, efficient end-use, have surpassed and outpaced central stations despite many obstacles. These forms of energy are diverse, ubiquitous, plentiful, widely available, largely benign, and growing in popularity.
Happy New Year! Let's get this stuff right, and not be a bunch of well-trained parrots for the dirty-energy industry.

Maine Solar Energy Association