31 May 2010

Another MasterCard Commercial I’d Like to See

by Jim Moss

Out of the 13 countries in Western Europe (Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Germany, The Netherlands, Belgium, Swtizerland, Italy, France, Spain, Portugal, and Great Britian), the number that have a lower infant mortality rate than the United States : 13

That have a higher life expectancy than the US (for both men and women): 13

That have a lower murder rate: 13

That have a lower poverty rate: 11

Hearing conservative politicians use Western Europe as a cautionary tale against developing social programs: Priceless

(cross-posted at Discipline for Justice)


The US has an infant mortality rate of 6.8. The worst in Western Europe is Great Britian with 5.0. The best is Sweden with 3.1.

The US has a life expectancy of 75 for men and 80 for women. All of Western Europe falls between 76 and 79 for men and 81 and 84 for women.

The US has a murder rate of 42.8. The worst in Western Europe is Portugal with 23.3 The best is Switzerland with 9.2.

The two countries with more poverty than the US (12.0%) are Portgual (18.0%) and Spain (19.9%).

30 May 2010

REMINDER: The Vast Majority Of The Government Deficits People Hate Comes From Bush's Wars And Bush's Tax Cuts

Many people right now are making a scare story out of the U.S. government's future deficit projections. Many of these same people are also blaming our government's horrific projected deficits on the current administration.
Problem is, as shown in the chart below (via The Economist), America's deficit problems are mostly the result of American wars abroad and the Bush era tax cuts -- things the current administration didn't implement. At the same time the current administration is being pressed not to raise taxes and not to be weak militarily.
Some of the most hated spending topics such as TARP, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and economic stimulus, are actually a tiny contributor in comparison to war and Bush tax cuts. Especially over the long-haul out to 2019 as shown below.
You don't have to agree with everything the current administration does, but democracy isn't an effective form of government when voters are blind to the real cause behind the effects they criticize:

Read more: http://www.businessinsider.com/the-vast-majority-of-government-deficits-people-hate-was-caused-by-the-bush-era-2010-2#ixzz0mjxQJbZm

The Economist: "This is something Barack Obama has been at pains to point out, as Republicans have attacked him as a profligate spender and runner of deficits. Most of today's borrowing, he has said, is attributable to factors beyond his control. He is essentially pointing people to charts like the one at right. That's a damning chart. It implicates a lot of people, including some of the same Congressional Democrats who are now joining Republicans in assailing the president for budgeted deficits, but who voted for the Bush tax cuts and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Politically, this is a pretty important chart."

Read more: http://www.businessinsider.com/the-vast-majority-of-government-deficits-people-hate-was-caused-by-the-bush-era-2010-2#ixzz0mjxg3xqd

29 May 2010

You Are Worth More To Your Boss Dead Than Alive

Dead Peasant Insurance is sometimes used as a shorthand reference for life insurance policies that insure a company's rank-and-file employees and name the company as the beneficiary. This means that the company receives the life insurance benefits when the covered employees die. This insurance may also be called "janitor insurance," "corporate-owned life insurance," or "COLI."

How did it get the name "Dead Peasant" insurance?

Winn Dixie Stores bought life insurance policies on approximately 36,000 of its employees, without their knowledge or consent, and named itself as the policies? beneficiary. The insurance brokerage firm that placed the policies prepared two memos describing the deceased employees as "Dead Peasants." These memos were part of the court?s record in a lawsuit in which the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit held that Winn-Dixie's policies were a sham transaction for federal income tax purposes. The memos were later used by reporters such as Ellen Schultz and Theo Francis of the Wall Street Journal and L.M. Sixel of the Houston Chronicle and incorporated into articles about this type of insurance.

How does a person know if he or she is covered by a policy?

It is often difficult for a person to learn whether he or she was covered by a "Dead Peasant" policy. These insurance programs became popular during the mid-1980s and have been an available investment opportunity for large companies since that time. Prior to 2006, however, there was no federal law that required employers to disclose the policies to insured employees. Any disclosure requirements that existed before 2006 were only through state laws, which were ignored in many instances. So, the only way a person could learn about the policies was through the employer's voluntarily disclosure.

If this wasn't bad enough, Wal-Mart has been embroiled in litigation against insurance companies because they lost money trying to profit from the deaths of their "associates:"

"Discount retailing giant Wal-Mart cannot sue its insurers just because it gambled and lost $1.3 billion on getting a tax break from thousands of insurance policies it took out on employees, according to a brief filed by the insurers in the Delaware Supreme Court.

"Press reports have dubbed the 'corporate-owned life insurance' policies at issue in this litigation 'dead peasant insurance' because most of the policies were purchased by companies that employ large numbers of workers at the lower end of the wage scale and most of the policy benefits went to the companies rather than to families of deceased employees.

"Wal-Mart is contending in an appeal that it was entitled to rely on its expert insurance brokers to warn the company of the inherent dangers of buying COLI policies. Wal-Mart has asked the high court to revive its bad-faith and breach-of-duty claims against its insurers, which the Delaware Chancery Court had dismissed."

As of July 2005, six states had outlawed that practice in cases in which the employee is not told, Wikipedia reports. The online encyclopedia also states:

"Wal-Mart is one of those companies under fire from the US Internal Revenue Service and labor organizations for the practice. The IRS considers COLI a tax dodge, and has pursued Dow Chemical, Camelot Music, Winn-Dixie and American Electric Power, among others, to recover tax underpayments.

"The practice of using COLI is still widespread ... According to one source, Hartford Life Insurance estimated that one-quarter of all Fortune 500 companies have COLI policies, which cover the lives of about 5 million employees. Wal-Mart alone has policies on 350,000 employees."

28 May 2010

An oldie but a goodie

This morning I was awoken by my alarm clock powered by electricity generated by the public power monopoly regulated by the US department of energy. I then took a shower in the clean water provided by the municipal water utility. After that, I turned on the TV to one of the FCC regulated channels to see what the National Weather Service of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration determined the weather was going to be like, using satellites designed, built, and launched by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. I watched this while eating my breakfast of US Department of Agriculture inspected food and taking the drugs which have been determined as safe by the Food and Drug Administration.

At the appropriate time as regulated by the US Congress and kept accurate by the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the US Naval Observatory, I get into my National Highway Traffic Safety Administration approved automobile and set out to work on the roads build by the local, state, and federal departments of transportation, possibly stopping to purchase additional fuel of a quality level determined by the Environmental Protection Agency, using legal tender issed by the Federal Reserve Bank. On the way out the door I deposit any mail I have to be sent out via the US Postal Service and drop the kids off at the public school.

After spending another day not being maimed or killed at work thanks to the workplace regulations imposed by the Department of Labor and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, enjoying another two meals which again do not kill me because of the USDA, I drive my NHTSA car back home on the DOT roads, to ny house which has not burned down in my absence because of the state and local building codes and fire marshal’s inspection, and which has not been plundered of all it’s valuables thanks to the local police department.

I then log on to the internet which was developed by the defense advanced research projects administration and post on freerepublic and Fox news forums about how SOCIALISM in medicine is BAD because the government can’t do anything right.

Apparently this has been running around the innertubes since Ronnie Reagan was running for office.

27 May 2010

Thank a liberal

If you do not have skin cancer, and have ever stood outside without having a peeling sunburn within moments, thank the ozone layer, thank the ban on CFCs, and thank a liberal.

If you have ever breathed clean air or drank clean water, thank a liberal.

If no woman you know has died or been maimed in a back-alley Abortion, thank a liberal.

If you have never been lynched, or had your children firebombed in a church, thank a liberal.

If you are glad we don’t live in a right-wing dictatorship along the lines of what conservatives overtly and covertly created in Iran, Guatamala, Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic, the Congo, Chile, Brazil, El Salvador, the Phillipines, Indonesia and many others, thank a liberal.

If you have ever used Medicare, thank a liberal.

If you have not gotten cancer from radiation, thank the Nuclear test ban and thank a liberal.

If you have ever sat on a public seat, drank from a drinking fountain, stood on a bus, or done anything in public without worrying about being beaten up for being in the wrong section for your skin color, thank a liberal.

If you’ve ever driven on an interstate highway, thank a liberal.

If you grew up in a family of less than 12 kids, like the idea of being able to choose if you have 12 kids or not, if you don’t live in an overpopulated third world slum, or just think birth control is a good idea, thank a liberal.

If your family benefited from the GI Bill of Rights, FHA Mortgages, and so forth, thank a liberal.

If you have ever bought anything from Europe, and are glad the Marshall plan kept it from remained a bombed-out shell or falling to communism or neo-fascism, thank a liberal.

If you are glad that the Nazis don’t control half the world (conservatives opposed joining World War 2 until it was forced on them) thank a liberal.

If you have ever eaten food (agricultural subsidies), flicked on a light switch (rural electrification) or benefited from the Tennessee Valley Authority, thank a liberal.

If you ever drank a beer or a glass of wine without being thrown in jail, thank a liberal.

If you are not a land-owning white male, but have voted, thank a liberal.

If you have not died from tainted meat, been prescribed something useless or poisonous by a quack doctor, have not given your children cough syrup which turned out to have heroin as its secret ingredient, thank a liberal. (and Nixon)

If your workplace is safe and you are paid a living wage, including overtime; if you enjoy a 40-hour week and you are allowed to join a union to protect your rights without being lynched, thank a liberal.

If you’ve ever seen a national park, and it hadn’t been strip mined and clearcut into a desert wasteland, thank a liberal.
If you have never suffered from an economy of massive deflation, and have never even heard of an economic phenomenon called a “panic”, thank a liberal.

If your children go to school instead of working in coal mines, thank a liberal.

If you’re a Native American and have not been killed or died in a concentration camp, or if you live near Native Americans and are not at war with them, thank a liberal.

If you have an industrial or high-tech job – or really, any job other than those available in a slave-powered cash crop economy (ie, a third world economy) thank a liberal.

If you’re not a slave or “indentured servant” (white slave), don’t think protection of slavery belongs in the constitution, if you’ve never been chained to a boat where half the passengers die, been whipped, had your family split up, been forced to “breed” with another slave you’ve never met, been raped by your boss, or killed for not being profitable, thank a liberal.

If you oppose political parties starting massive wars to destroy America, just because they lost the election, and killing hundreds of thousands of Americans in process – if you just don’t have that much fanatical hatred of Lincoln’s policy of to restricting slavery to states where it already existed, thank a liberal.

If you’re part-Irish, Catholic, Jewish, or for that matter anything not Anglo-Saxon Protestant, and are allowed to live in America, and are not harassed and attacked for failing to be born Anglo-Saxon Protestant, or if you’ve ever bought or used anything built by a non-ASP American, thank a liberal.

If you kind of like freedom of speech, and don’t want the state government to be able to censor you – (you think the 14th amendment is a good idea) – thank a liberal.

If you have ever bought or sold anything transported by the transcontinental railroad, or eaten food from a farm created by the railroad, thank a liberal.

If you think the US constitution is pretty cool, and have ever traveled too or done business with a country whose democracy was inspired by the American revolution, thank a liberal.

If you have not been drafted and used as cannon-fodder in some war caused by some petty insult between nobles, clan leaders, or other various overfed dictators, or suffered rape or looting in one of those countless wars, thank a liberal.

If you have not been tortured to death in a religious inquisition, thank a liberal.

If you don’t have to walk though ankle-deep sewage in the streets (because sewers are big gummint), thank a liberal.

If you have ever done anything that is a religious or superstitious taboo (ie, done anything at all) without being stoned to death or cast out as a heretic, thank a liberal.

If you have never been raped, and then had the rapist escape punishment on the grounds that he marry you, thank a liberal.

If you are not a slave toiling to build a pyramid for some lazy dictator who’s so spoiled he thinks he’s god, and won’t even see it until he’s dead, thank a liberal.

If you have not been killed as a human sacrifice in the name of some god, thank a liberal.

In short, if you’ve ever enjoyed anything of the post-stone-age world, thank a liberal.

…And if not, become a conservative.

26 May 2010

Kucinich: Why is it we have Finite Resources for Health Care but Unlimited Money for War?

Following a statement on the Floor of the House of Representative, Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) today made the following statement:

“Why is it we have finite resources for health care but unlimited money for war?

“The inequities in our economy are piling up: trillions for war, trillions for Wall Street and tens of billions for the insurance companies. Banks and other corporations are sitting on piles of cash of taxpayer’s money while firing workers, cutting pay and denying small businesses money to survive.

“People are losing their homes, their jobs, their health, their investments, their retirement security; yet there is unlimited money for war, Wall Street and insurance companies, but very little money for jobs on Main Street.

“Unlimited money to blow up things in Iraq and Afghanistan, and relatively little money to build things in the US.

“The Administration may soon bring to Congress a request for an additional $50 billion for war. I can tell you that a Democratic version of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is no more acceptable than a Republican version of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“Trillions for war and Wall Street, billions for insurance companies... When we were promised change, we weren’t thinking that we give a dollar and get back two cents.”

25 May 2010

The 2010 Census Trap Conspiracy

Dear Tea Party Friends,

I have a confession to make, a confession that may shock and alarm you. I am a liberal Democrat, and at the last strategy session/homosexual blood orgy, I became aware of a dastardly plot being perpetrated by my fellow socialists. As many of you in the Tea Party have correctly guessed, the census is a trap. Let me repeat that for the search engines: the 2010 census is a trap. Porn, porn, porn.

Whatever you do, do not fill out and return the census survey. Yes, it’s only 10 questions, and it only takes 10 minutes, but that’s not counting the years you will spend in forced labor camps once Nancy Pelosi rounds up everyone who bought Going Rogue and puts them to work in the medical marijuana fields. Think of your children, who will be confiscated by liberal shock troops (black liberal shock troops) and used to feed the giant underground blast furnaces that President Obama has installed beneath the White House to power his…

Okay, I’m still working on that part.

Some people, even a few in your own party, will try to tell you that the census is just a benign headcount that collects demographic information about the country. Some may even say that the census is an important way to make sure you are fully represented in Congress, and that if you don’t fill it out, your party might lose seats when the congressional district lines are redrawn.

It is very important that you hit these people with sticks.

The 2010 census is an unprecedented conspiracy of epic proportions, way worse than the 2000 Census or the 1990 Census. It’s a complicated plot, with layers upon layers of deception and misdirection, but let me see if I can explain it as simply as possible. The census process is composed of three steps:

Distributing the census survey to every home in America.
Encouraging all Americans to complete and mail back the survey.
Race war.
This is the truth they don’t want you to know. Whether you’re a Republican, a Tea Partier, an NRA member, a Texan, or you just plain hate the Jews, it is very important that you do not, under any circumstances, complete the 2010 census.

Army of bat robots. That’s what the underground blast furnaces power. The ones Obama is going to feed your children to. For real.

I’m just asking questions here, people!

24 May 2010

15 Reasons Why The U.S. Economic Crisis Is Really An Economic Consolidation By The Elite Banking Powers

Is the United States experiencing an "economic crisis" or an "economic consolidation"? Did the financial problems of the last several years "happen on their own", or are they part of a broader plan to consolidate financial power in the United States? Before you dismiss that possibility, just remember what happened back during the Great Depression. During that era, the big financial powers cut off the flow of credit, hoarded cash and reduced the money supply. Suddenly nobody had any money and the economy tanked. The big financial powers were then able to swoop back in and buy up valuable assets and real estate for pennies on the dollar. So are there signs that such a financial consolidation is happening again?

Well, yes, there are.

The U.S. government is making sure that the big banks are getting all the cash they need to make sure that they don't fail during these rocky economic times, but the U.S. government is letting small banks fail in droves. In fact, in many instances the U.S. government is actually directing these small banks to sell themselves to the big sharks.

So is this part of a planned consolidation of the U.S. banking industry? Just consider the following 15 points....

#1) The FDIC is planning to open a massive satellite office near Chicago that will house up to 500 temporary staffers and contractors to manage receiverships and liquidate assets from what they are expecting will be a gigantic wave of failed Midwest banks.

#2) But if the economic crisis is over, then why would the FDIC need such a huge additional office just to handle bank failures? Well, because the economic crisis is not over. The FDIC recently announced that the number of banks on its "problem list" climbed to 702 at the end of 2009. That is a sobering figure considering that only 552 banks were on the problem list at the end of September and only 252 banks that were on the problem list at the end of 2008.

#3) Waves of small and mid-size banks are going to continue to fail because the U.S. housing market continues to come apart at the seams. The U.S. government just announced that in January sales of new homes plunged to the lowest level on record. The reality is that the U.S. housing market simply is not recovering.

#4) In fact, a lot more houses may be on the U.S. housing market very shortly. The number of mortgages in the United States more than 90 days overdue has climbed to 5.1 percent. As the housing market continues to get increasingly worse, it will put even more pressure on small to mid-size banks.

#5) More than 24% of all homes with mortgages in the United States were underwater as of the end of 2009. Large numbers of American homeowners are deciding to walk away from these homes rather than to keep making payments on loans that are for far more than the homes themselves are worth.

#6) If all that wasn't bad enough, now a huge "second wave" of adjustable rate mortgages is scheduled to reset beginning in 2010. We all saw what kind of damage the "first wave" of adjustable rate mortgages did. How many banks are going to be able to survive the devastation of the second wave?

#7) In fact, one stunning new study forecasts that five million houses and condos will go through foreclosure within the next couple of years. If that actually happens it will be absolutely catastrophic for the banking industry.

#8) But it is not just residential real estate that is a problem. Many financial analysts now believe that the next "shoe to drop" in the ongoing economic crisis will be commercial real estate. U.S. commercial property values are down approximately 40 percent since 2007 and currently 18 percent of all office space in the United States is now sitting vacant.

#9) So are the financial powers doing anything to help? In 2008 and 2009 they did, but now it appears that they plan to dramatically tighten credit. In fact, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke recently warned Congress that the Federal Reserve does not plan to "print money" to help Congress finance the exploding U.S. national debt. So either Congress will have to spend less money or borrow it at higher interest rates from someone else. Either of those alternatives will be bad for U.S. economic growth.

#10) In addition, the Federal Reserve is in discussions with money market mutual funds on agreements to help drain as much as 1 trillion dollars from the financial system. But when you withdraw money from a financial system it slows down an economy. Why would the Federal Reserve want to do this now when the economy is struggling so much?

#11) There are also persistent rumors that the Federal Reserve is plotting a series of interest rate hikes. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke says that the Federal Reserve may raise the discount rate "before long" as part of the "normalization" of Fed lending. By raising that rate, Bernanke says that the central bank "will be able to put significant upward pressure on all short-term interest rates". But higher interest rates will mean that it will cost more for everyone to borrow money. This will also slow down the U.S. economy.

#12) Recent data suggests that there has been a very significant decline in the "real" M3 money supply, and every time that this has happened in the past it has resulted in a drop in economic activity. In fact, this dramatic contraction in the money supply has many economic analysts now warning that it is not a matter of "if" we will have a "double-dip" recession, but of "when" it will occur.

#13) There are also signs that big U.S. banks are now hoarding cash. In fact, the biggest banks in the U.S. cut their collective small business lending balance by another 1 billion dollars in November 2009. That drop was the seventh monthly decline in a row.

#14) In fact, in 2009 U.S. banks posted their sharpest decline in lending since 1942. This is the same kind of thing that happened at the beginning of the Great Depression.

#15) Meanwhile, the biggest U.S. banks are gobbling up a larger and larger share of the U.S. banking market. At the end of 2007, the Big Four U.S. banks - Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America and Wells Fargo - held 32 percent of all deposits in FDIC-insured institutions. As of June 30th of last year it was 39 percent.

So do you see what is going on?

The real estate crash of the last several years has left hundreds of small to mid-size banks across the United States extremely vulnerable.

These small to mid-size banks desperately need the U.S. economy to get cranking again.

But now the big financial powers are reducing their lending, hoarding cash and shrinking the money supply.

All of those things reduce economic activity.

Many businesses will fail because they cannot get loans.

The real estate market will continue to suffer because banks are raising their standards and are lending less money.

Small to mid-size banks that are already on the edge of disaster are almost virtually certain to collapse when the "second wave" of the housing crisis starts hitting.

But when they do collapse the U.S. government is directing them to sell themselves to the big sharks.

So whether it is "planned" or not, what we are witnessing is a consolidation of the banking industry in the United States.

And that is not a good thing.

23 May 2010

No Comment Needed

21 May 2010

Rooftop Rentals Soar With Generous Canadian Feed-In Tariff

Since September, when the Ontario Power Authority began its generous payment for rooftop solar power, Toronto's commercial roof acreage has become the site of a new renewable energy gold rush by solar developers now able to earn a steady income farming solar power to local utilities for 20 years.

Just as farmers in Texas or Iowa can now earn royalties from wind developers to allow them to place wind turbines on their farm, now commercial building owners in Toronto can earn income from their roofs.

Solar developers are willing to rent a part of a building that previously had no value, that is now prime solar real estate. How much is this new income for the building owner? It could be as much as $12,000 a year.

Ontario Power Authority will now pay between 53 cents and 71 cents per kilowatt-hour for solar electricity. The utility guarantees a speedy, expedited connection to the grid so solar developers can be assured of a quick start to their earnings. And they are not the only beneficiary. The building owner and the solar developer both stand to gain.

Under the arrangement the utility pays the Feed-in Tariff amount monthly for 20 years. Once built, the solar farms can be expected to generate a steady income for 20 years to the solar developer.

Once they sign the lease, the solar companies design, build, and perform the maintenance on the system at no cost to the building owner. Both the solar developer and the building owner can earn money on the deal. Either a percent of the monthly payments from the utility can go directly to the building owner, or the solar developer can simply pay rent, averaging about 30 cents per square foot.

For example, a 250-kilowatt system that would take up 40,000 square feet on the roof would mean the building owner would earn about $1,000 a month in rent. At the end of the 20 year contract with the utility, the solar developer transfers the system to the building owner who then can benefit from the electricity for what could potentially be at least another 20 years, at slightly less efficiency.

Alternatively, compensation might be a guarantee to supply solar-sourced electricity over two decades for less than what a building owner currently pays, as CarbonFree Technology of Toronto has done. Of course the building has to undergo inspection to ensure that it can take the weight of such large solar arrays, because it may not have been engineered to handle that kind of load. (at least to put onto buildings) solar arrays.

Since September 1st, when the offer was announced, business has taken off. GTE, Ozz Solar, Helios Energy, Rumble Energy and SunOne Energy Canada are among a growing list of solar rooftop space aggregators knocking on doors

20 May 2010

Preparing For 2014-15 'Oil Crunch' Forecast By UK Industry Group

new report by a United Kingdom industry taskforce predicts steep oil price rises and gasoline supply shortages by 2014-2015, which will put the global economy at similar risk to the 2007-2008 rapid rise in oil prices that helped trigger the Great Recession.

"The time period would be 2014-2015 when the oil market would be starting to experience rapidly rising prices and tightening oil supplies...It is notable that the CEO of Total, Christophe de Margerie, is already warning of such an outcome in the 2014/15 period," says the report, "Industry Taskforce on Peak Oil & Energy Security" funded by Virgin Group, Arup Engineering, Foster and Partners, and Scottish and Southern Engineering.

What can cities, businesses and individuals do to prepare for such energy price volatility, buy hybrids? Actually, the report asserts, "there is real danger that the focus on technological advances in cars is making consumers and government complacent."

More urgent steps need to be taken by policymakers in particular to avert this impending crisis:

Support greater planning and funding for public transit, including taxation to benefit public transit and allocate road space based on most fuel efficient modes (i.e., congestion pricing).
Support planning for less energy-intensive forms of development (less sprawl, more transit-oriented housing, retail and businesses).
Transition to more energy-efficient transportation fleets or vehicles.
Coordinate policy mechanisms and organizational practices to create a behavioral shift from private car use to other more sustainable forms of mobility, including public transit, car sharing, cycling and walking.
Encourage, enable and practice smart green city tactics: telecommuting, video conferencing and public work centers, such as those being piloted in Amsterdam with Cisco.
At the state and national government level, preparations for another "oil crunch" similar or worse than 2008 and 1980 should include:

Ending subsidies for oil in order to reduce economic dependence on oil-based industries.
Transition agriculture and food production from operations highly dependent on the use of oil-based products such as diesel fuel, fertilizers and crop treatments, while encouraging bio-regional food production from urban foodsheds for nearby population centers.
Planning and support for high-speed rail networks (though this would be a longer-term preparation for post-carbon transportation era beyond 2020)
Daniel Lerch of the Post Carbon Institute authored a guidebook for cities and local government on how to prepare for an oil crisis. I have also written a study looking at US oil crisis readiness in the largest 50 US cities, "Major US City Post-Oil Preparedness Ranking" (second publication from top).

Whether, it is called "peaking oil" or an "oil crunch," many experts see total global oil production reaching a plateau of around 91-92 million barrels a day by 2012-2014 unless, as the report says, "some unforeseen giant, and easily accessible, finds are reported very soon."

With fast-growing demand for oil in developing economies such as China (which overtook the US in 2009 for total automobile sales), India and the Middle East, developed nations in North America and Europe need to consider wholescale industrial and societal shifts.

The United State and Canada in particular should start reducing oil dependency now in preparation for oil price volatility and possible supply disruptions that would force such shifts without warning, with dire consequences for the economy, nationally and locally. Many cities (New York, Toronto, Vancouver, Washington, D.C.) are already somewhat prepared to make this shift because of infrastructure for public transit and other oil-free mobility options.

The world is heavily dependent on 120 oil fields that account for 50 percent of world production, and contain two-thirds of remaining reserves of fields in production. New discoveries of oil fields off Brazil's coast, under the Arctic and elsewhere, will not be enough to replenish the "drawdown" that is occurring. Besides, many of these fields take investments that require oil to be priced over $100 or $120 a barrel, so they will not be producing for a number of years after such investments are made: in other words, far beyond 2015.

"The challenge is that if oil prices reach the levels necessary to justify these high-cost investments, economic growth may be imperiled," says the Industry Taskforce on Peak Oil and Energy Security.

Another so-called energy "ace in the hole," oil sands deposits in Canada, are not a viable option. Oil sands produce at least three times the amount of atmospheric carbon over conventional oil when they are processed and used, which would exacerbate global climate change significantly, while also fouling the region's water supply.

What is being raised by this report is that the era of cheap oil is over, and that the consequences will be ugly, unless we start preparing for this profound change.

"Don't let the oil crunch catch us out in the way that the credit crunch did," said Virgin CEO Richard Branson and other corporate executives in the introduction to the report

19 May 2010

U.S. schools spend more on utilities than books and computers combined.

Public schools spent $8 billion on utilities in 2002, up by $2 billion from 2000, and the fluctuating utility and oil prices can be daunting when planning for the future. Although natural gas and oil prices have come down significantly from their high last July, it is important to remember their recent impact.

>> Interested in solar power? See if group discounts are available in your city
“Electricity is up approximate 12%, heating oil is up 65%, and natural gas is up 40%,” said Supt. Dr. Patricia Grenier of Barnstable School District last summer. “This is nothing that anyone has done, but this is an impact that must be addressed.”

Some school districts are cutting staff or increasing taxes. Others are even considering a 4 day school week to save on fuel costs. No matter how the budgets are ultimately balanced, it is hard for anyone to get excited about paying more for energy.

An organization called Climate Cycle is gathering momentum and enthusiasm by installing solar systems in public schools. Climate Cycle organizes bike rides to raise awareness and funds to combat climate change. Proceeds from the rides are used to install the solar systems in local schools and for global warming education. The inaugural ride will be on May 9 in downtown Chicago.

Why Solar as a Solution?

“Solar technology is a way to supplant the use of fossil fuels,” said Joey Feinstein, Executive Director of Climate Cycle. “Contrary to most people’s beliefs, residential and commercial buildings are responsible for the lion’s share of greenhouse gas emissions. Putting solar in schools is a great way to reduce the carbon emissions of these buildings.”

Solar also saves money for schools that are struggling to balance their budgets. These solar systems are provided to schools at no cost to them, while giving children first-hand experience with solutions for global warming. Renewable energy is seen as a rapidly growing job market, and students with greater knowledge of these technologies have an advantage in the job market.

“There will be tens of thousands of jobs in renewable energy in the future,” said Tim Herling, the director of operations at Notre Dame High School, a school with two solar systems. “Why not put the boys in this school in the front of this industry? If this is the future, let it start here.”

18 May 2010

Geothermal-Powered USA: One Step Closer to Reality?

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the U.S. Forest Service have just initiated a public comment period on their draft Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) for geothermal leasing all over the American West, including Alaska.
Here's the impetus for the proposal, from the press release (pdf):
Federal lands in the West and Alaska contain the largest potential geothermal resources in this country.
The draft document proposes to open up 117 million acres of BLM public lands and 75 million acres of National Forest Service lands to geothermal drilling.
Doing so would mean this. By 2015, the lands could host 110 new geothermal plants capable of producing 5,500 megawatts of power, all the while protecting the "special resource values" of the public lands and forests. By 2025, an additional 132 geothermal plants could produce another 6,600 megawatts of power.
(By way of background, total installed geothermal capacity in the US stands at around 3,000 megawatts, 90 percent of which is in California. Under the MIT scenario, 100,000 megawatts of additional new capacity using Enhanced Geothermal Systems is possible by 2050 -- for less than $1 billion spread out over 15 years.)

At the very least, this new push should help to give geothermal power, the nation's biggest untapped energy resource, more of the public and media attention it deserves.

17 May 2010

Indonesia Planning to Get Another 4,000 MW from Volcanic Geothermal Plants by 2014

Indonesia, the world’s third greenhouse gas contributor, wants to diversify its clean energy production potential by using the active volcanoes in the archipelago of 17,000 islands. If finished, this would be the world’s biggest geothermal energy project, adding another 4,000 MegaWatts of geothermal capacity to the existing 1,189 MW… all of this by 2014.
One of the issues Indonesia has to get over is the cost of the project. Currently relying mainly on coal-fired power plants, it would be a twice more expensive for the Indonesians to implement geothermal plants – costs for research and development and for building the actual volcano-harvesting plants.

Once established, geothermal plants like the one built in Kamojang, Java, in 1982 can convert the endless free supplies of volcanic heat into electricity with much lower overheads — and less pollution — than coal. This is the pay-off the government is hoping to sell at the fourth World Geothermal Congress opening Sunday on the Indonesian resort island of Bali. The six-day event will attract some 2,000 people from more than 80 countries. “An investment of 12 billion dollars is needed to add 4,000 MW capacity,” energy analyst Herman Darnel Ibrahim said, putting into context the recent announcement of 400 million dollars in financing from lenders including the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank (ADB).
Indonesia’s plan is to spread the electricity to as many people as possible, being the fastest growing economy in the Group of 20. Currently only 65% of the Indonesians have access to electricity, and their government’s goal is to reach 90 percent of the population by the end of the decade, with an extra of 10,000 MW from coal by 2012, and another 10,000 MW from clean sources (including volcanic geothermal) by 2014.
I’ve always wondered why Europe doesn’t pursue such plans of harvesting the active volcanoes. I only have to think of Eyjafjallajokull, and I think there’s enough energy to keep the entire Europe warm for a decade…

16 May 2010

15 May 2010

What If The Teabaggers Weren't White ?

A certain segment of our population, the ones called teabaggers, have been making fools of themselves for months now. They call themselves patriots and defenders of the Constitution, but they have shouted down those who would disagree with them and refused to allow civil discussion of issues in town hall meetings. They have carried signs and made statements that were racist, homophobic, misogynistic, and anti-immigrant.

They have spit of our elected representatives and called them names. They have even threatened government officials and others who dared to disagree with them. And all the while they claim to be just good Americans who are only doing what any American of any color or creed would do to protect their values and their country. Is this really true? Is their really no racial or racist component to what they are doing?

Tim Wise, an anti-racist writer and activist, doesn't think so. He's written an excellent post (and you can read the entire post here) -- and I encourage you to do so. It will make you think, and possibly open your eyes to the reality of what is happening with the teabaggers. Here is some of what he said:

Imagine that hundreds of black protesters were to descend upon Washington DC and Northern Virginia, just a few miles from the Capitol and White House, armed with AK-47s, assorted handguns, and ammunition. And imagine that some of these protesters —the black protesters — spoke of the need for political revolution, and possibly even armed conflict in the event that laws they didn’t like were enforced by the government? Would these protester — these black protesters with guns — be seen as brave defenders of the Second Amendment, or would they be viewed by most whites as a danger to the republic? What if they were Arab-Americans? Because, after all, that’s what happened recently when white gun enthusiasts descended upon the nation’s capital, arms in hand, and verbally announced their readiness to make war on the country’s political leaders if the need arose.

Imagine that white members of Congress, while walking to work, were surrounded by thousands of angry black people, one of whom proceeded to spit on one of those congressmen for not voting the way the black demonstrators desired. Would the protesters be seen as merely patriotic Americans voicing their opinions, or as an angry, potentially violent, and even insurrectionary mob? After all, this is what white Tea Party protesters did recently in Washington.

Imagine that a rap artist were to say, in reference to a white president: “He’s a piece of shit and I told him to suck on my machine gun.” Because that’s what rocker Ted Nugent said recently about President Obama.

In other words, imagine that even one-third of the anger and vitriol currently being hurled at President Obama, by folks who are almost exclusively white, were being aimed, instead, at a white president, by people of color. How many whites viewing the anger, the hatred, the contempt for that white president would then wax eloquent about free speech, and the glories of democracy? And how many would be calling for further crackdowns on thuggish behavior, and investigations into the radical agendas of those same people of color?

To ask any of these questions is to answer them. Protest is only seen as fundamentally American when those who have long had the luxury of seeing themselves as prototypically American engage in it. When the dangerous and dark “other” does so, however, it isn’t viewed as normal or natural, let alone patriotic. Which is why Rush Limbaugh could say, this past week, that the Tea Parties are the first time since the Civil War that ordinary, common Americans stood up for their rights: a statement that erases the normalcy and “American-ness” of blacks in the civil rights struggle, not to mention women in the fight for suffrage and equality, working people in the fight for better working conditions, and LGBT folks as they struggle to be treated as full and equal human beings.

And this, my friends, is what white privilege is all about. The ability to threaten others, to engage in violent and incendiary rhetoric without consequence, to be viewed as patriotic and normal no matter what you do, and never to be feared and despised as people of color would be, if they tried to get away with half the shit we do, on a daily basis.

14 May 2010

Tea Bagger Logic

This is teabagger logic. They oppose taxes while surrounded by many of the things that taxes pay for (and which I'm sure they would not want to do without). I'm surprised these people can walk and breathe at the same time.

13 May 2010

Outrageous: Exxon Mobil Paid No Income Tax in 2009

Last week, Forbes magazine published what the top U.S. corporations paid in taxes last year. “Most egregious,” Forbes notes, is General Electric, which “generated $10.3 billion in pretax income, but ended up owing nothing to Uncle Sam. In fact, it recorded a tax benefit of $1.1 billion.” Big Oil giant Exxon Mobil, which last year reported a record $45.2 billion profit, paid the most taxes of any corporation, but none of it went to the IRS:

Exxon tries to limit the tax pain with the help of 20 wholly owned subsidiaries domiciled in the Bahamas, Bermuda and the Cayman Islands that (legally) shelter the cash flow from operations in the likes of Angola, Azerbaijan and Abu Dhabi. No wonder that of $15 billion in income taxes last year, Exxon paid none of it to Uncle Sam, and has tens of billions in earnings permanently reinvested overseas.

Mother Jones’ Adam Weinstein notes that, despite benefiting from corporate welfare in the U.S., Exxon complains about paying high taxes, claiming that it threatens energy innovation research. Pat Garofalo at the Wonk Room notes that big corporations’ tax shelter practices similar to Exxon’s shift a $100 billion annual tax burden onto U.S. taxpayers. In fact, in 2008, the Government Accountability Office found that “two out of every three United States corporations paid no federal income taxes from 1998 through 2005.”

12 May 2010

Many Firms Didn't Pay Taxes

About two-thirds of corporations operating in the United States did not pay taxes annually from 1998 to 2005, according to a new report scheduled to be made public today from the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

In 2005, after collectively making $2.5 trillion in sales, corporations gave a variety of reasons on their tax returns to account for the absence of taxable revenue. The most frequently listed included the cost of producing their goods, salary expenses and interest payments on their debt, the report said.

The GAO did not analyze whether the firms had profits that should have been taxed.

Sen. Byron L. Dorgan (D-N.D.) called the findings "a shocking indictment of the current tax system."

"It's shameful that so many corporations make big profits and pay nothing to support our country," he said. "The tax system that allows this wholesale tax avoidance is an embarrassment and unfair to hardworking Americans who pay their fair share of taxes. We need to plug these tax loopholes and put these corporations back on the tax rolls."

Eric Toder, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute, said the vast majority of corporations are small businesses and start-ups that have adopted a corporate structure that allows them to lower their tax bills.

"I'm not trying to imply that there aren't tax-compliance issues among small corporations," he said. "But when you are talking about businesses that size, I would suspect the norm would be to not pay taxes, and there's nothing nefarious about that." Toder had not yet seen the GAO study.

A greater proportion of large corporations pay taxes, according to the GAO. In 2005, about 28 percent of large corporations paid no taxes. Of the 1.3 million corporations included in the study, 998 were categorized as "large."

Dorgan and Sen. Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.) requested the report out of concern that some corporations were using "transfer pricing" to reduce their tax bills. The practice allows multi-national companies to transfer goods and assets between internal divisions so they can record income in a jurisdiction with low tax rates.

The GAO said data on transfer pricing were scarce. Instead, it compared the percentages of foreign- and U.S.-controlled corporations that are paying taxes.

In general, the GAO found that slightly more foreign firms paid no taxes. From 1998 to 2005, 68 percent of foreign-controlled corporations sent nothing to the Internal Revenue Service, compared with 66 percent of U.S. companies. The report noted in an opening paragraph, however, that the GAO did not study whether the foreign companies were using transfer pricing.

Still, Levin said: "This report makes clear that too many corporations are using tax trickery to send their profits overseas and avoid paying their fair share in the United States."

Cross posted from the Washington Post

11 May 2010

David Is To Be Returned To Italy . A bit of cultural news for a welcome change.

After a two year loan to the United States ,
Michelangelo's David is being returned to Italy

10 May 2010

The Imminent Crash of the Oil Supply: What Is Going to Happen and How It Came to Pass That We Weren't Forewarned

Look at this graph and be afraid. It does not come from Earth First. It does not come from the Sierra Club. It was not drawn by Socialists or Nazis or Osama Bin Laden or anyone from Goldman-Sachs. If you are a Republican Tea-Partier, rest assured it does not come from a progressive Democrat. And vice versa. It was drawn by the United States Department of Energy, and the United States military’s Joint Forces Command concurs with the overall picture.
What does it imply? The supply of the world’s most essential energy source is going off a cliff. Not in the distant future, but in a year and a half. Production of all liquid fuels, including oil, will drop within 20 years to half what it is today. And the difference needs to be made up with “unidentified projects,” which one of the world’s leading petroleum geologists says is just a “euphemism for rank shortage,” and the world’s foremost oil industry banker says is “faith based” http://www.eia.doe.gov/conference/2009/session3/Sweetnam.pdf.

This graph was prepared for a DOE meeting on May 9, 2009. Take a good look at what it says, assuming it to be correct:

1. Conventional oil will be almost all gone in 20 years, and there is nothing known to replace it.

2. Production of petroleum from existing conventional sources has been dropping at a rate slightly over 4% per year for at least a year and will continue to do so for the indefinite future.

3. The graph implies that we are past the peak of production and that there are750 billion barrels of conventional oil left (the areas under the “conventionals” portion of the graph, extrapolated to the right as an exponentional). Assuming that the remaining reserves were 900 billion or more at the halfway point, then we are at least 150 billion barrels, or 5 years, past the midpoint.

4. Total petroleum production from all presently known sources, conventional and unconventional, will remain “flat” at approximately 83 mbpd for the next two years and then will proceed to drop for the foreseeable future, at first slowly but by 4% per year after 2015.

5. Demand will begin to outstrip supply in 2012, and will already be 10 million barrels per day above supply in only five years. The United States Joint Forces Command concurs with these specific findings. http://www.jfcom.mil/newslink/storyarchive/2010/JOE_2010_o.pdf, at 31. 10 million bpd is equivalent to half the United States’ entire consumption. To make up the difference, the world would have to find another Saudi Arabia and get it into full production in five years, an impossibility. See The Oil Drum, http://www.theoildrum.com/node/5154.

6. The production from presently existing conventional sources will plummet from its present 81 mbpd to 30 mbpd by 2030, a 63% drop in a 20-year period.

7. Meeting demand requires discovering, developing, and bringing to full production 60mbpd (105-45) of “unidentified projects” in the 18-year period of 2012-2030 and approximately 25 mbpd of such projects by 2020, on the basis of a very conservative estimate of only 1% annual growth in demand. The independent Oxford Institute of Energy Studies has estimated a possibe development of 6.5mbpd of such projects, including the Canadian tar sands, implying a deficit of 18-19 mbpd as compared to demand, and an approximate 14 mbpd drop in total liquid fuels production relative to 2012, a 16% drop in 8 years.

8. The curve is virtually identical to one produced by geologists Colin Campbell and Jean Laherrere and published in “The End of Cheap Oil,” in Scientific American, March, 1998, twelve years ago. They projected that production of petroleum from conventional sources would drop from 74 mbpd in 2003 (as compared to 84 mbpd in 2008 in the DOE graph) and drop to 39 mbpd by 2030 (as compared to 39 mbpd by 2030 in the DOE graph!) http://www.jala.com/energy1.php. Campbell and Laherrere predicted a 2003 “peak,” and the above graph implies a ‘peak” (not necessarily the actual peak, but the midpointr of production of 2005 or before.

So here we are, if the graph is right, on the edge of a precipice, with no prior warning from either the industry, which knows what it possesses, or the collective governments, which ostensibly protect the public interest. As Colin Campbell, a research geologist who has worked for many large oil companies and studied oil depletion extensively (http://www.peakoil.net/about-aspo/dr-colin-campbell) says, “The warning signals have been flying for a long time. They have been plain to see, but the world turned a blind eye, and failed to read the message” http://www.greatchange.org/ov-campbell,outlook.html. The world was completely transformed by oil for the duration of the twentieth century, but if the graph is right, within 20 years it will be virtually gone but our dependence upon it will not. Instead, we have:

zero time to plan how to replace cars in our lives;

zero time to plan how to manufacture and install milions of furnaces to replace home oil furnaces, and zero time toproduce the infrastructure necessary to carry out that task;

zero time to retool suburbia so it can function without gasoline;

zero time to plan for replacement of the largest military establishment in history, almost completely dependent upon oil;

zero time to plan to support nine billion peolple without the “green revolution,” a creation of the age of oil;

zero time to plan to replace oil as an essential fuel in electricity production;

zero time to plan for preserving millions of miles of roads without asphalt;

zero time to plan for the replacement of oil in its essential role in every industry;

zero time to plan for replacement of oil in its exclusive role of transporting people, agricultural produce, manufactured goods. In a world without oil that appears only twenty years away, there will be no oil-burning ships transporting US grain to other countries, there will be no oil-burning airlines linking the world’s major cities, there will be no oil-burning ships transporting Chinese manufactured goods to the billions now dependent on them;

zero time to plan for the survival of the billions of new people expected by 2050 in the aftermath of peak everything;

zero capital, because of failing banks ansd public and private debt, to address these issues.

For the rest of the article click here.

09 May 2010

Time for Recall in Virginia

Virginia’s new Attorney General is one of the whack jobs. So whacky in fact, some voters are beginning to have doubts about “Kookanelli’s” qualifications to hold office. In this interview, Attorney General Cuccinelli threatens to get to the bottom of the Obama Birth Certificate “issue”. Looks like things are going to get very rough here in Virginia with our new Republican Governor and AG. I’m not sure the state’s laws would support a recall election – but with the Birth Certificate issue, impeachment may indeed be a legitimate recourse.
Kookaneiili also raised the ire of throusands of College kids around the state -

Students irate at Cuccinelli over gay-rights policies

Campus activists across Virginia put spring break on hold Monday to mobilize against Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II, who has riled student groups with a letter advising public universities to retreat from their policies against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

More than 3,000 people joined the Facebook page “We Don’t Want Discrimination In Our State Universities And Colleges!” Nearly 1,000 people joined another, started by activists at the College of William and Mary. The University of Virginia group Queer & Allied Activism urged students to protest on Cuccinelli’s Facebook page and on Twitter.

Students at Virginia Commonwealth University, one of the few in the state not on break, planned a rally for noon Wednesday, with several hundred students committed. At Christopher Newport University, student Republican and Democratic leaders will discuss their next steps at a bipartisan meeting Friday.

“I’ve never gotten so many e-mails from students wanting to do something,” said Brandon Carroll, 21, president of the student government at Virginia Tech. He said any erosion in gay rights at state universities is “going to make us lose top students. It’s going to make us lose top faculty.”

A growing number of industry leaders have also lined up against the directive from Cuccinelli (R), some portraying it as a threat to the quality and competitiveness of Virginia’s higher-education system.

On Thursday, Cuccinelli wrote in a letter that Virginia’s public universities could not adopt policies that prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation “absent specific authorization from the General Assembly.” All of Virginia’s largest state schools have adopted such language. Faculty leaders at William and Mary sought expanded protections for gender identity and expression earlier this school year.

In an interview Monday, Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) supported the legal reasoning of Cuccinelli’s letter but stressed that he would allow neither colleges nor other state agencies to discriminate.

“There’s a long list of opinions. It’s all separation-of-powers issues,” he said. “But that doesn’t mean that a governor can’t say to his managers, ‘I will not tolerate discrimination in this administration.’ “

McDonnell indicated Monday that he might sign legislation extending legal protections on the basis of sexual orientation if it were to pass the General Assembly. “I’d consider it,” he said. “I’d have to look at the legal arguments for it.”

Although there was little sign of support for Cuccinelli on Virginia’s campuses, others rallied behind him. The Family Foundation sent its supporters an e-mail titled “AG Follows Law, Gets Ripped” and promised to resist any push to have the legislature address the issue again before it adjourns Saturday.

Crossposted from BTX3's Blog

08 May 2010

Virginians: McDonnell/Bolling/Cuccinelli Wrong on Climate & Energy

Cross posted from TheGreenMiles.com

First, let's establish one thing: Virginia's government is doing nothing to address global warming. That's not me talking -- that's what a Virginia Department of Environmental Quality spokesman told the Newport News Daily Press. No, wait -- that's not quite right. Virginia is actively trying to obstruct action on global warming thanks to the war on science led by Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli & supported by Gov. Bob McDonnell & Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling.

Meanwhile, last month was the hottest March on record globally & broke a record for lack of cold locally. That's after 2009 was the 2nd-hottest year on record & the 2000s were the hottest decade on record. Oh, and remember the "oil crisis" in the 1970s? We import twice as much oil today as we did then.

The poll shows Virginians explicitly reject the McDonnell/Bolling/Cuccinelli clean energy & climate obstruction in three key areas:
Virginians want state government to act, not obstruct. 78% agree "Virginia’s government has to create policies that could address the issue of climate change and improve the state’s environment."
It doesn't matter if they don't buy the science. 91% agree "regardless of whether there is or isn’t climate change, it is still in Virginia’s best interest to develop new sources of energy that are cleaner, reliable, affordable, and safer."
Virginians are willing to pay a little more for clean energy. 81% agree "slightly higher energy costs today are worth the investment if they lead to energy that is cleaner, reliable, affordable, and safer down the road."
Oh, and the winter snowstorms that the Virginia GOP & Ken Cuccinelli said were proof global warming isn't happening? Only 5% of Virginia voters agree. Instead, 28% say the freakishly strong storms made them more concerned about climate change.

Overall? Only 38% give Virginia's environment an A or a B. That's down sharply from 45% just last year.

I'd say there was a huge opportunity for Virginia Democrats to go after McDonnell/Bolling/Cuccinelli & establish clear contrast in the eyes of voters. But from state-level candidates like Tim Kaine, Creigh Deeds & Jody Wagner to Senators Mark Warner & Jim Webb, Virginia Democrats seem to prefer instead to listen to Republican positions promoting polluting fuels & say "me, too!"

To get clear contrast, you have to go to the regional level -- House members like Tom Perriello, Jim Moran & Gerry Connolly, State Senators like Chap Peterson & Donald McEachin, or Delegates like Albert Pollard, Scott Surovell, Adam Ebbin & David Englin.

As Virginia Democrats plot strategy for 2010, 2011 & beyond, can they develop a statewide strategy for taking advantage of this opening -- the gaping canyon between voters' support for a new direction on clean energy & climate action and GOP candidates' obstruction to progress & shilling for polluting fuels?

07 May 2010

Oil Drilling: Virginia Gets All the Risk, But Has to Share the Rewards?

As Not Larry Sabato points out, this is what the McDonnell/Bolling/Cuccinelli administration is working so hard to bring to Virginia:
Survivors of a thunderous blast aboard an oil platform off the Louisiana coast were being reunited with their families at a suburban New Orleans hotel early Thursday as the search for 11 missing workers continued.
But there's more! Via The Deadrise, if some senators get their way, Virginians would get no more of the revenue from drilling off our shores than would go to Iowans:
Three key Senate Democrats are urging their colleagues to reject a proposal in the emerging climate bill that would give a cut of oil and gas production royalties to states that allow offshore drilling.

Sens. Byron Dorgan of North Dakota, Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico and Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia called "revenue sharing" an ill-advised "giveaway" of money that belongs to all U.S. citizens.
All the risk, only a fraction of the rewards. I bet you didn't realize that when Bob McDonnell promised drilling revenue would fund transportation, he was referring to an expanded Route 20 to Sioux City, did you?

Cross-posted from BlueVirginia.us

06 May 2010

This Is Why We Need Public Insurance

By Ted McLaughlin
As everyone knows by now, the health care reform recently passed by Congress and signed by President Obama did not contain an option for public insurance (insurance provided by the government -- like Medicare). This was a mistake, and leaves Americans at the mercy of private insurance companies, for whom the bottom line on profits is much more important than patient care.

Take for example Wellpoint, Inc. -- which is the largest private insurance provider in the United States. Wellpoint has a female CEO, Angela Braly (pictured), and many other females in high-ranking positions within the corporation. That fact might make someone think they would be vigilant in providing excellent health care for women. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

Just ask Robin Beaton in Texas, Patricia Relling in Kentucky or Yenny Hsu in California. These women, like many others across the country, thought they had good private insurance coverage and were careful to make sure that all their premiums were paid on time. They thought they would be taken care of if they got sick and needed to use that insurance -- that is, until they actually got sick.

All three of these women were diagnosed with breast cancer. Soon after that, they were notified that their private insurance policy had been cancelled by the insurance company. It turns out that Wellpoint had a computer program that singled out women with breast cancer and then searched for a reason, any reason, to drop these women's coverage (although the company was happy to get the women's premium payments before they got sick).

This kind of action by an insurance company is called "rescission". Rescission occurs when an insurance company decides a person's illness might cost them too much money so they just drop the person from their insurance rolls (using erroneous or flimsy excuses to do so).

Now you may be thinking the new health care reform law has outlawed recission, and you would be right. But will that actually stop the practice of rescission? Probably not. Because while the new law forbids the practice of rescission, it has no real enforcement provision to back it up. And a law that has no provision for enforcement is no better than no law at all.

Many seem to think that private insurance companies exist to provide patients with medical care, but that is just not true. At best, that is only a secondary consideration. The primary purpose of a private insurance company is to make a profit -- and the bigger that profit is, the better. That is why we probably have not seen the last of rescission. It is simply too good a tool for the corporation to maximize their profits.

Even if the action causes them to have to pay a few fines, I expect the insurance companies will still find it more profitable to just pay the fines and go on dropping sick people from their insurance rolls. After all, their board and investors don't ask them how many sick people they helped each year -- only how much profit they made.

This is exactly why the profit motive must be taken out of health insurance. When a person gets sick, the only question asked should be how to make them well. How much that illness is going to cut into a company's profit should never be a consideration. And that is why we must have at least an option for government-provided health insurance.

Profit is never a consideration in a public health insurance program. The primary consideration is patient health. And it is insurance that can never be dropped -- for any reason. Since profit is not a consideration, public health insurance would be less expensive than private insurance (and would tend to drive down the cost of private insurance so they could compete).

The new health care law did a few good things, but it did not solve the problems inherent in our health care system's insurance coverage. The only thing that can do that is public health insurance. I hope it's not another 100 years before people realize that.

05 May 2010

No Comment Needed

04 May 2010

White-hot energy

STORING energy is one of the biggest obstacles to the widespread adoption of alternative sources of power. Batteries can be bulky and slow to charge. Hydrogen, which can be made electrolytically from water and used to power fuel cells, is difficult to handle. But there may be an alternative: magnesium. As school chemistry lessons show, metallic magnesium is highly reactive and stores a lot of energy. Even a small amount of magnesium ribbon burns in a flame with a satisfying white heat. Researchers are now devising ways to extract energy from magnesium in a more controlled fashion.

Engineers at MagPower in White Rock, British Columbia, for example, have developed a metal-air cell that uses water and ambient air to react with a magnesium fuel supply, in the form of a metal anode, to generate electricity. Doron Aurbach at Bar-Ilan University, Israel, has created a magnesium-based version of the lithium-ion rechargeable cell, a type of battery known for its long life and stability. It would be ideal for storing electricity from renewable sources, says Dr Aurbach. And Andrew Kindler at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena is developing a way for cars to generate hydrogen on board by reacting magnesium fuel with steam. The reaction produces a pure form of hydrogen suitable for fuel cells, leaving behind only magnesium oxide, a relatively benign material, as a by-product.

But there is, of course, a catch. Although magnesium is abundant, its production is neither cheap nor clean, says Takashi Yabe of the Tokyo Institute of Technology. Various industrial methods are used to extract magnesium, ranging from an electrolytic process to a high temperature method called the Pidgeon process, but the energy cost is high. Producing a single kilogram of magnesium requires 10kg of coal, says Dr Yabe.

To change this, he is developing a process using only renewable energy. Dr Yabe’s solution is to use concentrated solar energy to power a laser, which is used to heat and ultimately burn magnesium oxide extracted from seawater—where, he says, there is enough magnesium to meet the world’s energy needs for the next 300,000 years. A solar-pumped laser is necessary, he says, because concentrated solar energy alone would not be enough to generate the 3,700˚C temperatures required. Dr Yabe calls his approach the Magnesium Injection Cycle.

The pure magnesium can then be used as a fuel (its energy density is about ten times that of hydrogen). When the magnesium is mixed with water, it produces heat, boiling the water to produce steam, which can then drive a turbine and do useful work. The reaction also produces hydrogen, which can be burned to produce even more energy. The byproducts are water and magnesium oxide, which can then be converted back into magnesium using the solar laser.

The trouble is that concentrated solar collectors tend to be huge and costly, and solar-pumped lasers are normally very low powered. Dr Yabe’s trick is to use relatively small Fresnel lenses—transparent and relatively thin planar lenses made up of concentric rings of prisms. These are commonly found in lighthouses to magnify light in a way that would normally require a much larger, thicker lens. His other trick is to boost the output power of the lasing material, neodymium-doped yttrium aluminium garnet. It normally only absorbs about 7% of the energy from sunlight, but when doped with chromium this figure increases to more than 67%.

Dr Yabe has built a demonstration plant at Chitose, Japan, in partnership with Mitsubishi. It is capable of producing 80 watts of power from the laser, enough to cut steel and extract 70% of the magnesium in seawater. The process will, says Dr Yabe, become commercially viable when the laser power reaches 400 watts, which could happen later this year. “As a starting point we are planning to use 300 lasers to produce 50 tonnes of magnesium per year,” he says. After that, it is just a small matter of convincing the world to start thinking about a magnesium economy instead of hydrogen one, he adds.

03 May 2010

Spain invests in electric cars

MADRID — Spain says it will invest $790 million in promoting and developing production of electric cars over the next two years.

Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero said Tuesday that Spain hoped to have 20,000 electrical and hybrid vehicles by 2011, 50,000 by 2012 and 250,000 in circulation by 2014.

Automaker Renault agreed last year to make the Spain’s first electrical car in 2011 at its Valladolid plant.

02 May 2010

Las Gaviotas: A Sustainable Community Cut Off From the World Almost 40 Years Ago

It sounds like something out of a fairy tale or a children's book, a community deep in the wild jungle of Colombia, cut off from society almost 40 years ago. Then, after the rest of the world turned their back on them, they suddenly take great interest as it turns out this community has found something the rest of the world needs. Energy. And not just a new supply source but something even better. They've figured out how to be sustainable without outside influence or resources, reports The New York Times.

In the 1960's a Colombia developer named Paolo Lugari, while on a road trip through the country, stopped at an abandoned parcel of land and imagined an entire village before his eyes. The land was so poor and the area so remote - "visitors" have to pass Guerrilla check points or fly in to make it there - that no one wanted to live there. Mr. Lugari was in his very early 20's at the time. He wanted to find one of the hardest places to live and see if he could make it work. This was before the oil crisis of the 70's, but even then he knew fuel and other resources would be scarce.

Today there are 200 residents and they, "have no guns, no police force, no cars, no mayor, no church, no priest, no cellphones, no television, no Internet. No one who lives in Gaviotas has a job title." So what do they have? How did this community of 200 people create a society that is now the envy of urban planners, including Amory Lovins, around the world?

When you live in the middle of nowhere, you have to get creative. Initially scientists helped design the buildings, homes, laboratories and factories in the area but don't come around much these days thanks to all of the violence. Today they have a solar kettle for sterilizing water and solar kitchen, and a 19,800-acre reforestation project with species chosen to produce resins for biofuels, as well as, for creating conditions upon which other native plants can flourish. A children's seesaw powers the local water pump. Community members feel they are there to "try to lead a quiet life, depending on nothing but our own labor and ingenuity." Sounds pretty idyllic today.

The reforestation project is one of the most successful in the world, considering that everywhere around it is still a "tropical desert." To say Las Gaviotas is doing okay for itself is an understatement. People from outside the village trek to Las Gaviotas to earn $500 a month, which is double what they would earn in other rural areas. A mycorrhiz fungus was added almost 20 years ago to help break up and digest the poor soils and in its place other species grew up. They use the resin from the trees to power their motorbikes and tractors and sell the excess. When China dumped cheap resin imports in Colombia, the community was forced to drop their prices by almost 40% to compete.

It might sound like a fairy tale, but Las Gaviotas also has hardships too. Their remote location makes them a likely target for guerillas and organized crime trying to sneak shipments out to other areas, or at least likely that someone trying to hide something will stumble upon them. There are several guerilla and paramilitary groups that are located not too far from Las Gaviotas, but as one resident said, "we don't take part in this war, and we ask those who enter our village to do so without their rifles. So far, for us at least, this has worked." Journalists and visitors who have come this year must only stay the day and leave before dark under fear of kidnapping.

Also, the community itself is very small, and with only 12 children in school, many question how long this "experiment" can go on. As many of the residents have said, "we have survived. Maybe, at this time and place in Colombia, that is enough."

01 May 2010

The Best Fake Teabagger Signs at the Boston Common Tea Party

From the April 15th Tea Bagger Rally: