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Business on THE ENVIRONMENTALIST





Updated: 2018-03-05T18:09:53.037-08:00

 



Children v. Dirty Business

2012-04-12T12:30:31.669-07:00

by William S. BeckerOn May 11, a group of children will face off against the Obama administration and the National Association of Manufacturers for the latest round of a David vs. Goliath battle in federal court.The kids filed a lawsuit last year against the administration, arguing that common law requires governments to protect critical natural resources on behalf of current and future generations. In this case, the kids argue, the government has an inherent duty to protect the atmosphere from greenhouse gas emissions, and all of us from the impacts of global climate change.In their lawsuit, a group called Our Children's Trust filed against a who's who of administration officials including EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Commerce Secretary Gary Locke and Energy Secretary Steven Chu.Earlier this month, U.S. District Judge Robert Wikins ruled that the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) and several California businesses could intervene against the kids, based on the argument that limiting greenhouse gas emissions would lead to a "diminution or cessation of their businesses" -- in other words, jeopardize their profit margins.Now, NAM and the administration have asked the judge to dismiss the case. That's the motion to be considered in May.Blogger Ben Jervey has done a good job describing the lawsuit's background, including who the kids are and why they're doing this, so I won't go into it here. But I am curious about an argument attributed to one of the attorneys for the businesses, that companies have a "legally protected cognizable interest to freely emit CO2."Of course, what is legal is not necessarily moral, but morality is the province of the clergy, not the courts. More to the point, it would seem that the public -- present and future -- has a "cognizable interest" to live without the natural disasters, health hazards, humanitarian tragedies and threats of war that are the likely results of climate change and that already are in evidence today.Further, as unofficial co-plaintiffs in this case, we might all point out that while companies can resolve this problem by installing better emission controls, or using cleaner fuels, or changing the nature of their operations, the damages from greenhouse gas emissions are not so easily avoided. In fact, scientists tell us that some of the damages are irreversible.At the heart of this case, it seems to me, is not whether current law permits corporations to willfully alter the atmosphere with their wastes. If we depend solely on political bodies to protect the climate, for example, then we will politicize the atmosphere as well as polluting it. The health of oceans, forests, fresh water supplies and soils -- and consequently human beings -- all will be subject to the whims and prejudices of politicians.The real issue is whether the health of the natural systems and resources that all of us "own" is protected by a doctrine that transcends the interests of any one industry, the statutes of any one Congress, the actions of any administration, or the abdication of responsibility by any of them.As a 65-year-old, I must admit some embarrassment that our children now feel obligated to face off against the giants of industry and government and all their lawyers. These kids are stepping in where their elders in Washington and the international community have feared to tread.But it's also heartening and none too soon. What could be established as a result of this lawsuit is that protecting a global life-support system from irreparable harm is a higher priority than corporate profits -- profits derived in part from making the rest of us pay the god-awful price of greenhouse gas emissions. It's our kids who will have to live with the court's ultimate decision, but it's in the interest of all of us for Judge Wilkins to allow the lawsuit to proceed.LABELS: BILL BECKER, BUSINESS, CHILDREN, CLIMATE CHANGE, ENVIRONMENT, EPA, GLOBAL WARMING,LAW, NAM[...]



Plowshares for Security in the Pacific Northwest

2012-03-19T11:38:21.223-07:00

by William S. BeckerSwords into PlowsharesWhile the nation's attention has been focused on ending one war (Afghanistan) and avoiding another (Iran), a different idea about national defense has been circulating lately among some of America's thought leaders.The idea is this: National defense isn't only about containing foreign threats; it's also about strengthening the fabric of society. In other words, sustainable development is a critical component of national security.This isn't a new thought, but new people are thinking it, including some whose job is to figure out how to prevent the foreign conflicts that end up costing U.S. lives and treasure.A half-century ago, President Eisenhower, Congress and U.S. automakers defined "strong" as an interstate highway system. Thirty years ago, Amory and Hunter Lovins defined "strong" as moving away from "brittle power" -- our dependence on fragile energy systems.Last spring, two influential military officers went public with the idea that sustainable development must be central to America's global strategy. Marine Corps Col. Mark Mykleby and Navy Capt. Wayne Porter wrote that to thrive in this century's "strategic ecology", the United States must move from a global posture of containment designed to preserve the status quo to a posture of sustainability designed to build our strength at home and our credible influence abroad. They wrote the paper while serving as senior strategic advisors to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.Today, Mykleby, now retired from the military, is collaborating with Patrick Doherty of the nonpartisan New America Foundation and David Orr of Oberlin College on an idea called "The Grand Strategy for Sustainability". It's an initiative to reshape economic policies so that market forces produce a more sustainable and secure United States while America leads by example to help build a more sustainable world.As grand as the Grand Strategy is, it is rooted in the work of nation's traditional policy laboratories: sub-national regions, states and communities. In this regard, there was good news last week from the Pacific Northwest. Three governors and the Premier of British Columbia announced that they will collaborate on an action plan to make the region's homes more energy efficient, its vehicles less dependent on oil, and its communities less vulnerable to the threat of global climate change.In making the announcement, California Gov. Jerry Brown, Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber, Washington State Gov. Christine Gregiore and B.C. Premier Christy Clark could have talked about the contribution they will make to North American security. Instead, they pointed to another set of important benefits -- economic activity and jobs.According to the Center for Climate Strategies -- a group that helps states develop and estimate the impacts of climate and energy action plans -- the growth of the green economy in the Pacific Region could create more than 1 million net new jobs and up to $95 billion in net new economic growth between 2010 and 2020.In a report commissioned by the Pacific Coast Collaborative and developed in partnership with GLOBE Advisors, the Center noted that the transition to a green economy already is underway along the West Coast with nearly 510,000 full-time-equivalent jobs in 2010 related to clean energy, energy efficiency, low-carbon mobility and environmental protection.What is especially interesting about the new action plan is the potential power of multi-state collaboration in building clean economies. For starters, California, Oregon, Washington and British Columbia will focus on energy efficiency retrofits and "on bill" consumer financing for buildings, infrastructure to support electric vehicles, and community-based programs to reduce climate risks.In practice, this could mean harmonizing their energy efficiency and environmental standards to create greater certainty for investors; combining their purchases of low-carbon vehicles; developing high-speed rail; creating regional emergency response plans to manage clima[...]



Bloomberg Investigation Uncovers Koch Industries Sales to Iran

2011-10-03T01:21:18.736-07:00

Bloomberg Markets has written a bombshell expose of Koch Industries that is bound to resound through the Brothers' vast conglomerate as much for the platform -- a normally staid financial publication -- as for the information contained therein."A Bloomberg Markets investigation has found that Koch Industries -- in addition to being involved in improper payments to win business in Africa, India and the Middle East -- has sold millions of dollars of petrochemical equipment to Iran, a country the U.S. identifies as a sponsor of global terrorism."In their piece, "Koch Brothers Flout Law Getting Richer With Secret Iran Sales," Bloomberg Markets details how the Koch Brothers hired and then fired their ethics officer charged with uncovering fraud after she'd uncovered more than fraud.Internal company records show that Koch Industries used its foreign subsidiary to sidestep a U.S. trade ban barring American companies from selling materials to Iran. Koch-Glitsch offices in Germany and Italy continued selling to Iran until as recently as 2007, the records show.Certain sales to Iran are against the law unless one finds a way around them. In Koch's own internal investigation, according to the Bloomberg Markets report, they identified the actions of their subsidiary as: '"Those activities constitute violations of criminal law,” Koch Industries wrote in a Dec. 8, 2008, letter giving details of its findings. The letter was made public in a civil court ruling in France in September 2010; the document has never before been reported by the media.'Whether this will lead to further investigation or just a wider awareness of the Koch Brothers' tentacles into questionable enterprises, one question that arises from this article and the platform therein is why now? Is it because the Republican "mainstream" -- what still exists of it -- sees the Tea Party funding Koch Brothers as a threat to a more electable candidate than the Koch-supported Rick Perry? Is it because Bloomberg Markets' investigative team are just darn good reporters? (They are).We may never know the backstory on the editorial decision to publish the stunning expose on the Koch Brothers. We know that it didn't come from Jane Mayer of The New Yorker or from Lee Fang of Think Progress, tireless and talented reporters who've tried to bring attention to the Koch Brothers' unprecedented influence on politics and industry.  It came from a financial publication. This is not, as the Koch Brothers have argued in the past, a political hit piece from the Left. This time, they must looked to the Middle-Right.There are other questions that arise from the Bloomberg Markets' report that might be worth asking at the next Republican debate of those who've received money from the Koch Brothers:  Did any of that money come from their dealings with Iran's Zagros Petrochemical Company, the world's largest methane producer? If so, perhaps those contributions should be returned? The same question could be asked of the many members of Congress, the Republican governors, the state legislators who receive Koch Brothers' contributions and last, but not at all least, the erstwhile Tea Partiers who have hid their head in the sand at the fact that they are being funded by billionaires who'd like to see the Medicare for which they demand protection be dismantled.  Don't they need to ask where those funds came from? Do the people who stood up and shouted at town halls after having been bused in by the Koch Brothers' Tea Party organizations need to ask what these guys are after and are they acting in their own best interest by doing their bidding?  Questions have been asked by the left and left of center media about Koch Industries for a long time.   Now those questions are being asked and answered by Bloomberg Markets Magazine and that is new. The comprehensive report is at this link:  http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-10-02/koch-brothers-flout-law-getting-richer-with-secret-iran-sale[...]



Poor No More! Or That 'Hard-Working Middle Class'

2011-02-23T13:56:58.041-08:00

by Sherman YellenProtest in Wisconsin, 2011When have you last heard the term "hard-working poor" coming from any politician? Probably not in the past decade. Nobody is a member of the working poor anymore. Everyone is a member of the over-worked, over-taxed, hard-working middle class. That includes those making $25,000 a year as a Wal-Mart store manager, to those making $450,000 as a hedge fund clipper, to those making $12,000 dollars as a part time hospital cleaning woman.That's what Barack Obama and Sarah Palin have in common. An inability to call it as it is. We are poor no more. To call a man or woman poor is to insult them -- to call them a failure in this land of plenty. Everyone is middle class. Nobody wants to help the undeserving poor -- but ah, the working middle class? They deserve all our compassion and assistance, short of better schools and subsidized college education and decent housing. Of course a look around any inner city will demonstrate the big lie behind this. The poor as Jesus said are always with us, but politicians don't want to know about them until they vote, and our politicos seem to prefer this part of the Jesus message to that part which sees it as a moral duty to relieve their suffering. Part of the rage we see throughout the world, and here in our country, comes from the unwillingness to face the hard fact that there are so many hanging on to life by their fingernails, often assisted by trade unions, the very unions whom the governor of Wisconsin, supported by the hyper rich, hyper conservative Koch brothers and their minions would crush so that this "middle class" would take a free fall into deepest poverty -- creating a cheaper labor pool. We will not have to export jobs if we can create our own Bangladesh in this country. What right have I to talk about the working poor? Some might say none since I have never been poor. I am neither proud nor ashamed of that. As a freelance writer, playwright, screenwriter, I have had great times and fallow times in which I have been miserably broke, but never poor. I always knew that I had the education, the talent (judgment mine) and the spirit (which often means enough past success) to turn my fortunes around. And so they have.I know about the poor because my parents were poor in the old fashioned four kids in one bed, two missed meals a day, school over at twelve years, and dog work until luck or brains lifted them into the middle class. My immigrant grandfather worked as a tailor, a riveter on the Brooklyn Bridge, and a night-watchmen -- my doctor father-in-law worked as a streetcar conductor and whatever else could pay the tuition of med school -- whatever was offered to strong men desperate to rise from poverty. Luck belonged to my mother Lilly -- born with such inordinate beauty that while other young women worked and died in sweat shops she was a fashion model and later a store manager, and able to educate herself into another class. Joan Crawford had nothing on her in those old movies. Brains belonged to my Dad -- sweeping up stables and hardware stores at ten -- ending up as the owner of a modest woolen factory, able to put his children through college before his business dissolved, yet leaving us with the skills to make it in the world. But my parents lived in a non-technological world in which being smart or pretty or lucky could change your fortunes -- and jobs were not exported overseas by those whose religion is the bottom line.In my parents' world, and in mine, it was no disgrace to be poor. You could work your way into the middle class but you couldn't delude yourself into it. Now this refusal to face the hard facts of widespread poverty in this country (I leave the statistics to others) mocked by the enormous salaries of the non-working gambling class (sometimes called the financiers) has led to a nation-wide delusion. In this form of mass madness "Nobody is poor!"We have a friend who can only be classified as poor. This woman in her seventies lost all h[...]



Republican Budget Proposal Guts International Climate Funding

2011-02-15T01:01:33.919-08:00

by Jake SchmidtWind Ranch in Texas - Photo: Billy Hathorn The House Republican budget proposal would gut key programs to help the US tap into the growing global demand for clean energy technologies, reduce the carbon pollution from the loss of tropical forests, and help developing countries adapt to the impacts of global warming.  Cutting these programs is bad for American competitiveness and for the environment.In the last fiscal year (FY2010), Congress approved funding of $1.3 billion for global efforts to reduce carbon pollution and help developing countries become less vulnerable to global warming impacts.  This funding is a very, very, very small share of the overall US budget—around 0.04% of the overall US budget.  Cutting this funding will have important implications for Americans.   Reducing opportunities for American companies and workers to tap into the growing global demand for clean energy.  There is a $10 trillion market for clean energy technologies over the next two decades as the world moves to address global warming.  That demand provides a huge opportunity for American companies and workers.  According to one study, the US could create 280,000 to 850,000 new jobs if it captures just 14 percent of the clean technology market in the developing world. These aren’t just hypothetical opportunities.  The global demand for clean energy continued to skyrocket last year—reaching $243 billion and increasing by 30% from the previous year.  American companies are already tapping into the opportunities provided by US international funding as Clipper Wind (with a manufacturing facility in Iowa) found when it was chosen to supply wind turbines for a Mexican project supported with US investments.  One look at the list of projects waiting for funding in one US supported program – the Clean Technology Fund (CTF) – shows the huge opportunities that could materialize for US companies and workers if the US supported these projects becoming a reality.  These opportunities will be lost if the proposed budget cuts are enacted (the CTF was zeroed out in the House Republican budget proposal).Bad for the environment: reducing carbon pollution from deforestation.   Every year an area the size of New York State is lost to tropical deforestation.  The resulting carbon pollution from this forest loss is significant – about as much as the total pollution from the world’s transportation sector.  Reducing this forest loss can be some of the least costly ways to address carbon pollution.  US funding for deforestation reduction helps countries establish rule of law, address illegal logging, and make tropical forests worth more standing than cut down.  For example, the US is helping some of the poorest communities in the world in places like the Congo Basin in Africa and Guatemala in Central America.  The Republican Budget proposal would significantly cut US efforts to reduce carbon pollution from forest loss.  The funding that is proposed to be cut isn’t a handout.  They are investments that benefit American citizens by reducing the carbon pollution that is causing global warming.  And they benefit American farmers and ranchers by ensuring that there is a level playing field for US agriculture and forest products sourced from sustainable activities—estimated to increase American farmers and ranchers revenue by $7-9 billion per year.  Very troubling for global political stability.  We live in an interconnected world.  Changes in one region can often have spillover impacts to other countries and regions.  Just look at what is happening in the Middle East to help visualize that dynamic.  Global warming has the potential to dramatically reshape future security environments as an exercise conducted at [...]



Oil Spill Commission Assigns Blame for BP Disaster

2011-01-06T02:17:36.600-08:00

by The Environmentalist StaffThe National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill has released a chapter from their final report due on January 11, 2011. In the chapter, which is blunt in its assessment, they assign primary blame for the disaster to mismanagement by BP, Halliburton, Transocean, and the lack of proper regulatory oversight.The blowout was not the product of a series of aberrational decisions made by rogue industry or government officials that could not have been anticipated or expected to occur again. Rather, the root causes are systemic and, absent significant reform in both industry practices and government policies, might well recur. The Root Causes: Failures in Industry and Government, Chapter Four from final report by The National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill"My observation of the oil industry," stated Commission Co-Chair William K. Reilly in a press release that announced the chapter's conclusions, "indicates that there are several companies with exemplary safety and environment records. So a key question posed from the outset by this tragedy is, do we have a single company, BP, that blundered with fatal consequences, or a more pervasive problem of a complacent industry? Given the documented failings of both Transocean and Halliburton, both of which serve the off shore industry in virtually every ocean, I reluctantly conclude we have a system-wide problem."A key chapter from the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill's final report shows the panel is pulling no punches in assigning blame for last April's oil rig explosion. That blast killed 11 workers, seriously injured others and created the largest oil spill ever in American waters.When William Reilly became the co-chairman of the commission, he expected to uncover a story about one bad actor: BP. Instead, he found that Halliburton and Transocean were deeply implicated."I was surprised and shocked," Reilly says.Panel Spreads Blame For BP Oil Rig Explosion by ELIZABETH SHOGREN, NPR, January 6, 2011The released chapter opens with a quote from an email by a BP engineer in the lead-up to the disaster: "But, who cares, it’s done, end of story, [we] will probably be fine and we’ll get a good cement job."In its press release, the commission states, "Better management by BP, Halliburton, and Transocean would almost certainly have prevented the blowout by improving the ability of individuals involved to identify the risks they faced, and to properly evaluate, communicate, and address them."“The Commission’s findings only compound our sense of tragedy," Co-Chair Bob Graham said, "because we know now that the blowout of the Macondo well was avoidable. This disaster likely would not have happened had the companies involved been guided by an unrelenting commitment to safety first. And it likely would not have happened if the responsible governmental regulators had the capacity and will to demand world class safety standards. There is nothing that we can do to bring back the lives of the men we lost that day. But we can honor their memory by pledging to take steps necessary to avoid repeating the fatal practices of the past."Key findings from the chapter:“. . .the Macondo blowout was the product of several individual missteps and oversights by BP, Halliburton, and Transocean, which government regulators lacked the authority, the necessary resources, and the technical expertise to prevent.”“The blowout was not the product of a series of aberrational decisions made by rogue industry or government officials that could not have been anticipated or expected to occur again. Rather, the root causes are systemic and, absent significant reform in both industry practices and government policies, might well recur.”“What we. . .know is considerable and significant: (1) each of the mistakes made on the rig and onshore by industry and government increased the risk of a[...]



Obama's Tax Deal: Leaving out the 99ers is a 2012 Mistake

2010-12-12T11:43:13.742-08:00

by Janet RitzUnemployed or know someone out of work? Relieved the president's tax deal will provide thirteen months of continued unemployment benefits? Sorry to burst your bubble, but not all the unemployed promised a thirteen month authorization of benefits in exchange for the Bush tax cuts will receive those benefits for thirteen months. The thirteen months is an authorization to fund existing tiers, not an extension beyond those tiers. The eligible unemployed will receive checks only until they exhaust their claims. Those already on the final tiers -- the up to two million who are a portion of the 6.1 million long-term unemployed -- will see their unemployment benefits end in early 2011. They will join the millions of 99ers -- those whose claims have ended -- in an escalating downward spiral of the middle class that will culminate in a burst of anger at the president when these disenfranchised new 99ers find themselves without a safety net or enough jobs to account for their numbers throughout 2011 -- while the uber-wealthy collect their exponential winnings from the tax cuts right on through 2012. I asked Austan Goolsbee from the White House about the 99ers, the long-term unemployed who've exhausted their benefits. Why has the administration not addressed their plight? He answered me directly (and indirectly) on the video in this post. He has since elaborated on his answer to a similar question by Rachel Maddow. What about the 99ers in the new tax bill? They're not covered. It's regrettable... Something must be done... What's regrettable to me, as a supporter of the president who fears a nightmarish 2013 economically, ideologically and environmentally should Obama not be reelected in 2012, are those who'll find themselves destitute after having assumed thirteen months of UI means thirteen months -- not a few weeks until they exhaust their benefits and join the millions of 99ers when there will not be enough available jobs for those who will need them in time. Are they going to vote any differently than the Midterms? I can understand why the president felt cornered into the tax deal. The Congress did not bring up the middle class tax cuts for a vote prior to the midterms. If they had, the president could have connected with the constituents of representatives for whom he'd stumped. As it was, he didn't have the hook to say Rep. Democrat here voted to extend the middle class tax cuts. Rep. Republican there blocked that because he wanted to reward the very rich. So either your taxes will go up, constituents, if you don't reelect Rep. Democrat or I'll be forced to give a giveaway to the rich. Help me out here. Reelect Rep. Dem. The Congress didn't take that vote prior to the midterms. Obama didn't have the hook. Whose fault it was, I don't know. The Speaker, the White House, the obstructionist GOP? Spilled milk. The public doesn't care. They should. Not to acknowledge how that left Obama in corner is disingenuous. The Midterms were the message; maybe not the one the electorate meant to give, but it was the one received. Compromise, work together. We're sick of you in D.C. Help us.The president heard the message and made the deal his negotiators felt they could get through. But did Jack Lew and Timothy Geithner (with his burgeoning kidney stone) ask for 99ers to be included? If they did not, it was a massive oversight. Was it discussed? Did Mr. Goolsbee, having been pressed about the 99ers the week before, bring it up prior to the negotiations and to the negotiators? If so, was he listened to or ignored? If they did bring it up and allowed the Republicans to win on that point, did they understand the implications for 2012? I bet the Republicans did. The 99ers, already in the millions, will swell by more millions before the end of 2011 -- month by month, outrage by outrage, all of which will be directed at the presi[...]



The White House Answers Questions About 99ers (Video)

2010-11-29T15:57:33.860-08:00

by Janet RitzBreadline Depicted at FDR MemorialMonster.com recently called for the unemployed and those who support them to submit questions to the White House. I've followed the plight of the 99ers, people who've lost jobs through no fault of their own and who have exhausted their benefits, and have become increasingly concerned at the treatment and discrimination I've witnessed against what once was the American middle class. My question of the White House (link):The White House has avoided using the term 99ers. Why? There are millions who've lost their jobs and have exhausted benefits through no fault of their own. How can the economy ever come back if 99ers, many middle-aged middle-class, are kicked farther under the bus. Ads say: no unemployed need apply. Age discrimination is rampant and obvious. Mortgage companies will not modify for the unemployed. Even if you get the economy going, how many millions will be forced into poverty that would otherwise be the bulwark of democracy if they were helped now?Austan Goolsbee's reply came today: This is not casual interest or a reporter's curiosity. Journalism has been savaged by this economy. I know more reporters and writers out of work than with work. Many who've lost their long-term benefits have no safety net. Others could be called 1099ers for those who didn't qualify for UI and for how long they've been without an income. These are talented and good American citizens who would do anything to work and apply for everything that comes along -- mostly with no avail. It's not just anecdotal. As a writer, an executive project manager, and publisher of a public interest magazine (everyone donates their efforts), I have my own challenges with this economy. When I research the various industries for which I am extremely qualified, I find exponentially more applicants than available jobs. What must it be like for those whose in industries that have all but collapsed or have been outsourced? The prospect for the middle class, the heart of America that has kept us strong, who fought World War II and saved us, who manufactured us into a super power, is dimmed. I've never been so concerned for my country. 99ers, unlike Glenn Beck's and Rush Limbaugh's attempts to demonize them; the weird psychological shift that's happened in the country to applaud the lack of empathy and scorn those who've been disenfranchised through no fault of their own, are in a no-win scenario. Job postings state the long-term unemployed need not apply. Coded language makes it clear the employer is not interested in the associated costs that come with middle-aged employees. It's bad business (unless your business is ratings). As Austan Goolsbee points out, as many other experts have referenced repeatedly, unemployment benefits are stimulus. The people receiving them spend the money. They don't get enough to survive long-term on them. They're not lazy. They're not discouraged from looking for work by receiving unemployment benefits. THEY DO LOOK FOR WORK, exhaustively, incessantly, and in many cases, without results because the sheer numbers of unemployed competing for the open positions are against them. It's an insurance policy to keep the middle class in place. It's a middle class and small business which depends on their spending that's under attack and their enemies are winning the war. How are they winning? By making sure the long-term unemployed will either be discouraged from voting or will vote against the Obama administration and Democrats out of anger. It's clever, it's cynical, and it's working because, as the Economic Policy Institute has pointed out, the U.S. economy would need to add 11.5 million jobs to make up for the shortfall due to the recession. In September, 2010, the private sector added 64,000 jobs.The media is complicit in this, as well. Very few outlets have rep[...]



Frontline's THE SPILL: A joint investigation into BP

2010-10-26T23:17:18.818-07:00

Frontline has teamed with ProPublica to investigate BP's history of safety problems and cost-cutting measures that led to the greatest environmental disaster in U.S. history.

The video covers the years of safety issues and prior deaths that show a pattern of violations and concern for the future. 

frameborder="0" height="366" scrollbars="none" src="http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/v/?id=frol02s44b6qfb7&w=514&h=366" style="border: 0; margin: 0; overflow: hidden; padding: 0;" type="text/html" width="514">

The full report and rest of the video are at this link.

Transcript.





Coal River Mountain Redux

2010-10-23T21:01:27.500-07:00

Dr. James HansenBelow is an update to the Coal River Mountain story that I described earlier in an e-mail, in an op-ed, and in "Storms of My Grandchildren".Mike Roselle, of Climate Ground Zero in West Virginia, has an op-ed regarding his upcoming trial in Raleigh County, West Virginia. He was arrested for trespass while protesting blasting near the Brushy Fork impoundment of 8 billion gallons of toxic coal sludge located directly above Marsh Fork Elementary School. (No word yet on trial date for Larry Gibson, Daryl Hannah and me regarding our arrest on 23 June 2009 for "obstruction", when I was reading a request that Massey Energy provide funds for a new elementary school at a safe distance).I got drawn into this by students at Virginia Tech, who fed me all the details when I gave a talk on their campus a couple of years ago. Underground Appalachian coal mining is being replaced in recent years by mountaintop removal. Big companies come in, dynamite the tops of the mountains, push the debris into the valleys, gather the coal from seams that are only several feet thick, and throw grass seed on what remains.The number of jobs with this coal mining practice is small, and it leaves the environment in a shambles, the streams and underground water heavily polluted. But it pays off big for the few guys at the top. The head of Massey Energy, Don Blankenship, was paid $17.8 million in 2009 plus $27.2 million in deferred compensation. They must also have a lot of political clout, as it is hard to see how this abominable practice could continue otherwise.Blankenship is the fellow who was photographed vacationing on the French Riviera with a West Virginia Supreme Court Justice. He also contributed $3 million to help defeat re-election of another Supreme Court Justice he opposed. References for these statements can be found on Wikipedia under "Don Blankenship." The reason I mention the Wikipedia article is that it demonstrates the courage it takes for Roselle to stand up to such people. Blankenship, for example, threatened an ABC News photographer with "If you're going to start taking pictures of me, you're liable to get shot!", as documented by references in the Wikipedia article. Reminds me of the bullet holes in Larry Gibson's cabin – made me nervous just to ride in his pick-up.Roselle deserves support for his courage in standing up to the injustice at Coal River Mountain. He has pro bono lawyers, but there are still legal expenses including those for a lawsuit that Climate Ground Zero is bringing against Massey in Federal Court. They have raised funds or pledges for $12,000 of expected $20,000 costs, and need to raise the remainder by the end of the year. Donations of any amount to Climate Ground Zero Legal Fund would be appreciated.This is not a hopeless story. Roselle believes, and I agree, that the attention is bringing the day closer when blasting will stop on Coal River and everywhere in the Appalachians. Now is the time to press the case and stop this wanton rape of nature.----------------------------------------------------------------------------Doctor James Hansen, an adjunct professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Columbia University, heads the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Sciences. His website can be found at: http://www.columbia.edu/~jeh1/Labels: Don Blankenship, Business, Coal River Mountain, Environment, GISS, James Hansen, Massey Energy, Mike Roselle, NASA[...]



The Plight of the Bumblebee

2011-01-06T02:33:42.888-08:00


With all the focus on the disappearance of the honeybee, there has been little discussion about the plight of the bumblebee, one of the hardest workers in the wild world of agriculture, despite this warning issued by the National Academy of Sciences October 2006.

That focus may now change as word comes from scientists that at least one bumblebee species from the Northwestern region of the United States, Franklin's Bumblebee,
may have gone extinct.
This is a serious development. Not only because the loss of any species due to human activity is, in this writer's opinion, unconscionable, but because we depend on this species more than we've taken the time to understand.
According to this newly released National Academy of Sciences report, the bumblebee is one of many pollinators losing their battle to survive because of 'habitat lost to housing developments and intensive agriculture, pesticides, pollution and diseases spilling out of greenhouses using commercial bumblebee hives.'
Long-term trends for several wild bee species -- especially bumblebees -- as well as some butterflies, bats, and hummingbirds also show population drops, the committee found. -snip-

Like the honeybee, the bumblebee has been hurt by the introduction of a non-native parasite. Many pollinator declines are associated with habitat loss...
It turns out that our native American bumblebee (the honeybee was imported) does more than provide a pleasant bass note to the summer hum we hear outside our window...




President Obama's Vision for the Economy (Video)

2010-09-09T05:59:36.018-07:00

President Obama gave a defining speech on the economy where he drew a line in the sand between his policies and those of Rep. John Boehner (R-OH), calling out the congressional minority leader eight times for obstruction, while he defined his own economic vision. It was a statement of policy and the moment when the president stood up against those who opposed him and said, in essence,  this is what I have been doing and what I'm going to do to revive our economy.  What are my opponents doing other than obstructing?  What are they going to do that's different than what brought us to the brink of a second Great Depression? This was the choice he presented along with several proposals for tax cuts for the middle class to compensate for declining wages, putting Americans to work here, rather than subsidizing business to send work offshore, and infrastructure investments.  He pointed out that John Boehner and his associates have blocked all of these initiatives and more and that they were also obstructing the tax cuts for the middle class in an effort to preserve the 700 billion dollars in tax cuts for the top two percent, which John Boehner wants  to make permanent. See: Politifact's analysis of statements by Rep. John Boehner.Excerpts from the president's remarks:"With all the other budgetary pressures we have -– with all the Republicans’ talk about wanting to shrink the deficit -- they would have us borrow $700 billion over the next 10 years to give a tax cut of about $100,000 each to folks who are already millionaires. And keep in mind wealthy Americans are just about the only folks who saw their incomes rise when Republicans were in charge. And these are the folks who are less likely to spend the money -- which is why economists don’t think tax breaks for the wealthy would do much to boost the economy.So let me be clear to Mr. Boehner and everybody else: We should not hold middle-class tax cuts hostage any longer. (Applause.) We are ready, this week, if they want, to give tax cuts to every American making $250,000 or less. (Applause.) That's 98-97 percent of Americans. Now, for any income over this amount, the tax rates would just go back to what they were under President Clinton.This isn’t to punish folks who are better off –- God bless them. It’s because we can’t afford the $700 billion price tag.""Yes, our families believed in the American values of self-reliance and individual responsibility, and they instilled those values in their children. But they also believed in a country that rewards responsibility; a country that rewards hard work; a country built on the promise of opportunity and upward mobility. They believed in an America that gave my grandfather the chance to go to college because of the GI Bill; an America that gave my grandparents the chance to buy a home because of the Federal Housing Authority; an America that gave their children and grandchildren the chance to fulfill our dreams thanks to college loans and college scholarships.It was an America where you didn’t buy things you couldn’t afford; where we didn’t just think about today -– we thought about tomorrow. An America that took pride in the goods that we made, not just the things we consumed. An America where a rising tide really did lift all boats, from the company CEO to the guy on the assembly line.That’s the America I believe in."The president spoke of where we are now: "The truth is progress has been painfully slow. Millions of jobs were lost before our policies even had a chance to take effect. We lost 4 million in the six months before I took office. It was a hole so deep that even though we’ve added jobs again, millions of Americans remain unemployed. Hundreds of thousa[...]



President Obama's Labor Day Speech (Video)

2010-09-07T12:40:39.415-07:00

President Obama kicked off the 2010 midterm election season with a rousing Labor Day speech in Milwaukee at the annual Laborfest event. The speech is notable for its focus on green and infrastructure jobs and for its tone, which shows a more direct approach to the ongoing obstruction by special interests of programs the president has proposed to revive the economy.A notable excerpt is where the president when off script to remark that powerful special interests talked about him "like a dog": "We didn’t come this far by letting the special interests run wild. We didn’t do it just by gambling and chasing paper profits on Wall Street. We built this country by making things, by producing goods we could sell. We did it with sweat and effort and innovation. (Applause.) We did it on the assembly line and at the construction site. We did it by investing in the people who built this country from the ground up –- the workers, middle-class families, small business owners. We out-worked folks and we out-educated folks and we out-competed everybody else. That’s how we built America. ...Over the last two years, that’s meant taking on some powerful interests -- some powerful interests who had been dominating the agenda in Washington for a very long time. And they’re not always happy with me. They talk about me like a dog. That’s not in my prepared remarks, it’s just -- but it’s true." Transcript:Remarks by the President at Laborfest in Milwaukee, WisconsinHenry Maier Festival Park, Milwaukee, Wisconsin2:11 P.M. CDTTHE PRESIDENT: Hello, Milwaukee! (Applause.) Hello, Milwaukee! (Applause.) Thank you. It is good to be back in Milwaukee. It is good to be -- I’m almost home. (Applause.) I just hop on the 94 and I’m home. (Applause.) Take it all the way to the South Side.It is good -- it is good to be here on such a beautiful day. Happy Labor Day, everybody. (Applause.) I want to say thank you to the Milwaukee Area Labor Council and all of my brothers and sisters in the AFL-CIO for inviting me to spend this day with you -- (applause) -- a day that belongs to the working men and women of America.I want to acknowledge your outstanding national president, a man who knows that a strong economy needs a strong labor movement: Rich Trumka. (Applause.) Thank you to the president of Wisconsin AFL-CIO Dave Newby. (Applause.) Our host, your area Labor Council Secretary-Treasurer Sheila Cochran. I hear it’s Sheila’s birthday tomorrow. Where is she? (Applause.) Happy birthday, Sheila. (Applause.) I’m proud to be here with our Secretary of Labor, a daughter of union members, Hilda Solis. (Applause.) And our Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood is in the house. (Applause.) And I want everybody to give it up for people who are at the forefront of every fight for Wisconsin’s working men and women -- Senator Herb Kohl; Congresswoman Gwen Moore. (Applause.) Your outstanding mayor and I believe soon to be outstanding governor Tom Barrett is in the house. (Applause.) And I know -- I know your other great senator, Russ Feingold, was here earlier standing with you and your families just like he always has. Now he’s in his hometown of Janesville to participate in their Labor Day parade.So it is good to be back. Now, of course, this isn’t my first time at Laborfest. Some of you remember I stood right here with you two years ago when I was still a candidate for this office. (Applause.) And during that campaign, we talked about how, for years, the values of hard work and responsibility that had built this country had been given short shrift, and how it was slowly hollowing out our middle class. Listen, everybody who has a chair, go ahead and sit down, because ever[...]



Nationwide Egg Recall: Recall expands to more than half a billion eggs (LIST)

2010-08-21T15:49:14.772-07:00

The recall from U.S. factory farms has expanded to more than half a billion eggs. The recalled lots (list below) are confirmed to have been tainted with Salmonella and have sickened more than one thousand people. The enormity of the contamination has renewed concerns about the dangers of factory farming:Dr. Marion Nestle of the department of nutrition, food studies, and public health at New York University, and the author of "Food Politics" and "What to Eat", is a member of the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production. She toured several factory farms last year."It's hard to explain unless you actually see one of these places," she tells CBS News. "Try to imagine an enormous warehouse, as long as two or more city blocks, packed with hundreds of thousands of chickens. And that's 'free range.' Otherwise they are caged six to nine in a cage. If one gets sick, they all get sick."There are links and lists below with recall information. One possible way to avoid the consequences of factory farming is to buy local, small farmed and, where possible, organic. Farmer's markets (worldwide): LinkThe egg recall is expected to expand with more reports of illness expanding as the Centers for Disease Control record more incidents. The symptoms of Salmonella poisoning can include: 1. Nausea2. Diarrhea3. Abdominal pain4. Vomiting5. Fever (typically max ~102F)6. Chills7. Headache8. Muscle Pains9. Blood in the Stool (rare)If you think you might have salmonella poisoning, consult your doctor immediately and drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration.CDC Advice to Consumers:• Don’t eat recalled eggs or products containing recalled eggs. Recalled eggs might still be in grocery stores, restaurants, and consumers' homes. Consumers who have recalled eggs should discard them or return them to their retailer for a refund.• Individuals who think they might have become ill from eating recalled eggs should consult their health care providers.• Keep eggs refrigerated at ≤ 45° F (≤7° C) at all times.• Discard cracked or dirty eggs.• Wash hands, cooking utensils, and food preparation surfaces with soap and water after contact with raw eggs.• Eggs should be cooked until both the white and the yolk are firm and eaten promptly after cooking.• Do not keep eggs warm or at room temperature for more than 2 hours.• Refrigerate unused or leftover egg- containing foods promptly.• Avoid eating raw eggs.• Avoid restaurant dishes made with raw or undercooked, unpasteurized eggs. Restaurants should use pasteurized eggs in any recipe (such as Hollandaise sauce or Caesar salad dressing) that calls for raw eggs.• Consumption of raw or undercooked eggs should be avoided, especially by young children, elderly persons, and persons with weakened immune systems or debilitating illness.Egg Recall List: Brand Plant ID Julian Dates Additional Information Albertson-6-egg, dozen, 18-egg cartons and loose eggs for institutional use and repackagingSize large #1413 136 through 225 Albertson-6-egg, dozen, 18-egg cartons and loose eggs for institutional use and repackagingSize large #1026 136 through 225 Albertson-6-egg, dozen, 18-egg cartons and loose eggs for institutional use and repackagingSize large #1946 136 through 225 Albertson-6-egg, dozen, 18-egg cartons and loose eggs for institutional use and repackaging #1720 136 through 229 Albertson-6-egg, dozen, 18-egg cartons and loose eggs for institutional use and repackaging #1942 136 through 229 Bayview-5 dozen size large #1686 142 through 149 UPC 7-17544-30172-1 Bayview-5 dozen size large #1686K 195 through 196 UPC 7-17544-30172-1 Becky-5 dozen size large #1292 139 [...]



Top Investment Fund Chairman on Climate Change: Grantham Says Buy It

2010-07-25T17:38:08.645-07:00

by Janet Ritz Jeremy Grantham, Chairman of the Board of Grantham Mayo Van Otterloo (GMO), a Boston-based asset management firm, one of the largest managers of such funds in the world, has written in his quarterly letter: Conspiracy theorists claim to believe that global warming is a carefully constructed hoax driven by scientists desperate for … what? Being needled by nonscientific newspaper reports, by blogs, and by right-wing politicians and think tanks? Most hard scientists hate themselves or their colleagues for being in the news. Being a climate scientist spokesman has already become a hindrance to an academic career, including tenure. I have a much simpler but plausible “conspiracy theory”: that fossil energy companies, driven by the need to protect hundreds of billions of dollars of profits, encourage obfuscation of the inconvenient scientific results.Grantham's asset management fund controls over 170 billion dollars. He is the investor and fund manager who predicted the failure of the bubble style of economics, postulating that economies had a tendency to "return to the mean."  The quarterly report by Grantham gives his view on the direction of the economy and the trends therein. He has included a section (on page seven), entitled: Everything You Need to Know About Global Warming in 5 Minutes and recommends investment in industries that will reduce our dependence on fossil fuels.A summary of his points are as follows ( full report here - PDF):• Rising C02 in the atmosphere is a fact with a 40% increase since the advent of the Industrial Revolution.• The greenhouse effect of rising C02 is proven by physics.• Changes in solar output cannot account for the rise in temperature over the last 50 years.• "A warmer atmosphere melts glaciers and ice sheets, and causes global sea levels to rise. A warmer atmosphere also contains more energy and holds more water, changing the global occurrences of storms, floods, and other extreme weather events."• Grantham refutes skeptics who argue that money should not be spent because of uncertainty. He posits that "since the penalties can rise at an accelerating rate at the tail, a wider range implies a greater risk (and a greater expected value of the costs)."• He brings up Pacal's question: What is the expected value of a very small chance of an infinite loss? Pascal's answer, "Infinite." Grantham expounds on Pascal here: The benefits, even with no warming, include: energy independence from the Middle East; more jobs, since wind and solar power and increased efficiency are more labor-intensive than another coal-fired power plant; less pollution of streams and air; and an early leadership role for the U.S. in industries that will inevitably become important. Conversely, what are the costs of not acting on prevention when the results turn out to be serious: costs that may dwarf those for prevention; and probable political destabilization from droughts, famine, mass migrations, and even war. And, to Pascal’s real point, what might be the cost at the very extreme end of the distribution: definitely life changing, possibly life threatening.• The biggest cost of global warming will be the lack of biodiversity, which he reminds his readers is priceless.• He has a message to his own group that he labels as "die-hard contrarians" Dear fellow contrarians, I know the majority is usually wrong in the behavioral jungle of the stock market. And Heaven knows I have seen the soft scientists who lead finance theory attempt to bully their way to a uniform acceptance of the bankrupt theory of rational expectations and market efficiency. But climate warming involves hard science.[...]



BP's Bob Dudley Responds to Viewers' Questions in Online PBS Interview

2010-07-01T19:34:45.180-07:00

PBS Newshour's Ray Suarez interviewed BP's chief of Gulf Coast restoration Bob Dudley with questions and video sent in via YouTube from around America. In one piece of news from the interview, Dudley said the company is exploring "at least two options to divert the flow" of oil if the relief wells fail to kill the blown-out well. Two excerpts:Calling the well polluting the Gulf of Mexico "just a very unusual problem," Dudley said the company's first relief well is now being drilled down vertically parallel to the blown-out well and must go another 600 feet before casing is added and another kill attempt is made.In answer to one submitted question, Dudley referred to the dispersant being deployed as "toxic as dish soap," but then qualified that with the historic volumes of oil mixed with dispersant coming from the blown well they did not know the actual impact.The full interview and transcript is available at this link.More on the Gulf Disaster:A live video feed of twelve cameras on the Gulf floor is at this link (may be slow to load).A remarkable video explaining why the sharks are congregating at the shore (oxygen depletion in the Gulf) and its impact on the wildlife there is at this link.More Gulf Oil Disaster articles are at this link.LABELS: BOB DUDLEY, BP, BUSINESS, ENVIRONMENT, GULF OIL DISASTER, GULF OIL SPILL, PBS,POLITICS, SCIENCE[...]



Live Video Feed of the Gulf Oil Disaster

2010-05-29T17:30:23.162-07:00

Following pressure from Representative Edward J. Markey (D-MA) and other members of Congress, BP has released a live video feed of the damaged underwater well that is gushing oil into the Gulf of Mexico. The feed may be slow or freeze at times -- or may go to other content without warning. The video picture switches off and on periodically.  Update 5/29/10:  BP Reports that "top kill" did not work.  BP is unable to stop the leak.  They are proceeding to the "top hat" procedure, which is to cut the pipe and place a device over it, in the effort to capture the oil.  The relief wells are the focus in the long term.  The Coast Guard announced they will also try sub-sea injection of dispersants and will sample the water to see the impact on sea life...We'll keep this connected while the feed is available (the meter below can be adjusted to show the amount of estimated oil spilled at different spill rates): frameborder="0" height="490" marginheight="5" marginwidth="5" scrolling="no" src="http://www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/oil-ticker/video.html" width="300px">     ShareLABELS: BP, CLIMATE CHANGE, EDWARD MARKEY, ENVIRONMENT, FAUNA, FLORA, GULF OIL DISASTER, POLITICS, POLLUTION[...]



Home: the Movie

2010-07-01T17:18:33.478-07:00

In 2009, the French PPR Group, originally known as Pinault-Printemps-Redoute, which represents brands such as Gucci, Yves St. Laurent, Sergio Rossi, Boucheron, Bottega Veneta, Alexander McQueen (50%), Stella McCartney (50%), Puma (60%), and more, backed the release of a stunning film entitled "Home," which tells the story of humanity's rise and impact upon Earth.The film, produced by Luc Besson, was made by French photojournalist, Yann Arthus-Bertrand, the founder of Altitude Agency, known for its aerial photography, and the international environmental organization: GoodPlanet. Mr. Arthus-Bertrand has given up his rights to the film to enable its free streaming over the Internet.   To date, over eight million have viewed it.We are living in exceptional times. Scientists tell us that we have 10 years to change the way we live, avert the depletion of natural resources and the catastrophic evolution of the Earth's climate.The stakes are high for us and our children. Everyone should take part in the effort, and HOME has been conceived to take a message of mobilization out to every human being.For this purpose, HOME needs to be free. A patron, the PPR Group, made this possible. EuropaCorp, the distributor, also pledged not to make any profit because Home is a non-profit film.HOME has been made for you : share it! And act for the planet.Yann Arthus-BertrandEmbedding is dsiabled; it must be viewed on YouTube.  The link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jqxENMKaeCU Please share.LABELS: BUSINESS, CLIMATE CHANGE YANN ARTHUS-BERTRAND, ENVIRONMENT, GLOBAL WARMING, LUC BESSON, PPR GROUP[...]



What's the True Cost of Photocopy Paper?

2010-02-22T16:12:17.929-08:00

by Joanna BennThey say the pen is mightier than the sword, but is it mightier than the chainsaw? Plans are being finalized this summer for a massive controversial logging operation on the Indonesian island of Sumatra to satisfy the ever increasing demand for pulp, paper and palm oil.This is no small concession. It is a 33,600-hectare operation led by joint venture company, Asia Pulp & Paper/Sinar Mas Group, which has previously incurred the wrath and criticism of environmental groups, the Forest Stewardship Council and its own clients, some of whom cut ties and sourced paper elsewhere, citing APP’s devastating environmental practices:Office-supplies retailer Staples Inc. has severed all contracts with Singapore-based Asia Pulp & Paper Co. Ltd., one of the world's largest paper companies, in a move that shows concerns over forest destruction and global warming are having an impact on big U.S. paper buyers.At the moment, despite vigorous protests from a coalition of well known local and foreign environmental groups and scientists, APP, as the world’s largest paper company (in terms of forest clearance), looks set to go ahead with the operation, slamming current environmental concerns.The area to be cleared is natural forest outside the Bukit Tigapuluh National Park in Jambi Province in central Sumatra. It is already one of the most endangered forests on all of Sumatra, and to cap it all, Sumatra itself is already suffering from possibly the fastest deforestation rate in the world.With this latest acquisition, APP and its associated companies could convert all remaining natural forest in the province outside the national park – 200,000 hectares of tropical forest – despite it being one of the most important areas for biodiversity in Indonesia.As further details leak out and protest petitions are launched, the illogical short termism and needless destruction is infuriating for multiple reasons.Two minority indigenous tribes – the Talang Mamak and Orang Rimba – both live inside Bukit Tigapuluh’s natural forest and depend on natural resources from the forest and river for their existence.Zoologists have also warned that deforestation could cause more attacks on humans by Sumatran tigers as they lose their forest home. Nine people have been killed by tigers in the region so far this year and the numbers, say experts, could soar if there is less forest.APP says in a recent statement that its work will alleviate poverty and “that the biggest cause of illegal forestry in developing countries is poverty, and it is important that we continue to drive a balanced approach to poverty alleviation.”This would be hard to refute, but there is no specific mention how indigenous tribes will continue to live from the forest, or be protected from wildlife attacks, nor if the work will continue into the future, or be a mere stop gap leaving communities with nothing when the final tree has been felled.The logging operation will destroy the forest home of 100 great apes that are part of the only successful reintroduction programme for Sumatran orangutans. It took scientists decades to discover how to successfully reintroduce critically endangered orangutans from captivity into the wild, yet it could take APP just months to destroy an important part of their new habitat.This week the Indonesian Director General (DG) of Biodiversity and Conservation, Mr Dirori will be discussing the case in Australia because an orangutan from the Perth Zoo was the first zoo-born ape to be[...]



'Too Big to Fail' Fallout on Capitol Hill

2009-11-19T13:55:43.936-08:00

by Janet RitzRep. Brad Sherman (D-CA) intends to introduce an amendment to the proposed House Financial Services Committee "Too Big to Fail" bill that will require large banks to fund their own insurance against failure. This came after smaller banks and economists raised concerns that the requirements for the smaller banks to pay into the fund would also require those smaller banks to carry the financial burden for the larger banks should they fail -- larger banks that would be helped through crises because they were too big to fail whereas the smaller banks would be left to fail under similar circumstances.Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) will introduce an amendment to a bill in the House Financial Services Committee to raise the existing threshold to either $50 billion or $75 billion, he told Huffington Post on Wednesday night. Those thresholds could rise in the future should he make them inflation-adjusted, he said.Policies and proposed legislation involving banks considered too big to fail have also seen bipartisan criticism which has led to the introduction of legislation to provide more transparency into the lending activities by the Federal Reserve:House pushes for sweeping audit of the FedBipartisan effort aims to get peek into secretive U.S. central bankWASHINGTON - House lawmakers want to pry open the books of the famously secretive Federal Reserve with legislation that would subject the U.S. central bank to a sweeping congressional audit. The effort is overwhelmingly bipartisan. Hardline conservatives and liberal Democrats have banded together in their criticism of the Federal Reserve as a major power broker in the financial system that does not answer to Congress.Concern about both Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and White House Director of the National Economic Council Lawrence Summer's perceived economic priorities in favor of Wall Street over Main Street have also led to calls for resignations by members of Congress:Since Rep. DeFazio's call for the resignations, several Republican members of Congress have upped their rhetoric insisting on the two administration officials' resignation.Treasury Secretary Geithner responded that the problems stemmed from Bush Administration policies.Rep. Sherman has raised prior concern about the financial activities of the Treasury and the Federal Reserve: Rep. Brad Sherman of California, who twice voted against the TARP, says "resolution authority and bailout authority are two different things."Though Sherman said he would reserve full judgement until the changes are unveiled, he's worried that a poorly constructed bill will "provide the creditors and counter parties with an implicit government guarantee paid for by the taxpayers" and that the 20 biggest firms, by being seen as too big too fail, would enjoy a lower costs of capital, creating an unfair market advantage.Rep. Sherman's amendment to protect smaller and mid-sized banks is expected to be introduced on Thursday, November 19, 2009._______________________________________________________________________________Janet Ritz, the publisher and managing editor of The Environmentalist, has been nominated as an Environmental changemaker by change.org.LABELS: BRAD SHERMAN, BUSINESS, CONGRESS, ECONOMY, FEDERAL RESERVE, LAWRENCE SUMMERS,PETER DEFAZIO, POLITICS, TIMOTHY GEITHNER[...]



Murder by Mortgage: Foreclosed and Prepared to Die

2009-09-07T16:25:53.226-07:00

by Sherman YellenIt seems I’ve known Molly* forever, at least for the fifty six years that I have been married to my wife. My wife had met Molly in High School where they suffered the terrors of Mme Farley’s French class together. They became close friends: Molly, the fashionable but flighty odd girl, too tall, too talkative, and too needy, and my wife whose staggering beauty and self control commanded every room she entered, and whose kindness enabled her to embrace a girl whom others might have mocked and ignored. Their fellow classmate in those long ago Brooklyn days was Ruth Bader (Ginsberg) with whom my wife served on Boosters – a selective do-gooders club that the High School ran. Molly was then, as ever, not amongst the chosen.We have lost Ruth Bader Ginsberg to the court but have kept in touch with Molly over the years except for a brief period during Molly’s early marriage to Joe, a man who verbally brutalized her, making it impossible to keep up our relationship since we would not willingly be witnesses to such abuse and knew no way to stop it. When she finally summoned up the courage to divorce Joe, or maybe it was the unfaithful Joe who walked out on Molly and her two young sons, we started seeing Molly again. Lest I diminish her charms, Molly had a gift for telling a great story in all its details, a memory that could be used as a search engine into the shared past, good looks that came with maturity, and a giggle, a generosity, and a warmth that marked her as one of nature’s good and charming people as well as an easy mark. Yes, she talked too much, often digressing from her subject, with streams of anecdotes branching out of that river of talk, she loved too much and did so with the utmost indiscretion, spent too much on clothes for herself and meals for her friends, gave too much to charity, lent her money to needy sons, but she was Molly, a lifelong friend even as we saw in her the traces of Flaubert’s “Madam Bovary” – the romantic spendthrift who ends a suicide. In a month Molly, now in her middle seventies and in poor health will be foreclosed by the bank that holds her mortgage, leaving her with no money, no home, and nowhere to go. She has told us that she has hoarded her sleeping pills and plans to take her own life before she is forced out into the streets. And we tell her with all the pep talk we can summon here in New York, and send to her in L.A., that life is worth more than a condo in Los Angeles, California, that she must forget that crazy notion of taking her life and keep going.Molly did not arrive at the point of suicide all by herself. It took an abusive mother, husband, and a selfish lover, hostile sons who learned contempt from their abusive father, as well as a stock broker and a bank to bring her to this point. Molly’s beautiful and well-to-do mother found Molly a disappointment from childhood since she did not inherit her own classic beauty, she found everyone except the beautiful and well-to-do fatiguing, and so between cruel jabs and critiques at Molly, she slept away her days with shades drawn in her peach painted Louis IV furnished bedroom. Her loving, elegant father who managed to become rich from a rough business that cleaned and recycled steel oil drums, tried to be the emotional support for his daughters that the mother could not be in her soft sadism, and when her parents died they left Molly and her sister a small fortune. The fortune, however, was ephemeral. The government sued the estate for the clean up of the acre[...]



What Health Care Reform Means to the Middle Class

2017-03-10T20:01:08.538-08:00

by Janet RitzPresident Obama, at his Wednesday press conference, spoke at length about the job-loss impact of rising healthcare costs on the middle class. That left the press wondering why he focused on one demographic when the recession has hit construction workers, young people, and so many others. He made this point because the middle class -- and by extension, the overall economy that relies on the middle class -- will not be able to recover without health care reform.Healthcare providers state, as people age, they require more care for which the employer must pay. That is true. It also has the unintended consequence of limiting job prospects for the middle-aged job seekers because of those costs. This, in turn, has had a devastating consequence on the struggling economy. When an employer has to choose between a middle-aged, middle class prospect who comes with higher costs for healthcare, despite being the most qualified candidate, and a younger, less experienced applicant who will cost them less in premiums, they will most often chose the cheaper option. While that may be understandable from a bottom-line point of view, it also means the company is not getting the best candidate, and the middle-aged job-seeker is out of work. The president has talked of the "donut hole" that exists for Medicare patients; the requirement to cover all the costs after a certain limit is reached until a far higher limit comes into play. This has been a known challenge for seniors on fixed incomes. The middle class also has their own "donut hole" between age fifty and sixty-five (when Medicare kicks in), due to the dearth of employment opportunities that come from inflated premiums for their demographic.This cascades to all demographics. When those in their fifties and sixties are passed over for jobs or are let go to save on healthcare premiums, a vital segment of our economy becomes depressed (economically and emotionally). They can't provide for their children or aging parents. They can't consume. America requires a strong middle class and they are being passed over for jobs. It can be argued, in your youth-oriented culture, that ageism is limiting hiring, and that may be true. It's more difficult to argue that the decision to exclude people of a "certain age" is coming down from the C-Level as policy because board members don't like their peers (of similar ages). Healthcare, on the other hand, is an identifiable rising cost driving many employment decisions.Those who want to wait to implement reform until 2010 are arguing to kill it. Congress is unlikely to stay in Democratic hands through a midterm election . The president knows that. That is why is risking his early presidency to put it through. While one can argue he is determined to see it pass for personal reasons (President Obama has spoken of watching how his mother spent the last year of her life fighting with insurance companies for cancer coverage), and that is likely to be a driving motivation. But he has also argued just as passionately that, without healthcare reform, the economy will not recover.Employment will not improve until there is health care reform leading to increased numbers of the employed across the full age-spectrum. That will not happen without incentives for employers to hire the middle-aged middle class.Publication date: 7/22/09 10:02 PMLABELS: AGEISM, BARACK OBAMA, BUSINESS, ECONOMY, HEALTH, HEALTH CARE, JOBS, POLITICS,RECESSION, UNEMPLOYMENT[...]



Will Walmart's drive toward sustainability work?

2009-07-17T13:15:56.033-07:00

by Janet Ritz Walmart, the world's largest retailer, announced this week that they are planning to put green/sustainability labeling on all of their products within the next five years. Walmart today announced plans to develop a worldwide sustainable product index during a meeting with 1,500 of its suppliers, associates and sustainability leaders at its home office. The index will establish a single source of data for evaluating the sustainability of products. The company will ask their suppliers (all their suppliers) to answer fifteen questions: Have you measured your corporate greenhouse gas emissions? Have you opted to report your greenhouse gas emissions to the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP)? What are your total greenhouse gas emissions reported in your most recently completed report? Have you set publicly available greenhouse gas reduction targets? If yes, what are those targets? If measured, please report total amount of solid waste generated from the facilities that produce your product(s) for Wal-Mart Inc for the most recent year measured. Have you set publicly available solid waste reduction targets? If yes, what are those targets? If measured, please report total water use from the facilities that produce your product(s) for Wal-Mart Inc for the most recent year measured. Have you set publically available water use reduction targets? If yes, what are those targets? Have you established publicly available sustainability purchasing guidelines for your direct suppliers that address issues such as environmental compliance, employment practices, and product/ingredient safety? Have you obtained 3rd party certifications for any of the products that you sell to Walmart? If so, from the list of certifications below, please select those for which any of your products are, or utilize materials that are, currently certified. Do you know the location of 100% of the facilities that produce your product(s)? Before beginning a business relationship with a manufacturing facility, do you evaluate their quality of production and capacity for production? Do you have a process for managing social compliance at the manufacturing level? Do you work with your supply base to resolve issues found during social compliance evaluations and also document specific corrections and improvements? Do you invest in community development activities in the markets you source from and/or operate within? The company will apply a rating to the products based on an algorithm yet to be announced. It is unclear is how they will determine the accuracy of the replies -- what oversight, if any, will be instituted and applied. Also yet to be announced will be how that rating will be displayed. It may be as simple as a green tag or as complicated as a link on the product to a customer's smart phone which will then give the customer detailed information about the product's sustainability. Environmental groups laud this attempt to go green at the corporate level and point out that, as the world's largest retailer, Walmart may be best positioned to pull this off. Corporate associations and academics have raised concern of increased costs. Walmart's spokesman disagrees and says that with less packaging there will be lest cost (concentrated detergent is cited as an example). “Nobody else could pull this off,” said Michelle Harvey at Environmental Defense Fund, one of the groups involved in the creation of th[...]



Obama's Farm Team

2009-07-09T13:33:04.763-07:00

by William S. BeckerMembers of the Obama Administration have embarked on a “listening tour” in rural America this summer, but let’s hope the visits involve more than listening. This is a moment for the Administration’s top officials to engage farmers, ranchers and rural residents in a robust exchange of ideas about their role in a new American economy. That role seems as obvious as it is dynamic. The “clean energy economy” President Obama advocates can revitalize the nation’s long-neglected rural communities. Many of them can become the epicenters of sustainable energy production in the U.S., as well as our principal providers of carbon sequestration services. In his climate and energy policies, Obama is sowing the seeds for that new era of rural prosperity, but it will be up to rural America to bring in the harvest. Federal ethanol subsidies seem to be getting all the attention from the farm lobby, but ethanol feedstocks (make that cellulosic) are just one of the new crops that will power America in the years ahead. In parts of the United States, landowners already are making thousands of dollars a year in lease payments to host wind turbines on their fields. Each turbine occupies a very small footprint, which allows farmers and ranchers to continue cropping or grazing the land. That makes wind a very lucrative crop as well as a source of new property tax revenues for rural communities. According to the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory: There is a bright spot on the rural economic development horizon: wind. In fact, achieving the goals of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Wind Powering America program during the next 20 years will create $60 billion in capital investment in rural America, provide $1.2 billion in new income for farmers and rural landowners, and create 80,000 new jobs... Wind energy offers rural landowners a new cash crop. Although leasing arrangements vary widely, royalties are typically around $2,000 per year for a 750-kilowatt wind turbine or 2% to 3% of the project’s gross revenues. Given typical wind turbine spacing requirements, a 250-acre farm could increase annual farm income by $14,000 per year, or more than $55 per acre. In a good year, that same plot of land might yield $90 worth of corn, $40 worth of wheat, and $5 worth of beef. (Blogger’s note: This report and its numbers are 5 years old. I’ve heard of lease payments of $5,000 per turbine.) More than a billion dollars in new income is not loose change; it’s change farmers and rural communities can believe in. Solar farms can be next, along with locally owned bio-refineries that turn agricultural and urban wastes into fuel and a variety of other consumer products. By harvesting methane gas from animal feedlots and local landfills, farms and rural communities can obtain renewable energy while preventing one of the most potent of greenhouse gases from entering the atmosphere. (Methane’s heat-trapping properties are more than 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide.) Tomorrow’s farms will earn new income from dedicated energy crops such as switchgrass and other perennials and from non-food crops that can be turned into a wide variety of products now obtained from petroleum, ranging from cosmetics to road de-icers and biodegradable plastic bags. In a robust carbon market, farmers will earn additional income [...]



Stovepipe City

2009-06-22T04:21:04.609-07:00

by William S. BeckerThe Appalachian region has been supplying American with cheap energy for generations, a duty it has performed with a sense of pride and patriotism. But while electricity from the region’s coal has been cheap for the rest of us, the price has been extraordinarily high for the people of the mountains.That price took on a new dimension this week in a peer-reviewed study from the Health Policy Institute at West Virginia University. Researcher Michael Hendryx reports that coal mining costs the region five times more in early deaths than it provides in economic benefits. Hendryx’s sobering calculation is that the coal industry provides about $8 billion annually in jobs, taxes and other economic benefits -- but premature deaths attributed to coal mining and its impacts, including local air and water pollution, cost the region $42 billion. Hendryx qualifies this estimate, saying it’s impossible to calculate these numbers with absolute certainty. But even a cursory look at how coal is extracted in Appalachia – largely now through the incredibly destructive practice of mountain top removal – leads reasonable people to conclude that Hendryx is on the right track. I’ll write a great deal about the ongoing Appalachian tragedy in the future, but in this post I’ll focus on the ecology of decision-making in Washington D.C. that allows national energy policy to be so destructive, even deadly. The great lesson of global climate change is that everything is connected. The emissions from a coal plant in Iowa, for example, may produce floods in Bangladesh. Or the folks in Iowa may someday suffer bigger floods because of all those new cars about to populate the streets of India. But if the world is connected, you wouldn’t know it by watching the political process in Washington. It is the Capitol of Compartmentalization, the City of Stovepipes and the Land of a Thousand Fiefdoms. Every topic seems to have its own congressional committee, its own federal agency and its own legislation. The stovepipes are especially evident right now as Congress moves toward its August recess and President Obama tries to accomplish as much as he can before his honeymoon is over. We are in the Summer of Big Issues before the new congressional and presidential election cycles initiate another long drought on political courage. For example, in separate legislation, committees, hearings and processes, Congress is considering a climate change bill, a health care bill and an energy bill. It just finished work on a military spending bill and will soon begin work on a major transportation bill.Leaders are trying to prevent gridlock in this traffic jam of separate issues competing for their time and attention, each important in its own right with its constituents begging for action. Trouble is, all of these issues are connected. In a rational world, they could not and would not be considered in isolation from one another. There is no more obvious example than Appalachia where the adverse impacts of outdated energy policy have impacts from every home to every nation. In Appalachia, we see global climate change at its roots while national energy policy sabotages public health and environmental quality for the people living there. It’s easy for the rest of us to ignore what’s happening in Appalachia – until we realize how connected we really are with the region. Every mountaintop that’s [...]