Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Virginia AG Lacks Actual Evidence Against Climate Professor

As the Washington Post reports, Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II has been stymied in his attempt to subpoena the notes and papers of a climate scientist at the University of Virginia. Cuccinelli wants to go through professor Michael Mann's files in search of evidence that he had committed fraud in his grant applications to support his climate reaserch. A state judge found that Cuccinelli failed to offer any reason to think that professor Mann had done anything wrong:
What the attorney general suspects that Dr. Mann did that was false or fraudulent in obtaining funds from the commonwealth is simply not stated.
The Union of Concerned Scientists issued this statement by Francesca Grifo:
This is a victory for scientific discovery. This ruling makes it clear that when a state attorney general alleges fraud against a scientist, he needs actual evidence to back up his claim.
Cuccinelli and his fellow climate skeptics may be sincere in their beliefs, but they have yet to come up with any actual evidence that scientists have faked or manipulated the data.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Charges that IPCC Chief Was Making Millions Untrue

Another attempt to tarnish the reputations of scientists engaged in research on global warming has come up empty. The Guardian reported last week that the head of the United Nation's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has been cleared of accusations that he had used his authority for personal gain:
The head of the UN's climate science panel did not abuse his position to enrich himself, according to an independent review of his finances by the accountants KPMG that was published publicly for the first time today.
The charges were as startling as they were wrong:
In December, an article in the Sunday Telegraph had claimed that the UN climate chief was "making a fortune from his links with 'carbon trading' companies" and that payments from his work for other organisations "must run into millions of dollars". The article has since been removed from the newspaper's website.
The newspaper issued this apology:
On 20 December 2009 we published an article about Dr Pachauri and his business interests. It was not intended to suggest that Dr Pachauri was corrupt or abusing his position as head of the IPCC and we accept KPMG found Dr Pachauri had not made "millions of dollars" in recent years. We apologise to Dr Pachauri for any embarrassment caused.
It is the newspaper's editors who should be embarrassed. Instead of the supposed millions he was hauling in, it turns out Dr. Pauchari earns a salary of 45,000 pounds from his non-profit organization, and pulled in another 2,174 pounds from speaking fees and book royalties. That's about $73,000, well short of a million.

The damage done to Dr. Pauchuri goes well beyond embarrassment. Another bogus scandal involving climate scientists was left out there to dangle for months. This one, along with the allegation that scientists had manipulated data, have been found by independent reviews to be untrue. And yet millions have been duped into believing that scientists can't be trusted when it comes to climate change. The harm to the rational public discussion of climate change has been incalculable.

Friday, August 27, 2010

CBO: ARRA Kept Unemployment from Climbing Even Higher

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) recently released its latest analysis of the Amercian Recovery & Reinvestment Act:
CBO estimates that in the second quarter of calendar year 2010, ARRA’s policies:

• Raised the level of real (inflation-adjusted) gross domestic product (GDP) by between 1.7 percent and 4.5 percent,
• Lowered the unemployment rate by between 0.7 percentage points and 1.8 percentage points,
• Increased the number of people employed by between 1.4 million and 3.3 million, and
• Increased the number of full-time-equivalent (FTE) jobs by 2.0 million to 4.8 million compared with what those amounts would have been otherwise. (Increases in FTE jobs include shifts from part-time to full-time work or overtime and are thus generally larger than increases in the number of employed workers.)
Mark Zandi of Moody's Economy.com, thinks the CBO underestimated the Recovery Act's effect on employment:
"I think we'd be in a measurably worse place if not for the stimulus," Zandi said at the Christian Science Monitor breakfast this morning. "If we had not had the stimulus...we'd have fewer jobs today than we actually have."

Zandi was responding to Boehner's contention yesterday that stimulus spending "has gotten us nowhere." Asked whether he agreed with Boehner, Zandi said "no."

"Without the stimulus spending," Zandi insisted, "instead of a 9.5 percent unemployment rate, we'd have an 11.5 percent unemployment rate."
Zandi, you will recall, was an advisor to John McCain in the 2008 campaign. I have previously compared his "bang for the buck" estimates to the CBO's, and found them to correlate closely.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Gulf Drilling Moratorium

Remember the pedictions of lost jobs and oil rigs leaving for other shores after President Obama imposed a moratorium on deepwater drilling? The New York Times reports the oil and gas industry has been crying wolf:
Yet the worst of those forecasts has failed to materialize, as companies wait to see how long the moratorium will last before making critical decisions on spending cuts and layoffs. Unemployment claims related to the oil industry along the Gulf Coast have been in the hundreds, not the thousands, and while oil production from the gulf is down because of the drilling halt, supplies from the region are expected to rebound in future years. Only 2 of the 33 deepwater rigs operating in the gulf before the BP rig exploded have left for other fields.

While it is too early to gauge the long-term environmental or economic effects of the release of 4.9 million barrels of oil into the gulf, it now appears that the direst predictions about the moratorium will not be borne out. Even the government’s estimate of the impact of the drilling pause — 23,000 lost jobs and $10.2 billion in economic damage — is proving to be too pessimistic.
As for the reason for the moratorium, the Washington Post has a thorough report on how the Minerals Management Service operated as a "partnership" with the oil and gas industry:
MMS's acquiescence stemmed from the unusual relationship it had cultivated with industry. Directed by law to "meet the nation's energy needs," the agency pursued that mission by declaring itself publicly and formally as industry's partner.

Top officials and front-line workers routinely referred to the companies under their watch as "clients," "customers" and especially "partners." As the relationship became more intertwined, regulatory intensity subsided. MMS officials waived hundreds of environmental reviews and did not aggressively pursue companies for equipment failures. They also participated in studies financed and dominated by industry, more as collaborator than regulator. In the face of industry opposition, MMS abandoned proposals that would have increased costs but might have improved safety.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Paul Clark, Pam Scott and Stoltz Real Estate Partners

I had never quite put my finger on what bothers me about having our county council president married to a high powered land use attorney until I read yesterday's News Journal piece on opposition to two large proposals by Stoltz Real Estate Partners. The article includes the standard disclaimer from Paul Clark on how he avoids the appearance of a conflict of interest with his wife, Pam Scott:
Because of his wife's involvement in many development projects around the county, Clark said, he stays out of most land-use debates.
In other words, he doesn't do his job. In his defense, he dismisses the consideration of land use issues a "minor function" of county government. It occurs to me that we have never heard Clark and Scott discuss whether she should recuse herself from her job of representing developers going before County Council.

The question for residents concerned about the projects is not how Paul Clark would have voted, but whether they will be able to voice their concerns in a meaningful forum. Since they cannot, Scott can tell residents that her client doesn't care what they think:
At a public meeting in which the crowd spilled into the hallway, Stoltz attorney Pam Scott explained to the county planning board that she and other company officials had not read the proposal.

Board member Victor Udo wanted to know why, noting that more than 200 people had showed up to express opposing views.

"Because it's not [CRG's] place to design how my client should use their property," Scott said. "Just like it's not my client's place to dictate to them how their property should be designed."
I have been involved in some big land use battles in Wilmington and Philadelphia, and have rarely seen a significant project blocked outright. I have seen proposals modified to accommodate the concerns of neighbors. But this requires that neighbors have a forum in which to make their case. Without that, a developer can tell them that their view don't matter.

As for the headline, "Delaware's elite battle developer," Kennett Pike is still a public road, and is used by plenty of folks who don't live in Greenville or Centerville.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Building the Offshore Wind Power Industry

The race to build offshore wind on the east coast is not just about creating clean, renewable energy. It's about creating jobs in a multi-billion dollar industry.

Philadelphia Inquirer reports that New Jersey Governor Chris Christie just signed a measure that creates a target of 1.1 gigawatts of offshore wind capacity. To meet this goal, New Jersey plans to provide up to $100 million in tax credits to wind power facilities. The law also creates a system of offshore renewable energy credits (ORECs), which are similar to the RECs being issued under Delaware's expanded renewable portfolio standard. Christie wants to turn the moribund port of Paulsboro on the Delaware River into a hub of wind power manufacturing and assembly.

The News Journal reports that John Carney
wants Delaware to get the jump on wind power jobs. He toured the extensive site of Steel Erectors Suppliers, located at the old Pusey & Jones shipyard on the Christina River in Wilmington. As I wrote last fall (here and here), Carney took some unjustified heat for his efforts to put together a business deal to build the towers for the NRG Bluewater Wind project .

Delaware Governor Jack Markell touts the economic potential of wind power in
his weekly address, citing four bills he signed into law last month, including SS 1 to SB 119, which expands and extends Delaware's renewable portfolio standard, and will gives bonus RECs for projects built with local labor and supplies.

It's not hard to understand the magnitude of the opportunity. Billions of dollars are going to be spent building offshore wind farms on the east coast in the coming years, and much of the supply chain and supporting services are not in place. States are not just competing for bragging rights; they are competing to build the industry that will build the wind farms.

Update: I'll be discussing these developments with Allan Loudell on WDEL, 1150 AM, this evening at 5:07.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Folk Fest

It's time once again for the Philadelphia Folk Fest, which starts tonight with a special concert for campers. Three years ago I wrote that Fest offers "unexpected, luminous moments of musical or visual experience," such as a hula hoop dance to Doc Watson.

The Folk Fest is once again offering a stellar lineup including Hoots and Hellmouth, Jeff Tweedy of Wilco, Chris Smither, Erin McKeown, Taj Mahal and Richard Thompson.

But for me the most exciting performers are often those I've never seen or heard before. What new music will surprise and delight this year? The only way to find out is to go. Tell 'em TommyWonk sent you.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Proxy Access and Corporate Governance

The financial reform bill that passed last month contains an important provision to open up corporate governance. Bloomberg BusinessWeek reports that a little noticed provision in the bill could have a dramatic effect on board elections:
Buried on page 1,257 of the legislation is language authorizing the Securities & Exchange Commission to let investors nominate directors on corporate proxies—the ballots and other information that companies mail to shareholders. Right now only the official nominees picked by management appear on the ballots.
It would be as if a country's ruling party controlled the ballot, and an opposition party had to send out competing ballots to voters. The proxy access rules being considered by the SEC under the new law would allow shareholders with three percent of a company's shares to have their nominees appear on the proxy statement the company sends to all shareholders. The shares would have to be held for at least two years to encourage shareholders to take a longer view of a firm's value. (It would be nice to see more managers take this view.) Even though gathering three percent of outstanding shares to mount a proxy challenge will be difficult, managers are nervous.
Patrick McGurn, special counsel at Institutional Shareholder Services, which advises large investors, says that "directors and CEOs almost view the inclusion of an outsider as an invasion. They think this person is going to be a disruptive force in the boardroom."
Executives traditionally see shareholders as an annoyance to be tolerated once a year at annual meetings. Opening up the proxy would go a long way to making shareholder democracy a reality rather than a myth.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Clean Coal Still Years Away

Earlier this year, Barack Obama established the Interagency Task Force on Carbon Capture and Storage to look at the technology's feasibility. Carbon capture and storage (or CCS), also known as "clean coal," involves digging coal out of the ground, burning it and pumping the resulting CO2 back into the ground. The task force has issued a report that is not encouraging for proponents of the technology:
While there are no insurmountable technological, legal, institutional, regulatory or other barriers that prevent CCS from playing a role in reducing GHG emissions, early CCS projects face economic challenges related to climate policy uncertainty, first-of-a-kind technology risks, and the current high cost of CCS relative to other technologies. Administration analyses of proposed climate change legislation suggest that CCS technologies will not be widely deployed in the next two decades absent financial incentives that supplement projected carbon prices. In addition to the challenges associated with cost, these projects will need to meet regulatory requirements that are currently under development.
The report concludes that several demonstration projects could come online in six years.

I'll be discussing CCS and other energy issues with Allan Loudell of WDEL, 1150 AM, at 5:54 this evening.

GOP and Democratic Tax Plans

This graph from the Washington Post clearly illustrates the difference between Republican and Democratic tax plans:
The Post describes the difference:
A Republican plan to extend tax cuts for the rich would add more than $36 billion to the federal deficit next year -- and transfer the bulk of that cash into the pockets of the nation's millionaires, according to a congressional analysis released Wednesday.

New data from the nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation show that households earning more than $1 million a year would reap nearly $31 billion in tax breaks under the GOP plan in 2011, for an average tax cut per household of about $100,000.
We tried this over the last nine years, and saw incomes and jobs remain flat, while the budget deficit soared. Simply put, the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans did not trickle down to the rest of us. Any rational cost/benefit analysis would lead us to conclude that the tax cuts for those in the top income categories should not be extended.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Should the U.S. Have an Industrial Policy?

The current Bloomberg BusinessWeek has an interesting interview Charlie Rose conducted with financier Wilbur Ross. Ross, who became a billionaire buying and selling banks and steel companies, is a conservative fellow. But he thinks the U.S. needs an industrial policy, and one that focuses on renewable energy:
Does manufacturing in the U.S. have a future?
I think it does. What I'm worried about is R&D. You have to have new technologies. We think of China as a polluter. Let me tell you, China is the leader in wind power technology. They already are producing 40 percent of all the wind turbines in the world and exporting 80 percent of those. And they did it in typical Chinese fashion. They ordered that the power grid must take alternative power before it can take anything else. Second, it must do it under long-term contracts, and third, it must do it at a big premium price. So they managed to create a huge domestic market, and now they're beaming in on the export. That's how you have an industrial policy.

And we don't have an industrial policy at all in this country.
No, nor do we have an energy policy.

Here you are, a man who is worth more than a billion dollars. And you're saying what we need from the government is policy.
Yes. I really feel that within 5 or 10 years, we could be a second-rate power. We'll still be big, but we could be behind the eight ball in a big way.
The Economist has a cover story warning of the dangers of governments investing in industry. But, as I have noted before, the U.S. has subsidized energy for years. Unfortunately, these subsidies have mostly been for the fossil fuels industry, which hardly needs government support to stay in business.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

An Earlier and Deeper Recession

The recession was worse than we thought. It started earlier, and from a lower peak than we previously calculated. The Economist has this chart showing how bad we thought it was, and how revisions to the data show that it was worse:

The revised report shows that the recession started in the 4th quarter of 2007, more than a year before George Bush left office. As for the depth of the plunge, it's the worst most of us have ever seen:

Economic activity now appears to have declined by 4.1% from peak to trough, easily outstripping the 3.7% dip observed in the downturn of 1957-58 (in 1981-82 the drop was just under 3%). The decline in real GDP in 2009 was far and away the worst annual performance since 1946, when America was dismantling its wartime economy.

Monday, August 09, 2010

An Administrative Note

In response to some persistent comment spam, I have been forced to switch to comment moderation, which means that comments will not appear until I have approved them. I have no wish to stifle legitimate discussion on this site. Since I started this blog, I have deleted a handful of comments for profanity or bigoted comments. But I will not tolerate attempts to use my blog to sell term papers or even less savory personal services. I am sorry for the inconvenience to my readers. Keep coming back.

Friday, August 06, 2010

The Auto Rescue is Working

Barack Obama's intervention may have saved the U.S. auto industry, but he still can't get any love. Over at the Guardian's Comment is free America, I take a look at why some have trouble admitting that the rescue worked:
Billionaire publisher and erstwhile presidential candidate Steve Forbes refuses to praise Obama for his intervention and gives all the credit to GM's chief executive officer, Ed Whitacre, for having "shaken the company up and down the assembly line and in management suites".

This is precisely the kind of leadership Obama demanded in return for federal support. Back in March last year, Obama and his advisers forced Whitacre's predecessor, Rick Wagoner, to resign because they thought him insufficiently committed to making the tough changes needed to reshape the company to survive in leaner times.
Obama insisted on tough restructuring as a condition for federal aid:
In order to qualify for continuing support, GM and Chrysler were forced to submit plans that lowered their break-even point to a realistic level. The firms first presented plans based on annualised US sales of 16m, and then cut that figure to 11.5-12m units. At the government's insistence, the automakers pared their payrolls and production capacity to survive in a market of 10m units, which made all the difference. If GM and Chrysler had been allowed to muddle through with a larger cost base, they would still be struggling, and Obama would be facing the nightmare scenario of having poured billions into companies that would yet be showing no sign of breaking even.
As for the rescue's detractors:
I can't help thinking that the critics of the auto rescue would prefer a corpse of an industry that remained pure to their ideal image of free enterprise to one that has to live with the indignity of surviving with government help.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

The Caesar Rodney Institute and Offshore Wind

David Stevenson of the Caesar Rodney Institute has weighed in on offshore wind for the Institute's new Center for Energy Independence. The piece is critical of the proposal by governors Jack Markell of Delaware and Martin O'Malley of Maryland that the federal government be brought in as a buyer of offshore wind.

This "factual analysis" offers several unsourced assertions. Let's look at footnote number one:
Using information from the Blue Water Wind [sic] project, we know off shore wind is about 60% more expensive than standard power which averages $.0974/KW [sic]. So to switch to off shore wind as proposed, the Federal government would pay $155,000/yr for the governors’ gigawatt of electricity compared to about $97,000/yr now.
The $0.0974/KW (kilowatts) quoted could possibly be meant to refer to kilowatt hours (kWh). (Kilowatts measure generating capacity, while kilowatt hours measure output.) The assertion that "we know" offshore wind power costs 60 percent more (offered without supporting evidence) sounds like the scare tactics from the dark days when opponents tossed out the most frightening numbers they could dream up to oppose Bluewater Wind.

The Public Service Commission's consultant offered a final estimate of the average net cost of the Bluewater Wind project of $0.70 per MWh, or 0.07 cents per kWh. This projection is based on plausible (but conservative) estimates of the direction of the energy markets in the future, so the actual figure could go up or down over the 25 year life of the power purchase agreement. If the projection is applied to the most current figures of 942 kWh per household per year (the EIA's latest figure for Delaware), the net average cost over the life of the project would be 66 cents per year in 2007 dollars. Even if the figure were several dollars, it wouldn't even approach the 60 percent increase that Stevenson presents as fact.

I could critique some of Stevenson's other assertions, but I don't think the piece is nearly rigorous enough to merit a more thorough rebuttal. If the staff at CRI wants to weigh in on renewable energy, I would encourage them to do their homework.

Monday, August 02, 2010

The Tea Party and Black Americans

A Tea Party rally in Philadelphia to try to build some support among minorities set me to thinking about the movement's secure placement on one side of the divide between blacks and whites in America. As the Philadelphia Inquirer reports, the inclusion of Andrew Breitbart on the speakers' platform probably didn't help integrate the crowd of 300. Breibart's deceitfully edited video of U.S. Department of Agriculture official Shirley Sherrod prompted her firing. Sherrod's story was far more interesting than Breitbart's attempt to demonstrate that it's really the blacks who are the racists in modern America.

Tea Party leaders were embarrassed by the mocking letter written by former Tea Party Express spokesman Mark Williams, one of the ugliest expressions of racial animosity I have seen in a very long time:
We Colored People have taken a vote and decided that we don't cotton to that whole emancipation thing. Freedom means having to work for real, think for ourselves, and take consequences along with the rewards.
It gets worse:
Perhaps the most racist point of all in the tea parties is their demand that government "stop raising our taxes." That is outrageous! How will we Colored People ever get a wide screen TV in every room if non-coloreds get to keep what they earn? Totally racist! The tea party expects coloreds to be productive members of society?
The furor was so intense that Williams was fired. He has since
removed the offensive letter from his blog, calling it "parody."

The divide between the Tea Party movement and blacks runs deeper than the ugly rantings of Breitbart and Williams and the distasteful signs comparing Obama to Hitler or Stalin that have popped up at Tea Party Rallies. The divide has its roots in very different views of the role of the federal government in our lives. Ronald Reagan famously declared that "government is the problem." But for African Americans, the federal government has been the solution when it comes achieving their rights as citizens.

Sociologist Seymour Martin Lipset clearly describes the difference in his book, American Exceptionalism: A Double-Edged Sword. Americans in general have always had an individualist streak when compared to Europeans. But as Lipset writes, African Americans have had a very different experience:
The treatment of blacks has been the foremost deviation from the American Creed throughout the history of the Republic.
Blacks have looked at American ideals very differently than whites, having been systematically denied the opportunity to live out these ideals for most of their history. Rugged individualism seems very different to those who lacked the opportunity to prosper from their own labor. Further, every meaningful step towards full citizenship has been imposed by the federal government. The Civil War was the ultimate test of federal authority. The Emancipation Proclamation, the 14th Amendment, Brown v. Board of Education and the Voting Rights Act all required federal enforcement. Even if blowhards like Breitbart and Williams were to disappear, the Tea Party movement would still have a hard time attracting blacks to their libertarian, anti-government cause.