November 14, 2019

There’s no middle in the middle

Posted on 30. Mar, 2011 by Administrator in Social/Cultural

I can hear Walter Winchell now, “Mr. and Mrs. America and all the ships and clippers at sea. Flash! America has lost its middle and it’s nowhere to be found!” Used to be we all tried to find a ‘happy medium’, a balance in our lives.

Right after WWII, Americans settled into a new, more peaceful world that included more freedom, jobs, leisure time, and families. There was a move towards the center of the economic and social spectrum to a safe harbor called, the middle class. This was as much an attitude as a physical place, and its currency was the personal pride associated with movement up the socio-economic ladder, away from the government welfare that engulfed many of their parents.

Middle class was something to aspire to because it represented progress, free from invective and hyperbole: plain people talking plainly without raising their voices. These days that sounds like jabberwocky from Alice in Wonderland.

Let’s talk about talk

Nowadays it’s hard to find a conversation on television that doesn’t sound like the 1812 overture. They start off  pianissimo with phrases like ‘with all due respect’ but move quickly to double forte as they verbally thrash their opponent within an inch of his life for simply disagreeing with them.

We needn’t look any farther than our political campaigns for proof of concept here. There, the operating philosophy is: Hit ‘em hard and hit ‘em often, right from the start. Does this also apply to business? You bet. Do you think ‘Wall Street’ stock magnate, Gordon Gecko was totally fictitious? Nope.

He took no prisoners and made American greed and one-sidedness seem like mom’s apple pie. Wall Street the place talks the same talk. It gives no awards for moderate performance. When was the last time you heard the term, ‘middle management’ used with reverence? Fact is, many believe that middle managers are just one tick up from the guppie on the corporate food chain. (CEOs aren’t looking for cloning subjects in this group!) So how, why and when did we come to the conclusion that the middle of anything was somehow less valuable than the bottom or the top (or the start or the finish)?

When did we give up our quest for moderate thought and civility in our dealings with one another? In America, I think it happened right after Joe McCarthy’s attacks on ‘liberal’ Hollywood and his Communist witch-hunting of the early 50s. His House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) engendered enormous fear in the hearts of many, and moved people quickly away from the center (or middle) to either defend or attack McCarthy’s targets. After McCarthy’s self-destruction, people didn’t move back to fill the void of the middle.

They became the new two-party system: the ‘fors’ and ‘againsts.’ And while these parties have flirted with middle-ground positions many times over the passed 50 years, they never managed to create a platform that could move people in from the edges. Neither have the unions nor the companies, though one moment in time stands out – the ‘empowering times’ of the 90s when a huge middle class of investors was created during the stock market’s boom.

Our middle literally sagged with all the weight of those investors until the boom turned into a bubble and then burst, wiping out the middle class’ gains.

Civility and moderation = success

It seems strange to me that we can fawn over the good breeding of foreigners but can’t seem to incorporate it into our work lives or understand how important it is to our success. You’d think that good manners and moderation were anathema to progress and that we have to be tough and self-centered to get to the top (or stay there).

I submit, that if that were the case, our image of the ideal parents wouldn’t be a Rockwellian couple talking with their children at the dinner table but Ozzie Ozborn and Rosie O’Donnell mixing it up on the kitchen floor.

Finally, lest anyone think that moderation is selling out, I would simply point to some great overachievers who couldn’t find that ‘road less traveled’: Genghis Khan, Stalin and Mao, to name a few. Those fellows needed a little more down time and a membership in the ‘Middletarian Club’.  Why not step back from the edge and give it some thought yourself? Remember, there can never be a good beginning nor a great end without a terrific middle!

Stephan Helgesen is a former diplomat who spent 25 years working overseas. He is Honorary Consul for Germany and CEO of his own high-tech consultancy, Second Opinion Marketing & Communications.

Outsourcing government services can be THE New Mexican solution

Posted on 30. Mar, 2011 by Administrator in Politics

Governments and outsourcing go hand in hand. Most governments of the western democratic capitalist variety couldn’t function without a well-developed and efficient outsourcing of services. The degree or level of outsourcing has traditionally been dependent upon two things: ideology and budgets. In the conventional Democrat Party/liberal/progressive model, government should be large and outsource as little as possible while controlling as much as possible. In the Republican Party/conservative model, government should be as small as possible and control as little as possible. I suspect that most Americans’ preferences fall somewhere in the middle of these two polar-opposite positions. I know mine does. Leaving the ideological argument aside for a moment, let’s look at our own state governance challenges through the prism of the pragmatist or state legislator. We have an upcoming budget balancing act that would test even the Flying Wallendas with a $300 million shortfall in Medicare, not to mention a few more hundred million that need to be cut in 2011. How will we remove this economic sword of Damocles from above our heads? Will we raise taxes? Eliminate some Medicare services? Cut education funds or furlough State workers, freeze their salaries and downsize their retirement benefits?  We will probably do a little bit of all of the above. On taxes, we will probably get higher ‘user fees’ (a euphemism for taxes). On Medicare, we will probably reduce some administration costs and eliminate some procedures. Education cuts will come first in the form of capital equipment and bricks and mortar but will extend into programs.  State workers will also share in the budget reduction pain, but there are ways to reduce costs associated with government services without sacrificing the services themselves.

Outsourcing or privatization?

This brings me to outsourcing or privatization. Both terms are pertinent for this discussion but are not interchangeable. Outsourcing moves functions from one place and puts them somewhere else. It can be a temporary solution or a permanent one. Privatization, on the other hand, is usually thought of as a permanent solution, taking public sector services and turning them over to the private sector (though the decisions can be reversed).  If you’re a ‘progressive’ Democrat, both terms are reprehensible because they represent a move away from government service delivery.  If you’re a ‘conservative’ Republican you will probably accept both as viable options. Those of us who live in real time on planet Earth know that nothing is forever and that each decision we make is usually not made solely on the basis of ideology. Outsourcing can help New Mexico as a temporary solution to salvage services that may or may not lead to eventual privatization.  We have over 20,000 State workers spread out all over the State, but principally concentrated in our high population density areas. They are members of the State retirement system, get sick days, vacation time, holiday pay, per diem and use State facilities and equipment like vehicles, computers, etc. They perform a wide variety of services for us from filling potholes, to writing/enforcing regulations, educating our children and everything in between. That’s the status quo, and many don’t want it changed.  Problem is we can’t afford it anymore.  That’s why we must look carefully at outsourcing more of our government services, but before we do we MUST be in agreement on what current State-provided services are necessary.  That’s a discussion we need to have before the cost-cutters are turned loose with their scalpels. We must not them eliminate efficient delivery systems that have already run the gauntlet of time-consuming, expensive field-testing unless, of course, those systems are inefficient, too costly or in competition with the private sector.

Government often steps in to fill a void when it sees one, but it’s not usually a decision based on a plan. It’s more often an action precipitated by political ideology. Right now we’re at T minus 10 and counting on critical decision-making, and we must not let the opportunity to achieve real savings pass us by.  Similarly, we have an obligation to use the full measure of our expertise to find an affordable way to meet the service needs of our citizens. Any new solution must be reflective of reality and be a true public/private sector one that is rooted in reason not ideology.

Stephan Helgesen is the former Director of the State’s Office of Science and Technology and retired Foreign Service Officer having lived and worked in 20 countries. He is Honorary German Consul for New Mexico and CEO of Second Opinion Marketing, a high-tech consultancy company in Albuquerque.

Dangerous fallout from Japan’s nuclear panic

Posted on 30. Mar, 2011 by Administrator in Energy/Environment

With news of Japan’s once-in-300-year earthquake and resulting tsunami, Secretary Clinton announced “We just had our Air Force assets in Japan transport some really important coolant to one of the nuclear plants.” Rep. Ed Markey (D., MA) has warned of “another Chernobyl,” saying “the same thing could happen here.” Amidst the chaos, the media has been reporting on the next “big fear” and CNN has shown their ignorance by presenting schematics of pressurized water reactors, when the Japanese reactors are boiling water reactors.

Because the science and engineering of nuclear power are foreign to most of us, panic is easily created. Senator Lieberman, a long-time nuclear supporter, now wants to “put the brakes on” nuclear power plant construction in the US. Those who really understand nuclear energy usually have advanced degrees in physics and engineering. Words like reactors, meltdown, core damage, neutrons, half-life and radioactive, make us susceptible to Hollywood-like, worst-case scenarios.

In fact, the US did not send “coolant” to Japan. Remember, the plants in Japan operate on water—usually de-mineralized. In this earthquake/tsunami drama, the plants perfectly withstood the first hit of a 9.0—even though that was considerably more intense than the intended design. The redundancy engineered into the system kicked in. Though the reactors shut down as they were supposed to, they do not cool off immediately. The diesel-powered generators pumped the water to continue cooling. Then the wave hit and knocked them out. Even then, batteries kept the pumps working until mobile generators could be brought in. These procedures bought time and allowed for precautions. With the help of the additional generators, seawater (abundant in an island nation) has been used to expedite the cooling—even though its corrosiveness means the reactors will never be usable again. The more time elapsed, the cooler the fuel. The longer this goes on, the greater the likelihood that the only thing overblown is fear.

The Chernobyl comment, once again, plays on a fundamental lack of understanding (or deliberately ignored scientific principles of nuclear energy) and stirs up fear. What happened with the Chernobyl reactor, is not possible with the Japanese or US light water reactors. The designs are fundamentally different and the Chernobyl plant could not have been licensed here or in Japan. Today’s nuclear plants have corrected the flaws with lessons from the Chernobyl incident. Likewise, the failure of the generators that provided electricity to pump the cooling water following the tsunami in the Generation II designs at the Fukushima Daiichi plant have already been fixed in current designs (Generation III).

So what is the fear? Why is the news media all nuclear, all the time?

The concern is the potential exposure to high levels of radiation. This, too, is an overreaction. Bad news sells. As was revealed through a comment made during a hearing in which I participated for proposed uranium mining, the public perception is that there is “no acceptable amount of radiation”—which implies that radiation is a man-made, bad thing, not naturally present in nature. The NY Times reported that “Radiation levels around the plant spiked after the explosion to 8,217 microsieverts an hour…” Which sounds really scary if you do not understand that 8,217 microsieverts an hour is equivalent to 0.8 rem/hour (10 millisieverts = 1 rem). Background radiation (that naturally found in nature) is around 0.3 rem/yr and workers are allowed exposures up to 5 rem/yr under normal operating conditions. So this “spike” says that you should avoid being near the plant for more than a few hours. This is a problem because the pool of workers with the needed expertise is limited. Now experts from across the globe are arriving in Japan to help out.

To put “radiation” into perspective, natural radiation comes from cosmic rays and the sun. Those of us who live at a higher altitude receive 2-3 times the radiation of those at sea level. The atmosphere provides some shielding. Mountain dwellers receive more radiation in a year than nuclear power plant workers get at sea level.

Additionally, radiation comes from minerals found in mountainous places such as the Rockies. The combination of the high altitude and the naturally occurring radioactive minerals gives someone in Denver annual radiation exposure of two to three times the radiation exposure of someone on the East Coast—yet Denver is repeatedly one of America’s healthiest cities. Health studies have found that populations who live and work near uranium facilities have no differences from those who do not. Clearly there is “acceptable” radiation, we live in it all the time. Workers and residents in Japan are being monitored.

Japan has 55 nuclear reactors and 30% of their electricity comes from nuclear power. Thirteen reactors, at three power plants were in the quake zone. Of those, only one plant containing six reactors has released any increased radiation, They basically let off steam—which contained low levels of radioactivity. The steam was deliberated vented into ancillary buildings to allow the reactor vessels to cool. However, inside the buildings, hydrogen that came out with the steam blew the roof off. This made great television and added fear, but the containment vessels and their systems remained intact. The blast was not a “nuclear explosion” and was a known and accepted risk that successfully allowed the radioactivity to diminish at the site. The current issues with the fuel storage pools must also be solved, but significant contamination in terms of real health effects beyond the immediate vicinity if the plant is unlikely.

Preoccupation with the nuclear plants has diverted attention from the much greater tragedy that has taken place—the likely death of over 10,000 persons from the earthquake and tsunami that has struck Japan. As William Tucker said in the Wall Street Journal, “With all the death, devastation and disease now threatening tens of thousands in Japan, it is trivializing and almost obscene to spend so much time worrying about damage to a nuclear reactor.” The biggest crisis inflicted on Japan would have occurred with, or without, nuclear power.  As humans, we cannot control the earth—though we sure do try, but we feel we can control other eventualities. Hence, the intense focus on the reactors and radiation. We can control them. We should learn from the past, but move into the future.

Instead of offering suggested improvements as a result of the Japan earthquake, Senator Lieberman wants to put the brakes on American nuclear development. Yes, questions should be asked. The biggest one should be about an all-of-the-above energy portfolio: oil, gas coal, nuclear/uranium, hydro, wind and solar—unlike Japan, we are rich in resources. Without nuclear power, America could be facing the same supply-demand gap a post-earthquake Japan is experiencing. Blackouts are causing mass confusion and delays. Consumers are being asked to cut back on energy.

What we can learn from the Japan earthquake is that the forty-year old nuclear power plant design performed better than expected, and that the Fukushima Daiichi plant is a far advanced and completely different design than Chernobyl. Today’s Generation III and IV reactors are literally generations ahead of their predecessors. In the US we have twenty-one applications for new reactors. Our energy needs will not go down, but, if we allow the nuclear panic to reign, our energy availability will be reduced. Before nuclear power was embraced in Japan, they relied on imported oil, gas and coal for their energy. Without nuclear power, we, too, will have to be more dependent on fossil fuels.  The most dangerous potential fallout from Japan’s earthquake could be the inability to be energy autonomous in thirty years. America’s future mandates a greater emphasis on energy and nuclear power is an important part.

Marita Noon is the Executive Director at Energy Makes America Great Inc. the advocacy arm of the Citizens’ Alliance for Responsible Energy–working to educate the public and influence policy makers regarding energy, its role in freedom and the American way of life. Find out more at EnergyMakesAmericaGreat.org.

The Job – the true endangered species

Posted on 30. Mar, 2011 by Administrator in Energy/Environment

The Obama administration wants us to believe that they will really focus on jobs and the economy. The announcements and “pro-business” staff members are just window dressing. While no one is looking, they’re continuing the job-killing policies. On December 14, the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) announced that the Dunes Sagebrush Lizard “faces immediate and significant threats due to oil and gas activities and herbicide treatments.”

As a result, they propose it be listed as “endangered”—under the Endangered Species Act (ESA)—which starts the clock for a 60-day public comment period. Hoping no one would notice, the proposal was announced during the throes of the holiday season. We, the public, need to take notice.

Ranchers, farmers and oil and gas producers who will be impacted by the potential listing have been working with the FWS on a brand new program called a Candidate Conservation Agreement (CCA). Some had already signed a contract agreeing to conservation measures above and beyond what is currently required—and more were about to.

The CCA was seen as an effective way to avoid more government regulations by voluntarily preserving the species. In addition to protecting the lizard, they committed to reclaiming abandoned oil wells and paying additional fees that would go into special funds for habitat restoration.

The CCA was thought to be a pilot project for industry/agency cooperation. But that cooperation went out the window with the surprise land-grab-action on December 14. The lizard and man’s land use could have co-existed. But, this is not about the critter. It is about control—as most endangered species issues are.

The Dunes Sagebrush Lizard lives in the Permian Basin’s prime ranching/farming and oil/gas country—encompassing Southeastern New Mexico and West Texas. Both private landowners and industries are “threatened” as working the land might “take” a lizard.

Instead they take jobs. If listed, ranching, farming, and drilling will be severely restricted in the region. Funds will not be available for protection or restoration. A line will be drawn in the sand and the lizard will be left as he is.

If the lizard receives the ESA listing, oil and gas development will be virtually stopped for those that have not yet signed the CCA and no new exploration will be allowed—which means even higher prices at the pump. As we’ve seen with the closing of the Alaska pipeline, the less supply we have, the higher the price.

If the economy’s really important, wouldn’t Washington want to keep prices low for the consumer and to help recovery? An ESA listing will also block potential wind farms and solar installations. The news release states that “Habitat loss and fragmentation” is due to the “creation of roads and pads, pipelines and transmission lines.” Transmission lines are needed to get the renewable energy from “out there” where the land is to “in here” where the people are.

The endangered species we should all be concerned about is “the job.” The economy of this entire portion of the country is dependent on ranching/farming and the extractive industries. Take them away and you take jobs away. The region will become the victim of policy-induced poverty.

The proposed listing of the Dunes Sagebrush Lizard, and the Lesser Prairie Chicken expected to be proposed next, are premiers for the job-killing regulatory action being taken nationwide. The lizard may be located in small part of the country that few know or care about, but the Lesser Prairie Chicken listing will impact five states: New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Colorado—all important ranching/farming and oil/gas lands. The impact of both will be felt throughout America.

Where will it end? Is their goal to stop all new wealth creation?

The public must take notice! We must demand that the economic impact be considered before they shut down all mining and farming. The listing of the Spotted Owl has killed logging and created ghost towns—and the owls are still in decline after twenty years of protection. The ESA protection of the Delta Smelt created unemployment in the San Joaquin Valley of more than 40%–until two Congressmen’s vote for healthcare turned the water back on. (Suddenly the smelt wasn’t so important.)

We are in an economic war. If America is to win, we must put pressure on Washington to listen. At the very least, they must extend the public comment period for the Dunes Sagebrush Lizard—and then we must comment: “Don’t lock up more lands!”

Marita Noon is the Executive Director at Energy Makes America Great Inc. the advocacy arm of the Citizens’ Alliance for Responsible Energy–working to educate the public and influence policy makers regarding energy, its role in freedom and the American way of life. Find out more at EnergyMakesAmericaGreat.org.

Political pressure to fix energy problems of the future

Posted on 30. Mar, 2011 by Administrator in Energy/Environment

The coldest temperatures in the contiguous states created a “state of emergency” due to a disruption of natural gas delivery. Power plants were shut down, workers sent home, schools closed, and shelters set up for those without heat.

This was Thursday, February 3. Many people remained without heat a week later while temperatures reached as low as thirty-degrees-below zero. This was in New Mexico but other states in the southwest faced rolling blackouts and a variety of energy related emergencies. This same problem could face the nation if we continue down the path we’ve been pursuing for our energy supplies.

Businesses, residents and hospitals received word that there may be natural gas disruptions throughout the day. This did not mean that there was, as many believed, a shortage, but rather rolling blackouts in Texas were causing pressure problems in the pipelines—the delivery system.

There may have been enough gas to fire up your cook top, but not enough pressure for a furnace. The cold weather and lack of heat combined to create a state of emergency.  It turns out that the local utility company, which gets much of its natural gas from New Mexico, also gets some gas from Texas to spread out their risk.

That natural gas comes through a pipeline that needs pressure to keep it moving. Due to Texas’ problems, the compression stations along the way had no electricity to pressurize the natural gas, hence the “disruptions.”

Why did Texas not have enough electricity? Investigations will determine the true cause of the energy emergency and myriad explanations have been offered. But here is what we do know:

  • Cold weather put a strain on the system leading to failures that threatened peoples’ lives and disrupted everything.
  • Texas’ heavy reliance on wind power, may have been part of the cause.
  • There were no problems with nuclear power plants in the area.

We do know the same thing could happen almost anywhere. It comes down to a lack of reliable electricity. How could America, the wealthiest and most technologically advanced nation in the world, be faced with life-threatening energy shortages? Bottom line: our policy toward power generation, a policy that must be changed.

First, funding and political favor have supported the intermittent and expensive electricity sources of wind and solar. Neither can be turned on when needed. The wind must blow and the sun must shine. On frigid nights when the temperature drops dramatically and people turn on electric heaters, the wind is still and the sun doesn’t shine—making them virtually worthless when the energy is needed most.

Next, the building of new, high-tech coal-fueled power plants has been impeded or totally blocked. In America, we are limping by with a generation of coal plants far behind those currently being built in China. The regulations on anyone who tries to build a coal plant, as President Obama promised, “will bankrupt them“—resulting in very few new coal-fueled power plants.

The older plants had weather related problems and had to be shut down. Their closure put more demand on the gas-fueled plants—which also strained the natural gas delivery to commercial and residential customers.

The only power source that had no problems was nuclear. Despite Obama’s early pledge to encourage the building of nuclear plants through loan guarantees, nothing has moved forward on that front. Regulations make their construction nearly impossible and add significantly to the cost. The political atmosphere is a barrier to private funding. It has been nearly twenty years since we’ve had a new nuclear power plant come online.

Texas has the highest wind capacity (installed or under construction) in America. They also have what is called a Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) which requires the state to have a set amount of renewable energy by specific dates. Twenty-nine sates have an RPS or a non-binding goal for adoption. If renewable proponents have their way, Senator Bingaman’s plan for a national Renewable Electricity Standard will become law and every state will be investing in expensive energy that is not available when really needed and blocking the electricity that can truly power America.

The problem last week was lack of pressure in the pipelines. To fix energy problems for the future, will take political pressure.

Marita Noon is the Executive Director at Energy Makes America Great Inc. the advocacy arm of the Citizens’ Alliance for Responsible Energy—working to educate the public and influence policy makers regarding energy, its role in freedom and the American way of life. Find out more at EnergyMakesAmericaGreat.org.

Political gumption and gasoline prices

Posted on 30. Mar, 2011 by Administrator in Energy/Environment

Chaos in the Middle East and the subsequent spike in prices at the pump spotlight the failure of America’s long-term energy policy. Reminiscent of the seventies, we are, once again, held captive by other’s instability. Just the potential tanker delays through the Suez Canal caused a price spike—and, that was before region-wide rebellion and production disruptions were reality.

Muammar Gadhafi’s announcement that he would sabotage his own country’s oil infrastructure in effort to retain control caused a thirty-month high in oil’s rising prices.

While much of Libya’s oil goes to Italy, any disruption in supply impacts prices worldwide. For example, the brief repair-related closure of the Trans Alaska Pipeline in January (representing only a small percentage of our entire US output) resulted in a four-dollar-a-barrel/two-cent-a-gallon jump — no geopolitics were involved.

Unrest in the Middle East is threatening the fragile economic growth. Higher gasoline prices cause an overall drop in consumer spending. Predictions topping $4-a-gallon are resulting in fears about the teetering recovery. If the supply of oil is steady and secure, the price at the pump is lower. Yet, President Obama is not helping. He could, and should, encourage domestic energy development. With one simple gesture, he could stop—or, at least, slow—oil’s steady climb.

Remember the last time prices spiked dramatically? It was Friday, July 11, 2008. They were $147.27 a barrel and, not accounting for inflation, have never been higher—before or since. On Monday July 14, prices began a descent. What stopped the increase? What changed the direction? Monday, July 14, 2008 President Bush signed an executive order reversing his father’s 1990 ban on offshore drilling.

The signature did not change the flow of oil, but it did signal a shift in political will and prices dropped. On September 23, 2008, then-Speaker Pelosi announced that Congress would allow the offshore drilling ban to expire. Again, prices declined dramatically. When he was a Representative, Rahm Emanuel dismissed President Bush’s action as a “political stunt,” but the economic benefit was global.

Today, President Obama doesn’t have to sign a thing. If only he had the political gumption, he could lower gas prices. One call to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, “drill here, drill now,” and energy prices and unemployment would be down.

Despite an internal memo to the Secretary saying, “a six-month deepwater-drilling halt would result in ‘lost direct employment’ affecting approximately 9,450 workers and ‘lost jobs from indirect and induced effects’ affecting about 13,797 more,” the ban was enacted, thrown out by a US District Judge, and then, reinstated with only minor word changes. That ban expired November 30th, 2010, but the Administration is still holding back energy production, real jobs, and economic recovery to the point that on February 17th, the US District Judge has ordered action on pending offshore drilling permits — calling the fact that no permits have been issued “increasingly inexcusable.”

The Administration is also ignoring the report from the Oil Spill Commission’s chief counsel. As the result of one bad actor, the entire industry, Gulf of Mexico, all of America, and even the world is being punished. It is like stopping all flights indefinitely because one airline has gotten sloppy on maintenance.

When an accident does occur, investigations are held while flights—and the economy—carry on. Push for political gumption, not just from President Obama, but from the usually mild-mannered, Chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee: Senator Bingaman. In early March, he’ll be heading up hearings where Secretary Salazar will have to defend his choices. Hard questions must be asked: “Why have you ignored the reports?” “Why are you letting politics speak louder than the economy?” “Why are you punishing all of America?”

Senator Bingaman has been an advocate for drilling in the Gulf. His aggressive actions are needed more now more than ever! Remember 2008 and $4+ gasoline. Low-key charm and a lack of leadership are not what we need today. We need those with the political gumption to stand up for an “all of the above” American energy policy.

Instead, our elected officials are taking the easy way out by making the responsible energy that fuels the economy a scapegoat. Tell your Senator, Senators Bingaman and Murkowski (Ranking Member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee), and President Obama to lift the de facto ban on drilling in the Gulf, create real jobs, and lower gasoline prices. While you’re at it, tell them to allow modern, responsible, hi-tech access to America’s natural resources.

Marita Noon is the Executive Director at Energy Makes America Great Inc. the advocacy arm of the Citizens’ Alliance for Responsible Energy–working to educate the public and influence policy makers regarding energy, its role in freedom and the American way of life. Find out more at EnergyMakesAmericaGreat.org.

The silent killer of America’s economy

Posted on 29. Mar, 2011 by Administrator in Energy/Environment

Currently at least 18 states have legislation proposed or pending—44 bills—relating to the RPS (according to the American Legislative Exchange Council). Despite the various campaigns pulsating throughout the country, no one seems to know what an RPS really is.

Fewer are aware of the potentially lethal impact the RPS could have on America. The  RPS—or Renewable Portfolio Standard is the silent killer of the American economy. “Silent” because its presence is nearly unknown. The nightly news is occupied with Middle East and Midwest unrest and the public is fascinated with the unintelligible rants of Muammar Gadhafi and Charlie Sheen. With little media or public attention,  29 states have enacted an RPS and 7 more have agreed to voluntary goals.

The RPS is a legislated mandate requiring a certain percentage of a state’s electricity “portfolio” come from renewable energy (typically referring to wind and solar) by predetermined dates. Most states’ standards are 15% by 2015, and 20% by 2020. Maine is the most aggressive with a goal of 40% by 2017.

In his State of the Union Address, President Obama announced that he’d like to see 80% clean energy by 2035. Renewable energy is known to be more expensive for the consumer than electricity generated from traditional sources—even with subsidies of about $24 per magawatt hour (based on data from the Energy Information Administration). During a hearing for the New Mexico state-wide cap and trade program, the supporting attorney stated, “The reason for Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) is because renewables are more expensive. No one would choose them if it wasn’t required.”

Despite the high cost and intermittent availability, renewable energy is touted as the savior and environmental groups lobby legislators to push for mandates—or higher mandates when the states have already voted in the RPS. But, from what is renewable energy “saving” us?

The need for renewables is based on two lies. The first is that we “need” to get off of oil. Yes, we do need to get off of our dependence on oil from regimes that hate America, but we have plenty of oil here; there is no shortage. Access shortage, yes. Oil shortage, no. (Plus, electricity does not generally come from oil.) The second lie is that we must use “clean” energy—meaning that which does not produce CO2. This premise is based on the theory that CO2 causes global warming, global warming is human-caused, and stopping CO2 emissions will save the planet.

The RPS is not just a state issue. Based on these fallacies the federal government is also attempting to mandate more expensive energy. Senator Bingaman, Chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, has repeatedly advocated a national RPS of 15% called a Renewable Electricity Standard.

(All of this, while support for climate change legislation and/or regulation is waning. Many states have bills that will reverse, reduce or modify their RPS. Promise of a potential RPS repeal was part of Ohio Governor Kasich’s successful campaign. New Hampshire should be the first state to pull out of their participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.) Regardless of whether state or federal, a new study reveals that these mandated renewable energy requirements will deliver a “devastating blow” to the economy.

The  American Traditions Institute has analyzed the potential for a national standard at various percentages and the existing RPS from several states. Though the exact numbers differ, the results were the same. Energy prices will increase for both individual citizens and industry. Jobs will be lost and household expenses will climb.

At a time when cities and states are facing record budget shortfalls, the RPS will also inflate their costs. A “2010 Report Card on Renewable Portfolio Standards by State,” done by solar power advocates, reveals that the cents per kilowatt-hour are generally higher with states with an RPS—and this is before they meet goals as high as 40% renewable energy.

Local governments pay for the lights, heating and cooling, elevators, and computers in government buildings. They pay to keep the streets lit. Leaving cities in the dark could cause crime to rise. Energy use and America’s Economy go hand-in-hand—meaning any effort to reduce energy availability or increase costs serves to kill a recovery that is barely clinging to life.

Renewable energy is not wrong. There are many cases when wind or solar are the best option. But mandates that raise costs could add fatal pressure to the American economy. Renewable Portfolio Standards are the silent killer.

Marita Noon is the Executive Director at Energy Makes America Great Inc. the advocacy arm of the Citizens’ Alliance for Responsible Energy—working to educate the public and influence policy makers regarding energy, its role in freedom and the American way of life. Find out more at www.EnergyMakesAmericaGreat.org.

Gone Green

Posted on 29. Mar, 2011 by Administrator in Energy/Environment

Everywhere I turn I see something touting its ‘greenness.’ Organic vegetables are the most obvious, but I started eating them when I was knee high to a grasshopper so that’s not ‘new green.’ That’s old green. Here are a few of the old green items and products.  Saran wrap, now that keeps my food fresh so that has to be green, but then again, it doesn’t break down too well and takes about 300 years to return to the cycle of nature. Hmmm. Maybe I should talk about multiple use products instead, those that have an inherent ‘greenity’ because we can use them several times.

Here goes. Fanfare, please. And now, the greatest most stupendous all-time winner of the coveted ‘Re-useit’ award. Wait for it…NEWSPAPERS.  You can use ‘em to read about all the bad news on the planet. Then you can put them down in the parakeet cage and let the parakeets get even for you. OR you could use them as paper hats for your children (that is if anybody remembers how to make one). What about as drawer liners, cat box liners, rolled up as fly swatters, packing materials, wrapping paper when you run out of the real stuff? Now that we’ve covered newspapers (send in your ideas to the Editor) let’s move on to more challenging re-useable items…

Plastic is the conservationist’s Public Enemy No. 1 and with good reason. The only way to completely get rid of plastic is to send it to outer space and blow it up with a gazillion megaton nuclear device. Actually it’s a bit easier, but it’s costly, and as all of us high school physics bums know, matter simply changes form, so we don’t really get rid of plastic. It’s here. It walks among us. It beckons us from supermarket shelves. “Buy me and I’ll make your life simpler and more fun. Don’t pay attention to those ‘greenies’ in the corner. They don’t know what they’re talking about.” That’s the way the dialogue would go if plastic could talk.

OK, let’s assume that we need some plastic. We need it for auto parts, toys, containers, packaging and a host of other uses, but let’s see if we can be a little more creative with its reuse. For example, I sit here writing this article and spy at least a half dozen things made from plastic: plant pots, my million candlepower searchlight, my hummingbird lure, a grill cover,  an empty lemonade container, my cellphone and Gloryoskie, even my trusty computer!

Let’s go over the advantages of these particular plastic items. When plastic plant pots fall over or get accidently whacked, they don’t break. They hang on through thick and thin. My million candlepower searchlight’s plastic body doesn’t corrode and keeps the innards dry so that I can be illuminating for years and years. My hummingbird lure is water and hummingbird fluid repellant so I can take it down and reuse it next season. The grill cover keeps the corrosive elements from destroying my propane-powered Weber friend, saving me money. The lemonade container gets used as a fill-er-up container for flowers and a sugar solution mixer for the hummingbirds’ food.  My cellphone is lighter because of the plastic, so when I put it in my pocket its weight doesn’t make my pants fall down. And my computer doesn’t get cold or hot inside its plastic ‘cocoon’ like it would if it were metal.

 

There. All good reuses or justifications for using plastic, I think. Plastic can also be decorative and can replace more costly materials, but we have to be careful and not let it seduce us to buy too much of it. Just take a look at my garage and you’ll see that I CAN’T BEAR TO THROW AWAY PLASTIC so I store it or take it to the recycling center (which is really a better solution). Now this is the point I want to leave you with, there are several opportunities we have to do good for the environment. One is to find biodegradable packaging materials to replace other nasty ones. Second, if we agree we need a product that is either packaged in plastic or is plastic, we think about how we’re going to reuse it. Third, if we’re not going to reuse it then save it and recycle it, please. I’ve seen too many ducks with six-pack rings around their necks to think they’re just trying to be trendy. Do your part so nature can do its.

 

Federal Budget Imperatives

Posted on 29. Mar, 2011 by Administrator in Politics

The 2011 Federal Budget, which should have been passed at the latest during the pre-Christmas 2010 lame duck session of Congress, has been shoved forward two times through the use of what’s called a “continuing resolution.”  However, the latest deadline of April 8 appears now to be locked in stone.

Therefore it’s time – obviously on March 29 of 2011 it’s way past time – for the Obama administration, the Senate and House Republicans to agree on this year’s Budget and to begin to set a pattern of conduct for the 2012 Budget.  The political overtones, however, don’t bode well for progressives.

Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner is completely cowed within the House by his freshmen members and outside by the Tea Party (there’s now a Facebook page entitled “Tea Partiers Against Boehner”).  Meanwhile President Obama is doing everything he can to look like a fiscally restrained moderate no matter the cost to progressive principles and programs.

In this context, let me note  some imperatives that had better be in that Budget if anyone who either advances or votes for it wants to retain the support of progressives.

John Boehner says to call him back into the Chamber only when the House has agreed to $61 billion in cuts, no matter the insensitivity or pain those cuts might generate.  And as we are seeing more and more from the administration, they are willing to accept as many cuts as it takes to not lose the mantle of fiscal moderation that the President is so eager to wear.

So where is the bulwark that is going to keep the 2011 Budget fair and fiscally prudent (rather than just fiscally restrained)?  Once again it’s the U.S. Senate and specifically the Senate Democrats who now have to stand up for the millions of Americans who will otherwise face the devastating impacts of these cuts.  Our progressive Democrats need to play hardball both on principle and in order to give Senate Democratic Leaders the same kind of “leverage” that Mr. Boehner claims from his Caucus.

So as Senate Democrats consider their role in the upcoming Budget fight, here are the imperatives.

First, no matter the struggle, the Senate needs to protect programs that have a big bang for relatively small bucks.  And Senate Democrats and right-minded Republicans have a particular obligation to protect those programs that most help middle-class and blue-collar Americans, who of course are the ones who ‘most elected’ Barack Obama in states like Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania.

Three examples, out of many, that are facing the Republicans’ ax include the Commerce Department’s Manufacturing Extension Program, which to almost universal acclaim spends $125 million or so a year helping small manufacturing businesses accelerate innovation and develop new domestic and export markets.

Then there’s the equally important National Institute of Standards & Technology which is confronting a 15% cut even though few agencies have more to do with preserving American research, innovation and competitiveness.  Finally, there’s the small but vitally important International Labor Comparisons Office in the Bureau of Labor Statistics that, with an already meager staff of just sixteen economists, is charged with collecting “jobs, wages, outsourcing and trade data resulting from globalization throughout the entire globe.”

For a savings of a paltry $2 million a year this Office would be eliminated and its sixteen employees transferred to the group now tracking domestic inflation and occupational trends – in the process, we would be shutting down the one entity in government charged with keeping us informed about globalization and harmonizing data among our trading partners, data that every day the administration could be using to help create some of those new jobs to which it says it is committed.

Second, again no matter the struggle, the Senate should, in three ways, use this current Budget approval process as an opportunity to use the tax code to create more fairness, pay for protecting programs, and incent companies to create jobs.  The Senate should put honest taxation of carried interest back on the table – properly taxing carried interest as ordinary income rather than as capital gain would bring upwards of $10 billion a year to the Treasury with absolutely no impact on the middle class of the nation.

In doing so, we would be ending once and for all one of the greatest (and most costly) income mischaracterizations ever foisted on this nation’s middle class taxpayers. Investment professionals who earn what is in essence fee income investing other people’s money at no risk to themselves should not be eligible for the lower capital gains rate aimed at stimulating investment.

What they earn is ordinary income, plain and simple.  Incidentally, the CBO and others “score” this fix at only $3 billion or so a year – they’re dead wrong, it’s more like $10 billion and maybe as high as $12 billion as Wall Street continues to regain its profitability.

For the roughly 5 million out-of school unemployed youth the Senate should extend the Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC) beyond August 2011. This simple law provides small businesses with tax incentives to hire people who might ordinarily struggle to find work – for example those with few skills, some veterans, and, since 2009, 16- to 24-year–olds without skills, school or jobs.

Any concerns about WOTC being abused as a form of corporate welfare – i.e., that businesses can get a tax credit for hiring someone they would have employed regardless –can be offset by tying it to the Workforce Investment Act (WIA).  Finally, the Senate should take the easy but desperately needed steps to eliminate the tax incentives that drive the tax rates of many of America’s largest companies to near zero and encourage large American companies to invest overseas rather than here at home.

As Mr. Obama promised throughout 2008, but has completely failed to follow up on, we must once and for all close the cascade of available corporate income tax loopholes while ceasing to reward corporations for closing plants and shipping jobs to countries like China.

It’s insulting to every worker in the country to watch on January 21 President Obama appoint Jeffrey Immelt, the ‘McCain-backer’ chief executive of General Electric, which is the nation’s largest corporation, as chairman of his Council of Jobs and Competitiveness, and to then read in the New York Times eight weeks later that despite earning $5.1 billion in 2010 from its operations in the United States, G.E. will have no American tax bill.

Nada, zilch, none.  (“G.E.’s Strategies Let It Avoid Taxes Altogether”, NY Times, 3-24-11)  According to the Times, “the company has been cutting the percentage of its American profits paid to the Internal Revenue Service for years…based on an aggressive strategy that mixes fierce lobbying for tax breaks and innovative accounting that enables it to concentrate its profits offshore.”

Compounding this insult to American workers, which Mr. Obama chooses to ignore, is the further reality, as I’ve written before, that with the possible exception of Intel and Boeing, few American companies have drunk more deeply from the offshoring-of-jobs trough than has General Electric.

Third, regardless of the final 2011 Budget, as Democrats in both Houses look forward to the 2012 elections, they need to shift the discussion from long-term spending back to the only issue that matters, which is dramatically reducing long-term real unemployment.  Progressives almost across the board have allowed the Republicans to gain the upper hand by blaming the nation’s two major entitlements – Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid – for our very real fiscal troubles.

But this blame is misplaced.  Social Security essentially pays for itself on a real time, current basis and its long-term payout shortfalls, which are real, could be easily fixed by just increasing the payroll tax cap on the wealthy and adding in some reasonable means testing.  Medicaid and Medicare are, in turn, enormous and growing segments of the federal budget, but the underlying problem in health care is rising health care costs, not these two programs which are indisputably efficient.

In a macro sense there is ‘false choice’ debate underway within Congress and the administration between “cutters” of the federal deficit and “postponers”, and it continues to play out, this time quite obviously in the 2011 Budget debate. “Cutters” argue that large fiscal deficits threaten long-term fiscal credibility and depress private confidence and spending.  In contrast, “postponers”, of which I am most definitely one, strongly agree with the need to slow the growth of long-term spending.

However, right now, above all else, we’re motivated to create jobs any way we can, but especially by drawing out for hiring and investment the more than $2 trillion of company cash reserves that have accumulated since the start of the Recession.

“Cutters” and “postponers” are not in a winner-take-all contest, unless they foolishly insist on being in such – and the U.S. does not have to choose between stimulus and austerity.  Much more than the theories and wishes of the “cutters” or “postponers”, it is only the needs of voters and workers which really matter.  And right now, a majority of Americans agree with the statement that “the federal debt has grown to an alarming level, where it is threatening the future of our children and grandchildren.”  But they strongly disagree when this very honest observation is used (abused) by Republican Senators to resist major new-jobs efforts.

Voters see the absence of jobs as far and away the biggest problem facing the economy today, and they strongly favor, by two-to-one, aggressive jobs initiatives over a long-term deficit reduction program.  And we owe them this attention and this priority because indisputable analysis shows that additional thoughtful job creation would be at least deficit neutral over the medium term and most likely deficit reducing.  Jobs-based stimulus, because of the large multiplier effect of high-quality job creation, is a much more responsible and effective way to reduce the deficit than is slashing spending for slashing’s sake.

The idea that voters care more about deficits than they do about jobs is a strategic miscalculation by Republicans, and if the Obama administration and Senate Democrats can avoid the easy pull of acting like “Republicans with hearts” they can not only fight for good policy but also for good politics.  If we can make the 2011 Federal Budget about job creation and not about protecting government spending, we will win.  But it will take a strong progressive bulwark in the Senate to keep their Leaders there from negotiating away this powerful strategic response.

Leo Hindery, Jr. is Chairman of the US Economy/Smart Globalization Initiative at the New America Foundation and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.  Currently an investor in media companies, he is the former CEO of Tele-Communications, Inc. (TCI), Liberty Media and their successor AT&T Broadband.  He also serves on the Board of the Huffington Post Investigative Fund.

APS – More questions than answers

Posted on 28. Mar, 2011 by Administrator in Education

APS Superintendent Winston Brooks, in his monthly Journal column, argued that APS’ administration is transparent. It is award winningly transparent, he wrote. Ask Winston Brooks for a commitment. Ask him if he will promise to response to any legitimate question by answering candidly, forthrightly and honestly. Ask the same of APS Executive Director of Communications Monica Armenta. Ask APS’ Director of Communications Rigo Chavez. Ask School Board President Paula Maes.

Not one of them will agree to just sit still somewhere and respond to legitimate questions and follow ups. Not one of them will agree. Instead, you are expected to submit your questions in writing. The response will range from ignoring the question entirely, to responding on the record. The manifest pattern is; inconvenient questions are ignored. Take these for example;

  1. Why are more than 300 whistle blower complaints being denied the final hearing guaranteed them by school board policy?
  2. Why are administrators and board members not accountable as role models of the APS Student Standards of Conduct?
  3. Why are operational funds (classroom dollars) being spent to hide an ethically redacted version of the Caswell Report (on an investigation of felony criminal misconduct by APS senior administrators)?
  4. Why will the administration not allow an independent administrative accountability audit be conducted? an audit similar to the recent audits of the M&O Division, the Finance Division, the APS Police Department, and the Fleet Maintenance Division, all of which revealed an abject lack of standards, accountability, and record keeping?

If no one in the entire leadership of the APS will respond to those questions candidly, forthrightly and honestly, how can any one of them claim transparency?

And why does the Journal allow Winston Brooks to tout his supposed transparency, without anyone at all to challenge his self-serving spin?

Submitted by: Charles Edward (Ched) MacQuigg who is a retired teacher.  He writes the blog called Diogenes’ Six;  where he advocates on behalf of transparency and accountability in government, in particular in the Albuquerque Public Schools.

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