Sunday, June 17, 2018

Week-end Wrap - June 16, 2018

Week-end Wrap - June 16, 2018
by Tony Wikrent
Economics Action Group, North Carolina Democratic Party Progressive Caucus

Sen. Sanders writes op-ed: Trump administration isn't slowing renewables' momentum
(6/6) [Wind Energy Association]
A renewable energy revolution is sweeping the US and will continue to do so as prices fall even further, despite the Trump administration's efforts to prop up fossil fuels and gas, writes Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. Sanders touts his efforts to bolster renewables in Washington, D.C., including co-sponsoring a bill that would end federal support for fossil fuels and encourage a shift to 100% renewables by 2050.

IEA: Global renewable energy spending is outpacing other sources [Wind Energy Association]
Falling wind costs and other factors propelled global spending on renewables to $297 billion in 2016 -- more than double the amount invested in fossil fuels, according to the International Energy Agency. The report added that renewable sources will likely account for 56% of all generating capacity brought online through 2025. 

Solar Has Overtaken Gas and Wind as Biggest Source of New U.S. Power [Bloomberg, via Wind Energy Association]. June 12, 2018
“Despite tariffs that President Trump imposed on imported panels, the U.S. installed more solar energy than any other source of electricity in the first quarter. Developers installed 2.5 gigawatts of solar in the first quarter, up 13 percent from a year earlier....
Billions in U.S. solar projects shelved after Trump panel tariff [Reuters, via Naked Capitalism]. 
“President Donald Trump’s tariff on imported solar panels has led U.S. renewable energy companies to cancel or freeze investments of more than $2.5 billion in large installation projects, along with thousands of jobs, the developers told Reuters. That’s more than double the about $1 billion in new spending plans announced by firms building or expanding U.S. solar panel factories to take advantage of the tax on imports.

On trade, Donald Trump was right. The rest of the G7 were wrong. by George Monbiot, 13 Jun 2018 [The Guardian, via Naked Capitalism]. There were some people who warned before the 2016 election that the Democratic Party's refusal to actually deal with economic inequality (not just talk about it) would allow Trumo to run to the left of Clinton on many issues, especiallytrade.
In arguing for a sunset clause to the Nafta trade agreement, this odious man is exposing the corruption of liberal democracy.... 
Even if the people of the US, Canada and Mexico had explicitly consented to Nafta in 1994, the idea that a decision made then should bind everyone in North America for all time is repulsive. So is the notion, championed by the Canadian and Mexican governments, that any slightly modified version of the deal agreed now should bind all future governments. 
But the people of North America did not explicitly consent to Nafta. They were never asked to vote on the deal, and its bipartisan support ensured that there was little scope for dissent. The huge grassroots resistance in all three nations was ignored or maligned. The deal was fixed between political and commercial elites, and granted immortality. 
In seeking to update the treaty, governments in the three countries have candidly sought to thwart the will of the people.
The end of net neutrality: The US ruling elite escalates campaign of internet censorship [WorldSocialist Web, 2 June 2018, via Naked Capitalism]
This is not the outcome merely of a change in administrations. It is part of a shift in the class policy of the ruling elite. The 2016 election, with its broad abstention by the working class amid widespread hostility to Hillary Clinton, the favored candidate of Wall Street, and the subsequent strike movement by teachers independently of the unions, has made clear to the ruling elite that the imposition of internet censorship is necessary for the defense of its domination of society.
WaPo and SEC Commissioner Wake Up to Looming Crisis from Stock Buybacks, by Pam Martens and Russ Martens: June 12, 2018 [Wall Street on Parade]. Unfortunately, no one is linking the stick buybacks to Republicans' tax cuts. We have pointed out that tax cuts do not work to spur investment because if tax rates are high, the only way for a company and its managers to keep profits is to reinvest in the company. When tax rates are too low, there is too much incentive for "profit taking"--which under the MBA-coma of the past half century, usually means asset stripping.

Rep. Keith Ellison introduces bill to curb stock buybacks, by Naomi Jagoda, 06/12/18, The Hill.

How Private Equity Helped Kill Toys ‘R’ Us, by Eileen Appelbaum [The Atlantic, via Naked Capitalism]

Crisis on the High Plains: The Loss of America’s Largest Aquifer – the Ogallala [University of Denver Water Law Review, via Naked Capitalism] "The Ogallala Aquifer supports an astounding one-sixth of the world’s grain produce...."

Beijing’s Building Boom: How the West Surrendered Global Infrastructure Development to China
By Bushra Bataineh, Michael Bennon, and Francis Fukuyama [Foreign Affairs]
Scholars and pundits in the West have become increasingly alarmed that China’s planned Belt and Road Initiative (B&R) could further shift the global strategic landscape in Beijing’s favor, with infrastructure lending as its primary lever for global influence. The planned network of infrastructure project—financed by China’s bilateral lenders, the China Development Bank (CDB) and the Export-Import Bank of China (CEXIM), along with the newly formed and multilateral Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank—is historically unprecedented in scope.
China’s Global Electricity Takeover, by Leonard Hyman and Willian Tilles, Jun 13, 2018 [Wolf Street, via Naked Capitalism]

Musk’s Boring Company wins bid to build high-speed system in Chicago [Reuters, via Naked Capitalism]
The system will be comprised of 16-passenger vehicles that will travel up to 150 miles (240 km) per hour through a tunnel that will cut the current 30 to 45-minute trip between the airport and Chicago’s business district down to 12 minutes....
Americans should be ashamed New York City's LaGuardia Airport has no rail service whatsover. And, a pertinent historical note: LaGuardia Airport was built during the Depression as a Works Progress Administration project.

“Is Durham a union town? Labor groups hope so.” [Herald-Sun, via Naked Capitalism].
“Union and labor groups in Durham are calling for a Worker’s Rights Commission, and think they have a city council who supports it. ‘Durham probably has the most progressive city council in North Carolina,” said Aiden Graham, campaign manager for the North Carolina State AFL-CIO. He thinks the city can be a leader in the state and the South. But he also said Durham has a low union density.'”
Poor Peoples Campaign Protests All Over US Ignored by Media June 14, 2018 by Yves Smith [Naked Capitalism] Lots of excellent links. Yves includes this excerpt from the Poor Peoples Campaign website page on “National Morality”:
In the history of this country, moral justifications have been offered for the genocide and forced removal of indigenous people from their lands, slavery, resisting the Brown v. Board of Education school segregation case and opposing the Roe v. Wade abortion case. Today, religious extremists focus on issues like prayer in school, abortion, and gun rights that distort the national moral narrative.
This distorted narrative became integral to the well-funded libertarian movement to redefine “liberty” as freedom from government. In 2016, Franklin Graham invested $10 million of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association’s money in his 2016 Decision America Tour to each state house in the country. Billed as “nonpartisan” prayer rallies, these gatherings framed the “moral crisis” as a decision between progressive atheist values and God. After the election, Graham called Trump’s victory an answer to prayer.

The Destruction of Latin America’s Left and Lessons for Everyone, by Ian Welsh, June 10, 2018
The norms are breaking down in many nations, including the United States. What is done to win is illegitimate, as with Republican vote manipulation and the 2000 Supreme court decision; what is done afterwards to opponents is also often illegitimate, and if the wrong person wins, they are gone after legally....
This is a very dirty game, and left-wingers keep treating it as if it is not: as if there are rules, and both sides play by them. Increasingly in the US that is not the case, and it is clearly not the case many other places. If your enemies win, they will destroy you by any means. You should think long and hard about what you will do to them if you get into power, because they know what they will do to you.
Republican incumbent Mark Sanford defeated in South Carolina primary for US House for refusing to support Trump. I saw this news in other places, but because I'm on the road, it's most convenient to just pluck these two links from Naked Capitalism:
VA-05: “Varying Degrees of Horror”: In 2018, the Republicans Are Really Just Running Against Themselves—and Their Party’s Future” [Vanity Fair]. Entertaining detail on VA-05. Then: “[O]ne of the defining characteristics of the 2018 cycle is the extraordinary number of House Republicans who are not standing for re-election—a number now approaching 50, and which exceeds any similar exodus in modern political history. [M]ore than anything else, the departures reflect the difficulty of acclimating to a political party increasingly defined by Donald Trump. Many Republican members of Congress view the G.O.P.’s transformation from a party based on principles of limited government to one that has become a populist front for Trump’s unique brand of Twitter demagoguery with “varying degrees of horror,” as Peter Wehner, a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, who also served three Republican presidents, put it. Trump’s strong hold on the base, which has apparently not eroded at all in the last 18 months, has made it politically difficult for those in office to confront this directly, and some are choosing retirement as a means of jumping off a ‘vessel that is . . . damaged and stained.'” And Chuck Schumer is waiting, with open arms, to catch them when they jump! Finally: “In the end, the 2018 midterms are not merely important for settling who will control the House for the next two years. Equally important, they will determine the changing composition of the Republican caucus, and help define the future of the G.O.P.” 
SC-05: “[Mark] Sanford’s fatal sin: Crossing Donald Trump” [Politico]. “The South Carolina congressman’s stunning defeat in Tuesday’s Republican primary effectively ended the turbulent two-decade career of a political icon who once harbored presidential aspirations. State Rep. Katie Arrington defeated Sanford 50.6 percent to 46.5 percent…. .Mark had a long and storied career, he was a very famous and successful politician. But he didn’t read the tea leaves right, and that came back to haunt him,” said former state Rep. Chip Limehouse, who hails from a prominent Charleston family and has known Sanford for years. ‘Mark misjudged it, attacking Trump. That’s what killed him.'” Then again: “In what was perhaps an early sign that his political strength was abating, Sanford received just 55 percent of the vote in his 2016 primary, against an opponent who spent little.”
[Below is from Naked Capitalism, including Lambert's comment in the final paragraph] 
“The Left’s Problem With Order, the Center’s Problem With Happiness, and the Right’s Problem With the Truth” [Benjamin Studebaker (via the excellent BLCKDGRD)].
The center speaks for the order we have–it emphasises the value of its order, the value of the institutions and norms that it defends. But it increasingly is unable to tell a story about its order which speaks to the values we have beyond order itself…. The right doesn’t buy the story. It’s sick of the center’s order. But the right’s solutions all involve trying to make the world more like it used to be…. The right tells compelling stories but there’s no truth in them. It is a movement built on lies and false hopes.
The left understands the economic origins of the problems which the right mistakes as racial, ethnic, or national. It understands that we can’t go on ignoring the mass unhappiness our order increasingly leaves unaddressed. But the left is order-phobic. It views powerful institutions like the state or major political parties as fundamentally corrupt, and it views the strategies and tactics necessary to capture those institutions as morally unclean. The left wants a politics of self-actualisation–it wants to prioritise happiness not merely in its policies but also in the political means by which it pursues its ends. Worse, it wants this self-actualisation on an individual level, making it difficult for people who self-actualise in different ways to work with one another. The left resists engaging with institutions, and it views efforts to engage with institutions and the constraints they impose as an assault on the purity and moral identity of its movement. It is so hostile to order that it is unable to tell a story in which its proposals to make us happy can be enacted or sustained through stable, lasting institutions. This makes the left increasingly irrelevant and allows the political debate to focus around the distinctions between the center and the right.
[This is Lambert's comment.] I like the “order, happiness, truth” trope, but I think Studebaker is stuck on the linear, “Overton Window” model that sees left, center, right” as a spectrum. I think this is a category error. To recategorize, I think that conservatives, liberals, and the left are on a plane, not a line: Conservatives and liberals put markets first; the left puts the working class first, and so are not simply more liberal liberals. Ergo, the identity politics crowd (“politics of self-actualisation”) needs to be taken out of the left bucket, and thrown into the liberal (“centrist”* bucket). If you unmuddy the waters like that, the willingness of the left, in the form of both Sanders and institutions like DSA, to “engage with institutions” becomes clear. I mean, surely the left’s call for #MedicareForAll brings about both happiness and “stable, lasting institutions,” in contrast to the “End ____ism” calls from the identity politics crowd, which cannot. NOTE * Both liberals and conservatives can be centrists, exactly as they can both be neoliberals. A good litmus test for a centrist, at least in the national security arena, is using the phrase “rules-based international order” non-ironically. After Iraq? Libya? I’m all for a “rules-based international order.” We should try it some time.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Final beta (Climate Change video)

This version incorporates most of the suggestions I have gotten, mostly from Tony's Progressive caucus, Grandpa Smet and my favorite political operative, Da Wege!

So this covers the main points I had in mind:

1) The science of climate change is overwhelming.

2) The reasons why climate change is so difficult to address are mostly structural and technological.

3) Only a massive building effort can alter these structural problems.

Enjoy the video. It is 17:57 minutes long. If you enjoy the music track, it is because some of the music is especially appropriate. For example, the song, "Don't Worry, Be Happy" topped the charts the same year James Hansen testified before Congress, or that the hymn, "Nearer My God to thee" was published the same year oil was discovered in Pennsylvania—the same industry that was soon to be monopolized by a devout Baptist Sunday School teacher named Rockefeller.

I'm back—sort of

If it seems like I have been remiss in my posts it is because I have been been putting all my energy into the creation of my climate change video.

Reasonable people could wonder what has taken so much time. Good question.

1) I am not the only person stymied by this matter. There are serious climate change conferences all the time attended by scary-smart people and yet, the catastrophe has only gotten worse.

2) I am being very cautious. One of the things I learned early in life is that change agents must be factually correct all the time. If you agree with the status quo, it is possible to be wrong all the time with no ill effects. On the other hand, if you DO challenge the conventional wisdom, your room for error is essentially zero.

3) Some of this information is just mind boggling in its scale—like for example, the amount of fossil fuels the USA uses ever single day. I am pretty sure I am not the only person intimidated by the size problem, but there are times when it just seems hopeless.

4) There seems to be a new abundance of retired climate scientists who, freed from the normal constraints of employment, have now decided to broadcast their versions of the truth. Many of them have essentially declared the situation hopeless.  Read three of these things in a row and it becomes paralyzing.

5) The subject of climate change is so large, it's hard to know where to start. I wrote four openings before settling on the one I chose—and that doesn't count the dozen or so I never got around to writing.

6) Some approaches, such as creating massive political protests or singling out the "bad guys," I rejected from the start because they don't get us anywhere. Of course, this makes sound analysis even more difficult.

7) Video creates it own set of problems. Some things are not especially visual and so substitutes must be manufactured. I already know how to make 3d animations but that does not make them easy or quick. It often requires a week to make an animation that is on screen for a few seconds.

Anyway, I am really happy with what I have created. It still needs a better sound track because I do not have a the voice for that sort of thing. But the script is written and when I find the right voice, this should be a small detail. In the meantime, I now have a large time hole to fill. So it's probably back to serious blogging.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Week-end Wrap - June 9, 2018

Week-end Wrap - June 9, 2018
by Tony Wikrent
Economics Action Group, North Carolina Democratic Party Progressive Caucus

Billionaire funder of conservative and libertarian extremism, David Koch, is retiring because of health issues. [AP News, 6-5-18, via Naked Capitalism]
Billionaire conservative icon David Koch is stepping down from the Koch brothers’ network of business and political activities. The 78-year-old New York resident is suffering from deteriorating health.... David Koch is leaving his roles as executive vice president and board member for Koch Industries and a subsidiary, Koch Chemical Technology group, where he served as chairman and chief executive officer. Koch is also stepping down as chairman of the board for the Americans For Prosperity Foundation, the charity related to Koch brothers’ primary political organization.
Seniors Are More Conservative Because the Poor Don’t Survive to Become Seniors, by
Ed Kilgore, May 31, 2018 [New York Magazine Daily Intelligencer]

How to Get Rid of the Super-Rich: By leveraging the power of the public purse against corporations that pay their top execs outrageously more than their workers, we could help jump-start a democratic “New Economy.” By Sam Pizzigati, May 21, 2018 [The Nation]
....we do not expect shareholders to monitor the fairness of corporate employment practices. We deny government support, for instance, to companies that discriminate by race or gender in hiring. In the United States, such companies cannot gain government contracts. Tax dollars, Americans have come to believe, should not subsidize enterprises that increase racial or gender inequality. 
Stakeholder-oriented corporate reformers are extending this analogy to executive compensation. Tax dollars, they maintain, should also not subsidize enterprises that widen economic inequality. 
....In the United States, private-sector firms currently take in about $500 billion every year in federal government contracts, for everything from manufacturing military aircraft to serving food and drinks in national parks. Over a fifth of the US workforce, 22 percent, labors for a company that holds one or more federal contracts. Millions of other Americans work for firms with state and local government contracts. 
....Imagine if all this taxpayer largesse came with strings that tied top executive compensation to worker pay: no contracts, no subsidies, no tax breaks for corporations that pay their top executives—in salary, bonus, and incentives—over 25 or 50 or 100 times what their workers are making.

Wall Street’s Misallocation of Capital Is Worse Today than the Era, By Pam Martens and Russ Martens: June 7, 2018 [Wall Street on Parade]. Just look at
...the market cap of JPMorgan Chase versus Ford. JPMorgan Chase doesn’t manufacture anything other than financial products – for which there is essentially no barriers to entry. That is, hundreds of other investment banks, brokerage firms, insurance companies and mutual funds around the globe are doing the same thing. But somehow, JPMorgan Chase has achieved a market cap of $375.75 billion while Ford, which makes the automobiles that get us to and from work each day, has a market cap of a measly $47.70 billion. Even if you threw in General Motors, which has a market cap of $61.82 billion, you’re still looking at less than a third of JPMorgan Chase’s market value. 
And here’s another weird anomaly. JPMorgan Chase’s stock price seems to defy not only gravity but mind-blowing reputational damage. The bank has pleaded guilty to three felony counts since 2014 and put on probation by the U.S. Justice Department and yet its stock has set multiple new highs this year. It should be noted that from peak to trough during the bust, JPMorgan Chase lost more than 70 percent of its value.
The whistleblowers of the 2007-2008 financial crashes have been crushed and need help. [The Steady Enmity of Powerful People, by Golem XIV on June 4, 2018, via Naked Capitalism]. A book has been written about the idealistic and brave whistleblowers of the 2007-2008 financial crashes. There is no happy ending.
All of the stories involved the whistleblower following the law and reporting their concerns. In every story the result was being threatened with punitive, some might say vindictive, legal action by the very banks whose wrong doing they had reported.  In every case the ‘Proper Authorities’, in charge of regulating the banks, hung the whistleblowers out to dry. 
All the whistleblowers were blackballed from their profession and lost their livelihoods. The majority lost their homes. Another disturbing common thread was that many of the whistleblowers, who had been well paid, and respected employees of the banks, found that as soon as they went public with their complaint, they were accused, by the banks, of being mentally unstable and in need of detention in a mental facility. Many lost their family as a result.  In every case the leading politicians of all the major parties in the whistleblowers’ country, ignored the whistleblower and closed ranks with the banks and the regulators.  Very often they too would join the banks in solemnly suggesting the Whistleblower had had some sort of tragic mental breakdown and was now unstable or delusional. 
But the most depressing thing about the book is that it was never published.
The writer is friends with a whistleblower who has reached his or her limit and is appealing for aid. Go to the link if you can help.

Wall Street CEO to Worker Pay Ratios Don’t Capture What’s Going On, by Pam Martens and Russ Martens: June 5, 2018 [Wall Street on Parade].
In May, Democratic Congressman Keith Ellison from Minnesota’s 5th District released a study on the new data that was being released. The study was titled “Rewarding or Hoarding: An Examination of Pay Ratios Revealed by Dodd-Frank.”
Among the key findings in the study were the following:
Two-thirds of the richest 1 percent of American households are headed by corporate executives;
CEO pay in the U.S. is excessive compared to other countries. Citing Bloomberg data, the study revealed that “the average U.S. CEO makes more than four times the average pay of a CEO abroad”;
The pay gap has exploded over the past half century. The report found that the average CEO to median worker pay ratio today is 339 to 1 versus in 1965 when the average CEO received only an average of 20 times the average worker’s pay;

Machines that suck CO₂ from the air might be cheaper than we thought: Operators of pilot plant publish their design and costs for scaling up. by Scott K. Johnson, 6/7/2018 [Ars Technica]
....located an hour north of Vancouver, British Columbia, is the brainchild of a company called Carbon Engineering. One of the founders of Carbon Engineering is Harvard’s David Keith, a researcher studying this and other conceivable methods of “geoengineering” our planet’s climate. This week, the Carbon Engineering team has published a nuts-and-bolts breakdown of its design, providing the first cost analysis of a working carbon capture plant.
Analysis: Grid changes are needed to optimize wind, solar [The Conversation (5/23), via Wind Energy Association]
....Wind and solar are variable renewable energy sources that drive down electricity prices as their volume increases, potentially changing the landscape of the US electrical grid, write Joachim Seel, Andrew Mills and Ryan Wiser of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. They share how utilities can shift demand to take advantage of high VRE levels, for example encouraging the use of at-home electric vehicle charges in regions where wind production is higher at night.
....How do solar and wind influence energy prices? And since power plants last for decades, what should policymakers and investors think about to ensure that investments in power infrastructure pay off in the future?
Sierra Club film shows how renewables are uplifting Americans [Fast Company, via Wind Energy Association]
The Sierra Club is expected to release "Reinventing Power: America's Renewable Energy Boom," this summer, depicting the growth of renewables in the US and how the industry has revitalized the lives of many Americans and the communities they live in, Eillie Anzilotti writes. "We're telling the story of the clean energy revolution through the voices of the people who are benefiting from it," adds Mary Ann Hitt, director of the Beyond Coal campaign at the Sierra Club.
California faces new problem of too much solar and wind forcing down electricity prices [MIT Technology Review]. The article provides the technical details, but utterly fails to raise the really important issue here: This is another example of how "markets" are often not capable of meeting society's needs and goals without the active intervention of governments.
In April, California solar and wind farms shut down or dialed back nearly 95,000 megawatt-hours of electricity, a new record, according to the California Independent System Operator, which manages the vast majority of the state’s electricity. That’s enough to power more than 30 million homes for an hour.... cost and price are not the same. In a normally functioning market, prices that regularly drop to zero will eat deeply into the profits of power plant operators, strongly discouraging companies from bringing more facilities online.
In California, utilities will spend $768 million on electric car infrastructure, by Megan Geuss - 6/2/2018 [Ars Technica]. Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), will spend more than $22 million on installing 230 direct current fast-charging stations in the state. San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E), and Southern California Edison (SCE) together will spend $236.3 million and $342.6 million, respectively, "on infrastructure and rebates to support electric trucks, buses, and other medium or heavy-duty vehicles," including 1,500 charging stations for those vehicles.

New NASA technology reduces errors in estimating Sierra Nevada snowpack, which supplies up to a third of California's fresh water [MIT Technology Review].  Accurately measuring the potential water supply is becoming more urgent as climate change shifts the cycles of droughts and floods. NASA's Airborne Snow Observatory a twin-turboprop Beechcraft King Air 90, equipped with a pair of sensors pointing through a glass cutout on the bottom of the plane. The lidar measures the volume of the mountain snowpack while a spectrometer gauges its reflectivity, together providing a highly accurate estimate of how much water will run off the mountain in the spring and when it will flow through California’s warren of dams, reservoirs, and aqueducts.Californians have been trying to accurately measure the Sierra snowpack for more than a century. Every winter, the California Department of Water Resources dispatches surveyors on cross-country skis and snowshoes to hundreds of designated spots, where they plunge aluminum measuring tubes deep into the snow. That data is supplemented by more than one hundred remote sensor stations situated throughout the range, where “snow pillows” provide estimates based on the shifting weight of snow above them. 
But these snapshots often don’t add up to an accurate picture of these sprawling high-mountain watersheds. In some years, the estimated amount of water that eventually reaches reservoirs like the Hetch Hetchy system, which serves nearly three million customers around San Francisco, can be off as much as 40 percent. That’s a plus or minus of tens of billions of gallons of water. 
But after five years of operation, through very wet, very dry, and average years, the NASA program’s error rate is averaging around 2 percent.... 
The Fighting Has Begun Over Who Owns Land Drowned by Climate Change. America’s coastal cities and local governments are already engaged in legal battles over real estate that is disappearing  underwater as sea levels rise. "Coastal erosion and rising seas are submerging a football field’s worth of Louisiana land every hour..." [Bloomberg, via Barry Ritholtz's The Big Picture].

More proof Republican tax cuts do not work: Fodder for the Bulls: “America Inc. Has a Record $2.5 Trillion Gift for Stock Investors” [Bloomberg 6-5-18]. 
“Between buybacks, dividends, and merger activities, companies are poised to plow $2.5 trillion into the stock market this year, according to UBS Group AG. The buying spree is equivalent to 10 percent of the S and P 500’s market capitalization, easily outstripping prior records. 

Union Pacific sets $20B stock buyback [Rail News]. That is six times more than the Omaha-based railroad's planned capital expenditures of $3.3 billion in 2018.

DARPA considering bids for new constellations of LEO military satellites [SpaceNews, by Sandra Erwin — May 31, 2018]. The Defense Advance Research Projects Agency--which historically has been a first funder of new technologies because military keynesianism is tolerated in USA by conservatives, libertarians, and neoliberals--has begun to study the bids it has received for its Blackjack program. The goal of Blackjack is to replace large, very expensive and very vulnerable military satellites placed in geostationary orbits, with to a low Earth orbit constellation of smaller, cheaper, more easily replaced satellites. Of note: DARPA intends to keep Blackjack unclassified, in hopes of attracting bidders who do not have security clearances.
Spearheading the Blackjack program is Fred Kennedy, director of DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office. Kennedy has criticized the military space business as being stuck in its old ways and missing opportunities to jump on the innovation bandwagon. At industry conferences, Kennedy has called out the Pentagon for embracing a culture of high performance and low risk that is now working against the military because it has given enemies ample time to develop counter-space weapons that could be used to disable or destroy U.S. satellites. 
New chief of Russian space agency Roscosmos Dmitry Rogozin poses big problem for NASA [Space News, by Matthew Bodner, June 6, 2018]. Russian President Vladimir Putin has delivered a warning to the West with the appointment of former deputy prime minister Dmitry Rogozin as head of Roscosmos. Rogozin is one of the Russian officials placed on the 2014 USA sanctions list in the USA response to Russian actions and influence in Ukraine and Crimea.
“Rogozin is not only a hawk, but a loud hawk who has threatened to kick NASA astronauts off the Soyuz and that is not in the least helpful,” says Theresa Hitchens, a former UN space official and researcher at the University of Maryland. “The sanctions issue will make it impossible for senior level meetings, although that does not rule out lower level folks from working together.”
Independent defense and space contractor Orbital ATK to be acquired by Northrop Grumman [SpaceNews, by Sandra Erwin — June 5, 2018]. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission has approved Northrop Grumman's $7.8 billion purchase of Orbital, allowing the monopolization of the aerospace industry to continue. Three large conglomerates have dominated USA aerospace industry for the past decade.
Source: The American Aircraft Industrial Base: On the Brink, by David R King, January 2006.

Research finds tipping point for large-scale social change of 25%June 7, 2018, University of Pennsylvania [, via Naked Capitalism]
In this study, "Experimental Evidence for Tipping Points in Social Convention," co-authored by Joshua Becker, Ph.D., Devon Brackbill, Ph.D., and Andrea Baronchelli, Ph.D., 10 groups of 20 participants each were given a financial incentive to agree on a linguistic norm. Once a norm had been established, a group of confederates—a coalition of activists that varied in size—then pushed for a change to the norm. 
When a minority group pushing change was below 25% of the total group, its efforts failed. But when the committed minority reached 25%, there was an abrupt change in the group dynamic, and very quickly the majority of the population adopted the new norm. In one trial, a single person accounted for the difference between success and failure.
More proof the USA is becoming less capitalistic as it becomes more oligarchicalAmerica’s Startup Scene Is Looking AnemicFewer people are taking the entrepreneurial plunge. , by Noah Smith, June 7, 2018 [Bloomberg, via Naked Capitalism]. 
Graph from a recent paper by economists Ryan Decker, John Haltiwanger, Ron Jarmin and Javier Miranda, National Bureau of Economic Research. 

Monday, June 4, 2018

Hard times coming?

For those of us who believe that energy is a primary need for survival, the collapse of oil prices since 2014 was quite frankly, surreal. How can a globe with a billion light vehicles not continue to need petroleum? The demands for liquid fuels are embedded in the design of our societies. Most people, unfortunately, view the oil giants as these powerful people who can get wars started to defend their interests. Up close, the people who actually get the gasoline to the neighborhood filling station see themselves in a mad, scary scramble to meet this insatiable demand—a demand that will not go away any time soon.

Of course, supply and demand do not always determine price. Lots of crazy stuff happens in the commodity markets so we can have low oil prices while global demand goes up. And high oil prices do not necessarily shrink demand—demand is built in, remember. Yes folks can cut out frivolous consumption but the rest of the demand is considered "inelastic." So high energy prices mostly damage the other folks trading in things that are considered less necessary than energy. So at some time, one of the primary economic laws will kick in—hello $6 a gallon gasoline. And if you run an restaurant, for example, be prepared for fewer customers with less money to spend.

Below is a YouTube of someone who was in charge of getting the crude that the majors convert to the fuels we need. Spent around 40 years at it. His explanation of the supply problem is clear and probably quite accurate.

Friday, June 1, 2018

Week-end Wrap - June 2, 2018

Week-end Wrap - June 2, 2018
by Tony Wikrent
Economics Action Group, North Carolina Democratic Party Progressive Caucus

“Here’s what businesses did with Trump tax-cut windfall. Hint: they didn’t spend it” [MarketWatch, linked by Naked Capitalism]. “American businesses got a huge tax cut in the first quarter, but they didn’t do much with the extra cash. Most of the dough ended up in their bank accounts…. For the most part, the tax savings fattened up the bottom line. Cash flow rose at a $100 billion annual rate while dividends increased at a scant $3.4 billion pace.”

It is important that progressives be able to explain why Republican tax cuts do not work as intended. They do not lead to increases in corporate investment; rather, they lead to profit-taking, speculative binges, and the creation of asset bubbles which eventually cause a financial crash. The cycle takes from five to seven years, judging from the results of the Republican tax cuts of 1924, 1981, and 2001-2003. In January 2017, we explained the mechanics of the counter-intuitive relationship between tax cuts, financial crashes, and industrial ruin: Why Republican Tax Cuts Always Cause A Financial Crash.

Meet the Economist Behind the One Percent’s Stealth Takeover of America, by Lynn Parramore, May 30, 2018 [Institute for New Economic Thinking, linked by Naked Capitalism].
A useful summary by Parramore of Duke University historian Nancy MacLean's book on George Mason University "public choice" economist James McGill Buchanan. After Buchanan died in January 2013, MacLean was the first researcher to gain access to Buchanan's office and archives. She was stunned by what she found: 
The archive of the man who had sought to stay under the radar had been left totally unsorted and unguarded. The historian plunged in, and she read through boxes and drawers full of papers that included personal correspondence between Buchanan and billionaire industrialist Charles Koch. That’s when she had an amazing realization: here was the intellectual lynchpin of a stealth revolution currently in progress.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Alexander Hamilton versus Shareholder Value - HAWB December 1790

How America Was Built: Alexander Hamilton versus Shareholder Value - HAWB December 1790

This past month I made a concerted effort to read the major reports to Congress submitted by First Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton. These reports are the foundation documents of the USA economy. And no, the USA economy was not based on the ideas of British imperial economist Adam Smith, whose ideas Hamilton flatly rejected in his reports.

The Second Report on the Further Provision Necessary for Establishing Public Credit was submitted to Congress on December 13th, 1790, and is often referred as The Report on a National Bank. In one section, where Hamilton explains the best structure for a central bank, he propounds a system of proportional shareholder representation in which no one "person, copartnership, or body politic" was allowed more than 30 votes, no matter how many shares they owned. Since this was a Founding Father prescribing a system of corporate ownership that was entirely at odds with the business management ideas of shareholder value, profit maximization, private equity, etc., etc., that have predominated for around the past half century, I was amazed when I began checking various biographies of Hamilton and found that none had pointed to this important fact.

Hamilton's plan of shareholder voting, if it had been extended beyond the central bank to other corporations, would have hampered, if not entirely crippled, the corporate raiders who destroyed tens of thousands of USA industrial facilities--beginning in the 1960s "go-go" years of mergers and acquisitions; the 1970s through 1990s "leveraged buyout" pirates like Michael Milkin and Kohlberg Kravis and Roberts; and contemporary "private equity" scammers like Peter G. Peterson's and Stephen A. Schwarzman's Blackstone Group; David Rubenstein's and Caspar Weinberger's Carlyle Group; Leon Black's Apollo Global Management; and Mitt Romeny's Bain Capital.

Hamilton agreed that larger shareholders should have a larger vote, but he clearly saw the danger that "a few principal Stockholders" could seize control of "the power and benefits of the Bank." Hamilton knew that to preserve the new experiment in republican self-government, any such  dangerous concentration of economic power would have to be guarded against . Hamilton wrote:

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Checking on climate change predictions

Because I am spending so much time on the subject of climate change these days, I am having trouble understanding the bigger picture at times. Let me explain.

For years I have been astonished by the ability of the charlatans to muddy the waters on what is really pretty simple science. I have claimed that it should be clear to anyone who stayed awake during 7th-grade science class. But as I worked through the problem of illustrating the CO2 molecule a few weeks back, it dawned on me that there are almost aesthetic reasons why CO2 is such a remarkably stable molecule. And the reason I know that is because I stayed awake for the first week of high school chemistry when bonds were described. My 7th-grade claim is bogus—10th grade Chemistry!

So I asked Tony, "Even though Chemistry is taught in almost all high schools, what percentage of the population signed up to take Chemistry and actually understood what a covalent bond is when it was taught?" His guess was less than 10% of the population. Whatever the number, it is probably small and nowhere nearly as large as the percentage of people who cannot really pass judgement on climate change because they lack the scientific background and are forced to trust someone else's credentials. I believe that this is a subject where the facts should speak for themselves—that there is probably nothing in human history that has been more validated in so many ways as climate change. But it probably should be asked, "How confident should one be in just presenting the facts when less than 10% of the population is equipped to process just the facts?"

Which leads to question 2: "If and when the world gets serious about doing something meaningful about climate change, what part of the population will be required to do the heavy lifting?" The truth is, replacing the fire-based infrastructure with something more sophisticated will require mostly highly skilled people. What good does it do to rile up people who are probably not qualified to do anything more than cheer (at best)?

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Flat earth believers

Tony sent me this link. He probably thought I needed help getting going. He understands the "value" I put on folks who spread pure nonsense. Actually, the flat earth crowd doesn't even enter my radar because unless they are employed setting airline routes, it hardly matters what folks believe about the shape of the earth.

However, the sort of "thinking" that goes into this quite-common behavior is downright dangerous. And it is sadly not confined to the lunatic fringe. As pointed out below, this sort of thinking is quite common in the social sciences—Michel Foucault claimed that what the author wrote was nearly irrelevant compared to the power relationships that impacted his writing. Pontius Pilate had a French philosopher asking "what is truth?" I went through a period where the ability to quote Foucault was a sign of intellectual seriousness.

Because I had formulated my facts-as-building-blocks approach to epistemology before I had ever heard of Foucault, I pretty much dismissed him as another typical Leisure Class thinker. If you live in a world where being right or wrong is not terribly important, you tend to skip over learning the skills an aero engineer must learn to design something that punches a 550 mph hole in the air and the biggest problems for the passengers are crying babies and bad food. Anyway, Michel, there are many writers who are scrupulously concerned about being absolutely accurate—some even go so far as to provide illustrations.

This is just another way to avoid doing homework.  IF you know the science or other important facts, coming to a conclusion about the accuracy of another's testimony is routine. If you do not have the background to evaluate the information, you must fall back on judging the speakers based on his or her dress, hairdo, necktie, sexual history, political party, etc. Or the power arrangements.

That's the problem with climate science. The folks collecting data on the front lines have no doubts about whether climate change is real. The rest of us must either evaluate the data from second-hand sources with the required scientific (high school chemistry) background or else from random decisions based on sociology, rumor, or slander. In this way, the climate doubters have managed to stalemate an incredibly important public debate even though the facts are overwhelmingly against them.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

410 ppm and counting

It's getting hard to keep up.

It required 146 years for the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere to go from 275 ppm to 290 (1750-1896) when Arrhenius first postulated that CO2 would change the climate. Recently, the 400 ppm mark was breached in 2013 and has now passed 410 ppm only five years later. This is truly a scary development. Climate scientists talk about tipping points where melting permafrost and other disasters will trigger runaway climate change. The question now becomes, have we already passed one or more of those tipping points?

We probably won't find out any useful information on this topic from the main media outlets. They are much more interested in the decade-old claims of a fading porn star against a president who wasn't even a politician when it happened. Got to love those folks specializing in trivialities.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Hudson on debt cancellation

Michael Hudson has a new book coming out. It addresses the most fundamental economic question of the age—what to do about the unpayable debt. The reason I am so interested in this subject is that IF the austerity geeks get their way, there will not be the money needed to build the solar future.

Coming from the rural Midwest, I have heard these debates for a long time—even one that Hudson highlights below—his contention the Christianity was about progressive economics. The King James translators had it right when they wrote the Lord's Prayer as "forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors." Most Protestants have wimped out and changed this radical notion to "forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us." Last I heard, the Presbyterians still use the older, more accurate version. Considering the implications, I am not sure that reopening that wound is wise since it is as old as Christianity itself. The religion of slaves become the religion of the Roman Emperor in only 300 years so it is not especially surprising that the interests of the creditor classes would come to dominate—even so far as to rewrite the freaking Lord's Prayer. (Where are the fundamentalists when you need them ;-)

And of course, this is Hudson so he gets it right. I wish he would take up the subject of "odious" debt (and maybe he does in his new book). The way I see it, because we can no longer operate our societies with technologies that produce CO2, all investments in these technologies should be written off as "odious." Actually I don't give a damn what reasoning is used so long as there is a serious global debt restructuring.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Are we doomed?

In a recent post, I mentioned that there is a growing body of belief that it is now too late to save ourselves from the disaster that is climate change. This little bit of news made working on a "solution" video incredibly difficult. I should have given examples of this school of thought but right on cue, The Guardian put up a story of someone who is firmly in the "We're doomed" category.

There is much to be valued in the case Mayer Hillman is trying to make. He is a social scientist and anyone looking at the sociology of climate change has more than ample reason to be alarmed. I am constantly distressed at the irrelevant efforts even gifted climate scientists engage in whenever they venture beyond shouted warnings. I shudder to think of the major heel-dragging when the financial sector is told they MUST fund the transition to the solar-powered future. I am amazed at the number of people with fancy degrees from fancy colleges who believe utter nonsense because they never really learned 7th-grade science or the difference between a big number and a very small one.

Hillman is mostly right. But there are reasons to think he maybe looking at the wrong people. There are MANY such reasons but two are most significant to me:

1) In spite of being woefully underfunded, the people who have been beavering away at making solar panels have performed a miracle. Most of the world's populations live in sunny climates. Cheap solar energy will transform their lives. Replacing the fire-based infrastructure in the more "developed" economies will be more difficult, but $.75 a watt with no fuel costs is a POWERFUL argument. Climate change is a Producer-Class problem and they have done well in this esoteric world. Energy is everything—we cannot solve any of the other environmental problems until we solve the energy dilemma. But now we have an incredibly important tool—a working replacement for fire itself.

2) I am incredibly impressed with the net-zero house my brother built for himself. Everything works and since the solar panels are on the backyard side of the roof, there is no way this solar house announces itself. The systems are virtually noiseless and there is plenty of hot water. But this outcome was far from easy. My brother brings a lot of skills to the table along with a lifetime of accumulating tools—he has LOTS of them and knows how to use and maintain them. He always reads the manuals. In short, he is far from being a run-of-the-mill DIY. He more resembles those frontier inventors like the Wright Brothers (and Thorstein Veblen's father who figured out ways to make harsh places like Minnesota habitable.) He subscribes to the first law of Peirce's Pragmatism—if something isn't working, then try something else. So out of the misinformation and boastful claims of the solar world, he was able to distill enough useful information to build his complicated house from parts he could buy online—and make it work. I am not suggesting that anyone could have done this—that is obviously NOT the case. But is demonstrates that it CAN be done and those who think the solar future will be painful and ugly are just wrong.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Building a net-zero house

A couple of days ago, I saw my brother grinning broadly and occasionally giggling. The occasion for this mirth was a recent encounter with his meter-reader for the local utility company—Duke Energy. The news was that last month his photo-voltaic cells had generated roughly 300 kw of electrical power more than he had consumed. While much of this joy is due to the fact that he was billed the $9.86 minimum for being connected to the grid while most of his neighbors were getting $350 bills for homes of similar sizes, the giggling was probably due to the idea that he is "sticking it to the man."

Tony heard this story yesterday and insisted I explain what was involved in producing such a house. So this morning I asked and while his story was hardly complete, it highlighted the parts he thought important. So in no particular order, here they are.

1) His property in the country was large enough so the house's site orientation was pretty much anything he wanted. So the house's ridge line runs east-west, the roof pitch was selected to maximize solar gain, and the overhangs are large enough so the south wall is completely shaded between the equinoxes.

2) The holding tank for the solar hot water heater was located close to the showers so the water used to get hot water on start-up is minimized.

3) The air handler for the air conditioning system was located smack dab in the middle of the house which does wonders for efficiently distributing the cool air.

4) Room for the insulation was designed in from the beginning. The exterior walls were framed with 2 x 6 studs and the roof trusses were scissor-type which made for higher ceilings while provided plenty of space for 16" of insulation.

5) Because excessive heat was the primary problem in Florida, aluminized Mylar was chosen for the moisture barrier.

6) The steel roof was put on sleepers which allowed the underside of the roof to stay cooler and dry.

7) The original air conditioning compressor was a SEER 13, which in 1992 was the most efficient unit one could buy. It was replaced in 2010 with a SEER 18.

And so on. They key to understanding this house is that VERY important decisions that significantly affected long-term performance were made in the planning stage. None of the features mentioned above cost much to implement but have saved thousands in energy costs over the years. As I have said since the 1980s, pollution is a function of design.

Then in 2008, the decision was made that photo-voltaic cells were now inexpensive enough so adding them to the mix should be cost effective. This was pretty easy to do because the roof was already pointed in the right direction. PV cells were still pretty spendy in 2008 so only 5 kw were purchased. By 2011, the costs had dropped significantly so another 5 kw were added which leads to the monthly grinning when the meter is read.

So while the costs of building a solar home from scratch are not much more than conventional construction, retrofitting an existing house is difficult, time-consuming, AND quite expensive—even though the price for PV cells is now lower than $1 per watt.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Looking at America

When I first saw Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth I had two quite powerful reactions. I loved the excellent first half where he explained the science of climate change. The second half, where he attempts to describe what actions should be taken to mitigate the problem, was just plain awful. I spent much of that time asking rhetorically, "Al, did you really watch the first half of your own movie? Do you REALLY believe you can prevent the ice caps from melting by talking people into hanging their wash out to dry?"

Since then, I have concentrated my efforts on the problem "What can we do to address climate change effectively?" The way I see it, there are at least 50,000 highly qualified scientists working diligently on the science of climate change but almost no one is giving serious consideration to what sort of actions are required to build a society that does not destroy the atmosphere. The reasons for this are complex but they must include examinations of the sociology, economics, engineering, and other social interactions that make it extremely difficult for populations to actually reduce the amounts of greenhouse gasses they generate. So while the climate scientists keep coming up with frightening warnings about what will happen if nothing changes, nothing changes. In fact, the situation continues to worsen.

So when I decided to address climate change, I was determined to concentrate on the solution end of the problem. Spoiler alert—this is a lot harder than it looks. There are excellent reasons why the best minds on the planet go scurrying for cover whenever the talk turns to remediation. But did this stop me? No-o-o-o! And quite honestly, the effort exhausted me.

I have a friend who has been doing video documentaries since the 1970s. One of his core beliefs is that nothing attracts or holds attention like pictures of big equipment doing big jobs. When the subject is the massive amounts of carbon we are pumping into the atmosphere, big equipment is just everywhere. After awhile, these pictures—especially the ones showing the Germans strip-mining brown coal—triggered near clinical depression. Here is Germany—arguably the finest example of "green" technologies in action—mining 170 million tons of the dirtiest fuel in 2017 because it is their only fuel source still cheaper than solar.

Staggered by my renewed exposure to the vast, complex, and necessary machinery that produces CO2 in the course of normal operations, I added to my woes by exploring the increasing evidence that there is already so much in the atmosphere that even significant reductions in output wouldn't actually help all that much. For these folks, it's already too late.

And then the weather got very strange. By now, there has probably been more snow in Minneapolis to set new all-time records. Turns out that the same kink in the Jet Stream that almost eliminated winter in Alaska was bringing misery to the lower 48 including 4 Nor'easters in three weeks to New England and points south.

Of course, the government was doing nothing. Trump is struggling to form a government and the Democrats, saddled with an acute case of Trump derangement syndrome, have busied themselves with restarting the Cold War because it is easier to blame Russia for their political woes than to examine the dozens of perfectly valid reasons why they lost the election of 2016.

So I decided to take a road trip to escape the crazy winter and to celebrate the progress I did make on my climate change video. I had few plans but I wanted to see Tony in North Carolina and visit my brother in Florida. By the time I reached Illinois, I had named it my "Chill Out and Lighten Up" tour. Things were going as planned when my fuel pump took a dump just outside of Dayton Ohio—at 3:00 on a Sunday morning. By the time I got back on the road on Monday afternoon, I had managed to blow a $1000 hole in my travel budget.

My stay in Xenia Ohio was an eye-opener. There were no cabs to transport me from my cheap hotel to the shop where my car was to be fixed so I entered the world of Uber. Trust me, no one goes into private transportation unless other better forms of employment have dried up. I said to one driver, "Dayton was a famous and important town while I was growing up. How's it doing now?" I got an earful of the tale of Dayton's deindustrialization. I knew enough about Ohio's role in supplying parts for the auto industry so I took a shot, "Did you even lose Delco (the folks that manufactured the electronic parts for GM)?" He looked like someone who had just lost a child. Tony would later explain that Delco stood for Dayton Electronic Corporation and had been in the GM family from almost the beginning. I didn't know.

Tony was getting ready for the big model engineering show in Detroit. His business has taken a hit in the last few years—probably because the sort of people who make complicated things for fun are dying out. He keeps plugging away and has made significant progress on his book How America was Built. Mebane North Carolina was once the home to runaway textile manufacturing from New England. In the past couple of decades, they kept on running to places like Bangladesh and Vietnam. Developers have turned some of the old mills into housing but the original housing stock for the textile workers was very modest. On the other hand, I visited a niece whose husband is an engineer for AT&T. They live close to the research triangle near Raleigh. That neighborhood had some very nice housing.

The drive to central Florida went off without a hitch. My brother's splendid net-zero house is more wonderful than I had expected. In some ways it is like a hippie's dream house except everything works and was carefully and lovingly crafted. The Orlando area, OTOH, is an environmental nightmare—2.4+ million permanent residents and 51 million visitors per year. With no visible signs of central planning, it is a city built by real estate developers who think nothing of putting up 2000 homes on a two lane road with the hope the infrastructure will catch up. Traffic is a nightmare. On his side of town they have opened 3 large high schools in 12 years. Downtown Orlando is a forest of tower cranes. And in all that building in the center of the Sunshine State, there are probably less than 500 solar homes.

My recovery from near exhaustion goes slowly. This little thing took five days to write and I have left out a lot. My brother's house is very impressive and because he built it himself cost less than $150,000 including solar panels when they were still pretty spendy. So in theory, the solar future shouldn't be so difficult or expensive. But watching him in action explains why so little progress gets made—he is very organized, clever, and understands the market for the components of such a complex house. The typical lefty who is confused by any tool more complicated than a fork couldn't build such a dwelling in a hundred years and would still spend bucketloads of money in the process.

Hope to get back to fixing my video soon. Wish me well.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Getting serious about climate change

My last post had an embed video that was the second half of the video I have worked so hard on. That post was a mistake. But since Grandpa Smet provided such a serious comment, I decided to post the first half on purpose.

The reason this was so hard is because I am trying to suggest that the only serious route to a climate change solution is to put major resources into putting the Industrial Classes back to work building the new fire-free society. Since most of modern culture barely admits that the Industrial Classes are even a thing, I am sailing in uncharted waters. Fortunately, the evidence for my POV is substantial but it means I must bring clarity and reason to a subject that rarely is treated to either.

Anyway, enjoy this attempt. I am pretty happy with it but there is always room for improvement and the project is still loaded into Final Cut Pro so minor changes are very easy. This video is still unlisted but if you want to pass around the link to your friends, I approve.

I am visiting Tony in North Carolina. The drive down included a fuel pump failure in Xenia Ohio. They still have the sorts of mechanics I associate with Ohio but the Dayton area is still staggering from decades of Industrial job losses. Getting such people back to work seems like the most important task I have left.

Monday, April 9, 2018

News of the real economy

3D printing of parts compared to CNC machining
The American Society of Mechanical Engineers' magazine Machine Design is offering a free download of an article that compares CNC machining with 3D printing, while recognizing that each has its place, and can complement each other in the design and manufacturing workflow.

Nano-based Catalyst Turbocharges Oxygenation in Electric Fuel Cells
A catalyst that increases oxygen processing in fuel cells makes them much more economical for producing electricity. The breakthrough was achieved at the School of Material Science and Engineering at the publicly funded Georgia Institute of Technology.

Malaysia-Singapore consortia selected for Kuala Lumpur-Singapore high-speed rail line
MYHSR, which is responsible for building the Malaysian portion of the 350km Kuala Lumpur - Singapore high-speed line, has selected two consortia to design and implement the civil works for the project. The HSR line is scheduled to open in 2026. The two consortia comprise Malaysian Resources-Gamuda, which will be responsible for the northern portion of the alignment, and Syarikat Pembenaan Yeoh Tiong Lay-TH Properties, which will handle the southern portion. The contracts will be awarded when MyHSR concludes negotiations with the consortia.

Ontario committed to funding Toronto-Windsor high-speed rail
Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne was at Info-Tech in London on April 6 to highlight the Canadian province's initial investment of more than CA$11 billion (US$8.6 billion) to build high-speed rail service between Toronto and Windsor. The 332km (206 miles) route is supposed to be completed by 2025.

Summary of BNSF rail network 2018 operations and service outlook
BNSF is the first Class I railroad to respond to US Surface Transportation Board’s March 16 blanket letter requesting information on each US freight railroad’s 2018 service outlook.

Aviation Week Podcast: How Lockheed's Skunk Works and SpaceX are Pushing the Edge
Listen in as Aviation Week editors discuss the unveiling of Lockheed's tailless UAV and SpaceX’s unique testing strategy.

SpaceX to Debut Falcon 9 Block 5 in April
The upgraded Falcon 9 Block 5 rocket--needed to ferry NASA astronauts to and from the International Space Station (ISS) and deliver U.S. national security spacecraft into earth orbit--will make its first flight to launch the first Bangladeshi geostationary satellite. Bangabandhu Satellite-1 was built by Thales Alenia Space for the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission. The Falcon 9 Block 5 was designed by SpaceX to deliver a 4,020 kg (8,860 lb) payload to Mars.

Friday, April 6, 2018

the money pitch

Whoops. The post of this Youtube was a mistake. It was only a third draft. I was extremely tired when I got done and a foul-up uploading the two videos caused me to do some seriously goofy things. In this case I ask folks to contact a Patron page. Well, we don't even HAVE a Patreon page yet.


In the meantime, I am in North Carolina with Tony and we will try to solve the world's problems together ;-)

Thanks to all those who watched what was there. If I had made the same mistake with the video part 1, I might have even left it up—because it was closer to being done than Part 2.

Actually, I am pretty happy with the work that has already been accomplished.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Climate change basics

Because I have immersed myself in the interesting details of the progress in climate science, I sometimes forget how confusing the subject really is. In spite of the mostly unreasonable criticisms, most climate science research is reasonable, thorough, and in some cases, brilliant. But since those who run Big Media barely report on science at all and run the other direction at the slightest controversy, climate change is most certainly not covered like something "important" like whether a porn star should be able to disrupt the people's business.

Spend a couple of hours every day chasing a subject for many years tends to distort the assumptions of what people should know about the subject. So when climate change goes to court, the culture has attempted to move the understanding of how this works from scientists (who probably understood the concept of greenhouse gasses in 7th grade) to lawyers (who probably went to law school because they weren't very good in science.) So California judge William Alsup asks some good basic questions and Oliver Milman came up with accurate and concise answers.

This should probably be considered the minimum level of awareness of climate change. Thanks Oliver.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Germany's dirty little coal secret

The other day, I went looking for some images / video of brown coal mining in Germany. Turns out Germany mines about 170,000,000 tons of the stuff every year to supply around 25% of her electric power. Ironically it seems to hang on because it is the only energy source for generating electricity cheaper than solar / wind. I mean, what else do you do with brown coal but burn it? It's not like you could turn it into the coke necessary to make high-grade steel.

Anyway, I found some video taken at 4K by a drone. Germans are often efficient because they love to build BIG things. This also explains why Germany, which has led the charge on renewables, still has one of highest per capita carbon footprints. Brown coal is dirty stuff but if you can scoop up thousands of tons per day with a few skilled operators, it makes "economic" sense to scoop.

The following article is from Australia. That country is providing China with a LOT of coal. So there is a whiff of "see, we are no worse than the Germans." But only a whiff. And I'll bet there are many Germans who hate the burning of brown coal as much as her neighbors.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Protectionism flickers to life

There are times when the conventional disgust with "protectionism" rises to the level of the outrage over pedophilia. Which is strange when you think about it. From Ben Franklin to Abe Lincoln to H. Ross Perot, there have been strong supporters of many of the ideas that the high tariff folks believed in so strongly. When a country is developing a sophisticated manufacturing base, the protectionists usually triumph. It is only when a country gets rich and imperial do the "free" traders win the day. The traders are a fraction of overall economic activity but when the dominant economic strategy favor traders over manufacturing, they get to write the rules in their favor.

Hudson is pretty good on trade issues. He's a ways from Lincoln but he's way better than your typical cable business talking head. So I thought he might celebrate the fact that Trump has at least moved the needle away from the free trade extremism as practiced since the late 1970s. Well, I was wrong. Hudson instead faults Trump for not having a coherent trade policy to back his Twitter outbursts on trade. Fair enough.

Me, I am happy that someone is reopening the Free Trade debate—which has been pretty dormant since the Battle for Seattle in 1999. Free trade has been such an unmitigated disaster there is barely time to count the ways. As someone who comes from the Naomi Klein wing of the DFL when it comes to trade issues, I find it a bit odd to hear some of our best arguments come from the mouth of Trump. I only hope he understands that by even questioning the free trade establishment, he has committed an unspeakable heresy and the the race is on among those who author papers glorifying the conventional economic wisdom to see who can denounce this sin with the greatest fervor.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Even the Paris 2015 climate accords won't solve the problem

Robert Hunziker is perhaps the politician that best understands climate change—and has for some time. He is running for a seat in Washington's 8th Congressional District. I certainly hope he wins.

Whenever I stumble across someone who has a profound and deep understanding of a subject, I am immediately curious as to how he came to be that way. I am especially curious if that person is young. His campaign literature sort of explains his enlightened worldview. Turns out that there CAN be some significant advantages to learning a society from the bottom up. So here's to someone who has had enough exposure to Producing Class virtue to understand that no matter how enlightened a Leisure Class actor, that person cannot build the sustainable future.