Friday, December 26, 2008
Gordon Chang warns of a rising China's military expansion in a recent Forbes www.forbes.com article. And a big thanks to Wall Street and other advocates for one-way trade with China for helping to make this ruthless dicatorship into a great military power while destroying millions of American jobs.
Mao Zedong exported revolution. Thirty years ago, his successor, Deng Xiaoping, reversed course. Where is Beijing's foreign policy headed now?
First, we need a little background. Deng, who presided over the initial stages of China's reform era, wanted his country to "bide time" and keep a low profile, at least until it could develop its economy and get stronger. His general policy was to "seek cooperation and avoid confrontation." Jiang Zemin, Deng's handpicked successor, adhered to this constructive approach even though he desired recognition for China's growing status. Jiang saw his nation working cooperatively with the U.S. and its partners in a Congress-of-Vienna-like atmosphere.
However, Hu Jintao, the current supremo, has shifted China in a new direction. Like Jiang, Hu believes the country should assert itself. Unlike his predecessor, he thinks China should take advantage of newfound strength and actively work to restructure the international system so that it will be more to Beijing's liking. This change of thinking has had consequences, occasionally taking China in adversarial directions.
This decade, for example, the Chinese have fired lasers to blind American satellites, actions that can be considered direct attacks on the U.S. In October 2006, a Chinese submarine for the first time surfaced in the middle of an American carrier group. This episode, which occurred in the Philippine Sea southeast of Okinawa, was an obvious warning to the U.S. Navy to stay away from Asian waters.
Then, in January 2007, the People's Liberation Army, in what was an unmistakable display of military power, destroyed one of China's old weather satellites with a ground-launched missile. During Hu's tenure there has been a noticeable increase in cyber-intrusions and attacks on defense and civilian networks in the U.S., Europe and Japan.
Why is Hu Jintao pushing his country down a path of high-profile force projection? There are two main reasons. First, there is the inevitable change in outlook when a nation goes from poor and weak to rich and strong. So it is natural that this rising power is thinking about how to exercise newfound strength. Although not everyone in Beijing believes the bloated claims aired in the West about China's future, most Chinese officials nonetheless feel they will profoundly change geopolitics in the coming years. In any event, more and more of them see this moment as the time for China to reassert itself.
The second reason for China's new assertiveness is political. Hu Jintao, an insecure leader, relies on the more hawkish elements in the Communist Party and in the People's Liberation Army to consolidate his political position in his ongoing struggles with the leaders of other factions inside the ruling group. Moreover, the PLA has appeared to gain political ground because the civilian leadership is increasingly dependent on its armed might to control a society transformed by 30 years of economic reform.
Hu Jintao's courting of senior generals has been especially evident since the middle of 2004. The price for Hu has been even larger: increases in military spending and promotions for favored flag officers, such as Gen. Chen Bingde, now chief of general staff. All of this has created a dynamic in which nationalistic officers and civilians have gained influence on certain issues, such as Taiwan and Japan.
Each year the Chinese pour about $85 billion to $125 billion into their armed forces, maybe more because the buildup is secret. Yet we do know, from what China's military officials write and say, that they are configuring their military to fight the U.S. There will soon be two navies with opposing missions, with the same force structure, with ships occupying the same seas. And the skies in the same corridors will be filled with both Chinese and American planes.
Of course, it is only natural for a large continental nation like China to want to possess a military with global reach. Therefore, one of the greatest challenges for Washington is to steer Chinese ambitions in cooperative directions. So far, America has attempted to do this with a set of so-called "engagement" policies. "Engagement" assumes that an authoritarian China can be integrated into a liberal international system, which it had no hand in creating, as what the U.S. State Department calls a "responsible stakeholder." In one sense, the U.S. and the West have no alternative but to engage Beijing, yet Washington's policies are often tolerant of behavior that it would not accept from any nation other than China.
For example, American administrations, both Republican and Democratic, have failed to speak out about Beijing's proliferation of nuclear weapons technologies to Pakistan, Iran, North Korea and undoubtedly other states, and Washington has adopted an amazingly indulgent approach to China's commercial and diplomatic support of the world's nuclear rogues. By continuing to assist China while ignoring deeply irresponsible behavior, the U.S. has unwittingly created perverse incentives for conduct that impedes, not advances, American goals and global stability.
Washington's generous but misguided policies could cause problems in the future. Beijing, knowing that it has gotten away with unacceptable conduct in the past, will naturally think it will be able to do so in the future. Chinese leaders, during a time of intense domestic turmoil--three decades of reform has made China unstable, after all--may be tempted to raise the flag of nationalism even higher as a means of keeping themselves in power, and that could mean acting belligerently toward neighbors such as Taiwan or Japan.
The relationship between Washington and Beijing can be described as "interdependent," but that does not mean they are equal. Americans assume they need the Chinese more than they need us--a common theme of op-eds and sound bites these days--but the truth is the other way around. Even if China can sustain its spectacular rise--and there is considerable debate on this point--it is rising inside an American-led international system, and Washington needs to do a better job of persuading Beijing to accept its obligations as a member of that system.
Adam Hamilton, the Pastor of a United Methodist Church in the Kansas City Metro area, points out intolerance on the Right and Left in a recent post on from his outstanding religious blog Seeing Gray. Rev. Hamilton hits the nail on the head about the tunnel vision among both ideological extremes.
Seeing Gray: Faith, Morality, and Politics in a Black and White World
Intolerance on the Left and the Right
By Adam Hamilton
Thursday, December 18, 2008
Last week Rich Cizik was asked to step down as Vice President of Governmental Affairs for the National Association of Evangelicals after admitting, in an interview with Terry Gross on NPR that he would support Civil Unions for homosexuals (while opposing gay marriage). Rich was listed by Time Magazine as one of the 100 most influential thinkers and he had worked for the National Association of Evangelicals for 28 years. He had already riled folks at the NAE for his concern over environmental issues, but with his willingness to personally support the idea of civil unions he had gone too far for some in the NAE.
Rich represents the new evangelicalism - orthodox in theology, deeply committed to Christ, a bit more progressive on social issues, and trying to find a more compassionate way of thinking about the divisive issues of our time. Rich’s views represent a large number of young evangelicals. In twenty years the National Association of Evangelicals will either look a lot more like Rich, or it will have become irrelevant.
The right is often characterized by the left as intolerant. Rich’s departure is pointed to by the left as another example of this. But the right is not alone in struggling with tolerance. Barack Obama surprised the left by asking Pastor Rick Warren to offer the invocation at his inauguration (and civil rights activist Joseph Lowery to offer the benediction). This touched off a firestorm of criticism for his choice because Warren opposes gay marriage.
Is it essential that a pastor support gay marriage in order to be invited to give the invocation at the inauguration? Warren is perhaps the most influential pastor in America today. His choice represents a statement about Obama’s desire to bring together people across the sociological and theological spectrum. To suggest that only pastors who support gay marriage be invited to pray at the inauguration excludes most pastors in this country and is as intolerant on the left as Cizik’s dismissal was on the right.
America needs another New Deal. Robert Borosage and Eric Lotke explain why a "substantial, strategic and sustained" recovery plan is imperative in a thoughtful essay from The Nation.
A New New Deal?
By Robert L. Borosage & Eric Lotke
The Nation www.thenation.com
December 23, 2008
When Richard Nixon announced that we are all Keynesians now, stagflation was confounding liberal economists, and conservatives were about to take over the commanding heights. Similarly, when Bill Clinton announced that "the era of big government is over," economic conservatism was about to take us off the cliff. Now "the era of big government is over."
Garry Wills says Americans think of government only as a "necessary evil," a last resort. Well, folks, all the other resorts are boarded up. In November, America shed more than 500,000 jobs, the worst single-month record in thirty-four years. We lost more than 2 million over the course of 2008--and the crash is accelerating across the globe.
At the same time, America is falling apart, literally. We've witnessed the ghastly spectaculars: failure of the levees in New Orleans, collapse of the I-35W bridge in Minneapolis, bursting of the steam pipe that shut down ten square blocks of Manhattan. But these tragic catastrophes are a small part of the growing costs of a conservative-era failure to invest in our future.
Conservative scorn for government has produced a crippling public-investment deficit. America's core infrastructure--roads, bridges, sewers, airports, trains, mass transit--is overcrowded, outdated and crumbling. The evidence, assembled by Eric Lotke in The Investment Deficit in America, issued by the Campaign for America's Future, is stark. Poor road conditions cost Americans billions in repairs and countless hours in delay. Though China opens a new subway system every year, and Europeans travel from Paris to Frankfurt on high-speed rail, American railroads don't have the funds needed even to maintain their outmoded infrastructure. Cities are suffering an epidemic of broken pipes and sinkholes, with the Environmental Protection Agency estimating more than 40,000 discharges of raw sewage into our drinking water, streams and homes each year from collapsing and overwhelmed sewage systems. The Education Department found that one-third of our schools are in such a severe state of disrepair that it "interferes with the delivery of instruction."
While the old basics are crumbling, twenty-first-century needs are being ignored. We maintain our addiction to oil while forfeiting our lead in renewable-energy technologies that will drive the green markets of the future. As two-income and single-parent families spread, we are failing to provide the high-quality childcare and pre-kindergarten programs vital to educating the next generation. Even as college or advanced training are deemed essential in the modern economy, more and more Americans find them priced out of reach. Our healthcare system is broken, consuming too many resources while providing care for too few. We invented the Internet, yet we rank about fifteenth among developed countries in access to broadband. In Japan, the average broadband speed is many times faster than our own. US federal investment in research and development is half what it was as a percentage of GDP in the 1960s.
It is time to invest in America. Recovery from this crisis provides the imperative; the investment deficit the targets. But turning the crisis into opportunity isn't sufficient. The fundamental question is whether the short-term response will lead to a new New Deal, a permanent expansion of the social contract.
'Substantial, Strategic and Sustained'
In December more than twenty union presidents, 120 economists and 100 progressive leaders, organized by the Institute for America's Future (IAF), released a statement calling for a "substantial, strategic and sustained" recovery plan for Main Street. The alliteration was an intentional contrast to the "timely, temporary and targeted" stimulus bill passed by Congress this past February. That mantra led to a timid plan focused on tax rebates. With Americans reeling from the collapse of housing prices and the stock market, stagnant wages, increasing debt and growing pessimism, the rebates had little effect. Less than 30 percent actually went into spending, as consumers sensibly used the bulk of the money to pay down debt. A good portion of what they spent went to goods imported from China or elsewhere. "Wal-Mart gift certificates," as the Rev. Jesse Jackson dubbed the rebates, had only a marginal and temporary effect on the economy.
The recovery plan has to be substantial--much bigger than the $150 billion spent on tax rebates last spring. Nobel Prize-winning economists Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz call for $1 trillion over two years; the IAF statement says the "floor" should be $900 billion over the same time span. The numbers floated for the Obama plan rise with each passing week as the downturn gets worse.
The reason is simple: government spending is the last resort. Interest rates are already near zero; in December fearful investors were essentially paying the Treasury interest to hold bonds. Consumers are cutting back; businesses are laying off workers and postponing investments. Exports will decline as the global economy turns down and the dollar moves up. States and localities are facing deep deficits and beginning to lay off police and teachers. The government is all that is left. The danger, as Krugman says, is that we'll do too little rather than too much.
Many recognize the need but worry about the deficit, headed toward $1 trillion for 2008. But a $14 trillion economy won't get the necessary boost from a small program. And with investors rushing to the dollar, the United States has no problem financing its ballooning deficits. Moreover, if the economy continues to sink, deficits will rise anyway, as tax revenue plummets and the costs of unemployment, welfare foreclosures and crime rise. Better to run the deficit of putting people to work than pay the price of their ruin.
The recovery plan should be strategic: spending on public works has a far greater effect on the economy than tax cuts. More money is spent; more jobs are created here rather than abroad. And if we invest in vital areas like energy, transportation and education, we can make a down payment on a more productive and competitive economy.
Finally, the recovery plan should be sustained. It will take a prolonged effort--two years is optimistic--to get the economy moving. Conservatives argue that New Deal spending failed to solve the Depression. In reality, Roosevelt's program dramatically reduced unemployment until, eager to return to balanced budgets, he raised taxes and cut spending in 1937 and immediately sent the economy back into a tailspin, which ended only when the deficit-financed mobilization for World War II kicked in. Again, the greater danger is to stop too soon, not to continue too long.
Read the complete article at http://www.thenation.com/doc/20090112/borosage_lotke?rel=hp_picks
Wednesday, December 24, 2008
A beautiful prayer in song from Donnie McClurkin and Yolanda Adams. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5XfJZg3osHI The Prayer wasn't written for the holidays but definitely fits the true spirit of the season. To all of my readers - a Merry Christmas, a Happy Hanukkah and a Great New Year.
Saturday, December 20, 2008
Oregon Attorney Mike Arnold discusses the Second Amendment in a post at Blue Steel Democrats - the blog site of Oregon Democratic Party's Gun Owners Caucus. Arnold writes:
It is a common flaw in gun control rhetoric that somehow the Second Amendment is about hunting rights. The Second Amendment and the Oregon Constitution do not say that there is a “right to keep and bear sporting goods.” The primary purpose of these constitutional provisions is to protect citizens from tyranny — not to preserve a right to shoot deer.
And don’t forget that Oregon Constitution affords its citizens broader protections than the Second Amendment and specifically covers self-defense. http://www.leg.state.or.us/orcons/orcons.html
Gun control advocates are often quick to point out that there are more than 30,000 people shot to death each year in this country. However, they routinely neglect to point out how many of those deaths were in self defense or by criminals against an unarmed victim. Additionally, their usual statistics never take into account how many crimes are deterred and deaths prevented by citizens with firearms.
In the last 100 years, governments have murdered millions more people than were killed by common criminals. More importantly, those government-sponsored murders were preceded by gun control laws making the citizenry easier to control and kill when they were unable to resist.
It is amazing how quickly we forget the gun control laws of the Soviet Union, Nationalist China, Nazi Germany, Communist China and the Khmer Rouge that preceded their killing of more than 60 million people. And that still leaves us to ponder the gun control legislation that preceded the death of the one million Armenians at the hands of Ottoman Turkey, or the indigenous peoples and other political enemies killed at the hands of Guatemala or genocide at the hands of government in Rwanda and Uganda.
Our Founding Fathers knew the threat of a government to its people, hence the Second Amendment. History has unfortunately reaffirmed this lesson again and again.
We do not get to pick and choose which constitutionally guaranteed rights we will support like we are at a salad bar of rights. It is disingenuous to complain about the neo-cons stepping on our civil liberties (First, Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Amendments) — by their dispersing lawful assemblies, illegal wiretaps, deprivation of the right to counsel, torture, etc. — but completely ignore what the Framers found so important of a right that they listed it #2. We should protect all of our civil rights, including the right to keep and bear arms.
(Mike Arnold is a trial attorney in Eugene, Oregon, and occassional contributor to the Blue Steel Democrats blog) http://www.arnoldlawfirm.com/profile.html#cma
Friday, December 19, 2008
Christian Weller of the Center for American Progress provides the latest economic update below. Perhaps we can still avoid another Great Depression, however, it looks like most Americans can expect a long-term economic stagnation thanks to the free market policies of the past 27 years.
Center for American Progress
Economic Snapshot for December 2008
Christian E. Weller on the State of the Economy
Download the snapshot with full graphs (pdf) at:
What many Americans have felt all year is now official: The U.S. economy has been in a recession since December 2007. And things aren’t looking to get better. The labor market recession is worsening at an accelerated pace. Economic growth is unlikely to strengthen significantly any time soon as people are losing their jobs and businesses are pulling back their investments. This recession makes a bad situation worse for America’s families.
The last business cycle that ended in December 2007 was marked by the weakest employment growth since the Great Depression, flat wages, declining benefit coverage, and deep indebtedness—in short, we are woefully unprepared for the current crisis. As the labor market recession accelerates, more and more families are succumbing to the pressures, declaring bankruptcy, and defaulting on their loans. Policymakers need to step in before the current economic downturn becomes even longer, deeper, and more painful for more Americans.
1. Job losses accelerate. The U.S. economy lost 1.9 million jobs in the first 11 months of 2008, including 533,000 jobs in November. This was the largest negative job growth rate since May 1980. Almost half of all job losses in 2008—44.6%—came during the last two months.
2. GDP growth turns negative. In the third quarter of 2008, GDP declined at an annual rate of 0.5 percent, the largest decline since the third quarter of 2001. The drop in growth was caused by a drop in consumer spending by an annualized rate of 3.7%—the largest decrease since the second quarter of 1980.
3. Unemployment rates reflect broad labor market recession. In November 2008, the unemployment rate was 6.7%—the highest level since September 1993. The African-American unemployment rate stood at 11.2%, the Hispanic unemployment rate at 8.6%, and the unemployment rate for whites at 6.1% in November 2008.
4. Wages remain flat. Factoring in inflation, hourly wages were only 0.6% higher and weekly wages were the same in October 2008 as in December 2007, when the last business cycle ended.
5. Americans never recovered benefits lost during the last business cycle. The share of private-sector workers with a pension dropped from 50.3% in 2000 to 45.1% in 2007, and the share of people with employer-provided health insurance dropped from 64.2% in 2000 to 59.3% in 2007.
6. Family debt contracts from record high levels. Household debt averaged 130.3% of disposable income in the third quarter of 2008, down from a record high of 133.5% at the end of 2007, but higher than any level recorded before September 2006.
7. The housing crisis deepens. New home sales in October 2008 were 40.1% lower than a year earlier with only 433,000 units sold, which was also the lowest level since January 1991, even though median sales prices dropped by 7.0% since October 2007. Existing home sales were 1.6% lower in October 2008 than a year earlier, but their prices also dropped by 11.3% during the same period.
8. Homeowners lose wealth. The value of all homes fell by 4.1%, or $656 billion, in the third quarter of 2008 after accounting for inflation. Over the course of one year, families lost $2.4 trillion in home values. Home equity as a share of home value also fell to a record low of 44.7% in the third quarter of 2008.
9. Mortgage troubles mount. One in 10 mortgages is delinquent or in foreclosure. In the third quarter of 2008, the share of mortgages that were delinquent was 7.0%, and the share of mortgages that were in foreclosure was 3.0%. The share of new mortgages going into foreclosure stayed at its record high of 1.1% in the third quarter.
10. Families feel the pressure. Credit card defaults rose to 5.6% of all credit card debt by the third quarter of 2008, an increase of 35.4% from the fourth quarter of 2007.
11. The trade deficit remains high. In the third quarter of 2008, the trade deficit was at 4.9% of gross domestic product. Despite declining slightly, the trade deficit remains at a historically high and ultimately unsustainable level.
Thursday, December 11, 2008
Alan Tonelson, a research fellow at the U.S. Business & Industry Educational Foundation explains why it is important to link the Big Three automaker rescue plan with a long-term effort to save American manufacturing jobs.
Congress Must Ensure that the Big Three Bailout is Made-in-America
American Economic Alert www.americaneconomicalert.org
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
Bully for the President, the President-elect, and Congress: They all supported the Executive Branch showering literally trillions of taxpayer dollars on the economy’s generally incompetent (or generally criminal?) Big Finance sector – with virtually no conditions or oversight provisions. But now Washington has drawn a clear line in the sand, and insisted that the beleaguered Detroit automakers show them detailed “plans” for viability before providing a relatively small (by Washington standards) bridge loan.
And bully for the automakers, their own worst enemies: They’ve followed their instructions after a disastrous initial round of Washington begging, and seem poised to receive temporary support – though clearly what tipped the balance was last Friday’s government report showing 533,000 American jobs lost in November.
Tragically, however, for all the noise about holding Detroit’s feet to the fire, both American leaders and the auto industry keep ignoring the most important conditions that any rescue package needs to contain: The more fuel-efficient vehicles that government aid helps Detroit produce must contain sky-high levels of U.S. content. Moreover, they need to be made in factories using domestically made machinery. And the research and development, design, and engineering they’ll require must be performed onshore as well – primarily by American citizens.
Unless the Big Three auto companies are required to curb their offshoring sharply, and the industry’s renewal is overwhelmingly Made-in-America, much of the benefit will leak overseas. Just as important, Washington will have squandered a golden opportunity to strengthen much of the rest of America’s struggling domestic manufacturing base, and thus help the nation produce its way out of the economic crisis. Setting this precedent – domestic production – is especially important because most of the taxpayer-funded economic recovery ideas in the air these days – including infrastructure building and the promotion of green manufacturing and green technologies – raise exactly the same issues.
In part, the neglect of content levels reflects the desperation of Detroit’s situation and the suddenness with which it has worsened. Immediate either-or questions like “bail them out or not?” understandably have dominated the recent debate.
But Washington has been in the auto revitalization business since at least September, when Congress approved $25 billion in subsidized loans for the domestic auto industry to (a) refurbish their factories to make “next generation” vehicles that will greatly reduce America’s oil use, and (b) develop the parts and components from which these vehicles will be assembled.
This recent decision to support a sector of the economy that actually creates new wealth contrasts strikingly with the rest of Washington’s responses to the economic crisis – which have focused obsessively on encouraging more of the consumption, lending, borrowing and other intrinsically unproductive activities responsible for this increasingly terrifying mess in the first place.
And the legislative language – contained in the Energy Security and Independence Act of 2007 – unmistakably emphasizes promoting better auto manufacturing at home. Yet the bill's wording is too loose to ensure meeting this goal satisfactorily. And since all unearmarked money is ultimately fungible, the likely diversion of part of these funds to extend emergency short-term financing to the Big Three further reduces the odds of taxpayer dollars being spent predominantly on domestic production and innovation. Moreover, the Detroit automakers have been offshoring production too enthusiastically for too long to trust them or market forces to do the job.
The Energy Act seeks to promote onshore automotive production through three main provisions. First, it instructs the Energy Department officials who dole out the funds to “give priority to those facilities that are oldest or have been in existence for at least 20 years” – including facilities currently sitting idle. Second, priority also must be given to “the refurbishment or retooling of manufacturing facilities that have recently ceased operation or will cease operation in the near future.” Third, funding is restricted to “engineering integration performed in the United States of qualifying vehicles and qualifying components.”
The phrasing is exactly what you’d expect from lawmakers seeking to assist a domestic industry and economy but afraid that explicitly favoring U.S.-owned companies would violate World Trade Organization rules against such nationally based discrimination. Thus the “20 years” restriction reflects the fact that few of the foreign-owned auto transplant facilities in the United States date back that far. And few of these factories have “recently ceased operation or will cease operation” soon.
Still, the bill leaves intact way too many opportunities for Washington policymakers to stimulate auto-related production and engineering work overseas, by both the Big Three and their foreign rivals. Notably, neither the 20-year rule nor the focus on recently closed or imminently doomed facilities is an ironclad requirement, but a preference. In addition, even if the measure were interpreted strictly, Toyota, Honda, Nissan, and Subaru all have factories in the United States that are old enough to qualify. What would stop these firms from transferring the knowledge they gain through U.S. taxpayer subsidies to their newer plants?
Many auto rescue opponents claim that the United States doesn’t need an American-owned vehicle industry because these Japanese and other foreign transplant operations now use lots of domestically made parts and components. Therefore, most of the U.S.-owned parts companies heavily dependent on Big Three customers could in theory offset business lost from Detroit by selling more to the foreign firms that would fill the vehicle vacuum.
Yet the official U.S. data on auto parts imports continue to belie these claims. Foreign-brand auto sales have declined nearly as sharply in recent months as Big Three vehicle sales. Yet through September, there’s been nothing close to the comparable fall-off in parts imports from Japan, Germany, or South Korea that you’d expect if their U.S. content levels were indeed high and increasing.
In fact, since the start of 2005, imports of tires, electrical equipment, seating and trim, and vehicles from Japan have risen. Imports of tires, lighting systems, stampings, and miscellaneous parts from Germany have grown. And imports of every parts category from Korea are up except for electrical systems and vehicles themselves. Just as surprising, many categories of parts imports from Germany and Korea have risen significantly since 2005, notably lighting, stampings, and air conditioning systems from the former, and brakes, transmission and power train-related items, and seating and trim products from the latter.
The message couldn’t be clearer: A permanently and dramatically downsized U.S.-owned automotive industry means a permanently and dramatically downsized parts-making complex – with all the crippling production, employment, and tax revenue loss that would create. Thus enabling the transplants to use U.S. tax dollars for factory retooling would be a big mistake. In fact, it would reward their discriminatory procurement practices.
At the very least, the transplants should only receive public subsidies if U.S. Customs and other officials can examine their books in detail and determine their actual levels of U.S. content – in order to give them higher targets to meet.
Restricting rescue money to factories that have recently closed or are about to would effectively shut out the transplants. Yet the Energy Act says nothing about using U.S.-made capital equipment for these efforts. A huge boost to many European and East Asian economies – many of the latter in particular renowned for predatory trade practices – would be provided by an auto revitalization package that enabled the Big Three to fill their new modernized plants with the latest foreign-produced machine tools, robots, conveyors, industrial controls and other electrical equipment, heating and cooling systems, and the like. The same goes for all the molding and casting and forging operations required in automotive production.
The energy bill’s provisions for parts producers suffer from the same problem. Although the bill refers to “encouraging domestic production” of the components of advanced, fuel-efficient vehicles, it sets no hard and fast requirement. Nor is the term “component” defined. Far from nitpicking, this point is central in an era where parts and components are often complex systems comprised of many other parts and components. So the Big Three and major parts-makers could well take their tax dollars and assemble in the United States vehicles and parts whose makeup and value-added is nearly entirely foreign.
Indeed, both Ford and GM have announced in recent years plans to ramp up parts procurement from very low-cost countries like China and India. (Evidently Mexico has been too pricey.) These days, such economizing moves understandably will loom larger than ever in their corporate plans. But if such offshoring is subsidized by U.S. taxpayers, not only would the opportunity to maintain hundreds of thousands of middle-class jobs be blown. Many spillover effects from the technology-intensive parts sector would be lost as well.
Speaking of technology, the bill wisely requires that the engineering connected with retooling factories and producing next-generation vehicles and parts be performed in the United States. But significant tightening of the language is essential. After all, engineering work at multinational manufacturers nowadays – along with research and development and design – has become just as globalized as production. In fact, it’s now common to organize transnational teams of scientists and engineers, with the geographic dispersal enabling projects to be worked on 24/7.
The auto industry is no exception. Given all the very inexpensive talent in these fields available around the world, the Big Three and the larger U.S. parts companies will find it even more tempting to use it – in conjunction with U.S.-based personnel. Lawmakers will have a difficult time figuring out where the domestic work stops and the foreign work begins in these cooperative endeavors. But if they don’t, public funds could wind up encouraging the export of thousands of these valuable white-collar professional jobs, as well as blue-collar production jobs.
The obstacles to implementing these content standards will be formidable. They would need to be effectively monitored and enforced – not exactly Washington’s strong suit when it comes to trade policy. In turn, effective monitoring and enforcement means that Detroit will have to open its books, too, and give officialdom and the public accurate information on its current U.S. content levels. Policymakers will also need to know when procuring from U.S. suppliers simply isn’t possible – because the industry in question is too hollowed out, or has vanished altogether. The purpose, however, would not be to identify permanent exceptions to the U.S. content policy, but to gain the knowledge needed to re-create these industries.
Moreover, high U.S. content requirements will tend to raise Detroit’s overall cost levels (along with the earnings of American workers) vis-a-vis their competitors’ overseas and transplant operations. Therefore, innovative trade policy measures will be needed to negate these advantages. And U.S. leaders will need the backbone to pursue these policies whether other World Trade Organization members like them or not.
Of course, this program will unleash a torrent of invective and cries of “Smoot-Hawleyism” from all the usual domestic suspects as well – Big Media commentators, academic economists, outsourcing business interests, etc. (Hopefully, some sense of shame would lead Wall Street to refrain, but don’t count on it.) Further, polls indicate that a bailout-weary public might object, too.
But these are the kinds of obstacles that transformational leaders, by definition, overcome. And there are simply no other choices – that is, if Americans truly are serious about restoring genuine prosperity, and reviving the domestic manufacturing on which it must be based.
Sunday, December 07, 2008
[Map above shows currently operating nuclear power plants within the U.S.]
Marcel Williams presents a convincing argument for expansion of nuclear power and a stronger government role in building more of the nuclear plants that are so critical to our nation's energy independence.
Thursday, November 13, 2008
Public Power & the Future of Nuclear Energy
by Marcel F. Williams
Because of the dangers of climate change and America's dependence on foreign oil, there's been a lot of speculation about a nuclear renaissance in America and in the rest of the world. The advantages of nuclear power are numerous. Nuclear power produces no greenhouse gases, takes up extremely little land area relative to renewable energy sources, produces 100 times less radioactive waste than coal power plants, and thousands of times less toxic waste than coal power plants.
Nuclear energy represents 20% of electrical power production in America and is currently the second cheapest source of electricity in the country after hydroelectric power. Nuclear power also produces 70% of the non carbon dioxide polluting electricity in the US.
Cheap electricity from nuclear power also enables us to produce hydrogen through water electrolysis that can be combined with carbon from biomass or from the extraction of carbon dioxide from the air for the production of carbon neutral gasoline, diesel fuel, aviation fuel, methanol, and dimethyl ether.
If our planet were totally powered by once through uranium reactors there would only be enough terrestrial uranium to power human civilization for 15 years. But if uranium extracted from sea water were utilized, then our entire civilization could be powered for more than 3600 years. If the spent fuel from these reactors were also utilized, as they are in France, then nuclear power could supply the world with all of its energy for over 5000 years.
So even without a new generation of nuclear breeding technologies that could allow us to power the entire planet forever, current nuclear technology could power our planet for at least 5000 years at current levels of energy use and for more than 1600 years if global power consumption was three times our current level.
So its easy to see why numerous countries around the world are interested in either acquiring or expanding nuclear power. However, in the US, the ability to significantly expand nuclear power faces financial and political obstacles that could eventually leave Americans far behind Asia and Europe as the world tries to move towards a non carbon dioxide polluting energy economy.
The US, which created and pioneered the development of nuclear
energy and provided it to the rest of the world, now ranks behind more than ten other countries in the percentage of electricity derived from that technology. Even though the United States has more nuclear reactors than any other nation, as mentioned above, the US produces only 20% of its electricity through nuclear power.
Percentage of electricity produced through nuclear power:
France - 78%
Belgium - 54%
Ukraine - 48%
Sweden - 46%
Switzerland - 40%
Hungary - 37%
South Korea - 35%
Finland - 29%
Japan - 27%
Germany - 26%
USA - 20%
Taiwan - 19%
Russia - 16%
UK - 15%
Canada - 14%
In the US, however, the ability to significantly expand nuclear power faces financial and political obstacles that could eventually leave Americans far behind Asia and Europe as the world tries to move towards a non carbon dioxide polluting energy economy. Jason Ribeiro's recent blog States with Laws that Impede Nuclear Power points out some of the political obstacles in each state that impede the construction of more nuclear reactors in several states. http://pronucleardemocrats.blogspot.com/2008/10/nuclear-obstacles-states-with-laws-that.html
The problem of spent fuel and nuclear waste is largely a political problem rather than a scientific or technological one, IMO, which I addressed in my article Short & Long Term Solutions for Nuclear Waste . And the best way to decommission a nuclear reactors is to simply allow irradiated parts of the reactor to safely decay over a period of about 100 to 150 before safe dismantling.
However, the unpredictable cost of capitalizing new nuclear reactors is a cause for concern. Estimates for a new single 1000 MWe nuclear reactor in the US have ranged from less than two billion dollars to as high as over 10 billion dollars. Charles Barton has recently addressed this on his Nuclear Green blog: Are Nuclear Costs Unreasonable?
In my opinion, the fact that US nuclear facilities rely too much on private capital is the biggest obstacle to nuclear power expansion. In the US, there are hundreds of utilities that are generally too small to be able to risk the large capital investment required to build nuclear facilities. In a country like France on the other hand, a single government owned utility provides electricity for the entire country.
The French government owns and operates 59 nuclear power plants which produce over 78% of France's electrical power. France is also the world's largest net exporter of electric power, exporting 18% of its total electricity production to Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Britain. France's carbon emissions per kWh are less than 1/10 that of pro-renewable energy countries like Germany and the UK, and 1/13 that of Denmark, which doesn't have any nuclear plants.
The US government also owns a few nuclear facilities via the TVA. And this federal public power corporation was the last utility to build a nuclear power plant in American and is now the first to order the new AP1000 Westinghouse (Toshiba) reactors.
With the desperate need for the US to move towards energy independence from the fossil fuel economy, I believe that it is time for the federal government to move aggressively towards helping to fund new nuclear reactors. Under the new Obama administration, I believe the federal government should provide up to 45% of the investment capital for new nuclear reactors on existing sites.
Alvin Weinberg proposed an existing-site policy back in 1979 as the best way to expand nuclear power in the US. By simply increasing the number of nuclear reactors at existing nuclear sites already in operation, the US could increase its nuclear capacity up to 343 Gwe. That's more than triple current nuclear capacity and would allow America to power nearly 70% of its electricity from nuclear sites that already exist.
In the long run, however, I believe the best way to keep the cost of electricity low in the US for baseload distribution and for synfuel production while finally achieving total energy independence from the fossil fuel economy, is to build multiple reactors within nuclear parks (nuplexes) consisting of 10 to 40 reactors and which include enrichment and spent fuel reprocessing facilities and on site nuclear waste storage facilities. While I strongly believe that nuclear power facilities should continue to be built and operated by private industry, I also believe that nuclear parks (nuplexes) should be capitalized and owned by the Federal government.
That's why I favor the creation of a Federal Nuplex Corporation (FNC). I will elaborate in more detail on this nuclear electricity and synfuel concept in an upcoming post because I believe that it is the cheapest, safest, and most energy productive way of achieving energy independence in the United States.
References and Links
1. Nuclear share figures, 1996-2007
2. Nuclear Power in France
3. Nuclear power in France (Wikipedia)
4. Short & Long Term Solutions for Nuclear Waste
5. Are Nuclear Costs Unreasonable?
6. States with Laws that Impede Nuclear Power
7. The Economics of Nuclear Power
8. Fueling our Nuclear Future
Saturday, December 06, 2008
Barack Obama's choice for Trade Represenatative Xavier Becerra is expected to work for trade deals which are more fair to American wage earners hit hard by globalization. Needless to say, the flood of criticism from free market fanatics suggest that Becerra is an excellent choice. Becerra brings a new approach to trade policy and a greater diversity to the Obama Cabinet.
John Nichols writes in The Nation:
December 3, 2008
The position of US trade representative has, since it was established during Kennedy's presidency, been occupied by starry-eyed advocates for global economic arrangements that satisfy Wall Street and the investor class but devastate Main Street and the working class--not just in the United States but in the countries with which it trades. Even under Democratic presidents the job has gone to free-trade absolutists such as Mickey Kantor who have neglected concerns about worker rights, human rights, and consumer and environmental protections in favor of the race to the bottom pursued by corporations seeking ever lower wages and laxer regulations.
During the campaign, Barack Obama promised to break the cycle by establishing policies and appointing officials who favor, if not quite the fair trade agenda advocated by labor, farm and environmental groups, at least a more balanced approach. It appears that he will follow through on that pledge. Obama has chosen as his trade representative California Representative Xavier Becerra, a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus who frequently scores 100 percent ratings from the AFL-CIO, the Sierra Club and other groups that have been at odds with the trade policies of the past several administrations. A former chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, vice chair of the House Democratic Caucus and key player on the House Ways and Means Committee, Becerra has a long history of engagement with trade debates. That made it particularly significant when, in 2006, he announced that "it has become very obvious that our system for devising trade agreements, so very important to this country's functioning around the world, has not only broken, but it has broken completely."
Becerra is not a resolute fair-trader like Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders or Ohio Representative Marcy Kaptur. Like Obama, he's a mixed bag who will still need to be prodded by activists, especially as new debates about trade in services evolve. Becerra backed NAFTA as a House freshman, and has voted for several other trade deals. He has since acknowledged, however, that he was wrong to support schemes that may increase commerce but tend to concentrate "the benefits of that commerce in the hands of very few." That's encouraging. Even more encouraging is the fact that since his election to the House in 1992, Becerra has consistently opposed the "fast-track" model for negotiating trade agreements. When Congress grants fast-track authority to a president, it cedes to the trade representative most of its ability to shape policy, retaining only the right to accept or reject a final agreement. If Obama and Becerra simply develop a new approach to negotiating trade agreements, one that involves consultation with Congress, it will be much more likely that labor, consumer and human rights concerns will be addressed.
It is on those human rights issues that Becerra has been a particularly strong player in recent years. The Congressman delivered a national Spanish-language radio address last spring in which he defended the Democratic rejection of Bush's proposed Colombia free trade agreement on the grounds that, "Colombia still remains a dangerous place for those who advocate for worker rights. More than 2,500 labor leaders have been assassinated in Colombia since 1986. What would we say if labor leaders were being assassinated in our country every day, just for standing up for their rights as workers? That is what is happening in Colombia today." The message Becerra delivered was radically at odds with that of Republican and DLC free-traders. If he keeps delivering it as trade representative--along with other fair-trade themes he has articulated--Becerra could become the face of the change in trade policies that Obama promised, and that working people here and abroad can believe in.
Thursday, December 04, 2008
The 2008 election season isn't over yet in Louisiana. Voters in the 2nd and 4th Congressional Districts will go to the polls on December 6.
District Attorney Paul Carmouche has been endorsed by the Shreveport Times in the
Northwest Louisiana voters will make — at last — a final call Saturday on a new congressman to send to Washington, D.C.
The Times Editorial Board recommends Caddo Parish's outgoing District Attorney Paul Carmouche as the 4th District's next U.S. representative.
As a professed Blue Dog Democrat, Carmouche pledges a pragmatic, centrist approach to solving the nation's crushing issues. In philosophy, his "pro-life, pro-gun, pro-family" stances are in tune with the conservative values of a majority of his 13-parish district.
And while opponents might fret about adding one more Democrat to a Democrat-controlled House of Representatives, we see Carmouche's affiliation as a political asset for the district. As a Democrat, he will have access to House leadership. As a centrist, Carmouche and other "pay as you go" Blue Dogs can work to hold the party to more moderate, fiscally responsible positions at a time of costly bailouts and stimulus plans. Says the Democrat: "I don't think Republicans have a patent on fiscal conservatism."
Carmouche has stressed energy as a key issue for the district, supporting a hybrid plan of drilling, conservation and alternative fuels. He supports expanded U.S. oil and gas exploration — a stance that runs contrary to many in his party. He also would leverage the Haynesville Shale play both as a means of expanding cleaner-burning natural gas as an alternative fuel for vehicles, and as a work force development opportunity.
After 30 years as the parish's top prosecutor, Carmouche has demonstrated the administrative skills to oversee his part of the criminal justice apparatus. You can cherry pick cases that went badly, but undeniably Carmouche's office has been effective in putting a large number of criminals behind bars. Just consider that for most of three decades Carmouche was elected without opposition.
This is not to say we are pleased with everything about Mr. Carmouche's candidacy. At 65, his ability to build seniority is limited, though term-limit fans may like that prospect. On the stump, Carmouche's public comments have been overly general at times. And the attacks and counter-attacks mounted by him and Republican John Fleming — and the national parties on their behalf — have set a political low for this new century.
But at the end of this long, hurricane-delayed congressional season, The Times believes Carmouche offers northwest Louisiana the best opportunity for both political relevance in Washington and philosophical consistency in representing the 4th Congressional District.
Wednesday, December 03, 2008
Florida Republican Senator Mel Martinez will not be running for re-election in
Democrats need a strong contender with appeal to moderate swing voters in Central Florida and the ability to narrow the gap in Republican-leaning North Florida. Congressman Allen Boyd seems like the right kind of Democrat to send Jeb Bush, Florida's worst Governor ever and the likely Republican Senate nominee, back into political retirement.
From Centrist Voice:
Boyd dips toe in water for Florida Senate run
Congressman Allen Boyd (D-FL) has waded into the 2010 Florida Senate race and seems to be staking an claim in the race to succeed Mel Martinez in the Senate. Boyd’s office released the following statement:
I want to join my fellow Floridians in thanking Senator Martinez for his service. I am a fifth generation Floridian with deep roots in the state, and I want to see the state I love and my fellow Floridians thrive. Right now, our state and our nation are experiencing challenging times. President-elect Obama and Senator Bill Nelson will need a strong, steady partner in the U.S. Senate. We need aggressive, bipartisan solutions to the economic, domestic, and foreign policy challenges that face the country.
I have been considering a run for the U.S. Senate in 2010, prior to Sen. Martinez’s announcement today. I will continue to discuss the race with state and national party leaders and with my supporters in North Florida and throughout the state. Most importantly, I’ll talk about this with my family, and I expect we’ll make a final decision very early next year.
Tuesday, December 02, 2008
Zak Johnson at Blue Steel Democrats www.bluesteeldemocrats.blogspot.com reports:
2nd Amendment activism within the Democratic party is growing. In addition to Democrats in Texas and Oregon, Nevada Democrats have also organized a pro-gun rights caucus, the Nevada Outdoor Democrats Caucus. They have quite a website over at http://www.nodc.us.
In addition to working for gun owners' rights, the Nevada Outdoor Democrats Caucus has a decidedly progressive outlook that includes conversation of and access to wilderness areas a central part of their mission:
"We are Nevada Democrats that support and speak out for citizen's rights in hunting, shooting, fishing, wildlife conservation, OHV, 4x4, ATV, motorcycles, hiking, camping, and all things to use, but never abuse, our great Nevada Outdoors.
The NODC was an affiliate of the Nevada State Democratic Party when it organized. The Party has reorganized clubs and caucuses so the NODC will be affiliating with Nevada Democrats at the County Party level in 2008. See your County Chair if you want to assist in affiliation or if you want to organize your own Chapter. We will assist you in both efforts. This is a great opportunity to get Outdoor Democrats more active at a local level."