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Duke Energy’s clean-up of coal-ash will only take 30 year$

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Duke Energy Corp. said the total tab for cleaning up its North Carolina coal-ash dumps may reach $10 billion amid a call for national rules to regulate the disposal of the fossil-fuel byproduct…

The largest U.S. utility owner told a North Carolina legislative commission that if it were required to excavate and relocate all its ash in the state and convert to an all-dry handling system, costs would reach $7 billion to $10 billion and take as long as three decades.

The commission met yesterday to discuss the company’s response to a Feb. 2 spill of about 39,000 tons of coal ash into the Dan River. Environmental groups have called on Duke to remove all of its coal-ash dumps after the spill, which has triggered investigations and subpoenas.

Duke should move all its coal ash into lined, dry pits and stop disposing of it in ponds, said Frank Holleman, an attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center. Unlined ponds invariably contaminate ground water, and their dams can fail, he said.

The North Carolina Utilities Commission will decide who pays for the cleanup, Holleman said. “Our position is that law-abiding citizens should not pay,” he said. Duke shareholders are liable for the cost because its ash ponds violate pollution laws, Holleman said.

There is no federal regulation of coal ash. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, in a January court settlement, agreed to “final action” on proposed coal ash regulations by Dec. 19.

The state utilities commission will determine who pays to clean up ash unless lawmakers decide to change some laws, Tom Williams, a spokesman for Duke, said in a telephone interview. The company has not submitted a proposal to regulators regarding the expenses.

A federal grand jury is probing the state’s oversight of the company’s 33 coal-ash ponds in North Carolina. State officials’ “primary desire” is removal of coal ash ponds from the banks of rivers and streams, Pat McCrory, the state’s Republican governor, said in a Feb. 25 letter to Duke Chief Executive Officer Lynn Good.

It’s worth reminding folks that North Carolina’s Republican governor worked for Duke Energy for thirty years or so. Most folks feel that’s why the energy giant hasn’t gotten more than a slap on the wrist until they managed to promote a world-class disaster.

Keep an eye out for the final solution decided by the state utilities commission. Liable to be small enough to pass downstream unnoticed by ordinary mortals.

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Written by Ed Campbell

April 24, 2014 at 2:00 am

Why Mohamed El-Erian left Pimco – to be a proper dad

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Betty Liu, Mohamed El-Erian
Click for video [possibly after a commercial]

One of the leading political economists in the world staggered everyone when he walked away from PIMCO. Long accepted as next in line – ready to take over full countrol of the world’s largest bond investing firm when Bill Gross retires – people were shocked when Mohamed El-Erian left with no plans for his next career, no move to another investment firm.

His first interview in the four months since he departed PIMCO was this morning – with Betty Liu of Bloomberg TV. And while it’s all interesting to economics and politics geeks, the most memorable moment was him describing the interaction with his 11-year-old daughter that really provoked this change.

Written by Ed Campbell

April 23, 2014 at 2:00 pm

Sweden turns its economy Japanese

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Three years ago Sweden was widely regarded as a role model in how to deal with a global crisis. The nation’s exports were hit hard by slumping world trade but snapped back; its well-regulated banks rode out the financial storm; its strong social insurance programs supported consumer demand; and unlike much of Europe, it still had its own currency, giving it much-needed flexibility. By mid-2010 output was surging, and unemployment was falling fast. Sweden, declared The Washington Post, was “the rock star of the recovery.”

Then the sadomonetarists moved in.

The story so far: In 2010 Sweden’s economy was doing much better than those of most other advanced countries. But unemployment was still high, and inflation was low. Nonetheless, the Riksbank — Sweden’s equivalent of the Federal Reserve — decided to start raising interest rates.

There was some dissent within the Riksbank over this decision. Lars Svensson, a deputy governor at the time — and a former Princeton colleague of mine — vociferously opposed the rate hikes. Mr. Svensson, one of the world’s leading experts on Japanese-style deflationary traps, warned that raising interest rates in a still-depressed economy put Sweden at risk of a similar outcome. But he found himself isolated, and left the Riksbank in 2013.

Sure enough, Swedish unemployment stopped falling soon after the rate hikes began. Deflation took a little longer, but it eventually arrived. The rock star of the recovery has turned itself into Japan.

So why did the Riksbank make such a terrible mistake? That’s a hard question to answer, because officials changed their story over time. At first the bank’s governor declared that it was all about heading off inflation: “If the interest rate isn’t raised now, we’ll run the risk of too much inflation further ahead … Our most important task is to ensure that we meet our inflation target of 2 percent.” But as inflation slid toward zero, falling ever further below that supposedly crucial target, the Riksbank offered a new rationale: tight money was about curbing a housing bubble, to avert financial instability. That is, as the situation changed, officials invented new rationales for an unchanging policy.

More details in the rest of Paul Krugman’s opinion piece. You will know what it sounds like if you read the WALL STREET JOURNAL, FORBES Magazine or watch FOX Business Channel.

Cripes, add all of that up and we’re talking about as much wasted time and energy as Congress. And Congressional Republicans in all their wisdom would love to have the kind of power to introduce even more regressive powers like their bubba Abe in Japan.

Like increase the national sales tax 60%. No need to tax the wealthy and Zaibatsu corporate barons. Take it from the hides of ordinary working people.

Written by Ed Campbell

April 22, 2014 at 8:00 am

The public health crisis added to our food

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IF you have high blood pressure, you’re in good company. Hypertension afflicts 67 million Americans, including nearly two-thirds of people over age 60. But it isn’t an inevitable part of the aging process. It’s better to think of it as chronic sodium intoxication. And, as an important new study from Britain shows, there’s a way to prevent the problem — and to save many, many lives.

A lifetime of consuming too much sodium (mostly in the form of sodium chloride, or table salt) raises blood pressure, and high blood pressure kills and disables people by triggering strokes and heart attacks. In the United States, according to best estimates, excess sodium is killing between 40,000 and 90,000 people and running up to $20 billion in medical costs a year…

The reason that nearly everyone eats way too much sodium is that our food is loaded with it, and often where we don’t taste or expect it…A blueberry muffin can have more than double the salt of a serving of potato chips. Even healthy-sounding food can pack heavy sodium loads. Two slices of whole wheat bread can have nearly 400 milligrams of sodium, as can two tablespoons of fat-free salad dressing…

We all like the taste of salt, but there is much that food companies can do without driving away customers. Often they add sodium for leavening or food texture rather than taste, when replacement ingredients are available. And sodium levels in similar popular foods made by different manufacturers often vary two- or threefold (for example, a slice of pizza can pack anywhere from between 370 and 730 milligrams), which suggests that many manufacturers can cut sodium levels in their foods sharply without hurting taste. When salt levels in food drop, people’s preference for salt also shifts down, so no one would notice a gradual reduction in sodium across all foods.

That’s exactly what Britain’s Food Standards Agency has done. It divided processed food into different categories, set salt-reduction targets in each category and then asked companies to meet those targets over time. And as they did that, from 2001 to 2011, sodium consumption by the British fell 15 percent.

The new study shows that this drop in salt intake has been accompanied by a substantial reduction in average blood pressure, a 40 percent drop in deaths from heart attacks and a 42 percent decline in deaths from stroke…

There is absolutely no reason we can’t do an initiative similar to Britain’s on this side of the Atlantic now…A proposal as important to human life as this needs the stature and resources of the federal government to bring…the food industry along. The F.D.A. has been developing a new plan for a voluntary, coordinated, national initiative. Unfortunately, even though it is voluntary, the food industry is fighting it, and the plan is stalled.

Per usual, bought-and-paid-for politicians are as much part of the problem as bureaucrats and behemoth corporate budgets. As a side issue, one more reason to adopt an election model that allows NO private or PAC donations and probably includes a short regulated electioneering season. Take the money out of elections and you take most of the money out of political graft.

That still leaves us with libertarian silliness over the government stepping in on the side of medicine and science. But, fools can still add as much salt as they wish to their beer and onion dip.

Written by Ed Campbell

April 22, 2014 at 2:00 am

Oklahoma Republican politics means you don’t have to obey the president – but, you do have to obey the governor!

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Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin signed a bill into law Monday that passes a statewide ban on raising the minimum wage and prohibits cities from legislating to establish mandatory employee benefits like vacations or sick leave…Opponents view the law as retaliation against grass roots organizers gathering signatures in the capital to raise the city’s minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10.

After Fallin signed the bill, her office released a statement claiming that “most minimum-wage workers are young, single people working part-time or entry-level jobs.”

Fallen said, “Mandating an increase in the minimum wage would require businesses to fire many of those part-time workers. It would create a hardship for small business owners, stifle job creation and increase costs for consumers.”

You decide if she’s ignorant or a liar. The average minimum wage earner is a single mom in her 30′s.

A major paper published last year covered by the Washington Post found that economists agree that raising the minimum wage actually reduces poverty.

Reducing poverty is one of those goals that you never hear addressed by Republicans except as some kind of supposed inevitability from their favorite dribble-down economics. Which hasn’t worked anywhere on Earth, yet.

They will get righteous about protecting profits, though.

Written by Ed Campbell

April 21, 2014 at 8:00 am

FDA proposed E-Cigarette regulation leaked to industry first

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After years of FDA foot-dragging amid calls for action on electronic cigarettes, an industry group nearly stole the agency’s thunder with an apparently leaked copy of an impending draft regulation.

The Tobacco Vapor Electronic Cigarette Association (TVECA) put up a picture of the scanned document on its website Friday, indicating it was the “Deeming Tobacco Products to be Subject to the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, as Amended by the Family Smoking Prevention and Control Act; Regulations on the Sale and Distribution of Tobacco Products and Required Warning Statements for Tobacco Products.”

However, the e-cigarette advocacy group said it decided not to go ahead with plans to release the document following informal discussions with the agency on Friday.

“[W]e all decided that [it would be] in the best interest of the regulatory process, as well as the industry and the public, not to post the document on Tuesday,” TVECA explained in a brief note on its website…

The title of the document shown by TVECA appeared to fit expectations that the FDA’s move will be to bring e-cigarettes under largely the same regulatory scheme as other tobacco products, which would involve blocking sales to minors and restricting marketing.

The agency has had e-cigarettes on its agenda for years, but finally sent a draft proposed rule to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) last fall; action was further delayed by the partial government shutdown.

The document was still with the OMB as of last month. Whether the copy obtained by TVECA indicates an impending release for public comment wasn’t clear.

Anyone surprised? Anyone expect documents which might affect corporate profits and the health of Americans to be leaked to scientists or public interest advocates? Our government is working harder than ever to squash the possibility of another Edward Snowden popping up, say, in the FDA or USDA.

Written by Ed Campbell

April 19, 2014 at 2:00 am

Wealthiest pay higher taxes — with no substantial impact on economic growth

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As the political fight over raising taxes for high-income Americans fades away, so are predictions for negative economic fallout.

The bill for President Barack Obama’s 2013 tax increases comes due April 15, and the first boost in marginal income rates in 20 years is already reducing the U.S. budget deficit without tipping the economy into recession.

“In advance one always hears the squeals of the oxen who would like everyone to think they are about to be gored,” said James Galbraith, an economist at the University of Texas at Austin. “Then it turns out that they are only nicked, and life goes on.”

The U.S. government is projected to collect more than $3 trillion for the first time in the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, a 9.2 percent increase over last year, according to the Congressional Budget Office. CBO forecasts another 9 percent rise in 2015 and estimates that more than half of the increases in revenue stem from tax law changes.

Because of tax increases, spending cuts and economic growth, the federal budget deficit is projected to be 3 percent of gross domestic product this year. That’s less than half its 2012 level and the smallest budget deficit since 2007…

High-income taxpayers face additional levies, effective in 2013, to help pay for Obama’s health-care plan. That means those at the very top of the U.S. income scale face higher marginal tax rates than at any time since 1986…

The high-income tax increase sapped 0.25 percentage points from GDP in 2013, estimates Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics Inc. in West Chester, Pennsylvania. That slight economic drag, he said, shouldn’t continue.

The question of how much tax-law changes affect the economy also plays out in states, where lawmakers have cut taxes in an effort to provide a jolt to businesses or raised them to bridge budget gaps that persisted after the recession.

California in November 2012 approved a temporary increase in the tax on retail sales and set a nation-high tax bracket of 13.3 percent on incomes of more than $1 million. Opponents warned that it would extract a toll in lost jobs, as businesses cut costs or fled to other states.

The reality in California, now benefiting from a reviving real-estate market, has been different. While job growth slowed in 2013 from a year earlier, employers still expanded payrolls by 2.6 percent, faster than the 1.7 percent pace in the U.S., according to U.S. Labor Department data compiled by Bloomberg.

“There’s just no evidence that the income tax increases have had any substantial impact on California’s economic growth,” said Christopher Thornberg…“It just is not the primary driving force the way some people think it is.”

RTFA. Like most serious Bloomberg articles, this one has lots of red meat and reality. Unlike the ideology-driven crap from Tea Party frumps.

Written by Ed Campbell

April 16, 2014 at 2:00 am

E-cigarettes change cells similar to those affected by tobacco

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Electronic cigarettes can change gene expression in a similar way to tobacco, according to one of the first studies to investigate the biological effects of the devices.

Presented at the American Association for Cancer Research annual meeting on 6 April in San Diego, California, the research looked at human bronchial cells that contained some mutations found in smokers at risk of lung cancer. The cells were immortalized, grown in culture medium that had been exposed to e-cigarette vapour and their gene expression profiled.

The researchers found that the cells grown in medium exposed to the vapour of e-cigarettes showed a similar pattern of gene expression to those grown in a medium exposed to tobacco smoke…

The changes are not identical, says study researcher Avrum Spira, who works on genomics and lung cancer at Boston University in Massachusetts. But “there are some striking similarities”, he says. The team is now evaluating whether the alterations mean that cells behave more like cancer cells in culture.

I don’t doubt the companies making a buck from this latest tobacco “substitute” will fight to the death to protect their profits. Your death. Their profits.

Written by Ed Campbell

April 11, 2014 at 2:00 am

Republican candidate wants to end days off from work!

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Wisconsinites tired of relaxing on weekends and staying home on federal holidays are in luck: On Thursday, GOP state Sen. Glenn Grothman announced his challenge to 13-term moderate Rep. Tom Petri (R-Wis.). In a conservative district that went to Mitt Romney by seven points in 2012…

In January, Grothman introduced legislation to eliminate a state requirement that workers get at least one day off per week. “Right now in Wisconsin, you’re not supposed to work seven days in a row, which is a little ridiculous because all sorts of people want to work seven days a week…”

Eliminating days off is a long-running campaign from Grothman. Three years earlier, he argued that public employees should have to work on Martin Luther King Day…It would be one thing if people were using their day off to do something productive, but Grothman said he would be “shocked if you can find anybody doing service.”

MLK Day and “Saturday” aren’t the only holidays Grothman opposes. At a town hall in 2013, he took on Kwanzaa, which he said “almost no black people today care about” and was being propped up by “white left-wingers who try to shove this down black people’s throats in an effort to divide Americans.”

When he’s not advocating for people to spend more time working, Grothman has gotten in trouble for advocating that (some) people be paid less. “You could argue that money is more important for men…”…after pushing through a repeal of the state’s equal pay bill.

He has pushed to pare back a program that provided free birth control, while floating a bill that would have labeled single parenthood, “a contributing factor to child abuse and neglect.” Grothman justified the bill by contending that women choose to become single mothers and call their pregnancies “unplanned” only because it’s what people want to hear.

This dude’s middle name must be “Shit-for-brains Scrooge”.

Have a nice weekend. Don’t think about taking a job in Wisconsin if folks elect a prick like Grothman.

Written by Ed Campbell

April 5, 2014 at 2:00 am

Hobby Lobby hypocrisy – invested in contraceptives they would deny to employee health plan

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When Obamacare compelled businesses to include emergency contraception in employee health care plans, Hobby Lobby, a national chain of craft stores, fought the law all the way to the Supreme Court. The Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate, the company’s owners argued, forced them to violate their religious beliefs. But while it was suing the government, Hobby Lobby spent millions of dollars on an employee retirement plan that invested in the manufacturers of the same contraceptive products the firm’s owners cite in their lawsuit.

Documents filed with the Department of Labor and dated December 2012—three months after the company’s owners filed their lawsuit—show that the Hobby Lobby 401(k) employee retirement plan held more than $73 million in mutual funds with investments in companies that produce emergency contraceptive pills, intrauterine devices, and drugs commonly used in abortions. Hobby Lobby makes large matching contributions to this company-sponsored 401(k)…

These companies include Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, which makes Plan B and ParaGard, a copper IUD, and Actavis, which makes a generic version of Plan B and distributes Ella. Other holdings in the mutual funds selected by Hobby Lobby include Pfizer, the maker of Cytotec and Prostin E2, which are used to induce abortions; Bayer, which manufactures the hormonal IUDs Skyla and Mirena; AstraZeneca, which has an Indian subsidiary that manufactures Prostodin, Cerviprime, and Partocin, three drugs commonly used in abortions; and Forest Laboratories, which makes Cervidil, a drug used to induce abortions. Several funds in the Hobby Lobby retirement plan also invested in Aetna and Humana, two health insurance companies that cover surgical abortions, abortion drugs, and emergency contraception in many of the health care policies they sell.

Nice to see primary source acknowledgement of one of my favorite dichos criticizing right-wing scumbags. “Republicans would have invented hypocrisy if Christians hadn’t beat them to it.”

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