Category: Economics

Global pollution from maritime shipping has been grossly underestimated


Click to enlarge

Britain and other European governments have been accused of underestimating the health risks from shipping pollution following research which shows that one giant container ship can emit almost the same amount of cancer and asthma-causing chemicals as 50 million cars.

Confidential data from maritime industry insiders based on engine size and the quality of fuel typically used by ships and cars shows that just 15 of the world’s biggest ships may now emit as much pollution as all the world’s 760 million cars. Low-grade ship bunker fuel has up to 2,000 times the sulphur content of diesel fuel used in US and European automobiles.

Pressure is mounting on the UN’s International Maritime Organisation and the EU to tighten laws governing ship emissions following the decision by the US government last week to impose a strict 230-mile buffer zone along the entire US coast, a move that is expected to be followed by Canada.

The setting up of a low emission shipping zone follows US academic research which showed that pollution from the world’s 90,000 cargo ships leads to 60,000 deaths a year in the US alone and costs up to $330bn per year in health costs from lung and heart diseases. The US Environmental Protection Agency estimates the buffer zone, which could be in place by next year, will save more than 8,000 lives a year with new air quality standards cutting sulphur in fuel by 98%, particulate matter by 85% and nitrogen oxide emissions by 80%…

…A spokesman for the UK government’s Maritime and Coastguard Agency accepted there were major gaps in the legislation. “Issues of particulate matter remain a concern. They need to be addressed and blah, blah, blah, blah,” said environment policy director Jonathan Simpson…

“It is unacceptable that shipping remains one of the most polluting industries in the world. The UK must take a lead in cleaning up emissions,” said Simon Birkett, spokesman for the Campaign for Clean Air in London. “Other countries are planning radical action to achieve massive health and other savings but the UK is strangely inactive.”

Overdue. As usual.

None of the science is especially new or surprising. The attitude of shippers, corporations providing most of the cargo, governments supposedly in charge of regulating the environment on behalf of their citizens – uniformly accepts profits as a higher priority than human lives.

Obamacare upheld by SCOTUS


Click to enlargeJim Lo Scalzo/EPA

Chief justice John Roberts has come to the rescue of Barack Obama’s healthcare reforms for a second time as the US supreme court struck down a Republican-led challenge to Obamacare that could have gutted the legislation and stripped millions of Americans of their health insurance.

Rescue? No. Roberts may be a conservative dork; but, his style of judgement rests on the intent of Congress and law. Passed by a Congress lightyears ahead of what we’ve had to bear since Year 3 of Obama, the intent of the ACA was clear and Roberts supported the law – as far as Congress went.

The decision in the high-stakes case of King v Burwell all but guarantees that Obamacare will survive intact until at least the 2016 election, giving its supporters hope that it will become impossible to reverse even if a Republican is elected to the White House.

The case, which turned on the meaning of four words – “established by the state” – was brought by Virginia limousine driver David King, who sued the then health secretary, Sylvia Burwell, on the grounds that insurance subsidies erroneously paid to those on low to middle incomes forced him to take out cover against his will by pushing him above an affordability threshold…

In most respects, the same as laws establishing minimum levels of automobile insurance. Opposed just as vehemently in its day by cheapskate conservatives who hate paying for anything.

But six of the nine justices, including Roberts, sided with the government in agreeing that other parts of the legislation made the broader meaning clear and allowed subsidies to be paid to exchanges run by states or the federal government.

“Given that the text is ambiguous, we must turn to the broader structure of the act to determine the meaning,” wrote Roberts in a passage that represents a huge victory for the Obama administration…

Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton…praised the court’s decision, tweeting: “SCOTUS affirms what we know is true in our hearts & under the law: Health insurance should be affordable & available to all.”

Fellow presidential candidate and leftwing Vermont senator Bernie Sanders praised the court for recognizing “the common-sense reading of the Affordable Care Act” but went on to call for replacing Obamacare with a “Medicare-for-all, single-payer system”.

If and when we get a Congress that not only fights for the needs of average Americans; but, has the courage to provide a bit of leadership – we’ll get round to Bernie’s proposal. Only a bit over a half-century after the rest of the industrial West did so.

Which prompts me to note why I – as someone who has nothing more than contempt for the 2-party/electoral college bordello our politics are chained to – still suggest voting for Democrats when there isn’t a progressive 3rd-Party alternative. If we leave a mediocrity to fall into the hands of truly corrupt class-worshippers, we’re really in line to be screwed. And we will be getting what we deserve for our inaction.

Trickle-down Dick explains ignoranus economics to a Kansas schoolgirl

Doonesbury, Brownback, Kansas
Click to read the whole Republican disasterDoonesbury by GB Trudeau

I don’t expect real-world economics ever to get through the thick skulls of Flat-Earth Republicans. We can only hope the voters in states like Kansas understand the lies they believed – are hopeless. And they will throw bums like Brownback out into the world of the unemployed.

Just in case family-values drug moralists want to try out reality…

Portugal decriminalized the use of all drugs in 2001. Weed, cocaine, heroin, you name it — Portugal decided to treat possession and use of small quantities of these drugs as a public health issue, not a criminal one. The drugs were still illegal, of course. But now getting caught with them meant a small fine and maybe a referral to a treatment program — not jail time and a criminal record.

Whenever we debate similar measures in the U.S. — marijuana decriminalization, for instance — many drug-policy makers predict dire consequences. “If you make any attractive commodity available at lower cost, you will have more users,” former Office of National Drug Control Policy deputy director Thomas McLellan once said of Portugal’s policies. Joseph Califano, founder of the Center for Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, once warned that decriminalization would “increase illegal drug availability and use among our children.”

But in Portugal, the numbers paint a different story. The prevalence of past-year and past-month drug use among young adults has fallen since 2001, according to statistics compiled by the Transform Drug Policy Foundation, which advocates on behalf of ending the war on drugs. Overall adult use is down slightly too. And new HIV cases among drug users are way down.

Now, numbers just released from the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction paint an even more vivid picture of life under decriminalization: drug overdose deaths in Portugal are the second-lowest in the European Union….

Perhaps more significantly, the report notes that the use of “legal highs” — like so-called “synthetic” marijuana, “bath salts” and the like — is lower in Portugal than in any of the other countries for which reliable data exists. This makes a lot of intuitive sense: why bother with fake weed or dangerous designer drugs when you can get the real stuff? This is arguably a positive development for public health in the sense that many of the designer drugs that people develop to skirt existing drug laws have terrible and often deadly side effects…

…It’s very clear that decriminalization hasn’t had the severe consequences that its opponents predicted. As the Transform Drug Policy Institute says in its analysis of Portugal’s drug laws, “The reality is that Portugal’s drug situation has improved significantly in several key areas. Most notably, HIV infections and drug-related deaths have decreased, while the dramatic rise in use feared by some has failed to materialise.”

Between opportunist reactionaries grabbing every superstition-based vote at hand plus liberal politicians generally playing at cowardly lions, I doubt we’ll have the chance anytime soon to consider science, reason or reality creeping into American policy.

From economics to climate, the Republican Party is committed to a platform cobbled together from myth and bigotry. Democrats play at populism as mediocre as the average reality TV show and dedicate their political leadership to underachievers.

Same as it ever was remains the American anthem.

Women-run startups in Costa Rica using their Little Dish as a billboard

In the outskirts of costa rica, a large majority of local women can be found in their homes cooking, baking, making clothing and cutting hair, mostly without any kind of monetary return. although the inhabitants of these residences don’t often bring in large incomes, the housewives admit there’s one expense they absolutely can’t live without: TV. the rural, central american landscape is populated by dish antennas that sit atop nearly every home, bringing local and international television signals to millions of people.

Latin American telecommunications brand CLARO is one of the most ubiquitous service providers. together with creative agency ogilvy & mather costa rica, claro chose to give up its most valuable outdoor advertising space — on dish antennas with its logo — and give back to the inhabitants who live beneath them. a team took to the streets rural central american areas and hand-painted their dish antennas, turning them into billboards for businesses based on their favorite household activity. colorful and illustrative compositions delineate signs for a hair salon, an egg vendor, flower shop and piñata craftsman, just to name a few.

CLARO is a wholly-owned part of Carlos Slim’s AMERICAN MOVIL headquartered in Mexico. Nice to see CLARO doing what they are doing. Every little bit helps.

Thanks, Om

Homes leaving the power grid is a sign of bad public utility policies

SolarCity Corp. Chief Executive Officer Lyndon Rive doesn’t want his customers defecting from the power grid — unless they live in Hawaii.

The biggest U.S. residential solar installer expects to offer by next year a package that combines solar panels, batteries and a back-up generator, and will supply all the power needed by residential customers.

In Hawaii, home to the highest U.S. electricity rates, using the setup to disconnect from the power grid may save people as much as 15 percent compared to their local utility bills, Rive said in an interview on Bloomberg Television.

In other states, utilities would benefit from millions of homes with batteries and solar panels, by tapping the stored electricity during periods of peak demand when the local grid needs extra capacity. Having people disconnect from power grids is a symptom of poorly designed regulations.

“It’s bad policy that got us there,” Rive, 38, said in the interview in San Francisco.

Utilities in states from Arizona to Wisconsin are seeking changes to rates and adding fees for residential customers with solar power, to offset lost revenue from the growth of companies like SolarCity.

Most public utilities are as incompetent as elected officials from the two weasel parties we’re allowed. Instead of working to combine alternative power sources and systems, they’re like craft unions or guilds in the 19th Century trying to protect their fiefdom instead of moving to the collective benefits of modern tech.

Our family is convinced of the benefits of solar technology for all the good reasons – from health and sane energy production to long-range reduced cost. Our public utility here in New Mexico is as backwards as any. Perfectly willing to lie and cheat to maintain their guaranteed profits regardless of environmental and cost negatives. They misstated their cost of maintaining coal-burning plants by a billion dollar$, they’re already trying to push pandering state politicians into a regressive tax on homeowners who convert to solar power – even grid-tied systems.

Useless enemies of progress. It will be their policies that determine whether we go grid-tied or off the grid when we convert our little compound to solar.

Oh yeah. Before going to bed, last night, I caught the end of Rive’s interview with Emily Chang on BLOOMBERG WEST. He obviously has little confidence in either public utilities corporations or state regulators doing anything sensible. He figures Solar City will end up bringing the Hawaiian model as an option to all the mainland states.

Bacon, bacon, bacon Is back!


Fatburger’s Hypocrite Burger

Andy Wiederhorn wants to sell bacon to vegetarians.

That’s the idea, anyway, behind the Hypocrite Burger — a veggie patty topped by two strips of bacon. Wiederhorn, chief executive officer of Beverly Hills, California-based Fatburger Corp., is pushing sales of the sandwich in his 200 fast-food restaurants to take advantage of wholesale prices that dropped about two-thirds from a year ago.

“We want to add bacon to everything we sell,” he said. “People like it.”

Do they ever. At the risk of sounding like Forrest Gump’s shrimp-obsessed buddy Bubba, eateries are offering bacon milkshakes, bacon sauerkraut, bacon kale salad, bacon martinis and bacon peanut brittle. Last year, 68 percent of U.S. restaurants had bacon on the menu, up from 62 percent in 2005, according to market researcher Datassential. And that was when prices were a lot higher than they are today.

Bacon is having its moment. It’s always been popular, but now, driven by reduced cost, innovative concoctions, the protein-rich Paleo Diet and a worldly younger generation willing to try anything once, twice if they like it, that popularity has exploded. Last year, a piglet-killing virus shrank U.S. hog herds, sending futures prices to all-time highs, and farmers scrambled to capture those profits. Record U.S. pork production will surpass beef output for the first time as overseas demand slows, creating today’s glut and sending both retail and wholesale prices to deliciously low levels.

Even though retail prices are down, consumers paid more than seven times the wholesale price for bacon last month, a record spread. Milwaukee-based supermarket chain Roundy’s Inc. expects prices to continue to tumble throughout 2015 as costs such as feed decline…

Part of the reason for the retail-wholesale mismatch is some higher-priced pork bellies from last year’s slaughter were frozen, and those inventories take time to work through…By now, cheaper bellies have worked their way to slicers, yet the higher store prices persist.

“It’s highway robbery,” said Dennis Smith, senior account executive at Archer Financial Services in Chicago. “Talk about a huge markup. They don’t lower prices because bacon demand is just that good…”

As beef costs reach all-time highs, restaurants are adding bacon to more dishes because it raises the flavor profile of an otherwise cheaper piece of meat….

Yes, we’ve reached the point where you should switch on your brain. Economics should be a determinant in your cuisine unless you have an excess of disposable income and little concern for nutrition. After all, bacon offers two of America’s most popular food groups: fat and salt.

In our household, we eat beef about a dozen times a year, tops – almost exclusively during our extended outdoors grilling season. That’s it. Even living in a beef-producing state, even though I have easy access to essentially organic critters without the overhead of certification, etc., pork and chicken are our primary sources of air-breathing protein.

Warren 1 — 0 Republicans + Obama

Senate Democrats have dealt President Barack Obama a stinging setback on trade by blocking efforts to begin full-blown debate on his initiatives.

All but one Senate Democrat defied the president Tuesday by voting to prevent consideration of his request for “fast track” trade authority. Such authority would let Obama present trade agreements that Congress could ratify or reject, but not amend.

Proponents needed 60 votes to thwart a Democratic filibuster, but managed only 52 in the 100-member Senate.

Obama’s supporters say they will try again, possibly starting in the House. But Tuesday’s vote highlighted the deep divide between Obama and the many congressional Democrats who say trade deals hurt U.S. jobs.

Keep on rocking in the Free World.

Just as NAFTA was passed under Clinton, essentially a Republican bill was offered with hopes for sufficient Blue Dog Democrats climbing on board to get it through.

Regardless of the rationales offered by President Obama, the only reason for passing fast track legislation is to inhibit an up-or-down vote in Congress. Especially in the case where a bill is anti-democratic, against the will and needs of workingclass families.

This may not be up to the stage of crystal ball forecasting; but, it surely is nice to see Democrats try to act like they haven’t forgotten their workingclass base, entirely.

Is this the end of the tale? Hardly. It won’t take dramatic progressive change in White House trade policies to get the average Dem to cave. And I expect cave they will. They owe as much to corporate lobbyists as do Republicans. Their accountability is still the kind defined by accountants – not workingclass heros.

Germany adds to its wind energy portfolio — Nordsee Ost comes online


Click to enlargeLuftfoto/Scheer

Wind energy is a vital part of a German move to a low-carbon economy, the German economic minister said during the inauguration of RWE’s Nordsee Ost wind farm.

German Economics Minister Sigmar Gabriel hosted ministers from the Group of seven industrialized economies, along with representatives from RWE, for the inauguration of the 48-turbine wind farm off the northern German coast.

“Offshore wind energy is a strategically important element of Germany’s energy and climate policy and is key to the success of the energy transition,” Gabriel said…

Germany is one of the world leaders in renewable energy, a trend established after its decision to move away from nuclear power, in the wake of the nuclear tragedy in Japan in 2011. The United Kingdom is close behind and, combined, the European Union has more than 100 gigawatts of wind power online.

Nordsee Ost has an installed capacity of 295 megawatts, enough power to meet the annual energy needs of about 320,000 households.

RWE’s project is among the largest of its kind in the world and, by year’s end, more than 40 percent of its power capacity will be generated from wind energy.

The expansion of renewable energy is one of our main growth areas and offshore wind energy will play a vital role,” Chief Executive Officer Peter Terium said. “RWE will become the third largest player in the European offshore market this year.”

Strange as it may seem to Americans, European conservatives haven’t dedicated their political careers to standing in the way of switching to renewable energy sources and walking away from unhealthy fossil fuels, uneconomic nuclear power generation.