Category: Progressive

Fossil fuel electricity under real threat from solar and wind power

windfarmsea
Click to enlargeStiftung OFFSHORE-WINDENERGIE

Of all the developed nations, few have pushed harder than Germany to find a solution to global warming. And towering symbols of that drive are appearing in the middle of the North Sea.

They are wind turbines, standing as far as 60 miles from the mainland, stretching as high as 60-story buildings and costing up to $30 million apiece. On some of these giant machines, a single blade roughly equals the wingspan of the largest airliner in the sky, the Airbus A380. By year’s end, scores of new turbines will be sending low-emission electricity to German cities hundreds of miles to the south.

It will be another milestone in Germany’s costly attempt to remake its electricity system, an ambitious project that has already produced striking results: Germans will soon be getting 30 percent of their power from renewable energy sources. Many smaller countries are beating that, but Germany is by far the largest industrial power to reach that level in the modern era. It is more than twice the percentage in the United States.

Germany’s relentless push into renewable energy has implications far beyond its shores. By creating huge demand for wind turbines and especially for solar panels, it has helped lure big Chinese manufacturers into the market, and that combination is driving down costs faster than almost anyone thought possible just a few years ago.

Electric utility executives all over the world are watching nervously as technologies they once dismissed as irrelevant begin to threaten their long-established business plans. Fights are erupting across the United States over the future rules for renewable power. Many poor countries, once intent on building coal-fired power plants to bring electricity to their people, are discussing whether they might leapfrog the fossil age and build clean grids from the outset.

A reckoning is at hand, and nowhere is that clearer than in Germany. Even as the country sets records nearly every month for renewable power production, the changes have devastated its utility companies, whose profits from power generation have collapsed.

Professional naysayers, bought-and-paid-for skeptics, conservative ideologues rooted to political failures like Ayn Rand see the fruit of their labors rejected by economic reality – as usual. Solid facts, real advances are beginning to progress as predicted – or better. That won’t shut them up. The money tap remains wide open. But, ordinary folks, working class, middle class, however you slice and dice your class analysis, are starting to reap the benefits of the new means of renewable energy production.

No one is more tradition-bound than public utilities. They function like constipated manure machines. They’ve been producing cowshit for research and analysis for so many generations they are incapable of changing their business model to match a dynamic economic landscape.

Meanwhile, globalized competition encouraged by the group of nations acting responsibly to counter climate change are affecting the cash flow and profits of corporations sitting around like children in a temper tantrum – demanding the people who recognized the need for change now spend tax dollars to bail them out of their self-generated disaster.

They should be replaced by common sense, scientific, economic solutions. Send them away. Build them a leaky rest home next to one of the Koch Brothers coal heaps.

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Gay widower entitled to benefits despite official Arizona bigotry


Fred McQuire and George Martinez, love and marriage

A judge handed a victory on Friday to a gay man who lost his spouse to cancer last month and was denied death benefits because Arizona does not recognize same-sex marriage.

Fred McQuire and George Martinez were partners of 45 years who got married in California this summer, fulfilling one of their final wishes as they both dealt with serious health issues.

Martinez died in late August, but McQuire was unable to receive social security and veteran benefits because Arizona bans gay marriage.

McQuire went to court on Friday as his lawyers asked US District Judge John Sedwick to let McQuire be listed as Martinez’s spouse on the death certificate, which they believed would help qualify him for the benefits. The judge quickly issued a ruling in favour of McQuire…

Sedwick ruled that McQuire demonstrated that he faced irreparable harm on the basis of the loss of his dignity and status while he was in the midst of his grief…

Without ruling on the larger issues of whether the ban is unconstitutional, the judge said the state’s argument that its marriage laws do not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation lacks merit, pointing out that the reason same-sex couples do not marry is because of their sexual orientation.

Martinez was a Vietnam war veteran who died late last month of pancreatic cancer that is blamed on his exposure to Agent Orange. While in the throes of the illness and chemotherapy, he and McQuire travelled to California to get married, calling it “demeaning and unfair” to have to go out-of-state to exchange their vows.

“I feel frightened and worried about what will happen to Fred after I die,” Martinez wrote in an August court filing just two weeks before he died. “Although Fred and I are legally married under the laws of California, the fact that the US government honours our marriage while Arizona does not is confusing and stressful.”

James Campbell, a lawyer arguing on behalf of the state, said blah, blah, blah!.

More details in the article.

You know, being an old fart, I can actually remember when being conservative didn’t require you to be a bigot or stupid. I think the credit should go to Nixon for the change. Though, old George W. certainly tried hard for the stupid part.

The Medicare “miracle” arrives as expected, on time

So, what do you think about those Medicare numbers? What, you haven’t heard about them? Well, they haven’t been front-page news. But something remarkable has been happening on the health-spending front, and it should (but probably won’t) transform a lot of our political debate…

…A funny thing has happened: Health spending has slowed sharply, and it’s already well below projections made just a few years ago. The falloff has been especially pronounced in Medicare, which is spending $1,000 less per beneficiary than the Congressional Budget Office projected just four years ago…

First, our supposed fiscal crisis has been postponed, perhaps indefinitely. The federal government is still running deficits, but they’re way down. True, the red ink is still likely to swell again in a few years, if only because more baby boomers will retire and start collecting benefits; but, these days, projections of federal debt as a percentage of G.D.P. show it creeping up rather than soaring. We’ll probably have to raise more revenue eventually, but the long-term fiscal gap now looks much more manageable than the deficit scolds would have you believe.

Second, the slowdown in Medicare helps refute one common explanation of the health-cost slowdown: that it’s mainly the product of a depressed economy, and that spending will surge again once the economy recovers. That could explain low private spending, but Medicare is a government program, and shouldn’t be affected by the recession. In other words, the good news on health costs is for real…

But what accounts for this good news? The third big implication of the Medicare cost miracle is that everything the usual suspects have been saying about fiscal responsibility is wrong…

It turns out, however, that raising the Medicare age would hardly save any money. Meanwhile, Medicare is spending much less than expected, and those Obamacare cost-saving measures are at least part of the story. The conventional wisdom on what is and isn’t serious is completely wrong…

What’s the moral here? For years, pundits and politicians have insisted that guaranteed health care is an impossible dream, even though every other advanced country has it. Covering the uninsured was supposed to be unaffordable; Medicare as we know it was supposed to be unsustainable. But it turns out that incremental steps to improve incentives and reduce costs can achieve a lot, and covering the uninsured isn’t hard at all.

RTFA, wander through some of the details.

Please, understand that this nation is also capable of implementing the single-payer system that every sensible nation already has in place. Just like the sudden “solution” to a percentage of school loan debt – you don’t need a middleman to process the paperwork. Funneling compensation through insurance companies is like funneling government loans through banks. You only add a additional layer of profit on top of what’s necessary – to reward corporations for adding nothing of value.

Palliative care, end-of-life counseling moves forward even if politicians don’t

Pain

Five years after it exploded into a political conflagration over “death panels,” the issue of paying doctors to talk to patients about end-of-life care is making a comeback, and such sessions may be covered for the 50 million Americans on Medicare as early as next year.

Bypassing the political process, private insurers have begun reimbursing doctors for these “advance care planning” conversations as interest in them rises along with the number of aging Americans. People are living longer with illnesses, and many want more input into how they will spend their final days, including whether they want to die at home or in the hospital, and whether they want full-fledged life-sustaining treatment, just pain relief or something in between. Some states, including Colorado and Oregon, recently began covering the sessions for Medicaid patients.

But far more significant, Medicare may begin covering end-of-life discussions next year if it approves a recent request from the American Medical Association, the country’s largest association of physicians and medical students. One of the A.M.A.’s roles is to create billing codes for medical services, codes used by doctors, hospitals and insurers. It recently created codes for end-of-life conversations and submitted them to Medicare.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which runs Medicare, would not discuss whether it will agree to cover end-of-life discussions; its decision is expected this fall. But the agency often adopts A.M.A. recommendations, which are developed in meetings attended by its representatives…and discussion with bible-thumping populist idjits is useless as ever. Why waste the time?…

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Painkiller deaths reduced by 25% in states with medical marijuana

States that have legalized medical marijuana tend to experience an unexpected benefit — fewer overdose deaths from narcotic painkillers…

Access to medical marijuana is associated with 25 percent fewer prescription drug overdose deaths each year compared to states where medical pot is illegal, according to findings published Aug. 25 in JAMA Internal Medicine.

What’s more, states that pass medical marijuana laws see their overdose death rates decrease dramatically in the years immediately afterward…

The study authors believe that people suffering from chronic pain tend to rely on medical marijuana when they have that option, which reduces the risk of addiction and overdose that accompanies use of narcotic medications.

The study used data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to determine the prescription painkiller overdose death rate for each state between 1999 and 2010, and then took into account whether and when each state had passed a medical marijuana law…

Critics are trying hard to come up with rationales that support continued reliance on the profitable trade in prescription painkillers – and don’t confront idjit ideology that says cannabis is the Antichrist.

Overdose deaths from prescription painkillers have skyrocketed over the past two decades, increasing 118 percent between 1999 and 2011, according to the CDC.

The agency estimates that every day 113 people die from drug overdoses in the United States, and another 6,700 land in the emergency room from an overdose…

States’ overdose death rates decline an average 20 percent in the first year following the passage of a medical marijuana law, the researchers found. By the second year, overdose death rates on average decline 25 percent, and as much as 33 percent by five years after legalization of medical pot.

Medical marijuana laws also are associated with a more dramatic decrease in overdose death rates than other means commonly used to tackle prescription drug abuse, the study noted.

There is no reason for Congressional opposition to medical marijuana other than it may cut down contributions from amoral corporations chartered to profit from pain and illness.

Creeps like Mitch McConnell and Erik Paulsen may as well take their contributions directly from the drug cartels instead of the painkiller producers. Cut out the middleman.

378 in a row – Starbucks drive-through customers pay for next person’s drink

A random act of kindness at a Tampa-area Starbucks set into motion a chain of giving that lasted for nearly 400 customers…Around 7 a.m. a woman ordering from the coffee house’s drive-through paid for her own drink and said she’d like to pay for the customer behind her. Moved by the stranger’s generosity, that customer returned the favor for the next, who did the same.

The chain grew so big that employees began keeping a tally of consecutive customers who chose to “pay it forward.” The tally was over 250 by 1:30…

As the afternoon rush hour came and more and more customers kept the streak going, the baristas entertained hopes of it continuing until closing and perhaps using a gift card to extend it to the following day.

But around 6:00 p.m., customer number 379 crushed their hopes of a fairy-tale ending. An unknown woman driving a white Jeep Commander refused to pay for anything but her own drink — even though it had already been paid for. Starbucks employee Vu Nguyen explained the special circumstances but the woman was unmoved and, in Nguyen’s opinion, visibly unable to understand the concept of paying it forward.

Oh, it would be so easy to identify the politics, personal philosophy of someone who doesn’t comprehend good works. Tempting. But, not enough data.

Now, imagine trying to get the same thing started at a corner liquor store or cigarette shop! Phew.

Not-so-incidentally, this really is a Starbucks tradition. The record was set last December’s holiday season with 1468 customers in Newington, Connecticut…and ran from Tuesday morning the 24th through Saturday evening the 28th.

What a free trade zone is all about – Amazon ready to expand in China!

amazonchina

Amazon.com will set up shop in China’s Shanghai free trade zone, the company said on Wednesday, aiming to take advantage of less stringent trade regulations to sell a wider range of products in the country.

The U.S. online retailer’s move shows an intent not only to remain in China but to beef up its presence in an e-commerce market dominated by Alibaba Group Holding and Beijing-based JD.com, the second-biggest player.

Amazon did not say when the company is likely to begin operations in the free trade zone, which enjoys more relaxed import and export regulations than the rest of China.

The company is also pushing its Amazon Web Services (AWS) cloud computing business in China and said in December that the country will have its own AWS region to improve speeds for its mainly corporate customers…

Amazon’s move to the free trade zone comes nearly a year after the zone was launched, attracting attention from overseas businesses and hailed as one of China’s boldest reforms in decades. However, there has been a lack of specific policy details since the initial fanfare.

Foreign banks, such as Citigroup and HSBC Holdings have set up branches in the zone, but many foreign companies have been reluctant to follow suit, citing a lack of clarity on what will and will not be allowed in the zone.

The 2nd half of that last sentence is representative of what investors call the chickenshit index. Since Reuters was purchased by Thomson you’re bound to find some editorializing by omission. It’s the imperial disease.

In truth, this first free trade zone has been so successful that another dozen or more cities around China are lobbying to follow Shanghai’s model.

Want to post a public rating for the cop you just faced? There’s an app for that.

Three teens in Georgia just made a mobile app they hope will help prevent the next police shooting of an unarmed young person…It’s called Five-O, after the slang term for police, and it’s the brainchild of siblings Ima, 16, Asha, 15, and Caleb Christian, 14, who live in a suburb of Atlanta.

Here’s how it works: After interacting with a cop, users open the app and fill out a Yelp-like form on which they can grade the officer’s courtesy from A to F, check a box if they were verbally or physically abused, and add details about the incident. They can view ratings on other cops and police departments across the country, participate in community forums, and check out a Q&A titled “Know Your Rights.”

Ima Christian says their parents encouraged them to think about how they could respond productively to incidents like Brown’s death. “One of the things they really stress is that we focus on finding solutions,” she told Mother Jones. “We really hope that Five-O will be able to give every citizen a voice when interacting with the police.”

But the Christians say Five-O isn’t just for outing bad cops; they hope it will help also highlight good policing. “We want people to be able to document if the police are very courteous or if they save your cat or something,” Ima says…

The siblings have been honing their coding skills since elementary school by participating in the MIT programs +K12, Scratch, and App Inventor, and they’ve also taken programming classes at Georgia Tech and Emory, all with encouragement from their parents. They’ve started their own app development company, Pine Tart, Inc., and they’re currently working on two other projects…

Solid. Filling a need with modern tech designed by the youngest among us in this online world. I love it.

I’ve been online since 1983, watching the changes, hoping for more real content like this. Yes, there’s lots of other niche products, some serious growing of whole world communications and knowledge out here. But, watching a couple of kid-coders knock out something like this app warms the cockles of this cranky old activist geek.

He’s in the top 1% of the 1% — and he wants a $15 an hour minimum wage

nick-hanauer

The fundamental law of capitalism is that if workers have no money, businesses have no customers. That’s why the extreme, and widening, wealth gap in our economy presents not just a moral challenge, but an economic one, too. In a capitalist system, rising inequality creates a death spiral of falling demand that ultimately takes everyone down…

Policy makers debate incremental changes for arresting this vicious cycle. But perhaps the most powerful and elegant antidote is sitting right before us: a spike in the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour.

True, that sounds like a lot. When President Barack Obama called in February for an increase to $9 an hour from $7.25, he was accused of being a dangerous redistributionist. Yet consider this: If the minimum wage had simply tracked U.S. productivity gains since 1968, it would be $21.72 an hour — three times what it is now…

Raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour would inject about $450 billion into the economy each year. That would give more purchasing power to millions of poor and lower-middle-class Americans, and would stimulate buying, production and hiring.

Studies by the Economic Policy Institute show that a $15 minimum wage would directly affect 51 million workers and indirectly benefit an additional 30 million. That’s 81 million people, or about 64 percent of the workforce, and their families who would be more able to buy cars, clothing and food from our nation’s businesses.

This virtuous cycle effect is described in the research of economists David Card and Alan Krueger (the current chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers) showing that, contrary to conventional economic orthodoxy, increases in the minimum wage increase employment. In 60 percent of the states that raised the minimum wage during periods of high unemployment, job growth was faster than the national average.

Some business people oppose an increase in the minimum wage as needless government interference in the workings of the market. In fact, a big increase would substantially reduce government intervention and dependency on public assistance programs.

An objection to a significant wage increase is that it would force employers to shed workers. Yet the evidence points the other way: Workers earn more and spend more, increasing demand and helping businesses grow.

Critics of raising the minimum wage also say it will lead to more outsourcing and job loss. Yet virtually all of these low-wage jobs are service jobs that can neither be outsourced nor automated.

Raising the earnings of all American workers would provide all businesses with more customers with more to spend. Seeing the economy as Henry Ford did would redirect our country toward a high-growth future that works for all.

Nick Hanauer really is in the top 1% of America’s 1%. One of the original investors in Amazon.com, he and his partners in Second Avenue Investors own their own bank. He sold his ad agency to Microsoft for $6.4 billion in 2007 – in cash. He is a self-described plutocrat.

He would like to prevent a revolution. Something on the order of French peasants and workers rolling out the guillotine in 1793. He believes economic justice will rescue our economy from the crapper it was dropped into by investment bankers in 2007 – and rebuild a prosperous nation with a healthy middle class.

Or you could pay attention to the scumbag side of class warfare in the Republican Party.