Diesel ban approved for German cities

❝ German cities will be allowed to ban older diesel vehicles from some areas following a landmark court ruling.

The Federal Administrative Court in Leipzig said the cities of Stuttgart and Duesseldorf could legally ban older, more polluting diesel cars from zones worst affected by pollution.

The ruling sets a precedent for other cities and analysts said it could lead to similar action across Europe…

❝ The ruling by a top federal court came after German states had appealed against bans imposed by local courts in Stuttgart and Duesseldorf…

The likelihood now is that the German government will rush to introduce some sort of national policy, to ensure at least some level of consistency across the country.

I imagine some US cities and states will take the lead here to step out ahead of an incompetent Congress and a White House that pimps for 19th Century industrial standards.

United States’ last best chance to fix infrastructure, refinance debt

Sure has been a while…

❝ There are times when a confluence of events creates a rare opportunity. The U.S. now is at one of those moments…

❝ Campaign promises were made by the president-elect to upgrade infrastructure;
The U.S. federal debt is almost $20 trillion;
The U.S. has both a high credit rating and a stable, growing economy;
There is a worldwide shortage of sovereign, A-rated bonds;
Negative interest rates are prevalent around the world;
The U.S.’s infrastructure is outdated and deteriorating;
Interest rates are very low, but will likely rise in the near future;
The president-elect comes to office with a background in real-estate development and understands the use of debt.

❝ If this were an equation, the above points would result in an obvious answer: the refinancing of long-term debt and obligations at the lowest possible rate for the longest possible time. I am suggesting that the U.S. issue bonds that mature in 50 or 100 years…

❝ Improving U.S. roads, highways, bridges and tunnels as well replacing or constructing new transport systems is a two-part project: first, commit to making the basic repairs to counter the effects of wear, tear, weather and age. One part of the solution is to fully fund the national Highway Trust Fund by raising the federal gasoline tax. Second, use long-term bonds to upgrade the transportation system, electrical grid and water works that are so crucial to the U.S.’s well-being.

RTFA for the details of Barry Ritholtz’ outline in the issuance and sale of bonds up to 100 year term. We wouldn’t even be the first in North America on the street. Doesn’t lessen the sensible character of his proposal.

Thanks, Barry Ritholtz

Global air pollution is worse than you ever thought it was

Click to enlargeBBC

The World Health Organization — which has previously found that indoor and outdoor air pollution killed a shocking 7 million people globally in 2012 — released a new analysis Tuesday underscoring the extent of the risk, which seems to grow worse and worse the more we learn about how damaging tiny airborne particles can be to our health.

Most strikingly, the new report, which combines local data with a global model to determine the extent of deadly air pollution across the planet even in places where there are no instruments recording it, finds that 92 percent of people suffer under pollution levels that are worse than WHO standards (as of 2014). The vast majority of deaths are in developing countries. The document calls air pollution the “largest environmental risk factor.”

Of greatest concern is a form of pollution called PM2.5, referring to particles smaller than 2.5 micrometers. The global health agency believes that a concentration greater than 10 micrograms per cubic meter of these fine particles in the air qualifies as dangerous. The great risk is that the particles are so small that they can be inhaled, travel into the lungs, and enter the bloodstream…

The new report credits air pollution with “about one in every nine deaths annually…”

In general, developed nations such as the United States have managed to clean their air substantially in recent years, but WHO has found that in developing countries the burden remains quite high. A previous report from earlier this year from the agency found that the Indian capital city of Delhi had annually averaged PM2.5 levels of 122, or more than 12 times the safe level…

In other words, Air pollution is improving in rich countries, but it’s still getting worse in most developing countries.

Obama sends transportation bill to Congress

The Obama administration…sent a bill to Congress that aims to cover an expected shortage in money to spend on America’s bridges, roads and transit systems, but Republican opposition could prevent its passage.

Wow…there’s a fracking surprise!

Funding for the four-year, $302 billion legislation would come partly from ending certain tax breaks for businesses, a provision opposed by many Republicans. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said the administration would be open to other ideas to raise the money…

The Highway Trust Fund traditionally has been bankrolled by taxes on gasoline and diesel, but with fuel use stagnant the fund is not bringing in enough revenue to cover infrastructure needs. It is projected to run out of money as soon as August…

Congress has all but ruled out raising the 18.4-cents-a-gallon tax on gasoline and the 24.4-cents-a-gallon levy on diesel, which is the main source of funding for the trust fund.

Democrats understand those are regressive taxes that mostly harm working families. Republicans are just worried about the Trucking Lobby.

Foxx said some states are already canceling or delaying transportation projects “because of the uncertainty at the federal level.”

The administration’s proposal would address the trust fund’s looming shortfall and provide an additional $87 billion to pay for a backlog of repairs such as structurally deficient bridges and aging transit systems.

A report last week by the American Road and Transportation Builders Association estimated that roughly one in 10 U.S. bridges, more than 63,000, is in urgent need of repair. Many are part of the interstate highway system.

Folks like me have been beating our heads against the wall of corporate defense the Republican Party and Blue Dog Democrats have built around Congress. Bad enough they spend every waking hour fighting to prevent the most wealthy in this land from coughing up a fair share of the cost of running this country [on their behalf]. But, even tax breaks that are starting to expire are considered sacred by the cows who milk us.

Staff sergeant says she betrayed her country and her family – as an embezzler in Afghanistan

This is how we shipped cash to Iraq for Bremer

In Afghanistan, Tonya Long, a 13-year Army veteran, approved military cash payments to Afghan drivers of “jingle trucks,” the colorful transport trucks that carry supplies to U.S. bases.

Last week, Staff Sgt. Long stood in the dock in a federal courtroom here and read aloud from a statement she had written on notebook paper:

“I cannot express how sorry I am … I chose to betray my country and my family.” She did not ask for mercy, she told a judge, “because I don’t deserve it.”

Long, 30, had pleaded guilty to stealing at least $1 million and shipping the cash in hundred-dollar bills to the U.S. in the guts of hollowed-out VCR players.

Long’s scam is part of a pattern of fraud and theft among U.S. soldiers responsible for paying Afghans who support U.S. forces. Last year, 18 U.S. soldiers were charged with such thefts, according to the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction. Nine U.S. contractors also were charged…

At least two other U.S. Army officers are under investigation in Long’s scam, and federal prosecutors say more indictments are likely. As part of a plea deal, Long agreed to testify against others allegedly involved.

At Long’s hearing March 4, U.S. District Judge Terrence Boyle called the case “a critically symbolic prosecution,” and speculated that Long and her suspected allies might have actually stolen $10 million or more. The judge suggested that such thefts have been going on since the U.S. mission in Afghanistan began more than a decade ago.

The judge said…Long’s theft undermined America’s mission in a country where the Afghan government is routinely accused of rampant corruption and bribery…

“There were tens of thousands of other soldiers … under 24-hour-a-day threat of death,” the judge told Long. “Where is your sympathy for them while you were stealing? What a betrayal!”

Under Long’s plea agreement, Boyle could not sentence her to more than five years in prison. He told her he was imposing the full five years, plus three years of supervised release — and ordered restitution of $1 million.

Someone mail me a penny postcard when Dick Cheney, George W Bush and flunkies like Paul Bremer and Ahmad Chalabi are indicted for corruption – sending our nation’s military off to war in Iraq and Afghanistan, “losing” money by the pallet-load.

There’s no denying Sergeant Long is a crook. But, her crime compares to those of Bremer, Chalabi and Company like someone robbing parking meters compared to car theft rings shipping boatloads of hot cars to Mexico. And she didn’t kill any civilians in the process.

Stocks rally on decision to rebuild, repair, expand infrastructure to aid commerce – oh wait, that’s China not the United States!

The redesigned Hangzhou South railway station

China approved plans to build 1,254 miles of roads, spurring the biggest stock- market rally in almost eight months on signs the government is stepping up stimulus efforts to revive economic growth.

The government also backed nine sewage-treatment plants, five port and warehouse projects, and two waterway upgrades, according to statements on the website of the National Development and Reform Commission yesterday…

The Shanghai Composite Index closed 3.7 percent higher, led by construction stocks, on speculation infrastructure spending will help bolster growth that’s cooled to the slowest pace in three years. The announcements came a day after approvals for subway projects in 18 cities, an earlier rise in the railway- building budget and increases in land supplies in cities including Guangzhou, Hangzhou, Beijing and Shanghai.

They are clearly stepping up the infrastructure-investment push to help boost confidence and revive growth,” said Zhang Zhiwei, Hong Kong-based chief China economist at Nomura Holdings Inc. Premier Wen Jiabao’s policy stance is shifting “to a more proactive and significant easing…”

“China’s central government finally took real actions to arrest the worsening slowdown,” Bank of America Corp. economist Lu Ting said in a note. “Adding home supply and improving urban infrastructure are the two best ways to contain home prices, speed up urbanization and increase social welfare…”

The approvals on Sept. 5 for a total of 25 new subway and inter-city rail projects are worth more than $126 billion, or 1.7 percent of 2011 gross domestic product, according to HSBC. The spending will run from the second half of the year to 2018, it said…

The NDRC backing may accelerate metro-rail developments, most of which were already in local governments’ plans, Citigroup analysts Jenny Zhen and Paul Gong said in a note to clients yesterday.

“This sentiment is positive for the whole railway- construction and equipment sector,” they said…

If you’re interested in the global economy, one of the funniest things you can do is watch Asian Squawk Box on CNBC-World with Bernie Lo. Bernie’s a dyed-in-the-wool Republican and a Baptist to boot. He tries very hard to ask leading question of Asian old hands – to paint China as a failing economy envious of American accomplishments.

I watched him the other night as he tried to press one of the lifers for a typical Wall Street 2-3 month outlook on structural economic changes in China. He got the usual sigh, followed by – you have to learn that China’s economic planners, the government as a whole ignores what the stock market is doing in its various up-and-down joyride. They look to what will achieve the greatest improvement over a 2 to 5 year period. They want to ensure the fullest employment and growth in the nation’s economy – not just a bump that satisfies daytraders and short-term profiteers.

Meanwhile, we sit here in the GOUSA and get to watch alternating panic and euphoria from Biz TV talking heads and politicians who are most expert at blaming someone else – anyone will do – instead of Congressional corporate pimps who are most accomplished at sitting on their hands when they’re not busy picking our pockets.

Eyewitness: building an Airbus A350 from the inside-out

Click on photo to enlarge

Employees work on an A350 Airbus plane at the company’s facility near Saint-Nazaire, western France. The company is to hire 4,000 staff in 2012, about half of them in France.

The growth at Airbus is matched pretty much one-for-one at Boeing. As the global economy shuffles forward from the joys brought to us by an unregulated Wall Street, an underfunded SEC, a total disregard for oversight, honesty and integrity for a decade or more – some aspects continue to grow slowly and steadily – especially in capital goods.

In spite of 19th Century ideologues who prefer to return us to Bush-league standards.

A website in India for whistleblowers on bribery

Imagine if you had to pay a bribe to see your newborn baby, get your water supply connected or obtain your driving licence. It’s an everyday fact of life in India – but campaigners are now using people power and the internet to fight back.

“Uncover the market price of corruption,” proclaims the banner on the homepage of ipaidabribe.com.

It invites people to share their experiences of bribery, what a bribe was for, where it took place and how much was involved.

Launched in August, the site gives Indians a chance to vent their frustrations and shine a spotlight on the impact of corruption on everyday life.

“I did the driving test correctly but still the official said I was driving too slow, I realised his intention so gave him 200 Rupees and got the thing done,” is a typical example of a posting…

The website was the brainwave of Ramesh and Swati Ramanathan, founders of a not-for-profit organisation in Bangalore called Janaagraha which literally means “people power”.

“Bribery is routinely expected in interactions with government officials”, Swati Ramanathan told me, “to register your house, to get your driving licence, domestic water connection, even a death certificate.”

Having lived in the US and the UK for several years, they were dismayed on their return to see how widespread corruption had become and decided to do something about it…

The website has evolved into a consumer comparison site where people can also get information and advice in different languages on how to avoid paying bribes…

So far, nearly 10,000 bribe experiences have been reported across 347 cities and 19 government departments…

Twenty senior officers have been cautioned, and technology is now being introduced to minimise the opportunities for bribe-taking.

Bravo! One of the best uses of enforced transparency in government.

You can’t count on politicians to volunteer transparency; but, you certainly can give it to them – whether they want it or not.

Tests match NHTSA results – no electronic flaws in Toyota brakes

Not much to do with the topic – but, it rocks!

After dissecting Toyota’s engine control software and bathing its microchips in every type of radiation engineers could think of, federal investigators found no evidence that the company’s cars are susceptible to sudden acceleration from electronic failures.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood walked to the podium to deliver the results of a report released Tuesday by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration which found no electronic flaws to explain reports of sudden, unintentional acceleration in Toyota vehicles.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration concluded the sudden acceleration was caused by mechanical problems in some Toyota models — sticking accelerator pedals and floor mat interference — that it had previously identified as causes…

Toyota eventually recalled more than 11 million Toyota and Lexus vehicles globally because of floor mats and sticky accelerator pedals. It also paid three fines totaling $48.8 million, because, the Transportation Department said, Toyota had not reacted appropriately to reports of problems.

The jury is back,” said Ray LaHood, the transportation secretary. “The verdict is in. There is no electronic-based cause for unintended high-speed acceleration in Toyotas. Period…”

In a statement, Steve St. Angelo, Toyota’s chief quality officer for North America, said the automaker hoped the study would help put to rest questions about the reliability of Toyota’s electronic systems…

The government said it was considering new research, on “the placement and design of accelerator and brake pedals, as well as driver usage of pedals, to determine whether design and placement can be improved to reduce pedal misapplication.”

Please don’t let them do that. Can you imagine every driver in the United States having to learn where to put their feet all over again? Bad enough we have a certain percentage who can’t deal with the pattern they grew up with.

The one addition that I know will warm the cockles of insurance company hearts [do they have hearts?] is black box recorders which will retain the last few seconds of vehicle actions before a crash. That could be useful to providing crash info for design – as well dissuade some frivolous lawsuits – and help prove legit lawsuits.

The usual disclaimer. I make enough from the few shares of Toyota I own to buy me some sushi in downtown Santa Fe.

U.S. Army orders bridges made of recycled plastic

Axion International Holdings has won a $957,000 contract to provide the U.S. Army with two bridges made from a thermoplastic composite and recycled plastic.

The two bridges, which are replacing old wooden ones, will be constructed at Fort Eustis in Virginia from a proprietary Recycled Structural Composite (RSC) developed by Axion in conjunction with scientists at Rutgers University.

The railroad cross-ties will be made entirely of a plastic composed of recycled materials from both consumer and industrial plastic waste…

The location is significant. Fort Eustis is home to the U.S. Army Transportation Corps, the branch of the Army responsible for coordinating the movement of personnel and cargo. The Fort Eustis motto is Einstein’s famous quote “Nothing happens, until something moves.” It’s also the location of the U.S. Army Transportation Museum.

But this is not the first military bridge to be made out of plastic by Axion for the military. The Army has previously built plastic bridges for Fort Bragg and Camp Mackall in North Carolina using materials and structural design that allowed for a bearing load of 73 tons for tracked vehicles and 88 tons for cars and trucks. To demonstrate its strength a 70-ton M1A1 Abrams tank was driven across the bridge at its official unveiling in September.

The Pentagon moves forward into the realm of common sense, recycling, 21st Century design.

Skeptics, of course, will stick with coal-fired locomotives and other objects and ideology suitable only for theme parks.