Another Close Call

It is a wonder that the wind industry is not only surviving attacks from the political right and its wealthy supporters but is doing remarkably well under the circumstances.

In the recent battles over the “fiscal cliff” the relatively meager subsidies from the Federal government barely escaped the sharp knife that is constantly wielded by those who would prefer to see the country go the way of Big Oil. In fact, there has been an ongoing battle against alternative energy funded by an array of opposition groups supported by billionaire oilmen Charles and David Koch. This movement hides behind such seemingly respectable names as the “Manhattan Institute” and the “American Energy Alliance” and is geared toward promoting the agenda of Big Oil and bringing the growth of clean energy to a halt — regardless of how many lies and deceptions it requires.

Australian Canunda Wind Farm. South Australia         (Wikipedia)

Australian Canunda Wind Farm. South Australia (Wikipedia)

One such lie is that wind energy will not really help climate change. In fact, as we can read in this month’s Sierra magazine, “the Renewable Energy Laboratory says otherwise, finding that every gigawatt of wind power annually offsets 2.6 million tons of CO2. The Department of Energy estimates that if the United States could generate 20 percent of its power through wind by 2030 it would eliminate 825 million tons of green house emissions.”

In their attempt to shut down the clean energy movement, the Koch brothers have put pressure on Congress to eliminate the subsidies that were initiated by President George H.W. Bush and are essential for any industry starting up. For example, while the clean energy industry must beg for renewals of Federal subsidies on a year-to-year basis, the oil industry has enjoyed guaranteed subsidies for many years: between 2002 and 2008 these subsidies for Big Oil amounted to $70.2 billion while a mere $12.2 billion went to all renewables combined.

Fearing the discontinuance of subsidies during the recent fiscal cliff fiasco, the wind energy industry, which previously employed 75,000 people, had to lay off hundreds of employees while the near-miss spooked investors, slowed down production, and brought new wind farm projects to a grinding halt. As mentioned above, it is remarkable that the industry has survived at all. Given the serious need for alternative energies to offset our reliance on foreign oil, not to mention the need to save the planet, one can only wonder how successful this country might be if the Congress had given clean energy the sort of support the fossil fuel industries have enjoyed in the past.

Because of wind energy’s close call this past year and the slow-down that followed, 2013 will not be as remarkable a year for clean energy as was 2012. But since the tax credits will be extended beyond this year for projects started this year, 2014 promises to be a much better year. Now, if only the Congress would make a ten-year commitment, as they have done with Big Oil, things would really start to take off. We might even catch up with Germany and China.

But I do believe that the will and determination to reverse the current trend is there and that it will eventually win out. It’s just a question of time. But that time is running out and it would come so much faster if people like the Koch brothers were to wake up, realize that theirs is a finite resource and that clean energy can not only create thousands of jobs — as it has already shown — but also make the investors a ton of money. Just ask smart investors like Warren Buffett, T. Boone Pickens, and Al Gore.

Political Scum

A recent story on Yahoo News was somewhat disquieting but not that surprising under the circumstances. It begins as follows:

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A U.S. government agency has withdrawn a report that challenged Republican ideas about taxes and economic growth – an action that drew fire from Democrats who accused it on Thursday of bowing to political pressure.

Republican lawmakers blasted the Congressional Research Service (CRS) report when it was issued in September and then went to the agency to complain. The report suggested that lower tax rates on the wealthy are not linked to economic growth, an item of faith among many conservatives.

The attack on the agency was led by Republican Senators Mitch McConnell and Orrin Hatch who released statements replete with political gobbledygook about the unreliability of the study and questioning its methodology. This is standard operating procedure these days: we don’t like what the study concludes, so let’s question the methodology. That is to be expected. What is not to be expected is the pressure these Republicans were able to bring to bear on the agency to force them to withdraw the report. Do I hear cries of “foul!”?

This is the season for dirty politics as we realize — on both sides of the political aisle. But some tricks seem to be dirtier than others and refusing to allow a group to do its job on the grounds that they have uncovered evidence to support a conclusion that is in opposition to party ideology seems to be very low indeed: down there with political scum.

We are all concerned about the economy. For some it has become the only issue that matters in the present election. But the trickle down economic theory that began with Ronald Reagan and was later coupled with tax breaks for the wealthy under George W. Bush are the major reasons our economy is in such dire straights at the present moment. Despite the mountain of evidence to the contrary, the Republicans would still have us believe that reducing taxes on the wealthy in this country will benefit the rest of us and thereby turn the economy around and they don’t want us to believe anything to the contrary. In fact, while they weep crocodile tears about the weak economy, the wealthy are hoarding their wealth and not investing it in economic growth. There is no “trickle down.”

Consider the following: Prior to 1981 when this country was experiencing considerable economic strength, the percentage of their income the very wealthy paid in federal taxes was anywhere from 40% to 70%.  Then under Bill Clinton the wealthy who now pay at most 35% of their acknowledged income in taxes (Mitt Romney pays 14%) were asked to pay 39% and the economy began to recover from its slide that began soon after Ronald Reagan introduced supply-side Reaganomics early in his presidency — the infamous “trickle-down” theory, which George H.W. Bush called “voodoo economics.” When sizable tax breaks for the wealthy were ushered in during “W’s” regime in 2001 and again in 2003 the downward slide began again in earnest. Furthermore, this country as a whole has one of the lowest tax rates among all of the developed countries in the world while the Tea Party screams hysterically about “cutting taxes” and the wealthy insist that they should be taxed even less than they are at present.

One can quibble about probable causes, but the fact remains that when the wealthy paid their fair share of taxes the economy was on much firmer ground. Whether or not there is a causal relationship here one cannot say for certain. Economics is not an exact science. But it is clear that the wealthy in this country do not pay their share of the taxes; and the trickle down theory of economics has been a bad joke. The strength of our economy depends on the buying power of a healthy middle class, not pennies “trickling down” from the overflowing pockets of the fat cats.

Thus we have two conjoined issues here:  first, the wealthy refuse to pay their fair share of the taxes required to get this economy back on its feet, and next there are the foul political shenanigans that have forced a federal agency to withdraw a report that would confirm the fact that lower taxes for the wealthy don’t help the economy one whit.  What’s wrong with this picture?

Blowin’ In The Wind

One of the remarkable success stories in this country is the amazing strides the wind power industry has made despite the lack of a coherent eco-energy program formulated and supported by our Congress. In fact, the success has come in spite of strong opposition from the right-wing of that body. The Republicans have historically resisted any attempts by this country to go green. One can speculate that this results from the political favors owed to Big Oil which spends millions of dollars every year to get their subsidies and help them push through friendly legislation. Clean energy is not on the Republican agenda for the most part.

There are exceptions, of course. A number of key Republicans such as Senator Charles Grassley (R) from Iowa and Representative Mac Thornberry (R) from Texas have a vested interest in seeing at least wind power prosper. They are representing states where thousands of people are employed helping to produce the wind turbines. When jobs for their constituents are at stake the Republicans do know how to dance.

But on the whole, the Republicans in Congress resist the movement toward clean energy and as I write this it appears the wind power industry is about to be dealt a stunning blow. The renewable-energy production tax credits for wind power signed into law by President George H.W. Bush in 1992 are about to expire at the end of this year. This would be a severe blow indeed. There are 38 states in this country currently producing wind energy. As the recent issue of the Sierra magazine tells us, “This summer the installed capacity of U.S. wind turbines hit 50 gigawatts — as much as can be generated by 44 coal-fired power plants, or 11 nuclear-powered ones.” The U.S. ranks second  behind China as the world’s largest producers of wind energy.

However, as of this writing Republican opposition in Congress has blocked authorization to continue the present subsidies for wind power. If that opposition is not shaken by key members of the Republican party, like Grassley, Thornberry, and Representative Tom Latham (R-Iowa), it could well cost 37,000 American jobs. In fact, more than 400 jobs have already been lost due to the sporadic nature of the political process that plays keep away with the subsidies, while Big Oil continues to enjoys uninterrupted subsidies of $2.7– $4 billion a year. In addition, Wind-turbine manufacturer Vestas in Colorado is at present preparing to lay off an additional 1,600.

Perhaps the possibility of lost jobs in the states represented by key legislators will win the day. But we can be assured that there will be a battle between the short-term interests of Big Oil (and wealthy men like the Koch brothers who are up to their ears in dirty energy) and the clean energy movement itself which desperately needs the support of the majority of Congress to grow to its full potential. And it all centers around the Republican party whose major candidate for President is currently campaigning on a platform of “jobs.” And yet the man avoids the topic of clean energy like the plague.

Where’s The Shrub?

When George W. Bush’s father, George H.W. Bush, recently endorsed Mitt Romney reporters asked Romney whether he expected to get the younger Bush’s endorsement. (Let’s call him “the Shrub” to distinguish him from his father, “the Bush.) No one seems to know, and apparently the Republicans aren’t eager to hitch themselves to that particular horse. You remember — the one that led us into two wars and left a huge budget deficit after sneaking into office under questionable circumstances (and the assistance of Ralph Nader). The Republicans in general would prefer if we forgot that and blamed Obama for the mess. As a recent news story mentions, “In a presidential contest dominated by concerns over the economy, government spending and federal debt, the Republican candidates have been loath to acknowledge the extent to which the George W. Bush administration’s policies contributed to those problems.” Indeed.

In any event, it would seem that the Shrub’s silence will be encouraged as Romney hopes to distance himself from what he apparently regards as a political pariah. The Shrub himself also seems to want to remain in the distance — working on the building of the Bush Presidential library at a local university. “‘For now we’re just staying out of it,’ George W. Bush spokesman Freddy Ford said Thursday, declining to comment on a possible endorsement. Ford said Bush was focused on promoting and developing a presidential library bearing his name at Southern Methodist University.” Is it possible to develop a library consisting only of comic books? I’m just askin’.

But it would appear that the Shrub’s father (the Bush) doesn’t seem to want to remember his son’s legacy as 43rd President of the United States. We are told that his picture is hidden in the Bush’s office behind a flag. The Bush was actually a pretty good President, as Presidents go these days. His son’s performance must have been a severe disappointment as the Shrub was clearly on anyone’s list of the ten worst Presidents this country has ever had. Henry Adams thought Grant was living proof of the flaw in Darwin’s theory of evolution. But the Shrub would be even stronger evidence. But then Darwin allowed for occasional anomalies so perhaps his theory is safe.

In any event Mitt will have to soldier on without the endorsement (for the time being) of George W. Bush — though he has that of both the Shrub’s father and his brother Jeb. You remember Jeb: he was former governor of Florida and led the charge to pass a law giving permission for people in Florida to shoot first and ask questions later. So, how’s that working out?

Pity the Rich

A recent article in the New York Times is worth a moment’s reflection. It was written by a former Republican insider, Bruce Bartlett, who was a senior policy adviser during both the George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan administrations. He was suggesting (with tongue firmly in cheek) that we pity the rich during hard times. Well, actually, he was reporting that the wealthy seek our sympathy during hard times because they have to suffer a reduction in their large incomes. There’s no doubt that Bartlett has little sympathy for those who cry the loudest. As he put it,

A curious phenomenon occurs during every economic crisis – the rich whine that they are the ones who are suffering most. While obviously one’s capacity to suffer under any circumstances is subjective, when we hear that the very well-to-do, under any reasonable definition of the term, seek pity, it comes across as callous and clueless.

One is reminded of Latrell Sprewell who not long ago turned down a $21 million contract extension to play basketball on the grounds that he had his “family to feed.” What is one to say?

At a time when there are those living at or below the poverty level and many people aren’t sure where their next meal is coming from, we are asked to show sympathy for the fabulous wealthy whose income drops from six figures to five — or from seven to six. Bartlett says the rich claim they suffer “the most” and that it is all “subjective,” but I disagree. It’s not at all subjective, and the rich have no idea what suffering is. The wealthy who complain of lowered income and a change in their fast-lane lifestyle are not deserving of a drop of our sympathy. We should save that for the father of three who was recently laid off by the wealthy fat cat who now bitches about his own sacrifices (and puts the screws on his political friends to make sure he gets more tax breaks). That’s where our sympathy ought to rest.

As Bartlett says, looking back on the pitiful rich in the 1970s, “It’s hard to feel sorry for people who may have saved almost nothing during their prosperous years and made 50 percent more than the median family income of $13,000 in 1974. But the urge to find ways to pity the well-off is still alive and well.”  Perhaps so, at least among the wealthy themselves. One imagines they form support groups at the country club.  But one thing we do know: the wealthy will find a way to survive while the poor fall farther and farther below the poverty level. To say this is “subjective” is to dismiss the legitimate claim of the poor to our sympathy. To put the issue into a context, consider the following passage, referring to the plight of a stockbroker in those days:

“[This] stockbroker whose income had fallen to just $20,000 in 1974 from $100,000 in 1970, forcing his wife to take a job and him to make extra money selling desserts to local restaurants. (To put these numbers into perspective, a calculator maintained by the Economic History Association says that $100,000 in 1970 has an ‘economic status’ value of $925,000 today, and $20,000 in 1974 is worth $134,000 today.)”  Poor baby!

To an extent, anyone whose lifestyle is altered has grounds for complaint. At least they think they do. That, I suppose is what Bartlett means by “subjective.” But some grounds are legitimate while others are bogus. The rich have the weakest possible grounds for complaint. They can take care of themselves even if their wives have to sell desserts. All of us are going to have to make adjustments as the economy continues to spiral downward and some can afford to do that more easily than others. It’s simply something we are not used to and thus we complain. But the wealthy among us are clearly a self-indulgent, spoiled group with a lifestyle that requires continued sacrifices from the rest of the world that must simply go without. Some of us are more spoiled than others.

Perhaps the chickens have come home to roost, and we must all face the fact that a growth economy is a thing the world can no longer afford and we must begin to think in terms of simply attempting to maintain the status quo. In any event, save your sympathy for those who deserve it and turn a deaf ear to the Sprewells of the world who shed crocodile tears.