Archive | March, 2011

Megawatt Coal Plants Don't Bring Jobs Home

31 Mar

Utilities sell coal plants by promising jobs in compensation for the environmental hit. A study of “the six largest new coal-fired power plants to come online between 2005 and 2009” indicates that more jobs were promised than were delivered. Writing in The New York Times, Tom Zeller, Jr. reports that “only a little over half, or 56 percent of every 1,000 jobs projected, appeared to be actually created as a result of the coal plants’ coming online. And in four of the six counties, the projects delivered on just over a quarter of the jobs projected.”

How’s the song go? “Sixteen tons, and what do you get? Another day older and deeper in debt.” And now you don’t even get a job burning the 16 tons. Have we sold our soul to the company store forever?


Corporatized Education a Fraud?

31 Mar

Michelle Rhee has been advocating education reform based on rewarding teachers whose students score well on standardized tests and firing the others. It now appears that her apparent success in D.C. schools masks possible test fraud on her watch. Writing in the Daily Beast, Diane Ravitch reports results of an investigation into tests at “the Crosby S. Noyes Education Campus, which saw spectacular score gains during Rhee’s tenure. Rhee held up the school as a model because the percentage of students who reached proficient on D.C. tests soared from 10 percent to 58 percent in a two-year period.”  An analysis of patterns of erasures on answer sheets

found a dramatic pattern of changing answers from wrong to right at Noyes. In one seventh grade classroom, students averaged 12.7 wrong-to-right erasures on the reading test, as compared to a district-wide average of less than 1. When parents complained that their children’s high scores didn’t make sense, since they were still struggling to do basic math, they were ignored.

Looks like the program motivated someone to game the system, not teach the students. Game-the-system, isn’t that WallStreetspeak for “business as usual”?


The Case for a Transition Party USA

31 Mar

By Charlie Keil

A national Transition Party USA would protect the apolitical Transition movement from nearby nuclear disasters, the perpetual wars required by the military-industrial-twoparty-complex that will bleed America dry very soon.

From a local transition and resilience perspective, politics as usual, or politics as we have known it, can only be an interesting distraction at best, or a discouraging and entangling alliance with existing power structures at worst. After attending a day of “transition training,” getting just a taste of the humor, joy and personal passions that can be nurtured when you are following common sense and having a good time building community resilience, I wouldn’t want to pull a single person away from this local process and into national politics. The solutions to the shocks of global peak oil, the shocks of global storming, the shocks of global economic steady declines and sudden collapses, the shocks of desperate populations crossing borders for survival, are going to be almost entirely local.

On the other hand, there may be many people this year and next, who are so alienated by totalitarian big government Republicans and so fed up with the wimpy big government Democrats, that they will want a better choice than the one between the lesser of two evils or the evil of two lessers. In particular, there may be many “teapartiers” who really love the Constitution, truly want to return to traditions, family values, family farms, local autonomy, states’ rights, and 9th Amendment rights to privacy, clean conscience, clear consciousness who will find themselves with no one they can vote for enthusiastically as their Representative in the House or Senate. The Transition Party USA, with citizen candidates advocating for the 7 themes and the 7 principles, could be very persuasive and exciting for the millions of Americans, the vast majority of Americans in fact, who have given up on the so-called “two party system” as corrupt, bought and paid for, unresponsive, irresponsible, a game they no longer want to play.

How could elected Transition Party USA Representatives in the House change anything? They could vote for the very few but very important things that Ron Paul and Dennis Kucinich agree upon, i.e. bringing the troops home from Iraq and Afghanistan as the beginning of a non-interventionist, non-state-building, anti-empire foreign policy. They could vote against anything and everything that expands the role of the Federal government at the expense of state and local governments. They could lead common sense, rational, science-respecting Democrats and Republicans to close poisonous and dangerous nuclear power plants one by one using appropriate criteria: demographic (too close to major cities), ecological (biggest threat to water supplies), geological (worst earthquake probabilities), past maintenance weaknesses, age of plant, etc. Even a small group of Representatives following “transition to sustainability” values and principles, rather than lobbyist financial incentives, could make a momentous difference in the House of Representatives by voting as if people and the planet mattered!

* * * * *

I could stop right here. A case a for a “fourth party” (paleoconserving decentralist greens to balance the existing left-green “third party”) well made. But it is important to make two more points:

  1. There are at least ten federal income tax refusers on the right for every tax refuser on the left.
  2. When the economic collapse of 2008 happened I noticed an interesting alliance take shape that lost on key votes.

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Safety and Sustainability Lacked a Voice at Fukushima

30 Mar

That’s the title of an article Francesca Rheannon has published in Corporate Social Responsibility Newswire. Some of the workers have been hired by subcontractors and have been poorly paid, poorly trained, and poorly outfitted. And some of them have been, in consequence, badly injured. In some cases radiation levels were not being monitored in areas where workers were operating.

What’s the link between injured workers battling to contain the worsening nuclear disaster in Japan and the hundreds of thousands of Japanese residents as far away as Tokyo who are worrying about the radiation spreading invisibly into their air, water and soil? It’s not that the former are trying to protect the latter, although that is true. It’s that a company that takes worker health and safety as cavalierly as TEPCO does is one that takes the health and safety of the environment just as cavalierly.

Rheannon goes on to note: “In the case of Fukushima-Daiichi, the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster a year ago and upper Big Branch Mine disaster before that (just to mention the most famous accidents in recent history), all the companies involved had been cited for poor worker health and safety records before the disasters.”

“Safeguarding worker health and safety isn’t just good for workers and the environment. It’s also good for companies.”


It's Only Grass

30 Mar

IMGP4306rd Continue reading

Hoboken takes aim at private cars

29 Mar

In various ways, cars are at the center of our oil dependence. Long term, well, many things are needed – more public transportation, new kinds of propulsion, reorganized cities, towns, and suburbs. Short term, anything that moves in that general direction.

Hoboken, NJ, is a small city across the Hudson River from mid-town Manhattan. Once a port and small-industrial city, now it’s a bedroom community for people working in New York City. Lots of them. And cars infest the streets. In the past couple of years the city has done two things to free its residents of cars: 1) they’ve partnered with Hertz to create a city-wide car-sharing program. According to the City “the first phase of this program is anticipated to remove more than 750 vehicles from Hoboken’s crowded streets.” 2) They’ve established a shuttle service that circumnavigates the city and is no more than a 5-minute walk from any resident. The shuttles are tracked by GPS, which can be followed on the web or through cell phone. Ridership has increased by 50% in the first 6 months of use.

German Solar Outshines Fukushima's Nukes

29 Mar

Reporting in Grist, Christopher Mims notes, with appropriate qualifications, that “total power output of Germany’s installed solar PV panels hit 12.1 GW — greater than the total power output (10 GW) of Japan’s entire 6-reactor nuclear power plant.” The kicker:

Japan’s facing rolling blackouts until next Winter, and it’s undeniable that if the country had more distributed power generation like Germany’s roof-based solar PV system, the entire country would be much more resilient in the face of catastrophe.

The Old Chocolate Factory

28 Mar

grand approach.jpg

When van Leer Chocolates left Jersey City, they left these walls behind.

stairway to heaven, no guitar

Manufacturing? Make It Local

28 Mar

Wouldn’t you know it, her Grey Ladyship, The New York Times, has an opinion piece on the localization of manufacturing. Allison Arieff observes that “the monolithic industry model — steel, oil, lumber, cars — has evolved into something more nimble and diversified . . .  as manufacturers see the benefits of being smaller and paying attention to how patterns of consumption, ownership and use are shifting.”  Mark Dwight started SFMade in 2010 to promote local manufacturing in San Francisco: for example, here’s  an upcoming workshop on setting up a manufacturing process. Kate Sofis, executive director of SFMade, observes:

“Manufacturing isn’t dead and doesn’t need to be preserved,” she says. “Let’s stop fixating on what’s lost. Let’s see what we have here, what’s doing well, and let’s help those folks do better.”

Pride of  place helps in the branding and marketing of local manufactures and, of course, it plays into the sustainability pitch, which is sometimes real, and sometimes not (do I hear BP?).

There’s a similar game afoot in New York City, Made in NYC, and her Grey Ladyship has written a number of articles about local manufacturing successes: envelopes, bicycles, brushes, boilers, specialty lights, and mattresses. And, of course, readers list other examples in their comments. Arieff notes that “growing consumer demand for greener, more ethically produced products, along with skyrocketing unemployment and nervousness about globalization all work in the groups’ favor.”

And those demands are all over the place. Local’s the way to go. After all, that’s where everyone is, no? If you aren’t where you are, then where could you possibly be?

Is economics a science?

27 Mar

From my buddy John Emerson:

For about five years now I’ve been asking whether economics is a science at all, and not just a weakly systematized area of policy studies and advocacy dazzling laymen with complex math. People seemed to be getting tired of my ranting and trollery and I retired from the field for awhile. But gradually the question became a hot issue in the field  (GoogleDeLong 1DeLong 2Thoma), mostly because economic true believers had succeeded in throwing us into the worst recession since 1937.  So I’ve collected the more amusing and presentable of my rants below. . . .

There’s probably some kind of congruence between excessive formalization in economics, fraudulent claims to scientific power, ideological claims surreptitiously sneaked in, and mercenary dirty work done for the market. Once detached from the execrescent growths that seem to have taken over, much of the empirical part is probably OK.

What’s really at stake here is the surplus authority economics claimed based on its scientific status. That was fraud and mystification. Economics is not nothing — there are a lot of things there that you need to know. Think of it as a useful craft or art, or as a form of knowledgeable advocacy like law. There are times when you need the best economists you can afford, because otherwise you’ll be at the mercy of the bad guys’ economists.

Here’s a link to his post. Check it out. He’s a scrappy kind of guy with a good head on his shoulders.