Tag Archives: stimulus

Anti-Science Republicans (with special guest star, John Conyers)

There is a lot to be said about the stimulus debate, both good and bad. Obama’s stimulus will increase our debt, of course.

stimulus_deficit_in_context

The stimlus was passed in a procedurally very messy way, with a crippled PDF circulated to legislators, with not even 48 hours of open comment, and with Obama using a military plane to fly in a Senator. Obama’s Stimulus will be Obama’s “Iraq War,” a controversial early decision which shapes everything else.

It also may work.

Just like the Democrats, who made many brain-dead arguments against the Iraq War (Howard Dean’s “mayor of Baghdad” quip being one of the stupidest), the Repulicans are busy crticizing thee stimulus because it supports science. Demonstrating a complete lack of knowledge of how science actually works, Powerline, for instance, issues this angry post:

Animal rights groups obviously have an agenda that is unfriendly to NIH, whose research projects involve lots of experimentation on animals. However, in a letter to Harry Reid, In Defense of Animals presented substantial evidence to back up its critique of NIH. For example, Dr. Brian Martinson, a researcher who headed-up an NIH-funded survey, has published results indicating high percentages of self-reported scientific misbehavior on NIH-funded projects, ranging from falsifying data, to using inadequate research designs, to using funds from one project to complete another, to cutting corners to complete a project. 28 percent of “early-career” respondents admitted to cooking data, dropping or overlooking data points, and/or failing to present data that contradicts their previous research. 50 percent admitted that they cut corners. For midcareer researchers, the percentages were 27 and 66, respectively.

No reference is provided, but this sounds like “Global warming advocates report that 66 of all drivers admitted to killing a pedestrian, intentionally running over a small animal, or breaking applying pressure to the car’s breaks, within the past month.” The first two are inexcusable. The third is the appropriate course of action in all cases. Indeed, there is a whole literature surrounding outliers, their detection, and treatment.

Similar some Republicans, having forgot the high oil prices and resulting geopolitical instability of the summer, are mocking Harry Reid for pushing mass transit.

Just as bad, other Republicans are joining with John Conyers (D-MI) to subsidize publishign companies by allowing them to charge for access to research paid for by taxpayers. Bailing out publishing companies by making science less accessible is against science, public health, and open access.

The Stimulus is a Distraction

If you’re worked up about whether or not the government is going to spend $800 billion (not counting interest) or $900 billion (not counting interest) in Obama’s stimulus plan, you’re been successfully misdirected:

Bloomberg.com: News
Feb. 9 Bloomberg — The stimulus package the U.S. Congress is completing would raise the government’s commitment to solving the financial crisis to $9.7 trillion, enough to pay off more than 90 percent of the nation’s home mortgages.

The Federal Reserve, Treasury Department and Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation have lent or spent almost $3 trillion over the past two years and pledged to provide up to $5.7 trillion more if needed. The total already tapped has decreased about 1 percent since November, mostly because foreign central banks are using fewer dollars in currency-exchange agreements called swaps. The Senate is to vote early this week on a stimulus package totaling at least $780 billion that President Barack Obama says is needed to avert a deeper recession. That measure would need to be reconciled with an $819 billion plan the House approved last month.

The stimulus if Obama’s Iraq War – big, expensive, controversial, not as good as he hopes, not as bad as the opposition claims. It might well do some good, whether or not its primary objectives are met

The Obama bailout, or TARP III (which will be unveiled Tuesday), on the other hand, is incredibly dangerous. It’s going to be executed through the Federal Reserve, instead of the Congress, because there’s no way the Congress would agree on $10 trillion in guarantees to Citi, BOA, etc., but which Obama thinks is a good idea.

Britain did the same thing recently, and that’s where talk of the bankruptcy of Britain (not likely, but no longer unthinkable) came from, too. Letting Citi and BOA go bankrupt would be a catastrophe, everyone agrees on that. My difference with Obama is whether or not it’s good for the country to promise to pay back those loans, if Citi and BOA can’t.

One Hundred Billion to Help America, the Core, and the Gap

Calculated Risk has an interesting post titled “The Oil Cushion.” The article describes how a $1.50/gal drop in the price of gas (say, from $4.00 to $2.50/gal) amounts to a $900 check to every American. This is essentially a large stimulus package, that takes money that would have flowed out to petrostates (Russia, Venezuela, Iran, Saudi Arabia, etc) and puts it in Americans’ politics.

Low prices for hydrocarbons (oil and natural gas) help our country by not exporting wealth to gap states that can’t handle it, help the Gap by warping their governments into resource-extraction corporations, and helps the Core by preventing bad Gap governments (Russia, Venezuela, Iran, Saudi Arabia, etc) from having undo influence.

Progress in this direction can be had by creating a geogreen stimulus package, as Thomas Friedman has recommended. Here are some details of how it might work:

The Democrats, with the blessing of Federal Reserve Board Chairman Ben Bernanke, are suggesting a stimulus package of about $200 billion. We should use at least half of that to move America away from our dependence on petroleum and reduce our carbon footprint on the planet.

Green Jobs for America Campaign, a coalition of environmental and labor groups, is calling for a $100 billion green stimulus program that would include a combination of tax credits, loan guarantees and public investment in environmental technology that it says will create roughly 2 million jobs over two years.

The program, outlined in a report written by the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst and the Center for American Progress, calls for investing in new power sources, including wind, solar power and “next-generation biofuels.” It also recommends “expanding mass transit and freight rail,” “retrofitting buildings to improve energy efficiency” and “constructing ‘smart’ electrical grid transmission systems.”

If we are going to get “transformational leadership,” this would be a good place to start:

The public infrastructure portion of the program — upgrades to public buildings, public transportation and the electrical grid — could be enacted quickly, according to the report. But to do so would take a commitment to public works spending that the Congress and the executive branch have not demonstrated in more than a generation.

A geogreen stimulus is all the more important because the financial crisis have weakened the investment infrastructure that alternative energy research firms (focused on ethanol, solar, and wind power) use to grow. From CNET and CBS News:

Now some of the pillars underpinning green technologies are wobbling. Oil prices have plummeted more than 50 percent since the summer, making traditional energy sources look a lot more affordable than they did six months ago for businesses and consumers alike. And the global credit crisis that has sucked the wind out of the economy has done damage to the funding of alternative energy projects as well.

The hardest hit by a freeze or reluctant lending are renewable energies which are already commercial, or on the cusp of getting there. These aren’t cheap little startups we’re talking about: Constructing a biofuels plant costs upwards of a $100 million while connecting a solar power plant, capable of powering tens of thousands of homes, is in the range of $500 million and $800 million, depending on the size. In the current credit market, it’s tough to come up with that money.

But don’t write off clean tech as another casualty of the souring economy quite yet. Today’s clean energy field is a lot more resilient than in the days of the 1970s oil price shock for one simple reason – society’s priorities have changed since then. Climate change and energy security are front-page issues that still command the attention of consumers, businesses, and politicians, regardless of the economy.

This is a place for federal intervention:

More immediately, the world leaders’ reaction to the financial crisis could determine whether and how quickly clean energy technologies will make an impact on the energy business.

Governments may treat the economic crisis as a reason to backpedal on emissions reduction targets. Another school of thought is to make energy and environment an important part of government stimulus spending to upgrade infrastructure.

Many technologies – solar, wind, geothermal, cellulosic ethanol – can be scaled up today. Others, such as storing carbon underground at coal plants, need more active government involvement to make economically feasible, said Fulton of Deutsche Bank.

“We do indeed have many technologies that are in commercialization, or close to it, that can have significant impacts on the whole energy and electricity mix,” Fulton said. “But there are still some looming that need public and private capital to keep pushing them down the cost curve.”

If hope both Barack Obama and John McCain quickly endorse a geogreen stimulus.

A Geogreen Stimulus

Global warming is a useful lie. The world is too cold anyway, and warmer temps probably would save lives. But it is important to reduce our use of foreign hydrocarbons (oil and natural gas), to prevent hydrocarbon-exporting Gap states like Russia, Iran, and Venezuela from interfering with the integration of the Seam and the Core. The sun and the wind, ethanol and biodiesel, and of course nuclear power and coal are all options for us.

With that in mine, here are the sensible parts of Tom Friedman’s latest, which call for the Economic Stimulus to include environmentally friendly spending:

Op-Ed Columnist – Bailout (and Buildup) – NYTimes.com
The 2 is back. Last week, U.S. retail gasoline prices fell below $3 a gallon — to an average of $2.91 — the lowest level in almost a year. Why does this news leave me with mixed feelings?

Because in the middle of this wrenching economic crisis, with unemployment rising and 401(k)’s shrinking, it would be a real source of relief for many Americans to get a break at the pump. Today’s declining gasoline prices act like a tax cut for consumers and can save $15 to $20 a tank-full for an S.U.V.-driving family, compared with when gasoline was $4.11 a gallon in July.

Yet, it is impossible for me to ignore the fact that when gasoline hit $4.11 a gallon we changed — a lot. Americans drove less, polluted less, exercised more, rode more public transportation and, most importantly, overwhelmed Detroit with demands for smaller, more fuel-efficient, hybrid and electric cars. The clean energy and efficiency industries saw record growth — one of our few remaining engines of real quality job creation.

But with little credit available today for new energy start-ups, and lower oil prices making it harder for existing renewables like wind and solar to scale, and a weak economy making it nearly impossible for Congress to pass a carbon tax or gasoline tax that would make clean energy more competitive, what will become of our budding clean-tech revolution?

This moment feels to me like a bad B-movie rerun of the 1980s. And I know how this movie ends — with our re-addiction to oil and OPEC, as well as corrosive uncertainty for our economy, trade balance, security and environment.

“Is the economic crisis going to be the end of green?” asks David Rothkopf, energy consultant and author of “Superclass.” “Or, could green be the way to end the economic crisis?”

It has to be the latter. We can’t afford a financial bailout that also isn’t a green buildup — a buildup of a new clean energy industry that strengthens America and helps the planet.

But how do we do that without any policy to affect the price signal for gasoline and carbon?

Third, an idea offered by Andy Karsner, former assistant secretary of energy, would be to modify the tax code so that any company that invests in new domestic manufacturing capacity for clean energy technology — or procures any clean energy system or energy savings device that is made by an American manufacturer — can write down the entire cost of the investment via a tax credit and/or accelerated depreciation in the first year.

Finally, if Congress passes another stimulus package, it can’t just be another round of $600 checks to go buy flat-screen TVs made in China. It has to also include bridges to somewhere — targeted investments in scientific research, mass transit, domestic clean-tech manufacturing and energy efficiency that will make us a more productive and innovative society, one with more skills, more competitiveness, more productivity and better infrastructure to lead the next great industrial revolution: E.T. — energy technology

The lower hydrocarbon prices go, the less influence that gap countries like Russia, Iran, and Venezuela have. And that’s a good thing.