31 May 2007

Canadian lumber mills threatened by stronger loonie

[Canadian] Forest Products Industry Calls for Swift Government Response to Dollar's Rise -- CNW Telbec

OTTAWA, May 28 /CNW Telbec/ - The head of the Forest Products Association of Canada (FPAC) today called on the Government and Bank of Canada to take swift action to mitigate the damage that the rapid appreciation of the Canadian dollar is doing to Canada's forest products industry. Over the past 5 years, the Canadian dollar has appreciated by 42% against its U. S. counterpart. This has placed enormous pressure on Canada's forest products industry and the more than 300 communities from Newfoundland to British Columbia that depend on the industry for their economic well-being...

"The unprecedented appreciation in the value of the Canadian dollar has served to exacerbate other challenges facing the sector, including the entry of low-cost, overseas rivals into global markets and the sharp downturn in the U. S. housing market," said Avrim Lazar, President and CEO of FPAC. "In realizing its long track record of success in global markets, Canada's forest products industry has proven time and again that it can overcome tough challenges. While the industry can adjust to a stronger currency, the unprecedented rate of appreciation in the dollar is causing severe dislocations in the industry and many of our host communities, particularly when combined with the other headwinds facing the forest sector."

FPAC recently released, Industry at a Crossroads: Choosing the Path to Renewal, the report of the Forest Products Industry Competitiveness Task Force. The Task Force, ...concluded that a changing global marketplace offers unprecedented opportunities as well as challenges to Canada's forest products industry and that the industry can- and should-remain a vital part of Canada's social and economic fabric for decades to come. Key to realizing the sector's future potential is attracting the capital investment needed to renew Canadian production facilities, a process that the appreciation in the dollar is inhibiting. "Canada's forest products industry has a strong productivity record, relative both to our U. S. competitors and the Canadian economy as a whole," added Lazar. "But we need to attract more capital so we can do even better in the future. Not only does the uncontrolled appreciation of the dollar undermine our cost competitiveness, it also diminishes the attractiveness of investing in Canada." While recognizing that many factors beyond Canadian control influence currency values, FPAC calls on Canadian monetary authorities to use what discretion they have to manage the appreciation of our currency and the impact it is having on large regions of the country. In addition, rapid action by governments in such areas as tax reform, mergers policy and a more competitive rail transport sector can also play an important role in enabling industry renewal and in assisting the forest sector to adapt to a higher Canadian dollar.

The full copy of the Report, Industry at a Crossroads: Choosing the Path to Renewal, is available from the FPAC website at www.fpac.ca.

30 May 2007

Kudos to Hank Sims

Kudos to Hank Sims for recognizing that the forces driving real estate prices outside of Humboldt County may actually impact local affordable housing...

North Coast Journal May 10, 2007 : THE TOWN DANDY
Hank Sims

The Humboldt County housing market is part of an immensely complicated national and international economy, affected by all sorts of factors -- for example, the desirability of real estate as an investment vehicle as opposed to the stock market. Someone's buying those unaffordable houses. And if Humboldt County officials are to blame for rising home prices here, why have home prices boomed out of control all across the country?

U.S. Home Construction Bust May Last Until 2011

The latest upswing in housing sales encouraged some to think we've reached the bottom of the housing downturn. Others indicated that the surge in sales was based on major developers offering deep discounts to reduce inventories. Meanwhile national inventories of homes for sale reached record highs.

U.S. Home Construction Bust May Last Until 2011 - Bloomberg.com
By Bob Ivry and Brian Louis

May 29 (Bloomberg) -- New home construction in the U.S. may take until 2011 to return to last year's level, said David Seiders, chief economist for the National Association of Home Builders in Washington.

Monthly construction starts would need to jump by 21 percent to reach Seiders's benchmark for full recovery, which is 1.85 million. There were 1.53 million in April, the Commerce Department said. At the height of the five-year housing boom in January 2006, construction began on 2.29 million homes.

``We've fallen way below trend because we soared way above trend during boom times,'' Seiders said in an interview. ``The upswing will be relatively slow, unlike earlier cycles.''

The inventory of unsold homes is the largest since the Chicago-based National Association of Realtors started counting them in 1999 and house prices have suffered the steepest drop since the Great Depression, according to the realtors' group. Defaults and foreclosures also may rise as about $650 billion of loans to subprime borrowers, those with poor or limited credit histories, reset at higher interest rates by 2009.

``We're still being hit pretty hard by the subprime-related mortgage market problem,'' Seiders said. ``One of the biggest unknowns right now is how serious the change on the mortgages side will be on home sales.''

Sales of new homes rose 16 percent in April, the highest increase since 1993, the Commerce Department said last week... The biggest gain in new-home sales in 14 years was made possible by homebuilders who cut prices more in April than in any month since 1970. The median new-home price fell 11 percent to $229,100 from $257,600 a year earlier, the reported showed.

24 May 2007

Environmental Idols

Curtis White gives an interesting perspective on the nexus of environmental activism, Cartesian logic and corporate malfeasance. He points to inconsistencies, at the philosophical level, that leave environmental advocates unable to change the "very fabric" driving the continued degradation of ecosystems world wide. He's right. Perhaps in a few years he will write an equally articulate article describing how fundamental critiques are professionally marginalized, excluded from the political process and of negligible impact on how capital motivates corporate resource allocation. What to do?

The Idols of Environmentalism | Curtis White | Orion magazine

"The problem for even the best-intentioned environmental activism is that it imagines that it can confront a problem external to itself. Confront the bulldozers. Confront the chainsaws. Confront Monsanto. Fight the power. What the environmental movement is not very good at is acknowledging that something in the very fabric of our daily life is deeply anti-nature as well as anti-human. It inhabits not just bad-guy CEOs at Monsanto and Weyerhaeuser but nearly every working American, environmentalists included.

It is true that there are CEO-types, few in number, who are indifferent to everything except money, who are cruel and greedy, and so the North Atlantic gets stripped of cod and any number of other species taken incidentally in what is the factory trawler’s wet version of a scorched-earth policy. Or some junk bond maven buys up a section of old-growth redwoods and “harvests” it without hesitation when his fund is in sudden need of “liquidity.” Nevertheless, all that we perceive to be the destructiveness of corporate culture in relation to nature is not the consequence of its power, or its capacity for dominating nature ("taming," as it was once put, as if what we were dealing with was the lion act at the circus). Believing in powerful corporate evildoers as the primary source of our problems forces us to think in cartoons."

23 May 2007

Global carbon emissions in overdrive

Global carbon emissions in overdrive | csmonitor.com
Global emissions of carbon dioxide are growing at a faster clip than the highest rates used in recent key UN reports.

CO2 emissions from cars, factories, and power plants grew at an annual rate of 1.1 percent during the 1990s, according to the Global Carbon Project, which is a data clearinghouse set up in 2001 as a cooperative effort among UN-related groups and other scientific organizations. But from 2000 to 2004, CO2 emissions rates almost tripled to 3 percent a year – higher than any rate used in emissions scenarios for the reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

If the higher rate represents more than a blip, stabilizing emissions by 2100 will be more difficult than the latest UN reports indicate, some analysts say. And to avoid the most serious effects of global warming, significant cuts in CO2 emissions must begin sooner than the IPCC reports suggest. At the moment, no region of the world is "decarbonizing its energy supply," the analysis says.

The Poverty Business

The Poverty Business - Business Week

In recent years, a range of businesses have made financing more readily available to even the riskiest of borrowers. Greater access to credit has put cars, computers, credit cards, and even homes within reach for many more of the working poor. But this remaking of the marketplace for low-income consumers has a dark side: Innovative and zealous firms have lured unsophisticated shoppers by the hundreds of thousands into a thicket of debt from which many never emerge.

Federal Reserve data show that in relative terms, that debt is getting more expensive. In 1989 households earning $30,000 or less a year paid an average annual interest rate on auto loans that was 16.8% higher than what households earning more than $90,000 a year paid. By 2004 the discrepancy had soared to 56.1%. Roughly the same thing happened with mortgage loans: a leap from a 6.4% gap to one of 25.5%. "It's not only that the poor are paying more; the poor are paying a lot more," says Sheila C. Bair, chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.

Once, substantial businesses had little interest in chasing customers of the sort who frequent the storefronts surrounding the Byrider dealership in Albuquerque. Why bother grabbing for the few dollars in a broke man's pocket? Now there's a reason.

Armed with the latest technology for assessing credit risks—some of it so fine-tuned it picks up spending on cigarettes—ambitious corporations like Byrider see profits in those thin wallets. The liquidity lapping over all parts of the financial world also has enabled the dramatic expansion of lending to the working poor. Byrider, with financing from Bank of America Corp. (BAC ) and others, boasts 130 dealerships in 30 states. At company headquarters in Carmel, Ind., a profusion of colored pins decorates wall maps, marking the 372 additional franchises it aims to open from California to Florida. CompuCredit Corp., based in Atlanta, aggressively promotes credit cards to low-wage earners with a history of not paying their bills on time. And BlueHippo Funding, a self-described "direct response merchandise lender," has retooled the rent-to-own model to sell PCs and plasma TVs.

21 May 2007

California Provides Cautionary Tale to Eco-Elite

The Unbearable Whiteness of the Green Movement
By Van Jones, Grist Magazine

California Provides Cautionary Tale to Eco-Elite

The idea for Prop 87 was brilliant in its simplicity: California would start taxing the oil and gas that we extract from our soil and shores. And those dollars would go into a huge, "clean-energy" research and technology fund.

Many states and nations have similar excise taxes. But California would have been alone in dedicating the revenues to inventing alternatives to carbon-based energy sources. Had it passed, money from oil would have been used to find a replacement for oil.

It was a brilliant idea. And at first, the measure was polling off the charts.

But in the end, Californians voted the measure down. Why? Because big oil convinced ordinary Californians that the price tag for them would be too high for them to bear.

17 May 2007

Agrarian reform Venezuela style...

Clash of Hope and Fear as Venezuela Seizes Land - New York Times

For centuries, much of Venezuela’s rich farmland has been in the hands of a small elite. After coming to power in 1998, and especially after his re-election in December, President Hugo Chávez vowed to end that inequality, and has been keeping his promise in a process that is both brutal and legal.

Mr. Chávez is carrying out what may become the largest forced land redistribution in Venezuela’s history, building utopian farming villages for squatters, lavishing money on new cooperatives and sending army commando units to supervise seized estates in six states.

The violence has gone both ways in the struggle, with more than 160 peasants killed by hired gunmen in Venezuela, including several here in northwestern Yaracuy State, an epicenter of the land reform project, in recent years. Eight landowners have also been killed here.

16 May 2007

U.S. Sets New China Duties

U.S. Sets New China Duties - WSJ.com
Move Opens Door For a Wide Array Of Trade Complaints
March 31, 2007; Page A3

WASHINGTON -- The Bush administration imposed new economic sanctions against China, a vivid reflection of the increasingly tough climate in the U.S. toward free trade -- particularly with Beijing.

The new duties apply narrowly to complaints that Chinese producers of glossy, high-quality paper used in books and magazines are unfairly subsidized by their government -- just $224 million of annual imports, or less than 1% of the total goods and services Americans buy each year from China.

But the action is likely to have much wider ramifications. It opens the door to a potential rush of similar complaints by American manufacturers, from steel to plastics producers, that face stiff competition from the Chinese. And it signals, more broadly, an increasingly harder line on trade emerging both at the White House and in Congress.

Home Depot down 30% in first quarter

Housing market is a wreck for Home Depot profit - MarketWatch
Expect more of the same, CEO warns; hirings still continue
By Jennifer Waters & Angela Moore, MarketWatch
Last Update: 4:41 PM ET May 15, 2007

CHICAGO (MarketWatch) -- Home Depot Inc., still smarting from the faltering U.S. housing market and a host of operational issues, on Tuesday posted a 30% drop in quarterly profit and warned that earnings for the year will fall to the low end of projections.

"This was a difficult first quarter for us," Chief Executive Frank Blake conceded on a conference call with analysts. It was his first quarter as CEO, after assuming the position in January. "While we expected a tough quarter, this was worse than we anticipated."

15 May 2007

US vows to punish China and others for undervaluing their currencies

While the US prepares to punish China for pegging the Yuan to the dollar and China telegraphs a response regarding the risks that would pose to their economy it might be worth reading an outside of consensus perspective . I'd take the last article, the outside perspective, with a grain of salt. Seems like gold dealers see a percentage in increasing fears of US economic weakness, but absent hyperbole there are a few comments there that seem worth reviewing...

A few excerpts:

Congress to press China over its undervalued currency - Los Angeles Times

Legislators target nations that manipulate their money. Critics say it's the wrong approach.
By Molly Hennessy-Fiske, Times Staff Writer
May 10, 2007

WASHINGTON — Democrats in Congress have been pushing an ambitious trade agenda, promising to assist displaced American workers and reduce the trade deficit. Now they're taking on the global currency market — vowing to pass legislation to punish China and other Asian countries for undervaluing their currencies.

China: No Currency Change Ahead of Talks
Tuesday May 15, 10:25 am ET
By Joe Mcdonald, AP Business Writer

China Rules Out Major Currency Moves Ahead of Washington Talks

BEIJING (AP) -- Chinese officials on Tuesday ruled out major changes demanded by U.S. lawmakers in Beijing's currency controls ahead of a high-level meeting and called on critics in Congress not to politicize trade disputes.

Beijing is making progress in allowing its currency to trade more freely, but acting on U.S. appeals to move more quickly could disrupt the economy, said the officials. They briefed reporters on next week's meeting in Washington on condition they not be identified by name.

A senior Finance Ministry official said China wouldn't permit a backlash against financial markets and its "harmonious society," using Beijing's term for efforts to spread China's new prosperity to its poor majority.

The Russian Bear, Chinease Dragon, and US Dollar :: The Market Oracle :
By Jim Willie CB
Editor of the “HAT TRICK LETTER”

Russia and China have become a major problem. Everywhere one turns, there is Russia & China at odds with the United States . We have the Great Bear in a conflict over energy, Iran , military installations, and central bank policy. We have the Great Dragon in a conflict over currency reform, banking reform, copyright enforcement, trade matters, human rights, and central bank policy.

Armed with a combined account of almost $1600 billion, these two giants are in a Battle of Titans with the United States for geopolitical control. With the financial shift to developing nations comes a natural push toward geopolitical control. The USEconomy and USDollar have never been in a weaker position. The bear and dragon know it well, and have taken steps to wrest more power and influence.


In 2000, all changed. Russia and China hit the scene. The ill-fated decision during the Clinton Administration to grant Most Favored Nation status to China opened the door to a labor arbitrage. The result was over three million US manufacturing jobs sent to China . US corporations justify their abandonment of US workers, shedding fringe benefit costs at the same time, by claiming the low-cost solutions benefit both their financial structure and the USEconomy. The trade gap would next grow even while the USDollar would be devalued by 25% to 30% in the next few years...

China captured a large slice of that exported US-based inflation. Moronic economists actually claimed that the USEconomy was exploiting the Asian lower labor costs, as we sold them our high-grade debt. China began to accumulate its MOUNTAIN OF US $-BASED DEBT in its FOREX account. Foreign reserves held in the land of the Great Dragon enjoyed a head start, measured at $160 billion in the year 2000, having grown to $1202 billion by early 2007. Now the sleep walkers running US policy regard the Chinese yuan and gigantic FOREX mountainous reserves account as a problem...

The cooperation identified by constructive contracts between US corporations to build Chinese factories took a respite in 2002 and 2003, but clearly resumed to surpass $15 billion annually in 2004 and 2005 each year. If one needs to point fingers at the new problems with China, look no further than US corporate executives who plowed tens of billion$ into China, killed off US jobs, and have fed the dragon. However, the end of the rigid yuan currency regime was removed in July 2005 with little progress to show in a yuan upward revaluation. A relatively small 7% rise in the yuan since then pales by comparison to the 55% rise in the euro currency (versus US$) since 2001, and 15% rise in the euro in roughly the same time frame as the yuan has been relaxed, but not freed. The ineptitude of USGovt leaders has been exposed, when dealing on the economic and financial chessboard with patient and crafty Beijing leaders.

carbon trading won't work - la times

Carbon trading won't work - Los Angeles Times

Experiments with the market scheme favored by Schwarzenegger shows trading favors big polluters without curbing global warming gases.
By Michael K. Dorsey, MICHAEL K. DORSEY, assistant professor on Dartmouth College's faculty of science, teaches in the environmental studies program.
April 1, 2007

Economists, some environmentalists and a growing gaggle of politicians are pushing a grand strategy that a market mechanism — known as "carbon cap and trade" — can rescue us fastest from a climate catastrophe. But early evidence suggests that such a scheme may be a Faustian bargain.

poor markets, offshore competition, tight credit...

Outside of California forest products companies close due to poor markets, offshore competition, and tight credit... And, they know it.

Laramie Boomerang Online - Laramie, Wyoming News and Information

A Laramie-based wood molding company had to lock its front doors and turn away its employees Saturday after it and its parent company filed bankruptcy in District Court.

Rocky Mountain Forest Products (RMFP), 667 W. Flint, and its parent, Tewa Holdings of Wilmington, Del., filed Chapter 7 bankruptcy in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Delaware.

Another Tewa Holdings subsidiary, Tewa Moulding, also filed Chapter 7 bankruptcy, according to papers RMFP distributed Saturday to its former employees.

The papers — which were from Cross & Simon LLC, a law firm based in Wilmington, Del. — said Tewa Holdings filed for bankruptcy because of “competition from offshore wood molding producers, a slowdown in the housing market and the inability to restructure its debt with its major secured lender.”

13 May 2007

Mother's Day Hot Flash

This one's from Mom...



Mother's Day in the United States was first established around 1870 by Julia Ward Howe who organized a Mother's Day peace march in Boston. In her Mother's Day Proclamation, Howe called on women to support pacifism and disarmament each year nationally. Read the original Mother’s Day Proclamation

When it was created, Mother's Day was an occasion for women to march for peace and to stage public anti-war protests. Feminists in decades since have followed in Howe's footsteps. For example, in May 1982, northern California saw a gathering of Mother's Day activists launch a protest campaign against the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory which designs and develops nuclear weapons. The protest escalated and today there continues to be people outside the gates at Livermore.

For the complete article by Louise Bernikow, The Shoulders We Stand On: Women as Agents of Change visit the Women’s Enews website

Global historical perspectives on Mother’s Day Celebrations:

Mother's Day Central
Holidays Net
Women's History


Mother Ann Lee
Ann Lee was born in Manchester, England, in 1736, the daughter of a blacksmith. A religious mystic, she believed in celibacy, but married at the urging of her parents. She gave birth to four children, all of whom died in infancy. She later experienced a mystical revelation that led her to seek divine perfection and to found a new religious group whose members became known as Shaking Quakers or Shakers. In 1774, she led a small group of Shakers to New York to settle as a community of believers. Her husband left her, and she became known as Mother Ann Lee, teaching celibacy, sobriety, hard work, and careful attention to craft and simple beauty. Mother Ann Lee died in Watervliet, New York, in 1784, but her followers established two communities in Kentucky, at Pleasant Hill and South Union.

Mother Jones:
Born in Cork, Ireland, in 1837, Mary Harris migrated with her family to Canada. After finishing school, she moved to Memphis and married George Jones, an iron molder. In one week in 1867, her husband and all four children died of yellow fever. She moved to Chicago and worked as a seamstress but lost everything in the Great Fire of 1871. After that, Mary Jones took working people for her family. She traveled across the United States speaking to labor union members, who called her “Mother.” Twice, she organized “children’s crusades” to protest against child labor and in favor of better wages for mothers and fathers. A West Virginia District Attorney called her “the most dangerous woman in America,” and a U.S. Senator said she was the “grandmother of all agitators.” Mother Jones answered that she hoped to become the great grandmother of agitators, too. She died in 1930 and is buried in the Union Miners Cemetery at Mount Olive, in the coalfields of southern Illinois.

Josephine Baker
Freda Josephine McDonald was born in St. Louis, Missouri. After surviving the 1917 riots she ran away at the age of 13 and began dancing in vaudeville and on Broadway. Virtually an instant hit, Josephine Baker became one of the best-known entertainers in both France and much of Europe. During World War II she worked with the Red Cross, gathered intelligence for the French Resistance and entertained troops in Africa and the Middle East. After the war, Josephine Baker adopted twelve children from around the world, making her home a World Village. She returned to the stage in the 1950s to finance this project.

In 1951, Josephine Baker was refused service at the famous Stork Club in New York City. Josephine Baker responded by crusading for racial equality, refusing to entertain in any club or theater that was not integrated, and thereby breaking the color bar at many establishments. In 1963, she spoke at the March on Washington at the side of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Mother Teresa
Born in 1910 in what is now Macedonia, Agnes Bojaxhiu went to India to teach in an open air school in 1929. She became a nun in 1931 and took the name Teresa, the patron saint of missionaries. She continued to teach until 1948, when she left the convent to live among the poor. In 1950, she established the Missionaries of Charity to care for “the hungry, the naked, the homeless, the lepers, and all those people who felt unwanted, unloved, and uncared for throughout society.” In 1979, Mother Teresa was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize “for work undertaken in the struggle to overcome poverty and distress, which also constitute a threat to world peace.” When she died in 1997, the Missionaries of Charity numbered over 4,000 sisters and 300 brothers, operating 610 centers in 123 countries.

Find out more about famous mothers, including Mary Wollstonecraft, mother of women’s rights and grandmother of Frankenstein.

Spiritual Mother Figures:

Ala, Earth Mother: Nigeria

Al-Lat, The Mother facet connected with the Earth: Islamic

Asherah, The Nursing Goddess of the Israelites: Jewish

Danu,The Great Mother: Celtic

Demeter,The Earth Goddess: Greek

Devi, The Great Goddess: India

Kuan Yin, Goddess of Compassion: Chinese

Mami Wata, Mother of the Sea: Ghana

Maia, The Great Mother: Greek

Selu, The Corn Mother: Cherokee Tradition

Tara, The Mother of Liberation: Buddism

Tonantzin, The Lunar Mother: Astec

Virgin Mary, The Mother of Jesus: Christian

Yemoja, Great Mother Creator: Yoruba

Establishment Rethinks Globalization

The Establishment Rethinks Globalization
William Greider

Gomory's critique has great political potential because it provides what the opponents of corporate-led globalization have generally lacked: a comprehensive intellectual platform for arguing that the US approach to globalization must be transformed to defend the national interest. Still, it will take politicians of courage to embrace his ideas and act on them. Gomory's political solutions are as heretical as his economic analysis.

09 May 2007

Toyota, GM, and the seeds of future growth

Toyota's annual report, released today, revealed robust growth in 2006. According to some, Toyota's CEO Wantanbe downplayed record breaking profits in order avoid inviting "jealousy and other negative reactions" including trade sanctions.

Meanwhile GM and Ford are losing billions. At Ford even the Ford family is considering hiring outside advisers for the struggling company.

While Toyota is "'planting the seeds' of future growth" the recent film "Who Killed the Electric Car" indicates that GM is intentionally crushing them and burying them in the desert.

Toyota Profit Robust, Forecast Cautious - New York Times
Yet, despite last year’s strong showing, Toyota struck a cautious note in its forecast for the current fiscal year, which ends in March 2008. The company said it expects a modest 0.4 percent rise in net profit, to 1.65 trillion yen ($14.1 billion).

The company attributed the forecast to what it called a “severe market” in slumping North America, where Toyota earns about 60 percent of its profits. Toyota said it expects sales growth this year in North America to slow to 1.6 percent, down from 15.1 percent last year. Toyota also cited increased spending to build factories and develop new vehicles and technologies, like its popular gas-electric hybrids and more futuristic hydrogen-powered fuel-cell engines.

The slowdown in profit growth “is temporary, as we are planting the seeds” of future growth, Toyota’s president, Katsuaki Watanabe, told reporters. “Earnings will improve again.”

Who Killed the Electric Car? Trailer:

An Electric Car, Booted - Washington Post
The film [Who Killed the Electric Car?] chronicles how GM developed and launched a fleet of silent, aerodynamic electric vehicles to meet California's zero-emissions mandate. The shapely two-seaters with a GM logo enjoyed a brief ride in California and Arizona from 1996 until 2003, when they were taken off the market and destroyed. (GM says it was concerned about safety; others say the company wanted to head off the loss of proprietary secrets.)

[Chris] Paine was one of the original drivers. The director started to make a comedy about Los Angeles drivers going nutty over cars, but the project turned serious after he encountered perfectly drivable EV1s being crushed and shredded at the Mesa Proving Grounds in Arizona.

In the film, images of President Bush and Vice President Cheney set a political tone, although California regulators set standards for zero emissions that forced automakers, including Honda and Toyota, to experiment with electric cars. Ralph Nader weighs in. So do Mel Gibson and Tom Hanks, who drove EV1s.

Every one of its 2,000 parts was unique. The engine whirred, rather than roared, but spewed no emissions; there was no gear-shifting; and drivers talk of the car's torque with awe.

The film presents the EV1 as an answer to global warming, pollution, unrest in the Middle East and rising gasoline prices.

Instead, California changed its emissions laws and automakers could again pursue nonelectric technology…

Phil Karn, a vice president for technology at Qualcomm in San Diego, drove the Smithsonian's car for two years. He leased a second one, commuting 11 miles each way to work without recharging issues. When the car was reclaimed, he says, it felt like losing a family pet.

"It made no sense to us," he said by phone. "The only way we can figure is, they built this car to fail . . . or the anti-EV1 faction inside GM won."

08 May 2007

Carbon indulgences

The Carbon Neutral Myth - Transnational Institute

Carbon offsets are the modern day indulgences, sold to an increasingly carbon conscious public to absolve their climate sins. Scratch the surface, however, and a disturbing picture emerges, where creative accountancy and elaborate shell games cover up the impossibility of verifying genuine climate change benefits, and where communities in the South often have little choice as offset projects are inflicted on them.

This report argues that offsets place disproportionate emphasis on individual lifestyles and carbon footprints, distracting attention from the wider, systemic changes and collective political action that needs to be taken to tackle climate change. Promoting more effective and empowering approaches involves moving away from the marketing gimmicks, celebrity endorsements, technological quick fixes, and the North/South exploitation that the carbon offsets industry embodies.

07 May 2007

Drug policy, point counterpoint

No, not those kind of drugs.

Today's senate action managed to block the importation of cheaper FDA approved medicines from Canada, Australia, Europe, Japan and New Zealand...

Meanwhile Brazil's president Lula broke the patent on Merck's AIDS drug Efavirenz allowing the government to buy a generic version from labs certified by the World Health Organization.

Senate Blocks Bid to Allow Drug Imports - Forbes.com
By ANDREW BRIDGES 05.07.07, 5:55 PM ET

The Senate effectively killed a bid to allow consumers to buy their prescription medicines abroad Monday, requiring U.S. officials to certify the safety and effectiveness of such drugs.

The certification amendment, passed on a 49-40 vote, would require health officials to do something they have long said they cannot.

Because of that, the vote undercut a second measure that would permit prescription drug imports from Food and Drug Administration-approved sources in Canada, Australia, Europe, Japan and New Zealand.

The Bush administration opposes allowing imports of prescription drugs, and the White House had threatened a veto.

Bloomberg.com: Latin America
Brazil Breaks Patent on Merck's Efavirenz AIDS Drug
By Katia Cortes

May 4 (Bloomberg) -- Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva broke the patent on Merck & Co's AIDS drug Efavirenz after the company's offer to cut prices failed to satisfy demands from the country's health ministry.

Lula, in a presidential palace ceremony today in Brasilia, signed a law allowing the government to buy a generic version of Efavirenz from laboratories certified by the World Health Organization. The government would consider a new proposal from Merck should the company choose to make one, Health Minister Jose Gomes Temporao said in an interview.

``Our decision today involves this one drug, but we can take the same steps with any other that we consider necessary,'' Lula said. ``It doesn't matter if it's a U.S., German, French, Brazilian or Argentine company.''

Forest carbon markets: benefits challenged

Seems simple enough: Manage forests, sequester carbon, reduce global warming.

A recent summary of science findings Forests, Carbon and Climate Change by the Oregon Forest Institute is supportive:

Chapter 5: In conclusion, forest management cannot fully solve the problem of carbon accumulation in the atmosphere (and no other individual sector can). However, measures in forestry and other types of land management can contribute significantly to the solution.
Over the course of 50 years, reduced deforestation, reforestation, afforestation and other measures could provide a cumulative sequestration of 25 billion metric tons of carbon globally. This is similar to the effect of doubling the current global nuclear power generation capacity or doubling the fuel economy of cars (Pacala and Socolow 2004). Increased carbon storage on land, in combination with a host of emission reduction measures, can help reduce and even end the ongoing rise of carbon concentration in the atmosphere.

Yet the necessary infrastructure to support carbon markets is still in a formative stage:

Industry caught in carbon ‘smokescreen’
Companies and individuals rushing to go green have been spending millions on “carbon credit” projects that yield few if any environmental benefits.

A Financial Times investigation has uncovered widespread failings in the new markets for greenhouse gases, suggesting some organisations are paying for emissions reductions that do not take place."

And then, just to make matters really confusing this report challenges underlying assumptions regarding the relationship between carbon storage in temperate forests and their overall impact on global warming:

Models show growing more forests in temperate regions could contribute to global warming
Temperate and Tropical Forests
New climate modeling research from LLNL and the Carnegie Institution shows that northern temperate forests may contribute to global warming, while tropical forests can help keep global temperatures cool.

In theory, growing a forest may sound like a good idea to fight global warming, but in temperate regions, such as the United States, those trees also would soak up sunlight, causing the earth’s surface to warm regionally by up to 8 degrees Fahrenheit.

05 May 2007

Government statistics and market performance

All you've got to do is believe:

Shadow Government Statistics
Analysis Behind and Beyond Government Economic Reporting

Have you ever wondered why the CPI, GDP and employment numbers run counter to your personal and business experiences? The problem lies in biased and often-manipulated government reporting.

Redefining Progress - 2006
Genuine Progress Indicator Update
Global Warming, Income Gap, Urban Sprawl, and Debt
Reduce America's Economic Welfare

The U.S. economy has actually stagnated since the late 1970s as income inequality, environmental degradation, and our flailing international position take their toll on real economic progress.

03 May 2007

Axis of Oil vs US Dollar

There's been a bit of loose talk here and there that the Iraq war was motivated in part by US efforts to keep world trade in crude oil denominated in dollars. This article confirms the rumor that in 2000 Iraq moved to denominate its oil sales in Euros. But, thats almost as an aside - this is a fairly thorough analysis of the current relationships between oil reserves, oil markets, central bank foreign exchange reserves and currency values. The focus is on Iran, Venezuela and Russia as the "axis of oil" with the necessary reserves of crude to challenge the US Dollar's reserve status in spite of Japanese and Saudi commitments. As usual China, with 1.2 trillion dollars in its central bank reserves and a growing appetite for crude, is a wild card.

If you are up for the detail, read on below and follow the link.

Can the “Axis of Oil” Topple the US Dollar?

By Gary Dorsch, Editor, Global Money Trends newsletter

Were it not for its “reserve currency” status, slowly turning into a post-World War II relic, the US dollar would have already collapsed by now. A string of $4.4 trillion of US trade deficits since 1996, and a heavy reliance on foreign money to fund its external imbalance, has severely weakened America’s global economic leadership over the past five years. The US dollar survives, due to America’s political stability, its military might in the Persian Gulf, its large $12.5 trillion economy (28% of global GDP), and deep and liquid financial markets for bonds and stocks.

Last week, the US dollar fell to an all-time low against the Euro, a new milestone in a steep decline that began more than six years ago. The Euro hit a record high of $1.3682 on April 27th, up from $1.20 a year ago and as little as 83 cents in October 2000, when the rally against the dollar began. The British pound is hovering near $2 area, and the Australian dollar fetches 82.50 US-cents, both at 15-year highs.

02 May 2007

Latin American Companies Make Big U.S. Gains

File this one under irony:

Latin American Companies Make Big U.S. Gains - New York Times

“As Latin America lowered its own barriers to trade and investment, its firms began to look at the world in a very different way,” said Robert Pastor, vice president for international affairs at American University in Washington and a former adviser on Latin America to President Jimmy Carter. “Now Latin America is not just a destination, but an originator of capital and investment.”

Samba is not exactly a hit here in Wilton [Iowa], but a Brazilian-owned steel company, Gerdau Ameristeel, has become one of the two biggest employers in town, importing a new management style and fresh capital to modernize and expand an old mill and temper a tough American labor union.

Since arriving in the United States in 1999, Gerdau has swiftly acquired an empire of 17 mills across 11 states, to become the nation’s fourth-largest steel producer.

01 May 2007

Arctic ice cap melting ahead of schedule

To paraphrase Lily Tomlin: "No matter how pessimistic you get it's never enough to keep up."

According to this Reuters report the Arctic ice cap is melting ahead of forecast:

The Arctic ice cap is melting much faster than expected and is now about 30 years ahead of predictions made by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a U.S. ice expert said on Tuesday.

This means the ocean at the top of the world could be free or nearly free of summer ice by 2020, three decades sooner than the global panel's gloomiest forecast of 2050.

"Long-term and for the next 50 years, I think even the new report will agree that we're in for quite a bit of warming," Scambos said.

"We just barely now, I think, have enough time and enough collective will to be able to get through this century in good shape, but it means we have to start acting now and in a big way."