Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Last Lion Is Gone: Ted Kennedy 1932-2009

No one in the last 47 years has fought harder for the average American than Ted Kennedy. That's how long he was in the Senate. He will be missed.

Update: It's past 2 a.m. in Boston and the Globe hasn't quite caught up yet to the news. But they know. They've known for months. See this long piece on Ted Kennedy.

2nd Update: Here's the Boston Globe finally on Ted Kennedy's death.

I've been looking for someone to remind us who Ted Kennedy was. Here's a couple of paragraphs from David Lightman's article on McClatchy:
He was one of history's most towering senators, a skilled lawmaker who crafted scores of statutes that helped how children learn, how doctors treat the sick and how workers are paid and protected.

“He was the Henry Clay of the 20th Century. He got the job done,” said Thomas Whelan, associate professor of social science at Boston University, citing the “Great Compromiser” of the mid-19th Century.

3rd Update: Turkana of The Left Coaster has this:
When I was a teenager, in the 1970s, if you wanted to research the issue of national health care, you consulted the Congressional Record, and ended up quoting Senator Ted Kennedy. If you wanted to research alternative energy, you consulted the Congressional Record, and ended up quoting Senator Ted Kennedy. if you wanted to research labor issues, human rights, poverty, peace, immigration, and just about any other important issue, you consulted the Congressional Record, and ended up quoting Senator Ted Kennedy.

There more at The Left Coaster. Jeralyn of Talk Left has been humming "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" all day.

S.W. Anderson of Oh!Pinion wrote an apt line:
...throughout his seven and a half six-year terms Kennedy was what a great senator should be: a lobbyist for those who could never afford a lobbyist...

I've been reading a fair number of editorials. I'm tired of hearing that Kennedy was a flawed man. He was no more flawed than any number of Republican senators, governors, government officials and a president or two whose behavior is quickly forgotten in the media. The difference, to mention only one, is that Kennedy got things done. We're a better nation because of him. In Washington, only a handful of today's Republicans can say the same, and their record is dwarfed by Senator Edward M. Kennedy. Somewhere among all the posts I've written, I think I quoted my grandfather, a Republican, by the way. He wasn't like today's Republicans, though. He had a simple philosophy: "The measure of a man is not how much he takes, but how much he gives." There aren't many men and women who have lived up to that as well as John, Robert and Ted.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Referring to "Some Critics" and "Critics Say": Lazy Journalism?

I try to be specific when I'm referring to the opinions of others but I'm sure I fail sometimes. What puzzles me is how often I've seen articles lately that do not name their sources when a quoted or paraphrased opinion seems easily attributable. It's not a state secret to have an opinion. Here's an article on the Cash for Clunkers program by Ken Thomas of AP:
... the Cash for Clunkers program encouraged more than a half-million Americans to dump their gas guzzlers for new cars and provided a much-needed, short-term boost to the economy.

Critics say that's hardly the whole story. They view the $3 billion program as the equivalent of a Ford Edsel, a lemon of a policy and an example of Obama administration willingness to cherry-pick winners and stick taxpayers with the tab.

"Ford Edsel, a lemon of a policy" is catchy and sounds like a direct quote to me. But the person who made it wants it off the record? Odd. At the very least, Thomas should say whether the critic is a Republican.

Thomas, however, does quote Chris Edwards of the Cato Institute:
"It increases the government's debt and will probably, like those other temporary programs, produce higher inflation in the future."
Let's see. The United States has had inflation for every year since the 1970s. Republicans in most of the years they have controlled the White House, Congress or both have outspent the Democrats. Under their watch, the real estate bubble, combined with fraudulent financial instruments in the mortgage industry, was the primary cause of the recent economic meltdown. But housing costs were so inflationary during the Bush years they gotten taken off the books. And conservatives were nowhere to be found. In the meantime, meaning today, the auto industry around the world is in a nosedive. The Cash for Clunkers program has put a brake on that nosedive and that's all.

In addition, the purpose of the Clunker program, besides trying to help the auto industry, is to help consumers afford cars with better gas mileage. What, if I can ask a rhetorical question, was another big cause of the economic meltdown? High gasoline prices! Surely it's not hard for Edwards to understand that higher mileage per gallon is not, I repeat, not inflationary. Actually, what the hell is Chris Edwards talking about, anyway? If he's doing anything other than mouthing conservative boilerplate to cover 30 years of failures, I can't see it.

Let's go to another article. It seems conservatives are nervous that China's stimulus package will actually help their economy. So in the last two weeks, with the temporary drop in China's stock market, conservatives have been talking about inflation and employment problems in China. Well, let's take a look at an article titled "China Growth Can't Fulfil Jobs Demand: Ministry":
Some critics have argued that Beijing's 585-billion-dollar economic stimulus, unveiled in November, did not give sufficient support to the labour-intensive sectors and firms that create most jobs.

Now I admit I don't know what continent or even what political persuasion "some critics" adhere too but I have seen conservatives express similar opinions. The simple truth, which has been known for some time, is that China is going to have an employment problem for another 10 to 20 years. It is, after all, an emerging economy. But let's look at another part of the article:
The government has pledged to create nine million new jobs this year and keep the urban registered unemployment rate below 4.6 percent.

Conservatives can throw as many monkey wrenches at that sentence as they want. But the Chinese may deliver on that pledge and there aren't many countries even capable of fulfilling that pledge. In a year when most economies are down or barely raising their GDP more than 1 or 2%, China is having an off year and will have a growth of some 7 to 8%. But if the Chinese stock market slips for a few days, American conservatives are ready to jump.

Let's finish with another article on China, this one from The Wall Street Journal:
While the country might shift benignly to stable levels of economic growth, it faces the risk of a renewed slowdown -- or worse -- next year, asset bubbles, overcapacity in basic industries or a burst of inflation from all the money the authorities have injected into the economy.

Conservative economists (and writers) are raising the specter of inflation. For many reasons, inflation is a real concern but it is trivial compared to an economy dead in the water. We know in the coming 20 to 30 years that we have entered a new era. Fossil fuels, all by themselves, make it likely that a wide range of prices will go up and down and sideways. The world has wasted thirty years ignoring the fact that it has not developed the energy of the future. People in the 1950s were already aware that the oil age was going to have a finite life, one sufficiently short that attention needed to be given to what the next energy source would be for sustaining the modern world.

China is building infrastructure for the future. It shows signs that it gets it. Even Japan is changing its ways. In Japan, the economics of Milton Friedman is dead. What the second and third largest economies in the world realize is that the conservative agenda laid out in the United States is not working. What will work is a combination of government and business working together. What will not work is giving $10 million bonuses to sociopaths and narcissists who could care less about the long term effect of their actions on the economy of their nation.

Will Obamanomics work? I have no idea. In my opinion, Obama is not going far enough. And much still depends on psychology. There can be no question that Republicans are doing their best to gum up the works and bad mouth the results. They do not want Obama to succeed. Ultimately, they do not want America to succeed. If America succeeds under Obama, conservatives will have to do something they would despise: admit they're wrong. Actually, they've been wrong on the economy for a very long time.


Friday, August 21, 2009

Money Being Put Into Electric Cars

The clunker program is a success, meaning a half million cars are now on the road that get better mileage than the cars they replaced. Is it a roaring success? Unfortunately, no. The world needs to think much bigger if we are to move into the future with some capacity and resilience to handle the economic turbulence of the coming years. The immediate future depends on high mileage cars. That means high-mileage compacts, hybrid cars, plug-in varieties and practical electric cars (hydrogen might be 20 years down the road but it will require a new energy infrastructure that's not even close to existing yet). The key in the year 2009 is the continued development of plug-ins and electric cars with hybrids playing an important transition role.

The AP has a story on Germany making a big push for electric:
Germany ... became the latest country to fast track development of electric cars, the government approving a plan Wednesday that aims to put 1 million of them on the road by 2020.


...the government plans to spend some euro500 million ($705 million) on the plan over the next three years — including euro115 million ($164 million) to establish eight test regions examining how the cars could best be introduced.

Although Germany has resisted a stimulus package, this is a major step forward and, with a population of 82 million, it's comparable to Barack Obama's latest move on the auto front; here's a Reuter's story from a couple of weeks ago:
President Barack Obama opened a $2.4 billion war chest aimed at catapulting the U.S. forward in the race to develop and mass-produce electric vehicles and batteries.


The grants are divided into three areas: $1.5 billion to help U.S. manufacturers produce batteries and grow recycling capacity; $500 million toward U.S. production of electric drive components; and $400 million for education and workforce training, and the purchase and testing of electric vehicles in multiple locations.

Obama has stated a goal of 1 million electric cars by 2015. Maybe a few million dollars can be set aside to develop software that can help consumers locate batteries and outlets and whatever else they need on a website accessible from a cell phone or even on the electronic panels showing up more frequently in cars. Transportation systems are going to have to be more flexible for a while to take advantage of various options and resources that will surely come into play. People will need a way to get information on the road that will keep them moving on the road.

When it comes to energy and the environment, The New York Times generally means well but there are curious things that show up. They too did a story on the money for developing electric cars:
Observers hailed the grants as a "down payment" for an industry that, in truth, isn't too far behind its overseas rivals and that could make a profound reduction in U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.


Currently, the U.S. industry sources many of its parts from abroad. Energy Secretary Steven Chu, announcing one grant in North Carolina, said Japan produces 99 percent of the batteries for the hybrid cars on U.S. roads.

An industry that, in truth, isn't too far behind? And then: Japan produces 99 percent of the batteries? Surely, the reporters are joking? Or maybe their editors. Make no mistake, we are behind and we need major investment if we are to be a leader in new technologies and not merely the fat cat consumer with no industry to support our buying habits. Powerful, long-lasting batteries are going to be a key in transportation and many other industries in the years ahead. Even solar and wind are going to require some way of storing energy when they aren't producing. By the way, with the collapse of newspapers around the country and the lack of enough reporters on the internet news sites, we still need the Times. But I sure wish they would read their own stories.

Then again, although Japan is clearly the leader in battery technology and research, it may well fall behind if it doesn't commit more resources to electric vehicles. Here's another New York Times article:
Mitsubishi Motors started leasing its all-electric vehicle, the i-MiEV, in June. Next year, Nissan Motor is set to release its electric car, the Leaf. But Toyota does not plan to introduce an all-electric car until 2012. Instead, later this year, it plans to introduce a plug-in electric-gasoline hybrid, and only a few hundred initially.

Let's be clear: Japan is falling behind on the implementation of electric cars. It seems to have had a timetable prior to the recent economic meltdown. Part of the implementation involves better batteries. If anyone can think of how large old batteries can be easily replaced with new and better batteries, then perhaps there is no problem, and new technology can simply replace the old in good time. Japan's problem is not the technology but perhaps indecision about the timing of introducing electric cars. But we are in a different climate than just 18 months ago. With Germany, the U.S. and perhaps China committing to plug-ins and electric cars, it's time for Japan to get with the program.

Then again, it would be no surprise if U.S. automakers suddenly lose their nerve. When you have executives whose claim to fame is where to place the coffee cup holder, maybe a few more engineers need to move into the executive suite. The clunker program may be proof that Americans are ready for change. At least it ought to be used for such proof. This is where presidential and even media leadership can be helpful. What we don't need are fantastic claims one day about mpg of over 200 (I'm skeptical) and wobbly GM knees the next:
General Motors has cast doubt over the long-term future of the Chevrolet Volt by claiming it may not be commercially viable and other rivals may overtake it with superior and more advanced technology.


The Volt is scheduled for a November 2010 launch, but the GM report claimed that the range-extender hybrid technology may not be fully developed in time to meet this target date. Pre-production Volt models began testing in June.

A $40,000 price tag may be the problem. But the government is talking about big incentives for purchasing such vehicles. Congress has never been shy about creating other incentives. Given the price of gas, any number of nonprofits need high mileage cars. For half a billion dollars, a lot of nonprofits could be helped acquiring such vehicles. That would help nonprofits and help electric cars off to a good launch.

Although there's probably no way the government can help, except to make licensing easier, I would like to see one other development. There are still a lot of home inventors and mechanics in the U.S.; whether in the home garage or the school auto shop, maybe reasonably affordable plug-ins are possible for the do-it-yourself crowd. There are a lot of teenagers who want to be green. There are a lot of old cars with burnt-out engines but reasonably usable bodies that might be converted. I may be just dreaming, but it's something to think about: a revival of American know-how.


Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Handy-Dandy Blog 'Steal-O-Meter'

Mark Glaser of Mediashift has a blog that discusses the difference between stealing other people's internet material and promoting what they wrote. He offers seven scenarios from legitimate to outright stealing. I recommend taking a look. Although he says he's not covering all scenarios, one scenario he leaves out is one often used on this blog. I sometimes quote two, three, sometimes four sources to make at least one point none of the quoted pieces covered. Often the point I'm making is the real story.