Sunday, October 30, 2011

Jack Fracking Kelly

Today Jack Kelly departs from the Occupy movements to lecture on energy history and economics, specifically shale gas. Kelly wants to tell us that shale gas is the end to all of Pennsylvania's problems. But I would say that Kelly deliberately glosses over several points that change the economics of his claims.

Before looking at that, I want to look at Solyndra,which Kelly holds up as an example that "renewable energy" firms are not economical, "despite massive subsidies". First of all, Kelly does not mention (as conservatives never mention) the "massive subsidies", on the order of billions a years, that go to oil, coal and other "traditional" energy sectors. But Solyndra was a special case, using a non silicon based solar panel that was supposed to be much more efficient. They then rolled these panels up, which was supposed to held with problems involved with wind blowing through solar installations. However, turning the panels into tubes had a negative effect on that higher efficiency, and apparently the price of silicon dropped. Thus Solyndra became non competitive and eventually went bankrupt. Should the government have lent them money? Well, they might well be called genuinely innovative, but it is not clear their business model was ready for prime time. One thing I can say is that I have not seen one conservative who looked at the complexity of the Solyndra issue.

And I would say for all the words in Kelly's lecture/daitribe, he's not trying to infrom so much as bully/frighten. A brief bit of research did confirm that the EIA thinks solar is currently too expensive (although predictably even simple costs are more complicated than Kelly says), but I will again raise the issue of subsidies (millions for solar versus billions (thousands of millions) for conventional power) plus the fact that conventional energy sources don't pay for the negative health effects that come from burning those fuels. This is not to mention (well, OK, I am mentioning it) climate change. We have come to accept that tobacco eventually had to help the bills for the ill health effects that we knew cigarettes caused. We know that coal, oil and yes, even natural gas cause ill health effects. Have we forgotten the pictures/paintings of Pittsburgh of the past, dark at mid day?

Kelly claims that shale gas also creates jobs. Perhaps, but Pennsylvania is less than a percentage point under the national average in unemployment. In fact, Kelly's own paper raises questions about shale gas employment.

For shale gas, there is also the lingering question of what effect fracking has on groundwater. I realize conservatives/Republicans dismiss the movie "Gasland" as at best mere anecdotes and for them more likely lies and distortions. Well, if it is only 50% true, shale gas would still be a disaster, poisoning untold numbers of Americans. I almost hate to say it, but I think there might be enough preliminary evidence that Democrats should take a page from the Republican playbook and say that more study is needed before fracking is allowed to go any farther. I don't know about you, but I want to be able to drink tap water and take showers without risk of catching on fire (or being poisoned).

One thing neither Kelly nor I (till now) touched on is taxing shale gas extraction. I think that at least taxing shale gas is a no-brainer. The taxes could go into a health trust fund, to be used to compensate poisoned Pennsylvanians or if there are none, then to provide additional funds to Medicaid or Pennsylvania Adult Basic.

Finally, I think that solar technology is advancing to make it more efficient and cheaper, although because of our short sighted energy policy a lot of development is taking place overseas. I think that it matters where you place large solar installations, that they could be very useful in places like Arizona, Texas and also in Hawaii (where they have to import energy). I still think that correctly designed and installed small, personal solar installations at the home level all across the nation could be huge, although to be clear that will need a lot of government support since the breakeven number in decades, not just years. I think that combinations of solar installations with vertical axis wind turbines may well be the way to go for both roof top and large scale installations. I notice Kelly didn't mention wind power. Is that because wind has a much lower breakeven number?

Kelly is once again naked shilling for Republicans (I guess particularly Tom Corbet) and ignoring any issues that might dilute or dispute his arguments. Don't we deserve better, a more realistic analysis that actually seriously acknowledges other points of view and analyzes their ideas using objective tools?

Apparently not.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Kelly's take two on OWS

If you were sick yesterday of hearing one more thing about OWS/OP, unfortunately Jack Kelly's choice of for his column today won't make you any happier. But OWS provides Jack Kelly with so many things to show contempt for: the President, Democrats, colleges/universities, the protestors themselves, and besides, I have been writing every week about Jack.

Kelly starts and ends with a poll taken of OWS protestors by "Democrat" Douglas Schoen who works for Fox News and published the results in the Wall Street Journal. He starts by telling us that OWS protestors demand ""free college education" and the forgiving of all student loans (and all other debt)". Kelly goes on to say recent college graduates have a higher rate of unemployment than the national rate of unemployment, and then blames the graduates for studying "gender studies". What is funny is that Gail Collins had a similar but more detailed complaint about higher education. Nobody thinks that the exponential increase in college tuition is a good thing, although Kelly decides to blame both the schools and the students. He points out that Wall Street had nothing to do with the increase in college tuition (duh), but then we all know not everything that is wrong in this country is centered in or because of Wall Street (just a lot of things).

Kelly spends a couple of paragraphs talking about his contempt for the comparison of OWS and the Tea Party. Of course Kelly sees the Tea Party as law abiding and OWS as law breakers rightfully being arrested by the hundreds, and not using toilets or cleaning up after themselves. Of course, I am unaware of any extended stay in tents by the Tea Party (perhaps they aren't that motivated).

Kelly skips from there to an attack on Obama, as the person he blames for giving the bankers bailouts. Kelly admits that the bailout was "proposed" by the second Bush, but "most Republicans in the House opposed it while most Democrats supported it". In other words, House Republicans wanted the financial sector to crash, and for there to be another great depression. Jack Kelly is here to tell us who the true patriots are (and I am surprised that Kelly belatedly throws George Bush under the bus).

Then Kelly gets to something that I would have to agree with, that the Obama administration has an unfortunately close relationship to Wall Street banks. This situation was detailed in Charles Ferguson's Inside Job, how first the Bush administration and then the Obama administration staffed the treasury department and Presidential economic advisers with individuals who came from the ranks of executives or sat on boards of the largest financial institutions. Even the best known economists in academia often sit on boards of financial institutions. Kelly also makes the charge that Dodd-Frank actually protects Wall Street banks at the expense of other, smaller banks. I wouldn't say that Dodd-Frank was totally friendly to Wall Street banks, but I do believe there was pressure from banks directly on both Republicans and Democrats and also filtering through the Administration itself during the crafting of and the debate on the bill. Still, it is interesting to me that Kelly slavishly follows the doctrine of his Tea Party masters. He slams the economic knowledge of the OWS protestors (who are composed of long time political agitators and political neophytes in unknown proportions), yet he has no word for what would happen if, as he apparently wishes, Dodd-Frank nationalized the Wall Street banks instead of "protecting" them.

Certainly I (absolutely) think the Obama administration should not be exempt from criticism. In fact, there are plenty of critics of the President, including an entire TV network seemingly devoted to that (Fox News), and the rest of the media generally repeats all the criticisms of the right. Which is unfortunate, because the narrative of the right generally includes this idea of reversing the deficit and lowering the debt. I would agree that in the long run, our country should be borrowing a much smaller amount of money each year, which by the way says nothing about how taxes should be structured. But now concentrating on the deficit/debt is telling the unemployed that we are going to do nothing for them, and in fact may make their lives even worse. Conservatives have shown no sign that they want to do anything but transfer even more money away from the poor towards the rich.

All of which is to say that honest criticism is one thing, but distorting information is quite something else. Remember the Schoen poll I mentioned at the start of this post? A journal Capital New York was given the raw numbers from the Schoen poll, and found that conclusions reached by Schoen (and repeated by Kelly) were simply not borne out by the actual poll numbers. For example, Kelly repeats Schoen's claim that the OWS protestors believe in "radical redistribution of wealth", although in fact only 4% believe that. Yes, 98% do belive in civil disobedience (duh, that's what they are doing now) and 31% could support violence in some undefined future. But, as I understand it, all the Occupy movements around the country have been scrupulous in policing their own protestors to prevent any violence, at least on the part of the protestors. Kelly's demonizing of the protestors is simply not very credible. But the PG doesn't rein him in.

Another Occupy Wall Street/Occupy Pittsburgh post

OK, so you are probably sick of hearing about OWS/OP (Occupy Wall Street slash Occupy Pittsburgh) by now. But I am still thinking about it, and here are some of my thoughts...

First, I still want to say that I think that some, perhaps many of the people who are occupying probably volunteered for Barack Obama in 2008. They might not have participated in politics before, but the two wars and collapsing economy got their attention, and the election left them energized. Now a bit over two and half years later, Obama has turned out to be a major conciliator with the Republicans (he did say he wanted to be bipartisan) and not effective at helping the economy. He did keep us from collapsing completely, but we are not making progress towards improving things. So, disillusioned, some Obama supporters and other rather ordinary people have taken to the streets to protest.

Second, I guess I get the hands fluttering thing, certainly the human microphone thing (silly but I suspect rather effective ... OK, Life of Brian). I am conflicted about the requirement for absolute consensus. On the one hand, what planet are these people living on? On the other hand, people who are not authority figures (authority figures being bankers, politicians, pundits, even some self serving bloggers like myself ...) being ignored, their opinions being discounted is part of what got us here in the first place.

I have heard OWS described as democracy in its purest form., perhaps there is something to that. But more important is that apparently this was the only that poorer people could get their voices heard. Maybe we shouldn't care about their method of voting so much as what they are saying.

Third, I read/heard something interesting in the last day or so, I forget where. It might have been Bill Maher's show this week (which I highly recommend) or an article on the "austerity class", those politicians who want to cut government spending. By the way, they not only want to cut spending to zero out the deficit and start to work on the debt, but they also want to cut taxes for rich, so their wealth can trickle down on us (really, the worst metaphor). Anyway, the interesting thing is that war spending, infrastructure, education, unemployment and pollution generally do not get discussed until the "austerity class" sees a way to attack them as reckless spending. Can we believe that the austerity class wants allow more pollution, because that will create more jobs? Krugman does a good job demolishing that argument.

Fourth, I still have to wonder if their is an end game/exit strategy with OWS/OP. Is there a way they can declare victory and allow the people to go home? To me, there are actually eerie parallels to Afghanistan and Iraq. Iraq and Afghanistan had had no recent experience with democracy, but plenty of experience with strong men shoving democratic institutions aside. Plus, the people trying to install democracy, the Bush administration ... not so good at it them selves.

For the OWS people, the problem is that Wall Street is not capable of policing themselves, despite what conservatives would have you believe. It makes me think that we are looking at another endles occupation, like Iraq/Afghanistan. I mean, the inability to police themselves is obvious. Just about exactly ten years after Glass Steagall was repealed, the resulting housing bubble and massive fraud burst, wrecking the economy. We need Glass Steagall back, but I don't know that Congress can, will or even should react to OWS. After all, how many voters from how many districts are camped out in Zuccotti Park?

Fifth, that actually an unfair question brings up a bigger problem. there may be (relatively) few phyical protestors, but a majority of us agree with them. Right now, in my estimate, the problem is the money in politics. Still, in a country where politicians turned a blind eye to the growing bubble because their big donors (business, especially the financial sector) wanted them to, how can we expect these same politicians or any other newly elected politician who has accepted corporate money, to address the too much money in politics. I will say it again, our problem is too much money in politics from corporations, from the 1% or the top 15%. It is the genie let out of the bottle and stuffing the genie back in is probably impossible. But these are the issues that we have to grapple with. Is OWS/OP/Occupy anywhere the tool to do the job? Maybe not, but anyone have a better idea?

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

And now for something completely different ...

Something occurred to me recently, unrelated to OWS or the Republican Presidential side show (freak show? that would be unkind). You remember the first Reese's Peanut Butter Cup commercials, where the guy eating the candy bar runs into the gy eating peanut butter?

Well, I have an electric bike, and it occurred to me that electric bikes are a lot like a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup collision of an electric golf cart and a regular bike (I believe most golf carts are electric).

If we recast the commercial with a bike and a golf cart, I can just imagine the reactions of the cyclist and cart-ist (?) - "Hey, you got an engine and battery on my bike (wow, what a boost)" "Hey, I'm not as comfortable here, and you want me to pedal? (yeah, it is more efficient and cheaper than my cart)".

Why not a moped colliding with a bike? Well, a moped is actually already a bike/engine hybrid, it's just that most, if not all of them are gasoline powered. Mopeds are hugely efficient vehicles in MPG, but I suspect the electric motor on the bike is almost, if not more, efficient than the moped in terms of energy used.

If Reese's (Hershey?) permitted, I can see a cool riff on the original Reese's ad campaign for any particular electric bike company using a generic bike and a generic golf cart.

Hey, some company is brnging back the Commodore 64, albeit with an Intel dual core Atom or core i7 processor and a Linux OS with a shell that is supposed to (or will in the future) mimic the old Commodore OS. If we can bring back the '64 for aging Boomers, let's revive the old Reese's commercials (complete with bad hair and polyester) for 21st century electric bikes.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Kelly on OWS

If it is fair for Jack Kelly to assert intentions, actions and feelings that he thinks Democrats have/do, is it fair to ask Kelly to show some proof, show where some Democrat verifies his assertions? Kelly makes these assertions in his PG column today "Occupied by crazies", where even the title of column is insulting and rude.

Kelly says that “Democrats envy and fear the tea party, a grassroots movement that arose spontaneously after CNBC editor Rick Santelli's epic rant on the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange Feb. 19, 2009.” and “Envious Democrats tried to Astroturf a liberal alternative, the coffee party, founded by Annabel Park, an organizer of the United for Obama video channel.”. I have often heard that the astroturfing was done by FreedomWorks, an organization created out of organizations the Koch Brothers funded to the tune of 13 million dollars (and Richard Scaife was involved as well), all of which is documented. In contrast, the Coffee Party appears to have no particular funding from any big donors, though by their own admisson, they used some technology from a site Soros helped fund. Probably not 13 million dollars worth.

Maybe Democrats should envy the massive funding furnished by the 1 percent to their Tea Party puppets.

When Kelly mentions reporters at ABC News, NBC News and the Washington Post, he calls them “Mainstream” journalists (his quotes), as if you aren't a real reporter unless you work for the Wall Street Journal, Fox News, The American Thinker or Big Government (and I believe Kelly has quoted Hot Air and Pajamas Media in the past). Kelly asserts (with plenty of qualifiers such as “likely” and “many” - not even most) that the Tea Party is composed of people wealthier people, while Occupy Wall Street is composed of poorer people who do not pay (federal income) taxes (though the poor do pay Social Security and Medicare taxes and state and local and property if their house has not been foreclosed on). So Kelly thinks that the opinions of wealthier people are more valuable than the opinions of poor people, because the poor are just trying to get free things. Because the poor can afford lobbyists to give Congresspersons golfing trips to Scotland, and use that power to force the government to give money to unemployed people (who paid into the Unemployment Compensation fund) when unemployment goes through the roof.

Kelly quotes George Will comparing the various Occupy events to the September 12 2009 Tea Party event (sponsored by Fox News, FreedomWorks and other billionaire funded organizations). Will says that the this one Tea Party event dwarfs all the Occupy events. Which numbers is he using, or is he relying on the picture of the 1997 Promise Keepers event on the mall?

Kelly also says the OWS people are messy and get arrested by the hundreds. Well, sure, the Tea Party knows that it doesn't need to camp out to get its message heard, they just need to reach for their (collective) check books and release a statement to Fox News. Although the actual first Tea Party risked arrest and imprisonment, like the OWS protesters do now.

Kelly even says that some OWS protesters advocate violence (any citation … I thought not). Obviously Kelly doesn't remember the furor that erupted when Obama was elected, over the the idea Obama would pursue increased gun control. Richard Poplawski thought Obama was coming for his guns when he opened up on Pittsburgh Police. Of course, I guess I would have to say Poplawski was likely too poor to be in the Tea Party.

Personally, I t can't see where the various Occupy movements in various cities can ever declare victory. Wanting something like a redistribution of income, jobs, and cheaper if not free higher education simply won't happen in the short term, and won't happen without a sustained effort made from both the outside and the inside. Tents in parks do not lend themselves to that sort effort. Still, I think we can all agree that Jack Kelly is not improving the situation which his distortions.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Kelly's scandal

So today Jack Kelly again goes after the "Gunwalker" scandal. Kelly calls for Eric Holder to be impeached, and calls the scandal "one of the bloodiest scandals in American history.". OK, so there might be something there. Now, an AP article from the end of July described the effort (which they called "Fast and Furious") as having "loftier" goals, but describes the awful consequences of not arresting people right away when illegal purchases were made. I can understand trying to get the bigger fish, but it sounds like the plan was just to allow guns to be sold and then see if they can tied later to a higher level criminal. Not surprisingly considering guns that were bought to be used in crime, there were (actually predictable) consequences that occurred. It does seem likely that Holder would have been told about the plan early on, although I wouldn't be surprised if his subordinates would have become more reticent as the negative consequences started rolling.

So is this a thing that Eric Holder should be impeached for? Well, maybe, although don't treat us like we are stupid, Mr Kelly. Your motivation for your complaints is purely political. Have you or would you call for charges against President Bush and Vice-President Cheney with regard to the invasion of Iraq, where the various justifications given - Weapons of Mass Destruction, connection to al Qaeda and spreading freedom across the Middle East - all justifications the administration knew ahead of time were false. How many Americans, let alone Iraqi civilians, died in Iraq?

I will say that I think it is fine to call attention to real scandals, whether they are "Gunwalker" or invading Iraq, torturing "detainees" or wiretapping the nation. And by the way, I want to call attention to on lonely paragraph in Kelly's column "ATF whistleblowers have been fired or transferred to dead end jobs. Agent Newell was promoted.". As I have pointed before, Glenn Greenwald has been pursuing the issue the current Justice Department's harsh attitude toward whistle blowers as well as continuing wiretapping programs. But the problem for Kelly is that talking about whistle blowers means blaming the administration when it covers up its own scandals, but agreeing with them (or at least remaining silent) when they mistreat Bradley Manning and go after Wikileaks. And Kelly can't condemn Obama for wiretapping programs if he praised Bush for it (or he can, but he only makes his hypocrisy more apparent).

Jack Kelly takes an important issue and, by being partisan, manages to make it seem trivial.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Only ordinary distortion ...

Jack Kelly today engages in what I would call only an ordinary level of distortion of reality, an ordinary level of misinterpreting statistics to try to mislead his readers. Kelly's basic assertions are that a) the President is in trouble with voters according to polls, b) that Republicans are not as hated as liberals would like to say and c) that Herman Cain is actually a viable candidate. All these statements are, to some extent, true, although in my opinion they are not an accurate portrayal of reality.

How much trouble is the President in? Well, obviously, a fair amount. Any time you have to explain how we misunderstood "Yes we can" to Americans, as Van Jones did on Bill Maher's Real Time, that's a bad sign. Jones explanation, by the way, was the phrase is yes we can, not yes I can, which I find somewhat persuasive. This President has shown an almost pathological need to at least thwart the accusations of conservatives that he is a socialist, if not actually be appreciated by Republicans for moving more than half across the center to show bipartisanship. Maybe Obama feels he needs to be liked by people who dislike him. Maybe that's why he has returned to the campaign rhetoric, to win back now disaffected Democrats.

Maybe, and really I don't care, as long as Obama pushes policies that help the economy. But one thing I have to say is that we can count on Republicans not to propose anything that will help unemployment, which brings us to Kelly's second thought. I am not a registered Republican, I would not be among the 11 percent that are very dissatisfied with the current field (although I would find Michele Bachmann somewhat insulting to me). I searched and found (despite Mr. Kelly's usual lack of citation for his references) polls from Suffolk University. The one I looked at (which might be the one Kelly looked at, or slightly more recent). In that poll, the callers somehow reached a population that was only 9% Democrat and 87% Republican or Independent. Maybe that's reality in New Hampshire, or maybe they had a way of polling people who vote in the Republican primary. Either way, about 30% of those polls were moderately or very dissatisfied with the field of Republican candidates. I just suspect that by late October next year, after the debates and assuming nothing dramatic happens, Barack Obama will have looked more competent in the debates (assuming he finds a way to finesse the questions about his own Presidential performance) than who ever the Republican candidate is.

Which is my sort of long range response to the viability of Herman Cain as a candidate. Kelly's points that Cain's lack of political office experience doesn't have to be a negative is a reasonable one, although Cain will have to be an exceptional debater to persuade a majority of Americans that his understanding of the complexity of our problems is the same as their understanding. Which is to say that if Herman Cain wants to sell our problems as "simple", he will have to convince us to ignore any complexity that others might raise. Maybe he can, but I wouldn't think that was a good bet. Yeah, stranger things have happened, (even to say Reagan and Clinton) but I would take that bet.

Which really applies to all the Republican candidates. Unless the Republican is willing to beak with the party and offer a plausible jobs plan (and I wonder how they would pay for it), then the current party inclination is to ignore the unemployed (as a policy matter) and essentially shift even more wealth to the rich. While Kelly says that Democrats can't win on issues, I don't think the Republicans can win on their own issues. We'll all see.