Post-Eviction Occupy Round Up

I am something of a news junkie.  When I want to procrastinate, which is a lot, I start poking around.  Rather than feel like it is all “a waste,” I thought I would assemble the best of the ‘net surfing here.  I know I can feel overwhelmed.  You too?  Then let my roamings shortcut yours.

There have been some amazing images and photographs.

This woman being pepper-sprayed was, like much photo-journalism, an accident.

What is that long, black pole behind the cop spraying?  It looks like a pike or a cattle prod.

Another bound to be iconic image.  Here we have UC Davis campus police spraying peaceful protestors.

 

The context around this UC Davis event is explained by an open letter to the Chancellor (Now, that is a creepy term.  Sounds like scary Germans) by Professor Nathan Davis.  He writes that at times protestors had their mouths forced open to get more of that spray in.  Nice.

Those they could not separate, they pepper-sprayed directly in the face, holding these students as they did so. When students covered their eyes with their clothing, police forced open their mouths and pepper-sprayed down their throats.

One of my favorite images has got to be Captain (Ret) Ray Lewis of the Phialdelphia police being arrested for marching with the Occupy movement.

The look on his face is priceless.  To me it says “I served the public and democracy for this?”

Another hopeful image is this one of U Cal Berkley students defying the order to not re-establish an encampment in Sproul Plaza.  They floated their tents!  Awesome!

OFinally, a bit on policy ideas.  I love policy ideas and looking at how do-able changes can improve a situation.  David Cay Johnston is a journalist who has written many books.  One which I own and have read parts of is Free Lunch and it is about how venally rich use government to subvert any idea of free competition to line their own pockets.  You can hear him explain this here in a 2008 interview.  For example, big box retailers often get to deduct their sales tax from their costs of building the stores to encourage “job creation.”  I had to read it three times to make sure I wasn’t mis-reading.    Anyway, this very self-described moderate journalist is great at tracking down the dirty details of a rigged system.

I found this interesting op-ed at Reuters by Mr. Johnston.  Derivative trading (like credit default swaps) when one does not actually own the underlying asset is gambling.  The parties are simply making zero-sum bets on the movement of prices.  As much as it can be gussied up to look like something useful for a real economy, the 670 trillion dollars in notional value of CDS‘s in 2008 was a huge casino.  (Notional value means what they were worth on paper.)  So, the solution?  It was already in our laws.  Such debts are unenforceable.  The supreme court, and others, have ruled that gambling debts are not enforceable (hence, the rash of mafia movies involving a certain knee-breaking penchant).  If AIG and Goldman Sachs, among others, had NO expectation they could collect on their CDS bets, they never would have made them and would have stuck to actual hedging.

Nifty.

Finally, a podcast I like, The New Yorker’s “Political Scene” is an insight-packed 12-15 minutes.  This week’s made my eyes bulge and made me start swearing aloud (which probably confused anyone near me while I was walking the dog).  I, like some tea party folks, found myself dripping in the condescension of the the liberal elites.

In a conversation about (about 7 minutes in) where it goes and how it might engage with politics, Hertzberg says they “can’t harness their own energy.”  He says “They don’t have a decision making that works.  They depend on this tribal campfire thing to go forward.”  Then, “Rick” Hertzberg finds himself wondering “what they do stand for.”  Good grief.  Among many problems with this, the most basic one for me is the way the mainstream media and journalism elites force anyone to play by their rules of matching policy to policy.  In other words, rather than understand occupy as a metaphor for public dialogue and democracy form the ground up, protestors are supposed to lobby up and have a ten point plan which will then be crushed by the resources of vested interests.  It is like playing ice hockey but being told you have to use flippers instead of skates.

 

 

Let’s Talk About Free Markets for Energy

Draft!!!1

We hear about the need to move to new, renewable energy sources such as wind, hydro, solar, or geothermal.  Those who criticize this goal can at times seem impatient or they perhaps even scoff at the viability of moving to such energy sources.  The critics will claim that renewable are unrealistic because they cannot compete with oil, coal, gas or nuclear.  For example, nuclear might cost 8 cents/KwH while wind or solar might be 11-12 cents/KwH. So, since those costs per kilowatt hour reflect the natural order of things, it is obviously foolhardy and irrational to ignore the facts of the lower costs of dirty (fossil fuel) or dangerous (nuclear) power.  In fact, in this “free markets are natural and hence irresistible view of the world,” if I push for renewables, I can only do so through “unnatural” interventions into markets such as government subsidies, taxes on dirty or dangerous energy, or other perversions of the natural order of markets.

The problem with this criticism is that it is just flat wrong on the costs of dirty and dangerous energy.  I’ll have a debate on the viability of renewable compared to the double-D of dangerous or dirty energy.  But let’s add some history to the story.  Let’s put all the facts on the table.

First, commercial nuclear power was only made possible due to the WWII Manhattan project.  According to the Brookings institute, the historic cost of the project was $20 billion, which is about $200 billion in today’s dollars.  If any one renewable industry had a $200 billion budget for innovation research, who knows what kinds of breakthroughs in the core technology could be accomplished?  The Department of Energy has spent 10% of the cost of the Manhattan Project since 1948, total, on renewable energy research.  Put another way, we spent $200 billion creating bombs to destroy the world and 1/10th of that on technologies to save the world.

Second, commercial nuclear power cannot get an insurance policy.  Insurers will not write a policy to cover the rare but catastrophic events such as Three Mile Island or the Fukushima plant.  I have left off Chernoybl since it was not built in a capitalist economy.  When we have the rare but inevitable nuclear catastrophe, its costs are so high that there is only one answer. A national government will cover the costs of the clean-up, rebuilding, and loss of health and life.  If we add the true cost of insurance to nuclear power, is it still so much cheaper than alternatives.

Finally, when it comes to fossil fuels, the dirty pair of the double-D energy sources, we should include the cost of our military budget spent keeping oil flowing.  This is a tricky calculation, to be sure.  But, to believe Donald Rumsfeld, who claimed that the invasion of Iraq had “nothing to do with oil” is laughable.  We only need look at the foot dragging around helping the Libyan opposition to Qaddafi now, compared to our yawn as Saudi troops entered Bahrain (home of the US 7th fleet in the Persian Gulf) to help bully pro-democracy protesters to know that oil is a vital strategic interest.  So, how much do we spend keeping gas “cheap” in a free market compared to the supposedly crazy, kooky ideas of alternative fuels?  By one rough calculation, we have spent $7.3 trillion defending the Persian Gulf since 1976.  That is about $240 billion a year.  The cost per gallon at current consumption (178 billion gallons a year)?  $0.73.  But we pay for that cheap gasoline not at the pump, but in our income, payroll, estate, and other taxes.

My numbers may be way off.  But that is not the point.  Let’s have an honest discussion about the costs of energy and fuel.  Free markets don’t exist as natural entities.  They are always products of history and the accumulated choices of our politics.  Markets have rules of the game; the reporting of costs reflect interests; facts always have a long tail of history.  So, by all means, let’s talk about free markets, but let’s do it with a free flow of facts and honesty about who pays for what, when, and how.

 

Draft of “Let’s Talk about Free Markets.”

We hear about the need to move to new, renewable energy sources such as wind, hydro, solar, or geothermal.  Those who criticize this goal can at times seem impatient or they perhaps even scoff at the viability of moving to such energy sources.  The critics will claim that renewable are unrealistic because they cannot compete with oil, coal, gas or nuclear.  For example, nuclear might cost 8 cents/KwH while wind or solar might be 11-12 cents/KwH. So, since those costs per kilowatt hour reflect the natural order of things, it is obviously foolhardy and irrational to ignore the facts of the lower costs of dirty (fossil fuel) or dangerous (nuclear) power.  In fact, in this “free markets are natural and hence irresistible view of the world,” if I push for renewables, I can only do so through “unnatural” interventions into markets such as government subsidies, taxes on dirty or dangerous energy, or other perversions of the natural order of markets.

The problem with this criticism is that it is just flat wrong on the costs of dirty and dangerous energy.  I’ll have a debate on the viability of renewable compared to the double-D of dangerous or dirty energy.  But let’s add some history to the story.  Let’s put all the facts on the table.

First, commercial nuclear power was only made possible due to the WWII Manhattan project.  According to the Brookings institute, the historic cost of the project was $20 billion, which is about $200 billion in today’s dollars.  If any one renewable industry had a $200 billion budget for innovation research, who knows what kinds of breakthroughs in the core technology could be accomplished?  The Department of Energy has spent 10% of the cost of the Manhattan Project since 1948, total, on renewable energy research.  Put another way, we spent $200 billion creating bombs to destroy the world and 1/10th of that on technologies to save the world.

Draft of “Let’s Talk about Free Markets.”

We hear about the need to move to new, renewable energy sources such as wind, hydro, solar, or geothermal.  Those who criticize this goal can at times seem impatient or they perhaps even scoff at the viability of moving to such energy sources.  The critics will claim that renewable are unrealistic because they cannot compete with oil, coal, gas or nuclear.  For example, nuclear might cost 8 cents/KwH while wind or solar might be 11-12 cents/KwH. So, since those costs per kilowatt hour reflect the natural order of things, it is obviously foolhardy and irrational to ignore the facts of the lower costs of dirty (fossil fuel) or dangerous (nuclear) power.  In fact, in this “free markets are natural and hence irresistible view of the world,” if I push for renewables, I can only do so through “unnatural” interventions into markets such as government subsidies, taxes on dirty or dangerous energy, or other perversions of the natural order of markets.

The problem with this criticism is that it is just flat wrong on the costs of dirty and dangerous energy.  I’ll have a debate on the viability of renewable compared to the double-D of dangerous or dirty energy.  But let’s add some history to the story.  Let’s put all the facts on the table.

First, commercial nuclear power was only made possible due to the WWII Manhattan project.  According to the Brookings institute, the historic cost of the project was $20 billion, which is about $200 billion in today’s dollars.  If any one renewable industry had a $200 billion budget for innovation research, who knows what kinds of breakthroughs in the core technology could be accomplished?  The Department of Energy has spent 10% of the cost of the Manhattan Project since 1948, total, on renewable energy research.  Put another way, we spent $200 billion creating bombs to destroy the world and 1/10th of that on technologies to save the world.

Second, commercial nuclear power cannot get an insurance policy.  Insurers will not write a policy to cover the rare but catastrophic events such as Three Mile Island or the Fukushima plant.  I have left off Chernoybl since it was not built in a capitalist economy.  When we have the rare but inevitable nuclear catastrophe, its costs are so high that there is only one answer. A national government will cover the costs of the clean-up, rebuilding, and loss of health and life.  If we add the true cost of insurance to nuclear power, is it still so much cheaper than alternatives.

Finally, when it comes to fossil fuels, the dirty pair of the double-D energy sources, we should include the cost of our military budget spent keeping oil flowing.  This is a tricky calculation, to be sure.  But, to believe Donald Rumsfeld, who claimed that the invasion of Iraq had “nothing to do with oil” is laughable.  We only need look at the foot dragging around helping the Libyan opposition to Qaddafi now, compared to our yawn as Saudi troops entered Bahrain (home of the US 7th fleet in the Persian Gulf) to help bully pro-democracy protestors to know that oil is a vital strategic interest.  So, how much do we spend keeping gas “cheap” in a free market compared to the supposedly crazy, kooky ideas of alternative fuels?  By one rough calculation, we have spent $7.3 trillion defending the Persian Gulf since 1976.  That is about $240 billion a year.  The cost per gallon at current consumption?  $13.90.  But we pay for that cheap gasoline not at the pump, but in our income, payroll, estate, and other taxes.

My numbers may be way off.  But that is not the point.  Let’s have an honest discussion about the costs of energy and fuel.  Free markets don’t exist as natural entities.  They are always products of history and the accumulated choices of our politics.  Markets have rules of the game; the reporting of costs reflect interests; facts always have a long tail of history.  So, by all means, let’s talk about free markets, but let’s do it with a free flow of facts and honesty about who pays for what, when, and how.

Second, commercial nuclear power cannot get an insurance policy.  Insurers will not write a policy to cover the rare but catastrophic events such as Three Mile Island or the Fukushima plant.  I have left off Chernoybl since it was not built in a capitalist economy.  When we have the rare but inevitable nuclear catastrophe, its costs are so high that there is only one answer. A national government will cover the costs of the clean-up, rebuilding, and loss of health and life.  If we add the true cost of insurance to nuclear power, is it still so much cheaper than alternatives.

Finally, when it comes to fossil fuels, the dirty pair of the double-D energy sources, we should include the cost of our military budget spent keeping oil flowing.  This is a tricky calculation, to be sure.  But, to believe Donald Rumsfeld, who claimed that the invasion of Iraq had “nothing to do with oil” is laughable.  We only need look at the foot dragging around helping the Libyan opposition to Qaddafi now, compared to our yawn as Saudi troops entered Bahrain (home of the US 7th fleet in the Persian Gulf) to help bully pro-democracy protestors to know that oil is a vital strategic interest.  So, how much do we spend keeping gas “cheap” in a free market compared to the supposedly crazy, kooky ideas of alternative fuels?  By one rough calculation, we have spent $7.3 trillion defending the Persian Gulf since 1976.  That is about $240 billion a year.  The cost per gallon at current consumption?  $13.90.  But we pay for that cheap gasoline not at the pump, but in our income, payroll, estate, and other taxes.

My numbers may be way off.  But that is not the point.  Let’s have an honest discussion about the costs of energy and fuel.  Free markets don’t exist as natural entities.  They are always products of history and the accumulated choices of our politics.  Markets have rules of the game; the reporting of costs reflect interests; facts always have a long tail of history.  So, by all means, let’s talk about free markets, but let’s do it with a free flow of facts and honesty about who pays for what, when, and how.