Category Archives: Economics

Zeitgeist: Tactical Myths That Control the World

A compilation of the most prominent myths that have misled our culture for centuries. An in-depth look at the world, exposing the abuse of power from the time of the Egyptians to the war in Iraq.

For more information visit www.zeitgeistmovie.com

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Filed under Civil Liberties, Economics, Education, Environment, Health, Mental Environment, Politics, Social Justice, Surveillance

This is what democracy looks like

It’s hard to keep faith in representative democracy after days like today.

This afternoon, the United States Senate voted to preserve retroactive legal immunity for telecom companies who cooperated with intelligence agencies in the wake of September 11, 2001.

What’s more, the Senate also permitted the government to conduct wiretaps without a warrant by reauthorizing the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act without any additional protection for the privacy of Americans.

Here’s Senator Russ Feingold setting forth the implications of this bill in layman’s terms.

You can prove the United States conducts torture, but you still can’t hold anyone accountable. The same goes for tearing asunder U.S. domestic laws regarding privacy and protections against self-incrimination. The same goes for the 24/7 surveillance society that has sprung up over the past seven years.

There was a lot of empty talk about “change” during the ’06 elections. In the ’08 Presidential campaign, that catchphrase has been substituted for genuine discussion of the disaster that is the Global War on Terror, record inequality, the creeping re-segregation (class or racial, take your pick) of American society, and the decrepitude of a bicameral political system beholden to banking and military-industrial institutions that have driven the United States into needless wars and a looming economic catastrophe.

To quote a certain Washington native, “regime change starts at home.”

written by Ali Winston

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Filed under Censorship, Civil Liberties, Economics, Politics, Surveillance

Kill the poor

So it’s official.

The country is plunging headlong into a recession and not even New York City, home of Wall Street and the last bastion of prosperity in the plummeting real-estate market, is exempt.

Last week, Mayor Mike Bloomberg announced that the city would be slashing its budget for the new year as a result of the market’s recent troubles. The numbers speak for themselves. In June of last year, the city projected $16.8 billion in revenues for Wall Street firms. Current estimates put estimated revenues for 2008 at $2.8 billion – a 600% decrease. If that’s not a recession, tell me what is.

If the richest of the rich are feeling the effects of the market crash, then what about the rest of us, left behind in this age of record inequality? As a result of the subprime mortgage crisis (which is mushrooming into a broader credit crisis), millions of working poor or lower-middle class Americans will be put out of a home by year’s end, or hanging on by the skin of their teeth. Hundreds of thousands have already lost their homes, largely in majority-minority neighborhoods from the Outer Boroughs to Inland Empire.

So what is the solution? Does the government increase taxes for the top 10% of Americans, who reap the majority of this country’s wealth? Think again. The Federal government opts to enact a stimulus package that does nothing, I repeat, nothing for the growing number of working poor – there isn’t even an increase for food stamp allowances at a time when biofuels and international market pressures are pushing food prices steadily upwards. President Bush wants to make his infamous tax cuts, which disproportionately benefit the wealth, permanent.

So how do struggling municipalities stay attractive to businesses and the wealthy without demanding they give up a greater share of their income to balance out the vagaries of the market?

Poor taxes!

New York is at the forefront of this initiative. Mayor Bloomberg’s much-touted congestion pricing initiative hurts everyone but the small segments of New Yorkers wealthy or lucky enough to live below 86th street in Manhattan. Outer Borough residents and business owners who rely on cars rather than far-flung subways, as well as those driving in from New Jersey, Long Island, and Upstate New York (where almost all of the city’s bulk merchandise comes from).

The recent subway fare hike, vigorously opposed by riders and the subject of an incessent Daily News campaign, passed even though the spectacularly inept (whisper it, corrupt) Metropolitan Transit Authority was running a budget surplus. Base fare stayed constant at $2, which is terrific for the legions of tourists here for the day, but does not help everyday commuters who can’t afford $81 monthly passes and live on $10 and $20 Metrocards, which now provide fewer free rides.

More outlandishly, Governor Eliot Spitzer raised the sales tax on sales of malt liquor and cigarillos, and enacted a stamp tax on drugs seized by police. That’s correct – not only is it more expensive to drink away your sorrows legally, but New York State will now tax you $3.50 for every gram of weed they seize from you. It’s not legal to possess, and you still will face narcotics charges, but at least the state got some cash out of you!

There is no comparable tax on caviar, Cristal, or imported cigars.

Things are no better on the West Coast. Rocked by record foreclosures and fearful of a statewide recession, some California politicians are moving to ease the fiscal burden on landlords and allow them to reap greater profits by repealing the state’s rent control laws. 1.2 million Californians live in rent-controlled properties. On the cusp of a recession, the country’s largest state could very well expose over a million residents to higher rents and possible homelessness.

All this in a “classless” society. It’s only a matter of time before something gives and people snap out of their American Idol-induced stupors.  Without a new crop of mind-numbing sitcoms, that could be sooner rather than later. At least some good could come from the writer’s strike…

written by Ali Winston

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From Luxury Comes Tragedy

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[Worker safety circa 1932 – some things never change]

On Monday afternoon, two workers fell from the incomplete hulk of Donald Trump’s Soho Hotel. One man, a Ukrainian immigrant from Greenpoint, was decapitated during the fall, while his more fortunate colleague miraculously survived.

Leaving aside the fact that the men were employed by a construction firm with clear mafia ties and a rash of code violations, and the Trump building is going up in spite of zoning violations and vehement protests by residents, this was the second incident inside a month where workers fell to their death from New York City high-rises. Edgar Moreno, an Ecuadorean immigrant and window cleaner, died on Dec. 8th after falling 43 stories from a scaffolding while washing windows on a skyscraper. In both instances, improper construction or safety procedures were deemed culpable.

This is the dark side of New York City’s soon-to-end real estate boom: worker safety.

Construction accidents were on the rise as recently as 2006, until the media got caught up in the housing bubble and accompanying paid advertisements by realtors. In 2007, accidents at high-rise sites resulting in injury or death rose 83 percent, according to the New York City Building Department.

Real estate, and construction in particular, are industries driven by the bottom line. Profits are management’s prime concern, and the highest margin is best achieved by skimping on construction costs. This includes safety training, equipment, and following proper construction procedures designed to lessen the chance of mishaps. At the Trump Soho, substandard construction procedures were documented in photos taken minutes before Yuriy Vanchytskyy met his fate.

In a climate where the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, a federal agency in charge of worker safety, issues fines of $3,500 for failure to provide proper security devices, what incentive do contractors have to comply with existing regulations? $3,500 is pocket change when compared to the lucrative profits taken in by boom-time construction firms. Furthermore, New York City’s Building Department is stretched thin, with a dearth of inspectors to examine the myriad of unfinished or under-construction projects.

Until tragedies like these occur, blue-collar workers simply do not rate in the minds of New York City’s new generation of “urban pioneers.” Their multi-million dollar glass-and-steel lofts are literally paid for in sweat, tears, and blood.

But do they care? Hell, no, they’ve got more important things to worry about: The new Macbook Air is out!

written by Ali Winston

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Solar Cell Production Jumps 50 Percent in 2007

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Production of photovoltaics (PV) jumped to 3,800 megawatts worldwide in 2007, up an estimated 50 percent over 2006. At the end of the year, according to preliminary data, cumulative global production stood at 12,400 megawatts, enough to power 2.4 million U.S. homes. Growing by an impressive average of 48 percent each year since 2002, PV production has been doubling every two years, making it the world’s fastest-growing energy source.

Photovoltaics, which directly convert sunlight into electricity, include both traditional, polysilicon-based solar cell technologies and new thin-film technologies. Thin-film manufacturing involves depositing extremely thin layers of photosensitive materials on glass, metal, or plastics. While the most common material currently used is amorphous silicon, the newest technologies use non-silicon-based materials such as cadmium telluride.

A key force driving the advancement of thin-film technologies is a polysilicon shortage that began in April 2004. In 2006, for the first time, more than half of polysilicon production went into PVs instead of computer chips. While thin films are not as efficient at converting sunlight to electricity, they currently cost less and their physical flexibility makes them more versatile than traditional solar cells. Led by the United States, thin film grew from 4 percent of the market in 2003 to 7 percent in 2006. Polysilicon supply is expected to match demand by 2010, but not before thin film grabs 20 percent of the market.

The top five PV-producing countries are Japan, China, Germany, Taiwan, and the United States. Recent growth in China is most astonishing: after almost tripling its PV production in 2006, it is believed to have more than doubled output in 2007. With more than 400 PV companies, China’s market share has exploded from 1 percent in 2003 to over 18 percent today. Having eclipsed Germany in 2007 to take the number two spot, China is now on track to become the number one PV producer in 2008. The United States, which gave the world the solar cell, has dropped from third to fifth place as a solar cell manufacturer since 2005, overtaken by China in 2006 and Taiwan in 2007.

Strong domestic production is not always a good indicator of domestic installations, however. For example, despite China’s impressive production, PV prices are still too high for the average Chinese consumer. China only installed 25 megawatts of PV in 2006, exporting more than 90 percent of its PV production, mainly to Germany and Spain. But large PV projects are expected to increase domestic installations. China is planning a 100-megawatt solar PV farm in Dunhuang City in the northwestern province of Gansu, which would have five times the capacity of the largest PV power plant in the world today.

Despite its skies being cloudy two thirds of the time, Germany has been the leading market for PV installations since it overtook Japan in 2004. In 2006, Germany, adding 1,050 megawatts, became the first country to install more than one gigawatt in a single year. Driven by a feed-in tariff that guarantees the price a utility must pay homeowners or private firms for PV-generated electricity, annual installations in Germany alone have exceeded those in all other countries combined since 2004. There are now more than 300,000 buildings with PV systems in Germany, over triple the initial goal of the 100,000 Roofs Program launched in 1998. Growth is set to remain strong, as a feed-in tariff of 49¢ per kilowatt-hour will remain in place through 2009.

Japan, the United States, and Spain round out the top four markets with 350, 141, and 70 megawatts installed in 2006, respectively. Thanks to a residential PV incentive program, Japan now has over 250,000 homes with PV systems. But the country is currently experiencing a decrease in the growth rate of PV installations resulting from the phase-out of the incentive program in 2005 and a limited domestic PV supply due to the polysilicon shortage.

 

In contrast, the growth in installations in the United States increased from 20 percent in 2005 to 31 percent in 2006, primarily driven by California and New Jersey. The California Solar Initiative was launched in January 2006 as part of the state’s Million Solar Roofs program to provide more than $3 billion in incentives for solar power. The goal is to generate 3,000 megawatts of new solar power statewide by 2017. New Jersey’s Clean Energy Rebate Program, which began in 2001, offers a rebate of up to $3.50 per watt for residential PV systems, contributing to a more than tripling of installations between 2005 and 2006. Other states, such as Maryland, have passed renewable portfolio standards that mandate a certain percent of electricity generation from solar PV. For Maryland, the goal of producing 2 percent of electricity from the sun by 2022 is expected to lead to 1,500 megawatts of PV installations in the state.

Initial estimates for the United States as a whole indicate that PV incentives, including a tax credit of up to $2,000 available under the U.S. Energy Policy Act of 2005 to offset PV system costs, helped to achieve an incredible 83-percent growth in installations in 2007.

Spain tripled its PV installations in 2006 to 70 megawatts. A building code that went into force in March 2007 requires all new nonresidential buildings to generate a portion of their electricity with PV. Spain also initiated a feed-in tariff in 2004 that guarantees that renewable energy will be bought by utilities at three times the market value for 25 years. In September 2007, a 20-megawatt PV power plant, currently the largest in the world, came online in the Spanish town of Beneixama and is producing enough electricity to supply 12,000 homes. By the end of 2008, cumulative PV installations in Spain are expected to exceed 800 megawatts, twice its original 2010 goal.

Of the world’s PV manufacturers in 2007, Sharp (Japan), Q-Cells (Germany), and Suntech (China) claimed the top three positions. But after holding the top spot for more than six years, Sharp, hampered by limited access to polysilicon, is likely to post only a 4-percent growth in production in 2007, well below the 50 percent industry average. However, Sharp’s annual thin-film production capacity is on track to increase from 15 megawatts today to 1,000 megawatts per year in 2010.

Suntech, a relatively new firm started in 2001, was the fourth-largest PV manufacturer in 2006, and eclipsed Kyocera in 2007 to take third place. In the first half of 2007, Suntech produced almost as much PV as it did in all of 2006.

Capitalizing on the polysilicon supply crunch, First Solar in the United States moved into the top 15 global manufacturers in 2006 by producing 60 megawatts of cadmium telluride thin-film PV, triple its production in 2005. In the first half of 2007, First Solar leapt onto the top 10 list, moving up five spots to number eight and continuing its reign as the fastest-growing PV manufacturing company in the world.

The average price for a PV module, excluding installation and other system costs, has dropped from almost $100 per watt in 1975 to less than $4 per watt at the end of 2006. With expanding polysilicon supplies, average PV prices are projected to drop to $2 per watt in 2010. For thin-film PV alone, production costs are expected to reach $1 per watt in 2010, at which point solar PV will become competitive with coal-fired electricity. With concerns about rising oil prices and climate change spawning political momentum for renewable energy, solar electricity is poised to take a prominent position in the global energy economy.

Source: The Earth Policy Institute

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