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marmar

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Beyond Petroleum? Not anymore. These two oil giants plan to stay oil giants, with emphasis on oil


from Grist:


Chevron and BP are pulling out of wind and solar
By John Upton


Beyond Petroleum? More like Bake the Planet.

BP and Chevron, two of the corporations that are doing the most to toast the climate, bleat at us in costly advertisements about their meager efforts to harness renewable energy. But now even their modest renewables programs are being quietly dismantled.

“Renewable energy is vital to our planet,” Chevron helpfully reminded us in one of its insincere “We Agree” ads. “At Chevron, we’re investing millions in solar and biofuel technologies.” (Millions! From a company that made $21.4 billion in profits last year.) Beyond the marketing hype, here’s an injection of reality from Bloomberg’s Businessweek:

In January, employees of Chevron’s renewable power group, whose mission was to launch large, profitable clean-energy projects, dined at San Francisco’s trendy Sens restaurant as managers applauded them for nearly doubling their projected profit in 2013, the group’s first full year of operations. But the mood quickly turned somber. Despite the financial results and the team’s role in helping launch more than a half-dozen solar and geothermal projects capable of powering at least 65,000 homes, managers told the group that funding for the effort would dry up and encouraged staffers to find jobs elsewhere, say four people who attended the dinner. …

“When you have a very successful and profitable core oil and gas business, it can be quite difficult to justify investing in renewables,” says Robert Redlinger, who ran a previous effort at Chevron to develop large renewable-energy projects before he left in 2010. “It requires significant commitment at the most senior levels of management. I didn’t perceive that kind of commitment from Chevron during my time with the firm.”


But it’s not like Chevron is acting as a renegade in an otherwise responsible industry. .....................(more)

The complete piece is at: http://grist.org/news/chevron-and-bp-are-pulling-out-of-wind-and-solar/



Our Economy Wants You to Be In Debt—5 Things You Can Do to Take Charge


from YES! Magazine:


Our Economy Wants You to Be In Debt—5 Things You Can Do to Take Charge
We pored through a debt-resistance manual created by former Occupiers to bring you these practical tips.

by Liz Pleasant
posted May 21, 2014


Last month PM Press published the Debt Resisters' Operations Manual —also known as “the DROM.” But don’t let that menacing-sounding acronym fool you: this is a book written in plain English and filled with tips and tactics for dealing with debt.

The book has been available online since September 2012, but this publishing marks the first time the manual has been printed, bound, and sold. Don't worry, you can still find a free copy online. But, hopefully, getting this book into stores will help its message reach more people—however ironic it might seem to buy one with a credit card.

"Everyone is a debtor so there’s no limit to the audience" said Andrew Ross, a member of the Occupy Wall Street offshoot called Strike Debt, in an interview with Guernica Magazine. Although Ross has gone public, most of the authors of the Debt Resister's Operations Manual have chosen to remain anonymous.

The book explains how creditors, big banks, and other lenders operate and how debtors can navigate both in and outside of the system. ...................(more)

The complete piece is at: http://www.yesmagazine.org/new-economy/our-economy-wants-you-to-be-in-debt-five-things-you-can-do-take-charge



David Sirota: Big Cable’s Almighty Dollar


from In These Times:


Big Cable’s Almighty Dollar
Will Comcast’s and Time Warner Cable’s money outpace public objection to their potential merger? Stay tuned.

BY DAVID SIROTA


There are plenty of reasons to worry about the proposal to combine Comcast, America’s largest cable and broadband company, with Time Warner Cable, the second-largest cable firm and third-largest broadband provider.

For one, there’s ever more consolidated control over content. There’s also the possibility of certain types of content being given special (or worse) treatment based on the provider’s relationship with Comcast and Time Warner Cable. And there’s the prospect of even higher prices. Indeed a Comcast executive recently admitted that the company will not promise bills “are going to go down or even that they’re going to increase less rapidly.”

In the capital of a properly functioning democracy, all of these concerns would prompt the federal government to block the deal. But Washington is an occupied city—occupied by Comcast’s vast army. As Time recently reported, “The company has registered at least 76 lobbyists across 24 firms.” Those figures include neither telecom lobbyist turned FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler nor Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s chief of staff, who was a Comcast vice president and raked in $1.2 million in Comcast payments since taking his government job.

All of that political power is enhanced by the $9.3 million Comcast, Time Warner Cable and their affiliates have spent on campaign contributions to federal officials in just the last few years, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. .................(more)

The complete piece is at: http://inthesetimes.com/article/16758/comcast_time_warner_merger



Social Security Threatens to Close All Field Offices


Social Security Threatens to Close All Field Offices

Friday, 30 May 2014 09:56
By Jim Campana, Labor Notes | News Analysis


Need to figure out whether it makes sense to retire at 62 or 65? Wondering how much your monthly Social Security benefit will be? Been married three times and wondering what that means for your benefit?

Answers have never been farther than your local Social Security office, where employees are extensively trained to give you accurate and helpful answers. There’s a reason Social Security is the most popular of all government programs.

But that will change if the Social Security Administration’s “Vision 2025” comes to pass. Bureaucrats are mulling closure of most of SSA’s more than 1,000 community field offices in the U.S., where 43 million people sought services last year.

Even as the number of visitors continues to grow, Vision 2025 would virtually eliminate face-to-face service, replacing it with Internet services and an 800 phone number. .............................(more)

The complete piece is at: http://truth-out.org/news/item/24045-social-security-threatens-to-close-all-field-offices



Buried Carbon Causes Deep Concern


By Tim Radford, Climate News Network


LONDON—Geographers in the US have found a new factor in the carbon cycle, and – all too ominously – a new potential source of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide. They have identified huge deposits of fossil soils, rich in organic carbon, buried beneath the Great Plains of America.

The discovery is evidence that the subterranean soils could be a rich store, or sink, for ancient atmospheric carbon. But if the soil is exposed – by erosion, or by human activities such as agriculture, deforestation or mining – this treasure trove of ancient charred vegetation, now covered by wind-blown soils, could blow back into the atmosphere and add to global warming.

Erika Marin-Spiotta, a biogeographer at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and her colleagues report in Nature Geoscience that what is known as Brady soil – ancient buried soil ? formed more than 13,500 years ago in Nebraska, Kansas and other Great Plains states.

Glacial retreat

It now lies more than six metres below the surface, and it was buried by a vast deposit of loess – wind-blown dust – about 10,000 years ago, when the glaciers began to retreat from North America.

The significance is not that it survived the end of the Ice Age and the colonisation of the Great Plains by grazing animals, but in the fact that it is there at all, at such depths. Calculations about the world stock of soil carbon have focused on the topsoil, and the role of root systems, decaying vegetation, microbes and fungi in the natural carbon cycle. Now the climate scientists who play with models of the carbon cycle will have to think again. ..................(more)

The complete piece is at: http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/buried_carbon_causes_deep_concern_20140530



The Big Casino


from Dollars & Sense:


The Big Casino
How to Rein in Stock-Market Speculation

BY DOUG ORR | MAY/JUNE 2014


Speculators may do no harm as bubbles on a steady stream of enterprise. But the position is serious when enterprise becomes the bubble on a whirlpool of speculation. When the capital development of a country becomes a by-product of the activities of a casino, the job is likely to be ill-done.
—John Maynard Keynes (1936)


On April 13, Flash Boys, by business writer Michael Lewis, opened at number one on the New York TImes best-seller list. Reviews of the book had appeared on the front page of every major business publication in the United States and most major mainstream news outlets, both in print and on the web. The book explains how new technological advances in stock-market trading have given an unfair advantage to some wealthy traders and have allowed them to make billions of dollars at the expense of everyone else in the market.

Lewis’ books are always highly readable. He conveys technical detail by couching it in a story with heroes and villains. In this case the villains are high-frequency traders. The hero is Brad Katsuyama, an employee of the Royal Bank of Canada, who unraveled a mystery that even some of the biggest brokerage houses did not understand. Over the course of two years, Katsuyama was able to discover how high-frequency traders “front-run” others—exploiting differences of just milliseconds in computer-network communication times. Katsuyama is the hero because he created a new stock exchange to thwart the villains.

.....(snip).....

Who Really Are the “Investors”?

Economic textbooks tell us that financial markets play an important role in the economy, linking saving to investment. Some individuals have more income than they currently want to spend, so they engage in saving. Other individuals need money to engage in investment. “Investment” in this context means the creation of new, physically productive resources. If a firm builds a new factory, installs new machines, or buys new software to do its accounting, that is investment. When students spend time and money to acquire new skills that make them more productive, that is investment. So when a bank takes people’s savings and lends it to the owner of a restaurant to buy a new stove, the bank plays an important economic role. Savers can get their money back if they need it in the future, because loans get repaid and other savers are putting new money into the bank. When you put money in the bank you receive interest. This is your reward for saving and giving the bank the use of your money. But you are not engaging in investment. The person who borrows the money and puts it to productive use is the investor. When you put money in the bank, you are a saver, not an investor.

Corporations can bypass banks and gain access to financial capital by issuing stock. When a company issues new shares of stock, the money raised from the sale can be used to engage in productive investment. The issuing of new shares is called an “initial public offering,” or IPO. IPOs are not done on stock exchanges. They are handled by investment banks. These IPOs transfer savings to firms and the firms can use the money for real investment. If these investments are successful, GDP will rise as consumers gain access to new products, the firm will grow and become more profitable, and the price of their shares will rise, which provides savers a long-term capital gain as a return on their saving. This usually occurs over an extended period of time. ...............(more)

The complete piece is at: http://www.dollarsandsense.org/archives/2014/0514orr.html



Juan Cole: Mr. Kerry: Why Snowden can’t “Make his Case” in “Our System of Justice”


By Juan Cole

Secretary of State John Kerry said that Edward Snowden should “return home and come back here and stand in our system of justice and make his case.” Kerry seems to have a high opinion of the Department of Justice and the US courts when it comes to national security issues. I can’t imagine for the life of me why. Kerry is either amazingly ignorant or being disingenuous when he suggests that Snowden would be allowed to “make his case” if he returned to the US. No one outside the penal justice system would ever see him again, the moment he set foot here, assuming he was not given a prior deal. He could maybe try to explain himself to the prison guards, assuming they didn’t stick him in solitary. Here are some reasons Mr. Snowden would be unwise to trust himself to that system, given the charges against him:

1. The United Nations Special Rapporteur found that the US was guilty of cruel and inhuman treatment of Chelsea (Bradley) Manning, who was responsible for the Wikileaks and revelations of US killing of unarmed journalists in Iraq. Manning was kept in solitary confinement and isolated 23 hours a day for months on end, was kept naked and chained to a bed, and was subjected to sleep deprivation techniques, all three well known forms of torture, on the trumped up pretext that he was suicidal (his psychiatrist disagreed).

2. The Espionage Act under which Snowden would likely be tried is a fascist law from the time when President Woodrow Wilson (like Obama a scholar of the constitution) was trying to take the US into the war, and was used to repeal the First Amendment right of Americans to protest this action. It was used to arbitrarily imprison thousands and is full of unconstitutional provisions. In recent decades the act was used against whistleblowers only three times, but Barack Obama loves it to death. It is an embarrassment that it is still on the books and it reflects extremely badly on Obama and on Eric Holder that they have revived it as a tool against whistleblowing (which is most often a public service).

3. John Kiriakou, who revealed CIA torture under Bush-Cheney, was prevented by the Espionage Act from addressing the jury to explain the intentions behind his actions and therefore forced into a plea bargain. None of the CIA officers who perpetrated the torture or their superiors, who ordered it, have been punished, but Kiriakou is in prison and his family is in danger of losing the house because of the lack of income. The US public deserved to know about the torture rather than having Obama bury it the way he has buried so many other things wrong with the system. .............(more)

The complete piece is at: http://www.juancole.com/2014/05/snowden-system-justice.html



Housing Bubble 2 Already Collapsing for the 99%


By Wolf Richter, a San Francisco based executive, entrepreneur, start up specialist, and author, with extensive international work experience. Originally published at Testosterone Pit.


This is precisely what shouldn’t have happened but was destined to happen: Sales of existing homes have gotten clobbered since last fall. At first, the Fiscal Cliff and the threat of a US government default – remember those zany times? – were blamed, then polar vortices were blamed even while home sales in California, where the weather had been gorgeous all winter, plunged more than elsewhere.

Then it spread to new-home sales: in April, they dropped 4.7% from a year ago, after March’s year-over-year decline of 4.9%, and February’s 2.8%. Not a good sign: the April hit was worse than February’s, when it was the weather’s fault. Yet April should be the busiest month of the year (excellent brief video by Lee Adler on this debacle).

We have already seen that in some markets, in California for example, sales have collapsed at the lower two-thirds of the price range, with the upper third thriving. People who earn median incomes are increasingly priced out of the market, and many potential first-time buyers have little chance of getting in. In San Diego, for example, sales of homes below $200,000 plunged 46% while the upper end is doing just fine. But the upper end is small, and they don’t like to buy median homes [read… Housing Bubble 2 Veers Elegantly Toward Housing Bust 2]

Yet it’s going according to the Fed’s plan. Its policies – nearly free and unlimited amounts of capital for those with access to it – have created enormous wealth in a minuscule part of the population by inflating ferocious asset bubbles, including in housing. But now electronic real-estate broker Redfin has made it official: in 2014 through April, sales of the most expensive 1% of homes have soared 21.1% year over year, while sales in the lower 99% have dropped 7.6%. ........................(more)

The complete piece is at: http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2014/05/wolf-richter-housing-bubble-2-already-collapsing-99.html




Housing Bubble 2 Already Collapsing for the 99%


By Wolf Richter, a San Francisco based executive, entrepreneur, start up specialist, and author, with extensive international work experience. Originally published at Testosterone Pit.


This is precisely what shouldn’t have happened but was destined to happen: Sales of existing homes have gotten clobbered since last fall. At first, the Fiscal Cliff and the threat of a US government default – remember those zany times? – were blamed, then polar vortices were blamed even while home sales in California, where the weather had been gorgeous all winter, plunged more than elsewhere.

Then it spread to new-home sales: in April, they dropped 4.7% from a year ago, after March’s year-over-year decline of 4.9%, and February’s 2.8%. Not a good sign: the April hit was worse than February’s, when it was the weather’s fault. Yet April should be the busiest month of the year (excellent brief video by Lee Adler on this debacle).

We have already seen that in some markets, in California for example, sales have collapsed at the lower two-thirds of the price range, with the upper third thriving. People who earn median incomes are increasingly priced out of the market, and many potential first-time buyers have little chance of getting in. In San Diego, for example, sales of homes below $200,000 plunged 46% while the upper end is doing just fine. But the upper end is small, and they don’t like to buy median homes [read… Housing Bubble 2 Veers Elegantly Toward Housing Bust 2]

Yet it’s going according to the Fed’s plan. Its policies – nearly free and unlimited amounts of capital for those with access to it – have created enormous wealth in a minuscule part of the population by inflating ferocious asset bubbles, including in housing. But now electronic real-estate broker Redfin has made it official: in 2014 through April, sales of the most expensive 1% of homes have soared 21.1% year over year, while sales in the lower 99% have dropped 7.6%. ........................(more)

The complete piece is at: http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2014/05/wolf-richter-housing-bubble-2-already-collapsing-99.html



The Private Equity Limited Partnership Agreement Release: The Industry’s Snowden Moment


from Naked Capitalism:


The Private Equity Limited Partnership Agreement Release: The Industry’s Snowden Moment
Posted on May 29, 2014 by Yves Smith


Last week, the Wall Street Journal released an important story that chronicled how the private equity industry kingpin KKR systematically took advantage of its credulous investors via taking questionable charges through its related company KKR Capstone. That story depended critically on the Wall Street Journal obtaining the terms of the investment from a 2006 KKR limited partnership agreement so that it could ascertain whether the investors had authorized these charges. Readers may recall that the private industry heretofore has kept these contracts under lock and key, insisting zealously that they be kept in the strictest confidence possible by those who obtain access to them.

We’ve published 12 private equity limited partnership agreements (LPAs), including the KKR limited partnership agreement that key to the Wall Street Journal’s story, in a searchable format that you can view here and here. We obtained the documents through the Pennsylvania Treasury’s public e-contracts library. Until now, it appears virtually no one knew that they had been made public. And you can be sure that if anyone associated with the private equity industry had recognized what had occurred, they would have shut this window immediately.

It is hard to overstate the significance of Pennsylvania’s release of these private equity limited partnership agreements. This development will change the industry forever. Even a superficial reading of these documents shows that investors and policy-makers were naive to treat private equity general partners as deserving of the blind trust they had placed in them.

Trade Secret? What Trade Secret?

For decades, private equity (PE) firms have asserted that limited partnership agreements (LPAs), the contracts between themselves and investors, should be treated in their entirety as trade secrets, and therefore not subject to disclosure under Freedom of Information Act laws in any jurisdiction. These private equity general partners argued that the information in their contracts was so sensitive that it needed to be shielded from competitors’ eyes, otherwise their unique, critically important know-how would be appropriated and used against them. In particular, PE firms have made frequent, forceful claims that their limited partnership agreements provide valuable insight into their investment strategies. The industry took the position that these documents were as valuable to them as the formula for Coca-Cola or the schematics for Intel’s next microprocessor chip. ..............(more)

The complete piece is at: http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2014/05/private-equity-limited-partnership-agreement-release-industrys-snowden-moment.html



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