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“Chutzpah Prize Of The Week”: It’s Only Crony Capitalism When The Koch Brothers Don’t Benefit

The right-wing press is chock-a-block with articles decrying the Obama administration’s romance with industrial policy. So reflexive is this ideology that some of them are even written by major beneficiaries of industrial policy, whose sense of entitlement must be so ingrained that they fail to notice this anomaly.

Exhibit A appeared in Monday’s Wall Street Journal op-ed page, in which Charles Koch of Koch Brothers fame took out after crony capitalism and industrial policy.

“We are on dangerous terrain when government picks winners and losers in the economy by subsidizing favored products and industries,” Koch wrote. He further complained that government is currently “subsidizing and mandating politically favored products in the energy sector,” singling out “solar, wind and biofuels” for examples of sectors currently being helped out.

But not a word about oil and gas can be found in Koch’s litany of complaints. Could this be because Koch Industries, of which Koch is chairman and CEO, was originally and is still primarily an oil-refining and pipeline company, though it has also diversified into such fields as paper, asphalt, chemicals, cattle ranches, commodity trading, and buying elections? A study by the Environmental Law Institute has tallied the amount of U.S. subsidies to the fossil fuel industry between 2002 and 2008 at roughly $72 billion. Earlier this year, President Obama called for ending the subsidies to oil companies, but a bill by Senator Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) to do just that failed to muster the 60 votes required to surmount the cloture barrier this summer (it got 51 votes). Though Koch Industries spent more than $50 million on its lobbying efforts in Washington from 2006 and 2011, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, there’ s been no report of it lobbying for Menendez’s bill to end the government’s subsidy to the oil industry.

Koch’s hypocrisy isn’t his alone. It epitomizes the double standard of right-wing opponents of industrial policy who neglect to note all the industrial policies that benefit either their own industries (if they’re oil men, bankers, military contractors, and so on) or the industries that write them checks (if they’re politicians who are funded by oil men, bankers, military contractors, and so on). The oil depletion allowance is industrial policy, lowering the tax bills of such behemoths as Exxon-Mobil at a time when public needs and the deficit are soaring. The exclusion of derivatives from regulation, which banks insisted on over the cautionary objections of Clinton administration Commodities Futures Trading Commission chief Brooksley Born, was industrial policy, benefiting the banks while imperiling, and eventually bringing down, the entire economy. Congressional appropriations for military hardware that the Pentagon neither wants nor needs is industrial policy. The fact that 27 nations have treaties with the U.S. that enable their residents to avoid any U.S. taxation of their casino winnings is industrial policy that brings in millions, if not billions, in high-roller business to such GOP mega-donors as Sheldon Adelson and Steve Wynn. You get the picture.

Yet Koch, Adelson, Wynn and Wall Street are providing unprecedented levels of funding to the cause of removing Obama and his dangerous ideas about industrial policy.

Like I said, Chutzpah Prize for the Week, and it’s only Monday.

 

By: Harold Meyerson, The American Prospect, September 10, 2012

September 11, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Speculators Wagging The Election Year Dog”: Blame The GOP For $4 Gas

Gas prices continue to rise, which is finally giving Republicans an issue. Mitt Romney is demanding the president open up more domestic drilling; the super PAC behind Rick Santorum just released a new ad in Louisiana blasting the president on gas prices; and the GOP is attacking the White House on the Keystone XL Pipeline.

But the rise in gas prices has almost nothing to do with energy policy. It has everything to do with America’s continuing failure to adequately regulate Wall Street. But don’t hold your breath waiting for Republicans to tell the truth.

As I’ve noted before, oil supplies aren’t being squeezed. Over 80 percent of America’s energy needs are now being satisfied by domestic supplies. In fact, we’re starting to become an energy exporter. Demand for oil isn’t rising in any event. Demand is down in the U.S. compared to last year at this time, and global demand is still moderate given the economic slowdowns in Europe and China.

But Wall Street is betting on higher oil prices in the future — and that betting is causing prices to rise. The Street is laying odds that unrest in Syria will spill over into other countries or that tensions with Iran will affect the Persian Gulf, and that global demand will pick up as American consumers bounce back to life.

These bets are pushing up oil prices because Wall Street firms and other big financial players now dominate oil trading.

Financial speculators historically accounted for about 30 percent of oil contracts, producers and end users for about 70 percent. But today speculators account for 64 percent of all contracts.

Bart Chilton, a commissioner at the Commodity Futures Trading Commission — the federal agency that regulates trading in oil futures, among other commodities — warns that too few financial players control too much of the oil market. This allows them to push oil prices higher and higher — not only on the basis of their expectations about the future but also expectations about how high other speculators will drive the price.

In other words, a relatively few players with very deep pockets are placing huge bets on oil — and you’re paying.

Chilton estimates that drivers of small cars like Honda Civics are paying an extra $7.30 every time they fill up — and that money is going into the pockets of Wall Street speculators. Drivers of larger vehicles like the Ford Explorer are paying speculators $10.41 when they fill up.

Funny, but I don’t hear Republicans rail against Wall Street speculators. Could this have anything to do with the fact that hedge funds and money managers are bankrolling the GOP as never before?

Wall Street isn’t bankrolling Democrats nearly as much this time around because the Street is still smarting from the Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform law pushed by the Democrats, and from the president’s offhand remark in 2010 calling the denizens of the Street “fat cats.”

The Commodity Futures Trading Commission is trying to limit how much speculators can bet in oil futures — a power it was given by Dodd-Frank. It issued a rule in October, but it won’t take effect for another year.

Meanwhile, Wall Street has gone to court to stop the rule. It’s already won a stay.

As rising gas prices start wagging the election-year dog, the president should let America know what’s really causing prices to rise.

 

By: Robert Reich, From The Robert Reich Blog, Published in Salon, March 15, 2012

April 2, 2012 Posted by | Energy, Wall Street | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Natural Born Drillers”: Republicans Are Just Plain “Full Of Gas”

To be a modern Republican in good standing, you have to believe — or pretend to believe — in two miracle cures for whatever ails the economy: more tax cuts for the rich and more drilling for oil. And with prices at the pump on the rise, so is the chant of “Drill, baby, drill.” More and more, Republicans are telling us that gasoline would be cheap and jobs plentiful if only we would stop protecting the environment and let energy companies do whatever they want.

Thus Mitt Romney claims that gasoline prices are high not because of saber-rattling over Iran, but because President Obama won’t allow unrestricted drilling in the Gulf of Mexico and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Meanwhile, Stephen Moore of The Wall Street Journal tells readers that America as a whole could have a jobs boom, just like North Dakota, if only the environmentalists would get out of the way.

The irony here is that these claims come just as events are confirming what everyone who did the math already knew, namely, that U.S. energy policy has very little effect either on oil prices or on overall U.S. employment. For the truth is that we’re already having a hydrocarbon boom, with U.S. oil and gas production rising and U.S. fuel imports dropping. If there were any truth to drill-here-drill-now, this boom should have yielded substantially lower gasoline prices and lots of new jobs. Predictably, however, it has done neither.

Why the hydrocarbon boom? It’s all about the fracking. The combination of horizontal drilling with hydraulic fracturing of shale and other low-permeability rocks has opened up large reserves of oil and natural gas to production. As a result, U.S. oil production has risen significantly over the past three years, reversing a decline over decades, while natural gas production has exploded.

Given this expansion, it’s hard to claim that excessive regulation has crippled energy production. Indeed, reporting in The Times makes it clear that U.S. policy has been seriously negligent — that the environmental costs of fracking have been underplayed and ignored. But, in a way, that’s the point. The reality is that far from being hobbled by eco-freaks, the energy industry has been given a largely free hand to expand domestic oil and gas production, never mind the environment.

Strange to say, however, while natural gas prices have dropped, rising oil production and a sharp fall in import dependence haven’t stopped gasoline prices from rising toward $4 a gallon. Nor has the oil and gas boom given a noticeable boost to an economic recovery that, despite better news lately, has been very disappointing on the jobs front.

As I said, this was totally predictable.

First up, oil prices. Unlike natural gas, which is expensive to ship across oceans, oil is traded on a world market — and the big developments moving prices in that market usually have little to do with events in the United States. Oil prices are up because of rising demand from China and other emerging economies, and more recently because of war scares in the Middle East; these forces easily outweigh any downward pressure on prices from rising U.S. production. And the same thing would happen if Republicans got their way and oil companies were set free to drill freely in the Gulf of Mexico and punch holes in the tundra: the effect on prices at the pump would be negligible.

Meanwhile, what about jobs? I have to admit that I started laughing when I saw The Wall Street Journal offering North Dakota as a role model. Yes, the oil boom there has pushed unemployment down to 3.2 percent, but that’s only possible because the whole state has fewer residents than metropolitan Albany — so few residents that adding a few thousand jobs in the state’s extractive sector is a really big deal. The comparable-sized fracking boom in Pennsylvania has had hardly any effect on the state’s overall employment picture, because, in the end, not that many jobs are involved.

And this tells us that giving the oil companies carte blanche isn’t a serious jobs program. Put it this way: Employment in oil and gas extraction has risen more than 50 percent since the middle of the last decade, but that amounts to only 70,000 jobs, around one-twentieth of 1 percent of total U.S. employment. So the idea that drill, baby, drill can cure our jobs deficit is basically a joke.

Why, then, are Republicans pretending otherwise? Part of the answer is that the party is rewarding its benefactors: the oil and gas industry doesn’t create many jobs, but it does spend a lot of money on lobbying and campaign contributions. The rest of the answer is simply the fact that conservatives have no other job-creation ideas to offer.

And intellectual bankruptcy, I’m sorry to say, is a problem that no amount of drilling and fracking can solve.

 

By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, March 15, 2012

March 18, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012, GOP Presidential Candidates | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Whose Baby Is She?: The Birthing Of Solyndra

Solyndra is trying to rival her big sister Katrina’s ability to make the federal government look incompetent. But whose baby is she?

Since the solar-energy company went belly-up a few weeks ago — leaving taxpayers on the hook for $535 million in loan guarantees — a business that was once the poster child for President Obama’s green-jobs initiative has instead become a tool for Republicans to discredit most everything the administration seeks to do.

Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah used Solyndra to argue against worker-training benefits. Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina used it to argue that the federal government should stay out of autism research. Disaster relief, cancer treatments, you name it: Solyndra has been an argument against them.

And this week, the government faced the prospect of a shutdown because House Republicans added a provision to the spending bill to draw more attention to — what else? — Solyndra.

“Because of some of the horrible weather we have had over the past several weeks, we have all agreed to add emergency funds we didn’t originally plan in this bill, and Republicans have identified a couple of cuts,” explained Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, including “a cut to a loan-guarantee program that gave us the Solyndra scandal.”

What McConnell neglected to mention is that Solyndra was cleared to participate in this loan-guarantee program by President George W. Bush’s administration. He also did not mention that the legislation creating the loan-guarantee program, approved by the Republican-controlled Congress in 2005, received yes votes from — wait for it — DeMint, Hatch and McConnell.

This doesn’t mean that Bush is to blame for Solyndra or that the Obama administration should be absolved. Obama, whose administration gave the company the loan guarantee, deserves the black eye that Republicans have given him over the half a billion dollars squandered on the company. But the Republican paternity of the program that birthed Solyndra suggests some skepticism is in order when many of those same Republicans use Solyndra as an example of all that is wrong with Obama’s governance.

“Loan guarantees aim to stimulate investment and commercialization of clean energy technologies to reduce our nation’s reliance on foreign sources of energy,” Bush’s energy secretary, Sam Bodman, announced in a press release on Oct. 4, 2007. The release said the Energy Department had received 143 pre-applications for the guarantees and narrowed the list down to 16 finalists — including Solyndra. Bodman said the action put “Americans one step closer to being able to use new and novel sources of energy on a mass scale to reduce emissions and allow for vigorous economic growth and increased energy security.”

Bush’s Energy Department apparently adjusted its regulations to make sure that Solyndra would be eligible for the guarantees. It hadn’t originally contemplated including the photovoltaic-panel manufacturing that Solyndra did but changed the regulation before it was finalized. The only project that benefited was Solyndra’s.

The loan-guarantee program for these alternative energy companies, in turn, was created as part of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 — sponsored by Rep. Joe Barton (R-Tex.), who has been a leader in the congressional probe of Solyndra’s ties to the Obama administration.

Among those in the Republican majority who supported the bill was Rep. Louie Gohmert (Tex.), who, in a trio of speeches on the House floor in recent days, has taken a rather different approach than the one in the legislation he supported.

On Sept. 13, he invoked “the Solyndra fiasco” and said we are “prioritizing green practices kind of like a bankrupt Spain has done.” On Sept. 15, he denounced Obama’s new jobs proposals because “green programs, like Solyndra, will have priority.” On Sept. 23, he complained: “Apparently, half a billion dollars squandered for crony capitalism was not enough. There’s more provisions for that in the president’s so-called jobs bill.”

Also supporting the legislation creating the loan-guarantee program was Rep. David Dreier (R-Calif.), who on Sept. 22 said on the House floor that Republicans were removing $100 million from the loan-guarantee program “to ensure that we never again have another boondoggle like Solyndra.”

The complaints were much the same in the Senate, where DeMint said the Solyndra case exposed the “unintended results when our government tries to pick winners and losers.” That’s a valid criticism, but it would be more valid if DeMint hadn’t been a supporter of the loan-guarantee legislation in 2005.

But that was before Obama’s presidency, and views back then were different. They were more like the March 2008 press release from Bush’s Energy Department, announcing that it was funding research projects on photovoltaic technology. “These projects are integral to President Bush’s Solar America Initiative, which aims to make solar energy cost-competitive with conventional forms of electricity by 2015,” the announcement said.

Among the winners listed in the press release? Solyndra.

By: Dana Milbank, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, September 26, 2011

September 28, 2011 Posted by | Capitalism, Congress, Conservatives, Economic Recovery, Economy, Energy, GOP, Government, Right Wing, Teaparty | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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