Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Automotive Technology, Fuel Efficiency, and America’s Future

A recent column by economist Dean Baker begins with this paragraph:

“The media coverage of the auto bailouts has focused on the need for union autoworkers to take big pay cuts, causing them to once again miss the real story. The Fiat-Chrysler deal shows that the pay problem is at the top, not the bottom. At the end of the day, the new Chrysler is still likely to be producing most of its cars in the United States. What the new company will be getting from abroad is technology and top management.”

Technology and top management from abroad?

Well, we are nearing the end of a month’s travel in France, driving around in a small but adequate-for-our-purposes Renault Clio, a model that has been manufactured in France since 1990 with incremental technological improvements even though its outward appearance changes little. Ours was brand new from the factory, reserved over the internet directly from the Renault company under their “purchase/repurchase” plan for anyone with a foreign address (Peugeot also has such a plan). This plan commits the vehicle to be exported, with French tax advantages which the company shares with the foreign-based purchaser – who is not really committed to keep the car. So when we turn it in at their compound near the airport, there will be no further cost to us than what we paid up front, about $1,300 – which included unlimited driving miles and all necessary insurance (so it wouldn’t cost us any more even if we total the car). If the car has no damage more than a few repairable dents it will be exported as a used car.

Clios are sold with wide variety of engines, although the purchase/repurchase plan gave fewer options. Since we are inclined to tradeoff a bit of fuel economy for horse power, our first choice was the 1.6 L, 110 hp (0 to 62 mi/h: 10.2 s) gasoline engine, but being as this model was then sold out at the time, we selected the 1.5 L, 85 hp (0 to 62 mi/h: 12.7 s) diesel over the 1.5 L, 67 hp diesel. We found this diesel’s high torque at low rpm to give excellent acceleration, which together with the 5-speed manual transmission made it quite competitive with higher-hp gasoline powered cars at lower speeds. We drove our Clio hard for a total of 1860 miles up to and sometimes exceeding the speed limit of 130 km/hr (81 mi/hr) on the Autoroutes and as slow as the average 12 mi/h in 40 miles of Paris rush-hour driving I did yesterday, for an average “gas” mileage of 44.8 mpg (which surely would have been in the range of closer to 55 mpg with the 67-hp model).

Diesel fuel costs only slightly less than gasoline in France, coming in at about $5/gal. The United States is one of the few countries in the world to sell gasoline as cheaply as they do. This surreal era of cheap gas for Americans will end when the dollar finally crashes and the price of crude oil (in Euros) begins to rise again. They will be able to face this situation better if the U.S. imports automotive “technology and top management” from abroad.

PS On Thursday morning, May 21st, we drove the car pictured above from our friend's home in the Paris suburbs out to Aeroport de Paris - Roissy Charles De Gaulle. Upon pulling up at the Renault/Peugeot export agency lot, it took all of 5 minutes to sign the nessessary papers and see our bags transfered to a small van by the driver who would deposit us in front our departure hall only minutes later.

Friday, May 15, 2009

The Real Reason Our Troops Are in Afghanistan: To Fight Terrorists? Nope. Women’s Rights? Guess Again…

Blogger’s Note: To save space, I’m only posting Tomgram's intro to this important article and its first paragraph. Follow the link to the whole article. BTW If you’d like to know better who Pepe Escobar is, watch this equally important video.

Posted May 12, 2009 3:37 pm

Tomgram: Pepe Escobar, Pipelineistan Goes Af-Pak

Back in March, Pepe Escobar, that itchy, edgy global reporter for one of my favorite on-line publications, Asia Times, began laying out the great, ongoing energy struggle across Eurasia, or what he likes to call Pipelinestan for its web of oil and natural gas pipelines. In his first report, he dealt with the embattled energy corridor (and a key pipeline) that runs from the Caspian Sea to Europe through Georgia and Turkey -- and the Great Game of business, diplomacy, and proxy war between Russia and the U.S. that has gone with it.

Now, in the second of what will be periodic "postcards" from the energy heartlands of the planet, he plunges eastward into tumultuous Central and South Asia and the great devolving battleground that, in Washington, now goes by the neologism of Af-Pak (for the Afghanistan-Pakistan theater of operations). There, the skies are filled with planes and unmanned aerial drones, and civilians as well as combatants die every day in increasing numbers as ever more frequent attacks and expanding conflicts make daily headlines, while, in Afghanistan, Washington continues to build new military bases and ready itself to send in reinforcements.

Those are, of course, the front-page stories. Energy, especially in the form of oil and natural gas, fuels everything from civilization to its various discontents and means of destruction, and yet it remains largely on the business pages of our papers. Even in a time of relatively depressed oil and gas prices, energy runs like an undercurrent just beneath global headlines. Under the carnage of war, that is, courses what Escobar likes to call the Liquid War, and just how the energy flows and through which territories controlled by whom does turn out to make -- quite literally -- a world of difference, even if that isn't what captures our attention most of the time.

Today, let Escobar, whose latest book is Obama Does Globalistan, take you deep into the "New Great Game" that will determine the shape of our future planet. Tom

Here below is the title and first paragraph of Pepe's article.
For the rest, go here.

Blue Gold, Turkmen Bashes, and Asian Grids

Pipelineistan in Conflict
By Pepe Escobar

As Barack Obama heads into his second hundred days in office, let's head for the big picture ourselves, the ultimate global plot line, the tumultuous rush towards a new, polycentric world order. In its first hundred days, the Obama presidency introduced us to a brand new acronym, OCO for Overseas Contingency Operations, formerly known as GWOT (as in Global War on Terror). Use either name, or anything else you want, and what you're really talking about is what's happening on the immense energy battlefield that extends from Iran to the Pacific Ocean. It's there that the Liquid War for the control of Eurasia takes place.


Thursday, May 14, 2009

Why isn't Obama turning to the Credit Unions?

Blogger's Note: I have been banking with the NRL Federal Credit Union for over 40 years with scarcely a glitch. One of my office mates, a technician, once served as an elected director of the NRLFCU. I believe that Mike served without pay and that the salaried officers are paid no more than standard Federal wages. Given the trillions of dollars recently lost by the largest banks, I am led to conclude that the competence (or honesty) of bank CEOs and managers decreases exponentially with the increasing magnitude their salaries, bonuses, stock options, and perks. So why is the government not restructuring the banks for which the taxpayers are now the majority stockholders (by virture of their being billed for the multi-trillion-dollar bailouts) along the lines of the nation's credit unions?

Why isn't Obama turning to the Credit Unions?

by Bob Fitrakis & Harvey Wasserman
May 12, 2009

As hundreds of our hard-earned billions are being poured into corrupt, greed-driven, lethally inefficient banks, the Administration, Congress and corporate media have studiously avoided the one sector of the banking industry that actually works---the credit unions.

Throughout the United States there are hundreds of these people-powered banks that have succeeded and prospered while all around them the traditional banking has collapsed into ruin, taking our general economy with them.


Because unlike those private banks, the America's 10,000 not-for-profit credit unions are controlled by the people who deposit their money there. Loans are made only to members. The deposits are federally insured, and investments are monitored by the depositors and, allegedly, by federal regulators.

For the most part, their decisions are made democratically. Their boards of directors are elected. Increasingly those decisions have been oriented funneling resources into new green industries whose future is bright, and that actually serve that public rather than raping it.

To be sure, there are those credit unions that are plagued with problems. Like all institutions, they all have their flaws. As creatures of the democratic process, they are capable of making wrong decisions while driving those involved stark raving mad.

But by basic mandate, credit unions are ACCOUNTABLE, a concept almost completely lacking from those mega-banks "too big to let fail."

In fact, Obama's fiscal 2010 budget contains $234.6 billion in Community Development Financial Institution funds. Some $113 billions is earmarked for "financial issues in underserved communities," according to the Treasury Department, along with another $80 million for the new Capital Magnet Fund aimed at "enhancing investments in affordable housing opportunities for the very poorest Americans." This money, says a May 7 Treasury Department release, "should be a boon to Credit Unions."

The numbers are a great improvement over the Bush era. But they pale alongside the torrent of cash slushing into failed private banks.

Since the founding of the first true credit unions in Germany beginning in 1852, the institutions have spread throughout Europe, India and North America. The first came to the US in New Hampshire in 1909.

Edward A. Filene, the Boston merchant whose famous basement offered bargain clothing to working people, Basic principles include the idea that only members can borrow money from a credit union, and that the loans must be "prudent and productive." Because loans involve the money of a close-knit group, and must be approved by members whose money is at risk, the credit unions are a model of how the banking system might be remade.

On average about 10 of the nation's 10,000 credit unions fail each year. Because depositors' money is federally guaranteed, they may lose their bank, but not their deposits.

Originally published by The Free Press (