Tina K. Russell

November 21, 2008

Market failures

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , , — Tina Russell @ 12:32 pm

UPDATE: The letter-writer responds in a comment below! How cool. Just so you know, people who are addressed, directly or indirectly, in my posts should totally leave a comment, because those comments are awesome.

Letters – Rescuing Detroit – The Great Debate – NYTimes.com
To the Editor:

I agree that letting the Big Three domestic automakers collapse would result in a catastrophic loss of jobs, but find the terms of your proposed bailout counterproductive (editorial, Nov. 15).

Companies as large and complex as automakers simply cannot afford to replace top management in the middle of a crisis. Doing so would also be pointless when the industry’s troubles stem primarily from the temporary spike in oil prices and the continuing financial crisis, not poor management.

After all, the Big Three did not specialize in trucks out of shortsightedness or social irresponsibility, but because that is what the market demanded.

Pah! I found that statement amazing. The trouble isn’t that they were following the market’s demands; the trouble is that they thought, arrogantly, that those demands would last forever. And, when the market stopped demanding SUVs and trucks the size of small moons, the automakers didn’t notice. Now they’re on the brink of collapse, and they want us to bail them out.

Forcing automakers that accept a bailout to produce only micro cars that get 50 miles per gallon would deprive Americans of the larger, sportier vehicles they prefer, while placing the rescued automakers at a competitive disadvantage when gas is cheap.

Oh, my Lord! Has this person seen an SUV dealership, lately? There’s one near my apartment, and its signs now shout loudly, “Fuel-efficient cars here!” (or somesuch) and hope the message is loud enough that you don’t notice row after row of gas-guzzling tanks. The SUV market is a disaster; nobody wants to buy a heavy car in this market. I give that SUV dealership six months, tops.

This brings me to the really depressing part of the bailout, and the whole act of legislating more fuel-efficient cars: it’s a failure of the market. No, not us; we want more fuel-efficient cars, we buy more fuel-efficient cars, and it just so happens that they’re made by foreign automakers (which, by the way, often have factories in the US). In a just world, in a world where the CEOs of the Big Three car companies had more than half a brain, we wouldn’t need fuel-efficiency standards; companies would simply compete on fuel efficiency until America produced cars that ran on little or—get this—no gasoline at all. It’s in vogue; everyone would want to buy a Chevrolet or a GM hybrid. It just so happens that they missed the boat; well, more accurately, they missed the boat, denied there was a boat, and are lobbying the government for their right to continue failing.

That’s the depressing part: we have to legislate that these companies make cars that people will buy. We have to demand that Detroit’s car magnates make money. Why are they so arrogant? Why not jump on the fuel-efficiency bandwagon when there’s so much money in it? I can only imagine it’s sheer obstinance, and if the jobs provided by these car companies are important enough for the government to step in and help the company out, they’re important enough for the government to step in, change the rules, and fire the management.

The federal government must help the Big Three weather the current financial crisis; they are truly too big to fail. But such assistance should not be used as an excuse to dictate the types of cars that Americans can drive.

Karl von Schriltz

Washington, Nov. 15, 2008

Ha! More like we have to force the automakers to make the cars Americans want.

September 14, 2008

Palin comparison

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — Tina Russell @ 1:29 pm

I haven’t written about Sarah Palin, here, mainly because (a) I hate her, (b) I hate her, (c) I hate her, hate her, hate her and I darkly suspect that this is on purpose, a GOP strategy to get me blinded with rage and throw me off my game. (I’ve had the feeling that this is how conservatives feel about Hillary Clinton. Of course, before taking office, Hillary was a lawyer, not a beauty queen and sportscaster. Err, I’m leaving out “board of Wal-Mart” and “twelve-year first lady” from my description of Hillary’s life before becoming a Senator, but I feel I need to qualify any comparison between Hillary and Palin so as to avoid making a massive insult to Hillary’s service.) Any talk of just how gol-durn charming Palin is kind of distracts from the fact that she wants to take reproductive choice away from women even in cases of rape, she wants to drill in ANWR and once believed an oil pipeline was a “task from God,” she was for the Bridge to Nowhere before she was against it (and then, kept the money!), she’s willing to go to war with Russia, she thinks that humans are not responsible for global warming despite massive evidence to the contrary, as mayor she fired (and then rehired, after an outcry) the head librarian for not censoring books she found inappropriate, and she is so new to public life that the rest of her is an unsettling blank slate (an awfully inappropriate shell game for John McCain to be playing). And, John McCain becoming President would mean a pretty good chance of her being sworn in by succession.

I don’t need to tell you what a disaster this would be for the country. What could would a woman President be if she would set back women’s rights a thousand years? Can we afford the damage she would do to the environment and the further global wars she seems willing to get us involved in? We tried a longtime failed CEO, baseball manager, and brief governor of Texas as President and look what that got us. Barack Obama may not have been in government that long, but his career as community organizer, Constitutional law professor, voting-rights lawyer, and state- and federal-level Senator is deep, broad and well-documented. And, unlike Palin, Obama’s history gives us a thorough sense of his governing philosophy. In Palin’s case, the few glimpses we get from her history are uniformly terrifying.

If you want to make the unspeakable comparison between the intelligent, erudite Obama, the tough and calculating mind behind instincts of consensus and productivity, and the folksy Palin who makes every attempt to buttress the impression that she is thoroughly vacuous (and beholden to a vague but horrifying ideology), Palin just fell off the turnip truck yesterday. She is thoroughly unqualified to succeed the President in the midst of a crisis; her only qualification is that she is just like us. And, I’m sorry, I want the President to be extraordinary. I don’t want him or her to be just like me, though I would prefer a Vice President who uses the same public transportation as the rest of us (it’s always good when legislators use the services they create, as it allows them to understand the services’ strengths and weaknesses and motivates them to improve the services) rather than one who bills the taxpayers for travel costs when staying at her own home.

Wow, uhhh, I was trying to avoid talking about Palin. Well, so much for that. What I was going to say is read Christopher Priest’s post here if you want to know how I feel about Palin. I guess, here is more on how I feel about Palin.

I’ve Finally Decided That I Hate Her (According To Me)

That tinny voice. The Prom Queen hair-doo. The Tina Fey thing. But, mostly, the audacity at work here. Governor Sarah Palin is, to me, a walking, breathing insult to: (1) Hillary Clinton’s PUMAS, (2) Hillary Clinton, (3) her historic campaign—which Palin is directly benefitting from in a very cheap way, (4) polar bears, (5) most anyone who graduated middle school.

….

I don’t buy the McCain campaign’s flimsy assertion that they’ve kept Palin off the grid to protect her from reporters “pouncing” on her about her pregnant kid. Memo to McCain campaign: she’s running for Vice President with an old guy who looks exhausted every time I see him. She *needs* to be pounced on. Had McCain selected anyone else, they’d be getting pounced on. Getting pounced on is what happens when you spring people on us at the last minutes. If Sarah Palin can’t take the heat of Chris Matthews and the boys, she’s really in the wrong racket.

And, don’t get me wrong. I think the prospect of a John McCain presidency is terrifying in itself. My two big worries of such a prospect are a) the fact that his personal history and attitude towards Iraq strongly indicate to me that he wants to refight Vietnam and get it right this time, and b) the fact that he wants to continue Bush’s style of Supreme Court appointments, which would swing the court entirely to the side that has consistently been in favor of the rights of the rich and powerful against  the larger American community. (The infamous Ledbetter case involved a woman who sued because she was paid considerably less than equally qualified and productive men at her company, and the Court ruled that she could not because she had found out long after the pay discrepancy began. Sucks to be you, women! Oh, and don’t forget the time that they cut the historic punitive damages from the Exxon-Valdez disaster down to a paltry $500 million because they arbitrarily believed that maritime cases should have punitive damages no greater than the amount of damage caused, which really strains the notion of “punitive” damages altogether. And there was the time they ruled that the Second Amendment means that you can keep a loaded handgun on you in the slums of D.C., despite the fact that handguns would not be the weapon of choice of a well-regulated militia. I could go on forever, but this post wasn’t supposed to be about the Supreme Court…)

I should also note that McCain’s singleminded devotion to conservative economic policies that he doesn’t even understand would mean a Hoover-like slavishness to Bush’s “Big Deal” plan for the economy. It’s clear that, in times like these, we need someone who can use liberal and conservative policies together to get the job done, someone with FDR-like vision to help the country get through the economic doldrums. John McCain doesn’t just not know the Federal Reserve interest rate from his elbow, he has promised to extend the Bush tax cuts for the rich and powerful and rallied the conservative base by promising more of the same, something far more costly (especially given their ineffectiveness shown so far) than Obama’s comparatively fiscally modest plans (PDF) for slightly higher taxes on the rich and a healthcare plan that would prevent you from being financially ruined by ordinary human sickness. It’s a constant drumbeat from the Obama campaign, but it’s true: McCain thinks you’re on your own, McCain’s world is one in which the government can give money to the already rich and it will eventually trickle down. If it doesn’t, well, then it sucks to be you for not fitting into their preconcieved mental framework.

I digress. A McCain presidency would be a disaster for everyone. But making a vacuous conservative ideologue with virtually no traceable history (and what she has is terrifying!) a 72-year-old heartbeat with a history of cancer away from the Presidency… that would make the Bush presidency look like a picnic in the park. …If there are any parks left, when Sarah Palin’s finished with them.

August 15, 2008

Something is rockin’ in the state of Denmark

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , — Tina Russell @ 4:33 pm

This is Thomas Friedman. Check out what he Danes to suggest.

Op-Ed Columnist – Flush With Energy – Op-Ed – NYTimes.com
Unlike America, Denmark, which was so badly hammered by the 1973 Arab oil embargo that it banned all Sunday driving for a while, responded to that crisis in such a sustained, focused and systematic way that today it is energy independent. (And it didn’t happen by Danish politicians making their people stupid by telling them the solution was simply more offshore drilling.)

What was the trick? To be sure, Denmark is much smaller than us and was lucky to discover some oil in the North Sea. But despite that, Danes imposed on themselves a set of gasoline taxes, CO2 taxes and building-and-appliance efficiency standards that allowed them to grow their economy — while barely growing their energy consumption — and gave birth to a Danish clean-power industry that is one of the most competitive in the world today. Denmark today gets nearly 20 percent of its electricity from wind. America? About 1 percent.

And did Danes suffer from their government shaping the market with energy taxes to stimulate innovations in clean power? In one word, said Connie Hedegaard, Denmark’s minister of climate and energy: “No.” It just forced them to innovate more — like the way Danes recycle waste heat from their coal-fired power plants and use it for home heating and hot water, or the way they incinerate their trash in central stations to provide home heating. (There are virtually no landfills here.)

That’s pretty excellent.

July 23, 2008

On the overuse of monkeys

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — Tina Russell @ 11:58 am

Op-Ed Contributor – Silly Chimps on TV Make People Think the Apes Aren’t Endangered – Op-Ed – NYTimes.com
A survey that I and several colleagues conducted in 2005 found that one in three visitors to the Lincoln Park Zoo assumed that chimpanzees are not endangered. Yet more than 90 percent of these same visitors understood that gorillas and orangutans face serious threats to their survival. And many of those who imagined chimpanzees to be safe reported that they based their thinking on the prevalence of chimps in advertisements, on television and in the movies.

I’ve long been troubled by the overuse of monkeys in design, especially in Web, fashion, and “counterculture” circles. It’s not clever or funny; it’s just cliché. But this op-ed brings to light one more problem: we are 98% chimpanzee, and these creatures are as respectable, and scientifically useful to learn from, as they are endangered. The more we present the use of a monkey as hip or hilarious in itself, we perpetuate the idea that they’re harmless and plentiful, when neither is true.

I’m not saying you should never use a monkey to represent your brand or product (though the author of this op-ed rightly encourages you not to use a live-action monkey). Perhaps, though, your monkey-themed project could do a charity drive to help real monkeys facing real threats. That could help people understand that monkeys deserve respect and face real danger.

June 12, 2008

Raising Keynes

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , , — Tina Russell @ 10:47 pm

Letter – Helping Jobless Youths – Letter – NYTimes.com
Seventy-five years ago, Franklin D. Roosevelt took two crises — a decayed environment and wide unemployment — and combined them to form a single success: the Civilian Conservation Corps. In the C.C.C. three million young unemployed men dramatically improved the nation’s infrastructure and public lands, combating erosion, planting millions of trees and in the process creating roads, park trails and bridges.

The C.C.C. did more than restore America’s natural resources. It also gave young Americans living in poverty hope, opportunity and the chance to provide for their families. A major new national service initiative focusing on energy efficiency can do the same today.

Hell yeah. This is the kind of policy proposal I always support. Where there’s a problem, there’s an opportunity. It doesn’t make sense for us to have sustained unemployment at the same time as our infrastructure is crumbling.

This letter supports a government clean energy initiative, which would also be a good idea. It’s time to tell the truth: global warming and oil dependency are tremendous ecological threats, and clean energy is a tremendous economic opportunity.

April 26, 2008

Cohen on ethanol

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — Tina Russell @ 2:10 pm

I’ve been one of those big ethanol skeptics for a while, distasteful of the idea of turning food into fuel during a food shortage. Roger Cohen sets the record straight by letting us know that, down in Brazil, they have a much better way of making ethanol: not from corn, but from sugarcane, and it’s more efficient as well. If your concern is for the Amazonian rainforest, he addresses that in the full article as well. It’s a great piece.

Bring on the Right Biofuels – New York Times

Hundreds of millions of people have moved from poverty into the global economy over the past decade in Asia. They’re eating twice a day, instead of once, and propelling rapid urbanization. Their demand for food staples and once unthinkable luxuries like meat is pushing up prices.

Those hundreds of millions of Chinese and Indians now eating more will be driving cars within the next quarter-century. What that will do to oil prices is anybody’s guess, but what’s clear is that ethanol presents the only technically and economically viable alternative for large-scale substitution of petroleum fuels for transport in the next 15 to 20 years. It’s not a panacea, but it’s a necessary bridge to the next technological breakthrough.

The question is: which ethanol?

Right now, the biofuel market is being grossly distorted by subsidies and trade barriers in the United States and the European Union. These make it rewarding to produce ethanol from corn or grains that are far less productive than sugarcane ethanol, divert land from food production (unlike sugarcane), and have dubious environmental credentials.

What sense does it make to have a surplus of environmentally friendly Brazilian sugar-based ethanol with a yield eight times higher than U.S. corn ethanol and zero impact on food prices being kept from an American market by a tariff of 54 cents on a gallon while Iowan corn ethanol gets a subsidy?

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