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United States - Oct 29

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The end of the road for U.S. carmakers?

Ken Bensinger, Los Angeles Times
Are the Big Three worth saving?

The U.S. auto industry's downward spiral has accelerated dramatically in recent weeks. In a desperate bid for solvency, General Motors Corp. is seeking a merger with Chrysler. Chrysler has talked with Renault and Nissan about partnerships. And now Ford Motor Co., GM and Chrysler -- backed by Michigan lawmakers -- are lobbying Washington to give them cash, implying that failure to provide a bailout could doom the industry to bankruptcy.
(28 October 2008)



Lessons Learned from the 1932-1933 Presidential Transition

Robert Rudney, CommonDreams.org
The four-month Presidential transition from Hoover to FDR illustrates the perils of a government changeover during a time of economic crisis. There is much we can learn from it today; doubtless, Senator Obama's transition team has been studying it already.

The Presidential interregnum from November 8, 1932 until March 4, 1933 was quite possibly the most dangerous period in modern American history. During this period of essentially leaderless government, the U.S. economy ground to a halt, so many banks failed that most states enacted ‘bank holidays,' and millions of workers were left unemployed and hopeless. This was the last extended Presidential transition before the enactment of the Twentieth Amendment shortening the transition time.

In the winter of 1932-1933, private relief organizations, dependent on private largesse, were collapsing under the weight of increased demand. Likewise, today with so many Americans facing hardships in 2008-2009, charitable organizations now find themselves financially strapped and unable to fill the relief gaps created by government budget cuts at all levels During the Depression, self-help and barter cooperatives were set up to provide some means of support for those in need. We may have to revisit such temporary, ‘stop-gap' solutions.

In many cities during 1932-1933, municipal workers went without pay as many cities approached bankruptcy. Today, Vallejo, California has already declared bankruptcy, and many other local governments are teetering on the brink. A local and state government financial crisis is looming, and some communities may only to survive this winter with diminished essential services.

The 1932-1933 crisis saw the rise of both right-wing and left-wing movements – and demagogues, as well as farmer demonstrations to stop foreclosures, extensive labor unrest, and the growth of Hoovervilles. If, today, unemployment levels mushroom and home foreclosures continue to increase, we may see parallels: movement to both right and left of the political spectrum, anti-foreclosure demonstrations, labor turbulence, and a dramatic growth in homelessness.
(28 October 2008)



Kunstler: Easthampton Burning?

James Howard Kunstler, Blog
In the typhoon of commentary that's blown around the world a step behind the financial tsunami that's wrecking everything, two little words have been curiously absent: "fraud" and "swindle." But aren't they really at the core of what has happened? Wall Street took the whole world "for a ride" and now a handful of Wall Street's erstwhile princelings have shifted ceremoniously into US Government service to "fix" the problem with a "toolbox" containing a notional two trillion dollars. This strange exercise in financial kabuki theater will shut down sometime between the election and inauguration day, when the inaugurate finds himself president of the Economic Smoking Wreckage of the United States. What will happen?

I have thought for some time that things could get dangerously out of hand in America, despite our exceptionalist notion that we are immune to the common plot-lines of history.

...In the meantime, however, millions of Joe-the-Plumber types will have gotten their pink slips, slipped helplessly into foreclosure, watched the repo men hot-wire their Ford pickups, and eaten down the kitchen cupboard to a single box of Kellogg's All-Bran (which had been sitting there for eleven years infested with weevils). They will be watching the official proceedings in the federal courtrooms with jaundiced eyes as they hunch in their tent cities, in the rain, sipping amateur-brand raisin wine bartered for a few snared rock doves. How long before the hardier ones among them venture out to Easthampton with long knives and matches?

It will bring little satisfaction though, and the disappointment could lead to a more inchoate outbreak of civil disorder that would be more like a free-for-all of vengeance and grievance. There will be a great outcry for the new government to "do something!"

...I hope you're enjoying the temporarily cheap prices at the gas pumps, because this is purely a function of the compressive deleveraging that is going on right now, as contracts and positions held in energy markets are being dumped by everybody and his uncle to raise cash to meet margin calls. My guess is that oil and its byproducts will become much more difficult to get in the months ahead -- not just more expensive, but literally not available. The current falling price of oil has little to do with the real supply and demand fundamentals. It's simply a function of the markets being in near-total disarray. We're running on current inventory, and running it down.

... The new president will have to be Franklin Roosevelt on steroids, with some Mahatma Gandhi and Florence Nightingale thrown in. My pet project of restoring the American passenger railroad system might seem pretty minor in the face of all this, but it's at least a place to start that will accomplish several things: allow people and things to get places without cars and trucks; put many thousands of people to work at many levels doing something of direct, practical value; and be a small step in rebuilding confidence that we are a society capable of accomplishing something.
(27 October 2008)



Public power group head discusses impact of economic crisis on investments.
(video and transcript)
Monica Trauzzi, OnPoint, E&E TV
Will competition in deregulated electricity markets help facilitate the transition to a carbon constrained economy?

Is a competitive, unregulated system a better way of achieving technological advancements?

During today's OnPoint, Mark Crisson, CEO of the American Public Power Association, gives his group's take on the success of regional transmission organizations.

He explains why he believes there is a lack of competition in deregulated markets. Crisson also addresses how the financial crisis will affect grid infrastructure and renewable energy investments.
(27 October 2008)




Connecting the Oily Dots of the Economic Meltdown
(text, slides, video)
EV World
Dr. Robert Zubrin's emotive case for promoting the immediate adaptation of a global open fuels standard.

Dr. Robert Zubrin, the president and CEO of Pioneer Astronautics is best known for his theoretical work on colonizing Mars, where he devised a way to make rocket fuel from the Red Planet's own resources.

But of late, and back here on Planet Earth, he's taken a even keener interest in the connection between gyrating oil prices, global poverty and the current economic meltdown.

... It is Zubrin's thesis that OPEC, and the Saudis in particular, are out to destroy the West economically, not by using crude weapons of mass destruction, but through the largest transfer of wealth in the history of the planet. Motivated by Wahabi fundamentalism and its radical intolerance of even its fellow religionists, i.e. Shiites, the ultimate political goal is a worldwide Islamic caliphate ruled, presumably by archly conservative Moslem clerics in the Middle East. And oil -- the black blood that runs 90 percent of the vehicles in the world, as well as its ships and planes -- is the tool of choice. In a self-reinforcing feedback loop, terrorism breeds fear and economic instability, which drives greed and the price of oil.

The result is wild fluctuations in the price of petroleum that on the one hand fattens oil producer coffers -- this year America's oil bill will be more than the United States defense budget -- when they're high and strangle alternative fuel technologies when they're low.

The shift to biofuels produced by the poorer, agriculturally-based nations of the world will stop the Wahabists in their tracks, Zubrin argues, while providing a much needed economic boost to the world's poor. Instead of the world's wealth increasingly being concentrated in the hands of a tiny cartel of theocrats and autocrats, it would provide jobs and income where it's needed most, and in turn would help dry up the swamp of poverty that causes the poor to turn to radical religious dogmas. It would, he contends, foster creativity instead of oppression.
(26 October 2008)
EB contributor JB writes:
I feel the presentation is a little conspiratorial, and implicitly anti-Semitic (anti-Arab), but he brings out many facts and figures I hadn't heard before.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

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