Apr
26

Green Tech Needs Capitalism

By Katie Kieffer

Green leaves

Image credit: “Green” by Christolakis on Flickr via Creative Commons.

Earth to Washington: The free market offers practical solutions for going green. Private entrepreneurs will literally fly to the moon to solve the U.S. technology crisis while government initiatives to support green technology fall flat.

The set of 17 rare elements known as “rare-earths” is integral to normal technology like iPads, fiber–optic cables and military equipment as well as “clean” technology like wind turbines, solar panels and electric batteries.

The U.S. used to lead the world in mining rare-earths through a California mine called Molycorp. However, environmental regulations sent this mine into extinction and the U.S. lost her competitive technology advantage. Today, years later, Molycorp is slowly re-building after meeting stricter U.S. environmental standards.

Since the U.S. stopped mining her own resources, China now calls the shots on rare-earths. The Chinese government and organized crime circles within China run pollution-hissing mines that churn out roughly 97 percent of the global rare-earth supply. High demand for rare-earths within the Chinese marketplace, environmental issues and political leverage are factors leading China to cut back on exports. Consequently, rare-earth prices are skyrocketing.

As hall of fame quarterback and former Minnesota Viking Fran Tarkenton told the St. Paul Pioneer Press on Nov. 24, 2010, “In my life, when I tried to have a quick fix to something, it turned out worse than it was before.” Unfortunately, many U.S. politicians see government intervention in clean tech as the quick fix to energy independence, job creation, and a cleaner environment.

Government clean tech programs for solar panels, wind turbines and electric batteries ironically support China’s dirty rare-earth mining at unsustainable costs. A single “utility-scale” wind turbine requires 661 lb. of the element neodymium, GM’s Chevy Volt needs 7 lb. of magnets made from rare-earths and the price of the iPod-essential rare-earth called dysprosium has jumped from $6.50 to $130 per lb., according to TIME Magazine.

Neodymium magnet in oil

Image credit: “Oil Pan Neodymium Magnet – Partially Wiped Clean” by DandyDanny on Flickr via Creative Commons.

The New York Times reports that mining rare-earths is complicated by the fact that most elements are only produced as byproducts of mining something else, such as copper. Furthermore, extracting rare-earth elements releases significant amounts of low-level radioactive waste into the environment.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration shows that wind and solar energy accounted for less than one percent of total U.S. energy consumption in 2009. Caithness Wind Farm Information Forum reports that wind turbines have killed wildlife, including protected species, and have been responsible for 35 fatalities in the U.S. from 1970 to 2010.

Despite these costs and risks, the Obama Administration wants to push clean tech to produce before its time by throwing out arbitrary and costly goals like “1 million electric vehicles on the road by 2015.” Minnesotans are being asked to be guinea pigs for a proposed tax on mileage. This tax would ask Americans who commute long distances in traditional cars to sacrifice twice by paying for elites to drive roller skates on rare-earth batteries.

With impeccable timing, a day before the one-year anniversary of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, the Administration announced that it had rushed through approval for the controversial and environmentally-intrusive Cape Wind Project. With 130 wind turbines, I estimate it will take 85,930 lb. of the rare-earth neodymium to supply electricity to just 400,000 homes off Nantucket Sound.

Wind turbine

Image credit: “Wind turbine” by hddod on Flickr via Creative Commons.

Good thing China is only charging us an arm and a leg for this clean tech experiment that provides a sliver of the population with electricity while disrupting birds and the aquatic ecosystem.

I think we can solve the technology crisis and conserve the earth by implementing practical, free market ideas. For example, the Empire State Building recently completed a $13 million dollar energy-saving retrofit that will reduce annual energy consumption by 38 percent. The retrofit implemented common sense techniques like recaulking limestone slabs and spraying foam insulation in walls.

Empire State Building project manager Paul Rode told TIME Magazine: “I can’t tell you how many people say, ‘Why not install solar cells or put a little windmill on the roof?’ Because it doesn’t make business sense. It makes much more sense to lower energy use.”

As I write, entrepreneurs at the private venture California company MoonEx are developing plans for robotic rovers to uncover a “gold mine” of rare elements and metals on the moon’s surface. My hope for the future is emboldened by free enterprise, not big government. The government got us into this mess by regulating California’s Molycorp mine out of business years ago. Free enterprise and innovation – not government-approved green programs – will dig us out.

Apr
21

Talking to America’s Mr. Right

By Katie Kieffer

I have listened to The Jason Lewis Show since I was a very little girl. At first, my dad made me listen to Jason’s show at the dinner table. We would sit down to eat and he’d inevitably say, “Katie, you should listen to Jason. You’ll learn something.” Eventually, I became hooked. Now, I listen by choice.

I think Jason’s voice is uniquely appealingly because he gets to the point, backs up his opinion with research and doesn’t waste air time disparaging liberals on a personal level. Jason spends more time discussing ideas than gossiping about people or politicians who disagree with him. Instead of whining, he offers realistic explanations and solutions for America’s dilemmas. He’s refreshing.

Jason has a new book out called “Power Divided is Power Checked.” It’s a fast read that will leave you feeling like you understand the Founding Fathers, the proper separation of powers, limited jurisdiction, states’ rights and the history behind the Constitution.

Power Divided is Power Checked=Francis Bacon was right: “Knowledge is power.” Empower yourself as a citizen and give Jason a shot at educating you.

Video produced by my filming partners Charles Eide and Michael Danielson at EideCom. Video copyright Katie Kieffer.

Apr
19

Save a horse, ride a trader

By Katie Kieffer

Wall Street Charging Bull

Image credit: “Wall Street Charging Bull” by puzzlemepuzzle on Flickr via Creative Commons.

If the country duo Big & Rich sang liberal public policy instead of country songs, their hit single, “Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy” would likely be a twangy anti-Wall Street masterpiece. Something Michael Moore could proudly blast in his publisher’s jet. Something like “Save a Horse, Ride a Trader.”

Headlines of late ooze with stories of insider trading on Wall Street. At the center of this drama, is the high-profile trial of Raj Rajaratnam, the billionaire entrepreneur and founder of a hedge fund management firm called the Galleon Group. With the assistance of the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York (U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara’s office), the SEC charged Rajaratnam with insider trading.

Remember, last year, when we heard 33 probes busted SEC staffers and senior-level officials for on-the-job porn fests? Yes, the SEC is the same agency that’s leading the charge on wiretapping and prosecuting former hedge-fund managers like Rajaratnam. Go figure.

The Rajaratnam investigation has all the dramatic bells and whistles that the mainstream media loves, including the related trial of hedge fund manager Danielle Chiesi, who pleaded guilty in hopes of softening her sentence.

Manhattan, NYC

Image credit: “NYC Manhattan – view to south side” by Wuerzi on Flickr via Creative Commons.

Chiesi had at least two affairs to gather her intel, which she periodically shared with Rajaratnam: One with her married boss and another with a former IBM executive whose wife had multiple sclerosis. Known for her come-hither clothing and an aggressive personality, she peppered her sweet advances with the F-word as deftly as a South Park cartoon.

The Atlas Society argues that Chiesi’s immorality does not necessarily make her a criminal: “The only theoretical basis for charging Chiesi with a crime, so far as I can see, is the notion of perfect competition, according to which all market participants are supposed to be possessed of equal information. That notion is not just absurd, it is an attack upon reality. The attempt to make market participants adhere to such a standard, under penalty of prison, is currently one of the most oppressive assaults against the free market.”

Who’s riding the traders?

The SEC’s culture of brownnosing and political gaming is at the heart of many insider trading prosecutions on Wall Street. Recently, there has been a clear shift from relying on whistleblowers to a pugnacious, made-for-Hollywood show and a shady SEC program where bank execs can buy their way out of jail time. The Rajaratnam investigation, for instance, has involved FBI dawn raids and wiretapping no less than 500 individuals.

Rolling Stone reports that the SEC has ignored and even fired major whistle-blowers, and, has repeatedly taken politics into account when recommending cases to the DOJ. For example, the SEC gave quasi-government entities Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac monetary slaps on the hand without jail time in 2003 and 2006 for deceitful activities.

Rolling Stone’s report shows that employees in the SEC, DOJ and on Wall Street are in the habit of moving back and forth and “…constantly switching sides and trading hats.” SEC officials have a shot at lush jobs on Wall Street or as partners in top law firms after their stint at the SEC. So, it is to their advantage to buddy up with Wall Street and regulator impartiality is dubious.

New York Stock Exchange

Image credit: “Wall Street III” by Bête à Bon-Dieu on Flickr via Creative Commons.

The SEC’s Wall Street “top cop” is the director of enforcement, Robert Khuzami. He has said: “Raj Rajaratnam is not a master of the universe, but rather a master of the Rolodex.” Big deal. Most successful people are well connected. The question is whether Rajaratnam committed fraud.

Khuzami has received criticism from well-known whistleblower and former SEC investigator, Gary Aguirre, for rolling out a “cooperative initiative” that he described to Rolling Stone as: “First, the SEC and Wall Street player make an agreement on a fine that the player will pay to the SEC. Then the Justice Department commits itself to pass, so that the player knows he’s ‘safe.’ Third, the player pays the SEC — and fourth, the player gets a pass from the Justice Department.”

Will throwing a few high profile people in prison on insider trading charges repair the economy and revitalize ethics? The Guardian reports that many insider prosecutions do little to nothing to stop the practice, and, the trading itself may not be inherently destructive to the market. The New York Times has reported that, “Insider trading does not appear to have any appreciable effect on the markets, at least as measured by the volume of trading that occurs.”

If execs can avoid jail time by negotiating with the SEC, Brahara’s high-profile trials appear to be a circus show for the American public. Media professionals will cast a blind eye as long as they can splash headlines with rich people getting perp-walked. For, these hyped trials send Michael Moore’s favorite message: Wall Street is evil and capitalism causes greed.

© Katie Kieffer.

Apr
12

6 Women Want Wal-Mart WAM

By Katie Kieffer

Wal-Mart store.

Wal-Mart store in Amsterdam, NY. Image credit: “Pot At The End Of The Rainbow” by Stacy Lynn Baum on Flickr via Creative Commons.

Sorry boys, Betty Dukes is not a California girl who models daisy dukes. She’s a Californian in her sixties who is leading the charge in Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Betty Dukes, et. al.

Six female plaintiffs, led by Betty Dukes, are current and former Wal-Mart employees with sexual discrimination charges against Wal-Mart. They seek to represent the group of over 1.5 million women who have worked at 3,400 domestic Wal-Mart retail stores since December 26, 1998.

This case has been moving through the court system since 2001. Last spring, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth District ruled in favor of certifying the class. Wal-Mart appealed and the Supreme Court will decide by June 2011 whether this case qualifies as a federal class-action suit.

Female advocates or feminists?

Women like Dukes seeking walking-around-money (WAM) look at the Court’s demographics and realize that now is their best chance to bring “glass ceiling” grievances against males forward. This is the first time in the Court’s history where three female justices sit on the bench: Hons. Ginsburg, Kagan and Sotomayor.

U.S. Supreme Court pillars

Image credit: “'Supreme shift' – US Supreme Court shifts a bit with two new judges.” by His Noodly Appendage on Flickr via Creative Commons.

Throughout the March 29, 2011 oral argument, Justices Sotomayor, Kagan and Ginsburg asked questions that suggested they made their decisions before the argument was even over. Sotomayor blurted out the first question to the respondent’s attorney, Joseph M. Sellers: “What would the injunction look like in this case?” She may as well have said, “How can we help you? You need not waste time arguing the strength of your case.”

At the outset, Ginsburg implied that she was partial to the view that: “…it’s not subjective. …the expert saying that gender bias can creep into a system like that simply because of the natural phenomenon that people tend to feel comfortable with people like themselves.”

The female justices asked numerous procedural questions regarding injunctive and monetary relief and whether defining the class under Class-Action Rule 23 (b) (2) would protect the individual members of the class, including those no longer working for Wal-Mart.

They asked whether class members could pursue their individual “fair share” of back-pay and bring forward individual discrimination claims, even beyond this case, without violating res judicata and collateral estoppel.

Case flounders

Justice Kennedy probed the respondent no less than four times for Wal-Mart’s supposedly “unlawful policy” that caused sexual discrimination. Sellers dodged Kennedy’s questions, claiming Wal-Mart has “a very strong corporate culture” that provides its managers with “unchecked discretion,” and this leads to across-the-board discrimination based on sex.

Wal-Mart store.

Image credit: “Walmart @ Cortez, Colorado, USA” by Serge Van Cauwenbergh on Flickr via Creative Commons.

Justice Scalia pointed out a flaw in Sellers’ logic: “If somebody tells you how to exercise discretion, you don’t have discretion.” Sellers conceded to Scalia that Wal-Mart has a written policy against sex discrimination.

Sellers stammered and struggled to answer Scalia’s charge that his reasoning: “…assumes that if there is a disparity between the advancement of women and the advancement of men, it can only be attributed to sex discrimination.” Scalia also questioned how Sellers could fulfill the commonality requirement for class-action certification when his “class” includes women who were both underpaid and women who were not underpaid by Wal-Mart.

Are these women helping others?

This would be America’s largest-ever class-action suit for employment discrimination and would therefore set a powerful precedent. Sexual discrimination lawsuits and complaints are springing up from cocktail waitresses in Atlantic City to students at Yale University. If Betty Dukes et. al. achieves class-action certification, many sexual discrimination suits will gain a crippling new momentum.

Employees who normally would not risk the cost of bringing a weak individual case against their employer will simply pool their story together with others who have remotely similar stories for a class-action suit.

As the petitioner’s attorney Theodore J. Boutrous Jr. argued: “Each of the plaintiffs have very different stories. One of them was promoted into a managerial position. One was terminated for disciplinary violations. One was promoted and then had a disciplinary problem and then was demoted.”

American companies cannot afford to employ women and men if they perpetually fear that a handful of employees with disparate claims can hack billions of dollars in damages from their bottom lines.

Women will hurt in the long-run if we become a society where the courts construe individual manager discretion into a formal corporate policy and maintain that a handful of individuals with different stories can form a class and represent millions of others with equally different stories, potentially barring women from individual recourse.

Madeleine Albright once told TIME Magazine: “…it is important for women to help one another. I have a saying: There is a special place in hell for women who don’t.” Unfortunately, Betty Dukes et. al. seem poised to hurt, not help, other women if the Court rules in their favor. When feminists play the victim card for money, they often fail to understand the repercussions of their actions.

U.S. Supreme Court

Image credit: “Supreme Court” by wukong 悟空 (Xuemin Guan) on Flickr via Creative Commons.

Apr
05

Love oil and it loves you back

By Katie Kieffer

Image credit: "Sunrise - Gulf of Mexico" by Vince O'Sullivan on Flickr via Creative Commons.

Image credit: “Sunrise – Gulf of Mexico” by Vince O'Sullivan on Flickr via Creative Commons.

Listening to morning shows is a good way to wind up in a psychiatrist’s office. I flip between 300 channels and have three basic choices: Bad economic news, high-profile violence or cotton candy interviews with reality stars. I try switching to Twitter and a trending topic is a cobra that escaped from the Bronx Zoo. I almost choke on my Pop-Tart.

I’m tired of negative news and hearing people whine without offering solutions. So, I’m defying the world by being optimistic.

What makes me happy? Oil. Oil makes me think happy thoughts.

If you turn on your TV, you’ll probably find some Debbie Downer “reporting” that BP is essentially an underground mafia and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and the DOJ may bring BP executives to justice for manslaughter, regardless of whether they were directly involved in the Gulf of Mexico oil spill and despite the government’s own negligence in overseeing the Deepwater Horizon well.

Even a Hollywood environmentalist like Avatar director James Cameron admits that the U.S. needs oil. He recently told TIME Magazine, “We’re going to need it regardless no matter how fast you move off oil. We’re not there yet—renewables make up maybe 3% of the grid, even if it’s changing fast. … I’m speaking from a U.S. perspective, and you still need oil—you need it for trucks and airplanes. You need it for fuel.”

There you have it. Straight from Hollywood Happyville. America needs oil.

Image credit: "Director James Cameron" by Clare & Dave on Flickr via Creative Commons.

Image credit: “Director James Cameron” by Clare & Dave on Flickr via Creative Commons.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. recently made similar comments with regard to green technology in cars. When Chevrolet released its electric model called the Volt this year and Consumer Reports did not give it a stellar review, Earnhardt Jr. said: “…the technology isn’t there yet…”

Cameron and Earnhardt, Jr.’s words make sense when you think about them this way: When Tiger Woods was three years old, what if his coach and father, Earl, had told him, “Tiger, you are going to win the Masters this year.” Or what if he had said, “Tiger, in five years, you are going to win the Masters.”

Certainly, at three years old and at eight years old, Tiger had the potential to win not one but four Masters and many other awards. But, it would have been ridiculous and counterproductive if Tiger’s dad had demanded that he win a green jacket when he was still developing as an athlete.

Likewise, it is dangerous for us to pressure alternative energy to replace oil now or in the near future. I’d like to fuel my car with algae, and, right now, it’s not practical. Maybe it will be in the future.

We have vast oil reserves here in America. Think Alaska’s ANWR, Utah’s oil sands, and countless deepwater drilling opportunities. Plus, new Gallup polls indicate Americans support drilling for oil in increasing numbers.

But, political correctness keeps the EPA and this Administration from listening to the majority of Americans while shaping energy policy:

Timeline of Inconsistency

  • 2009: Newly elected President Obama lends $2 billion to Petrobras, Brazil’s national oil corporation, via the Export Import Bank of the U.S. (Bush appointees on Ex-Im’s board approved the preliminary commitment).
  • March, 2010: President Obama proposes “compromise” to drill offshore for oil and natural gas “along the Atlantic coastline, the eastern Gulf of Mexico and the north coast of Alaska,” reports The New York Times.
  • April, 20 2010: Gulf of Mexico oil spill.
  • May, 4, 2010: The White House says it will keep the “boot on the throat” of BP.
  • May 27, 2010: Department of Interior announces a six-month ban on deepwater drilling, despite lack of scientific support for said moratorium.
  • December 1, 2010: President reverses decision to re-open drilling and keeps the moratorium indefinite for most areas.
  • January 3, 2011: President reneges and allows 13 companies to return to 16 existing and mostly exploratory deepwater wells.
  • March 19, 2011: President visits Brazil with the pledge: “… when you’re ready to start selling (oil), we want to be one of your best customers.”
  • March 30, 2011: President announces specific, politically correct green energy goals. He places blame on the petroleum industry while his effective ban on new deepwater drilling persists since drilling permits are being issued at a snail’s pace.

Oil is amazing. It represents opportunities for wealth, freedom, health and security that we are snubbing our noses at so we can be “green” prematurely. Indeed, thriving economies produce clean environments and longer life spans, explains Forbes.

The most positive thing that could happen to America would be economic stability. Drilling for oil would create jobs, lower gas prices, enhance national security and boost consumer spending. Let’s turn off the negative voices and embrace oil for the sake of happiness and prosperity.

Image credit: "US6 oil rig 3926a" by DB's travels on Flickr via Creative Commons.

Image credit: “US6 oil rig 3926a” by DB's travels on Flickr via Creative Commons.