231-922-9460 | Google +

Friday, April 30, 2010

Titanic Pigeon Forge Opens To Public

The Chattanoogan

 
 
Titanic Pigeon Forge, a 30,000-square-foot ship-shaped structure situated on 5.69 acres, opened to the public on Thursday, adding yet another item to the list of things to do in Pigeon Forge TN.

The new $25 million permanent museum is a half-scale, three-deck reproduction of the Titanic. The museum houses 20 galleries that display hundreds of authentic Titanic artifacts that were carried from the ship and into lifeboats by passengers and crew and those found afloat soon after the ship sunk.

Governor Phil Bredesen sent a letter read at the event by Phyllis Qualls-Brooks, assistant commissioner of Community and Industry Relations for the Tennessee Department of Tourist Development.

“Very few sites offer so much in the way of interesting, entertaining, high quality attractions as Pigeon Forge; and all Tennesseans are proud of what this city does to make our state one of the top tourist destinations in America,” Governor Bredesen said in the letter.

“The Titanic museum attraction will now be a part of that tourism family. It will celebrate the lives of the 2,223 souls who embarked on a voyage into history and tell the compelling story of the memorable events that took place April, 1912, that led to the loss of 1,517 of them.”

The grand opening ceremony was hosted by Regis Philbin, best known for his television shows, including “Live With Regis & Kathy Lee,” “Live With Regis & Kelly” and “Who Wants to be A Millionaire,” and was attended by hundreds of guests, including descendants and family members of those aboard the Titanic.

During the “Live with Regis & Kelly” show on Friday, Mr. Philbin talked about his visit to attractions in Pigeon Forge and christening the new museum. He also discussed his visit to Dollywood, Great Smoky Mountains National Park and his stay at The Inn at Christmas Place.

Inside the interactive attraction, visitors find full-size reproductions, built to actual Titanic blueprints, of a first class suite, first class hallways, third class accommodations and an exact reproduction of the grand staircase, the museum’s centerpiece.

Labor Unions March on Wall Street, Securities Workers Complain

San Francisco Chronicle

 
Labor union members led by AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka marched on Wall Street to demand taxes on bonuses as securities workers said the protesters should go to work and stop demonstrating.

"It's time for special taxes for bank bonuses," Trumka told an estimated 7,500 at a rally outside City Hall yesterday that began after trading ended at the New York Stock Exchange. "When you engage in rampant and risky speculation, you are going to pay your fair share in taxes."

The rally capped a drive by the nation's largest organization of labor unions called the "Make Wall Street Pay" campaign. Protestors, some dressed as pirates and others wearing prison garb, held signs saying "Break Up Megabanks" and "Hey Big Banks -- Less Bail, More Jail." Rallies have targeted Goldman Sachs Group Inc., the most profitable securities firm, and the five biggest U.S. banks.

Trumka started the march yelling "Let's let Wall Street hear us, all the way down to the bull" at Bowling Green, the end point for the protest. They marched under sunny skies with temperatures approaching 70 degrees (21 Celsius).

Brendan Plunkett, 46, a corporate bond trader, was heading home to Essex Falls, New Jersey, as the marchers walked down Broadway.

"If they care so much about the country, they should go to work and be productive and stop with the protests," he said. "It's all nonsense to me, and it always will be."

Ralph Metz, a 29-year-old stock broker for Spartan Capital Securities LLC at 45 Broadway, echoed that sentiment. "People have got to take responsibility for the decisions they make," he said.

Difference With Goldman

His friend, 31-year-old stock broker John Phillips, said the protestors picked the wrong target by focusing broadly on Wall Street. "There's a difference between Goldman Sachs and the rest of us," he said. "A lot of the guys in government used to work for Goldman Sachs."

Police estimated more than 7,500 people gathered in the park south of City Hall, before the crowd headed south past the stock exchange carrying signs reading "Reclaim Our Democracy" and "Hold Banks Accountable."

"They are tax dodgers, they aren't putting anything back into the community," said Otis J. Loweryberg, 84, a former International Business Machine Corp. worker in Delaware. "They only think about self -- self motivation, self-preservation. How do these guys go home at night when people have no food on the table."

The AFL-CIO, the 11-million-member labor federation, is urging Congress to impose a transaction tax on securities trading to help cover the $900 billion cost for a government jobs program they want lawmakers to create.

Geithner Opposition

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has said he opposes the transaction tax, though Trumka told reporters yesterday it is picking up interest within the Obama administration. "We talk about it all the time," Trumka said. "The conversation is getting better and more analytical."

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the nation's largest business lobbying group, opposes the tax, which it says would hurt more than bankers.

Wayne Usilton, 63, a former Chrysler worker from Delaware, said he joined more than 40 other union members from his state on a bus trip to the Manhattan event.

"The average person on Main Street is just fed up with big business and Wall Street manipulation," Usilton said.

Rebuttal: Don't Panic, Go Organic

Foreign Policy / Anna Lappe

Be not troubled by Robert Paarlberg's scaremongering. Organic practices can feed the world -- better, in fact, than wasteful industrial farming.


 
 
In May 2004, Catherine Badgley, an evolutionary biology professor at the University of Michigan, took her students on a research trip to an organic farm near their campus. Standing on the acre-and-a-half farm, Badgley asked the farmer, Rob MacKercher, how much food he produces annually. "Twenty-seven tons," he said. Badgley did the quick math: That's enough to provide 150 families one pound of produce every single day of the year.

"If he can grow that quantity on this tiny parcel," Badgley wondered, "why can't organic agriculture feed the world?" That question was the genesis of a multi-year, multidisciplinary study to explore whether we could, indeed, feed the world with organic, sustainable methods of farming. The results? A resounding yes.

Unfortunately, you don't hear about this study, or others with similar findings, in "Attention Whole Foods Shoppers," Robert Paarlberg's defense of industrial agriculture in the new issue of Foreign Policy. Instead, organic agriculture, according to Paarlberg, is an "elite preoccupation," a "trendy cause" for "purist circles." Sure, sidling up to a Whole Foods in your Lexus SUV and spending $24.99 on artisan fromage may be the trappings of a privileged foodie, but there's an SUV-sized difference between obsessing about the texture of your goat cheese and arguing for a more sustainable food system. Despite Paarlberg's pronouncements, Badgley's research, along with much more evidence, helps us see that what's best for the planet and for people -- especially small-scale farmers who are the hungriest among us -- is a food system based on agroecological practices. What's more, Paarlberg's impressive-sounding statistics veil the true human and ecological cost we are paying with industrial agriculture.

Since most of us aren't well-versed in the minutia of this debate, we can't be blamed for falling for Paarlberg's scaremongering, which suggests that by rejecting biotech and industrial agriculture, we are keeping developing countries underdeveloped and undernourished. Paarlberg suggests that we could eliminate starvation across the continent of Africa were it not that "efforts to deliver such essentials have been undercut by deeply misguided ... advocacy against agricultural modernization."

It's a compelling argument, and one industry defenders make all the time. For who among us would want to think we're starving the poor by pushing for sustainability? (At a Biotechnology Industry Organization conference I attended in 2005, a workshop participant even suggested pro-organic advocates should be "tried for crimes against humanity.")

But the argument for industrial agriculture and biotechnology is built on a misleading depiction of what organic agriculture is, bolstered with shaky statistics, and constructed by ignoring the on-the-ground lessons of success stories across the globe.

For a start, Paarlberg doesn't get what it means to be organic. "Few smallholder farmers in Africa use any synthetic chemicals," he writes, "so their food is de facto organic." In contrast, industrial agriculture, as he sees it, is "science-intensive." But as Doug Gurian-Sherman, a senior scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists explains, "modern organic practices are defined by much more than just the absence of synthetic chemicals"; it's knowledge-intensive farming. Organic farmers improve output, less by applying purchased products and more by tapping a sophisticated understanding of biological systems to build soil fertility and manage pests and weeds through techniques that include double-dug beds, intercropping, composting, manures, cover crops, crop sequencing, and natural pest control.

Biotech and industrial agriculture would in fact more aptly be called water, chemical, and fossil-fuel-intensive farming, requiring external inputs to boost productivity. Industrial agriculture gobbles up much of the 70 percent of the planet's freshwater resources diverted to farming, for example. It relies on petroleum-based chemicals for pest and weed control and requires massive amounts of synthetic fertilizer. In fact, in 2007, we used 13 million tons of synthetic fertilizer, five times the amount used in 1960. Crop yields, by comparison, grew only half that fast. And it's hardly a harmless increase: Nitrogen fertilizers are the single biggest cause of global-warming gases from U.S. agriculture and a major cause of air and water pollution -- including the creation of dead zones in coastal waters that are devoid of fish. And despite the massive pesticide increase, the United States loses more crops to pests today than it did before the chemical agriculture revolution six decades ago.

The diminishing returns of industrial agriculture are one reason why organic agriculture comes out ahead in all the comprehensive comparative studies. In Badgley's study, for instance, data from hundreds of certified-organic, industrial, and low-input farms around the world revealed that introducing agroecological approaches in developing countries led to between two and four times the productivity as the previous practices. Estimating the impact on global food supply if we shifted the planet to organic production, the study authors found a yield increase for every single food category they investigated.

In one of the largest studies to analyze how agroecological practices affect productivity in the developing world, researchers at the University of Essex in England analyzed 286 projects in 57 countries. Among the 12.6 million farmers followed, who were transitioning toward sustainable agriculture, researchers found an average yield increase of 79 percent across a wide variety of crop types.

Even the United Nations backs those claims. A 2008 U.N. Conference on Trade and Development report concluded that "organic agriculture can be more conducive to food security in Africa than most conventional production systems, and ... is more likely to be sustainable in the long term."

In the most comprehensive analysis of world agriculture to date, several U.N. agencies and the World Bank engaged more than 400 scientists and development experts from 80 countries over four years to produce the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science, and Technology for Development (IAASTD). The conclusion? Our "reliance on resource-extractive industrial agriculture is risky and unsustainable, particularly in the face of worsening climate, energy, and water crises," said Marcia Ishii-Eiteman, a lead author on the report.

Too bad we don't hear these success stories from Paarlberg. Instead he claims that without industrial food systems, "food would be not only less abundant but also less safe." To build his case, he points to improvements in food safety in the United States, such as the drop in E. coli contamination in U.S. beef. He neglects to mention that the virulent form of E. coli, a pathogen that can be fatal in humans, only emerged in the gut of cattle in the 1980s as a direct consequence of industrial livestock factories -- precisely the model he would export overseas. Meanwhile, Paarlberg conveniently ignores the diet-related illnesses spawned by industrial food in the United States, where the health-care system is now crippled with these preventable diseases. Hypertension (high blood pressure), heart disease, and Type 2 diabetes have all been linked in part to diet.

Paarlberg defends his case by pointing to a staggering death toll in Africa where, he claims, 700,000 people die every year from food- and water-borne diseases compared with only 5,000 in the United States. But he's deceptively comparing apples and oranges: Those U.S. figures are only for food-borne illnesses. And the lack of an industrial food system isn't responsible for most of that high death toll in Africa. The World Health Organization attributes much of this tragic toll to unsanitary drinking water contaminated with pathogens transmitted from human excreta, causing a massive spike in cholera that year. Oh, and pesticide poisoning, too. Yes, that would be pesticides from industrial chemical farming.

Paarlberg's praise for industrial practices is similar to the biotech industry trumpeting its technology for saving us from famine, farmer bankruptcy, blindness, disease, poverty, even loss of biodiversity. Back in 1994, Dan Verakis, a spokesman for the industrial agricultural firm Monsanto, claimed that biotech crops would reduce herbicide and pesticide use, in effect reversing "the Silent Spring scenario." In 1999, Monsanto said it had developed genetically engineered rice to be a vital source of vitamin A, reducing blindness caused by its deficiency. That same year, then Monsanto CEO Robert Shapiro boasted that GM technology would trigger an "80 percent reduction in insecticide use in cotton crops alone in the United States."

Few of these promises have borne fruit. Instead, commercialized biotech crops have fostered herbicide-resistant weeds and pesticide-resistant pests, while reducing biodiversity. "In the past, farmers used a variety of chemical controls and manual labor, making it unlikely that any weed plant would evolve a resistance to all those different strategies simultaneously," explains gene ecology expert, Jack Heinemann, another IAASTD author. "But as we oversimplify -- as we industrialize -- we make agriculture more vulnerable to the next problem." Already, examples of herbicide resistance are popping up from canola fields in Canada to farms in Australia.

Another cause for concern is that industrial agriculture and genetically modified crops dangerously reduce biodiversity, especially on the farm. In the United States, 90 percent of soy, 70 percent of corn, and 95 percent of sugarbeets are genetically modified. Industrial farms are by their very nature monocultures, but diverse crops on a farm, even weeds, serve multiple functions: Bees feast on their nectar and pollen, birds munch on weed seeds, worms and other soil invertebrates that help control pests live among them -- the list goes on.

So are farmers in southern Africa, across India, in villages throughout the developing world really waiting for biotech and industrial agriculture to feed them, as Paarlberg suggests? "No," says Sue Edwards, a British-born botanist who works at the Institute for Sustainable Development in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. "Farmers we work with don't hold much hope" for these technologies; they see hope in their fields.

Starting in 1996, Edwards and colleagues engaged smallholder farmers in drought-prone regions in Ethiopia to investigate whether resilient food systems could be fostered by tapping ecological agriculture, building farming skills, emphasizing crops indigenous to the continent that had evolved to be drought resilient. They enlisted farmers in field trials, comparing crops grown using ecological methods like composting with those raised with chemical fertilizer or without any inputs at all. (That'd be what Paarlberg calls "de facto organic.") The results are conclusive: By 2006, they were finding significantly higher yields in the ecological test sites of every single crop compared with the chemical-fertilizer plots and even more dramatic benefits compared with the no-input plots.

Among the pitfalls in Paarlberg's analysis, two stand out. First, the benefits of his approach are speculative, at best; at worst, his assertions are disengenous, based on cherry-picking evidence and misrepresenting data. We need only compare his claims with Edwards's work and similar research around the world that demonstrates that agroecological approaches can protect natural resources and increase yields. Not in five years; not in 20. But right now -- today.

Second, his approach ignores power relationships that ultimately determine who will benefit from any technology. In agroecological approaches, farmers gain knowledge, including knowledge about ways to adapt to changing climate and to share their knowledge with each other. Farmers become less dependent on distant, centralized suppliers of high-priced biotech seeds and chemical inputs and therefore less vulnerable to their notoriously unstable prices. Though perhaps harder to measure, this independence may be the most critical advantages of agroecological farming.

Take away Paarlberg-esque mythologizing -- along with the government handouts, international financial institutional backing, tax breaks, and externalized environmental and human costs that prop up industrial agriculture and biotechnology -- and industrial agriculture would go the way of the Hummer: an overhyped footnote in the history books.

Slow Food will not Save the Planet

Foreign Policy
Robert Paalberg argues that if we want to solve the global food crisis, we're going to lose our romanticized notions of preindustrial farming and learn to love modern seeds, chemical fertilizers, and international markets.


 From Whole Foods recyclable cloth bags to Michelle Obama's organic White House garden, modern eco-foodies are full of good intentions. We want to save the planet. Help local farmers. Fight climate change -- and childhood obesity, too. But though it's certainly a good thing to be thinking about global welfare while chopping our certified organic onions, the hope that we can help others by changing our shopping and eating habits is being wildly oversold to Western consumers. Food has become an elite preoccupation in the West, ironically, just as the most effective ways to address hunger in poor countries have fallen out of fashion.

Helping the world's poor feed themselves is no longer the rallying cry it once was. Food may be today's cause célèbre, but in the pampered West, that means trendy causes like making food "sustainable" -- in other words, organic, local, and slow. Appealing as that might sound, it is the wrong recipe for helping those who need it the most. Even our understanding of the global food problem is wrong these days, driven too much by the single issue of international prices. In April 2008, when the cost of rice for export had tripled in just six months and wheat reached its highest price in 28 years, a New York Times editorial branded this a "World Food Crisis." World Bank President Robert Zoellick warned that high food prices would be particularly damaging in poor countries, where "there is no margin for survival." Now that international rice prices are down 40 percent from their peak and wheat prices have fallen by more than half, we too quickly conclude that the crisis is over. Yet 850 million people in poor countries were chronically undernourished before the 2008 price spike, and the number is even larger now, thanks in part to last year's global recession. This is the real food crisis we face.

It turns out that food prices on the world market tell us very little about global hunger. International markets for food, like most other international markets, are used most heavily by the well-to-do, who are far from hungry. The majority of truly undernourished people -- 62 percent, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization -- live in either Africa or South Asia, and most are small farmers or rural landless laborers living in the countryside of Africa and South Asia. They are significantly shielded from global price fluctuations both by the trade policies of their own governments and by poor roads and infrastructure. In Africa, more than 70 percent of rural households are cut off from the closest urban markets because, for instance, they live more than a 30-minute walk from the nearest all-weather road.

Poverty -- caused by the low income productivity of farmers' labor -- is the primary source of hunger in Africa, and the problem is only getting worse. The number of "food insecure" people in Africa (those consuming less than 2,100 calories a day) will increase 30 percent over the next decade without significant reforms, to 645 million, the U.S. Agriculture Department projects.

What's so tragic about this is that we know from experience how to fix the problem. Wherever the rural poor have gained access to improved roads, modern seeds, less expensive fertilizer, electrical power, and better schools and clinics, their productivity and their income have increased. But recent efforts to deliver such essentials have been undercut by deeply misguided (if sometimes well-meaning) advocacy against agricultural modernization and foreign aid.

In Europe and the United States, a new line of thinking has emerged in elite circles that opposes bringing improved seeds and fertilizers to traditional farmers and opposes linking those farmers more closely to international markets. Influential food writers, advocates, and celebrity restaurant owners are repeating the mantra that "sustainable food" in the future must be organic, local, and slow. But guess what: Rural Africa already has such a system, and it doesn't work. Few smallholder farmers in Africa use any synthetic chemicals, so their food is de facto organic. High transportation costs force them to purchase and sell almost all of their food locally. And food preparation is painfully slow. The result is nothing to celebrate: average income levels of only $1 a day and a one-in-three chance of being malnourished.

If we are going to get serious about solving global hunger, we need to de-romanticize our view of preindustrial food and farming. And that means learning to appreciate the modern, science-intensive, and highly capitalized agricultural system we've developed in the West. Without it, our food would be more expensive and less safe. In other words, a lot like the hunger-plagued rest of the world.

Original Sins

Thirty years ago, had someone asserted in a prominent journal or newspaper that the Green Revolution was a failure, he or she would have been quickly dismissed. Today the charge is surprisingly common. Celebrity author and eco-activist Vandana Shiva claims the Green Revolution has brought nothing to India except "indebted and discontented farmers." A 2002 meeting in Rome of 500 prominent international NGOs, including Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace, even blamed the Green Revolution for the rise in world hunger. Let's set the record straight.

The development and introduction of high-yielding wheat and rice seeds into poor countries, led by American scientist Norman Borlaug and others in the 1960s and 70s, paid huge dividends. In Asia these new seeds lifted tens of millions of small farmers out of desperate poverty and finally ended the threat of periodic famine. India, for instance, doubled its wheat production between 1964 and 1970 and was able to terminate all dependence on international food aid by 1975. As for indebted and discontented farmers, India's rural poverty rate fell from 60 percent to just 27 percent today. Dismissing these great achievements as a "myth" (the official view of Food First, a California-based organization that campaigns globally against agricultural modernization) is just silly.

It's true that the story of the Green Revolution is not everywhere a happy one. When powerful new farming technologies are introduced into deeply unjust rural social systems, the poor tend to lose out. In Latin America, where access to good agricultural land and credit has been narrowly controlled by traditional elites, the improved seeds made available by the Green Revolution increased income gaps. Absentee landlords in Central America, who previously allowed peasants to plant subsistence crops on underutilized land, pushed them off to sell or rent the land to commercial growers who could turn a profit using the new seeds. Many of the displaced rural poor became slum dwellers. Yet even in Latin America, the prevalence of hunger declined more than 50 percent between 1980 and 2005.

In Asia, the Green Revolution seeds performed just as well on small nonmechanized farms as on larger farms. Wherever small farmers had sufficient access to credit, they took up the new technology just as quickly as big farmers, which led to dramatic income gains and no increase in inequality or social friction. Even poor landless laborers gained, because more abundant crops meant more work at harvest time, increasing rural wages. In Asia, the Green Revolution was good for both agriculture and social justice.

And Africa? Africa has a relatively equitable and secure distribution of land, making it more like Asia than Latin America and increasing the chances that improvements in farm technology will help the poor. If Africa were to put greater resources into farm technology, irrigation, and rural roads, small farmers would benefit.

Organic Myths

There are other common objections to doing what is necessary to solve the real hunger crisis. Most revolve around caveats that purist critics raise regarding food systems in the United States and Western Europe. Yet such concerns, though well-intentioned, are often misinformed and counterproductive -- especially when applied to the developing world.

Take industrial food systems, the current bugaboo of American food writers. Yes, they have many unappealing aspects, but without them food would be not only less abundant but also less safe. Traditional food systems lacking in reliable refrigeration and sanitary packaging are dangerous vectors for diseases. Surveys over the past several decades by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have found that the U.S. food supply became steadily safer over time, thanks in part to the introduction of industrial-scale technical improvements. Since 2000, the incidence of E. coli contamination in beef has fallen 45 percent. Today in the United States, most hospitalizations and fatalities from unsafe food come not from sales of contaminated products at supermarkets, but from the mishandling or improper preparation of food inside the home. Illness outbreaks from contaminated foods sold in stores still occur, but the fatalities are typically quite limited. A nationwide scare over unsafe spinach in 2006 triggered the virtual suspension of all fresh and bagged spinach sales, but only three known deaths were recorded. Incidents such as these command attention in part because they are now so rare. Food Inc. should be criticized for filling our plates with too many foods that are unhealthy, but not foods that are unsafe.

Where industrial-scale food technologies have not yet reached into the developing world, contaminated food remains a major risk. In Africa, where many foods are still purchased in open-air markets (often uninspected, unpackaged, unlabeled, unrefrigerated, unpasteurized, and unwashed), an estimated 700,000 people die every year from food- and water-borne diseases, compared with an estimated 5,000 in the United States.

Food grown organically -- that is, without any synthetic nitrogen fertilizers or pesticides -- is not an answer to the health and safety issues. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition last year published a study of 162 scientific papers from the past 50 years on the health benefits of organically grown foods and found no nutritional advantage over conventionally grown foods. According to the Mayo Clinic, "No conclusive evidence shows that organic food is more nutritious than is conventionally grown food."

Health professionals also reject the claim that organic food is safer to eat due to lower pesticide residues. Food and Drug Administration surveys have revealed that the highest dietary exposures to pesticide residues on foods in the United States are so trivial (less than one one-thousandth of a level that would cause toxicity) that the safety gains from buying organic are insignificant. Pesticide exposures remain a serious problem in the developing world, where farm chemical use is not as well regulated, yet even there they are more an occupational risk for unprotected farmworkers than a residue risk for food consumers.

When it comes to protecting the environment, assessments of organic farming become more complex. Excess nitrogen fertilizer use on conventional farms in the United States has polluted rivers and created a "dead zone" in the Gulf of Mexico, but halting synthetic nitrogen fertilizer use entirely (as farmers must do in the United States to get organic certification from the Agriculture Department) would cause environmental problems far worse.

Here's why: Less than 1 percent of American cropland is under certified organic production. If the other 99 percent were to switch to organic and had to fertilize crops without any synthetic nitrogen fertilizer, that would require a lot more composted animal manure. To supply enough organic fertilizer, the U.S. cattle population would have to increase roughly fivefold. And because those animals would have to be raised organically on forage crops, much of the land in the lower 48 states would need to be converted to pasture. Organic field crops also have lower yields per hectare. If Europe tried to feed itself organically, it would need an additional 28 million hectares of cropland, equal to all of the remaining forest cover in France, Germany, Britain, and Denmark combined.

Mass deforestation probably isn't what organic advocates intend. The smart way to protect against nitrogen runoff is to reduce synthetic fertilizer applications with taxes, regulations, and cuts in farm subsidies, but not try to go all the way to zero as required by the official organic standard. Scaling up registered organic farming would be on balance harmful, not helpful, to the natural environment.

Not only is organic farming less friendly to the environment than assumed, but modern conventional farming is becoming significantly more sustainable. High-tech farming in rich countries today is far safer for the environment, per bushel of production, than it was in the 1960s, when Rachel Carson criticized the indiscriminate farm use of DDT in her environmental classic, Silent Spring. Thanks in part to Carson's devastating critique, that era's most damaging insecticides were banned and replaced by chemicals that could be applied in lower volume and were less persistent in the environment. Chemical use in American agriculture peaked soon thereafter, in 1973. This was a major victory for environmental advocacy.

And it was just the beginning of what has continued as a significant greening of modern farming in the United States. Soil erosion on farms dropped sharply in the 1970s with the introduction of "no-till" seed planting, an innovation that also reduced dependence on diesel fuel because fields no longer had to be plowed every spring. Farmers then began conserving water by moving to drip irrigation and by leveling their fields with lasers to minimize wasteful runoff. In the 1990s, GPS equipment was added to tractors, autosteering the machines in straighter paths and telling farmers exactly where they were in the field to within one square meter, allowing precise adjustments in chemical use. Infrared sensors were brought in to detect the greenness of the crop, telling a farmer exactly how much more (or less) nitrogen might be needed as the growing season went forward. To reduce wasteful nitrogen use, equipment was developed that can insert fertilizers into the ground at exactly the depth needed and in perfect rows, only where it will be taken up by the plant roots.

These "precision farming" techniques have significantly reduced the environmental footprint of modern agriculture relative to the quantity of food being produced. In 2008, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development published a review of the "environmental performance of agriculture" in the world's 30 most advanced industrial countries -- those with the most highly capitalized and science-intensive farming systems. The results showed that between 1990 and 2004, food production in these countries continued to increase (by 5 percent in volume), yet adverse environmental impacts were reduced in every category. The land area taken up by farming declined 4 percent, soil erosion from both wind and water fell, gross greenhouse gas emissions from farming declined 3 percent, and excessive nitrogen fertilizer use fell 17 percent. Biodiversity also improved, as increased numbers of crop varieties and livestock breeds came into use.

Seeding the Future

Africa faces a food crisis, but it's not because the continent's population is growing faster than its potential to produce food, as vintage Malthusians such as environmental advocate Lester Brown and advocacy organizations such as Population Action International would have it. Food production in Africa is vastly less than the region's known potential, and that is why so many millions are going hungry there. African farmers still use almost no fertilizer; only 4 percent of cropland has been improved with irrigation; and most of the continent's cropped area is not planted with seeds improved through scientific plant breeding, so cereal yields are only a fraction of what they could be. Africa is failing to keep up with population growth not because it has exhausted its potential, but instead because too little has been invested in reaching that potential.

One reason for this failure has been sharply diminished assistance from international donors. When agricultural modernization went out of fashion among elites in the developed world beginning in the 1980s, development assistance to farming in poor countries collapsed. Per capita food production in Africa was declining during the 1980s and 1990s and the number of hungry people on the continent was doubling, but the U.S. response was to withdraw development assistance and simply ship more food aid to Africa. Food aid doesn't help farmers become more productive -- and it can create long-term dependency. But in recent years, the dollar value of U.S. food aid to Africa has reached 20 times the dollar value of agricultural development assistance.

The alternative is right in front of us. Foreign assistance to support agricultural improvements has a strong record of success, when undertaken with purpose. In the 1960s, international assistance from the Rockefeller Foundation, the Ford Foundation, and donor governments led by the United States made Asia's original Green Revolution possible. U.S. assistance to India provided critical help in improving agricultural education, launching a successful agricultural extension service, and funding advanced degrees for Indian agricultural specialists at universities in the United States. The U.S. Agency for International Development, with the World Bank, helped finance fertilizer plants and infrastructure projects, including rural roads and irrigation. India could not have done this on its own -- the country was on the brink of famine at the time and dangerously dependent on food aid. But instead of suffering a famine in 1975, as some naysayers had predicted, India that year celebrated a final and permanent end to its need for food aid.

Foreign assistance to farming has been a high-payoff investment everywhere, including Africa. The World Bank has documented average rates of return on investments in agricultural research in Africa of 35 percent a year, accompanied by significant reductions in poverty. Some research investments in African agriculture have brought rates of return estimated at 68 percent. Blind to these realities, the United States cut its assistance to agricultural research in Africa 77 percent between 1980 and 2006.

When it comes to Africa's growing hunger, governments in rich countries face a stark choice: They can decide to support a steady new infusion of financial and technical assistance to help local governments and farmers become more productive, or they can take a "worry later" approach and be forced to address hunger problems with increasingly expensive shipments of food aid. Development skeptics and farm modernization critics keep pushing us toward this unappealing second path. It's time for leaders with vision and political courage to push back.

Tsunami Study Eyes Isle Building Safety

Honolulu Star Bulletin
Most medium-to-tall reinforced concrete structures would likely stand, a professor says


 
A University of Hawaii engineering professor says most medium-to-tall reinforced concrete buildings in Hawaii would likely survive a tsunami.

But Ian Robertson is worried about the foundations of shorter structures and wooden buildings, including some in Waikiki.

Once guidelines in a construction structural study are completed this summer, Robertson said he will recommend assessing the ability of the buildings in Hawaii to withstand a tsunami.

The $1.3 million study, funded by the National Science Foundation, was prompted by the destruction that occurred in the tsunami in the Indian Ocean in 2004.

Robertson and engineers from the University of Oregon and University of Michigan have developed ways to improve the resistance of buildings to a tsunami.

He said the study will suggest design guidelines that could be adopted by Honolulu for major Hawaii concrete contractors working in tsunami inundation areas.

Civil Defense Vice Director Edward Teixeira said he is in favor of conducting an tsunami assessment of buildings but is wary of the cost.

Kaleo Keolanui, president of the Hawaii Hotel and Visitor Industry Security Association, said he is willing to explore the idea of doing an assessment but noted that the economy is down and an assessment would add to costs.

"Obviously, the cost would have to be passed onto somebody," he said.

Teixeira said as shown in the tsunami of 2004 in the Indian Ocean, people in reinforced steel structures survived the wave inundation.

Teixeira said there has been no tsunami assessment of survivability of buildings in Hawaii.

Teixeira said he agreed with Robertson that people in wooden buildings near the shoreline should evacuate their structures.

Teixeira said Civil Defense recommends people vertically evacuate to at least the third floor of reinforced steel concrete buildings that are six stories or higher.

He said counties vary in their recommendations to.

For instance, Hawaii County emphasizes evacuation from the tsunami zone, except for warning with short notices, whereas Maui County recommends vertical evacuation in Kaanapali.

Robertson said the new guidelines are based on what engineers have learned about the survivability of buildings in tsunamis in the Indian Ocean in 2004 and in Chile in late February.

"In the Chile tsunami, there were a large number of reinforced concrete buildings that survived intact," Robertson said. "I think based on what we've observed in previous tsunamis, we're confident the buildings (in Waikiki) will perform well."

Robertson said a study looking at medium-height buildings indicates the design guidelines would add just 1 to 8 percent to the structural cost or about 2 percent to the overall construction cost. "It's definitely feasible," he said.

Robertson said engineers will recommend the concrete construction of "breakaway walls" at the ground level of high-rise structures.

If a tsunami wave struck, the building's foundations would have a better chance of surviving if walls at the ground level broke away from the reinforced steel foundation, rather than place more stress on the structure.

He said during a tsunami, shipping containers could become floating rams that could cause much damage.

He said buildings more likely to survive a tsunami have deep piles or drilled shafts in the ground.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Bad Winter Weather Hurts Burger King 3Q Profit

Associated Press

 
Burger King Holdings Inc. said its fiscal third-quarter profit fell 13 percent on a higher tax rate and bad winter weather that crimped sales, but the performance still managed to narrowly top Wall Street's forecast.

Cautious about signs of an improving economy - as unemployment remains high - the burger chain is working to provide menu items that appeal to both value-driven customers and those who are ready to spend a bit more.

Burger King earned $41 million, or 30 cents per share, compared with $47.1 million, or 34 cents per share, a year earlier. Analysts surveyed by Thomson Reuters, whose estimates usually remove one-time items, predicted a profit 29 cents per share.

Revenue for the quarter ending March 31 dipped 1 percent to $596.9 million from $599.9 million. Wall Street expected $597.7 million.

The burger chain continued to push its $1 quarter-pound double cheeseburger during the quarter, while also launching its pricier Steakhouse XT burger line in February.

Chairman and CEO John Chidsey said in a statement that harsh winter weather in January and February hurt its restaurants, but that its U.S. restaurants saw better traffic in March and sequential improvement in average checks, which benefited from the Steakhouse XT burgers.

The Miami company said that an important sales measure dropped during the quarter, with sales at U.S. and Canadian restaurants open at least a year down 6.1 percent - about 3 percentage points of the decline was blamed on winter weather. Worldwide, sales at restaurants open at least a year fell 3.7 percent.

This figure is a key indicator of a restaurant operator's performance because it measures results at existing restaurants rather than newly opened ones.

Last week, rival McDonald's reported rising sales.

Burger King hopes to capitalize on promotions with anticipated summer blockbusters "Iron Man 2" and "The Twilight Saga: Eclipse" during the fourth quarter. The company also says it will continue to roll out products for budget-conscious diners and those spending more.

The burger chain plans to debut its BK Breakfast Muffin and Buck Double, while also adding the more expensive BK Breakfast Bowl and the BK Fire-Grilled Ribs.

"In the near term, we are excited about our product line-up that includes a balance of value and premium products that take full advantage of our game-changing broiler," Chidsey said.

Burger King added 37 new restaurants during the quarter. It runs more than 12,000 restaurants in all 50 states and in 74 countries and U.S. territories worldwide.

Business Briefs

The Detroit News



Midland -- Dow Chemical Co., the largest U.S. chemical maker, reported Wednesday that its first-quarter profit surged more than fivefold to $718 million from a year earlier.

First-quarter net income rose to $551 million, or 41 cents a share, from $24 million, or 3 cents, compared with a year ago, Dow said.

"This quarter was indeed a pivotal point in giving the world a glimpse of our earnings' power," Dow CEO Andrew Liveris said in a conference call.

Federal-Mogul sales surge 20 percent

Auto parts supplier Federal-Mogul Corp. posted a $17 million first-quarter profit as sales surged 20 percent.

Net income was 15 cents a share, compared with a loss of $101 million, or $1.02, a year earlier, the Southfield-based company said Wednesday. The per-share results, excluding a charge for a Venezuelan currency devaluation of 35 cents, beat the 22-cent average of three analyst estimates compiled by Bloomberg.

Sales rose to $1.49 billion, benefiting from improved demand worldwide.

Mitsubishi, Peugeot reach SUV deal

Mitsubishi Motors Corp. and PSA Peugeot Citroën announced Wednesday that they have come to an agreement to collaborate on a compact SUV.

These new compact SUVs will have specific designs for Peugeot and Citroën while sharing many components with the Mitsubishi vehicle, named RVR in Japan and ASX in Europe.

Obama to appoint Yellen to Fed board


President Barack Obama today will name Janet Yellen as vice chairwoman of the Fed board of governors, according to two people familiar with the decision.

Obama also will name Sarah Bloom Raskin, Maryland's commissioner of financial regulation, and Peter Diamond, an economics professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, for the two remaining open seats on the seven-person board, according to the people, who spoke on condition of anonymity before the announcement.

The nominations are subject to Senate confirmation.

Fed vows to hold line on rates for 'extended' period

Washington -- The Federal Reserve in a 9-1 decision Wednesday retained its pledge to hold rates at historic lows for an "extended period." Doing so will help energize the recovery.

GE glimpses light after conglomerate's cloudy year

Houston -- General Electric says the broader economy and its own business have stabilized, and that the "clouds are breaking" after one of the worst years ever for the conglomerate. The company, at its annual meeting in Houston, is telling investors that key economic indicators like housing and unemployment have stabilized, and that capital markets are improving. General Electric Co . says losses have peaked in its GE Capital lending unit and that the division should return to profit growth soon. GE Capital was the source of many of the company's problems last year, hit by the downturn in areas like credit cards, mortgages and commercial real estate.

Google's brand value of $114B tops global list

Google Inc . topped the 2010 BrandZ ranking of the 100 most valuable global brands by Millward Brown Optimor, with an estimated brand value of $114 billion. International Business Machines Corp . and Apple Inc . advanced to second and third place from fourth and sixth last year. Research In Motion Ltd .'s BlackBerry moved two spots to 14th place. Technology companies accounted for 6 of the top 10 brands. Apple, Hewlett-Packard Co ., Amazon .com Inc ., Verizon Communications Inc . and Baidu Inc . all gained more than 25 percent in brand value.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Sensible Remodels for a Flat Housing Market

Market Watch
With housing values in the tank and any substantial price appreciation in the distant future, sinking money into a remodeling project is a tough sell for many homeowners now.


 
 
In general, you won't recoup as much of a project's cost at resale as you might have several years ago, according to estimates from Remodeling Magazine's Cost vs. Value Report, which weighs the costs of various improvements against their resale value. And while labor costs might be more negotiable in today's market, materials aren't getting any cheaper, said Sal Alfano, editorial director of the magazine.

"Homeowners right now are a little shell-shocked. Houses, up to three years ago, were like a bank account... people were spending money freely on sunrooms and outdoor decks and they were always getting it back," said David Lupberger, home improvement expert for ServiceMagic.com, a Web site that connects homeowners with prescreened home service professionals.

Those who are remodeling are generally opting for fewer frills and less expensive finishes, Alfano said. Instead of building large additions, they're trying to better utilize space they already have. They're seeking energy-efficiency upgrades and low-cost cosmetic improvements that make a home more comfortable and appealing.

Added Alfano: "Instead of saying 'Yes, I want the best of everything,' they're making choices right now. They realize they have to make a decision on materials they want to use for counters and backsplashes and ironing centers. Their budget can't cover the best of everything.

"People are back to tradeoffs, projects are smaller."
 
The little things

Even if resale isn't your top consideration, a check of the Cost vs. Value Report will still give an idea of projects that pack a punch. Home improvements that tend to excel on this list are those that have universal appeal -- and a reasonable price tag.

In terms of cost recouped at resale, seven of the top 10 projects in the 2009-2010 report were exterior-replacement projects, including windows, doors and siding.

A steel exterior door-replacement was the highest-ranked project on the list. It was also the least expensive, Alfano said. For an estimated cost of $1,172, real-estate agents who were surveyed for the report estimated that 128.9% would be recovered at resale. View the Cost vs. Value Report.

"If you have a door that really needs help, you're not spending that much money and you're vastly improving the first impression" of a home, he said.

Painting, replacing older fixtures, and cleaning carpets also are inexpensive ways to spruce up a home without hiring a large home remodeling company -- whether you're planning on selling it soon or not, Lupberger said. "There are a lot of cosmetic things we postpone because of how busy we are," he said.

For budget-conscious homeowners, changing door handles and putting a new finish on interior doors can also make a huge difference, said David Mackowski, of Quality Design and Construction in Raleigh real estate, N.C.

Remember, too, that improvements that make a home more efficient can cut down on utility bills, saving money over the long term. Some products that improve efficiency are eligible for federal tax credits through the end of 2010, and certain appliances qualify for state rebate programs as well.

California's Costly Trout Recovery Program Criticized

Associated Press

 
 
MALIBU, Calif. — In hopes of luring the endangered steelhead trout into the Santa Monica Mountains, California's transportation agency is planning to spend $935,000 to pave over part of a popular beach with cement and boulders to build a freeway of sorts for fish.

The project is the latest, yet far from the most unusual, steelhead recovery attempt by government agencies that have spent millions of dollars on concrete construction fish ladders, cameras, fishways and other contraptions to allow seagoing trout to spawn in Southern California streams.

The problem, even some conservationists say, is that there is little evidence construction efforts since the 1980s have done anything except absorb taxpayer dollars. The work to save the species has led to about a dozen concrete fishways at a cost of more than $16.7 million.

A $1 million fish ladder — a structure designed to allow fish to migrate upstream around a barrier — may cost $7.5 million in stimulus funds to rebuild. Another fish ladder would require fish to leap 8 feet to reach it. Studies alone for replacing a third ladder have cost an estimated $3 million.

"If we do a series of crappy projects like fish ladders to nowhere ... then the public trust for giving money for these types of projects is going to go away," said conservationist Mark Abramson of the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Foundation.

Now the California Department of Transportation wants to build a passage for steelhead here across Dan Blocker State Beach, named for the actor who played Hoss on TV's Bonanaza. The artificial streambed, up to 60 feet wide and extending 102 feet onto the beach, would create pools allowing the fish to swim under the Pacific Coast Highway, then upstream.

The plan makes no sense to restaurant owner Daniel Forge, who decided to sell a patch of property to CalTrans after the agency threatened to use eminent domain.

"They decided we were going to bring back steelhead to the stream but I don't think there were ever any steelhead along there," Forge said.

Steelhead were once teeming in Southern California waters. Over the years, however, development encroached and waterways were channelized, cutting off their pathways to spawning grounds.

When the fish were listed as endangered in 1997, only an estimated 500 adults were left from Santa Barbara to Mexico. Many believe southern steelhead are worth saving because they are more adaptable than steelhead elsewhere and could be key to the survival of the species.

While there are no hard numbers to show steelhead are rebounding from these construction efforts, wildlife officials say anecdotal evidence suggests more adult fish are spawning.

Unconventional methods are necessary sometimes, they say, because ripping out dams and other obstructions to spawning is not realistic.

"Nobody really wants (construction) as a solution," said Mary Larson, who oversees steelhead recovery for Fish and Game in Southern California. But she believes the CalTrans proposal to build a fishway in Malibu could work. "Frogs just need good, quiet waters, birds need good tall trees to nest but my fish need to travel."

Conservationists believe that federal and state agencies should push more for restoring the species' natural environment, such as projects that have successfully cleared waterways of debris and crossings from miles of waterways.

National Marine Fisheries Service has created a recovery plan for the species that is expected to be finalized later this year. That plan would coordinate recovery efforts and would emphasize restoration of historic habitat.

Exasperation over getting the fish where they need to go has led to some imaginative proposals over the years, such as trucking the fish to spawning grounds or building fish elevators to get them over dams.

But government agencies have footed the bill for many projects including California concrete contracting for the fish ladders and fishways to help the steelhead get around dams and other structures. The ladders are expensive, short-lived, require maintenance and have even been known to harm fish.

"Fish ladders don't work like the engineers have them work on paper," said Matt Stoecker, a biological consultant who has spent years working on steelhead recovery.

Even when ladders are successful, recovery is a slow process and sometimes upgrades are necessary.

For example, the United Conservation District in Ventura needs to replace a 20-year-old $1.5 million ladder at a cost of up to $25 million, according to general manager Michael Solomon.

The agency has already installed lights, sonar equipment, special trash grates and video equipment. The district is looking at hiring a third full-time staffer to do nothing but deal with the fish.

"We're a public agency and we need to keep reminding folks people are not going to spend endless money," said Solomon, adding the district rejected one suggestion to build a rock ramp across a dam for the fish at an estimated cost of $60 million.

Elsewhere in Ventura County, an $8.5 million fish ladder installed at the Robles Diversion Dam in 2006 has since been used by about a dozen adult steelhead.

Mark Capelli, the steelhead recovery coordinator with the fisheries service, called the recovery one of the more ambitious in the agency's history.

"We have a complicated situation we're dealing with and I don't think we've ever taken a position that there's only one way," he said. "There may be circumstances where artificial methods are appropriate and necessary."

Japanese Firm Makes a Mark in Chicago

The Wall Street Journal

Construction crews will begin excavating a site overlooking Interstate 294 in Chicago's north suburbs next month to prepare for an unusual event in this ailing commercial real estate market: a new office building.

Astellas Pharma Inc., a Japanese pharmaceutical company, will break ground on a $150 million two-building campus that will be the new headquarters for North American and South American operations. GlenStar Properties of Chicago, which sold Astellas the land, has remained the building's developer.

Most developments are stuck on drawing boards these days because the conventional bank construction financing market is dead. The Astellas project is among the few able to move forward because it is going to be occupied by a company with a strong balance sheet.

The Astellas development also is notable because of the Illinois concrete construction bargains the company was able to achieve. Labor unions and vendors have been so desperate for business they have been willing to cut costs. Nationwide, the cost of building an office building has dropped about 4.8% in March from a year earlier, according to the Bureau of Labor Statics Producers Price Index.

"There was never a better time to buy," says Collette Taylor, manager of facilities for Astellas.

The $150 million price tag on the 425,000-square foot Astellas project is roughly 20% less than the $180 million to $190 million range that the building might have cost closer to the peak of the building boom a few years ago, according to David Graff of MB Real Estate, which is managing the project for Astellas.

Thanks to the lower costs, Astellas was able to afford a trophy-style design by a brand name architect, Goettsch Partners, which will stand out in the suburbs where less-costly precast concrete buildings are more the norm. "You don't see many buildings like this in the suburbs," says Mr. Graff.

Astellas' will pay about $11 million for the glass curtain-wall that cost $13 million in 2008, he said. The savings enabled the company to buy slightly more land and build a covered parking structure, where each space will cost $1,200 rather than $1,600. Structural steel was purchased for $7 million, down from the $11 million expected cost..

Other items on the company's wish list didn't have to be cut because of the savings, says Joseph Dolinar, a partner with Goettsch Partners.

But the savings on construction costs for companies like Astellas means Illinois concrete contractors are slicing their margins very thin to win business, says Ken Simonson, chief economist with the Associated General Contractors of America. With costs of some materials such as copper and diesel fuel on the rise again, some contractors are getting pinched.

"It's extremely tough for most contractors," says Mr. Simonson. This year he expects many of them to go out of business.

Astellas, which makes the drug Prograf that is used by transplant patients, has been expanding at its Americas' headquarters in Deerfield, Ill., since the Japanese company was formed in 2005 by a merger of Yamanouchi Pharmaceutical Co., Ltd. and Fujisawa Pharmaceutical Co. Ltd. It began exploring expansion options in 2007 and acquired the site from GlenStar in the fall of 2009.

Until banks get back to financing concrete construction, more companies will have to pay for their own new buildings, says Jack McKinney, president of the Chicago real estate services firm of J.F. McKinney & Associates. He adds that the shift makes sense given that corporations can often borrow money at lower costs than developers. Ms. Taylor declined to say how the company was financing the project.

Mr. McKinney notes that in the 1970s buildings like Chicago's Sears Tower, now known as Willis Tower, were paid for and built by their corporate tenants. If that trend returns, developers will be more involved in building, rather than owning projects, he says. It could prove less lucrative, but it would reduce risk, he notes. "Half a loaf is better than no loaf."

Cape Wind, First U.S. Offshore Wind Farm, Approved

Reuters

 
 
The first U.S. offshore wind farm, a giant project 5 miles/8 km off the Massachusetts coast, was approved on Wednesday after years of opposition involving everyone from local Indian tribes to the Kennedy family.

U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar gave the green light for the historic 130-turbine, 420-megawatt Cape Wind project in Horseshoe Shoal, Nantucket Sound, in what supporters considered a huge step forward for renewable energy in the United States.

"This project fits with the tradition of sustainable development in the area," Salazar said in Boston.

Although small in terms of its production -- the facility would produce enough electricity to power 400,000 houses -- its approval was encouraging to other offshore wind projects already proposed for the East Coast and Great Lakes.

The turbines, more than 400 feet high, will dot an area of about 24 square miles (62 square km), larger than Manhattan, and be visible low on the horizon from parts of Cape Cod. The site is tucked between the mainland of the cape and the islands of Martha's Vineyard, an exclusive celebrity vacation destination, and Nantucket.

German conglomerate Siemens AG will provide the turbines. Construction is expected to begin before the end of the year, said Jim Gordon, president of Cape Wind Associates. Power generation could begin by 2012.

The decision to approve Cape Wind, subject to certain conditions designed to protect offshore waters from damage and reduce visibility, is expected to face legal challenges, but Salazar said he was confident the approval would stand.

Supporters say wind farms represent a giant push for renewable energy efforts and reducing dependence on foreign oil, and fit well with the Obama administration's strategy.

"Greenpeace has been campaigning to get the Cape Wind project built for nearly a decade, and today's victory is worth celebrating. It is long overdue," said Kert Davies, research director at the environmental group.

YEARS OF REVIEW

Cape Wind was subject to years of environmental review and political maneuvering, including adamant opposition from the late Senator Edward M. Kennedy, whose six-acre (2.4 hectare) family compound in Hyannis Port overlooks Nantucket Sound.

A final ruling was near in 2009, but delayed again after two Wampanoag Indian tribes complained that the giant turbines would disturb spiritual sun greetings and possibly ancestral artifacts and burial grounds on the seabed.

Opponents have deemed the project an eyesore, and raised issues ranging from a detrimental effect on property values in the popular vacation area south of Boston, to possible damage to birds, whales, fishing, aviation, and historic sites.

U.S. Senator Scott Brown, the Republican elected this year to fill Kennedy's seat, criticized Wednesday's decision and said the project was a threat to regional tourism and fishing.

The Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, a federal agency in charge of safeguarding historic landmarks, recommended this month that the project be rejected.

The governors of six eastern U.S. states shot back in a letter to Salazar, arguing that other offshore projects will likely be abandoned if the Cape Wind project was rejected.

Salazar cited that letter as part of his decision. "We believe there is huge potential for offshore wind along the Atlantic. We don't want to be second to anyone," he said.

U.S. wind generation increased by 27 percent last year, accounting for 2 percent of total electricity supplies, according to the Energy Department. Wind power supports about 85,000 American jobs.

"Renewable energy projects like these not only help fight climate change, they can create jobs and play a central role in our economic recovery," said Frances Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Several countries have achieved much higher levels of wind power generation, often with large government subsidies, including Denmark, Spain and Portugal.

Less than 2 percent of wind energy is offshore, but turbine makers see it as an area of huge growth potential.

Siemens rival General Electric Co expects to increase its offshore business to generate $3 billion to $5 billion a year over the next few years, chief executive Jeff Immelt said at the company's annual meeting in Houston on Wednesday.

Tom King, president of the power company National Grid US, said talks with Cape Wind about purchasing its output are continuing.

Jobs Affected by Health Care Reform

San Francisco Chronicle

 
There is profound disagreement about healthcare reform's overall impact on jobs. One study conducted by the Center for American Progress indicates that four million new jobs will be created by health care reform in the next 10 years. However, a study conducted by the Heritage Foundation predicts the loss of 690,000 jobs. How could two estimates be so different?

While the net effect on jobs remains uncertain, it is clear that certain professions will do better than others under healthcare reform. Three jobs likely to get a boost are presented below, along with a discussion of likely pitfalls to look out for in each profession.

Insurance Agents


Insurance agents may get a boost since approximately 32 million uninsured Americans will be required to buy health insurance starting in 2014. Those who do not possess any form of health insurance will pay a $695 fine (or 2.5% on their income), providing a strong incentive to secure at least a minimum form of coverage.

On the other hand, insurance agents may lose out in some ways. First, new rules require health insurance companies to pay out at least 80% of their premiums (known as a loss ratio or combined ratio) for claims on individual and family insurance plans (and 85% in the employer/large group market). For example, if a company took in $100 million but only paid out $77 million as medical expenses, they would be required to reimburse $3 million to holders. This means that only 20% is left over to fund all other insurance company operating costs, including agent commissions. While agent commission can vary considerably, they generally run in the neighborhood of 10% to 15% of the first year's premiums, and then a reduced commission in the years to follow. With the new restriction, only 5-10% would be left for all other administrative costs including profit margins. Thus it appears likely that agent commissions may shrink as a result of the health reform law.

Second, new insurance exchanges will be set up to facilitate purchasing individual and family health insurance. While details are still murky, it appears that companies will be required to sell certain "minimum benefit" plans through these exchanges. The exchanges are meant to allow greater transparency of coverage, and facilitate consumer comparisons between plans. Thus, it might become easier for individuals to buy insurance without the help of an agent.

Doctors

Certain doctors can look forward to increases in Medicare payments under the health reform law. According to the American Medical Association, family medicine, internal medicine, geriatric and pediatric physicians will be eligible for 10% incentive payments from 2011-2016 if they meet certain requirements. General surgeons operating in "health professional shortage" areas will also get the 10% incentive. In addition, Medicare payments for psychotherapy increased 5%. Under related legislation, certain payments under Medicaid were also increased.

While any increase in payments is likely to be well received, critics of these programs claim that payments remain far too low considering both the cost and the market value of many procedures. Often the amount paid to doctors by private insurance companies is far higher. In a growing trend, the Mayo Clinic branch in Glendale, Arizona stopped accepting Medicare patients as of January 1, 2010. The Mayo Clinic lost $840 million in 2009 on Medicare patients, spokeswoman Lynn Closway told Bloomberg News. Therefore, despite this payment increase, the fact that more Americans will become eligible for Medicare and Medicaid  in Michigan under the health reform law may be bad news for doctors' pocketbooks.

Entrepreneurs/Self-employed


The somewhat unlikely winners in the health reform law may be entrepreneurs and other self-employed persons. Prior to the health reform law, larger group insurance plans provided by employers had a number of advantages over individuals attempting to buy health insurance on their own. Thus, the benefits of obtaining high quality health insurance through one's job could sometimes act as a considerable barrier for those who would consider entrepreneurship or other forms of self-employment.

Since many of the provisions in the health reform law aim towards leveling the playing field, allowing entrepreneurs to buy plans with greater transparency, and (in theory) at better rates through insurance exchanges. Entrepreneurs may be worse off, however, if they would have opted for low-cost "catastrophic" health insurance plans in order to minimize overhead in new ventures. Since the health reform law will require a minimum level of benefits from insurance plans sold through insurance exchanges, these types of plans may no longer be sold. 

The Bottom Line

It is clear that due to a law that will spend $928 billion over the next decade some professions will fare better than others. Since there is so little agreement regarding this bill, you'll have to judge the debate for yourself. The net effect on many jobs will depend on how fine details of the new law are put into action. Things will change, but if you are in the right industry you could get more that just health benefits.

John Deere Opens Factory in $500M Russian Initiative

The Moscow Times

 
 
U.S.-based tractor maker John Deere opened a factory in Domodedovo on Tuesday, in the first step of its plan to invest $500 million in the country.

John Deere is betting that Russia, with a rapidly growing supply of cultivated land, will become a key market for its agricultural equipment and other capital goods. Much of that land has lain fallow, however, since the fall of the Soviet Union left many farmers unable to develop the land.

Russia will be able to bring an additional 20 million to 30 million hectares back into production in the coming years. The country "has potential to become one of the world's breadbaskets," said CEO Samuel Allen, who recited a famous Russian poem.

"Russia cannot be understood by the mind alone. … In Russia one can only believe," Allen said, quoting poet Fyodor Tyutchev, in an opening ceremony that featured a tractor rolling out in a dramatic fog and light show.

The Domodedovo site will include production lines, where it will build tractors and combines to start with, and a parts distribution center for regional operations, the company said.

John Deere will assemble tractors and other agricultural, forestry and John Deere construction equipment from imported knockdown kits, but will increase its level of localization by doing welding, metal fabrication and cab assembly on-site once demand picks up, Allen said. "Once volume goes back to 2008 levels, then localization will happen," he said, adding that he does not expect low demand for John Deere stuff to last for many years.

"We would like to do more manufacturing here, as long as it's cost effective," Allen said. Once volume increases and production is further localized, John Deere will look into exporting from Russia to other countries in the Commonwealth of Independent States, he said.

Although he declined to provide any production figures, Allen said the company already has orders for tractors and combines this year, and plans to assemble motor graders, four-wheel drive loaders, back hoe loaders, as well as forestry equipment on its Domodedovo lines within 12 to 24 months.

John Deere is the first tenant at South Gates, a 575,000-square-meter warehouse facility developed by Canada's Giffels. Giffels is leasing 47,000 square meters of the 76,550 square meters already available on a long-term basis, or at least five years, said vice president Ruslan Suvorov, who declined to give any other details of the deal.

Giffels bought land in 2006 from Coalco, which has stayed on as a partner and is currently building a railroad track to the complex, Coalco said in a press release.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

GM Shows a Bigger-than-Volt Concept in Beijing

USA Today



The Chevy Volt may be getting bigger.

General Motors is showing a five-passenger crossover version of the electric car at Auto China in Beijing this week. The Volt MPV5 concept is about 7 inches longer than the production Volt and about 7 inches taller.

The concept is designed to show that the battery/electric vehicle can be used across a wide family of vehicles, much like the Cadillac Converj concept did at the Detroit auto show earlier this year.

"The Volt MPV5 concept takes the efficient design of the Chevrolet Volt and adapts it to the family vehicle crossover segment. It's immediately recognizable as a true member of the Chevrolet family," said Bob Boniface, director of GM North America Crossover Exterior Design.

The car is technically just a concept at this point, but it appears GM is putting some serious thought into this concept: A 16-kWh T-shaped lithium-ion battery pack powers the electric drive unit. The Voltec propulsion system, which utilizes the same foundation as the Volt, gives the car gas and tailpipe emissions-free electric driving.

The flexibility of the Voltec system enables the Volt MPV5 concept to meet full vehicle speed and acceleration requirements while driving the vehicle and its five occupants up to 32 miles on pure electric propulsion. This is double what the average urban commuter in China -- where the car is being shown -- travels each day, but less than the 40 miles the upcoming Volt will get.

When the battery is depleted, a 1.4-liter engine generator sustains the battery charge and provides up to 300 miles of electric car battery propulsion.

Moynihan Says Challenges Only Beginning for B of A

USA Today

 
 
CHARLOTTE — In his first 100 days on the job, Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan has won over analysts, surprised consumer advocates and angered politicians.

His encyclopedic knowledge of the bank has earned him the respect of prominent analysts such as Dick Bove, who once questioned whether Moynihan was the right choice to steer BofA through unprecedented industry and economic turmoil.

His rollback of aggressive bank fees has elicited shock — and applause — from consumer groups who had long blasted such fees but become accustomed to the industry doing little about them.

And his unwillingness to demonize the bank's controversial acquisition of Merrill Lynch has irked critics pressing for answers about the deal.

It's all in a day's — well 116 days, to be exact — work for Moynihan, a fiercely competitive, sometimes fast-talking executive who took the bank's helm shortly after it repaid $45 billion in government TARP funds and its former CEO Ken Lewis retired amid outcry about the Merrill deal.

The new CEO says he's aware his challenges are only beginning.

"When you're in the middle of a very difficult time, what you need to do is pretty obvious," says Moynihan, a boyish-looking 50, in an interview at his office on the 58th floor of BofA's Charlotte headquarters. "The harder part of success is in calmer times. You have to be more disciplined, more focused."

Part of the challenge for Moynihan going forward will be streamlining the operations of Merrill and mortgage lender Countrywide, two prominent casualties of the financial fallout that have been absorbed into BofA. Another will be improving the health of the bank's business lines, even as regulatory measures threaten to crimp the company's earnings.

But perhaps the bank's most daunting task will be to regain the public's trust after the implosion of Wall Street-created exotic instruments that helped plunge the nation into recession, gutting Lehman Bros. and bringing other competitors close to collapse.

For now, BofA's latest financial results are a welcome sign that normalcy might be returning. In the first quarter, BofA returned to profitability with $3.2 billion in net income, easily surpassing analysts' expectations. A record $7 billion in trading revenue — helped by the Merrill Lynch acquisition — bolstered the company's results. Overall, BofA made money on all its major business lines except home loans.

Moynihan believes that by expanding customers' ties to the bank, BofA will be able to ramp up its profits as the economy recovers.

"Last year was a year ... to get through the recession," says Moynihan. "This is a year that we're moving forward."

Terry Murray, the former FleetBoston chairman who gave Moynihan his first banking position in the 1990s, believes the new CEO has taken an important step in getting the company back on track: "He's settled the troops."

Small-town boy

Moynihan grew up as the sixth of eight children in an Irish-Catholic family in Marietta, Ohio, an enclave of about 15,000 nestled in the Appalachian foothills.

Having seven siblings, Moynihan says, gave him a "unique background in understanding what competition is," a lesson he's been able to apply as he climbs the corporate ladder. Moynihan also learned he had to talk quickly to get his point across, a habit he's found hard to shake as a corporate executive.

Even as a young boy, he was "very serious," recalls Carolyn Armor, his third grade teacher at St. Mary Catholic Elementary School in Marietta.

He was also very determined. "A lot of the kids towered over him, but that didn't deter him one iota. He tried all the sports," says Armor, who recently wrote a letter to the CEO saying she always knew he'd do great things.

Moynihan's love of sports continued through middle school and high school, where he participated in track and football. While he wasn't a star athlete, he understood the game, was coachable and played aggressively, said Rich Hahn, his football coach at Marietta High School.

He was also known to family and friends as a problem solver.

Former classmate Bill Stacy says that when they were growing up, Moynihan always found time to help him with his algebra, geometry and calculus homework.

"I remember going down to the basement and calling him late on my black rotary phone," says Stacy, 51, now the president of Biomedical Solutions, a Stafford, Texas, provider of laboratory equipment. "He would explain the (math) problem two or three times. If I didn't get it, he would pause, then come at it from a different angle."

In high school, Moynihan also seemed more comfortable in his own skin than many of his peers. Stacy remembers a school talent show where he dressed up as Kiss rock band singer Gene Simmons and Moynihan took on the role of guitarist Ace Frehley, donning heavy makeup, glitter and 5-inch wooden heels glued to the bottom of his sneakers.

"You've got to have pretty good self-esteem to do that," says Stacy.

Moynihan's self-confidence — along with a healthy disregard for his appearance — have endured through the years.

As a young lawyer fresh out of Notre Dame law school, Moynihan would come into work "looking like he'd been mugged," with cuts over his eyes from a rugby game the night before, says James J. Skeffington, a partner at Edwards Angell Palmer & Dodge law firm in Providence. Yet, while he played hard, he'd also work longer hours than many of his colleagues, Skeffington says .

As a bank executive, Moynihan has been known to attend meetings with colleagues or analysts looking rumpled and tousled, a stark contrast to his predecessor, Lewis, who was known for being impeccably dressed.

Moynihan "doesn't care about his appearance, that his tie is askew, his hair is on fire," says Nancy Bush, head of NAB Research. "He cares about what he does at the meeting."

Focused on knowledge

The new CEO "knows his stuff soup to nuts, and expects you to know your stuff also," says Anne Finucane, BofA's global strategy and marketing officer, who has worked with Moynihan for about 15 years.

"His strength is his great ability to focus," agrees Bush. "His weakness is sometimes his public presentation, because he thinks a lot faster than he can talk."

Analysts say this weakness came out during a recent congressional hearing, when Moynihan was grilled about BofA's purchase of Merrill Lynch — and his answers were seen as somewhat evasive. (He was BofA's general counsel when the deal closed.)

For his part, Moynihan points to the improvement in the bank's earnings as a sign of the deal's merits.

"I think that people, when they look at the idea of Bank of America and Merrill merging, they couldn't get that (the deal) could work," says Moynihan. "If people look at the objective facts now, from how we're actually performing, this has been a strong success."

Nevertheless, the merger has been the subject of regulatory scrutiny and shareholder lawsuits related to BofA's disclosure of Merrill's financial losses and employee bonuses. Public outrage about the transaction — along with concern about government bailouts of banks blamed in part for precipitating the financial crisis — have fueled discussions in Congress about how to rein in the size of "too big to fail" banks.

Moynihan says he believes banking reform is needed to "move the company forward, to move the industry forward and to move the country forward."

He points out that BofA has made consumer-friendly changes to its credit card, debit card and mortgage policies. The bank even said at a recent meeting with consumer advocates that under certain conditions, it would support the creation of an independent Consumer Financial Protection Agency. (Previously, it's implied only that it would not oppose this agency.)

Even so, Moynihan's been clear about one reform effort he can't back: Any proposal that will impair banks' global competitiveness by making it harder for them to conduct their array of business operations.

Moving away from mass market?

Moynihan says, though, that after decades of gobbling up competitors — his paternal grandfather worked at a small upstate New York bank that has been rolled up into BofA — the bank is done with acquisitions for "many years" to come. Now, his challenge is to grow BofA's businesses organically.

Analysts say that the CEO's recent trip to China — after just three months on the job — signals that he intends to pursue overseas growth more aggressively than his predecessors. Already, BofA owns a minority stake in China Construction Bank and hopes to get a securities license in China in the next few years.

"He recognizes that for every person inside the United States, there are 10 people outside," says Bove, a bank analyst at Rochdale Securities. "The income and wealth of people outside the United States are expanding much more rapidly."

In the U.S., BofA will focus more on its corporate and capital markets operations, Bove predicts. He says the bank will likely maximize profit margins by shrinking its operations — closing branches and shedding a few hundred thousand mass market consumers. Many of those consumers, the analyst argues, have become less profitable due to restrictions on credit card and overdraft fees.

BofA has said it expects to take about a $900 million hit to its bottom line in 2010 due to credit card restrictions. Its service charges will be roughly another $1 billion lower this year due to changes it has voluntarily made to its overdraft policies, as well as those made to comply with a new Federal Reserve rule.

Martin Eakes, chief executive of the Center for Responsible Lending, a consumer advocacy group, says he's been impressed by the bank's promise to "serve customers in the right way." Still, he points out, "The proof will be in the pudding."

The bank, on an analysts' call this month, said it would "mitigate" lower service charge income by considering moves such as imposing account maintenance fees. Michael Moebs, founder of economic research firm Moebs Services, says it's clear to him that BofA is "moving away from the little guy on the consumer side and the really small businesses."

Responding to speculation that the bank is looking to shed unprofitable customers, Moynihan says only that it plans to continue being the largest in the U.S. to serve the mass market and the wealthy.

"A mass market consumer today may be a wealthy consumer in 10 years," Moynihan explains. "Mass market consumers are core to what we do."

3M Raises 2010 Profit Forecast as 1Q Profit Jumps

 
NEW YORK (AP) - 3M Co., which makes thousands of everyday items like Post-Its and Scotch Tape, is riding a wave of booming business in emerging markets like Asia and Latin America "with an improving economic backdrop."

That broader global reach and surging sales led it to raise its outlook for the year on Tuesday after reporting first-quarter earnings that jumped 80 percent.

The company, considered an indicator of broader economic health because the variety of products it makes, now expects per-share earnings of $5.40 to $5.60, excluding a charge related to the new health care law. It forecast $4.90 to $5.10 per share previously.

Shares rose more than 3 percent before the opening bell.

3M earned $930 million, or $1.29 per share in the first three months of the year, compared with $518 million, or 74 cents per share, a year earlier. Excluding a one-time charge related to the health care law, first-quarter earnings were $1.40 per share. The quarter also included some restructuring costs.

Revenue rose 25 percent to $6.35 billion. Thomson Reuters says analysts expected a profit of $1.21 per share on revenue of $5.94 billion.

The company, based in Maplewood, Minn., said its results were driven by electronics, automotive parts and respiratory health aids. Sales in its display and graphics segment, which makes films for LCD TVs, cell phones and computers, improved the most.

3M also makes over 1,000 products for cars, including abrasives and paint finishings. Those product lines grew on continued improvement in global auto sales compared with 2009, one of the weakest years in decades.

Overall, sales were strongest in emerging economies, climbing 54.1 percent in the Asia Pacific region, which includes China. Sales in all six 3M business segments grew by double-digit percentages.