Archive for December 2011
“This tiny village in a wind-swept corner of eastern Germany seems an unlikely place for a revolution.
Yet environmentalists, experts and politicians from El Salvador to Japan to South Africa have flocked here in the past year to learn how Feldheim, with just 145 people, is already putting into practice Germany’s vision of a future powered entirely by renewable energy.
Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government passed legislation in June setting the country on course to generate a third of its power through renewable sources — such as wind, solar, geothermal and bioenergy — within a decade, reaching 80 percent by 2050, while creating jobs, increasing energy security and reducing harmful emissions.
The goals are among the world’s most ambitious, and expensive, and other industrialized nations from the U.S. to Japan are watching to see whether transforming into a nation powered by renewable energy sources can really work.
“Germany can’t afford to fail, because the whole world is looking at the German model and asking, can Germany move us to new business models, new infrastructure?” said Jeremy Rifkin, a U.S. economist who has advised the European Union and Merkel.
In June, the nation passed the 20 percent mark for drawing electric power from a mix of wind, solar and other renewables. That compares with about 9 percent in the United States or Japan — both of which rely heavily on hydroelectric power, a source that has long been used.”……
In the grand scheme of environmental initiatives, a successful outcome of Germany in the renewable energy sector is vital to silence the critics , naysayers and frankly , the less bold and decisive leaders to prove that change in the energy sector is sustainably possible.
No one should wait, however, to see the full outcome….the self imposed decision by Germany to phase out energy sourced from the nuclear sector has put it onto the juggernaut for more green. Their research , technology development and maufacturing will put it into the lead to export more of their expertise in this sector.
Do read the full article.
via All eyes on German renewable energy efforts.
“Though it is hard to tell by visiting the Bandas today, these miniscule islands played a pivotal role in global economic history. That’s because of what grows on them: nutmeg. For centuries, the Bandas were the primary source of the world’s nutmeg, once the condiment equivalent of gold. Prized for its supposed medicinal powers, nutmeg commanded outrageous prices inEurope, and awarded outrageous profits to anyone who controlled its supply. Finding the Bandas, and the rest of the nearby Spice Islands, was the main motivation behind Europe’s age of exploration. The dream of the Bandas sent the Portuguese around the Cape of Good Hope and Christopher Columbus accidentally towards America. The British and Dutch fought over the islands, and the Dutch, the eventually victors, grew fat off its monopoly of the nutmeg trade. One famous tale shows just how valuable these islands once were. In a peace treaty after a war fought in the mid-1660s, the English let the Dutch keep one island in the Bandas, called Run, that they had claimed. As part of the settlement, the Dutch recognized British control over another small island on the other side of the planet –Manhattan.
That deal seems ridiculous to us today.New York turned into the world’s financial capital, the Big Apple of the most important economy, covered with skyscrapers, luxury apartments and some of the best museums, theaters and universities anywhere. Meanwhile, Run is a rocky backwater covered with banana palms, nutmeg trees and a cluster of huts. While New Yorkers deal in high finance and international publishing, the residents of the Bandas still harvest nutmeg as they had centuries ago. Seeds can be seen drying in the sun outside of nearly every home. There are few signs in the Bandas today of their glorious history, beyond a handful of crumbling forts. And though the locals aren’t desperately poor – how can you be, when mangoes hang heavily from trees along village walkways – they’re not getting rich off their cherished nutmeg either. Now that the spice is a common ingredient, readily found in every supermarket across the U.S. and Europe, it has lost its value and could never command the lofty prices of yesteryear.
There is perhaps no better example in history of how trade rewards and punishes. When the Bandas had a clear comparative advantage over the production of a good in heavy demand – in other words, uncontested superiority over the technology, know-how and physical facilities (the trees) needed to make highly prized nutmeg – these islands could demand astronomical prices for their output and influence the course of global trade and world history. But no comparative advantage, no matter how secure it may seem or long it may last, can be perpetuated indefinitely. Though the Dutch went to great lengths to preserve their grip on the nutmeg trade, the high prices inevitably attracted competition. The British eventually figured out how to grow nutmeg in their own empire, global production increased, and the Bandas lost their unique comparative advantage. The islands descended from the pinnacle of the global economy into the isolated, anonymity of today.
The Bandas vanished from the global economy because they never changed with changing technology and consumer tastes. As the Bandas lost their dominance in the nutmeg trade, they needed to do something else – maybe capitalize on their farmers’ extensive knowledge of nutmeg to “move up the value chain” and shift into processing it into some new, more useful product. But that never really happened. To be fair to the locals, they did not possess the power to determine their own affairs. The Dutch ruled, and they were more interested in sucking what wealth they could from the islands back to Europe than developing a healthier local economy in the Bandas. Yet even since Indonesia’s independence, little effort has been made to turn the Bandas into much more than a bunch of nutmeg groves. There is talk of encouraging a tourism industry, but it remains mainly talk. That rickety propeller plane that flew us to the Bandas can never carry in enough brave tourists to make much of a difference to the local economy.
So, you ask, why is the story of the Bandas relevant to us today?
Read more: http://curiouscapitalist.blogs.time.com/2011/12/28/what-the-banda-islands-tell-us-about-world-trade/#ixzz1i60Idq00
via What the Banda Islands Tell Us About World Trade | The Curious Capitalist | TIME.com.
A CEO has many roles to play within an organization , but a top level CEO such as Schultz , has reach far beyond the boundaries of his own corporation.
“There arent many CEOs who would get such presidential calls, or who would meet a few weeks later at the presidential palace in Paris with Nicolas Sarkozy to discuss eurozone economic issues. Sarkozys wife, Carla Bruni, is a big Starbucks customer. But its been that kind of year for the 58-year-old Schultz — out in the realm of political and social activism, as well as inside the caffeinated corporate suite. His dynamic union of the public and the private has made Schultz a signal American CEO — all the more so when government seems so bereft of effective leadership. Thats why Schultz earns the No. 1 spot on Fortunes Businessperson of the Year list for 2011. His company, with 17,000 retail stores, in every state and 56 countries, is becoming a dominant player among global food empires. The ubiquitous brand has transcended mere coffee to become a lifestyle emblem. And Schultz has proved that it wasnt just Steve Jobs who could come home to a company to save it. “Its been quite a year,” Schultz told me, just before he officially announced the results of a memorable fiscal 2011 to Wall Street a couple of weeks ago.”
via Howard Schultz brews strong coffee at Starbucks – Fortune Management.
The United States maintains a navy presence in the Gulf in large part to ensure oil traffic there is unhindered. Its Fifth Fleet is based in Bahrain.
Iran, which is already subject to several rounds of sanctions over its nuclear programme, has repeatedly said it could target the Strait of Hormuz if attacked or its economy is strangled.
Such a move could cause havoc on world oil markets, disrupting the fragile global economy, although analysts say the Islamic republic is unlikely to take such drastic steps as it relies on the route for its own oil exports.
via Strait of Hormuz showdown: Iran-U.S. brinkmanship nears its breaking point | News | National Post.
“London • At the start of the 20th century, inventors Thomas Alva Edison and Nikola Tesla clashed in the “war of the currents.” To highlight the dangers of his rival’s system, Edison even electrocuted an elephant. The animal died in vain; it was Tesla’s system and not Edison’s that took off. But today, helped by technological advances and the need to conserve energy, Edison may finally get his revenge.
The American inventor, who made the incandescent light bulb viable for the mass market, also built the world’s first electrical distribution system, in New York, using “direct current” electricity (DC). DC’s disadvantage was that it couldn’t carry power beyond a few blocks. His Serbian-born rival Tesla, who at one stage worked with Edison, figured out how to send “alternating current” (AC) through transformers to enable it to step up the voltage for transmission over longer distances.
Edison was a fiercely competitive businessman. Besides staging electrocutions of animals to discredit Tesla’s competing system, he proposed AC be used to power the first execution by electric chair.
But his system was less scalable, and it was to prove one of the worst investments made by financier J. Pierpont Morgan. New York’s dominant banker installed it in his Madison Avenue home in the late 19th century, only to find it hard to control. It singed his carpets and tapestries.
So from the late 1800s, AC became the accepted form to carry electricity in mains systems. For most of the last century, the power that has reached the sockets in our homes and businesses is alternating current.
Now DC is making a comeback, becoming a promising money-spinner in renewable or high-security energy projects. From data centres to long-distance power lines and backup power supplies, direct current is proving useful in thousands of projects worldwide.”
Full article continues to go further in- depth,,,,,
via The revenge of Thomas Edison | Smart Shift | Executive | Financial Post.
“You can bank on a banking crisis. You can bank on bankers who are primarily interested in their own portfolios.
You can bank on banks remaining key behind-the-scenes players in our politics and outspoken when they sense that regulators are moving in on their permanent party of payouts.
You can bank on their outrage when someone, anyone, suggests that they should pay their fair share or that their greed has to be checked or practices punished.
Bankers are circling their guilded wagons to fight off attacks on many fronts.
In the public arena, they are increasingly fed up with the “imbecilic” – stronger language to come – critics from the likes of Occupy Wall Street that they fear are inspiring public hostility to the lords of finance.
There have even been protests at recruiting conferences on campuses where the MBA’s used to stand in line for a chance to rake in the outsized salaries that awaited kids blessed as bankster-worthy.
|In-depth coverage of the global movement
This is upsetting to Jamie Dimon, the $23m a year CEO of JP Morgan Chase, who is taking umbrage, telling an investor’s conference: “Acting like everyone who’s been successful is bad and because you’re rich you’re bad, I don’t understand it.”
Bernard Marcus, a co-founder of Home Depot, and self-described “job creator” didn’t mince his words, according to Bloomberg News.
“If successful business people don’t go public to share their stories and talk about their troubles, they deserve what they’re going to get.” He said he isn’t worried that speaking out might make him a target of protesters.
“Who gives a crap about some imbecile?” Marcus said. “Are you kidding me?”
Marcus and Diamon and the small .01 per cent of the one per cent they are part of are not kidding about fighting back either. The protesters may piss them off, but they are fighting a deeper trench warfare now against regulators and central banks who say they want to save them from themselves.
Comments David Dayan on the website Firedog Lake:
|“It should come as no surprise that this coterie of self-pitying “job creators” lines up pretty perfectly with right-wing Republicans and free-market fundamentalists. Just because this attitude completely crashed the economy about three years ago doesn’t mean they should be made to feel bad about it, however.”
He cites an article on the Roman Empire which says that, even with all its slaves, it had a more equitable income distribution than the US has today. Writes Tim DeChant:
|“To determine the size of the Roman economy and the distribution of income, historians Walter Schiedel and Steven Friesen pored over papyri ledgers, previous scholarly estimates, imperial edicts and Biblical passages. Their target was the state of the economy when the empire was at its population zenith, around 150 CE. Schiedel and Friesen estimate that the top one per cent of Roman society controlled 16 per cent of the wealth, less than half of what America’s top one per cent control.”
Keeping wealth concentrated seems to be what the bankers do – but sometimes with enough excess and irresponsibility to bring themselves down.
In Washington, the Federal Reserve Bank, ironically founded and run by the very banks who have been blessed with secret subsidies in the trillions, fears another financial crisis driven by a banking crisis.
They want American banks to hold more capital – and to keep it more easily accessible. According to the New York Times, they have already compromised with pressure from their clients, adding that “the final capital rules were unlikely to be more stringent than international limits that were still under development. That is a small victory for banks who warned that they would be severely disadvantaged if capital requirements here were stricter than those governing overseas banks.”
Meanwhile, overseas, the same battle royale is underway. In England, regulators are considering new rules that would outlaw investment banking by commercial banks. This is the very problem that America’s Glass-Steagal Act was passed to prevent in the l930s.
When that law was “modernised” – ie dumped as unnecessary – by Congress with Bill Clinton’s blessing, the banks rushed into the game of largely unregulated speculation with disastrous consequences clear for all to see.
The international regulators have their own too big to fail list of 29 banks they call “G Sifis” to insure higher capital levels. The risky banks that first opposed the designation, are now using it to market themselves as safer. Go figure!
While many in the world support a tax on financial transactions, the US bank lobby has killed it here. They also colluded with subprime lenders, and before them, red-lining discriminatory lenders to scalp borrowers and promote fraudulent loans with little push back by politicians who were clearly bought off.
In Switzerland, Europe’s bank capital, a central banker trying to make the industry more prudent has come under sustained personal attack by his colleagues.
The New York Times reports:
Mr (Phillip M) Hildebrand, the president of the Swiss central bank, was called “arrogant” and “egotistical” by bankers quoted anonymously in the pages of Swiss newspapers. His supposed sin: Wanting banks to hold extra capital. The fact that Mr Hildebrand was himself a former hedge fund manager in New York seemed only to heighten the sense that he had betrayed his profession.
“He’ll never find another job in Switzerland”, the Swiss newspaper Der Sonntag quoted an unnamed high-ranking banker as threatening Mr. Hildebrand in 2010.
The unusually bitter attacks on a central bank chief were a measure of what was at stake. Mr Hildebrand, 48, had a high-visibility role in a struggle between bankers trying to preserve their most lucrative business practices and regulators trying to defuse a system that, many believe, nearly blew up the world economy.
This very public food fight offers a window into why bankers are fighting – and often winning their war on politicians and the public. They are relentless in pursuit of their interests and have the ability to pay for the best law firms and PR flacks.
The bankers are trying to come with theories for our depressing economic woes that places the blame on everyone but them. Fedhead Ben Bernanke says it was all a “global savings glut” that did us in. Hence, anyone that was more of a saver than an investor is responsible.
Hyun Song Shin, another Princeton professor, says bullocks to his colleague Benanke in a detailed paper refuting his strawman, arguing the crisis was caused by “a ‘global banking glut’, ie the rise in cross-border lending, than the ‘global savings glut’.”
Without falling down the rabbit hole of endless well-footnoted debates, the truth is that millions of savers have seen their savings shrink and most bankers, thanks to bailouts and cheap money, watched their holdings rise.
Blaming the victim for the crime has a long and dishonourable history,
As bad as the economy gets, and most forecasters suggest little hope for a rebound in the year ahead, even as there are blips of “positive data”, the bankers seem determined to save themselves if and when the ship sinks.
They already own the lifeboats.
The challenge facing the 99 per cent is how to organise more broadly and build the political muscle to break up the big banks, dissolve the “zombies” (failed banks on borrowed time) among them and rebuild an economy that works for all of us.”
via A new banking crisis: You can bank on it – Opinion – Al Jazeera English.
Real estate investment trusts, or REITs, have largely outperformed other investment vehicles in the sluggish economy of the last few years. But one subset — “specialty” trusts that invest in real estate other than the four major groups of office, retail, residential and industrial — has been exceptionally solid.
Such trusts that fall into the specialty category can have trouble attracting investors, who often perceive them as being risky, real estate experts said. Typical investment assets are cellphone towers, cold storage warehouses, or transportation and energy infrastructure, among other things.
via Specialty Real Estate Investment Trusts Excel Beyond the Usual – NYTimes.com.
“In its time and place, the ancient city of Dura-Europos had much in common with today’s most cosmopolitan urban landscapes. Religious, linguistic and cultural diversity characterized much of the city’s life for more than 500 years, starting at the outset of the third century B.C. in what is now Syria.
Greek, Aramaic, Latin, Parthian, Middle Persian and Hebrew — all of these languages were used concurrently throughout the society, according to inscriptions and graffiti uncovered by archaeologists. A temple altar epitomizes the multiculturalism: The inscription is in Greek, and a man with a Latin name and a Greek-titled office in the Roman army is shown presenting an offering to Iarhibol, a god of the migrants from the old Syrian caravan city of Palmyra.
New Yorkers would have felt at home in the grid pattern of streets, where merchants lived, scribes wrote and Jews worshiped in the same block, not far from a Christian house-church as well as shrines to Greek and Palmyrene deities. Scholars said the different religious groups seemed to maintain their distinct identities.
An exhibition of prized and quotidian artifacts from Dura-Europos, “Edge of Empires: Pagans, Jews, and Christians at Roman Dura-Europos,” is on view through Jan. 8 at New York University’s Institute for the Study of the Ancient World. The objects — notably art from antiquity’s best-preserved synagogue, and evocative photographs of the buried city’s excavations — are on loan from the Yale University Art Gallery.
“As a city of extraordinary cultural diversity,” said Jennifer Y. Chi, an archaeologist and the exhibition’s chief curator, “Dura-Europos has great resonance for the modern world, where multiculturalism shapes the very nature and quality of daily life.” “
via Dura-Europos, a Melting Pot at the Intersection of Empires – NYTimes.com.