On Energy and Geometric Progression

The following video has been labeled “The Most Important Video You’ll Ever See.” Hyperbole? It’s just a lecture on math, given by a Professor Emeritus of Physics at the University of Colorado-Boulder. It explains how just a 7% annual growth in energy use equals a 100% growth in 10 years. After a few decades, you’ve got a really big number. And a tremendously enormous problem. Watch and learn, please.

[H/T Peter Hufnagel]

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Double Dippin’ with MERLE HAZARD

Merle Hazard is the one and only country-music singer writing songs about the Financial Crisis. He’s been on PBS NewsHour with Jim Lehrer; he’s been the subject of articles by The Economist, London’s Financial Times, The New York Times, and Der Spiegel. And by gum, the man can carry a tune! Here’s Merle Hazard performing “Double Dippin'”!

Hacks and Flacks on Capitol Hill: You Have Been Warned

Meet Congressman Crowley, Democrat for the 7th District of New York

According to The New York Times today ––

On Dec. 10, one of the lawmakers under investigation, Representative Joseph Crowley, a New York Democrat who sits on the Ways and Means Committee, left the Capitol during the House debate to attend a fund-raising event for him hosted by a lobbyist at her nearby Capitol Hill town house that featured financial firms, along with other donors. After collecting thousands of dollars in checks, Mr. Crowley returned to the floor of the House just in time to vote against a series of amendments that would have imposed tougher restrictions on Wall Street.

He’s just one of our national legislators under investigation by Congress to determine exactly how money flows in Washington, and how it directly influences inhibits reform. Here’s another:

Meet Rep. Tom Price, Republican from the 6th District of Georgia, member of the Financial Services Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives

The right honorable Tom Price just happened to schedule a “Financial Services Luncheon” on December 10, the same day as Rep. Crowley’s fundraising event and the exact same day that the first full House vote on the financial reform bill was held. During a two-month period around the vote, he scored $23,000.

Now, old hands around D.C. like Tom DeLay might call this “business as usual in Washington.” Any sane person, however, would rather be inclined to call this bribery. No, I’m not suggesting that you members of the governmental elite will ever actually be convicted of such a crime. Just know that we know exactly what you’re doing, and how you’re doing it. You are colluding with business interests to keep yourselves employed, to the detriment of the future of the United States of America. You are the epitome of the fault Tocqueville foresaw in the American system –– to wit, that people would be more inclined to vote their immediate self-interest than have the education and wisdom to consider long-term ramifications. Crowley and Price, and all others –– we’ll be seeing you.

Read to your heart’s content at The New York Times.

Why the BP Oil Spill is Like the Mortgage Crisis

Okay, it’s like this. The main reason we’re in a Great Recession is that, back in 1999, the U.S. government compromised itself to death. Bill Clinton wanted to increase lending to minorities. The Republican-controlled Congress (swept into office by Newt Gingrich’s “Contract with America”) said, “Only if you decrease regulation at the same time,” and so Phil Gramm (appointed senior economic adviser to McCain’s presidential campaign) drew up a bill that gutted Glass-Steagall, the 1933 act that prevented the Depression from happening again. President Clinton, weakened by the Monica Lewinsky scandal, didn’t have much wiggle-room in the Oval Office any more, and signed the legislation.

So, naturally, you get a huge housing boom totally based upon dodgy accounting and ludicrous credit standards which blows up in the world’s face.

You can’t make this stuff up, right?

Guess what. The BP oil spill is a result of exactly the same legislative deathmatch. The New York Times has a superb piece this morning by David S. Abraham declaring, this is a disaster that Congress voted for. In a highly balanced and nuanced argument, Abraham details how Congress really and truly has been addicted to providing the oil industry with economic incentives beyond all reason:

In a 1995 attempt to encourage more exploration, Congress agreed to reduce the cut of the proceeds the government could collect on oil and gas drilling in deep waters. Ten years later, despite higher oil prices and declarations from President George W. Bush that more incentives were not needed, a Republican-led Congress reduced royalties yet again.

It’s madness, of course – especially when

at the same time that Congress called for new drilling incentives, it also gutted oversight. From 2002 to 2008, legislators approved budgets reducing regulatory staffing levels by more than 15 percent… A 2004 Coast Guard study found that its “oil spill response personnel did not appear to have even a basic knowledge of the equipment required to support salvage or spill clean-up operations.”

When Bobby Jindal calls for more offshore drilling in order to help pay for coastal damage inflicted by offshore oil-and-gas operations (yeah, you read that right), then we have truly entered a land of the comedic insane, where the Mad Hatter starts writing Catch-22 contracts. The astounding thing is that, at base, it’s an exquisitely simple recipe for disaster: radically lower the barriers to enter the market, while radically de-regulating (by which we mean: knocking down the laws and rules that govern participation in this country’s economy) and what you get are toxic assets. That’s what we call a house, these days: a toxic asset, destroying the person who possesses it (for D&D fans, that’s kind of like a poisoned amulet, except with lots of bricks and mortar and wiring and plumbing).

But we should  be calling the oil spill a toxic asset too. The definition’s more apt; no metaphors needed here. It’s a natural resource that’s killing our economy and destroying the ecosystems of our oceans. It’s a substance that, for decades now, has powered our economy; now it’s bringing the Gulf to a standstill. It’s the toxic asset, our home mortgage that’s underwater. The rich will probably walk away from it, their dirty souls skimming the tops of the oily waves in that Gulf between them and us.

The Crises of Capitalism – the smartest video you’ll watch this year.

David Harvey, Distinguished Professor at the City University of New York, gives the world’s most pithy and complete explanation of the cumulative financial crises over the last 80 years to show us what’s happened. It’s an 11-minute showstopper of a lecture, and it is the only coherent 360-degree view of the crisis I’ve ever seen. I can’t emphasize how brilliant this is. Harvey is having an open online course reading Book I of Marx’s Capital. Watch this, and it’ll all make sense. Plus, it’s cartoony!

[H/T 3QuarksDaily]

Holy Crap That’s a Lot of Money: 34 Billion in Fines

The Guardian reports quite a heavy bill for BP, and this may really set a buzz for the President’s fist Oval office speech tomorrow.

BP is facing a bill of up to $34bn from the Gulf of Mexico disaster after US senators demanded the oil company deposited $20bn into a ring-fenced account to meet escalating compensation costs.

The sum dwarfs many analysts’ previous estimates, shared by BP, that put the cost of the clean-up effort and payment of damages to affected communities, such as fishermen, closer to a total of $5bn.

Shares in BP nose-dived by more than 9% today as investors took fright at the demand by the 54 Democratic senators, who represent a majority in the US upper house. The company is now worth almost half what it was before the accident of just under two months ago.

BP already faces up to $14bn in civil penalties, payable under US environmental law, assuming the leak is plugged in August. These punitive damages are directly linked to the size of the spill – already estimated at being up to eight times worse than the Exxon Valdez disaster in 1989 – with BP liable for up to $4,300 for each barrel-worth spilt.

Senate leaders insisted the $20bn ring-fenced account should be exclusively for “payment of economic damages and clean-up costs” and should not be seen as a cap on BP’s other legal liabilities. With punitive damages pending too, the theoretical total of $34bn is equivalent to more than half the corporation tax paid by all British companies last year.

Tony Hayward, chief executive of BP, and other directors of the company, will meet Barack Obama at the White House on Wednesday prepared to offer concessions in the hope of taking the sting out of mounting political attacks on the company.

BP will be in “listening mode”, willing to cut its next dividend, worth about $2.5bn, possibly paying the cash into the clean-up fund. It will also reiterate its commitment to paying all legitimate claims arising from the disaster. But the company does not believe that the demand by the senators to stump up $20bn is justified.

read the rest at the Guardian