I think what is happening at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and other newspapers is an indication of where that industry is headed:
The Seattle Post-Intelligencer reports that its owner, Hearst Corp., has made offers to some staffers to participate in an online-only version of the newspaper.
The paper says an unspecified number of the P-I’s roughly 180 employees received “provisional offers” Wednesday and Thursday to work for the online venture, if the Web site is approved by Hearst’s senior management.
Hearst announced in January it would put the P-I up for sale and either close the paper or go to an online-only publication if it couldn’t find a buyer by March 10. There has been no word on a possible buyer.
These are very tough times for the print media. And, at least among the big dailies, they’re burning through money like GM with no bailout in sight. They’re stuck with a business model that no longer works. And it has happened in a very short time, relatively speaking. The problem is, those who run the business have never faced times like this. Already in trouble before the financial crisis, the trouble has now been accelerated beyond measure.
I’ve worked in and around the industry for almost 25 years. Newspapers had a tendency to make money despite themselves sometimes, and were always a profitable business. In effect, they held a pretty solid position as being one of the only outlets for news in a city, region or state. Sure television had some effect, but not at all the effect many in the business worried about. Detailed stories, not 30 second to a minute coverage found on TV, could only be found in newspapers.
Another critical aspect of newspaper revenue was classified ads. They were the go-to place for jobs, cars, real-estate, etc. It was that revenue and advertising revenue which kept them profitable. Subscriptions never were their primary source of revenue.
Then Al Gore invented the internet. And newspaper big-wigs worried about the impact. The impact was subtle at first. But as the breadth and depth of the ‘net grew, newspapers finally figured out the ‘net was a serious threat to them. The problem was they believed they were in the printing business instead of the news delivery business. So we saw these attempts to jazz up newspapers with more color and snappier features. But none of that really matters when the news that’s delivered is a day old and available when it happens on line. Stale news does not sell well.
Then production costs started to go up. Newsprint has gone through the roof. Aluminum costs (plates) have risen dramatically. All the while, ad revenues have steadily dribbled away as advertisers found newer, cheaper and vastly wider coverage on-line. Classified advertising began slowing as eBay and Craig’s List began siphoning away potential customers with their wider reach. Firms tying to fill jobs went on-line as well.
Page count dropped. Subscriptions no longer even covered the cost of the newsprint each edition required. Web widths were cut. Every economy that can be thought of was enacted. Production facilities have been shut down and consolidated. Automation has been used to replace headcount. Vendors have been squeezed for every penny that can be squeezed. But formerly profitable newspaper groups are now hemorrhaging money and frankly they don’t know how to stop it.
That’s not to say all newspapers are in that sort of trouble. Interestingly the small town newspapers seem to be doing okay. They’re not raking in the money they used too, for sure. But they seem to be surviving. One of the reasons is they are in a unique position which large town and city newspapers don’t enjoy anymore. In many cases they are the sole source of news for that community. Some have local TV stations that cover news as well, but the in-depth coverage over many weeks that local stories sometimes require can only be found in the paper. Additionally many of these small town papers have a production facility that is bare bones but has been printing other business for years – neighboring weekly papers, commercial work, etc. So their production facility is at least paying for itself. And while they have an on-line presence, it is more of a business an archive site. They don’t deal much in national and international news. They’re focused almost exclusively on the community they serve and the news it generates. If you want national or international news, go to CNN – they know you do that anyway.
With the closing of the Rocky Mountain News, the possible closure of the San Francisco Chronicle and the Seattle P-I’s decision to go on-line only, you can see the larger newspapers are still struggling to find a business model that works. I’m of the opinion, and have been for a while, that the small town model, adapted for the larger communities, is the way to go – with an tight focus on covering the community they serve, an on-line presence that adds instead of detracting from the print edition and a plan for the future which takes the operation on-line through devices like the Kindle 2, provided as a part of the subcription for a certain subscription length.
Of course that means that the production end of it, which has been my bread-and-butter for many, many years, will go the route of the dinosaurs, at least among the larger newspapers. But I think that is the future. Small town papers will hold out for a while longer and continue to print, but the economies of scale won’t be there which enable paper companies to offer low prices on newsprint. My guess is, unless they have a tremendous base of commercial printing (other than newspaper printing), they’ll eventually come to a point where print production is cost prohibitive as well.
All of this, of course, means a much leaner staff for future newspapers. It will also mean a different way of billing -for subscriptions, advertising, etc. Single issue billing, subscription billing, even particular articles can be billed. And without the cost of production factored in, the pricing should be reasonable. In order for that to be attractive to potential buyers, the papers are going to have to deliver and necessary and attractive product that news consumers want.
That is the problem they are presently wrestling with. What is that product and how do we produce it and get paid to produce it?
I have no idea how this will shake out, but unlike many, I certainly don’t want to see newspapers go away. I think they’re a critical part of our nation’s democratic voice. But they are going to have to change and change radically to survive. It is going to be interesting to watch this over the next few years as the newspaper business goes through what the fed refuses to let the auto industry go through. My guess is, after all the bankruptcies, consolidations and mergers take place, a leaner, more focused and profitable business model will emerge. Whether they’ll be called “newspapers” is anyone’s guess, but they’ll still be with us in some form or fashion.
Over the past few days, I’ve been highlighting the fact that the promise of tax cuts for 95% of Americans is illusory at best. If your bottom line is net spendable income, then despite the Obama promise, you’re going to have less of it when all his plans for your income are passed into law. Or, as I’ve been pointing out, while he’ll make a big deal of the tax cut for the 95% on the one hand, he’ll be taking what he’s cut back and more with the other.
The Detroit News editorial board seems to have figured that out:
President Barack Obama’s proposed cap-and-trade system on greenhouse gas emissions is a giant economic dagger aimed at the nation’s heartland — particularly Michigan. It is a multibillion-dollar tax hike on everything that Michigan does, including making things, driving cars and burning coal.
Tell me – who is it that has been whining for years about losing manufacturing jobs to overseas competitors? Who has thumped the podium about “outsourcing”? Who has claimed to be the champion of the working man?
The same crew that wants to enact draconian taxes which will affect the very companies and jobs they claim they want to save or create. And while the companies will do all they can to pass on the cost to the consumer (thereby negating any tax cut), they will have to absorb some of the cost to stay competitive.
Doing so will drive up the cost of nearly everything and will amount to a major tax increase for American consumers.
Or companies can go to countries who don’t have cap-and-trade laws such as China and India and set up there. Of course if they do, they’ll be called “unpatriotic” and the government who forced the issue will declare them the problem.
And the net result?
The proposed tax would take effect in 2012 and has the very real potential to throw the nation back into recession, if indeed the expected recovery has arrived by then. It’s impossible to raise costs for such basics as manufacturing and energy production by more than half a trillion dollars over a decade and not have the effects felt across the economy.
Economic common sense. But you see, the 2012 effective date is a result of political calculation. If we are seen to be climbing out of the recession by 2011, most likely the Obama administration will get a second term. After that they couldn’t care less how they or their policies are viewed. And it is far enough from 2016 that they think it may be politically survivable for the Democrats.
However it also means that if the GOP starts hammering on this now and making the same sense the Detroit News editorial board is making, there’s a chance they can use it as an issue to try to recapture power. That assumes, of course, they have the smarts and the spine to stand up, make the consequences known and ensure they frame the argument instead of letting the Democrats spin it away.
How likely is that?
Oh, and just for the record:
A similar program in Europe hasn’t worked. European automakers complained about carbon dioxide limits the European Union proposed in 2007 as damaging to the economy.
A lot of high-fives on the left concerning a portion of the budget dealing with energy. The Center For American Progress, in a post entitled “Energy Budget Is Sunlight After Eight Years of Darkness” says:
The most significant energy proposal in this budget is the inclusion of revenue in 2012 from the auction of all greenhouse gas emission allowances to major polluters under a cap-and-trade system. The budget assumes that this program will raise $646 billion between 2012 and 2019. Some of these funds would create jobs via a $120 billion investment in clean energy technologies over the same period. The auction revenue would pay for a “global warming tax cut” for working families with $526 billion. It would fund Making Work Pay, which provides a refundable income-tax credit for low-income working families. Any remaining funds would go to other families and businesses to offset higher energy prices.
In other words, CAP believes that adding huge additional costs onto the already high cost of producing goods, services and energy will “create jobs” to offset those lost apparently. And the money collected will be redistributed to make things fair.
As so-called members of the “reality based community”, you have to wonder if they’ve ever bothered taking off the rose colored glasses and glanced around the real world.
Alan Wood in Australia asks:
CAN the Senate save Kevin Rudd and Penny Wong from their global warming folly? It can, and it might, if it rejects the Government’s attempts to prematurely lock Australia into a flawed carbon trading scheme. Ask yourself, do you believe that the worst global recession since the Depression, with job losses accelerating, is the time for Australia to introduce a carbon trading scheme that will squeeze growth, jobs and investment? Business certainly doesn’t.
Is there anyone in the Congress who can do the same for Barack Obama? Probably not. Do they understand that the carbon trading schemes in place around the world are literally melting down? Again, probably not.
And jobs? Well right here at home we can learn from the impact of the draconian regulations and resultant costs imposed on industry by such schemes and what that means. California, as usual, provides the case study:
California regulators Thursday adopted the world’s first mandatory measures to control highly potent greenhouse gases emitted by the computer manufacturing industry. “The financial impact is going to be severe,” Gus Ballis, a spokesman for chip maker NEC Electronics America Inc., a subsidiary of NEC Electronics Corp. in Japan, told the board. Ballis warned, “We’re potentially on the chopping block — whether they are going to keep us or pull our production back to Japan.”
The painful loss of 1850 jobs at Pacific Brands in NSW, Victoria and Queensland is more than a byproduct of the global recession. The main reason for shifting to China, chief executive Sue Morphet said on Wednesday, is that manufacturing in Australia “is no longer a competitive advantage” to the company. The Prime Minister owes it to businesses large and small, as well as to Labor’s core constituency, workers, to re-evaluate the impact on employment of his emissions trading scheme, especially in mining, where Australia has such a strong comparative advantage.
The German biofuels industry is facing bankruptcy according to their industry association, despite millions of state-sponsored subsidies in recent years. “It is five to twelve, but few politicians understand,” said the chairman of the Association of German Biofuel Industry (VDB), Kurt Stoffel. “The biodiesel market for trucks has come to a complete halt,” said Stoffel.
Britain said on Thursday it backed the building of new coal plants and would make a decision soon on whether these must have expensive, climate-friendly technologies fitted called carbon capture and storage (CCS). “We will need new fossil fuel plants including coal if we are going to maintain diversity in energy mix and energy security….”,
Yet here we are getting ready to implement a scheme that is already seen to be worsening the economic conditions around the world (and being abandoned by those realing the losses). Unsurprisingly our implementation would most likely occur just as we are beginning to see an end to the recession.
The administration certainly seems to be aware of the cost of such legislation but still plans on pursuing it:
Steven Chu, President Barack Obama’s new Secretary of Energy, told The New York Times earlier this month that reaching agreement on emissions trading legislation would be difficult in the present recession because any scheme to regulate greenhouse gas emissions would probably cause energy prices to rise and drive manufacturing jobs to countries where energy was cheaper.
Yet, with blinders fully in place, and giddy at the prospect of sticking it to evil corporations while redistributing their ill-gotten gains, the left applauds a plan which will cripple our economy for decades to come.
If ever there were budget proposals poised to send us into darkness, it is this plan put forward by the Obama administration.
Chrysler said the only reason it was back asking for more money so soon was that the car market was worse than it had expected two months ago.
This cavalier approach to the public purse raises a very big question. If Chrysler is really on track for a turnaround and all it needs is some financing to get over a bad patch in sales and debt markets, why doesn’t Cerberus Capital Management, which owns 80 percent of the company, put up the money itself? Why should taxpayers have to take the risk? That’s what private equity funds like Cerberus are supposed to do.
Cerberus and Daimler, which retained a stake in Chrysler, have promised to convert $2 billion in loans to Chrysler into equity, which should help reduce its debt. But Cerberus said giving fresh money would violate its fiduciary duty to investors, breaking company rules limiting how much it can commit to any given investment.
We suspect these rules would be more pliant if Cerberus deemed Chrysler to be a good deal.
It seems the secretive private-equity fund is willing to gamble on Chrysler’s survival with the taxpayer’s dime, but not its own.
The real question is, if it is violative of Cerberus management’s fiduciary duty to bail out its own company, why is it fiscally responsible for the federal government to do so?
And what does it say when the leader of liberal opinion has more qualms about a bailout than the federal government? Nothing good I would think.
We here at QandO are big fans of the free market. But there are lots of enemies of the free market and they’re not just ideologies or governments. Sometimes – no, many times – corporations or associations go into cahoots with government to use the power of government to limit competition. Here’s an example of that:
A lot of focus has been directed toward the destruction of the world’s forests during the past few decades. The truth is that deforestation is happening with alarming frequency. Millions of acres of forest land are harvested illegally throughout the world every year, which contributes significantly to global warming and the destruction of wildlife habitat. Because this activity adversely affects our environment, the National Wood Flooring Association worked diligently with several key organizations to promote the illegal logging ban with Congress. The ban was passed this past summer as an amendment to the US Lacey Act, which originally was mandated more than 100 years ago to prohibit the illegal trafficking of wildlife. This new amendment has expanded the Lacey Act to include wood and wood products. Specifically, the ban prohibits the import, sale or trade in the US of wood and other forest products that are harvested through illegal means.
This legislation is significant for a number of reasons. First, and most importantly, it protects our world’s forests from irrecoverable loss of trees and wildlife habitat. Second, it protects lumber buyers who verify the origin of lumber when importing wood into the United States from other countries. Third, it eliminates the influx into the US of low-cost, low-quality wood flooring produced from illegally harvested forests.
The penalties for noncompliance with this new legislation are severe. Penalties can include the forfeiture of the illegally harvested material, fines of up to $500,000, and jail time of up to five years. From a consumer’s perspective, however, the ban helps you have confidence that the wood you are buying is not depleting our world’s forests.
This is classic stuff. Let’s look at their three “benefits”, shall we? First this ban no more “protects our world’s forests from irrecoverable loss of trees and wildlife habitat” than a gun ban keeps guns out of the hands of criminals. That’s because those who do actually engage in what this association would label “illegal logging” will simply sell to someone else. It’s not like wood isn’t in huge demand throughout the world or something.
The second “benefit” is a “join our club or pay the price” benefit at best. The obvious implication is if buyers don’t “verify the origin” to the satisfaction of the association (and the law), they’re open to accusations that what they’re bringing in are “illegal” whether true or not.
And, of course, in reality it all boils down to the last “benefit”. In fact it is a benefit only for the industry at the heart of writing this legislation. You the consumer, on the other hand, won’t get what the NWFA considers to be “low-cost, low-quality wood flooring” because, well, they’ve decided it just isn’t a decision which should be left up to you.
This is what passes for a “free market” these days. In this case, restricting the flow of goods to you in the name of a greater good, when, in fact, the greater good is just an excuse not to have to compete in the market place. It places the consumer’s right of access to such goods in second place to the association’s desire to “benefit” from special legislation which restricts that right.
When the price of that flooring you have been planning to buy goes through the roof, you’ll now know why.
I suppose this too will somehow come as a surprise the left:
General Motors Corp., nearing a federally imposed deadline to present a restructuring plan, will offer the government two costly alternatives: commit billions more in bailout money to fund the company’s operations, or provide financial backing as part of a bankruptcy filing, said people familiar with GM’s thinking.
The competing choices, which highlight GM’s rapidly deteriorating operations, present a dilemma for Congress and the Obama administration. If they refuse to provide additional aid to GM on top of the $13.4 billion already committed they risk seeing an industrial icon fall into bankruptcy.
Tired of throwing money at a company which has a failing business model? Not interested in throwing good money after bad?
Well, then let them seek protection under the bankruptcy laws, reorganize (which means getting out from the labor contract the UAW refuses to renegotiate) and let them stand a company back up that’s able to compete. Heck, this is as good a time as any – they’re not selling any cars anyway.
Oh, and as an afterthought, if bank execs have to have salary caps, how about auto execs and labor leaders? No I’m not for any of that, but it does provide a vivid example of how arbitrary the rules Congress imposes are, doesn’t it?
As the details of the compromise stimulus package come out, most will find plenty to not like.
For instance, those stimulative tax cuts for 95% of Americans:
Q: What are some of the tax breaks in the bill?
A: It includes Obama’s signature “Making Work Pay” tax credit for 95 percent of workers, though negotiators agreed to trim the credit to $400 a year instead of $500 — or $800 for married couples, cut from Obama’s original proposal of $1,000. It would begin showing up in most workers’ paychecks in June as an extra $13 a week in take-home pay, falling to about $8 a week next January.
$13 bucks a week for 6 months, down to $8 bucks a week by January. $338 in ’09, and, if it stays in place for all of ’10, $416.
Wow. 800 billion of your dollars and in the next year and a half you’re going to see $754 of it. Go make that down payment on the new house or car now!
Now, here’s the rope-a-dope:
Q: How will infrastructure spending affect jobs?
A: The Federal Highway Administration has estimated that every $1 billion the federal government spends on infrastructure projects translates to 35,000 jobs. Collins put the total infrastructure spending — including highways, mass transit, environmental cleanups and broadband facilities — at $150 billion. Do the math and that translates into more than 5 million jobs, based on the highway administration’s assumptions.
Senate leaders have offered their own estimate — they said Wednesday that the total stimulus package will sustain some 3.5 million jobs.
Most of that work will go to people who already have jobs. And those who are hired will be hired on a temporary basis. When the revenue stream for that job ends, so will the temporary jobs.
And one other thing to keep in mind – these people are estimating based on nothing more than some assumptions they’ve decided look rosy and fit their narrative. They have no freakin’ idea how many jobs, if any, their spending will bring.
Q: How long would it take for highway projects to begin?
A: Lawmakers say most of the projects could be up and running within 90 days, although it could take somewhat more time in northern states with longer winters. Highway construction groups have estimated that there are thousands of projects that could be started within that 90 days.
Here’s a dirty little secret about this answer – projects that are 90 days from beginning have most likely already been funded and those who are going to work on them have been hired.
All the rest of the projects in the bill will have to go through the normal years long bidding process that is required by government. So “shovel ready” does not necessarily mean an infusion of new cash or jobs.
Q: Does the bill include federal aid to the states?
A: Yes. It includes major contributions to states to help with their budget shortfalls and assure the viability of Medicaid and education programs.
Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, the moderate Republican who helped broker the deal, said the spending includes about $90 billion in increased federal matches to states to help pay for Medicaid, along with a $54 billion “fiscal stabilization” fund that states could use to build and repair schools and improve facilities at institutions of higher learning.
This bill is the “State Fiscal Mismanagement Bailout Bill” which rewards states for budget busting.
Tell me, in life, what is one of the major means of changing behavior?
Pain. No pain, nothing learned. Be it emotional, physical or financial pain, unless you suffer it, you have no reason to change your behavior. Given this bill, profligate state governments have no reason to change their spendthrift ways.
BTW, none of that spending will stimulate anything but more government.
Q: What are some of the other main focuses of the bill?
A: Here are some highlights:
Education: The package has some $11.5 billion to support the IDEA program for special education. There’s another $10 billion for a federal program to help low-income students.
Energy: The package includes funds to modernize the electrical grid — in part by incorporating renewable energy resources — and to make federal buildings more energy efficient and help low-income households weatherize their homes.
Health: The plan includes subsidies to allow people who are laid off to purchase health insurance through the federal COBRA plan. There is also money to support hospitals seeking to modernize health information technology.
Infrastructure: The infrastructure section of the package includes funds for building and repairing highways and bridges, expanding transit systems, upgrading airports and rail systems and building and repairing federal buildings — with the focus on making them more energy efficient. Funds are available for clean water projects, cleanup of environmental waste areas and nuclear waste cleanups.
Nothing listed here is stimulative. Nothing. This is all the pork that everyone has denied is in the bill. This is the left’s shopping list of the last 40 years rolled into one big raid on your wallet.
And what about the engine of productivity, the creator of jobs and wealth? Not much at all:
From auto dealers to the home-building industry, big business appears to be the biggest loser in the final economic stimulus plan being pieced together Wednesday on Capitol Hill.
Negotiators from the House and Senate sliced billions of dollars in tax incentives for businesses and slashed huge tax breaks for consumers that were strongly backed by industry lobbyists.
Many of the business tax provisions were added to the stimulus legislation in the Senate in an effort to attract Republican votes. President Barack Obama wants bipartisan support for the plan and was dealt a setback when no Republicans voted for the House version of the plan two weeks ago.
But when only three Republican senators voted for the Senate version of the bill Tuesday, Democrats slashed the business tax proposals in an effort to bring the total cost of the bill under $789 billion.
That’s right, Democratic spite and their propensity toward government as the solution have mostly driven tax breaks for business, the one sector that can, in fact, create real jobs that produce wealth, out of the bill.
Tthe Democrats like to use the term “trickle down” derisively, but as Karl Rove notes, you’re about to see their version of it. The difference is the money will “trickle down” through the government filter. Any guess as to how much will actually reach down to where it is needed?
Well, don’t bet that whopping $754 bucks you’ll be seeing over the next year and a half that it will do any good. Instead you might consider buying gold with it, since my guess is it isn’t going to be worth $754 when the Democrats get done with screwing around with the economy.
As most of you know I took a short trip to beautiful Bakersfield California a couple of weeks ago at the behest of the American Petroleum Institute (who paid for the trip) to tour Chevron’s Kern River Basin oil fields. Here’s a short intro video by API that will get you into the game.
Jeff Hatlin, the guy describing most of the facilities and the area, was a fabulous tour guide. And the rest of the staff there (Jim Swartz, David Boroughs, Carla Musser, Ray Thavarajah, Kevin Kimber, Kelly Lucas and Omer Saleem) took a day out of their busy schedules to acquaint 4 bloggers with a huge asset that has been producing oil for over 100 years. My thanks to all of them.
As you might imagine, the “easy oil” days of yore are long over. As Jane Van Ryan, the narrator of the video, notes, the area was first discovered because oil was literally seeping out of the ground. No more. The oil produced at Kern River is what is known in the industry as “heavy oil”. That means the viscosity is very high. For many years in the early days, its viscosity limited its use to asphalt and roofing tar.
That presents an interesting set of problems when you talk about recovery. You’re trying to pump some pretty thick stuff out of the ground and, as you can imagine, that takes a whole bunch of energy. And the oil doesn’t sit in pools, but is distributed throughout the sand layers. So it seems obvious that the way to address the problem is to find a way to lower the viscosity of the oil and cause it to flow before trying to recover it. As you might imagine, that’s not as easy as it sounds. The way Chevron has addressed those needs is through steam flooding and new drilling techniques such as horizontal drilling.
You saw Jeff Hatlin talk about how that steam is generated (and you got to see the steam generators in the video) and injected into the ground. In the 20 square miles of the Kern River Basin facility, there are approximately 770 steam injection wells helping the 8,700 production wells bring up the oil from depths of over 1,000 feet. What the steam injection wells have allowed Chevron to do is move the field from its primary production days, when only 5-10% of the oil was being recovered, to a production percentage between 50 to 80% with steam flooding. This enhanced recovery technique has helped Chevron keep the field at an 80,000 bpd production rate when, without it, it would be producing very little oil at all.
Another technique which allows more efficient recovery is the 3D modeling that you saw Dale Beeson talking about. The model in the video has 155 million cells, each 50′ x 50′ x 2′. That’s a massive amount of information stored, updated and accessible to the Chevron staff as they plan their next wells. Much of the data for this model is gathered through 660 “observation wells” drilled strategically over the vast property. Temperature and fluid saturation are monitored allowing for efficient heat management and the location of the richest oil deposits. It is through the integration of that information plus the nearly 1,000,000 data points gathered through out the field on any given day by other means, that Chevron meets its goal of reducing its production decline in the Kern River Basin to 1% a year.
A final technique introduced into the Kern River field in 2006 is horizontal drilling. The 3D modeling helps Chevron exactly pinpoint layers of oil producing sand and using advanced drilling techniques, precisely place the horizontal well in that sand layer. To give you an idea of the efficiency difference, a typical vertical well will produce about 3 bpd of oil. A horizontal well will produce about 100 bpd.
Given all of that, however, there was something else I learned that just blew my mind. While they’re producing that 80,000 bpd of oil, they’re also pumping up 555,000 bpd of water. In fact they joke about really being a water production facility which produces oil as a by-product. That’s more true than you might imagine.
But it also means they must process a half a million barrels of water a day, separate the oil from it and do something with the remaining water. This is where it gets interesting. You heard Jane mention they process and purify some of it through walnut shell filters for agricultural use. In fact, they have about 272,000 bpd in excess that they send through that process and then is sold to California for use in growing all those luscious veggies Californians are so wild about. My guess is that most of California has no idea that’s the case. That avocado you’re enjoying may have been produced with water from Chevron’s Kern River Basin field.
So what do they do with the remaining 231,000 bpd of the water they pump up? They make steam. Lots and lots of steam. And that brings us to something else of which I’m pretty sure the average Californian isn’t aware. Part of that steam powers up to 20% of the California electrical grid. It’s called ‘cogeneration’, and Chevron has actually built steam powered electrical plants on the field which are plugged into the California power grid and provide on-demand electricity. They use the waste steam generated in the steam injection process to power these plants. Clean energy and highly efficient clean production.
That’s what had me saying “wow” at the end of the trip. Two critical commodities to California – electricity and water, produced as by-product of a third critical product, oil. And all three are produced in a efficient, environmentally friendly way.
If I were Chevron, I’d be telling this story everywhere I could. It’s not quite the resource-raping, greed-is-king “Big Oil” caricature the media and many of our politicians are fond of painting, is it?
Many progressives thought that Pres. Obama had abandoned them after the election, but I’ll bet they’re singing a different tune today:
President Barack Obama on Wednesday imposed a $500,000 cap on senior executive pay for the most distressed financial institutions receiving taxpayer bailout money and promised new steps to end a system of “executives being rewarded for failure.”
The limit would apply to top-paid executives at the most distressed financial institutions that are negotiating bailout agreements with the federal government.It also would apply to other banks that receive aid, but they could get around the limits by publicizing to shareholders plans to exceed the salary cap.
The “most distressed financial institutions” will not include those which have already received TARP funds, such as AIG and Citigroup. However, those firms are already subject to caps on executive pay under the statute authorizing the bailout last Fall. And because these companies have all come to the government “with hat in hand,” in Obama’s words, not too many people outside of Wall Street are upset. Yet, Obama does not seem content to stop with these “distressed” companies:
The administration also will propose long-term compensation restrictions even for companies that don’t receive government assistance, Obama said.
Those proposals include:
• Requiring top executives at financial institutions to hold stock for several years before they can cash out.
• Requiring nonbinding “say on pay” resolutions — that is, giving shareholders more say on executive compensation.
• A Treasury-sponsored conference on a long-term overhaul of executive compensation.
This is exactly the sort of creeping socialism that many of us were worried about with Obama’s election. Mind you, McCain would not have been much better, but this sort of heavy handed government interventionism would not have been proposed by his administration, much less tolerated by most Republicans in Congress.
Obama’s proposals are somewhat tolerable with respect to the bailed out companies since they are being funded with tax payer dollars. If these companies are going take the money, then they should have to abide by whatever rules are attached to the funding no matter how onerous. But trying to impose such draconian restrictions on companies that are not being bailed out is nothing more than a direct assault on freedom.
Even if you think that no executive should be paid more than $X more than the lowest paid employee of a firm, or are just angry at the seemingly wasteful and lavish life styles of Wall Street bankers, you still have to find this sort of proposed legislation abominable. Why? Because no matter what you think about executive compensation, the owners and operators of these companies think otherwise. It’s their decision to make about how their companies are run and how well their employees are paid. Unless, of course, you would just fine and dandy with some government bureaucrat deciding that you are overpaid for your position, and that no matter how hard you work you can never make more than $Y.
The only people who would ever agree to such slavery are those who have no ambition and little, if anything, to offer the world in terms of work product. They are not the people who invent the items, create the ideas, or provide the services that make our lives better over time. That is not to say that their efforts are not appreciated, nor that they shouldn’t be rewarded. But neither should we base the engine of wealth creation on their hopes and dreams of sinecure.
Beyond the egregious assault on freedom these proposals represent, there is also a huge question as to their efficacy, regardless of whether the firms are troubled or not (my emphasis):
Compensation experts in the private sector have warned that intrusions into the internal decisions of financial institutions could discourage participation in the rescue program and slow down the financial sector’s recovery. They also argue that it could set a precedent for government regulation that undermines performance-based pay.
“One of the big questions is whether it will make it more difficult to recruit and retain executives at these companies,” said Claudia Allen, chair of corporate governance at the Chicago-based law firm of Neal, Gerber & Eisenberg.
The $500,000 cap “is a very tight limit,” she said.
Timothy J. Bartl, vice president and general counsel for the Center On Executive Compensation, said the president’s actions are a unique situation given the government’s role bailing out troubled institutions.
“We do not view it as something that ought to be extended beyond this circumstance,” he said.
I don’t think there’s any legitimate doubt that these will be the effects. Indeed, here are some of the reactions to Obama’s proposals:
Goldman Sachs said yesterday it wants to repay $10 billion it got from Treasury under the TARP to signal the firm is healthy and to escape limitations that came with that infusion of money. “Our financial condition is sound and, subject to approval from regulators, we hope to repay TARP money as soon as practicable,” said Lucas van Praag, a spokesman for New York- based Goldman Sachs.
JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon said Feb. 3 that the firm didn’t need capital and didn’t ask for TARP funding. The lender accepted the $25 billion it received from the first capital injection at the request of the government and to help stabilize the banking system, he said.
Goldman has to get permission to repay the government? Does that make sense? Only if the reason the funds were distributed in the first place was to give the federal government control over the market place. I think that’s exactly what Bush (“I’ve abandoned free-market principles to save the free-market system”) and Paulsen had in mind with TARP, and I think Obama is prepared to carry the ball even further into socialist territory.
As far as retaining talented executives, why would any of them stay? If you were making $10 Million per year including your bonuses (not uncommon), why would you stay somewhere that’s forcing you take a 95% pay cut? Of course, many will say good riddance to bad rubbish, and perhaps their right. It’s not like a firm that goes crawling for a federal handout was performing all that well. Except that (a) it’s far from clear that bad management led to the current crisis (although, surely that had something to do with it), and (b) even if it were clear, not every executive or potential executive was responsible. If you are a rising star in your investment bank who has put in exhaustingly long hours to get ahead in hopes of a big payday in the future, why would you stick around where you know your options are limited? These are very smart, industrious and capable people. There are plenty of places where they can go and not be subject to such pay strictures, and that is where they will end up.
Moreover, a part of the proposed regulations practically eliminates the fabled “golden parachutes” for executives:
Obama said that massive severance packages for executives who leave failing firms are also going to be eliminated. “We’re taking the air out of golden parachutes,” he said.
This displays a fundamental misunderstanding of what golden parachutes are. Contrary to popular belief, they are not generous giveaways to failed executives, but instead incentives for failed executives to get out of the way and allow new management. Without these sorts of incentives, management becomes entrenched and complacent. If a proposed takeover threatens to take away the goodies they can vote themselves, then they will forego such proposals and keep cashing in. In order to align management’s interests with the shareholders, golden parachutes were introduced to incentivize firm managers to sacrifice their jobs when the best interests of the company warrant it. Since one of the major problems that everyone seems to have with Wall Street is the failure of effective management, one would think the new rules would make it easier to bring in new blood, not harder.
But none of that matters to Obama:
Mr. Obama said the cap strikes the right “balance” between fair compensation and proper stewardship of taxpayer funds. “This is America. We don’t disparage wealth. We don’t begrudge anybody for achieving success. And we believe that success should be rewarded. But what gets people upset –and rightfully so–are executives being rewarded for failure, especially when those rewards are subsidized by U. S. taxpayers.
“For top executives to award themselves these kinds of compensation packages in the midst of this economic crisis is not only in bad taste, it’s a bad strategy — and I will not tolerate it as President.”
Again, it’s hard to generate much sympathy for executives who’ve come begging to Washington. But at the same time, what point is there to heavy handed measures that don’t do anything more than satisfy some people’s jealousy and outrage? Shouldn’t these proposals be designed to put people back to work?
Bruce wrote earlier that the stimulus bill, in it’s current form, invites a Trade War with the rest of the world. Naturally, the protectionist elements of the bill had many of our trading partners both worried and miffed.
The EU, for example, has been struggling with the issue over there, and began tossing off warnings of a trade war. The EU Ambassador to the united States, John Bruton, expressed those warnings frankly.
The EU warnings came in letters to US political leaders in Congress, Timothy Geithner, the Treasury Secretary, and Hillary Clinton, the Secretary of State. Mr Bruton urged them to respect the decision taken by the G20, the world’s leading economic nations, in Washington last November to resist protectionism as a defence against the crisis. They are expected to meet again in London in April.
“Failing this risks entering into a spiral of protectionist measures around the globe that can only hurt our economies further,” he wrote.
“Open markets remain the essential precondition for a rapid recovery from the crisis, and history has shown us where measures taken contrary to this principle can lead us.”
Back in Europe proper, the language was bit less guarded and diplomatic.
The European Commission’s powerful trade department, a bastion of open markets formerly headed by Lord Mandelson, said yesterday that the “Buy American” clause was “the worst possible signal” that could be sent to world trade.
A spokesman said: “We are particularly concerned about the signal that these measures could send to the world at a time when all countries are facing difficulties. Where America leads, many others tend to follow.”
In responding to those concerns, Pres. obama seems to have backed down a bit.
Last night Mr Obama gave a strong signal that he would remove the most provocative passages from the Bill.
“I agree that we can’t send a protectionist message,” he said in an interview with Fox TV. “I want to see what kind of language we can work on this issue. I think it would be a mistake, though, at a time when worldwide trade is declining, for us to start sending a message that somehow we’re just looking after ourselves and not concerned with world trade.”
Congratulations to Pres. Obama for realizing the toxic effect that outright protectionism would have on world trade, and economic recovery.