the visible hand

it is the theory which decides what can be observed – einstein

Archive for May, 2008

ISPs: The Best Speed for Your Money?

Posted by ecoshift on May 30, 2008

There’s been a fair amount of emphasis on the importance of broadband access as one way to help level the economic playing field for rural areas in recent campaign statements. I thought those of you paying $70 and up for slow-speed broadband might be interested in the article below.

Rate tables below the jump…

Fiber/FiOS: ISPs: The Best Speed for Your Money,
by Ben Hardy – Electronic House Info and Answers

Unsure how much internet speed you need? Here’s a look at what the major providers have to offer.

May 30, 2008 | by Ben Hardy
The World Wide Web is the place to be, and the options for getting there have never been greater. We’ve investigated the deals, the speeds, and the availability to help consumers choose a high-speed bandwagon to jump on.

Comparison Points
When placing an internet service provider under the microscope, we’re looking for a few things, including price, speed, and availability. Today’s ISPs are giving consumers a wide range of choices regarding the first two categories. It is not uncommon to see two or three “packages” to choose from, with the more expensive options bringing faster upstream and downstream speeds.

We’d all love fiber optic run to our premises, but let’s face it: currently only a select few in our country have access, so availability is a crucial comparison point when stacking providers up against one another. You might have the fastest speeds, but what do I care if I can’t get it? …

Read the rest of this entry »


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Nature loss ‘to hurt global poor’

Posted by ecoshift on May 29, 2008

BBC NEWS | Science/Nature | Nature loss ‘to hurt global poor’
By Richard Black
Environment correspondent, BBC News website

Damage to forests, rivers, marine life and other aspects of nature could halve living standards for the world’s poor, a major report has concluded.

Current rates of natural decline might reduce global GDP by about 7% by 2050.

The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) review is modelled on the Stern Review of climate change.

It will be released at the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) meeting in Bonn, where 60 leaders have pledged to halt deforestation by 2020.

“You come up with answers like 6% or 8% of global GDP when you think about the benefits of intact ecosystems, for example in controlling water, controlling floods and droughts, the flow of nutrients from forest to field,” said the project’s leader Pavan Sukhdev.

“But then you realise that the major beneficiaries [of nature] are the billion and a half of the world’s poor; these natural systems account for as much as 40%-50% of what we define as the ‘GDP of the poor’,” he told BBC News.

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What To Do About the Price of Oil

Posted by ecoshift on May 29, 2008

Wednesday, May 28. 2008
What To Do About the Price of Oil – Multinational Monitor Editor’s Blog

Is Big Oil ripping off consumers? Are Wall Street speculators manipulating oil markets? What should be done?

Whether or not Big Oil is improperly restricting refinery capacity, whether or not Wall Street traders are driving up the traded price of oil to heights completely disconnected from supply-and-demand fundamentals, a few things are clear about gas prices — and so is the most appropriate, immediate policy response.

Current pricing arrangements are generating profit gushers for the large, integrated oil companies — ExxonMobil, ChevronTexaco and the like. While the price of oil is going up, these companies’ drilling expenses are not. Oil can trade at $40 a barrel, $90 a barrel, or $130 a barrel. It still costs ExxonMobil and the rest of Big Oil only about $20 to get a barrel of oil out of the ground.

The oil companies’ staggering profits are a windfall of the purest sort (Websters’ definition: “an unexpected, unearned, or sudden gain or advantage”). This is not a moral judgment about the oil companies, it is just a description of what’s happening.

A windfall profits tax could generate substantial government revenues. Allocated to investment in renewable energy, it could significantly increase funds directed to renewables, and be a small but important down payment on the massive investment needed in mass transit, energy efficiency and renewable energy.

Beyond the immediate future, it is important to get a better fix on energy markets. What’s clear now is that the U.S. refining market is very concentrated, thanks to a series of mergers permitted by antitrust authorities; and that oil and energy futures markets are dangerously unregulated.

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Goldman Sachs looks to pitch port-rail investment

Posted by ecoshift on May 25, 2008

Here’s an interesting development. Anyone who has ever actually taken a look at the condition of the rail right-of-way through the Eel River canyon would expect the north coast rail system to transition to other less capital intensive uses as gracefully as possible. Yet, Goldman Sachs has decided to promote investment in a lost cause. Perhaps it will be found…

After all, who needs due diligence? If they play it like they did their MBS investments in 2002 they can just pump it up and then sell it short five years later.


Goldman Sachs looks to pitch port-rail investment – Times-Standard Online
John Driscoll/The Times-Standard
Article Launched: 05/24/2008 01:27:11 AM PDT

The international financial firm Goldman Sachs and Co. wants to market the North Coast’s dilapidated railroad and underutilized port to investors interested in making them another gateway for California goods.

As other ports like Long Beach and Oakland near capacity, there will be a strong need to increase handling capability for Pacific Rim goods, Goldman Sachs Vice President for Public Sector and Infrastructure Banking Jeffrey Holt wrote in a May 9 letter to the Humboldt Bay Harbor, Recreation and Conservation District.

Humboldt Bay could be a natural gateway for exports of Central Valley produce and commodities, Holt wrote, and for extra container capacity. But without public funds to improve the infrastructure, private equity will be needed, he wrote.

Holt wrote that some $60 billion worth of investment capital in pension funds around the world is looking for long-term infrastructure as investments. Goldman Sachs wants to drum up that money for the district through an auction or other process.

”Making the improvements to the port and rail assets will potentially bring thousands of jobs to the region, including jobs in warehousing, distribution centers and light manufacturing,” Holt wrote.

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Farm Bill “TREE Act” — Timber Tax reform provisions now law

Posted by ecoshift on May 25, 2008

Timber Tax Reform, Weyerhaeuser’s #1 Federal Issue

The U.S. tax code puts the U.S. timber industry at a distinct disadvantage against international competition as it is subject to significantly higher income taxes than overseas competitors. Weyerhaeuser strongly supports legislation that brings conformity to the tax treatment for private timberlands by treating the long-term tax gain the same. For Weyerhaeuser, timberlands ownership and integration with manufacturing is a core strength of the company. We believe passage of timber tax legislation is urgent, necessary and in the best interests of our shareholders, employees and communities.

Second Highest Tax Rate…in the World!

Marginal Effective Tax Rates, 2005

United States (a) Brazil Canada (b) China Finland Germany Indonesia Russia
Corporate Forestry 37% 22% 51% 17% 31% 30% 8% 9%

(a) Tax for United States includes fully phased-in value of section 199 deduction for domestic production.
(b) Tax applicable to investment in Ontario.
Source: PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, Taxes in Competing Nations: Their Effects on Investments in Paper Manufacturing and Timber Production, April 2005.

Update: May 22, 2008

U.S. House and Senate Overrides Presidential Veto of Incomplete Farm Bill – Timber Tax Considered Law

Over the past two days, the U.S. House ( 316-108 ) and Senate ( 82-13 ) took successful votes to override President Bush’s veto of the Farm Bill. This means the timber tax reform provisions, along with most of the Farm Bill are now law. (Due to a clerical error, the trade sections of the Farm bill are not a part of the veto override.)

The modified TREE Act provisions, supported by Weyerhaeuser, in the Farm Bill are:

  • Provides a 15% rate for corporations on timber which has been held for 15 years. (This 15% rate is comparable to that paid by many of Weyerhaeuser’s competitors; C-Corporations like Weyerhaeuser current pay a 35% rate on timber gains.)
  • Includes timber REIT modernization provisions.

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limits to growth ease Portland’s housing pain

Posted by ecoshift on May 25, 2008

News Flash: Rational planning provides buffer against economic boom and bust.


Oregon’s growth limits help ease housing pain:

Strict controls on development and a late-blooming economy have kept Portland’s home prices afloat, but critics say the region may be headed for trouble

|Tribune correspondent

NORTH PLAINS, Ore.—Here at the western edge of the Portland metro area, green fields flow into fir trees and foothills and eventually the Coast Range. They are a developer’s dream: flat, picturesque and a quick freeway spin from the region’s high-tech center.

If this were Phoenix or the San Francisco Bay area, real estate experts say, master-planned subdivisions would carpet these fields all the way to the mountains. Instead, their foot-high grass faces out on just one new, 15-lot cul-de-sac, buffered by strict growth controls that help North Plains maintain its rural feel and help shield from the housing crisis stunting the national economy.

While home prices fell by about 20 percent in the Sun Belt and the Midwest over the last year, values here in the northwest corner of Washington County rose 4.5 percent, according to local real estate statistics and a federal housing index. Prices overall in the Portland metro area dipped slightly; only Charlotte fared better among major cities.

While other cities confront half-built or half-empty housing developments, Portland’s longtime fight against sprawl ensured that the supply never got too far ahead of demand.

“Unlike other places where there was a lot of overbuilding during the boom years, what we don’t have is this huge overhang of subdivisions,” said Gerard Mildner, who directs the Center for Real Estate at Portland State University’s School of Urban Studies and Planning.

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Pesticide causes mass death of bees

Posted by ecoshift on May 24, 2008

Germany Suspends Pesticide Approvals After Mass Death Of Bees | AHN |
May 22, 2008 12:06 a.m. EST
Nidhi Sharma – AHN News Writer Berlin, Germany (AHN) –

The German Office for Consumer Protection and Food Safety (BVL) has reportedly suspended the approval for eight pesticides after the mass death of bees in one state. The German Research Centre for Cultivated Plants reported that 29 out of 30 dead bees it examined in Germany’s Baden-Wuerttemberg state had been killed by contact with clothianidin, a product found in one of the seed treatment products.

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Vallejo files for bankruptcy

Posted by ecoshift on May 23, 2008

Vallejo files for bankruptcy to deal with budget shortfall

By TERENCE CHEA Associated Press Writer
Article Launched: 05/23/2008 10:56:22 AM PDT

SAN FRANCISCO—The city of Vallejo filed for bankruptcy protection Friday to deal with a ballooning budget deficit caused by soaring employee costs and declining tax revenue.The San Francisco Bay area suburb of about 120,000 residents became the largest California city to declare bankruptcy.

Mayor Osby Davis said the city’s attorneys filed papers seeking Chapter 9 bankruptcy protection in federal court in Sacramento.

“We’ve exhausted all avenues at this point, and this is all we had left,” Davis said. “I had hoped to avoid it all the way up until yesterday. It’s something we can’t avoid. It just doesn’t work. We can’t pay our bills.”

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New Find Fuels Speculation Brazil Will Be a Power in Oil

Posted by ecoshift on May 23, 2008

New Find Fuels Speculation Brazil Will Be a Power in Oil –

May 23, 2008

A flurry of activity by emerging oil giant Petróleo Brasileiro SA is heating up speculation that Brazil may have enough deep-water oil to propel it into the big leagues of global oil exporters and ease pressure on soaring oil prices.

Petrobras, as the state-controlled company is known, announced its latest discovery late Wednesday, saying it struck oil some 155 miles off the coast of São Paulo state. The new field is close to the company’s massive Tupi field, which was discovered two years ago and remains the world’s largest find since 2000 and the biggest in the Western Hemisphere since 1976. Petrobras wouldn’t say how much oil the new field might hold.

The find is the latest in a string of successful oil strikes by the company, raising hopes that Brazil will be the next big thing in global oil.

With oil prices setting new highs, big discoveries in Brazil would boost the energy industry’s optimism that it could deliver enough oil to keep pace with fast-growing demand. In trading Thursday on the New York Mercantile Exchange, oil price fell $2.36, or 1.8%, to $130.81 a barrel, partly on the prospect of more supply flowing from Brazil.

Major finds in Brazil would be especially welcomed in the U.S., providing a new source of oil from its own hemisphere…

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Pacific Lumber Settlement Is Questioned by Bondholders

Posted by ecoshift on May 20, 2008

Pacific Lumber Settlement Is Questioned by Bondholders –
May 12, 2008; Page C7

Bondholders in Pacific Lumber Co.’s bankruptcy-protection proceeding said they want to investigate possible fraud in a settlement that calls for the company to abandon its reorganization plan and support a rival proposal.

Bank of New York Mellon Corp., which represents the bondholders, said it wants to probe several aspects of the agreement. The bank wants to look into whether the deal, a key development in the 15-month-old Chapter 11 proceeding, is “the product of fraud or collusion and was forced on” Pacific Lumber, according to documents filed Thursday with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Corpus Christi, Texas.

At a court hearing Friday, Richard Krumholz, a lawyer for the bank, didn’t elaborate on the alleged fraud but said the bank had several questions about details of the settlement. “What is striking is how much is ambiguous,” Mr. Krumholz said. He didn’t return a telephone call seeking comment.

Bankruptcy Court Judge Richard Schmidt will consider approving the agreement at a hearing Thursday. The bank is requesting documents before he rules.

Pacific Lumber agreed to support a reorganization plan offered by Marathon Asset Management and California lumber company Mendocino Redwood Co. Marathon and Mendocino proposed pumping new money into Pacific Lumber and taking over its operations in Humboldt County, Calif. They first would have to defeat a plan supported by Bank of New York, which wants to auction the bondholders’ collateral — more than 200,000 acres of timberland owned by subsidiary Scotia Pacific.

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