Sunday, December 28, 2008

No Furnaces but Heat Aplenty in ‘Passive Houses’

Innovative homes pioneered in Germany are encased in such an airtight shell that barely any heat escapes. Penny saved is Penny earned.

read more | digg story

Time to Reboot America

We don’t just need a bailout in this country, we need a national makeover. That is why the next few months are among the most important in U.S. history.

read more | digg story

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Excerpts from NY Times Op Ed Columnist Tom Friedman: China to the Rescue? Not!

Said twice (in the excerpts below), standby for some real structural changes (economic, global, political, social, & technological) to come. Essentially, we will have to re-prioritize away from tactical economic maneuvering to more strategic economic maneuvering. That is, less consumptive spending on useless things that does not add real value to our overall lives and more strategic spending that creates a sustainable future for not just ourselves but our kids too.

As is the case in troubling times, we will be going back to basics. And this will be a rennaissance of sorts. We will find many expressing a nostalgia of things of old that worked well. However, we need to keep an eye to the future in applying "old world" principles. If we keep staring in the rearview mirror we may miss the turns in the road and run off the road. But going back to "old world" principles, they are timeless and apply as much today as it always had in the past. So, when we move away from it and things go awry, we have to return to it in order to make sense of what has gone wrong.

But what are we leaving behind for our kids? A mess? A good question to be asking yourselves during this time of introspection is: What will be my legacy? And use this in making decisions as we move forward. Our kids' future demand this of us!

So to bring this discussion full circle, we will return to basics, to "old world" principles that we've departed from. And lets return to "old world" craftmanship a world where workmanship and pride flourish on the basis of principles. This is truly sustainable.

Finally, an evolving theme is increasing risk due to our more inter-connectedness globally. Whole industries and parts of others are being decimated and exposing risk that at times seem fleeting. We will have to be quicker at deciphering these risks and work to mitigate them -- not just for tomorrow but the day after tomorrow. I think this will be a major part of the structural re-alignment I mentioned earlier. And a good example of this would be the Airline industry. They were hurting recently due to high fuel prices. Many of them, essentially all except one, were exacting substantial losses. As a result, they had to respond by raising prices. Only one airline didn't really have to and that was Southwest Airlines. This was in large part due to it's hedging. Think of how much things would have been different by relating this to the excerpts below and the rest of what I wrote about. And watch how this plays out. You will find that you are understanding the Change that was much talked about in recent days.

Excerpts:

With unemployment now soaring across the U.S., said Stephen Roach, the chairman of Morgan Stanley Asia, Americans — “the most over-extended consumer in world history” — can no longer buy so many Chinese exports. We need to save more, invest more, consume less and throw out most of our credit cards to bail ourselves out of this crisis.

It’s good advice. China is not going to rescue us or the world economy. We’re going to have to get out of this crisis the old-fashioned way: by digging inside ourselves and getting back to basics — improving U.S. productivity, saving more, studying harder and inventing more stuff to export. The days of phony prosperity — I borrow cheap money from China to build a house and then borrow on that house to buy cheap paintings from China to decorate my walls and everybody is a winner — are over.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Action Alert

I have been getting many employment inquiries for my firm and have been filing many applications. To date, I have received over 1,200 such emails this year alone. But the current state of the economy and demand in the industry doesn't allow for this level of employment for my firm and many others. Interestingly, the overwhelming majority state their strong motivation & desire to join the industry to make much needed societal changes.

So, I pose the following:

Question: Why not put a ready, willing group of motivated people to work?

Answer: I can hire many of them.

Here is how you can help me do so:

*** ACTION ALERT ***

Please email the following to your Congressional Representative & Senator.

I'm writing to ask you to make two changes in the tax code to help smooth the road for municipal efforts to finance solar and energy efficiency projects.

The upfront cost of solar is one of the biggest barrier to widespread adoption. Cities across the country are looking into innovative finance programs that fundamentally change the cost equation by allowing property owners to spread solar energy systems and other clean energy purchases upfront price over an affordable 20-year property tax assessment. Known as "municipal tax assessment financing," these programs (now up and running in places like Boulder, Colorado and Berkeley, California, and being evaluated by others from coast to coast) use bonds rather than budgetary spending as a financing source. It's an exciting new way for even the most budget-constrained local governments to make solar and energy efficiency more affordable for property owners.

In order to make this model work, we need some tweaks to the federal tax code. Specifically, Congress should:

1. Clarify that participating in preferred, below-market renewable energy financing does not exclude access to the full federal solar tax credit. The federal government now provides a 30% investment tax credit for the installation of solar systems. Property owners may lose that tax credit if they participate in a local or state government tax-financing program if the IRS determines that they are receiving "subsidized energy financing." Legislation can clarify that this type of renewable and energy efficiency financing program does not prohibit participants from claiming the tax credit. This is the single most important issue to resolve.

2. Allow municipalities to use federally tax-exempt bonds to finance renewable energy projects. Generally speaking, the revenue bonds supporting these new finance programs cannot take advantage of the federal tax exemption normally available to local government because the solar and energy efficiency projects financed by bonds are not considered a governmental purpose. This makes the program much less cost-effective for property owners. Given the requirement that we quickly address economic development, energy security and climate change, Congress can amend the code to recognize that such renewable energy and energy efficiency bonds are issued for a governmental purpose.

In these tight fiscal times, this is an easy way for the federal government to help cities in their efforts to jumpstart the renewable energy economy. As my representative, I respectfully request your assistance.

Many thanks for your leadership on this matter.

Yours truly,

Your Name

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Lest We Forget

The story of how we failed to see this coming has a clear policy implication — that financial market reform should be pressed quickly, and that it should not wait until the crisis is resolved. (THIS PROBLEM was seen in early 2007, but BUSH DID NOTHING)

read more | digg story

All Fall Down

After a near total breakdown of responsibility at every link in our financial chain, now we either bail out the people who brought us here or risk a systemic crash. These are the wages of our sins.

read more | digg story

WSJ.com - Some Consumers Say Wall Street Failed Them

In an era of few financial safety nets, many people are finding that one snafu can quickly become a complete personal-finance meltdown.

read more | digg story

An Ode to Oil

Interesting Perspective -- Read On. America's oil dependency has some benefits. Roger Howard on how the diminishing resource acts as a source of stability, and forces countries to work together.

read more | digg story

Sunday, November 23, 2008

The Breadbasket of South Korea: Madagascar

By Vivienne Walt of TIME
Sunday, Nov. 23, 2008

Tenant farming was popular in rural America until the Dust Bowl years of the Depression, but the practice is making a comeback on an epic scale in much of Africa. This time, however, the "tenants" are not simply family farmers down on their luck and willing to work land they don't own; they're major international corporations and governments looking to compensate for shortages of arable land in their own countries by setting up massive industrial farms abroad. South Korea's Daewoo Logistics this week announced it had negotiated a 99-year lease on some 3.2 million acres of farmland on the dirt-poor tropical island of Madagascar, off southern Africa's Indian Ocean coast. That's nearly half of Madagascar's arable land, according to the U.N.'s Food and Agricultural Organization, and Daewoo plans to put about three quarters of it under corn. The remainder will be used to produce palm oil — a key commodity for the global biofuels market.

A Daewoo manager, Hong Jong-wan, told the Financial Times that the crops would "ensure our food security," and would use "totally undeveloped land which had been left untouched." Land is scarce and expensive in South Korea, which makes it the world's third-largest importer of corn. Daewoo says the Madagascar land will be leased for a price of around $12 an acre, which is a fraction of the price for farmland in the corporation's home country.

Not everyone is convinced that Daewoo's move is the most effective way of promoting food security. Riots have shaken dozens of countries across the world over the past year as poor people have found themselves unable to pay the rocketing prices for staples such as rice, corn and sugar. The U.N.'s World Food Program runs school-feeding schemes for children in Madagascar, where about 70% of the country's 20 million people live below the poverty line. The island's residents also rely on WFP emergency food relief programs because of the frequency with which they're struck by cyclones and droughts. Given those hardships, the prospect of a corporate giant growing hundreds of tons of food to be consumed by people and animals in Korea raises "ethical concerns," says David Hallam, head of the FAO'S Trade Policy Service in Rome. "If we have another world food crisis, and you have a poor country where food is produced by foreign investors, and then repatriated, that is ethically and political tricky," Hallam warns.

Those ethical quandaries have not prompted restraint on the part of other outside investors moving into Africa to exploit its agricultural potential. Several European companies have leased land during the past two years to grow crops for food and biofuels (although on a far smaller scale than Daewoo plans in Madagascar) including the British company Sun Biofuels, which is planting biofuel crops in Ethiopia, Mozambique and Tanzania.

Africa's fertile soil certainly appeals to the countries of the oil-rich Persian Gulf, whose vast deserts force them to import most of their food. "The Gulf states have an incredible surplus to invest and now that the old economies are facing recession they are looking at Africa," says Marie Bos, an analyst at the Gulf Research Center in Dubai. Although such wealthy countries as South Korea and the Gulf states are easily able to pay for food imports, this turmoil on global food markets may have increased the incentive for food-importing countries to secure their own sources of supply.

"[Food-importing countries] have lost trust in trade because of the price crisis this year," says Joachim von Braun, director of the International Policy Food Research Institute in Washington.

For African governments, the incentive to sign deals such as the one between Madagascar and Daewoo is equally clear. Millions of African farmers lack money for fertilizer, basic tools, fuel and transport infrastructure to efficiently grow crops get them to market. While international organizations have plowed billions into health and education, agriculture in Africa has lagged badly, hugely exacerbating the food crisis of the past year. "These governments are desperate to get capital into agriculture," says von Braun, who believes the drive by giant companies to lock up land deals could benefit poor African countries whose governments negotiate wisely. Although Daewoo plans to export the yield of the land it is leasing in Madagascar, it plans to invest about $6 billion over the next 20 years to build the port facilities, roads, power-plants and irrigation systems necessary to support its agribusiness there, and that will create jobs thousands of jobs for Madagascar's unemployed. Jobs will help the people of Madagascar earn the money to buy their own food — even if it is imported.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

STAND BY...!!!

I read Friday's NY Times Op Ed article by Nobel Prize winning Economist Paul Krugman entitled: The Lame-Duck Economy. He talked about the transition and how it related to the times of the New Deal. A lot had happened and there was a huge power vacuum at the height of the crisis. He stated that the outgoing administration had no credibility and the incoming one had no authority. And due to idealogical differences there was no concerted action. He said this is happening now.

Reading this took me back to a post Russ & I wrote sometime back: Standby for Heavy Rolls. We are definitely changing course. And the interim is likened to the rocky motion of the ship as it comes about. But I think that the most interesting thing about going back to this post, is that we are going to shake off the doubts in due time and we are going to head in a new direction. Even with the bad news in this article, I kept thinking: Stand By...!!!

I will post the relevant parts of the post. And I recommend reading Krugman's Op Ed piece to experience the contrast I did. I welcome your comments.

Standby for Heavy Rolls

"Standby for heavy rolls, as the ship comes about." This is the announcement I made over the ship's intercom so many times when changing course in choppy waters. The announcement is broken up with a pause (signified by the comma) so that it can be clearly understood. It is passed over the intercom to ensure the safety of the crew onboard the ship.

When the ship comes about or turns, it is in a state of transition that takes time; and along with the rough waters, can feel unsteady and shaky. During this time, the ship’s crew pauses to secure themselves and any loose items within their realm of control. As the ship shudders from the different forces acting on the ship’s bow – some trying to keep it back from turning and others aiding in its course change – the ship slowly but surely turns. It shudders and shakes off the inert forces trying to keep it back. It shudders and shakes off the rust that could threaten its integrity. It shudders and shakes off any doubts of heading on a new course. And it turns; but if you have ever seen the bow of a ship as it turned to a new heading (direction), you may understand the visceral power of seeing it set its sights on a new target course, bringing its strength of purpose to bear. Its mighty engines roaring toward a new horizon and beyond that horizon await a port of call that is exhilarating to the ship’s crew.

The crew describes the individuals or the stakeholders. And the ship described here can also describe households, communities, cities, counties, states, regions, and our nation. The choppy waters represent the waters or environment (economic, social, political, etc.) we will face, as the ship comes about. Be that as it may, we face some daunting challenges and our natural inclinations to resist change make it tougher. But in the end, that is not our true inclination. We will not be inert; we will be undaunted. We will not shirk our responsibilities; we will answer the call. We will not shun new ideas; we will ask how can it work? We will not be worthless; we will fight for something worthy! Let us rise to the challenge that will allow us to change course and see a new horizon.

STAND BY... EXECUTE... OVER...!!!

-

Friday, November 21, 2008

Economic Times... Past & Present

I remember a quote by former US President Calvin Coolidge that I like. And conducting an internet search to find the exact verbage, I found a site full of quotes by him. Interestingly, there are quotes that apply to the times even though they were uttered back when the US President count was at 30. For those who don't know, we are about to change to 44.

I will post these quotes and my comments follow each. Some speak for themselves.

"All growth depends upon activity. There is no development physically or intellectually without effort, and effort means work". -Calvin Coolidge

This is still true today.

"Economy is the method by which we prepare today to afford the improvements of tomorrow". -Calvin Coolidge

Today, it has reversed. Economy is the method by which we prepare tomorrow to afford the improvements of today. - Me

"Heroism is not only in the man, but in the occasion". -Calvin Coolidge

This is the occasion for us to rise and overcome the problems we are facing.

"I have found it advisable not to give too much heed to what people say when I am trying to accomplish something of consequence. Invariably they proclaim it can't be done. I deem that the very best time to make the effort". -Calvin Coolidge

Need I say more?! ;-)

"No enterprise can exist for itself alone. It ministers to some great need, it performs some great service, not for itself, but for others; or failing therein, it ceases to be profitable and ceases to exist". -Calvin Coolidge

Do something, not for your own existence, but for society as a whole.

"Industry, thrift and self-control are not sought because they create wealth, but because they create character". -Calvin Coolidge

"No person was ever honored for what he received. Honor has been the reward for what he gave". -Calvin Coolidge

"Duty is not collective; it is personal". -Calvin Coolidge

"If I had permitted my failures, or what seemed to me at the time a lack of success, to discourage me I cannot see any way in which I would ever have made progress". -Calvin Coolidge

This is a good time to introduce the quote I set out to find in the first place:

“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan “press on” has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race”. -Calvin Coolidge

"The nation which forgets its defenders will be itself forgotten". -Calvin Coolidge

LETS ACHIEVE ENERGY INDEPENDENCE.

"The right thing to do never requires any subterfuge, it is always simple and direct". -Calvin Coolidge

"There is no dignity quite so impressive, and no independence quite so important, as living within your means". -Calvin Coolidge

By spending away the future for today's consumption -- among other things. We are going through a major re-alignment process in our economy. We are about to embark upon the biggest overhaul in our society in a generation or two. And Achieving Energy Independence will be one of those. By achieving this, there will be less transfer of payments overseas to buy an asset (OIL) that is then burned. That's almost like buying a house and then burning it down -- don't make too much sense. ;-)

"They criticize me for harping on the obvious; if all the folks in the United States would do the few simple things they know they ought to do, most of our big problems would take care of themselves". -Calvin Coolidge

"You can't know too much, but you can say too much". -Calvin Coolidge

THAT IS ALL. CARRY ON!

OR SHALL I SAY:

PRESS ON!!!

.

Renewable Energy Property Tax Exemption

Incentive Type: Property Tax Exemption
Eligible Renewable/Other Technologies: Solar Water Heat, Photovoltaics, Wind, Geothermal Heat Pumps
Applicable Sectors: Commercial, Industrial, Residential
Amount: 100% exemption
Terms: Renewable energy device must be installed on or after 1/1/2009
Authority 1: 2007->Ch0196->Section%20175#0196.175" target=_blank>Fla. Stat. § 196.175
Authority 2: HB 7135
Date Enacted: 6/25/2008
Effective Date: 7/1/2008

Summary:

Note: On November 4, 2008, Florida voters passed Amendment 3, which removes the ten-year duration of the exemption, although this applies only to residential property. The amendment also strikes the previous section in the state constitution that established the original guidance upon which the June 2008 law described below is based, thereby creating a possible contradiction that will need to be addressed.

In June 2008, Florida enacted legislation that revived a renewable energy property tax exemption that had previously expired in 1990. Under Florida law, improved real property upon which a renewable energy source device* is installed and operated is entitled to an exemption in the amount of the original cost of the device, including the installation cost. The exemption does not include the cost of replacing, removing or improving existing property in the course of the installation.

Renewable energy devices must be installed on or after January 1, 2009, to qualify for the exemption, and the exemption will not be authorized for more than 10 years. If the renewable energy device was operative for less than a full calendar year preceding the taxpayer's exemption application, the exempt amount will be reduced proportionally.

* The legislation states that a "renewable energy source device means any of the following equipment which, when installed in connection with a dwelling unit or other structure, collects, transmits, stores, or uses solar energy, wind energy, or energy derived from geothermal deposits: solar energy collectors; storage tanks and other storage systems, excluding swimming pools used as storage tanks; rockbeds; thermostats and other control devices; heat exchange devices; pumps and fans; roof ponds; freestanding thermal containers; pipes, ducts, refrigerant handling systems, and other equipment used to interconnect such systems (however, conventional backup systems of any type are not included in this definition); windmills; wind-driven generators; power conditioning and storage devices that use wind energy to generate electricity or mechanical forms of energy; pipes and other equipment used to transmit hot geothermal water to a dwelling or structure from a geothermal deposit."

Contact:

Taxpayer ServicesFlorida Department of Revenue
1379 Blountstown Hwy.
Tallahassee, FL 32304-2716
Phone: (800) 352-3671 Phone 2: (850) 488-6800
Web site: http://www.myflorida.com/dor

Renewable Energy Equipment Sales Tax Exemption

Incentive Type: Sales Tax Exemption
Eligible Renewable/Other Technologies: Solar Water Heat, Solar Space Heat, Photovoltaics, Renewable Fuel Vehicles, Fuel Cells, Solar Pool Heating, Refueling Stations, Ethanol, Biodiesel
Applicable Sectors: Commercial, Residential, General Public/Consumer
Amount: All
Maximum Incentive: None
Website: http://www.dep.state.fl.us/energy/energyact/incentives.htm
Authority 1: Fla. Stat. § 212.08
Effective Date: 7/1/97 for solar; 7/1/2006 for others
Expiration Date: None for solar; 7/1/2010 for others

Summary:

Solar energy systems have been exempt from Florida's sales and use tax since July 1, 1997. The term "solar energy system" means the equipment and requisite hardware that provide and are used for collecting, transferring, converting, storing or using incidental solar energy for water heating, space heating and cooling, or other applications that would otherwise require the use of a conventional source of energy such as petroleum products, natural gas, manufactured gas or electricity. Vendors of solar energy systems or components are required to document exempt sales.

This exemption was originally set to expire July 1, 2002, but was extended an additional three years. In May 2005, the exemption was made permanent when HB 805 (2005) was signed into law.

In June 2006, Senate Bill 888 added "equipment, machinery and other materials for renewable energy technologies" to the list of items specifically exempt from the state sales and use tax. This includes hydrogen-powered vehicles; hydrogen-fueling stations (up to $2M total); commercial stationary hydrogen fuel cells (up to $1M total); and materials used in the distribution of biodiesel (B10-B100) and ethanol (E10-E100), including fueling infrastructure, transportation, and storage (up to $1M total).

The exemption is available to a purchaser as a refund of previously paid taxes. An application, along with the sales invoice or other proof of purchase must be filed with the Department of Environmental Protection. This exemption for fuel cells and other equipment, machinery and materials for renewable energy technologies is effective through July 1, 2010. The exemption for solar energy systems, however, remains a permanent exemption. See website above for a draft sales tax exemption application form.

Contact:

Taxpayer ServicesFlorida Department of Revenue
1379 Blountstown Hwy.
Tallahassee, FL 32304-2716
Phone: (800) 352-3671 Phone 2: (850) 488-6800
Web site: http://www.myflorida.com/dor

Miami-Dade County - Green Buildings Expedite Process

Incentive Type: Green Building Incentive
Eligible Efficiency Technologies: Comprehensive Measures/Whole Building
Eligible Renewable/Other Technologies: Passive Solar Space Heat, Solar Water Heat, Solar Space Heat, Photovoltaics, Wind, Biomass, Geothermal Heat Pumps, Daylighting, Small Hydroelectric
Applicable Sectors: Commercial, Industrial, Residential
Website: http://www.miamidade.gov/building/home.asp
Authority 1: Miami-Dade County Ordinance
Date Enacted: 06/2005

In an effort to promote environmentally sensitive design and construction, the Miami-Dade County Commissioners passed an ordinance in June 2005 to expedite the permitting process for “green” buildings certified by a recognized environmental rating agency.* Commercial, industrial, and residential projects are all eligible as long as they are located in unincorporated Miami-Dade County and the City of West Miami. See the Miami-Dade County Building Department website for additional information: http://www.miamidade.gov/building/home.asp

*Recognized environmental rating agencies include Florida Green Building Coalition, the National Home Builder Association and the U.S. Green Building Council.

Contact:

MDPICMiami-Dade Permitting and Inspection Center
11805 SW 26 Street (Coral Way)
Miami, FL 33175-2474
Phone: (786) 315-2000 E-Mail: bldgdept@miamidade.gov
Web site: http://www.miamidade.gov/building/contact.asp

Renewable Energy Access Laws

Many people are unaware of renewable energy access laws, so here it is:

Incentive Type: Solar and Wind Access Law
Eligible Renewable/Other Technologies: Passive Solar Space Heat, Solar Water Heat, Photovoltaics, Wind, Clotheslines
Applicable Sectors: Commercial, Industrial, Residential

Authority 1: 2006->Ch0704->Section%2007#0704.07" target=_blank>Fla. Stat. § 704.07
Date Enacted: 1978
Effective Date: 7/1/1978

Authority 2: 2006->Ch0163->Section%2004#0163.04" target=_blank>Fla. Stat. § 163.04
Date Enacted: 1980
Effective Date: 7/1/1980

Authority 3: HB 697
Date Enacted: 6/17/2008
Effective Date: 7/1/2008

Summary:

Florida law forbids ordinances, deed restrictions, covenants, declarations or similar binding agreements from prohibiting the use of solar collectors (including clotheslines) or "other energy devices based on renewable resources," although certain restrictions may be imposed on homeowners. Community associations are specifically prohibited from preventing the installation of solar collectors on residential rooftops. Interestingly, a condominium or a multi-condominium board of administration may, without approval of the unit owners, install solar collectors (including clotheslines) or other energy-efficient devices on association property for the benefit of the unit owners.

Florida law also allows easements for the purpose of maintaining exposure of a solar energy system to sunlight. Easements must be created in writing and are subject to being recorded and indexed in the same manner as any other instrument affecting the title to real property.

THE NEW ANSWER FOR NOT HAVING SOLAR OR WIND SYSTEMS INSTALLED IS: "NO EXCUSE SIR/MA'AM!"

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Change...

Change is an often misunderstood and even misused term. But it defined a political presidential campaign season that culminated in an historic change. Oftentimes, it is difficult to understand the context of change if you look at it from a general standpoint. Simply put, a general change would be a new president. But even so, it is not always clear what that change embodies. So, understanding that change occurs on many levels may be a good starting point to understanding this concept. Change, change, change... if there is one thing that is a constant in our lives: it is CHANGE.

Here are some aspects of change to consider:

Political Change
Social Change
Economic Change
Technological Change

This could quickly become an academic discussion on these different aspects of change. However, I will simply touch on the fact that they occur simultaneously but a change in one can precede change in another. An example of this would be the financial mess we are currently dealing with. Economic changes occured at a pace that far exceeded a regulatory environment's ability to comprehend how to maintain the system's integrity. This gives rise to the need for political change in order to keep such a messy downside from occurring again.

So, back to the main point at hand. Due to the confusion surrounding the word change, it is not easy for most to understand how things will change. But one thing is certain. If we are to realize any lasting changes we will all have to get out of our comfort zones. This will not be easy. And if there is any framework that we can rely upon to understand this; it is dieting and exercise. In this context, change can be tough; but it can be positive too.

In closing, I would like to leave you with a quote that captures the essence of the prospects of change in an Obama Administration:

"But he has engendered widespread enthusiasm in a jaded and cynical public, especially among young people. And if he does not disillusion them in the years ahead, that would be a real gift to the nation." By David Broder of The Washington Post

Lets rally in support of this new administration. For various reasons beyond the scope of this blog post, the last administration was abandoned. But we need to work together more in these next few years than we did the last few years. Our future depends on it and our kids and future generations demand it.

Remember: Nothing ever happened out of a lack of a vision for it.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

MAN IN THE ARENA

MAN IN THE ARENA

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat. -Theodore Roosevelt

John McCain, you Sir, have according to what John Paul Jones wrote: "The nicest sense of personal honor." You are my Hero and I love you. Press on.


---
I am an American, fighting in the forces which guard my country and our way of life. I am prepared to give my life in their defense.

I will NEVER forget that I am an American, fighting for freedom, responsible for my actions, and dedicated to the principles which made my country free. I will trust in my God and in the United States of America.

Excerpts from the US Military's Code of Conduct.
---

Sunday, November 2, 2008

GREED is...

If there is anything we have learned so far from the recent economic mess, it is that:

GREED IS UNSUSTAINABLE.

I remember back in 2002 having a writing assignment on ethics in response to the Enron and WorldComm debacle. It seemed that ethics was a major point of discussion in the public realm during this time. Yet, somehow we ended up going down that same road again a few years later.

Can we learn a lesson from the last two occurrences? Or do we need to continue down these paths and continue to call it heedless blunder?

If GREED IS UNSUSTAINABLE then why do we perpetuate it?

We need to answer these questions over the next few months because the alternative is too costly.

I will leave you with the conlcusion of my paper "Does Ethics Exist in American Corporation?":

Finally, there is a quote that says: "The bureaucracy is a circle from which no one can escape. The highest point entrusts the understanding of particulars to the lower echelons, whereas these, on the other hand, credit the highest with an understanding in regard to the universal; and thus they deceive one another." It is this deceit that allows us to continue to function and it is the culture that compels us to conform in order to perform.

But on an individual basis, some form of ethics does exist, however, as a whole there is something to be desired. There are individuals that are selectively small that show up the rest and make the whole collectively look bad. Thus, to answer the question of the existence of ethics in American Corporations, it does exist. However, when work begins and it is business as usual; it is often forgotten.

Post Update 11/14/2008:

Here is an interesting post on Greed from Blogger Robert Hacker of Sophisticated Finance. The Blog Post is called Humility. He also wrote a follow up post that can lead to further understanding. It is called The Richness of the Internet. Both are good reads.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Understanding Solar Technology -- Take One

Solar technology is a much touted yet profoundly misunderstood form of technology. Many consumers read articles that talk about saving by purchasing a solar system. But the math never seems to add up. Or does it?


Too often, we place a premium on making decisions "off the cuff." But this can render the decision ineffective because, there isn't any real discipline or analytical rigor in the decision being made. These days couldn't provide a better example of that. And with the current state of economic affairs, no time is more important than now to really sit down and truly analyze things. At any rate, the bottom line conclusion drawn from all the reports recently is that we will have to Work Hard & Save in order to get out of this mess. Tom Friedman wrote a piece that touches on this here. And New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg recently stated in a TV News Interview that it is in these tough economic times that we have to invest for the future.


Oftentimes, a short-term financial analysis renders a solar system as a bad investment -- it just doesn't make sense from that perspective. But a long-term analysis changes things. Simply put, a solar system purchased at full installed cost & financed, costs more per month than the electricity it produces. So, when an article touts it as a way to save, they need to change it to long-term savings.


So, here is an example:

If I spend $100/month on electricity then I would have to pay $45,000, on average, to purchase a solar system to produce that approximate equivalent. If you finance this purchase, with a 30-year fixed rate mortgage at 5.5% you would have to pay about $250/month. So you would, in effect, transfer from making payments to the utility to making payments to the bank. The net effect of such a transaction is a minus $150 for the purchaser. Also, the value of this mortgage would be $92,000 double the initial expenditure. So, how then is this a savings? And why should someone purchase a solar system?


Firstly, by paying the bank, you are becoming the owner of your own production system. This is much the same way as paying off the mortgage of your home. You eventually own it. So, the utility is to solar what renting is to homeownership. "Throwing away money?" ;-)


Secondly, utility rates will rise over time and a solar system that can last over 30 years will continue to produce power at a value that increases with utility price inflation. So over this period, the value of production far outpaces the initial cost of the system. Using a 10% utility inflation rate and using the same amount of electricity as the present day $100 amount for 30 years, the homeowner would spend $215,000 but a solar system could produce almost $185,000 in electricity. The difference $215,000 - $185,000 = $30,000 favors taking the action for the benefit of the savings over inaction that supports the status quo.


Thirdly, there are incentives that help to buydown the purchase price of a solar system. The State of Florida has a Solar Rebate Program that provides up to $20,000. There is also a Property Tax Exemption that can be applied to your property for the full value of the installation for up to 10 years. And the Federal Government allows you to apply a 30% tax credit (capped at $2000 until the end of 2008 and uncapped for 2009) for the purchase of these systems. Overall, the value of these incentives range from approximately: $13,670 to $34,175 for 2 to 5 kW DC Solar Electric Systems.


Fourthly, over the long-term, it is sensible to purchase this solar system that pays for itself 17 times over during its lifetime -- in strict financial terms. So, to bring this discussion full circle, the 5 kW DC Solar Electric System that costs approximately $45,000 would have a net cost after incentives of $10,825 ($45,000 - $34,175). It could produce approximately $100/month that with a 10% utility inflation over time will produce approximately $185,000 worth of electricity. This could fully cover your current electric usage. And combined with net meetering, this would make it a fool proof invesment.


Finally, even if you pay the full price without incentives, the longterm benefits is more than double the initial cost. And by the way, did I mention that you can even purchase a larger system to overproduce and get paid by the utility company? It's not a get rich scheme but it is another source of incentives not calculated here.

Another opportunity not discussed here is Energy Efficient Opportunities. Generally speaking, a home lacks Energy Efficient Opportunities if it's annual electric bill is approximately $0.45/sqft. For example, a 2,500 sqft home would have an annual electric bill of $0.45/sqft X 2,500 sqft = $1,125/12 Months = $93.75/Month. More food for thought: An Energy Star Certified Home could have $0.75/sqft which is considered to be 15% more energy efficient than a minimally code-compliant home.


You can use this example to understand your situation. Or you can call us to help you customize your solution.

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Sunday, October 19, 2008

I AM AN AMERICAN...




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I am an American, fighting in the forces which guard my country and our way of life. I am prepared to give my life in their defense.


I will NEVER forget that I am an American, fighting for freedom, responsible for my actions, and dedicated to the principles which made my country free. I will trust in my God and in the United States of America.

Excerpts from the US Military's Code of Conduct.
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Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Greening Residential America Program Seeks Housing Stock in South Florida

“Facilitating Green America, One Community at a Time”

For Immediate Release:
September 28, 2008


Greening Residential America Program Seeks Housing Stockfor South Florida Market

Program takes homes, renovates them to be energy efficient, and works with municipalities for workforce housing

September 28, 2008, Longwood, FL - The Community Greenhouse Foundation has been working for months on a program which is targeted to assist in the rehabilitation and sale of the "glut" of houses being dumped into the market resulting from foreclosures. The “Greening of America’s House Stock” program is a pro-active economic stimulus program that has been developed due to the current economic position of America. Never in our countries history has energy, housing and the environment been seen as critical issues at the same time. This program was developed as a pro-active vehicle to move toward a more sustainable economy and renewable growth cycle. The program is delivered through strong regional public and private partnerships with several overall goals.

For Financial Institutions
The program provides Financial Institutions a vehicle to dispose of their foreclosures and replace them with a new mortgage on a property that will cost the homeowner less on a monthly basis to maintain due to the energy savings.

For Energy Saving Product Manufacturers
The program then provides manufacturers of renewable and energy saving products increased opportunities to get more of their products into the market place. This facilitates new job creation and growth opportunities and potentially reduces the cost to produce these energy saving products due to growth in the market place.

As Workforce Housing
The program provides a house that is energy efficient for workforce housing candidates that is attainable and increases the chances for long term savings.

“We have put all the pieces together for the program and now are reaching out to Financial Institutions, investors and Cities with housing stock on their inventory list to take a hard look at the opportunity to submit their houses through the program. It is a Win/Win situation for all parties and the biggest winner is the individual home buyer being able to realize the dream of home ownership without their energy bill taking most of their monthly paycheck” said Richard Evans, CEO Community Greenhouse Foundation.

“Staff and our South Florida Strategic Partners have worked hard to make this program a “one stop resource” to serve all the participants in the program and based on the large pool of first time homebuyers on the waiting list for these green energy efficient homes we now need product.”

“We are trying to concentrate on South Florida currently--and have Cities in Indiana and Pennsylvania pushing for us to come up and start building local Strategic Partnerships to service their communities”, added Mr. Evans.

Financial Institutions, Investors and Cities can access more information about the program by visiting http://www.communitygreenhouse.org/residential.html and click on “How to Participate”.

###

For more information, contact:

Richard Evans
Community Greenhouse Foundation
revans@communitygreenhouse.org



South Florida Strategic Partner Contacts:

Gabe Solomon
South Florida Strategic Partner
Ecogreen Development
gabe@ecogreendevelopment.com


Ryan Kuhlman
South Florida Strategic Partner
The Urban Lifedesign Group
ryan@urbanldg.com

Monday, September 22, 2008

General Election Dates

General Election - November 4, 2008
Deadline to Register: October 6
Early Voting Period: October 20 - November 2
Deadline to Request an Absentee Ballot: October 29 at 5 p.m.

For more information on voting by Absentee Ballot, please go to our Absentee Voting page.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Sacrifice of a Lifetime

AP IMPACT: Long haul begins in Iraq for Minn. GIs

ST. PAUL, Minn. - In the end, Chad Malmberg put his framed Silver Star on the wall and stowed away his helmet, some old uniforms and the dusty combat boots he had worn in the Iraqi desert.

He was a hero, now, and proud of it. Malmberg had quickly entered his last semester of college, blending easily into the anonymity of campus life. Within months, he had his degree.

It took months, too, to break some habits. Such as hugging the center line when he drove and swerving whenever he saw anything on the road, fearing hidden bombs. And ticking off a check list — gun, ammo, food — every time he went outside.

He was home, he was safe, he was whole.

So many others could not say as much: John Kriesel, Josh Hanson, J.R. Salzman, Corey Rystad, Bryan McDonough ... some came back with broken bodies, some came back to eulogies and grieving loved ones and final resting places.

But none of them — none of the 5,000 men and women of the 1st Brigade Combat Team/34th Infantry Division of the Minnesota National Guard — came back unchanged by their 22-month deployment, and their sojourn into the cauldron of Iraq.

Their time at war won a commendation in Congress as "the longest continuous deployment of any United States ground combat military unit during Operation Iraqi Freedom."

And for every man and woman who served, there was someone at home, hoping and waiting for their return.

There was the young wife who scoured the Internet each morning, searching for news stories about the area where her husband was based — trying to gauge the dangers. The little boys who eagerly checked e-mail every night for messages from their soldier-father.

There was the father who wondered how to break it to his soldier-wife that their baby girl had uttered her first words — and she had missed it. The mother who walked to work praying for her soldier-son's safety — telling herself if she arrived without a phone call he was OK.

This was a war where families were sometimes just a mouse-click away from their soldiers, where a mother who had just given birth dispatched cell phone photos of the baby to her soldier-husband, where home front celebrations — graduations, birthdays, even weddings — were shared across the continents, via Web cams and video hookups.

But there also were moments in Iraq, some terrifying, some heartbreaking, that could not be shared with others far away.

The day a doctor pleaded on behalf of a wounded Iraqi boy, knowing his words could mean the difference between life and death for the child. The afternoon a husband grieved his loss by softly muttering his wife's name on a bomb-scarred road. The day troops gathered to remember a buddy at a memorial service that closed with a somber roll call, the soldier's name repeated three times to no reply.

There were many such experiences in nearly 500 days in Iraq.

Over that long haul, the soldiers drove 2.4 million convoy miles, conducted 5,200 patrols, discovered 462 improvised explosive devices, captured more than 400 suspected insurgents.

This is the story of a very long deployment of a very long war — of how members of the 1st Brigade Combat Team/34th Infantry Division lived and died in Iraq, how their families endured while they were gone, and how what happened in a far distant land still resonates today.

___

Malmberg's mother, Teri Walen, didn't want him to go to Iraq. She didn't support the war, didn't think her only son should be there. She tried to talk him out of it.

"Do you think war is a good thing?" she asked when he called one night.

"No," he replied. "What do you think, I'm crazy?"

But Malmberg was stubborn and determined, and convinced his mother he had good reasons for going. Wiry and intense, a mixed martial arts buff and former Army welterweight boxer, Malmberg had eight years of military training — including a stint as a paratrooper at Fort Bragg, N.C. — but he had never served his country in combat. Now he had the chance.

On July 15, 2006, the official word came down: The 1st Brigade Combat Team — nicknamed the Red Bulls — would be deployed. Some 2,600 folks from Minnesota, bolstered by two Guard units from Iowa and Nebraska and troops from 33 other states, would put their lives on hold to take up arms.

These were not, for the most part, full-time soldiers. They were members of the National Guard, farmers and factory workers, salespeople and mechanics, doctors and students. Among them were fathers and sons, brothers and sisters, husbands and wives, pool-playing buddies, former high school football rivals, classmates and neighbors.

Malmberg was just a semester shy of finishing college, but his degree would have to wait. He bought a $400,000 life insurance policy and named his sister, Jessica, as the beneficiary.

But Teri's biggest worry really wasn't that her son would die in Iraq.

Her fear was that he'd be disabled and need care the rest of his life — that he would be unable to pursue a childhood dream and become a police officer, like his father and uncle.

Death or disfigurement were not the things Chad feared; he was afraid only that he might fail the soldiers who depended upon him to lead an infantry squad.

And so he packed his gear and headed south, to Camp Shelby, Miss., where the 1st Brigade Combat Team holed up for six months in barracks that had been flooded by Hurricane Katrina.

There, amid downed trees and buildings that had lost their roofs, they trained, practiced their marksmanship, studied Iraqi culture and learned to work as a team.

As they edged closer to Iraq, some made big changes in their lives.

John Kriesel and his longtime partner, Katie, dashed down to City Hall in St. Paul, Minn., with their two sons, Elijah, 4, and Broden, 3, to wed.

Kriesel — the kind of guy who dressed up in his brother's Army fatigues when he was just 10, the kind of guy who persisted in his relationship with Katie only when she confirmed she had voted for George W. Bush — was all pumped up to go to Iraq.

He asked Katie for permission. It's not a fair question, she said — if she said no, he'd resent her, and if he said yes, she'd blame herself if anything happened to him.

"Will you regret it when you're 30 if you don't go?" she asked.

"Yes," he said.

On a family vacation in Florida, Kriesel talked with his sons about the war. He was going to fight the bad guys, he said, in a faraway place called Iraq so everyone there can be free.

Are you going to die? his boys asked. No, he assured them.

Are you going to come back OK? they asked. Yes, he said, I'll be fine.

Kriesel talked of death only once, with Katie.

Promise me one thing, he said: If I die, don't go on TV and criticize the war, as the mother of one fallen soldier did, famously — "Don't go Cindy Sheehan on me." And don't let my boots be used in one of those anti-war demonstrations.

The granddaughter of two World War II veterans, the sister of a soldier, Katie understands the military. You can depend on me, she told her husband.

J.R. Salzman and his fiancee, Josie, also decided to marry before he shipped off to Iraq; if something happened to him, Salzman wanted Josie to receive spousal benefits.

Salzman drew a four-day pass from Camp Shelby, and they eloped to New Orleans. The city was still recovering from Katrina; the courthouse wasn't open, the phones weren't working right, but Josie was undeterred. They married in a brief ceremony at a judge's elegant home.

In Iraq, Salzman would be just another soldier. At home, he was a celebrity of sorts — the five-time world logrolling champion, a title that earned him appearances on ESPN, stunt work in a Steve Martin movie and fan mail from all over.

That was how he met Josie. One day she tuned in to ESPN's "Great Outdoor Games" and there he was, brown-haired, muscular, confident, agile, rolling along. She dropped him an admiring e-mail. A date at a Steak 'n Shake followed, along with the discovery they had common interests (including fishing) and small-town roots (he was from Wisconsin, she was from Michigan). Love blossomed.

When they said goodbye, Josie was just 19, and had been a married woman less than a month.

___

Dathan Gazelka was at Camp Shelby, along with his younger brother, Daniel. They left behind a proud father, and a nervous mom.

Dathan would be a team leader in Iraq. As a former Guard recruiter, practically every guy under his command would be someone he signed up. He'd played pool and shared beers with them, he knew their families, too. He felt a special sense of responsibility; they were going because of him. There was no way he'd stay behind.

He wasn't crazy about leaving his wife, Mandy, and his family. Anyone who wasn't scared about heading into a war, he thought, was either lying or crazy.

Dathan left behind for his wife two things: a flashlight and a shotgun, just in case she needed them for protection in the remote, wooded area where they live outside Bemidji, Minn.

Mandy may look delicate with her porcelain features; she's anything but. She's handy with a gun and has hunted deer, grouse and small game since she was 12. She also knows her way around the tool box: She can fix a hot water heater, replace a flat tire and do any task around the house.

She put on a brave face when she said goodbye to her husband in Mississippi. No tears, she told herself. It wasn't until days later, when she was home alone, that she cried.

So many goodbyes, none of them easy.

___

Janelle Johnson signed up for the Guard as a teenager, but now she was a full-time Guard member and the mother of two little girls. Emily was not even a year old, and Elizabeth was 4. It was her duty to go, but she wondered: Would her girls forget her? And how would her husband, Chad, manage?

She prepared him as best she could. She created a spreadsheet of all their bills. He would have to write the checks now, take the girls to day care and the doctor, make them dinner, and tuck them in every night.

Her mind raced with questions: Would Chad know when to start using solid baby food for Emily? Would he remember all the appointments with the pediatrician? He hadn't read all the baby books. She had. He didn't have a mother's instincts. How could he?

Janelle knew he would need support. She spread the word to her sister, her mother, the day care teacher: "Take care of my babies."

She left her girls reminders, too. She videotaped herself holding her daughters in her lap and reading them stories, so Chad could play them when she was gone. She recorded herself playing with baby Emily, so she could see her mom's face.

Chad works for an environmental drilling firm and he had already told his bosses he couldn't travel anymore. He needed to be home every night.

Before she left for Iraq, the Johnsons took a vacation together in Florida. Emily was a year old, but her mother had missed nearly half her life while training in Mississippi.

She tried to get her baby to take her first steps, but Emily wasn't ready.

And when Emily injured herself in a fall and Janelle tried to scoop her up and comfort her, the little girl screamed and looked at her as if her mother was a stranger.

That night, in bed, Janelle cried: Emily doesn't remember me. Chad tried to reassure her.

A few days later, Janelle kissed her daughters goodbye. You won't see me for a long time, she told Elizabeth, and with that she returned to Mississippi, her stomach aching with emptiness.

___

Col. David Elicerio, commander of the 1st Brigade Combat Team, had visited Iraq in September 2005 to check out what lay in store for his troops.

A warrior with an authoritative voice and a ramrod posture befitting his 25 years in the military, Elicerio had been deployed with the unit before, in Bosnia.

But he knew this deployment would be different.

The heat, for one thing; a blistering 120-degree day was not unusual. And by comparison, Bosnia was friendly terrain. He did not expect an open-arms embrace in Iraq.

For two weeks, Elicerio rode on convoys. He consulted with the Texas National Guard commander he would replace.

And then, a soldier was killed.

Elicerio accompanied the brigade commander to the memorial, watching and listening to how he soothed his grieving soldiers. It was a helpful lesson.

In the months ahead, Elicerio would have to do the same thing, writing letters of condolence, offering words of comfort and rallying his troops to go on.

___

TO BE CONTINUED ...

___

NOTE: The story of 1st Brigade Combat Team/34th Infantry Division of the Minnesota National Guard and its tour in Iraq was reconstructed from scores of interviews with more than 20 soldiers and members of their families. Most quotations are as remembered by the speakers. In addition, the series draws upon numerous official documents, including after-action reports; videos of news conferences; correspondence provided by the families (including e-mails and letters); television coverage of the unit's return; personal journals and blog postings.

By SHARON COHEN, AP National Writer

Sign of the Times?

GM Posts Massive Loss

Associated Press
GM's $15.5 billion second-quarter loss -- the third-biggest in its history -- marks the latest chapter in the long, rough slide of the auto maker, a company that once dominated the world automotive industry. Auto makers posted double-digit declines in U.S. auto sales in July, kicking off the second half of a dismal year. Read More Here.

Hang in there GM. This is only for a time. Look to the longterm. Exercise discipline. Think Energy Independence. Think American Independence. And I Believe you will Achieve!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Lets Meet This Challenge...!!!

Gore's answer to energy crisis



"It is only a truly dysfunctional system that would buy into the perverse logic that the short-term answer to high gasoline prices is drilling for more oil 10 years from now," Gore said.

SEE ENTIRE VIDEO HERE

Oil markets: Bottoming out or taking a breather?

NEW YORK - Oil prices tumbled below $130 a barrel for the first time in more than a month Thursday, as crude's dramatic slide entered a third day accompanied by a sharp sell-off in natural gas.

The declines accelerated amid growing concerns that the weakening economy and creeping inflation are eroding demand for fossil fuels in the U.S. and other large energy-consuming nations.

Oil is now more than 10 percent cheaper per barrel than it was on Monday; natural gas prices are down more than 20 percent just since the Fourth of July. Still, experts are not convinced that prices have turned a corner.

"There's no bell that tells you when the market has turned," said James Cordier, president of Tampa, Fla.-based trading firms Liberty Trading Group and OptionSellers.com.

Light, sweet crude for August delivery dropped $5.31 to settle at $129.29 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Prices have fallen nearly $16 in just the past three days.

Natural gas futures for August delivery fell more than 8 percent Thursday, marking their biggest one-day drop in nearly a year, according to Nathan Golz, researcher at Wachovia Securities in St. Louis. Prices for the key heating, cooking and power generation fuel settled 86.1 cents lower at $10.537, their lowest point since April.

A number of market observers say there simply wasn't enough support for the recent run up in natural gas prices, and that this week's sell-off of oil has only helped speed the declines.

"Any time oil goes up or down on Nymex, it's going to have a carry-over effect on natural gas," said Michael Rieke, senior managing editor for power and gas at energy research firm Platts.

The immediate cause of Thursday's sharp natural gas decline was a larger-than-expected increase of U.S. supplies.

The Energy Department's Energy Information Administration said in its weekly report that natural gas inventories rose by 104 billion cubic feet to more than 2.31 trillion last week. Analysts had been expecting supplies to grow by only 86 billion to 91 billion cubic feet, according to a Platts survey.

A similar report Wednesday showed oil, gasoline and other fuel supplies unexpectedly rose sharply. Traders saw both the petroleum and natural gas reports as reasons to sell, as they reinforce data that show consumers are cutting back on their energy use.

"We're seeing some worries about demand destruction in oil, so I think that's creating some fear among investors and leading them to sell," said Tom Pawlicki, commodities analyst with MF Global Research in Chicago.

Some market observers have said last Friday's record above $147 a barrel could represent a peak price for oil, at least for the time being. But like a number of others, Pawlicki was reluctant to say whether the market's latest swoon represented a lasting shift.

"I think it's too early to call a top to this market," Pawlicki said.

Crude's drop weighed heavily on other commodities Thursday, with gold, silver, soybeans, corn and other agriculture futures all ending sharply lower.

Stocks rallied for the second day. That fueled speculation among some analysts that large investors are pulling money out of oil and other commodities — which had been seen as safe havens given the financial turmoil of the past year — and pumping it back into the beaten-down stock market.

Reports of a pre-dawn explosion that damaged an oil pipeline in Nigeria's restive south — the sort of threat to supply that has helped fuel crude's recent rally — did little to prop up prices Thursday.

A Nigerian military official said the blast on a pipeline owned by Agip, a subsidiary of the Italian energy giant Eni SpA, "affected output," although he did not say by how much.

Col. Chris Musa, head of the Bayelsa State military, also did not say how severe the damage was, and declined to comment on what might have caused the explosion. The company said a sudden drop in pressure led it to halt production on pipelines carrying 47,000 barrels of oil a day.

Attacks on oil industry infrastructure in the past two years have slashed oil output by almost a quarter in Nigeria, Africa's top crude producer.

At the gas pump, prices held steady at a record $4.114 a gallon, according to auto club AAA, the Oil Price Information Service and Wright Express. Diesel rose to a new record of $4.845, up more than half a penny.

In other Nymex trade, heating oil fell 9.72 cents to settle at $3.7438 a gallon, while gasoline futures fell 11.61 cents to settle at $3.1633.

Brent crude for September delivery fell $5.12 to settle at $131.07 on the ICE Futures Exchange in London.

___

Associated Press Writers William Nsoyoh in Yenagoa, Nigeria, and Stevenson Jacobs in New York contributed to this report.

By ADAM SCHRECK, AP Business Writer
22 minutes ago

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Hardest-To-Get Cars

Looking for a new car? Maybe you have your heart set on something fuel-efficient because of $4 gas? Or perhaps you had a good year and feel you're ready to move up to something with a touch of style, luxury or class?

Get in line. Despite tough times for the auto industry in general, there are some car models--across a broad range of classes and sizes--that are so popular that auto manufacturers are selling them faster than they can build them.

The range of hard-to-get vehicles is as diverse as consumer tastes and budgets in general. Case in point: As expected, the most-wanted vehicle on our list is the fuel-sipping $21,500 Toyota Prius hybrid sedan that gets an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) combined estimate of 46 mpg. No. 2 on the list? The not-so-expected gas-guzzling $74,700 Lexus LX Series full-size luxury SUV that gets a combined 14 mpg.

Behind The Numbers

To compile our list of the most-wanted vehicles, we used information provided by Ward's Automotive Group, a publisher of industry trade news and data, as well as automaker-supplied days' supply data as a measure of dealer inventory levels.

A low days' supply and low retail turn rate--the amount of time a car spends on a dealer's lot--means some dealerships may have sold out of a vehicle, have only a few on the lot or may not have the style or trim you desire.

Vehicles with the lowest days' supply made the initial list (Ward's says the industry average is 60 days), which was pared down using J.D. Power and Associates' retail turn rate to determine how quickly a model sold in the month of May. The average retail turn rate for all vehicles is 61 days; we only considered vehicles with a rate of 40 days or less, well below the industry average.

So how did the LX 570, in an age of $4-a-gallon gas, make it to the second spot on the most-wanted list?

Even though the premium SUV seems like an anomaly in a time when consumers are snapping up small cars, auto analysts are quick to note that there's still a demand for luxury vehicles and that the SUV market, while struggling, isn't dead. Furthermore, popular vehicles that undergo a redesign, like the Scion xD and the LX 570, often experience an initial surge in sales, says Tom Libby, senior director at J.D. Power and Associates.

"In fact, Lexus is still working through a pre-sold list of loyal Lexus owners who wanted to get the premium SUV as soon as it hit the market," says Curt McAllister, a Toyota spokesman. "Its new styling and creature comforts appeal to loyal Lexus and premium SUV shoppers."

The LX 570 had an average eight-day supply of vehicles at the end of May and the average turn rate for each model was eight days. It has a more powerful 5.7-liter V8 engine producing 383 horsepower, and leather seats with power extendable front seat cushions for added comfort. It also features new technology, such as wide-view front and side monitors located in the grille and under the passenger side-view mirror to aid drivers with hard-to-view areas.

Waiting List For Luxury

If a high-end SUV isn't your style, but you do hope to make that first step into the luxury segment with, say, the all-new Audi A5, you're going to have to wait a little while before you drive off the lot. The luxury midsize coupe and the high-performance S5 model are selling faster than Audi can make them.

The A5 launched in March of this year (the S5 came out in November 2007) with a base manufacturer's suggested retail price of $41,200, but according to Ward's, at the end of May there was an average eight-day supply of A5s on dealers' lots. Comparatively, the retail turn rate, at 39 days, is higher than that of other cars on the list. But since this is a nationwide average and the days' supply is low, a dealership in one part of the country may have exactly the A5 the customer wants, while a dealer elsewhere has a waiting list.

It's a similar situation for the Mercedes-Benz C-Class, the more modestly priced Benz ($33,675), with an average 29 days' supply of cars. While the supply is higher than that of other cars on the list, this model sells very quickly, with a turn rate of only 26 days, meaning that, on average, the C-Class is sold faster than it's produced.

Finding A Fuel-Efficient Car

Toyota is preparing to launch an updated and improved Prius later this year and therefore won't increase production of the 2008 model. Typically, sales trail off as consumers wait for the new model to launch, but that hasn't happened as gas prices continued to soar beyond $4 a gallon and threaten to reach $5 a gallon this summer.

Demand for the Prius has increased, but the "limited supply of Prius in the pipeline is due to a product plan based on our overall production limitations at the Prius factory" in Japan, says Sona Iliffe-Moon, a Toyota spokeswoman. "We are currently running at full capacity and have been for two years. All along we said we would have a supply ceiling."

But times were different then.

"We saw a major shift in May to small and compact conventional cars," says Libby. "Automakers started May with lean inventory. But the percent of compact cars sold in May was 20.3%, up over 15.8% in May last year. They will have to increase production of small cars."

Diane Elnick, industry analyst at Ward's Automotive Group, says that "if demand continues at the high pace it did in May for these vehicles, automakers will have a hard time providing them."

A model that may be facing this problem is the Honda Civic and its hybrid version, which are among the most-wanted vehicles. The gas-powered Civic gets a respectable EPA combined estimated 29 mpg; the hybrid version, 42 mpg. Tim Bothell, new car director at Showcase Honda in Phoenix, Ariz., says 75% of his Civic sales are hybrids. And with Toyota capping production on the Prius, demand for the Civic could increase even more.

"We are not quite at a waiting-list point yet, but we are approaching that level," says Bothell. Ward's says there was a nationwide average 21-day supply of all Civics at the end of May; according to J.D. Power, Civics turn quickly, at an average of only 25 days.

Whether you have a taste for a luxury model or a simple fuel-efficient one, the good news is that you have plenty of options. The bad news: You might have to be willing to wait for the one you really want.

By Jacqueline Mitchell, Forbes.com

Sunday, June 29, 2008

When pickup sales dived, automakers changed plans

DEARBORN, Mich. - Every morning, just after getting coffee, Mark Fields fires up his laptop to pore over a computer model showing real-time U.S. auto sales figures.

On this morning in the middle of May, the man who heads Ford Motor Co.'s Americas operations has seen enough.

The line on a chart showing subcompact car sales for the first two weeks of the month goes almost straight up. The one for pickup trucks, Ford's biggest profit center, runs almost straight down.

High gasoline prices and the economic downturn are changing the market far faster than anyone anticipated. Without action, Ford would be making too many trucks and not enough cars, a recipe for a balance sheet peppered with parentheses.

"This is going on 10 weeks where we're seeing this not get any better," Fields recalled in a recent interview. "So we'd better act, and we'd better act now."

Eleven miles away at General Motors Corp., they were reaching the same conclusions. Consumers were delaying big-ticket purchases. Those who bought weren't going for GM or Ford trucks and sport utility vehicles, instead snapping up just about anything that gets more than 30 miles per gallon.

At both companies, executives were alarmed. Eventually they made almost desperate decisions that will cost thousands of jobs, change the vehicles people drive and determine whether their businesses survive.

"We need to get in front of it," Mike DiGiovanni, GM's executive director of global market and industry analysis, recalls saying. "If you wait too long on it, the pain would get a lot worse."

While both companies say they took quick action, critics wonder why they didn't make more fuel-efficient vehicles sooner. After all, there were many signs that gas prices would do nothing but rise.

"Obviously they were making just too much money off their SUVs and pickups," said Roland Hwang, vehicle policy director for the Natural Resources Defense Council. "They couldn't really fully conceive of a world where they would have to rapidly extricate themselves from those markets and those profits."

At GM and Ford, the pain came quickly. Ford was first, announcing on May 22 that it would dramatically cut truck and SUV production and slash its salaried work force. Factory closures are possible when the company announces specifics next month. A week later, Ford announced accelerated plans for a super-compact car to be built in Mexico and sold in the U.S.

Ford also abandoned its long-stated goal of turning a profit in 2009 and now says it will be difficult to break even next year.

GM followed with larger, more specific cuts, announcing at its annual shareholders meeting June 3 that it would close four truck and SUV factories, cutting more than 8,000 jobs. The company, which is clinging to its title as world's biggest automaker, also announced it would build a new small car in the U.S., powered by a 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine capable of getting up to 45 miles per gallon of gas.

But neither company's new compacts will reach showrooms for two years, and when they do, their profit margins will be far smaller than those from trucks and SUVs. Both automakers know they'll have to make it in the meantime with models already on the market or ones that are planned for the next year.

Industry analysts now are starting to question whether both companies, as well as Chrysler LLC, will have to borrow billions more to cover losses until sales recover.

As late as February, things were going pretty much according to both companies' plans. Sales weren't great, but their main barometer of the market, full-size pickup trucks, was holding up at 13 percent of U.S. sales, according to Ward's AutoInfoBank. Each automaker had rolled out new cars in expectation of a gradual shift from trucks to cars, and the cars were selling well.

But Digiovanni said oil prices in February began to rise, still not to an alarming level because they were consistent with previous seasonal spikes. Gasoline was still at a nationwide average of $3.03 per gallon.

In March, though, pickups' share of the market dove to just 11.6 percent and gas rose to $3.24.

"That's when I said 'Red Alert,'" Digiovanni remembered. "We're worried."

The share dropped to 10.8 percent in April, and when Ford's computer model predicted only a 9 percent slice of the market for trucks in the first half of May, CEO Alan Mulally decided to turn the giant ship faster than it had ever turned.

Ford would cut truck production and move as fast as it could to retool factories to make cars and crossovers. It would speed up plans to move small cars and trucks to the U.S. from other areas of the world and slash the normal three- or four-year time frame from design to build.

By May, gas prices had soared to $3.77, and both companies also were experiencing huge price increases in steel and other commodities.

When a market segment such as pickups moves up or down even one-half percent in a year, automakers consider it significant. Four points in 2 1/2 months "puts it into perspective," Fields said.

"We are reacting quickly," he said. "We are reacting more quickly than we ever had in the past."

Even critics say it would have been nearly impossible for the automakers to predict the 74-cent-per-gallon spike in regular gas prices between February and May.

Although Ford's computer model, developed by a physicist and programmer in its research center, can pinpoint real-time retail sales numbers for the whole U.S. market, no company has a model to predict the future with any degree of certainty.

Still, George Pipas, Ford's top sales analyst, said the company saw change coming several years ago and was moving to tilt its model lineup smaller.

"The direction we were headed was based on the point of view that small cars were going to increase their share of the market and trucks and SUVs were going to be less," Pipas said. "It was the speed with which we got there. So we've got to fast-forward the elements of our plan."

Whether Ford, GM and Chrysler LLC can go forward fast enough remains to be seen. But even Hwang of the Natural Resources Defense Council says he thinks the companies will have a brighter future because they are more focused on fuel economy.

"There's no reason why Detroit can't emerge leaner, stronger, more fuel efficient and more sustainable from a business and environmental perspective," he said. "Fuel efficiency is not just because you want to help save the world. It's because you need to save your company."

(This version CORRECTS in 21st graf that Ford moved to retool factories to make cars and crossovers, not retool factories that already make them.)

By TOM KRISHER, AP Auto Writer
Sun Jun 29, 5:29 PM ET

3 surprising fat burning tricks

Exercise makes you happy, healthy, sexy, and, unfortunately—really, really hungry. Back when I had the time to log many workouts every week, I fought constantly not to eat back all the calories I burned. Sometimes I was successful, other times—like the day I came back from a lunchtime power yoga class to find a monster brownie on my desk—not so much. You want to fuel your body when you work out of course, but not with mammoth brownies or seconds of pasta, or giant protein shakes you could swim in. A better idea: Understand the source of your raging appetite. Exercise is believed to trigger the release of a hunger-boosting hormone called ghrelin (it sounds like gremlin for a reason). It’s meant to protect the body from losing too much weight too quickly, but considering most gyms practically have a food court these days, that’s not a danger most of us face. Here’s how I keep the ghrelins at bay:

Snack First, Sweat Later

Twenty minutes later, to be exact. Exercising on an empty stomach lowers blood sugar, which can increase your appetite so you inhale your food later. You can always go for that pre-workout stalwart, a banana, but I’m not a huge fan, so I reach for about 4 ounces of yogurt or another carb-rich snack instead.

Take Preemptive Notes

Writing down everything you consume is a proven way to lose weight, but try this trick: Do it before you eat. Seeing what you’re about to put in your mouth—on paper—gives you instant perspective. Case in point: “Turkey sandwich plus two bags of chips plus a soda plus five of those cookies my co-worker brought it.” Would you eat all that? I think not.

Drink Lots of Water—On the Rocks

Studies show people who drink water regularly eat 200 fewer calories a day. (Here are some other sneaky tips to get rid of extra calories.) If you make it ice-cold, you may even burn extra calories without trying—researchers in Germany found that drinking six glasses of ice water a day can raise you metabolism by 50 calories. I’ll drink (a whole lotta frigid H20) to that!

What’s your favorite workout snack? How do you keep postworkout hunger under control? Please tell me your tricks!

Start Eating Better Today:

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by Liz Vaccariello, Editor-in-Chief, PREVENTION, on Thu Jun 12, 2008 6:53am PDT

Monday, June 23, 2008

Some signs of relief on gasoline prices

New York - Some of the long-term factors that have pushed oil prices to record levels are starting to change.

In large part because gasoline prices are over $4 a gallon, demand for fuel in the US is falling for the first time in 17 years. China is raising prices for gasoline and diesel – a move that might ultimately lower demand. And, on Sunday, there were signs supply might increase as Saudi Arabia's oil minister indicated that the country would increase production through the end of the year if needed. Iraq is also set to sign contracts with foreign companies to hike production.

"It's all a step in the right direction," says Phil Flynn, an oil analyst and trader at Alaron Trading in Chicago. "These are certainly signs to the market that prices can't just continue to go up."

However, some of the shorter-term factors are becoming worse.

On Friday, the energy markets were digesting news of an attack on a Royal Dutch Shell oil platform in Nigeria that shut down over 200,000 barrels of oil per day in production. Then energy traders fretted over news of an Israeli military exercise involving 100 planes, with some speculating that the aim of the exercise was to send a message about Iran's nuclear ambitions.

And, it's not clear how badly the US corn crop, used to make ethanol, a gasoline additive, has been hurt by the flooding in the Midwest.

"These factors are keeping the price up for now," says Mike Fitzpatrick, vice president of energy risk management at MF Global, a commodities brokerage.

By the end of day Friday, the price of oil had closed at $134.62, down 24 cents for the week. Nationally, the price of gasoline is $4.07 a gallon, according to American Automobile Association, down 1 cent a gallon from the record high.

Short term tensions
The attack on the Royal Dutch Shell platform occurred last Thursday, about 75 miles offshore. Although Nigerian rebels had attacked oil rigs before, this is the furthest from shore they have ventured. "When the manager saw the attack, he immediately shut down production of the oil and natural gas," says Rainer Winzenried, a spokesman for Shell in The Hague, Netherlands.

As of Sunday, the Shell platform was still shut down. Mr. Winzenried says Shell has declared force majeure, a legal move that frees the company from its obligation to deliver oil. "It can only put upward pressure on the prices," says Mr. Fitzpatrick.

The energy markets were also roiled by a news story in The New York Times that Israel had mounted a military exercise involving 100 F-15s and F-16s. The article linked the exercise to Iran's nuclear ambitions. "What are the Israelis thinking?" asks Fitzpatrick. "It lights up the whole area."

Over the short run, the energy markets are also watching for updated corn crop estimates given the flooding in the Farm Belt. On the futures market, the new crop corn is up about 25 percent in the first half of June. "One of the uncertainties is the ethanol situation in the Midwest," says Tancred Lidderdale, an energy analyst at the Energy Information Administration in Washington.

"A number of plants are shut down, there has been a disruption of the distribution process, and the railroads are flooded," he says. "We typically have gotten imports from Brazil, and they can increase their exports but I'm not sure they will."

With gasoline prices on the rise for months, consumers are now starting to cut back. According to the EIA, in the first quarter of the year, demand for gasoline fell about 100,000 barrels per day, or about 1.3 percent of daily consumption. For the year, EIA expects consumption to drop 0.7 percent over 2007. "This would be the first year over year decline in consumption since 1991," says Mr. Lidderdale.

The lower gasoline consumption is probably due largely to less driving. According to Department of Transportation statistics released last week, from November through April, Americans drove 30 billion fewer miles than the same period the prior year. "That's the sharpest drop in recorded history, some 66 years of collecting data," says Doug Hecox, a spokesman for the Federal Highway Administration in Washington, adding that "the drop took place before the price hit $4 a gallon."

China's price hike
Initially, oil prices fell after China announced it was raising the price of gasoline by 17 percent and the price of diesel by 18 percent. Some analysts thought it would cut demand, which grew by 7 to 8 percent on an annual basis in the first quarter. But, in the last three months, demand growth has slowed to 3 percent, partly because of shortages, says Paul Ting, an energy analyst.

Now, he says Chinese refiners, although they are still losing money, might increase production somewhat. "So, we have conflicting forces, higher prices which might have some marginal impact on demand and more product available from the refiners," he says. "I think the end result will be an increase in demand, but not back to the 8 percent growth rate."

Slowing demand may be met by an increase in supply. On Sunday, Saudi oil minister Ali el-Naimi, at a special meeting of oil consumers in Jeddah, said production might increase over the current 9.7 million barrels of oil per day if the market needs extra supplies.

The kingdom had already committed to produce an extra 200,000 barrels a day starting in July on top of an additional 300,000 produced in May.

The extra Saudi production comes at a time when Iraq is also talking about adding to its capacity. Last week, the Iraqi government said its production was up to 2.5 million barrels per day, about where it was prior to the coalition invasion. On Sunday, officials also said it was awarding additional oil contracts to 41 foreign companies in the hope of boosting exports by another 500,000 barrels per day. It will be the first time the global energy companies will be back in Iraq since Saddam Hussein kicked them out in 1972.

Wire service material was used in this story.

By Ron Scherer
Mon Jun 23, 4:00 AM ET