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 - 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.



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


"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





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


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."


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

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
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


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.


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

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
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:

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


MDPICMiami-Dade Permitting and Inspection Center
11805 SW 26 Street (Coral Way)
Miami, FL 33175-2474
Phone: (786) 315-2000 E-Mail:
Web site:

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


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.


Sunday, November 9, 2008


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



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:


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.