Monthly Archives: July 2009

Lockhart predicts ‘anemic recovery’

Dennis Lockhart was not leading any pep rallies Monday.

Lockhart, president and chief executive officer of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, speaking in Nashville on Monday, forecast “an anemic recovery in the medium term.”

“Current economic conditions are mixed at best, but the economy appears to be in stabilization mode,” he said. “Stabilization necessarily precedes recovery. A recovery has not yet taken hold but should begin before too long.”

He expressed concern that commercial real estate will continue to cause problems in the Southeast.

“The financial sector remains in a fragile state,” Lockhart said. “So far this year, 57 U.S. banks have failed, including 13 in the Southeast. Banks in this region suffer from overconcentration of loans backed by residential and commercial real estate.”

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Filed under Federal Reserve, Recession

Partisan amnesia

Nothing to do with business, but the backlash against Bush and Cheney on terrorist issues strikes me as appropriate — for people born after 2001.

Torture is horrible. We should have no laws permitting it. Probably the same is true with plans to assasinate terrorists.

I never liked McCain, but he was ridiculed for something I think he got right during the campaign. I forget the quote, but the jist was, regardless of the law a good president will authorize torture if necessary for national security. His point, as I recall, was that a strict law was fine as long as it did not overly bind the president.

We need to be very careful attacking political leaders for post 9/11 actions. Eight years later, it’s easy to second-guess them. Do you remember your emotions after the attack, though? I would have gladly volunteered to washboard someone known to be involved. While New York firemen were still finding body parts, I would have enlisted in Cheney’s proposed hit squad.

Obama’s initial instincts, to let it rest, were correct. Bush and Cheney were lousy at lots of things, but their approach to al Qaida was in synch with their constituents. We can’t have laws that sanction torture or assasination, but we would be wise to recognize that the leaders we want have as their first priority protecting us.

If Bush and Cheney violated the law in their actions, we have two choices. We can conclude the situation did not warrant the breach, or it did. They are, and should be, at our whim. 9/11 was major. Like the attack on Pearl Harbor that led to the illegal imprisonment of Japanese-Americans, however, it was entirely aimed at protecting the U.S. population.

When the executive branch crosses the line, it needs to know it does so at its peril. Investigations and prosecutions may come with a new administration. But as a people, we need to remember the circumstances. The response to 9/11 was not a partisan issue at the time. Our nation was under attack and our friends had died. We need to remember that when we evaluate how Bush and Cheney reacted. We need to let it rest.

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Filed under National security

Have sympathy, readers

I’ve finished Day 2 of the McCormick Institute seminar on nuclear energy. The goal of the seminar is to help reporters cover nuclear energy issues fairly. The result, so far, is to remind me how impossible it is to provide balanced coverage.

The dean of UT’s nuclear engineering department is an ardent proponent of nuclear energy. He’s a bit weak on facts, but big on patriotism. He was explaining, with arms waving, that Chernobyl only killed a dozen people. I don’t know how accurate that is, but I know a Chernobyl at Browns Ferry would wipe out Decatur and Huntsville. I complained that reporters can’t count on TVA officials to be unbiased, but we thought we could count on university experts. Not him, apparently, although other UT folks seemed more reasonable.

On the other side is the panelist from the Union of Concerned Scientists. He seems to see everything nuclear as a doomsday device.

A New York Times reporter, also a panelist, and incredibly knowledgeable on all things nuclear, started his presentation saying, “Nuclear energy is a business, not a religion.” He was, I think, expressing my concern.

There is no way I, as a reporter for the Daily with a beat that occasionally includes Browns Ferry, can understand the details of nuclear energy. I need to be able to count on experts. What I have found in the past, and I have found in this seminar, is that there are few unbiased experts. What do we do as reporters? Do we give two extreme views, leaving readers as confused as we are? Do we spend a week on the issue and trust our 1-week training to lead us to the correct result?

I’ll keep doing my best. But readers, please be patient. We live downwind of three nuclear reactors, and I have yet to understand how much that should worry us. What I do know is that another Chernobyl would have different results in North Alabama than it did in rural Russia.

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Filed under Nuclear energy

More taxes, please

I’ve finished Day 1 of a 3-day seminar on the future of nuclear energy at UT-Knoxville School of Journalism, sponsored by the McCormick Foundation.

A hot (literally) topic is reprocessed fuel. There are some national security issues, but the main problem with reprocessing spent fuel rods is the economics. In today’s market, mined uranium is cheaper than reprocessing the fuel rods, and even natural gas apparently is competitive.

Meanwhile, we have a massive national debate over the storage of nuclear waste. Yucca Mountain appears to be dead, so tons of spent fuel rods are filling cooling pools and stored in casks at Browns Ferry and other plants.

Reprocessing provides no financial incentive to producers currently, but the nation — and the nuclear industry as a whole — has a huge interest in reducing the volume of nuclear waste. Reprocessing accomplishes that goal.

Once the technological kinks are worked out — that is, once we copy France’s successful reprocessing efforts — I wonder if we need to increase the disincentive of waste accumulation for producers. Fill up as many casks as you want with spent fuel rods, but pay a per-ton tax for the waste. The goal would not be to raise revenue, but to make sure the price of nuclear-derived energy reflects the full societal cost of waste disposal. The expected result would be an increase in reprocessing which, in addition to reducing the troublesome waste, would help preserve the world’s finite uranium supply.

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Filed under Nuclear energy

Space and energy

I just heard a compelling argument that nuclear energy has to be the central component in fulfilling energy demand.

I’m in Knoxville at the McCormick Institute seminar on nuclear energy. The speaker, William Tucker, has written several books on the subject. He started with e=mc(squared), which basically is the same concept as e=m(1/2)(v)(squared). Not sure how to type the equations, but the point is that the lower the velocity, the higher the mass must be to create the same amount of energy. That essentially rules out wind and hydro as viable alternatives because to make up for the slow speeds you need tremendous, and space-consuming, mass. Solar has the speed advantage, but the earth receives so little of the sun’s output that massive amounts of space are required for the photovoltaic cells.

Nuclear, by contrast, uses small mass but at the speed of light. Used fuel rods, if not reprocessed, convert very small amounts of mass to energy. His statistic was that converting 6 ounces of mass into energy would power San Francisco for 5 years. 

Like all of the advocates for nuclear energy at the seminar so far, however, he goes on to downplay the danger. We overregulate the industry, etc. I’m anxious for someone to give a balanced view rather than advocating way or another.

Tucker, by the way, said one advantage of supplementing nuclear with solar is that solar production is highest when demand peaks. That means it’s not much good for base load, but it is a good way to help meet peak demand.

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Filed under Nuclear energy