Wednesday :: Apr 27, 2005

Where The Rubber Meets The Road

by pessimist

The American people are badly led by the Topper$ that have attempted to establish their dominance of the rest of us. These self-appointed ubermenschen are as incompetent and inept as they come. But then, they are only emulating the C-Average Sovereign:


Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz has rejected a request from US President George W Bush to help limit soaring oil prices by increasing production. Instead, both sides urged energy markets to consider a Saudi plan, unveiled in February, to raise its oil output gradually, to 12.5 million barrels per day over the next few years and possibly up to 15 million if needed.

A senior Saudi official said Riyadh believes global oil prices were too high but boosting the kingdom's output would not necessarily lead to lower US gas prices.

"It will not make a difference if Saudi Arabia ships an extra million or two million barrels of crude oil to the United States. If you cannot refine it, it will not turn into gasoline and it will not turn into lower prices," he said.

He's right! But you know, those pesky anti-trust and environmental laws just might get in the way of our patriotic SUV and Monster pickup owners having all the gas that their rights of life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness tells them they are entitled to! It's a good thing that Texas is coming to the rescue of Corporate America!


Valero deal has hurdles - Federal regulators will be looking hard at Premcor buyout

SAN ANTONIO - Nothing much stands in the way of Valero Energy Corp.'s plans to acquire Connecticut-based Premcor, a major independent refiner, in an $8 billion deal. Except for federal regulators. They're likely to give Valero's merger plan close scrutiny, and that could slow its completion, analysts said.

Analysts, while heaping praise on the deal, also closely queried Valero chief Bill Greehey about what he expects from antitrust regulators. Greehey said Valero isn't likely to face a significant challenge from regulators, including the Federal Trade Commission. The FTC hasn't blocked any proposed refinery takeovers under President Bush.

The Valero deal is the latest in a long run of mergers and takeovers in the industry and reflects growing optimism that refiners, once considered a low-profit business, will be helped for several years by strong energy demand. Valero wants Premcor for its four powerhouse refineries in Port Arthur; Lima, Ohio; Delaware City, Del.; and Memphis, Tenn. The acquisition will make Valero the largest refiner in North America, with expected annual revenue of $70 billion and 19 refineries. Just four years ago, Valero had six plants.

Evan Smith, portfolio manager at U.S. Global Investors in San Antonio, said: "I wouldn't say it'll get smooth sailing. With high gasoline prices at the pump and in this political climate this deal is going to draw some attention. That could draw this out." Valero may have given itself until year's end to close the deal, Smith said, anticipating that it will take time to deal with regulators' concerns.

Ten U.S. senators, led by Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., recently asked the FTC to tell Congress how ChevronTexaco's proposed $18.4 billion purchase of Unocal Corp. would affect competition. Should Valero acquire Premcor, analysts said the Delaware refinery could be the biggest concern, because Valero has an existing refinery in Paulsboro, N.J.

If things get too sticky and antitrust regulators insist Valero sell its Delaware refinery in a Premcor merger to get final approval of the deal, Greehey hinted that could be a deal killer. Delaware City and Port Arthur are really key in this acquisition, he said. If not, Valero could walk away, Greehey suggested. "We would not sell any major assets at Valero," he said.

Greehey said Valero would be the third-largest refiner on the East Coast after the merger, and that's not likely to raise the ire of regulators. On the East Coast, Sunoco is by far the largest, followed by ConocoPhillips, he said, and regulators last year let Sunoco, the region's biggest refiner, buy a New Jersey plant from Houston-based El Paso Corp., Greehey said.

Likewise, the Gulf Coast isn't likely to present a problem. Even after acquiring Premcor's other big refinery, the Port Arthur plant, Valero would rank substantially behind Exxon Mobil, which is No. 1 in that region, Greehey said.

However, Cal Hodge, an energy consultant in Houston who used to work at Valero, said the deal wouldn't make much difference to motorists for a long time.

"Both of these refinery systems are running pretty much all-out," he said. "You're not going to change the amount of gasoline that's getting out there."

Hodge and industry officials said supplies will remain tight until the easing of environmental regulations, which they blame for the lack of new refineries.

Let me get this right - we are going to have expensive gasoline due to tight supplies, which stem from a lack of refining capacity, which in turn can't be built because of regulations we want to keep the air breathable?

How DARE we impose such restrictions upon the profits of a few Topper$! And to think that I believed that the high prices were coming from the reduction in world oil supply!

But there are other ways of dealing with this problem. Chrysler President Lee Iacocca once famously declared when speaking of his line of cars, "If you can find a better car - buy it!"

People did:

Nissan's Operating Profit Climbs 11%

Nissan Motor Co. posted an 11% rise in fiscal fourth-quarter operating profit Monday as U.S. demand drove global sales to a record high. Japan's No. 2 auto manufacturer, which is 44% owned by Renault of France, also said it would delay by one year a previous target to sell 4.2 million vehicles globally by the end of a three-year business plan.

Other top Japanese automakers, including Toyota Motor Corp. and Honda Motor Co., are also expected to post higher earnings for the year ended March 31 as they grab market share from U.S. and European rivals.

Last week, General Motors Corp. posted its worst quarterly loss since flirting with a bankruptcy filing in 1992, and Ford Motor Co. reported a 38% drop in earnings. Both suffered sales drops on their home turf.

Car Wars

After years of industry-beating growth since Chief Executive Carlos Ghosn came to rescue a near-bankrupt Nissan in 1999, the automaker is forecasting an abrupt slowdown in profit growth. It cites risks from an intense U.S. price war, higher interest rates and commodity prices, volatile exchange rates and uncertain growth in Japan and the United States.

Recent complaints over US deficit spending and weakness in the dollar have prompted calls for Bu$hCo to get its economic house in order. This next excerpt demonstrates why our excessive spending is raising problems for those foreign companies which sell us our favorite products.

Honda Reports Profits Up 27 Percent

Japanese automaker Honda Motor Co. said Tuesday that its profits for the fiscal quarter ended March 31 edged up 27 percent as surging sales offset the damage from an unfavorable exchange rate. The dollar's decline in the past year has hurt the earnings of Japanese exports like Honda by lowering the value of its overseas earnings when converted into yen. The dollar was trading at about 113 yen in fiscal 2003, but it fell to about 108 yen in fiscal 2004. For the fiscal year through March, Honda said it lost 94.6 billion yen (US$896 million; euro691 million) from fluctuations in currency rates but gained 49.1 billion yen (US$465 million; euro359 million) from cost reductions.

But in spite of foreign exchange problems, Japan's automakers are doing well, unlike US manufacturers.

In the past, there was a movement in the United States to 'Buy American!' The only problem was that the American companies who were promoting this plan were not buying American themselves. American car manufacturer Ford, for example, was bragging about its 'world car' made from components produced all over the world, thus abandoning thousands of American workers by sending their work to lower-cost nations. These same workers who once bought Ford cars could no longer afford to do so as often.

The delicious irony here is that Henry Ford aroused the wrath of Corporate America when he raised the pay of his workforce to the point where they could afford to buy the cars they made. This made Ford workers among the highest-paid in America, and all of the other industrialists were under great pressure from their workers for similar wage increases.

Somehow, the nation survived.

The people of the United States are very competitive, and are capable of rising to any challenge - provided we have leadership with vision and drive. This is amply demonstrated in our nation's history. One example: when struggling with economic collapse caused by the economic excesses of the Topper$, America managed to rouse itself in a few short years and produce enough weapons to defeat Fascist industrial powerhouses Germany and Japan. The American worker was given the tools and materials necessary to accomplish this task.

But now, we can't compete, and the excuses are aimed at the workforce. 'They cost too much, they want expensive medical coverage. They demand pensions and expect a safe work environment. They also insist upon eliminating pollution so that their kids don't come down with diseases.'

Where is that 'Can Do!' attitude they demand from us? It is nowhere to be found.

Instead - just like Owwer Leedur, the C-Average Sovereign, just did the other day, they grovel at the feet of their competitors and beg for mercy:

Toyota Won't Raise Prices to Bail Out U.S. Competitors

Toyota Motor Corp. said Tuesday it will not raise its car prices to help U.S. rivals, breaking with its chairman's comments a day earlier that voluntary price increases and other steps were in order to help restore health to the U.S. auto industry. "Our basic stance is that prices are something for the market to determine," a spokesman at Japan's top auto manufacturer said. "We are not thinking about changing (vehicle) prices in order to help the U.S. auto industry."

That's what American car makers would be saying if the tables were turned!

The very idea that companies would raise prices so as to help out their less efficient competitors is mind boggling.
Initially, the Japanese firms had an edge because the fuel price shocks of the 1970s spurred Americans to buy tiny economy cars that Detroit had little experience making. But Detroit compounded their disadvantage by refusing for more than a decade to seriously make a shift in that direction. When fuel prices quit being a major concern and Americans shifted toward buying cars with powerful engines, pickup trucks, and sport-utility vehicles, American firms once again had a huge advantage. They allowed the Japanese firms to catch up to them and even surpass them in short order. Why Toyota should bail them out is unclear.
General Motors has been a behemoth in the world auto market for decades. If they haven't figured out how to make cars that Americans want by now, the hell with them.
Toyota and Honda can buy their plants and start manufacturing desirable cars almost immediately.

And they have a better track record for employing Americans that the domestic companies have.

Japanese Car Companies Urged to Aid U.S.

Toyota and other Japanese automakers were the target of U.S. workers' outrage in the 1980s. The Japanese were accused of robbing jobs from American workers and market share from U.S. automakers.

Such sentiments have since subsided because Toyota and other Japanese automakers increasingly produce cars in the United States, creating jobs for thousands of Americans.

Last week, General Motors reported a loss of US$1.1 billion (euro850 million) for the January-March quarter, its biggest quarterly loss in more than a decade, partly because the Detroit automaker has been losing U.S. market share to Asian automakers.

While faring better than GM, Dearborn, Michigan-based Ford is also losing market share and says it could sink into losses or break even in the second quarter.

Beaten At Our Own Game - Played Under Our Rules

Toyota, based in Toyota city in central Japan, has already beaten Ford to become the No. 2 automaker in global vehicle sales. Some analysts believe it's just a matter of time before it catches up with GM, the world's biggest automaker. Toyota, which reports earnings next month, has been consistently boosting global sales.
It has a reputation for reliable fuel-efficient cars, and has an edge over rivals in environment-friendly hybrid technology.

How may times have we heard US automakers crying to Congress that making any changes in their cars would cost billions in profits and lost jobs? How many times has Congress let these pirates off the hook tofree them up to eliminate more jobs anyway?

As I've tried to point out above, the American worker is second to none when it comes to productivity. But that cannot be said for the leaders of American industry.

These pampered pussies [yes, I said that!] have become too soft to deal with the pressures of the world and expect someone else to take care of their problems for them. Profits down because sales are? Fire the workers. Costs of foreign components up due to exchange rates? Fire the workers.

Take a look at the wage disparity between the line worker and the guys in the top offices. These out-of-touch Topper$ are making hundreds of times the annual income that their workers are, and do the least to earn it. It is clearly a case of 'I got mine, so the hell with you!'

We make movies about the great industrialists who had drive and vision. We have Tucker and The Aviator, for example. We have yet to make great movies about people like Dr. Robert Goddard, but we've made movies about the product of his research which show that American ingenuity and creativity still live (however crippled) through such movies as Apollo XIII.

America is a land of innovation. No other country can claim as many inventions as ours. A country like Japan doesn't come up with new ideas, but it is a fabulous refiner, improving upon designs like no other land on Earth. They will learn to become what we once were if we allow it - and thanks to our regressive leadership more concerned with backwards religious beliefs and Luddite biases, we are well down that pathway.

America could once again lead the world to a future much brighter than that promised by Bu$hCo, but only if we take note of the potentials of things like this next:

Microbial Fuel Cell: High Yield Hydrogen Source

By PEB based on Press Release from Penn State University

Apr 25, 2005, 23:30

Using a new electrically-assisted microbial fuel cell (MFC) that does not require oxygen, Penn State environmental engineers and a scientist at Ion Power Inc. have developed the first process that enables bacteria to coax four times as much hydrogen directly out of biomass than can be generated typically by fermentation alone.

Bruce Logan, the Kappe professor of environmental engineering and an inventor of the MFC, says, "This MFC process is not limited to using only carbohydrate-based biomass for hydrogen production like conventional fermentation processes. We can theoretically use our MFC to obtain high yields of hydrogen from any biodegradable, dissolved, organic matter - human, agricultural or industrial wastewater, for example - and simultaneously clean the wastewater.

"While there is likely insufficient waste biomass to sustain a global hydrogen economy, this form of renewable energy production may help offset the substantial costs of wastewater treatment as well as provide a contribution to nations able to harness hydrogen as an energy source," Logan notes.

The new approach is described in a paper, "Electrochemically Assisted Microbial Production of Hydrogen from Acetate", released online currently and scheduled for a future issue of Environmental Science and Technology. The authors are Hong Liu, postdoctoral researcher in environmental engineering; Stephen Grot, president and founder of Ion Power, Inc.; and Logan. Grot, a former Penn State student, suggested the idea of modifying an MFC to generate hydrogen.

"This new process demonstrates, for the first time, that there is real potential to capture hydrogen for fuel from renewable sources for clean transportation," Logan finishes.

So what's it going to be, America? Land of the Free Researcher and Home of the Brave Entrepreneur, or the Dark Ages of The American Inquisition?

All the world is watching.

And Waiting.

For YOU to decide.

And Act.

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pessimist :: 3:45 AM :: Comments (19) :: Digg It!