The U.S. Department of Agriculture says farmers may get a record harvest of corn, and a higher supply of soybeans and wheat in 2013. The corn harvest is expected to be up nearly 40 percent over last year's drought-crippled level.
Chávez returned to Venezuela from Cuba on Monday. He is being treated for cancer at a military hospital.
Yes, we know. Fact-checking kills a good policy fight. It gets in the way of echo-chambers, and is certainly a job-killer for the bumper sticker industry. Official Washington operates as a thriving eco-system for old, bad, partial and mis-information, and no one changes their mind anyway.
Still, today’s oil and gas debate provides ample opportunity for some equal-opportunity myth-busting. We’ll updating this page, so keep stopping by. For now, we ask our 'friends-of-the-Petro-state-podcast' to highlight some energy and environment myths and misperceptions:
- Ethan Zindler, Bloomberg New Energy Finance: Ready, aim, fire...on coal
Zindler says the first myth is that the Environmental Protection Agency is "killing the coal industry." The reality is that natural gas prices have just absolutely plummeted and natural gas has become so competitive with coal for power generation.
- Zindler, Bloomberg New Energy Finance: Clean energy = overpriced energy
Zindler says that all we really want to do is track the costs and the amount of money. He adds, "The thing that kind of makes me nuts is when I hear people misquoting the actual data and facts about how much clean energy costs right now. I’ll give folks the benefit of the doubt, which is that they’re always not as on top of the latest research, but I repeatedly hear numbers cited that are two or three years old for the cost of say, wind generation or solar generation."
"It’s like saying oh yeah, my iPhone, it can only do 3G because that is what the iPhone 3 could do eighteen months ago – it literally is that same kind of technology evolution," he adds. "So, if you’re not getting the latest information, if you’re not within three to six months of the data you’re citing then you’re doing a disservice to people and that definitely came up in the debate over extending the production tax credit its comes up in discussions about solar as well."
Check out BNEF's chart below (note onshore wind and PV solar):
- John Hanger, former environmental chief of Penn.: Drilling/Fracking is totally, safe
"Okay, the part of the impression and sometimes explicit words from the gas industry that I think is just wrong is -- at least the impression that has left with many audiences -- that gas drilling has no impacts and all. 'The processes are 100 percent perfectly safe,'" Hanger says, "And that’s just not accurate – there are very good companies working hard on safety and they have a good safety record, but the impact, it will never be zero, no matter how well it’s regulated. For me, it’s important to recognize that and work hard to reduce the rate of accidents and spills and to reduce the impacts and maximize the benefits."
- Zindler, Bloomberg New Energy Finance: Government help = funding failed ventures like Solyndra
"There’s no question there were some big mistakes made around Solyndra. I won’t even sort of try to defend that, but the aim of what that program has tried to do, in terms of supporting next generation technologies is actually fairly unique," Zindler says. "And one of the things that our firm does is look around the world, at all kinds of policies and while there are a lot of countries that talk about doing things like having a green bank or these other kinds of things, the loan guarantee program was actually the very first to really put some real money, some real muscle into trying to do this."
"The fact that they’ve had some losers, frankly should have been expected. And I think it was expected internally, it may not have been articulated externally by the administration, but the reality of it is that program has planted some very important seeds in a lot of ways and we will not know whether some of these were successful, who knows for the next several years maybe five or ten years."
- Hanger, former environmental chief of Penn.: Natural gas is the dirtiest fuel
"I often hear that gas drilling is the single worst possible energy source, it’s poisoning our waters and that we can immediately replace it and implicitly coal and oil with renewables. The risk is so high that we should stop it immediately. And that’s just not true either, at least when you compare risks that we accept from all our other energy choices," Hanger says. "I live in the Three Mile Island evacuation area. Three Mile Island’s a nuclear plant. It had a meltdown. There are lots of old coal fire power plants operating this morning that have no pollution controls or very few pollution controls on them. They are putting out huge amounts of mercury soot, and other pollutants that according to the EPA and very good science cause 34,000 premature deaths a year.
"Corn ethanol and big hydro have massive water impacts much bigger than gas drilling. So I’m not belittling or minimizing the impacts from gas drilling. They exist. But to exaggerate them and not recognize that those impacts are actually less and the risks are less than other forms of energy that we are totally dependent on right now. I don’t think it is correct or in some cases it’s just not honest," Hanger adds.
Again, we'll keep doing this until Washington runs out of myths, as in never. So check back.
As a teaser, we in the next few days will get other analysts' take on shale gas and manufacturing renaissance (hint: maybe not), and whether new fracking regulations kill the natural gas industry.
But you know who's the most obsessed? Politicians.
Candidate Mitt Romney announced Paul Ryan as his V.P. running mate in front of the USS Wisconsin. President Obama gave a veteran-supportive speech on the USS Vinson. President George W. Bush announced the end of combat operations on the USS Abraham Lincoln. And President Obama will go to the USS Lincoln in Hampton Roads, Va., Tuesday to talk about the sequester problem.
The basic reason is because aircraft carriers are awesome, and politicians want to be awesome, too.
"It's like a spacecraft but here on earth," says Sean Bercaw. He's both a ship captain and a former naval officer who teaches nautical science. "Their scale, their magnitude, is humongous. It's hard for us to get our brain around."
And by extension, politicians want that sense of presence.
"Aircraft carriers are a symbol of American power and strength," points out David Gergen, longtime political advisor to several presidents and who now directs Harvard Kennedy School's Center for Public Leadership.
"You wrap yourself in the flag and title of commander-in-chief," he says. "There's a certain totem aspect to these carriers."
Gergen says the tradition goes back to President Ronald Reagan and perhaps before; "the last three presidents have turned to aircraft carriers as props."
Sean Bercaw says the use of battleships as a form of messaging goes even further back. "One of the more famous platforms was at the end of World War II," he says, "where the Japanese emperor signed their defeat on the battleship Missouri." (That's, incidentally, the same ship that Cher sang on, FYI.)
In terms of marketing value, it's priceless, but it doesn't have to cost all that much. According to the Navy, if they approve you, the Navy won't charge you anything to use its ships in a movie or speech except what it costs to get your equipment on board. That can cost a lot if you have a lot of equipment -- $150,000 to rent a crane, for example. It cost around $3 million to put on the NCAA Carrier Classic games in 2011 and $2 million of that went to getting stuff set up on the ship.
With such scale, Gergen says "there is a risk of grandiosity" for politicians.
Like when George Bush landed on the USS Lincoln and gave a speech with a "Mission Accomplished" banner in the background.
What's in a name? There's got to be a better one for the 'sequester' cuts that are set to roll out beginning March 1, if Congress doesn't act in time. Speaker of the House John Boehner is using "Obamaquester;" Marketplace listeners have their own lists going.
Names aside -- how much of an impact will the sequester have on our economy?
"The fundamentals of the economy actually look pretty good...well, they would look good if it weren't for the politicians," said Fortune magazine's Leigh Gallagher. "We were really kind of gaining a lot of momentum on this recovery -- certainly if you look at the stock market, that's a completely different story. But these budget cuts, I'll call them, are not going to be good on top of the tax increase -- the payroll tax increase had already had an impact," she said. "I think the uncertainty...that's going to impact everything."
CNBC's John Carney, though, said he believes everything will be fine. "The actual budget cuts only amount to around $44 billion; it's not a lot of money," he said. "So we can easily take it, even at the full number of $85 [billion], we could take that. Our economy is strong enough right now that it turns out that you know, maybe this whole -- I won't use the 'S' word, I'll call it 'March Madness' -- isn't such a bad idea."
Listen to the full audio above for more analysis on the sequester. The two also offered some good reading for the weekend ahead.
Leigh Gallagher's picks:
- Time Magazine's special report on health insurance: "Why medical bills are killing us"
- A NYT op-ed on better productivity (hint: relax!)
- From the wayback machine, a 1987 look at the Vatican's finances by Shawn Tully that Fortune re-ran last week
And John Carney's suggestions:
- Crunch Time: Fiscal Crises and the Role of Monetary Policy. New paper from David Greenlaw, James D. Hamilton, Peter Hooper and Fred Mishkin that argues that debt becomes a problem when it reaches 80 percent of GDP
- Here's a cheery thought: We're underestimating the chance of human extinction, via The Atlantic
- Crown jewel lock-ups (Harvard Law School Forum): A new era of M&A is seeing the return of an old and controversial form of deal protection
A new report released by an American security firm alleges the Chinese military is linked to extensive cyberattacks against American corporations and government agencies. Is China engaged in cyberwarfare? How should the Obama Administration respond to cybersecurity threats?
Another real world activity quickly moving online -- gambling. On Thursday Nevada became the first state to legalize online gambling, narrowly beating out its longtime rival, New Jersey. Delaware and California are also likely to follow. So now you won't have to leave the comfort of your couch to have the casino experience -- minus the showgirls and cirque de soleil. But what does it take to win online?
To answer that, we turn to the Wizard of Odds, Michael Shackleford, an actuary and a former professor of casino math at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
Besides wagering at home in your pajamas, does gambling online have an advantage?
"Assuming a fair game, the odds are generally better online. I attribute that to lower overhead costs with running an online casino. With slot machines, in Las Vegas they generally return anywhere from 88-92 percent whereas an Internet casino will usually from 93-97 percent. The odds are significantly better online in my opinion," says Shackleford.
DATA FROM: Wizard of Odds
But what risks come with Internet gambling?
"Basically the casinos are on the honor system to give you a fair game and I and other watchdog websites have busted casinos often for cheating. Often the way it works out is a player will post a log file of his play, or video of his play, and say this is just ridiculous how much I'm losing. As a mathematician by training, I can look at the log files and analyze what is the probability that a player would lose as much money as he did assuming a fair game. Lots of times the results are just off the chart. Like, the probability of luck this bad in a fair game being one in trillions," says Shackleford. "The regulation is very feeble. I think it's up to independents like me to keep an eye on the business."
How easy is it to cash out winnings online?
"With a good Internet casino, you have to click withdrawal, how much do you want to withdraw, and a check will be on its way," says Shackleford. "With a good casino -- not every Internet casino is a good casino. Some of them may not be you at all. Some of them may drag their feet and make you nag them a few times. For the most part, Internet gambling is unregulated."
Shackleford says Internet casinos subscribe to this philosophy: They want a player's deposit to last a long time and for him or her to get a lot of fun and entertainment out of their money (but eventually lose it). If a player has gotten a lot of entertainment out of their money, he or she is likely to be happy and make another deposit.
Shackleford offers these tips to succeed at online gambling:
1. Look for a good bonus that you can play on a low house advantage game.
2. The two best games to play in an online casino are usually Blackjack and Video poker (Craps is not bad either).
3. Remember that it's fun and to keep it in moderation.
The controversy began when a piece of graffiti on a London wall appeared at a Miami auction house. The piece of art is scheduled to fetch up to $700,000. The community in London said its sale would be immoral. Now, after a tug of war, a stenciled rat has appeared nearby.