The American International Group, which has received more than $170 billion in taxpayer bailout money from the Treasury and Federal Reserve, plans to pay about $165 million in bonuses to executives in the same business unit that brought the company to the brink of collapse last year. Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner told the firm they were unacceptable and demanded they be renegotiated. But the bonuses will go forward because lawyers said the firm was contractually obligated to pay them. The payments to A.I.G.’s financial products unit are in addition to $121 million in previously scheduled bonuses for the company’s senior executives and 6,400 employees across the corporation. A.I.G., nearly 80 percent of which is now owned by the government, defended its bonuses, arguing that they were promised last year before the crisis and cannot be legally canceled. Of all the financial institutions that have been propped up by taxpayer dollars, none has received more money than A.I.G.
Archive for March, 2009
One in every 31 adults, or 7.3 million Americans, is in prison, on parole or probation, at a cost to the states of $47 billion in 2008, according to a new study. Criminal correction spending is outpacing budget growth in education, transportation and public assistance, based on state and federal data. Only Medicaid spending grew faster than state corrections spending, which quadrupled in the past two decades. The increase in the number of people in some form of correctional control occurred as crime rates declined by about 25% in the past two decades. As states face huge budget shortfalls, prisons, which hold 1.5 million adults, are driving the spending increases. One in 11 African-Americans, or 9.2 percent, are under correctional control, compared with one in 27 Latinos (3.7 percent) and one in 45 whites (2.2 percent).
Financial institutions that are getting government bailout funds have been told to put off evictions and modify mortgages for distressed homeowners. They must let shareholders vote on executive pay packages. They must slash dividends, cancel employee training and morale-building exercises, and withdraw job offers to foreign citizens. As public outrage swells over the rapidly growing cost of bailing out financial institutions, the Obama administration and lawmakers are attaching more and more strings to rescue funds. The conditions are necessary to prevent Wall Street executives from paying lavish bouses and buying corporate jets. Some bankers say the conditions have become so onerous that they want to return the bailout money. They say they plan to return the money as quickly as possible or as soon as regulators set up a process to accept the refunds.
Coral reefs aren’t being protected against climate change despite the protective zones set up to do just that, say researchers. The No-Take Areas (NTAs) set up in the 1960s and 70s were devised when climate change wasn’t the big deal it is now. These zones have had no effect on the health of the coral and are in the wrong place. The NTAs are often small, and are surrounded by exploited areas. The researchers looked at different fish populations in areas that were protected, and areas that weren’t. The results showed that irrespective of body size and trophic categorization, NTAs provided no clear benefits for any of the fish groups in terms of their change in response to coral decline. The coral reefs are currently suffering from diseases due to warmer oceans because of global warming. The future for coral reefs looks bleak.
Scientists have discovered a 650 million year old, 1 km wide reef, sitting in Australia’s outback. Fossils of ancient sponges or other early primitive animals may be awaiting discovery there. Scientists say that the reef is of “internationally significant” because it dates from a 5-10 million year period between two major ice ages. They continue that it provides a significant step forward in showing the extent of climate change in Earth’s past and the evolution of ancient reef complexes. It also contains fossils which may be of the earliest known primitive animals. There is a good chance that the new fossils and organisms found in the reef will provide significant insight into the evolution of early multi-cellular life.
The United Nations’ crime and drug watchdog has indications that money made in illicit drug trade has been used to keep banks afloat in the global financial crisis. Vienna-based UNODC Executive Director Antonio Maria Costa said in an interview released by Austrian weekly Profil that drug money often became the only available capital when the crisis spiralled out of control last year. In many instances, drug money is currently the only liquid investment capital. In the second half of 2008, liquidity was the banking system’s main problem and liquid capital became an important factor. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime had found evidence that interbank loans were funded by money that originated from drug trade and other illegal activities.
Executives at Goldman Sachs Group Inc., JPMorgan Chase & Co. and hundreds of financial institutions receiving federal aid aren’t likely to be affected by pay restrictions announced February 15th by President Barack Obama. The rules, created in response to growing public anger about the record bonuses the financial industry doled out last year, will apply only to top executives at companies that need exceptional assistance in the future. The limits aren’t retroactive, meaning firms that have already taken government money won’t be subject to the restrictions unless they have to come back for more. Pay caps may provide the political cover the administration needs to deliver additional infusions of capital into the financial sector.
The latest bright idea in energy efficient lighting for homes and offices uses big science in nano-small packages to dim the future Edison’s light bulb.
In the August issue of Nature Photonics, available online, scientists at the University of Michigan and Princeton University announce a discovery that pushes more appealing white light from organic light-emitting devices.
More white light is the holy grail of the next generation of lighting. The innovation in the paper “Enhanced Light Out-Coupling of Organic Light-Emitting Devices Using Embedded Low-Index Grids” describes a way to deliver significantly more bright light from a watt than incandescent bulbs.
“Our demonstration here shows that OLEDs are a very exciting technology for use in interior illumination,” said Stephen Forrest, U-M professor of electrical engineering and physics and vice president for research. “We hope that white emitting OLEDs will play a major role in the world of energy conservation.”
Forrest and co-author Yuri Sun, visiting U-M from Princeton University, have wrestled with a classic problem in the new generation of lighting called white organic light-emitting devices, or WOLED: Freeing the light generated, but mostly trapped, inside the device.
A lighting primer: Incandescent light bulbs give off light as a by-product of heat, The light is appealing, but inefficient, putting out 15 lumens of light for every watt or electricity.
The best fluorescent tube lights put out some 90 lumens of light per watt, but the light can be harsh, the fixtures are expensive, and the tubes lose their efficiency with age. And they rely on many environmentally unfriendly substances such as mercury.
WOLEDs show promise of providing a light that’s much easier to manipulate, while being long lasting and able to provide in different shapes, from panels to bulbs and more. WOLEDs generate white light by using electricity to send an electron into nanometer thick layers of organic materials that serve as semiconductors. These carbon-based materials are dyes, the ones used in photographic prints and car paint, so they are very inexpensive, and can be put on plastic sheets or metal foils, further reducing costs.
The excited electron in these layers casts bright white light. The bad news, Forrest said, has been that some 60 percent of it is trapped inside the layers, much the way light under water reflects back into the pool, making the water surface seem like a mirror when viewed from underneath.
The Nature Photonics paper describes a tandem system of organic grids and micro lenses that guide the light out of the thin layers and into the air. The grids refract the trapped light, bouncing it into a layer of dome-shaped lenses that then pull the light out.
This process—all of which is packed into a lighting sandwich roughly the thickness of a sheet of paper—was shown to emit approximately 70 lumens from a single watt of power.
More light out means getting more bang for the electricity buck, a crucial question since 22 percent of the U.S. electricity consumption is lighting.
“If you can change the light efficiency by just a few percentage points, there’s a few less coal plants you’ll need,” Forrest said.
Reducing the amount of coal-generated electricity and finding more efficient ways to power appliances and lighting is one of the focuses of U-M’s Michigan Memorial Phoenix Energy Institute, and the WOLED work is one example of how science can open new doors in conservation, said Gary Was, institute director.
“That energy efficient lighting can be made from the same materials as car paint and that they can be made in such thin, formable sheets boggles the mind,” Was said. “This is one of many exciting creations that research is giving us in the pursuit of energy efficiency. This is also the kind of innovation that is required in the drive for energy sustainability.
Forrest said WOLED work isn’t done yet. The fun part, he said, is that WOLEDs can be framed in different forms.
“Plugging into a wall at low voltage, putting it on a flexible metal foil, or on plastic that won’t break when you drop it,” Forrest said. “This is what makes it so fun because it’s such a unique lighting source.”
The research was funded by the U.S. Department of Energy through a subcontract from the University of Southern California and by Universal Display Corp.
Forrest is part of the Michigan Memorial Phoenix Energy Institute, which develops, coordinates and promotes multidisciplinary energy research and education at U-M. He also is on the scientific advisory board of Universal Display Corp.
The next challenge, he said, is to reduce the cost, which currently is too high to be commercially competitive.
“You have to be able to do this dirt cheap, Forrest said. “People don’t spend much for their light bulbs.”
Visit http://www.theenergyefficientlightingcompany.com.au for more information on energy efficient lighting and commercial lighting products.
In what could turn out to be the greatest fraud in US history, American authorities have started to investigate the alleged role of senior military officers in the misuse of $125bn in a US -directed effort to reconstruct Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein. The exact sum missing may never be clear, but a report by the US Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction suggests it may exceed $50bn, making it an even bigger theft than Bernard Madoff’s Ponzi scheme. Iraqi leaders are convinced that the theft or waste of huge sums of US and Iraqi government money could have happened only if senior US officials were themselves involved in the corruption. American federal investigators are now starting an inquiry into the actions of senior US officers involved in the program to rebuild Iraq.
Two Pennsylvania judges have been charged with taking millions of dollars in kickbacks to send teenagers to two privately run youth detention centers. For years, youngsters were brought before judges through the juvenile court system in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. without a lawyer, given hearings that lasted only a minute or two, and then sent off to juvenile prison for months for minor offenses. Prosecutors say Judges Mark Ciavarella and Michael Conahan took $2.6 million in payoffs to put juvenile offenders in lockups run by PA Child Care LLC and a sister company, Western PA Child Care LLC. The judges were charged on Jan. 26 and removed from the bench by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court shortly afterward.
Although the CIA’s secret prisons, harsh interrogation techniques and Guantanamo Bay are being demantled, President Obama left intact an equally controversial counter-terrorism tool – the secret renditions in which terrorism suspects were kidnapped and transferred to countries that cooperate with the United States. Under Obama’s executive orders recently, the CIA still has the authority to carry out the renditions. Current and former U.S. intelligence officials said that the rendition program might be poised to play an expanded role going forward because it took suspected terrorists off the streets. The secret rendition program became a target of international scorn as details emerged in recent years of botched captures, mistaken identities and allegations that prisoners were turned over to countries where they were tortured.
The U.S. Army is to invest $6 million in riot equipment, a fact that has furthered fears that troops will be used inside the U.S. in order to quell any civil unrest resulting from the ongoing economic crisis. The U.S. Army Contracting Agency, based at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, has a post on the Federal Business Opportunities website, requesting the equipment and has received several notices of interest from potential vendors. The request titled “84–RIOT EQUIPMENT” outlines the need for hard polyethylene Shin and Chest Guards, shock absorbing Forearm Protectors, Interior leg brace supports as well as knee and ankle protectors. The ACA asks that the equipment be able to safely withstand a substantial blow from non-ballistic weapons or flying debris.
In the time that records have been kept of bird populations, 20 percent of all species have gone extinct. More are likely to follow. In March the release of a large-scale, 24-year survey gave one of the clearest pictures yet of the decline of Australian and Asian shorebird. The results of the survey are dire. The researchers’ counts showed a steady decline, beginning in the mid-1980s. By 2006 the number of migratory shorebirds had dropped by 73 percent and the number of Australia’s resident shorebirds had fallen by 81 percent. The survey revealed that inland wetlands were more important to both resident and migratory birds than had been realized, and that wetland loss from damming and the diversion of river water for irrigation was at least in part responsible for the shorebird decline in Australia.
When people think of climate change, they think of carbon dioxide. But while CO2 represents 77 percent of all man-made greenhouse gas emissions, its relative contribution may be declining. According to two studies published late last year, atmospheric levels of other, more potent gases that also affect climate are on the rise. One such gas is nitrogen trifluoride (NF3), which is used to make retail items like microchips and flat-screen TVs. Atmospheric NF3 seems to be growing by 11 percent each year across the globe. NF3 lingers in the air for 550 years, on average, and is 17,000 times better at trapping heat than CO2 on a molecule-per-molecule basis. A more immediate problem for climate change is methane, which is released by landfills and melting permafrost and through farming practices. Levels of this gas are increasing today after eight years of stasis. Methane remains in the atmosphere one-tenth as long as CO2—about a decade—but traps 20 times as much heat.