Archive for February, 2009

Breakthrough Institute Seeks Nation’s Top Young Writers & Thought Leaders

Application Deadline: March 15, 2009

The Breakthrough Institute, a public policy think tank, is seeking up to ten of the country’s top young writers and thoughts leaders for a paid fellowship in Summer 2009 as part of its young leaders initiative, Breakthrough Generation. Fellowships are highly competitive — in 2008, 10 percent of applicants were accepted — and involve cutting-edge writing, research, and analysis on energy/climate, national security, the economy, health care, and other issues. Previous Breakthrough Fellows have published in the Harvard Law & Policy Review, San Francisco Chronicle, Baltimore Sun, Huffington Post, and Alternet.

In 2009, Fellows have a unique opportunity to be closely involved with the Breakthrough Institute. Over the next year, Breakthrough will work to seize today’s historic moment to establish a new era of progressive governance that prioritizes major, long-term government investments in clean energy technology innovation, as well as a new social contract. But major obstacles lie ahead, including severe economic recession and an unpredictable global landscape. To seize the moment, our leaders will need bold ideas backed by sharp thinking and clear analysis.

The Breakthrough Institute has a history of reinventing older political paradigms with big ideas. In 2002, Breakthrough co-founded the Apollo Alliance and the new Apollo project for clean energy, which President-elect Obama recently announced is his number one priority alongside stabilizing the economy. We succeed by tapping cutting-edge progressive thinking, sharp analysis, and superb communication to create and advance ideas capable of achieving the broad social and ecological transformations America and the world need.



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Cross-posted from The Huffington Post

By Teryn Norris & Adam Zemel

On Tuesday, President Obama signed the historic American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to avoid a spiraling economic downturn. But is it enough?

No. The Congressional Budget Office projects the U.S. economy will lose $2.9 trillion in total economic output over the next three years (PDF). To close that gap, Obama would need to sign a bill with approximately $2 trillion in total spending. But the current plan is less than $800 billion, with almost $300 billion for tax cuts. A recent report (PDF) by the chief economist at Moody’s Economy shows that while one dollar of public spending can boost GDP as much as $1.70, every dollar of tax cuts can increase GDP by only $0.30 to $1.00. In other words, spending is up to five times more effective than tax cuts at boosting GDP.

So we have a stimulus bill that contains about $500 billion of public spending and $300 billion of dubious tax cuts. Given the CBO’s projected $2.9 trillion output gap, calling the bill weak is an understatement. This gap presents a danger not just to the economy. If the economy is still dragging in two years, and the stimulus is publicly perceived as a failure, Democrats could not only lose the mid-terms in 2010, but the role of public investment could be discredited for years to come.

Why is the stimulus so timid? Of course, a share of the blame goes to Republicans, who continue to cling to market fundamentalism, a failed and outdated economic ideology obsessed with tax cuts, deregulation, and smaller government. But the overarching problem is that President Obama currently lacks an economic philosophy. Obama and his advisors made a critical miscalculation by allowing the political goal of bipartisanship to trump urgent economic necessity and the need for a new economic philosophy. If Obama had shot higher with his initial spending goal — let’s say $2 trillion — and made a principled case about the role of public investment in laying the foundations for growth, Republicans and centrist Democrats could have bargained it down from there — to say, $1.5 trillion.


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By Professor Gregory Bothun and Jesse Jenkins. Also posted at Huffington Post and WattHead: Energy News and Commentary

Earlier this week, President Barack Obama signed into law the $787 billion economic stimulus package. The stimulus directs more than $80 billion to start the construction of a new, national clean energy infrastructure. Many are hailing this clean energy investment as unprecedented, which in the context of the last thirty years of neglected energy priorities is undoubtedly true. But with all those billions thrown about, it’s hard to get a grasp on the scale of this investment. What does $80 billion really mean in the context of the 21st century United States energy system? Is this a significant investment or merely the first step on the long road to a green economy? In order to answer those questions, we’d better brush up on our energy literacy and get familiar with the scale of our energy system.

Welcome to Energy Literacy 101.

We start with a bit of historical context, noting that the energy infrastructure projects initiated in the 1930’s under FDR culminated with 45% of the nation’s electricity coming from renewable energy (hydropower) and employed approximately 100,000 workers over the decade or so it took to build that infrastructure.

With that bit of history in the back of our minds, we now turn to four big numbers: 100 million; 1 trillion; 400 million; and 1 billion. (more…)

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The House of Representatives approved the conference report of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act today, by a vote of 246-186. Not a single Republican joined Democrats in approving this version of the bill, which was the product of long negotiations between leadership in both the House and Senate, as well as a block of centrist Senate Democrats and Republicans who have taken control of much of the debate on the stimulus.

The public investment numbers in the stimulus have bounced around during the countless negotiations, so if you’ve been following this crazy game at home (all twelve of you), here’s our detailed summary, provided without further comment, of the energy-related investments and tax provisions in the conference version of the stimulus.

Assuming the block of centrist Senators remains supportive, this will be the version passed into law by the Senate soon, as early as later this evening.  Keep in mind that all spending will be spread out over roughly two years.


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In an op-ed in the Boston Globe today, Massachusetts Institute of Technology President Susan Hockfield championed long term federal investments in technologies and technology-based sectors as an engine of long term economic growth.

Hockfield invokes World War II and Cold War investments in education and fundamental and applied research and development, citing the many technological innovations–in electronics, aerospace, computing and communications and others–that directly resulted from these investments. These innovations, she points out, and created industries and growth sectors that provided decades of prosperity for the American economy. Hockfield writes:

With stimulus plans now in place, Congress and the Obama administration must plant the seeds of longer-term economic growth. Economists broadly agree that more than half of US economic growth since World War II has come from technological innovation, much of it stemming from federally funded, fundamental research. In the late 1990s, for example, US productivity grew at more than 3 percent per year. The revolution in information technology – a direct outgrowth of federally funded research – was pivotal to this extraordinary growth.

Citing the potential for future technological breakthroughs to help America overcome pressing national challenges, she continues:

Finding new energy answers may be the most pressing concern, given the implications of the current energy mix for the economy, national security and climate change. To help unleash an innovation wave in energy technology, the United States must go beyond the priorities of the stimulus package, which aims to create tens of thousands of “green jobs”; it must now invest in the kind of research and innovation that will ultimately spin-off millions of jobs by building a new economy. This includes investing in early- and later-stage research on the most promising technologies; funding new R&D centers to accelerate critical breakthroughs; equipping research labs with state-of-the-art instrumentation for advanced research, prototyping and demonstration of emerging technologies; and training a new energy talent base.

With debate over the stimulus coming to an end, progressives need to begin using the recovery bill as a springboard to advocate for a new model of governance that values sustained federal investments that can yield broad societal benefits and fuel economic growth. It is great that MIT’s respected president is moving the discourse around creating a new progressive economic philosophy for forward.

(Read the whole op-ed after the fold)


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In a candid conversation with reporters yesterday, newly-confirmed Energy Secretary Dr. Stephen Chu called for “a second industrial revolution” in energy technology to overcome the world’s energy and climate challenges.

Sounding like an honorary Breakthrough Institute Senior Fellow, Dr. Chu said solving these pressing challenges would require Nobel-level “breakthroughs” in at least three core energy technologies: advanced batteries for vehicles, new crops for biomass energy, and solar panels cheap enough to deploy without subsidy.

A Nobel Laureate himself and the former director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Chu is a forceful advocate of energy innovation and isn’t afraid to publicly challenge the myth that “we have all the technologies we need to solve the energy challenge.” On the contrary, the new Energy Secretary knows better than just about anyone the scale of the global energy and climate challenge and the critical role technology innovation must play if we are serious about overcoming that challenge.


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After the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act passed in the lower chamber of Congress with absolutely no support from House Republicans two weeks ago, it was hard to predict what shape the debate would take in the Senate. But with perspective, the course of the Senate debate offers lessons for how we could secure investments in making clean energy cheap, and transform American politics in the process.

Just as it seemed that debate over the stimulus might stall, Ben Nelson, a Democrat from Nebraska, and Susan Collins, a Republican from Maine took the lead in an effort to bring a centrist approach to the bill in order to secure bipartisan support. What came out of this effort is a bill that slashes necessary and fast acting stimulus in the form of aid for state budgets and money for education, among other spending measures, while expanding tax cuts that will help the more affluent disproportionately to middle and lower class Americans.

This is not the pragmatic moderate politics that these politicians have purported themselves to be practicing, nor is it the principled centrism that is so necessary and enriching to a democratic political system. No, it is better characterized by Ross Douthat:


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