Finding the functional balance between our various characteristics is critical for our continued existence here on planet Earth. One more major war and it could be all over for human beings. One more great discovery and we could be inhabiting other planets in the universe.
They want to push shoddy funds and kill off competition.
from Alternet by Monique Morrissey / Economic Policy Institute
While the headlines are dominated by White House leaks and personnel scandals, the Trump administration and Republicans in Congress have been quietly helping the financial industry siphon off your retirement savings.
First, the administration announced that it was reviewing a rule scheduled to take effect in April requiring financial advisers to work in their clients’ best interests.
Yes, you read that correctly. Some people presenting themselves as financial advisers can now legally steer you to rip-off investments, a glaring problem the Obama administration addressed in a commonsense rule six long years in the making.
The rule, backed by the Consumer Federation of America, Senator Elizabeth Warren, Vanguard founder John Bogle, and others, applies to brokers, plan consultants, and others advising participants in 401(k)-style plans and IRAs who don’t already adhere to a fiduciary standard. Among other things, it prohibits financial professionals from pretending to offer disinterested retirement advice while working on commission and from steering retirement savers to higher-cost investments when similar but lower-cost options are available. Importantly, the rule protects job-leavers from being lured into rolling over their pensions and 401(k)s into higher-cost IRAs, at a time in their life when many people are vulnerable to bad advice.
How can anyone argue against the fiduciary rule with a straight face? The financial services industry counters that if some clients don’t get bad advice, they may not be able to afford advice at all. This is like dietitians arguing that clients may not be able to afford nutritional advice if it’s not paid for by Coca Cola. The industry also says the rule could put some people out of business, which isn’t reason to oppose it—it goes without saying that we shouldn’t prop up a business model where survival is dependent on fleecing savers.
So far, three federal courts have turned back challenges to the rule--most recently in Texas. But the effort the financial industry has expended to fight the rule tells you how much some players have to lose when it goes into effect—an estimated $17–20 billion a year. This suggests that roughly a quarter of taxpayer subsidies intended to promote saving in 401(k)s and IRAs are pocketed by firms engaging in sleazy practices.
The fiduciary rule stops short of requiring plans to offer the lowest-cost investments, such as index funds or no-load annuities, though companies offering low-cost funds and annuities are expected to benefit from the rule. The rule is also expected to favor certified financial planners and other advisers who already adhere to a fiduciary standard but have been undercut by salesmen masquerading as advisers.
The rule doesn’t prevent plan sponsors and others from providing educational materials with generic advice about how much to save and the importance of diversifying across asset classes, which is all most people really need. There’s a remarkable consensus in the academic literature that individual investors would be better off adopting passive investment strategies, such as investing in index funds, rather than trying to beat the market. The idea has finally caught on, and over the past decade money has poured out of actively-managed funds and into passively-managed funds.
Despite this, many 401(k) plans are still loaded with high-cost investment options. This is because plan sponsors have little incentive to focus on fees passed on to participants—and may even benefit if financial providers sweeten the deal by discounting other services. This explains why Republicans in Congress are trying to repeal another Obama administration rule that helps state and local governments establish IRAs that workers can contribute to through automatic payroll deduction. These initiatives specifically target workers whose employers don’t offer retirement plans and so would actually expand the pool of savings managed by the financial services industry. But they pose a threat to the mutual fund industry insofar as they demonstrate the cost advantages of passive investing and pooled savings.
Congress may vote as early as today on federal legislation that creates potential roadblocks for five states poised to implement retirement plans and other states considering similar initiatives. The legislation, backed by the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association, takes aim at an Obama administration rule clarifying that state- or city-administered IRAs don’t fall under the federal Employee Retirement Income Security Act governing employer plans. Overturning the rule wouldn’t mean state and local governments couldn’t move forward with the plans--California plans to enroll workers next year regardless—but could cloud their legal status.
The legislation, which will be voted on without a public hearing, belies Republicans’ claim to respect states’ rights. The sponsors falsely claim that the initiatives “force” workers into government-run plans without consumer protections, even though participation is 100 percent voluntary and the plans will have much less expensive investment options than most 401(k)s. David John, who coauthored an influential paper in favor of auto-enrolling workers in IRAs when he was at the conservative Heritage Foundation, has done a good job debunking other false claims with his AARP colleague Angela Antonelli. But with billions of dollars of fees at stake, it’s probably safe to assume that the financial industry—and the members of Congress who support them—will keep finding reasons to oppose state initiatives and commonsense consumer protections.
Monique Morrissey joined the Economic Policy Institute in 2006. Her areas of interest include Social Security, pensions and other employee benefits, household savings, tax expenditures, older workers, public employees, unions and collective bargaining, Medicare, institutional investors, corporate governance, executive compensation, financial markets, and the Federal Reserve.
Utilities Knew, Too:
Despite Warning Decades Ago, Industry Lied and Deceived on Climate
New report reveals the utilities industry encouraged coal use and public doubt while conducting "cutting-edge" climate research
from Common Dreams by Jessica Corbett
Beginning as early as 1968, government scientists repeatedly warned electric utility executives about risks of climate change from using fossil fuels, according to a new report.
Nearly 50 years ago, the U.S. electric utility industry was warned about potential risks posed by climate change if it continued to rely on fossil fuels. Rather than heed those warnings, the industry spent the following decades instilling public doubt and making substantial investments in fossil fuels—according to a report released Tuesday by the Energy and Policy Institute (EPI).
"Powerful report: #UtilitiesKnew about climate change for decades, and instead of taking action, worked to sow public doubt...just like Exxon."
—Greer Ryan, Center for Biological Diversity
The EPI report primarily focuses on two industry groups, the Edison Electric Institute (EEI) and Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), that are supported by the electric utility industry, rather than examining the histories of every utility company. EPI's researchers reveal that beginning as early as 1968, government scientists repeatedly warned electric utility executives about risks of manmade climate change.
In 1968, a top science adviser to President Lyndon B. Johnson, addressing executives at an annual industry convention, said:
Many of the problems we now face in managing our environment are a simple consequence of the ever-increasing scale of man's activities. We threaten to overwhelm nature—not just our streams and the air over our cities, but possibly even on a global scale.
The President’s Science Advisory Committee...estimated that...by the year 2000, the carbon dioxide level in the entire earth's atmosphere will be increased 25 percent, and carbon dioxide is an absolutely unavoidable product of the combustion of fossil fuels.
Carbon dioxide is not toxic, but it is the chief heat-absorbing component of the atmosphere. Such a change in the carbon dioxide level might, therefore, produce major consequences on the climate—possibly even triggering catastrophic effects such as have occurred from time to time in the past.
Three years later, an MIT professor who addressed the annual convention "spoke of global warming, melting sea ice, and rising oceans as among the possible long-term effects of the buildup of CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion." By 1988—as climate change caused by human activity started to become a public discussion—EPRI, the industry's official research and development organization, acknowledged that "There is growing consensus in the scientific community that the greenhouse effect is real."
Despite EPRI's acknowledgement, and that the industry "sponsored cutting edge climate research during the 1970s and early 1980s," the utilities industry also "pushed coal—the largest emitter of CO2 among fossil fuels—as a solution to the energy crisis, and made significant long-term investments in new coal-fired power generation," according to the report. They also ran ads targeting "fanatical environmentalists," and in 1991, EEI and Southern Company, a gas and electric utility, "spearheaded" an ad campaign that aimed to "reposition global warming as theory (not fact)."
"Some electric utilities, such as Southern Company, still continue to fight against legal limits on CO2 emissions from power plants," according to EPI's report. "Many continue to fund special interest groups that attack climate science."
This isn't the first report about massive public deception regarding climate science. As the EPI researchers noted, "It is a story with striking parallels to the ongoing investigations into what ExxonMobil and the oil industry knew decades ago, long before they joined with electric utilities, automakers, and manufacturers to sow doubt about the causes and risks of climate change."
The New York and Massachusetts attorneys general are investigating reports from 2015 that claim ExxonMobil misled its investors and the public about climate change for decades. Environmental advocacy groups, including 350.org, have even launched an #ExxonKnew campaign to raise awareness about the alleged deception.
The report's authors weren't alone in drawing comparisons to ExxonMobil. As author and 350.org co-founder Bill McKibben and Greer Ryan, a sustainability research associate at the Center for Biological Diversity, both noted on Twitter:
Wyoming's Lawmakers Might Outlaw Renewable Energy
Though it has some of the best on-shore wind resources the U.S., Wyoming Is by far the nation's largest coal producer.
from Alternet by Lorraine Chow / EcoWatch
Republican lawmakers in Wyoming have introduced a bill that would block the use of renewable energy in the state. If passed, utilities that use wind or solar to produce power for Wyoming residents would be penalized with a costly fine of $10-per-megawatt-hour.
Under Senate File 71, only six resources—coal, hydroelectric, nuclear, oil, natural gas, and net metering systems such as rooftop solar or backyard wind projects—are considered "eligible" generating resources. Electric utilities will have one year to be 95 percent compliant with the approved resources and 100 percent compliant by 2019.
As InsideClimate News pointed out, the bill was filed last Tuesday on the first day of the Wyoming's 2017 legislative session. Its sponsors, who largely come from top coal counties, include climate change deniers such as Rep. Scott Clem who once said, "I don't believe that CO2 is a pollutant, and am furious of the EPA's overreach."
Wyoming is by far the nation's largest coal producer and a major producer of natural gas and crude oil. But the state also has some of the best on-shore wind resources the U.S., with wind power constituting 8 percent of the state's energy.
Still, Wyoming has waged a quasi-war on wind. Wyoming is the only state in the country that taxes wind energy production, and a proposed tax increase has effectively stalled a Wyoming power company's plans to build the largest wind farm in the country. Like most of the wind power already generated by the state, the power generated by the massive Carbon County wind farm will head to other states. While this new bill would allow out-of-state wind power sales to continue, it certainly discourages future renewable energy development.
"Wyoming is a great wind state and we produce a lot of wind energy," bill co-sponsor Rep. David Miller explained to InsideClimate News about the motivation behind the bill. "We also produce a lot of conventional energy, many times our needs. The electricity generated by coal is amongst the least expensive in the country. We want Wyoming residences to benefit from this inexpensive electrical generation."
"We do not want to be averaged into the other states that require a certain [percentage] of more expensive renewable energy," Miller continued.
Miller, however, is not confident the bill will pass, putting its chances at "50 percent or less." Still, Republicans overwhelmingly outnumber Democrats 51-9 in the state House and 27-3 in the Senate.
Opponents have called the bill "baffling," as renewable energy is becoming cheaper and out-performing fossil fuels on a large scale.
"Why would [legislators] try to drag down solar and wind, two potentially successful industries that could make a home in the state?" editors at the Casper Star-Tribune asked, adding that the lawmakers are "shutting out potential sources of revenue."
Others have remarked that this law is completely unsound and even unprecedented.
"It would be very difficult to implement, difficult to regulate," Shannon Anderson, lawyer for the Powder River Basin Resource Council, told the Star-Tribune. "It goes against longstanding precedent to choose least-cost resources, and it ignores the reality of a multi-state grid."
Anderson also told told InsideClimate News, "I haven't seen anything like this before. This is essentially a reverse renewable energy standard."
Authors Dick Russell and Robert F. Kennedy Jr. expose the energy moguls covering up catastrophic climate change for their own gain.
By Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Dick Russell / Hot Books
The following is an excerpt from the new book The Horsemen of the Apocalypse: The Men Who Are Destroying the Planet—and How They Explain Themselves to Their Own Children by Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Dick Russell (Hot Books, May 2017), available for purchase from IndieBound, and Hot Books:
Early in October 2015, Rex Wayne Tillerson—62-year-old father of four, recent national president of the Boy Scouts of America—took the stage at the 36th annual Oil and Money Conference in London. As the then-CEO of ExxonMobil, Tillerson had just been named Petroleum Executive of the Year. His topic was “Unleashing Innovation to Meet Our Energy and Environmental Needs.”
Tillerson’s half-hour-long speech did not ignore the subject of a rapidly changing global climate. He spoke of the challenge of “reducing the greenhouse gas emissions associated with energy use.” He said “the risks of climate change are serious and warrant thoughtful action,” including his corporation’s research into alternative technologies and support of a “revenue-neutral” carbon tax. However, Tillerson added, “The world will need to pursue all energy sources, wherever they are economically competitive . . . importantly, we will need coal, oil, and natural gas.”
The highest paid executive of the richest fossil fuel corporation on the planet went on to point out: “From the very beginning of concern on this issue, ExxonMobil scientists and engineers have been involved in discussions and analysis of climate change. These efforts started internally as early as the 1970s.”
What Tillerson failed to mention was this: only the month before, an investigation of internal Exxon documents had revealed that those very scientists had repeatedly warned, almost forty years ago, of a potentially “catastrophic” warming of the planet that “endangered humanity.” But instead of responding to this red alert from their own experts by starting to shift the energy giant toward renewable resources, Exxon’s top executives, including Tillerson, had shut down the company’s own research—and embarked instead on a massive disinformation campaign aimed at debunking climate change as a myth.
The corporation was a ringleader in setting up the Global Climate Coalition, a massive disinformation machine bringing together the world’s leading fossil fuel companies in an all-out effort to prevent governments from curbing their emissions. Tillerson’s company, the second largest emitter of CO2 in the world (after Chevron), dispersed millions to muddy any scientific understanding and delay any real action.
Tillerson, his predecessor Lee Raymond, and their cronies knew the truth about the fate of the planet. And yet they lied, and they paid others to lie. They lied as global temperatures began rising at record rates. They lied as droughts and wildfires swept across the American West, and as California started running out of water. They lied as tornadoes and hurricanes and snowfall levels intensified in unprecedented ways. They lied as thousands died in European heat waves, and thousands more perished in Asian floods. They lied as Greenland’s ice turned liquid, and sea levels began to rise two-and-a-half times faster than anyone thought possible, and the oceans became increasingly acidic and filled with disease-causing bacteria. They lied and sacrificed future generations for their short-term profits.
During his visit to America in December 2015, Pope Francis issued a warning about climate change, “a problem which can no longer be left to a future generation. . . . I can say to you ‘now or never.’ Every year the problems are getting worse. We are at the limits. If I may use a strong word I would say that we are at the limits of suicide.”
Six months earlier, in the pope’s encyclical on the situation, he had asked: “What kind of world do we want to leave to those who come after us, to children who are now growing up?” And he had raised another question: “What would induce anyone, at this stage, to hold on to power only to be remembered for their inability to take action when it was urgent and necessary to do so?”
The president of the World Bank, Jim Kim, has spoken out along similar lines: “My son will live through a 2, 3 or maybe even 4 degree Celsius warming. We cannot keep apologizing to our children for our lack of action. We must change course now.”
At the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, while some three billion people watched, the opening ceremony featured a video of ever-escalating global carbon pollution and simultaneously drastic rise in sea levels.
These are the facts behind the pleas of the Pope, the World Bank leader, and the Olympic Games leadership:
• Sixteen of the seventeen warmest years ever recorded have occurred since 2001. For the third consecutive year, it was announced in January, the earth set a heat record. Across vast stretches of the Arctic Ocean, temperatures in the fall of 2016 reached an astonishing 20 to 30 degrees above normal.
• As billions of tons of ice melt or slide into the sea, satellite data shows that oceans around the world are rising by five millimeters a year, a rate not seen since the close of the last Ice Age.
• “Much of the carbon we are putting in the air from fossil fuels will stay there for thousands of years—and some of it will be there for more than 100,000 years.”—Oregon State University paleoclimatologist Peter Clark, lead author of a new study in Nature Climate Change, February 2016.
• “Given currently available records, the present anthropogenic carbon release rate is unprecedented during the past 66 million years.” —Nature Geoscience, March 2016.
Several years earlier, in September 2013, UNICEF published the results of a five-year study about how a changing global climate affects today’s children. “Climate change has too often been discussed and debated in abstract terms, negating the human costs and placing little attention on its intergenerational impact,” the report said. However, “more severe and more frequent natural disasters, food crises and changing rainfall patterns are all threatening children’s lives and their basic rights to education, health, clean water, and the right food.”
These drastic changes in our planet’s ecosystem will have the most severe consequences, of course, on future generations. Climate change is all too often discussed in “abstract terms,” the 2013 UNICEF report noted. But the environmental upheaval associated with climate change is already having a massive impact on “children’s lives and their basic rights to education, health, and [proper] food.” UNICEF has estimated that, by 2030, 25 million more children will suffer malnourishment, with another 100 million facing food insecurity due to scarcity, and between 150 and 200 million more being displaced from their homes. “We are hurtling towards a future where the gains being made for the world’s children are threatened, and their health, wellbeing, livelihoods and survival are compromised . . . despite being the least responsible for the causes,” said David Bull, executive director of UNICEF in the United Kingdom.
The UNICEF report noted that “children and young people in developed countries are acutely aware of climate change, and are passionate and vocal about the need for action by governments to tackle the problem.” Polling in the UK indicated that nearly three-quarters of those between ages 11 and 16 in Britain worried about the planet’s environmental future. More than seven in ten wanted their government to do more, and nearly two-thirds voiced particular concern about their counterparts in developing nations. In the US, similar polling found almost three-quarters of young voters saying they were less likely to vote for a candidate who opposed President Obama’s climate change plan. “We need to listen to what children are saying,” the study concluded.
The goal of the entrenched interests, however, is to drown out those voices—all the way to the classroom. In Wyoming, when the Park County School District was to vote on whether to purchase new textbooks and reading materials in 2015, one board member responded, “I will not authorize any of the $300,000 allocated for this purchase to include supplemental booklets about ‘global whining’. . . . Our Wyoming schools are largely funded by coal, oil, natural gas, mining, ranching, etc. This junk science is against community and state standards.”
Jeff Turrentine, who wrote about this for OnEarth Magazine’s web site, added, “For thousands of years, going back to Aristotle, humanity’s greatest minds have sought to safeguard the precepts of the scientific method by keeping them away from the corrupting influence of political culture. Defending the integrity of science from powerful people is what got Galileo imprisoned. And yet, 400 years later, here we are: watching a public official tasked with guiding the educational trajectories of his community’s children rail against the accepted science on climate change—because its conclusions threaten to undermine the local political culture. . . . Anyone who would deliberately misinform children about the gravity of the problem that awaits them when they grow up doesn’t deserve to be in charge of their education.”
The campaign to “misinform children” is particularly aggressive in the American West, stronghold of the oil and coal industries, including in Utah, where a coalition of parents decrying “Education Without Representation” has intimidated the state’s Office of Education into watering down education on climate change. Even in “left-coast” California, where the Democratic Party has a lock on state government, a 2015 analysis of science textbooks used in the sixth-grade classrooms revealed that the language and writing techniques “more closely match the public discourse of doubt about climate change rather than the scientific discourse.” The study, which was conducted by Southern Methodist University, speculated that conservative media like Fox News had contributed to “a shift in public discourse, which eventually influences textbook language by creating competing interests within the textbook market.” A follow-up survey published in the journal Science in 2016 found that, while three-quarters of science teachers nationwide devote time to climate change instruction, 30 percent tell students that it’s “likely due to natural causes” and another 31 percent claim that the matter is unsettled. That’s opposed to the 97 percent of active climate scientists who contend that human activity is a primary cause. Bills have now been introduced in state legislatures of four states that promote climate change denial as part of academic freedom.
Even in 2016, as the world weathered another year of record-setting temperature rise, America’s presidential campaign was dominated by Republican candidate Donald Trump, who dismissed the global crisis as a “hoax”—allegedly manufactured by the Chinese in order to make US manufacturing “non-competitive” and by Democrats to justify higher taxes. Meanwhile, Trump’s Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, while acknowledging climate change as an urgent problem, amassed a huge campaign war chest from donors and lobbyists connected to the oil, gas and coal industry, while her allies headed off an attempt by Senator Bernie Sanders to hammer an anti-fracking plank into the 2016 party platform.
Despite all the calamitous news from the environmental front lines, the energy industry still wields extensive influence over the climate change debate, from the classroom to the presidential campaign trail.
Excerpted from the new book The Horsemen of the Apocalypse: The Men Who Are Destroying the Planet—and How They Explain Themselves to Their Own Children