Posts Tagged ‘Warren Buffett’

The energy scene: Notes & links 11/7/13

November 7, 2013

Mr. Buffett’s Coal Train by Rick Bass for the Washington Spectator.

The Tongue River Railroad, which is partly owned by financier Warren Buffett, wants to lay track to carry sub-bituminous coal from Otter Creek in southwest Montana to existing railroads and then to ports in the Pacific Northwest for shipment to China.   The company would be allowed to take the property of ranchers in the area by eminent domain.   This coal is so dirty that burning it is illegal in the United States, but people in communities along the rail lines would have to breath the black dust from open coal cars.

U.S. lays out strict limits on coal funding abroad by Reuters.

Historically the mining and burning of coal is a greater hazard to human life and health than any other known energy source. It would be a good idea to find substitutes even if it were not a contributor to global warming. The United States government has announced that it will not contribute to World Bank funding of coal plants except in extremely poor nations that have no alternative energy sources, or for plants that use coal capture and sequestration to limit pollution, a technology that is not commercially viable. But evidently this concern is not shared by Warren Buffett or by Chinese electric power utilities.

Prominent Climate Scientists Go Nuclear by Desi Doyen for the Brad Blog.

James Hansen and three other prominent climate scientists say that threat of global warming due to burning of fossil fuels is so great and so imminent that nuclear generation of electricity is preferable.  In spite of the Fukushima disaster, I would be in favor of building a new generation of nuclear power plants, using up-to-date technology (maybe the French could supply them).  What I’m not in favor of is continuing to operate existing U.S. nuclear power plants past their scheduled decommissioning dates.

Urbee 2: The 3D-Printed Car That Will Drive Across the County by Popular Mechanics.  Hat tip to Don Montana.

Google cars vs. public transit: the U.S. problem with public goods by Ethan Zuckerman.  Hat tip to Tobias Buckell.

American inventors are coming up with the kind of stuff I read about in science fiction stories 50 years ago.  Why, then, do we Americans have such a hard time accomplishing mundane things, such as clean, efficient, convenient and reliable bus and train service?

Why Bill Gates and Warren Buffett are right

August 13, 2010

 

 

Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, the richest and second richest Americans, have said they are willing to see their income tax rates revert to 1990s levels in order to help bring the federal government’s budget into a better balance.

Someone near and dear to me, whose good sense in most matters I respect, sneered at Gates and Buffett.  He said that if they think they are undertaxed, they are free to donate the excess to the government, but that’s no reason why taxes on the rest of us should go up.

But taxes are not a charitable contribution.  They are an obligation.  What the government spends that isn’t paid by Bill Gates and Warren Buffett will have to be paid by you and me, and what isn’t paid by you and me will have to be paid by future generations.

 

 

CBPP stands for Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, a Washington, D.C., think tank.  Obviously the future in unknowable and the projection is a best guess.  To the extent that the United States can generate a high-wage, full-employment economy, the governmental budget problems may be easier to deal with.  But CBPP’s basic point is correct.  Changes of just a few percentage points in the top income tax rates will have a huge effect on federal government budget.

During President Bush’s administration, income taxes were cut across the board, but it was the reductions in taxes on the upper bracket payers, plus the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, that did the most to throw the budget out of balance.  However, I’d be willing to see my own taxes revert to 1990s levels to show I’m willing to do my fair share and not put the whole burden on millionaires and billionaries.

 

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Stars, cows, dogs and newspapers

April 16, 2010

When I reported on business for the Rochester (NY) Democrat and Chronicle in the 1980s and 199os, there was a business management philosophy which held that all lines of businesses could be classified in one of four ways:

(1) Stars, with high profitability and high growth

(2) Cows, with high profitability and low, zero or negative growth

(3) Dogs, with low, zero or negative profitability and low, zero or negative growth

(4) Question marks, with low, zero or negative profitability, but high growth

The job of a manager was to (1) feed the stars, (2) milk the cows, (3) shoot the dogs and (4) answer the questions.

Back then the owners of the nation’s great newspapers treated them as cash cows. Newspaper circulation did not keep up with population growth, but newspaper companies typically had profits exceeding 20 percent, greater than oil companies. Profits were not typically put back into the newspaper to improve the product. Instead, newspapers shrank their circulation areas, published fewer editions, allowed news staffs to shrink and sought to maintain profits by cutting costs and staff.

Now the newspaper industry is in crisis. The Tribune Co. is reorganizing under bankruptcy, but at this point it appears it will continue publishing the Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, Baltimore Sun and other properties. Other famous newspapers have gone to less-than-daily publication, replaced print editions with Internet-only presence or gone out of business entirely.

I would like to believe that this need not have happened if the big newspaper chains had put professionalism above profits. Unfortunately the facts don’t seem to support this belief.

The McClatchy Co., the third-largest U.S. newspaper chain, which bought Knight-Ridder newspapers in 2005, has done just what I want.  They have set an example of journalistic excellence, but financially they are down with Gannett Co. Inc. and all the others. The newspaper chains that are doing best, or least bad, are the ones that have diversified away from print journalism.

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A parable for our time

February 22, 2010

Charlie Munger, the long-time partner of Warren Buffett in his Berkshire-Hathaway investment fund, wrote a caustic parable which sums up very nicely the economic history and current economic plight of the United States. Click on this to read it.