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From the Newsdesk
National Academy calls for export restriction rethink

By Jonathan M. Gitlin | Published: January 12, 2009 - 05:00AM CT

Scientific and technological dominance have repeatedly been identified as important national priorities in the United States. During the ideological battle that was the Cold War, maintaining the US scientific base and preventing the USSR from usurping the nation's mastery of science and technology was of the utmost importance, and to that end export restrictions and visa controls were formulated and passed into law. Now those laws must be critically evaluated and changed, according to a report from the National Academy of Sciences.

When it comes to some fields in science or technology, there are rules as to which countries can or can't export things. I'm sure we all remember the PS2's debut; at the time, export restrictions were placed on the games console by the Japanese government over fears that countries such as North Korea or Iraq might buy the devices and use them in their nuclear weapons program, although a cynic might speculate this was more marketing hype than actual security concern. Similar claims were made over the Macintosh line when the G5 chips debuted.

But the controls don't just govern the export of things, they also control the import of foreign talent. As we've written about before, US scientific work is highly dependent on the import of foreign talent; significant numbers of researchers working in the US are foreign-born and foreign-educated, and over 30 percent of US Nobel Laureates in the sciences have been immigrants. Yet, even before 9/11, there were byzantine hoops that often needed to be jumped through in order for foreign scientists to obtain visas, and since the beginning of the so-called "war on terror," those hoops have become smaller and harder to navigate.

This is having a detrimental effect on the US science and technology base, according to the National Academy's report. Instead, there is a pressing need to critically re-evaluate export and visa restrictions, says the Committee on Science, Security, and Prosperity, chaired by former National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft and Stanford President John Hennessey.

The report finds that the export controls do little to safeguard the nation and instead weaken US innovation and global competitiveness. Squabbling between and within the executive and legislative branches of government over what does or doesn't constitute "dual-use technology" leaves the system fundamentally broken. Further, the hurdles present within the visa laws concerning highly-skilled foreigners act to deter these needed individuals from coming to the US.

The report, Beyond "Fortress America": National Security Controls on Science and Technology in a Globalized World, makes recommendations on ways to improve the situation. First, the President should restructure the export control process to balance competing interests more fairly, including automatic sunsets on export controls that would have to be actively overridden in order for an item to remain on the export control list.

Second, the authorities that manage export control should take into account items on the export control lists that are freely available elsewhere in the world or that consist of unclassified technology to prevent such items being needlessly restricted.

Finally, the visa process for foreigners with critical skills should be revamped to make the US a more attractive destination for these individuals.

This last suggestion is one that I'm personally familiar with as one of the authors of a recent white paper on visa reform for the National Postdoctoral Association. That paper makes essentially the same argument: current regulations on visas for foreign scientists are contrary to the US national interest. To quote the report, "The US cannot protect US jobs by denying entry to foreign professionals; jobs will simply go abroad."

The recommendations in the National Academy's report are pretty spot on; whether they will get the attention they deserve in the forthcoming year, when there's so much on every politician's plate, is less certain. President-Elect Obama, are you listening?
Despite Recession, There Are Jobs to Fill

NEW BRUNSWICK � The recession is claiming thousands of New Jersey jobs, and yet employers are still recruiting � to fill job vacancies today and to prepare for an economic upturn in the future.

That was the message last week at a job fair at Rutgers University that drew 200 employers and thousands of job candidates. Employers said they are still hiring, despite an alarming economic slump that several dated to last October.

Princeton-based R Square, a staffing company that places information technology professionals with companies, was at Rutgers looking for at least 50 job candidates. Sandeep Sharma, vice president of sales and marketing, said the economy slowed dramatically in October, though clients now are more responsive. �But they are getting very selective � they want more and more experienced people.�

R Square has 150 IT consultants deployed at its corporate clients, and expects to add 75 to 100 consultants this year � and the recession could actually fuel the company�s growth. �When times are bad, that is when automation and worker productivity is critical,� Sharma said. Firms will invest in new IT systems to cut expenses, �and you can�t do that without having IT staff.�

Curtis Pollard was recruiting for Affinity Federal Credit Union of Bernards� Basking Ridge section, which has $2.5 billion assets, 20 branches in New Jersey and 414 employees. Pollard said the company had been bracing for a worker shortage, but the economic downturn kept baby boomers, expected to retire, at the office.

�Now, basically, there is an influx of talent in the marketplace, and we are really reaping the benefits as far as talent acquisition goes,� Pollard said. He has jobs to fill in the IT, accounting and teller ranks, and he�s always in recruiting mode: �If we don�t have a [vacant] position today, we�ll have one tomorrow.�

Kristin Juliano is a recruiter for Edison-based Joule Scientific, a staffing company looking for chemists and biologists to place in pharmaceutical, biotech and chemical companies. Some companies are laying off scientists, others are hiring them, and Juliano was hoping to collect at least 100 resumes.

In the past two months, Juliano has seen workers laid off by smaller companies that have closed down, been sold or relocated. �There is a slowdown right now and we�re working through it. I�m hoping things will turn up in the new year.�

Vince Doucette, staffing manager of Massachusetts-based Clean Harbors Environmental Services, also was looking for biology and chemistry grads. The company, which operates in 35 states and has New Jersey locations in Newark and Edison, disposes of manufacturing chemical waste, and Doucette said he�s seen some evidence of the economic slowdown.

�The economy is affecting us, because we handle manufacturing waste � and if people don�t produce products they don�t produce waste,� he said. But companies still must dispose of their waste chemicals on a regular basis, so his firm is still busy picking up chemical waste, even if the quantities are smaller.

Guide Publications, of Long Branch, publishes Job Guide, a free newspaper that advertises openings. Brian Shapiro, sales manager, said business fell off in November, but he was at Rutgers to bolster his sales staff. �To bring in more sales, we needs salespeople to make connections,� Shapiro said.

Even if employers won�t be ready to advertise jobs for a couple of months, �we need salespeople to make the calls and talk to people. Right now, we�re planning for the future.�

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On Sunday, January 11, 2009, the London Times published an essay by one of its most prominent regular economics columnists, the American Irwin Stelzer. He is a conservative on the value of public vs. private ownership and control of the means of production, and I generally agree with his analyses. I couldn’t possibly agree with him more with regard to one of his concluding paragraphs in the Times article entitled: "$1 trillion package has something for everyone."

Obama’s appointees to the energy and environmental regulatory agencies will work to prevent new coal plants from being built, and to arrange financial and regulatory subsidies for wind and solar power. Pressure on the car industry will be unrelenting and irresistible. In hock to the government, the big three Detroit automakers will have to respect the wishes of congressmen who have never sold a car, and produce green cars in which consumers have shown little interest. Change there will be, but whether it will contribute to economic recovery and long-term growth, or impede it, is an open question.

I would like to add to the above that I have noted that deceptively simple phrases to describe and therefore supposedly to help us to understand complex phenomena are all the rage in our contemporary sound-bite utilizing, attention deficit reinforcing, society. Carl Marx would be glad to know that one of his philosophical/psychological tenets has been adopted by the poorly educated personnel of the media and its punditry; they have discovered that by just repeating a phrase often enough it becomes established for their non-discriminating readers and auditors as the “truth.”

We therefore now have “global warming” used to describe not only any rise in average temperature anywhere in the world for a time period selected carefully to illustrate whatever point of view is being professed, but, astonishingly, the same phrase is also used to note cooling and record cold anywhere as somehow predicted by the very existence of “global warming.” I note today that we now have wide use of the wonderfully non-informative and non-descriptive phrase, “advanced batteries”, to describe experimental and frequently peripheral science, i.e., inquiries that are not uniformly reproducible-sometimes it works sometimes it doesn’t-that cannot and do not in fact result in an advance over the practical technology in place. The morally undefined philosophical/sociological term “better for the purpose intended” is assumed in all such references to “advanced “technologies of any kind. If you’re skeptical about my point then explain to me please why an atomic weapon is an advance over a bomb constructed with chemical explosives.

It has turned out that the rapid changes in technology of the past generation have left journalists far behind in their economic understanding of what is practical and what is advanced. This has spawned a genuine advance, a better form of hucksterism. The scientists and engineers whose agenda it is to get funding for their projects now sell the press, and through it hopefully the public, on the idea that their particular technology or discovery represents an advance and is therefore better. The logic is “all advances are improvements….”

Of course there is always the problem of economics, but since economic analysis does not lend itself to sound bites it is ignored by the media.
Advanced Nonsense: The Politics of Alternate Energy

We live in the age of Harry Potter solutions to economic problems. This means that our politicians and financial elites get to ignore the physical laws that have been discovered to govern, without exception, the utilization and conversion of energy from one form to another. Our leaders also feign complete indifference to the actual measured quantities of, and the accessibility to us of, the natural resources of energy, metals, and minerals which the earth possesses. Finally they claim that the most basic of economic laws, that of supply and demand is too complex to be understood except by a few who are skilled with the use of computers. The popular song asks “Do you believe in magic?” It would be less mellifluous but more accurate to ask “Do you believe in the bullshit coming out of Washington and Wall Street?’

The political bias of the mainstream media (MSM) is so obvious that its readership has nosedived to now be constituted of just those partisans who are true believers in whatever cause the newspaper, magazine, or broadcaster supports. The nonsensical and so-called financial analysis in the same publications has now entered the realm of pure fiction unless you filter it through the political bias already mentioned and a cultural elitism that simply reeks of the philosophy that one mustn’t question one’s ‘betters.’

Once serious, i.e., relatively balanced in their reporting, publications such as Newsweek and Time now have the form and, more and more, the sound bite and snippet style content of graphic novels, the euphemism that has replaced the more accurate term “comic books.” The New York Times, for example, is so incredibly biased, and generally inaccurate as well, as to be unreadable. It masquerades as serious by publishing biased, factually inaccurate, polemics.

In my own travels, I once had the occasion to watch Nicolai Ceausescu speak on Romanian television for 6 hours on the glory (accruing to his masterful leadership) of meeting factory production schedules for tractors in a five year plan. The difference between socialist Romania in the 1980s and oligarchic New York in the 2000s is that everyone in Romania knew that the factory production figures were made up to fit the leader’s analysis and that; in any case, the tractors were crap that needed fixing every day. The New York Times thinks that its crap analysis doesn’t stink and so never needs fixing.

Why should investors in minor metals care about any of this? Because they are getting nonsensical “analysis” of future supply and demand-the key factors to future price-from the glib ignoramuses populating the airwaves, the press, and the seats of financial and political power.

Investors in minor metals need only to look at the results of following the advice of the self-centered greed-driven financial wizards and mining analysts of Wall Street firms in combination with the crisis solution agendas of the single minded, i.e., driven solely by the desire to be re-elected, hereditary politicians and their appointees in Washington to know that not a single one of these elites knows even how to salvage their own assets from the current massive destruction of confidence, credit, and wealth except by gaming the system, i.e., using insider knowledge and connections, and breaking the very rules and laws they themselves have written or sworn to enforce, to take the risk out of the equation even though those actions are always unethical and mostly illegal. I am speaking of men like Christopher Dodd and Charles Rangel.

I’m going to give you some short term and some long term investing advice based not on what the political and financial elites say but on the results of what they have done, are doing, and say they will continue to do:

Note first that Wall Street and Washington types believe in magic, not science. Even more important for investors is the fact that America’s elites, in particular those who have never worked for a living nor had the need to do so, such as Al Gore or HRH Princess Caroline of New York, only admit into their inner circles, for basking in the radiance of their presences, those who, like them, do not have a clue about the economy that created the America they dominate or the economies that are growing, successfully, in China, India, Brazil, and Russia. The elites believe that it is not important to take notice of the fact that the world’s strongest economies, from the point of view of future growth, are all based on two paramount factors:

1. Domestic self-sufficiency in, or control over, the exploration for and the production of natural resources of metals, minerals, and energy, and
2. The creation and maintenance of a domestic OEM heavy industrial sector that can manufacture consumer goods such as motor vehicles, aircraft, locomotives, ocean-going freight carrying vessels ,construction equipment, mining machinery, and home appliances, and is always ready to produce armaments for national defense.

The above two factors are the reasons that the United States entered the 21st century as the world’s largest economy and the only military power able to project sufficient force to win a war to any location on earth. Americans believe that the American form of republican government in combination with our type of free market economy is what put our country where it is today. The BRIC economies believe that the two factors enumerated above are the real reasons that America grew to its present pre-eminence and that therefore if established by them individually will underpin and sustain them as great financial and military powers and that such will not depend on whether or not they are politically monarchies, dictatorships, republics, or democracies, and will not depend on whether their economic systems are free market or command economies or a mixture of both.

Incredibly, the American elite and self-perpetuating ruling class has bet against the BRIC economies being right and has chosen until now to bet the wealth and security of the USA on a fantasy globalization based on a fantasy global adherence to free market principles, which principles not only do not operate within the USA but do not operate at all among the BRIC economies all of which are focused only on improving their own positions in the global economy no matter what the consequences to any other states.

It may well be fatal to the perpetuation of American power to raise the wall of protectionism at this point in our history. Yet the latest person elected to the office of President represents a party the interests of which are dominated by purchasing through paying above market prices for labor the votes of the self serving unions, and economically as well as historically illiterate elites and political leaders the only interest of whom is in the accumulation of personal wealth or perpetual re-election or both. All of these people are what the Soviets used to refer to as “cosmopolitans” defined as individuals who put the interest of a global polity ahead of their responsibility to the well being of the state in which they live.

So, you can make money in the market by watching for the resonance, that is to say the reinforcing, of the intersection of magic technologies and the attention of America’s ruling political elites. Magic technologies are those which solve problems without taking into consideration the availability of the raw materials and engineering processes required to build them or the economics of their production and distribution.

In the short term I suggest that you invest in the fantasy alternate energy plays. The market will respond to the Obama alternate energy, “green,” stimulus by bidding up the price of the shares of the companies that claim they are working on ”advanced’ anything such as 1) rechargeable batteries, 2) wind generation of electricity, or 3) solar energy conversion.

My model for this advice to you is the immediate reaction of the market to the money authorized to be wasted by the Bush administration, in conjunction politically with the self-serving Pelosi-Reid ‘led’ government, on subsidizing the American owned and operated OEM automotive industry for another month or two. The Wall Street ‘market makers’ responded to this destruction (waste) of wealth by bidding up the price of GM stock over just a few days to twice what it was selling for at the beginning of the phony time period during which the government was ‘considering its options.’

As I am writing this I note that it has already begun to sink in to the ‘investors’ that the long term prospects of the car makers are not really very bright if they say that they cannot survive even a couple of days without massive access to the Federal teat. Of course a cynic might just think that the short sellers are exercising their ‘judgment.’ After all, a swing of 16% in one day, such as GM had late in 2008, can make a Wall Street ‘professional’ a great deal of money.

Returning to the discussion of fantasy green energy plays: Get out of investments in the future of companies subsidized by government as soon as it becomes obvious that there is going to have to be a second stimulus package given to them. This will be apparent when there are no results from the ‘advanced’ work and all of the companies say that ‘they are on the right track’ but need more money. This should take about 6 months, but as auditors look into, or make, the cost-benefit analyses of ‘advanced’ or ‘game changing’ technologies the collapse of market interest may occur in a much shorter time.

Switch your money at that point, when you smell the need for a second bailout, to those surviving companies specializing in producing the raw materials for existing, workable, and economically practical technologies such as, in the case of the vehicle propulsion battery space, lead-acid (SLI and traction), nickel cadmium, and nickel metal hydride batteries. I would also then invest in lithium-ion (storage) batteries, wind for off grid use, silicon based solar, both crystalline and amorphous, and uranium and thorium based nuclear electric power generation.
A final word about ‘advanced’ technology development.

As a young man I once heard the best politician ever to come out of Minnesota, Hubert Horatio Humphrey (DFL-Mn) give some legislative drafting advice-I was in law school at the time and I was in a legislative drafting class. Vice President Humphrey, as he then was, said that in the 1950s when he and some other like-minded liberal senators were trying to draft legislation to expand subsidized college education to include not only G.I.s, but also the poor and disadvantaged who were otherwise qualified. The senate majority leader at the time, Lyndon B. Johnson( D-Tx), told Humphrey that if he wished to get the backing of the (Democrat party) majority for a bill that would help not just poor whites but also poor blacks he would need to label it so that questioning the bill automatically meant questioning the patriotism of the questioning senator himself. Humphrey said that Johnson took a copy of the proposed bill and wrote in front of the title word ‘education’ the two magic words “National Defense.” The rest is (legislative) history.

Note well that the stimulus package in the Eisenhower administration was the National Defense Highway Act, which created the interstate highway system. Michigan was the first state to spend a billion dollars on the extensions of the interstate highways that went through Michigan and on the state highway “feeder” roads for that system. It was this ‘stimulus’ package not any advances in automotive technology that ignited the boom years for the OEM automotive, construction equipment , and mining machinery industries. The reductions in time necessary to get from the suburb to a job in the city and to get food and raw materials from where they were produced to where they were consumed ignited the dramatic growth of the United States outside of the east and Midwest.

This could have been accomplished alternately by building national, intra-city, and intercity railroads as Europe did at the time, but OEM automotive industry politics in the USA overcame railroad politics and both mass transit and freight carrying passed from being carried by durable steel wheels on durable steel rails to being transported on disposable rubber tires on concrete highways that needed constant attention thus created jobs and the need for enormous quantities of raw materials all across the country. What a deal! Consumerism was born, lived long, and prospered.

Without further ado, I am going to now list for you a group of companies related by the products which they are trying to develop, their business goals, and their agendas. I think you can make money by investing in them but solely on the basis of their relationship to the political goals of the Obama agenda for alternate energy. These investments are based on the truism that in allocating your investments timing is just as important always as project selection.

On December 18, 2008 the Wall Street Journal carried a story based on a press release that day announcing that

[L]eading U.S. battery and advanced [emphasis mine] materials companies, with support from one of the country’s largest national laboratories [The U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory {just outside of Chicago}], have formed the National Alliance for Advanced [emphasis, again, mine]Transportation Battery Cell manufacture, known as the “Alliance,” to manufacture advanced lithium ion battery cells for transportation applications in the United States.

The Alliance is trying to get a lot of taxpayer money to accomplish a completely amorphous goal, the members want to develop some fantasy process technology which will be flexible, so that it is adaptable to the mass production of whichever of the 26 lithium ion battery technologies now being “researched’ turns out to be the one that is safe, durable, long lived, and economical for the electrification of a limited range of passenger carrying vehicles-the electrification of long range high capacity freight carrying vehicles is a topic that is not even whispered about; it is too difficult a task for the foreseeable future.

Note well how many times the word advanced appears in just the first paragraph of the press release. Note also that the Alliance is centered upon a U.S. Department of Energy Laboratory operated near the actual home of the soon-to-be sitting President of the U.S., so that the project’s money will flow to and through the new President’s home state. The fact that funding for this particular laboratory has lately been drying up is, of course, coincidental. The fact that the project would make more sense if it were directed by the NREL, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Colorado, is also irrelevant.

The Alliance is thus founded on that most fundamental of American political practices bringing home the bacon. It will almost certainly get its first allocation of Federal Funding early in the Obama presidency and will get more money as its research advances.
The members of the Alliance are:

* ActaCell (Private?)
* All Cell Technologies (Private)
* Altair Nanotechnologies (NasdaqCM: ALTI)
* Dontech Global (Private)
* Eagle-Picher Corporation (Private)
* EnerSys (NYSE:ENS)
* Envia Systems, (Private)
* MicroSun Technologies (Private)
* Mobius Power (Private)
* Silyte (Private)
* Superior Graphite (private)
* Townsend Advanced Energy (Private)

Note well the main reason that companies seek Federal funding; it is because private funding has no political agenda and is therefore not interested in taking the risk of getting little or no return based on 1) the state of development and the quality of the company’s technology, 2) the quality (i.e., competence perceived or demonstrated) of its management, or 3) whether or not the size of the losses incurred by the company so far are such that they can never be recovered in a rational amount of time.

Additionally note how many of the above companies are private even the one that has a long and famous history, Eagle-Picher. The fact that so many of the alliance members are private is most likely an indication that they fail all or one of the above enumerated tests that private capital requires them to pass.

To be fair some of them may have been ‘taken’ private by a fund in order to fatten them up for an IPO or to consolidate them with another company for a more substantial IPO. No matter how these companies got to their present inability to proceed without an amount of capital that was not available to them as constituted from the private market they are all now in the same boat; they cannot raise enough capital individually to both continue the development of whatever battery technology they have chosen as the one and to engineer a manufacturing process suitable for mass production.

Note well that EaglePicher, Enersys, Microsun Technologies, and Superior Graphite are all pursuing or manufacturing other battery types besides lithium based ones. Even so they are in the same boat as the others they do not have nor can they raise sufficient capital to engineer mass production techniques and to build a flexible facility with the capacity to mass produce automotive power train batteries.

The Alliance is not the sum of its parts; it is a group of undercapitalized companies, which have come together to grab a piece of the alternate energy pie in the hopes that the pie will be an open ended feast allowing them to keep getting more money even if and when they go down the wrong path or make a mistake. The free market is very harsh and cruel to such supplicants, but politicians allocate money to ensure their own re-election, not to serve a public good, so the Alliance is now on to a good thing. If they get public money they will not have to compete in the market place for it, and if anyone or more of them is successful they will not have to pay back their part of the ‘funding.’ Thus private enterprise as a driver of innovation and economic advantage will be driven out of the market for battery advancement probably therefore killing the possibility of developing an ‘advanced’ battery system.

In any case, my advice is simple: If you see that the Alliance is going to receive funding then buy shares in those members of the alliance that are public and then watch the news carefully for mention of positive results by any member of the Alliance, listed publicly or not. Such news will cause the market to rise for whatever play there is in the Alliance. I would sell any Alliance-related shares that I own if they go up by a predetermined amount, say 10%, and then buy them back when the news quiets down and the market loses interest as no news is forthcoming.

You will know when the Alliance has run through its funding. This will be when stories begin to follow one another that a breakthrough is imminent but that some further federal lard may need to be spread on the stale bread. The available stock will drop on this negative news. Choose a bottom and buy. When the Department of Energy announces that it will provide the additional funding let the stock rise to your target gain and dump it like an overheating lithium ion laptop battery.

I suspect that we will see one or two cycles of this “Advanced Nonsense” this year, 2009. After that it will become obvious that the project is nothing more than An open ended subsidy program, and the DOE will try to get out of it, not by canceling it and admitting an error on the part of the administration but by trying to auction off its ‘share’ of any technology or engineering process development to private equity.

The ticking time-bomb for this whole exercise in government mismanagement of the development of “Advanced” technology is of course the progress, if any, being made simultaneously by companies like America’s A123, France’s SAFT [Paris: SAFT.PA], and Korea’s LG [KSE: 066570.KS].

The three companies named above have all been selected by an OEM automotive supplier to develop a lithium ion technology. A123 and SAFT have been paired with Johnson Controls International (JCI), the world’s largest manufacturer of lead-acid SLI batteries in order to have JCI ready to engineer a mass production operation for a successful lithium ion technology should one occur. SAFT and LG have each also been mass producing batteries for many years. None of them even though they may plan to mass produce lithium ion batteries for vehicular power trains in the USA will join the “Alliance,” because they don’t want to share any competitive advantage either in battery technology or battery mass production technology with the small, undercapitalized, jonnies-come-lately. It is therefore very important to watch the press releases and progress of these three. If a car such as the GM Chevrolet Volt is introduced into the market and performs well with a battery from A123, SAFT, or LG or any combination of them and it is announced that JCI or, perhaps, EXIDE will put the battery into mass production then the purpose of the Alliance and all of its work will be perceived as valueless as will the price of the shares of any of the members of the Alliance at that point-even if this is unfair.

A123 was supposed to launch an IPO last month; it did not, for obvious reasons. SAFT and LG are both listed on their home country exchanges. For the moment then I would take any profits I made by investing in the Alliance play I have here discussed and buy shares of JCI, SAFT, and LG as a hedge.

I have not discussed the relative merits of any lithium ion battery technologies, because they don’t really matter when an investment has become totally politicized and has left the arena of the free market.

With “Advanced” battery technology and the Alliance for developing and manufacturing it play the politics. The hereditary political and financial elites of this country do not know and do not wish to know anything about technology; they will throw other people’s money at anything that buys them votes and power. The rest of us may as well make some of our own money back in the meantime.
Kenya and Australia sign agreement on employment opportunities for dependants of Kenyan diplomats

The Governments of Australia and Kenya have signed a mutual agreement allowing the dependants of diplomatic and consular personnel of either country to undertake paid jobs in the respective receiving state.

According to the Agreement, dependants of a member of the diplomatic mission or a consular post of the sending state are authorized to engage in gainful occupation in the receiving state in accordance with the laws and regulations of the receiving state. The special privileges shall extend to spouses and children of the spouses who are below 23 years of age.

The affected officers will however be nationals of the sending state and be accepted by the receiving state, and enjoy such privileges until the beneficiary ceases to be a member of the household of the diplomat. The Agreement applies for the entire period that the diplomat will be on assignment in the receiving state.

Signing the Agreement, Hon. Moses Wetang'ula and H.E Lisa Filipeto, the Australian High Commissioner, hailed the two countries' cordial relationship which goes back to the independence era. H.E Filipeto said that Kenya and Australia are partners in many fields including education, science and technology and research among others.

Speaking during the function, H.E Filipeto said that her country is ready to assist Kenya in various fields. She said that Australia will increase the number of scholarships awarded to Kenyan students who go to study at Australian universities. The Australian Government would also consider incorporating Kenyan scientists and researchers at the National Research Center for Technology.

The Minister and the High Commissioner discussed the political crisis in Somalia, saying that the international community ought to work together to solve the problem of piracy in Somalia. Hon Wetang'ula said that for the waters off the coast of Somalia to be safe, the international community should be ready to tackle the root cause of piracy in Somalia.

He reiterated Kenya's commitment to help in solving the Somalia crisis. He said that his country has demonstrated its willingness by training Somalia personnel in preparation to take over responsibilies in such areas as security and the civil service. The Minister however called for international support in bringing stability to Somalia saying that no single state can deal with the problem in Somalia single-handedly.

Hon. Wetang'ula and H.E Filipeto hailed the international effort in policing the Indian Ocean off the coast of Somalia terming it as unprecedented. He called on those countries whose navies are patrolling the piracy-ridden waters to coordinate with each other so as to avoid misunderstanding and duplication of efforts.

They concurred that international trade will be severely affected if piracy around the coast of Somalia is not stemmed early enough. They agreed that the high number of ships hijacked in the Indian Ocean by the pirates over the past year is alarming, thus the need for urgent intervention.

Toward a European research area without barriers

There is no need to explain at length that the European Research Area is an important part of the Lisbon Strategy. The slogan, European Research Area without Barriers, which illustrates our research priorities for the next six months, derives from the main motto of the Czech Presidency Europe without Barriers and promotes the idea for an open and competitive Europe. This will be the main focus of the Competitiveness Council. The European Research Area is thus logically one of the most important agenda items of the Czech Republic as the presiding country. Innovation nowadays no longer manages without the openness and cooperation between developed economies.

Within the sphere of research and development, synergy between scientists, academics and those in the private sector leads to powerful and positive results. The Czech Republic’s priorities for advancing research and development will be to create large research infrastructures that will serve as backbones of innovation plus improve employment conditions that will foster high-quality, flexible researchers without whom the backbones would be motionless.

These individuals involved in the research sphere will support Europe’s success in a global competitive market which is more demanding than ever before. Yes, we need Europe without barriers and that means Europe without barriers against the transfer of knowledge especially from cutting-edge research. The fifth freedom, freedom of knowledge, must be a permanent objective of the EU. The mobility of young researchers is crucial to this goal. Let us remember that career mobility between member states is still difficult and it should be improved. We would like to create a single European market in the field of human resources for research and development. To achieve this we would like to begin the removal of barriers that prevent career mobility within the European area.

Otherwise, Europe will face the departure and loss of its young researchers. During the Presidency, the Czech Republic will search for appropriate instruments that will improve the mobility of researchers and scientists. One possibility is the implementation of the European researchers’ passport and in the following months we will review its usefulness within the member states. Our next priority is effective investment into research and development. In the beginning, we will evaluate the national impact of the European research coordination. During the Czech Presidency, at the Conference EUROFORDIA in February, the European Commission will present the outcome of its evaluation on the impact of the Sixth Framework Programme.

The Czech Republic would like to lead the way on the debate regarding how these results may be translated into intelligent policy making. Finally, as no policy comes to life without getting people involved, we will host the Research Connection, the biggest European research event of the year. It will be organised by the European Commission in cooperation with the Czech Presidency in Prague, close to the Day of Europe and the celebrations of the fifth anniversary of the fifth EU enlargement. This is a good opportunity to recall that research was the first EU policy which embraced the new democracies from Central and Eastern Europe into the EU realm, even before the actual membership. Since then, European research policy has become even more important for meeting the challenges of our common future.
In gloom, healthcare and education shine

Despite the chilly job market, many are diving in

By Robert Weisman, Globe Staff | January 11, 2009

The job market may be chillier than at any time in the past generation. But by choice or necessity, people are still diving in. And they're learning to swim amid the riptide and head wind.

Employment specialists and job hunters have seen a dramatic shrinking of opportunities in recent months, as economic problems have multiplied.

The US jobless rate climbed to 7.2 percent last month, its highest point in 16 years, with jittery employers paring more than 500,000 positions, the Labor Department reported Friday.

"Everybody's feeling the pinch," said Ali Chambers, vice president at ClearRock Inc., a Boston outplacement and coaching firm. "It would be very difficult to find an area that's untouched."

Still, there are jobs to be had in the constricted new environment, with many companies and other organizations hiring selectively in certain areas even as they pare back in others.

Among large industries in the Boston area, healthcare, education, and life sciences are faring relatively better than financial services and high technology. (The healthcare sector, in fact, added about 32,000 jobs nationally in December - and 372,000 last year - in the face of the downturn.)

And workers with sought-after skills, from nurse practitioners and physical therapists to research and development scientists to medical device engineers, continue to find themselves in demand, as do business "turnaround" operators of all stripes.

Smaller niches, such as clean energy and broadband, may also be promising. Some fields, like public works road and bridge repair and the makers of construction equipment and materials, look to be well placed to capitalize on the expected Obama stimulus plan.

And many companies are hiring "sustainability" managers who can help them trim their budgets by using energy and materials more efficiently.

Also continuing to hire are some defense contractors, manufacturers, and government agencies, which are experiencing large numbers of retirements of veteran baby boomer employees.

"Companies are still making very targeted, very strategic hires," said Tuck Rickards, managing director at executive search firm Russell Reynolds Associates in Boston.

"While they're focused on cost reduction, they also have to find where future growth opportunities are. If they're not putting some chips right down now, they're not going to be in a good position when the economy does recover," Rickards said.

For job candidates, flexibility is the watchword.

Melissa J. Webster, who plans to graduate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Sloan School of Management this spring, had her sights on the clean energy sector, working as a project manager for a solar or wind company. But in today's economy, she's also open to another kind of job, or a different employer.

"The kind of renewable energy company I want to work for is capital intensive and depends on something getting built, whether it's a wind farm or a solar installation," Webster said. "This is a tough time for those companies to get financing. So I might have to start working for a utility and get the kind of inside knowledge of the energy business that will make me valuable to a renewable company down the road."

Webster's flexibility, broadly shared among graduating college students and midcareer professionals seeking a job change this year, will be critical as she navigates the forbidding job market.

"We've changed from a growth market to a contraction market," said George L. Davis Jr., a Boston global managing partner for executive search firm Egon Zehnder International. "For companies, it's all about stealing market share rather than riding growth. They want people who can drive revenue and save them money."

Also being recruited are employees with "domain expertise," the knowledge, contacts, and experience that can help businesses expand into new products, business lines, or geographic markets. And while companies may be eliminating production jobs as demand slackens, they're still hiring sales and marketing crackerjacks.

Among the sectors to avoid, recruiters and outplacement managers warned, are banking, automotive, and housing, at least for the next year or two. "Financial services is very tough right now, unless you're in risk management or compliance," Davis said, citing the credit freeze, the collapse of giant investment firms, and increased regulatory scrutiny. "Traders and brokers are having the toughest time."

One factor distinguishing the current recession from past downturns is its pervasiveness. When the New England real estate bust occurred in the early 1990s, high-tech companies were still growing. And when the technology bubble burst early this decade, biotechnology and medical device firms continued to expand. Today, there are few booming sectors. "It's gridlock across the board," Davis said.

But in fields like healthcare and education, there are some countervailing trends. People are aging, getting sick, and enrolling in colleges and universities regardless of the economy. And even when they might be more cautious about hiring higher-paid doctors and professors, hospitals will hire more nurses and physician assistants, and colleges more adjunct professors and program coordinators.

Employees laid off from turbulent fields should consider "crossover" moves into more stable industries, suggested ClearRock's Chambers. "You can come out of a big financial services firm as an information technology person and go to work at Boston University and do the same thing," she said. "Whenever you can take an existing skill and apply it to a new area, that gives you a real advantage."

Rickards, at Russell Reynolds, said this may be a time for job candidates to focus on more established companies rather than gamble on risky start-ups waiting for their next venture capital round.

"The jobs are going to be at companies that are well financed, have good market positions, and are making investments in growth," he said. "They're not going to be at companies that have any kinds of financial constraints. You want to put yourself in companies that are successful, and then be successful at those companies."

But if you can't find jobs at those companies, and you can afford to wait out the grim job market for a couple of years, there's always the back-to-school option.

"Applications are going to soar" for business schools and other graduate programs, Egon Zehnder's Davis predicted. "The safe harbor in a recession is to go back and get a graduate degree."

Robert Weisman can be reached at
January 10, 2009

Lee gambles big on search for new jobs

Recruiters' record spotty, need urgent

By Dave Breitenstein

MULTIMEDIA: Watch a special presentation on the state of the Southwest Florida economy

• Also search foreclosure database; read readers' views on economy; read blogs by local business leaders; see what panel of economic experts had to say

Lee County is wagering up to $25 million, and the region's vitality, on an Economic Development Office that's struggled to recruit and retain businesses.

The agency's efforts to generate jobs have sputtered at the same time the county is suffering a 9.8 percent unemployment rate and the undesirable label as America's foreclosure capital.

In the past 10 years, the taxpayer-supported Economic Development Office hasn't knocked the socks off many CEOs looking for greener pastures. According to its own data, the agency provided extensive logistical help in establishing 36 companies in target areas. Combined, they pledged to create 1,903 jobs, which amounts to less than 1 percent of Lee's labor force of 284,036 people.

Agency projections turned out to be optimistic. The News-Press spent two months tracking down those 36 companies, finding that:

- Eleven have ceased their operations here.

- Ten remaining companies employ fewer workers than anticipated; two are about to call it quits.

- Thirteen companies met or exceeded employment projections by a combined 242 jobs.

- Two companies did not return multiple calls.

All told, those 36 companies dwindled to 25, and those 1,903 jobs were cut to 1,005 positions, not counting the two non-responsive businesses.

Those numbers have not deterred Lee commissioners from believing the economic development office can revolutionize our economy.

"They've done an extremely exemplary job, from Sony to Source Interlink to Lynx Services," said Commission Chairman Ray Judah, referring to three companies the agency has assisted. "There are a number of organizations they attracted to Lee County that are expanding and hiring more employees."

Commissioners authorized a $25 million incentive program to lure companies and help existing businesses expand operations. It's quick cash is meant to relieve the economic bedlam that's been plaguing our community.

But if the agency hasn't succeeded in building a solid, diversified economy, why entrust it with an amount that's 14 times its annual budget?

Ron Inge, former chairman of a community leadership group called the Horizon Council, initially suggested the incentives. He said Lee County has been at a disadvantage for the past decade as other regions wave cash at prospective businesses.

"It's a huge competitive environment," Inge said. "In that 10-year period, we were competing against communities that had incentives already."

Jim Moore, the agency's executive director since August, admits money won't fix a broader problem that Lee's economy is too reliant on construction, real estate and tourism. Today's business climate isn't exactly suitable for companies looking to expand or relocate.

"The businessman would be foolish to go ahead with plans, given the economy," Moore said.

Times are tough, but they're also tough in Brevard County, which managed to land the Brazilian jet manufacturer Embraer last May. Embraer inquired about building its $50 million, 150,000-square-foot aircraft assembly facility in Lee, but chose Melbourne, the beneficiary of 200 new jobs paying an average salary of $50,000. Embraer officials wouldn't say what qualities Lee was lacking, but Melbourne-area and state agencies ponied up $12 million in incentives.

Brent Barkway, business development officer for Lee's economic development agency, suspects this region was missing one key ingredient.

"The amount of aerospace engineers on that side of the state was too much for us to overcome," Barkway said. "It's not that there is anything wrong with us."

To woo prospects, Lee recruiters boast of our high quality of life, pro-business climate and growing work force. Sounds good, but corporate executives hear the same, if not better, sales pitches elsewhere.

In 2003, the Scripps Research Institute also checked into Lee, which emerged as one of four finalists. After evaluating contenders, the biomedical research group instead chose Jupiter for its 364,000-square-foot center. Keith McKeown, Scripps' vice president of communications and public relations, would not specify what Lee County lacked, but said Palm Beach County had six distinct advantages:

- The county donated 100 acres and $157 million in construction costs, in addition to $310 million in startup costs from state government.

- Palm Beach's housing inventory was ample for scientists and researchers.

- Southeast Florida had easy national and international flight connections.

- The Palm Beach area had variety in its cultural and physical amenities.

- Scripps staff felt Palm Beach closely resembled the institute's headquarters near San Diego.

- Palm Beach residents had money and influence.

"Palm Beach is one of the philanthropic capitals of the country," McKeown said.

Scripps' contract with Florida requires the institute to employ at least 545 people by 2013.

Lee wants to land a few "Tiffany targets," as Moore calls them, but the lack of a clincher is not just a Lee County problem. In December, the Economic Development Foundation in Naples released its 2008 Florida Economic Scorecard, comparing the state's eight geographic regions in 26 categories. Southwest Florida as a whole - Collier, Lee and Charlotte counties - ranked dead last. Northwest Florida was first.

There's no sense dwelling on the past, Lee officials say. Barkway believes Lee has 25 realistic, active prospects looking to relocate their businesses. Another bright spot is a 37 percent increase in recruitment and business assistance contacts logged by economic development staff in 2008 vs. 2007.

The Economic Development Office is a small operation with 15 employees and a $1.7 million annual budget. Moore, who earns $124,615 a year, took the helm this summer after Regina Smith, agency head for five years, accepted a county buyout.

The agency does not recruit restaurants, retail stores or hotels. It pursues companies in six target industries: aviation, shared services, corporate headquarters, information technology, life sciences and manufacturing. Staffers provide market research to anyone, but focus on target companies planning to create a minimum of 10 jobs, generate at least 51 percent of revenue outside Florida and offer salaries at 125 percent of Lee's average wage.

The 36 companies

Digital Telecom Access Control looked promising, a custom computer programming business projected to employ 15 workers earning $75,000 a year. It opened five years ago in Cape Coral. Today, callers are greeted by a recording: Press one for sales, press two for technical support, press three for the business office. Sounds like a big operation, but in actuality, all calls lead to owner and president Michael Fischer - the last man standing.

"We had a couple of good contracts, but the economy started to go in a different direction," Fischer said. "The telecom sector has come to a screeching halt."

D-TAC's decline isn't a rarity.

CallTech, a global call center, opened its Fort Myers facility in 1999, quickly outlining a series of expansions to bump the employee count to 500. CallTech's work force disintegrated just as fast. Director of recruiting Jim Phillips said the center closed in 2007 because of a client reduction that coincided with a lease expiration. Its 25,000-square-foot facility remains vacant.

BeSafe International, which manufactured protective vests for police officers, spent the past month moving its operation from Fort Myers to Miami after four years here. Flexi International, a software company that brought its regional office to Lee in 2000, moved to Naples five years later.

BeSafe and Flexi are the types of business Lee County wants: manufacturing and high-tech industries that sell products outside the region and pay above-average wages. They also are the types of business Lee County has trouble attracting and trouble keeping.

In December, the county hired Denver-based Atlas Advertising to create a campaign promoting Lee on a national level. Ben Wright, Atlas' CEO and founder, said losing businesses is not uncommon as company executives evaluate their options.

Wright discerned that two Floridas have emerged in economic development, and Lee isn't necessarily vying for an Embraer or Scripps with Brevard or Palm Beach, counties that feature bigger, better-trained work forces.

"Prospects and companies differentiate between the west coast of Florida and the east coast," Wright said. "We're not so sure we're competing with the rest of the state."

The Economic Development Commission of Florida's Space Coast helped bring 12 companies to Brevard County in the past five years, when it began tracking the data. Lee, by comparison, landed 14 companies in that timeframe. Brevard's companies generated 977 new jobs to Lee's 776.

The true difference between Brevard and Lee are the types of new businesses opening shop. Brevard's include a glut of manufacturers: aircraft, airplane parts, medical supplies, electronics, guided missile and rubber. Lee's newcomers manufactured bulletproof vests, doors, metal products and pharmaceuticals, along with food packaging and headquarters for manufacturing and insurance firms.

County incentive

Four months after commissioners approved the $25 million incentive, the economic development office is revealing its first recommendation, the expansion of a marketing research and public opinion polling firm. The undisclosed company plans to build a 70,000-square-foot facility and create 200 jobs over five years, each averaging $60,000-a-year salaries. Commissioners will vote Tuesday on whether the project merits $350,000 in incentives.

Jennifer Berg, marketing and communications manager for the economic office, said an 80-employee consumer finance company soon will announce it is relocating here.

Moore repeatedly has stated he'd rather not spend a penny of the $25 million, calling the incentives a marketing tool.

"The only way I'm going to use the $25 million is to close the deal," Moore said. "I'm not going to put it out there on the table and say 'please come have as much as you want.'"

New vs. existing

In the past decade, the economic development office helped 77 businesses expand their local presence, creating 3,403 new jobs. Just like new companies, some existing businesses also closed their doors. Paragon Marketing added 40 employees in 1999, but closed the office three years later. Neomedia Technologies was going strong when the software design company added 35 employees in 2000. The company restructured in 2007, uprooting its world headquarters to Atlanta so it could "offer close contact to potential customers and easier access to international markets," according to a news release.

As the economy worsens, Lee's economic development office will monitor local businesses.

"Who is more loyal to this community than the people who are already here, have their roots here, have their families here and would like to keep them here?" Moore said.

That's fine, but Carlene Maurer, co-owner of Beach Bowl near Fort Myers Beach, admits she is struggling to keep the business afloat, but still wants to open a snack shop and arcade there. Beach Bowl, like a majority of local businesses, does not qualify for incentives because it's not a target industry looking to create 75 new jobs. Maurer relayed her idea after The News-Press solicited comments from the public.

She suggested $100,000 grants for 250 existing businesses. That $25 million, she said, would inject cash flow into companies with desire to stay in business here.

"What about us existing businesses?" Maurer said later in an interview. "We might have to shut down."

Horizon Council chairman John Wiest said a future discussion can, and should, include existing businesses that need financial help, but the $25 million has a one purpose.

"That is clearly to diversify the economy and mitigate against future economic problems," he said.
Additional Facts
About the series

Lee County has always relied on two main industries: real estate and tourism. Despite a lot of time and money spent on the need to broaden our business base, the current downturn shows we still are not diversified enough. When the construction industry collapsed, it led to the loss of thousands of jobs from retailing and restaurants to government and financial services.

We solicited comments from the public and got dozens of suggestions on how to improve our economy. We held five meetings in which 38 business and community leaders gave us their thoughts and suggestions. And we’ve set up Web pages so the discussion can continue through the coming weeks and beyond.

A rundown on the series:

Millions: Lee County recently handed its Economic Development Office $25 million to spark economic growth. But that agency’s performance is mixed. What industries should the agency be looking to recruit?

Jan. 18
Problems: How Lee’s lack of diversification hurts local residents. As we try to recover, there are plenty of stumbling blocks.

Jan. 25
The upside: Lee County is well-positioned for a return to prosperity and should be able to reinvent itself.

Beginning Jan. 26, we’ll have a daily solution to our economic problems based on your feedback and we’ll wrap up with a look ahead Feb. 1.
Monday, 12 January 2009

Jan 12 2009 by Our Correspondent, Western Mail

Vital role for Welsh coal in the future

SIR – The current dispute which is raging over European gas supplies from Russia has served to highlight what a fantastic resource we have here in Wales.

Welsh coal can provide affordable and reliable energy for years to come, helping to prevent over reliance upon imported fuels.

With carbon capture and storage promising to become a reality in the near future, Welsh coal could be crucial to keeping the nation’s lights on.

The Welsh mining industry also provides highly-skilled and well-paid employment to thousands of people.

We at Celtic Energy alone employ 290 people, with countless jobs then provided through contractors and in local shops where our employees spend their wages. At a time when the economy is under severe pressure, mining has the capacity to grow, helping to deliver prosperity to communities across South Wales.

The UK needs a mix of energy sources. Gas and renewable energy also have roles to play. But with energy supply looking like one of the major issues of the 21st century, what is clear is that Welsh coal can and must have a vital role to play in powering our homes and the economy.

Managing director, Celtic Energy, Caerphilly

Energy dangers
SIR – With 80% of Russian gas exports to the EU crossing Ukraine, Vladimir Putin’s decision to reduce gas exported to Ukraine highlights the dangers of relying on imported energy.

Russia has declining cash reserves and its economy is heavily reliant on its trade in gas, yet the risk of shortages because of Mr Putin’s geopolitical games is something we can all do without.

Other countries manage to insure themselves against external shocks to their energy needs; while the UK’s market- driven approach has proven entirely inadequate.

The New Labour Government has taken a decade to recognise the need to increase storage capacity – France can store 122 days of gas, Germany 99 and the UK only 15 days.

Westminster and the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland should work with the Irish Government to make these islands entirely self-sufficient, via renewable non-market- driven energy resources.

Plaid Cymru, Monmouth Constituency, Westminster Parliamentary Candidate

Nuclear puzzle
SIR – On the issue of nuclear waste storage, two of your readers (Letters, Dec 23) seek to assure us that everything is OK and perfectly tickety-boo, as all the highly-toxic nuclear waste we have produced up until now is “safely stored in specialised containers in deep caverns”.

Phew, no need to worry then.

That must however mean that the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management isn’t correct in stating that the only geological disposal facility in the world is in the US and that it only takes US defence-related waste?

It’s also not correct then that most of the UK’s nuclear waste is distributed among numerous surface storage tanks, with most of it stashed at the Sellafield site?

Perhaps they’ve got the problem sorted in France, as one of the letters confidently predicts? Maybe non! They still haven’t found a permanent home for their growing pile of highly radioactive waste either. The waste sits in heavily guarded storage at nuclear company Areva’s La Hague reprocessing plant in Normandy.

So how much would a high-level geological disposal facility in the UK cost? Estimates are currently around £12bn for one facility but a discussion paper produced by the Department of Energy and Climate Change indicates a second cannot be ruled out. That’s on top of the £73bn that the National Audit Office estimates it would cost to decommission the UK’s existing ageing nuclear power stations, never mind building a new load.

Perhaps we should start a whip-round!

Bathford, Bath

Cultural chance
SIR – Following the success (several years ago) of Scotland’s second city (Glasgow) being the European Capital of Culture, and last year’s success of Liverpool doing the same thing for England, isn’t it time that Wales followed suit?

There is so much going on in the campaign, that I think it is the ideal time for our second city to show its hand and apply for the honour.

I did hear a rumour that Cardiff had already applied, but isn’t it the case that a country’s capital city is exempt?

Battersea, London

Woolies memories
SIR – I am putting together a manuscript, hopefully for publication, regarding Woolworths stores.

This is planned to be a social history of this famous name, which unfortunately is no longer with us.

Everybody has a story to tell regarding Woolies and I would like to invite recollections from former staff members and shoppers alike from any UK store for inclusion in the book.

Photographs taken of the inside and outside of the shops, especially in former years, would be most useful, especially during the 1960s and beyond when each department had its own counter and cash till.

So if you were a Saturday girl or regular member of staff or a shopper who can recall their days in Woolworths, then please send or e-mail your memories and/or photographs (which will be carefully handled and returned).

Whitcross, Barwick, Somerset, BA22 9TQ or email:

Morally insane
SIR – Stuart Walters in his letter (Dec 31) said that the Welsh were sensitive about jokes made about them and they should shrug them off.

He did not explain for what purpose or why the English, and no-one else, make denigrating jokes about the Welsh.

Some of his list of what was wrong with the Welsh “nationalist” (which he could not describe as Quislings, traitors, fifth columnist etc) were: “Never lived out or worked outside the country, obsessed with cultural and national identity, no sense of humour, suspicious villagers distrustful of outsiders, babbling an incomprehensible language” – which shows how some English monoglots have been neutered from understanding the language that they use.

It is ironic that some clowns say that we should be proud of being “British”, when the Welsh are kept legally deprived and inferior in their own country in order to make the English the master race in Wales.

History has shown that those who have laws for others which they would not have for themselves are judged by history to be morally insane.

Penygroes, Gwynedd

Disability muddle
SIR – The Government’s proposal to make people on disability benefit work for it is ludicrous.

Much like their proposal to pay individuals and companies up to £50,000 to employ one person on disability is unworkable.

Being on disability allowance myself, I recently applied for help to get back into work at my local Jobcentre (Neath) and was told that I would have to wait five weeks to see a (disability to work) adviser, as they only employed one adviser part time.


Global warning
SIR – A regular reader of these letters pages might be led to believe that the recent cold spell casts doubt on the science of climate change. It does not.

According to the Met Office, the global temperature for 2000 to 2008 now stands almost 0.20°C warmer than the average for the decade 1990-1999.

As carbon dioxide levels have risen, so have global temperatures.

The variations that occur from year to year are significantly influenced by the cooling (La Niña) and warming (El Niño) events in the tropical Pacific.

Last year was, as predicted by the Met Office, cooler as a result of a strong La Niña, while 1998 was particularly warm as a result of a strong El Niño.

The fact that 1998 is the warmest year on record does not mean that the world is cooling.

Ten of the warmest years on record have, in fact, occurred since 1997.

The trend is, as predicted by climate scientists, definitely upwards.

Scientists have recently reported temperature rises of up to 50°C in the Arctic, with ice melting much faster than anticipated.

The real concern today is that we are under-estimating the threat posed by climate change and failing to implement polices to address it.

Friends of the Earth Cymru, Cardiff

Costly windmills
SIR – The Duke of Beaufort pockets more than £250,000 from Swansea ratepayers.

All above board and legal and for a bridge that does bring some benefit to the city.

But let us get this into perspective. This sum is chicken feed compared with what the Duke will get from us, via our electricity bills, if he is allowed to desecrate Mynydd y Gwair with his virtually useless windmills.

A Green Agenda for Obama's First 100 Days
Posted: 12 Jan 2009

Yale Environment 360, a new environmental website launched by the Yale University School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, asked a wide-ranging group of environmental activists, scientists, and thinkers to answer the following question: If you were advising Barack Obama, what would you tell him are the most important environmental and energy initiatives that he should launch during his first 100 days? The results are reproduced here by special arrangement with Yale Environment 360.

Although the respondents � including entrepreneur Paul Hawken, Rajendra Pachauri of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, activist Van Jones, and green investing leader Mindy Lubber � represent a broad range of interests, they were largely in agreement on how best to solve the current economic and environmental challenges.

Basically, they agree that weaning the country off fossil fuels and onto renewable sources of energy is the single best way to rebuild the U.S. economy; that Obama must use all the tools at his disposal � from invoking the Clean Air Act for regulating greenhouse gas emissions to persuading the new Congress to put a price on carbon � to tackle climate change and spur the move to alternative energy; that under an Obama administration the United States must lead in forging a new global climate change treaty; and that, given the rapidity of global warming, Obama must be made fully aware of the �scary� scientific facts � as environmentalist Bill McKibben puts it � and move with a sense of urgency.
Brain drain fears could aid retirees
Most workers are more concerned about hanging on to their jobs and incomes than planning their exit strategy, but that is shifting as employers move toward more flexible arrangements in how they employ workers nearing retirement.
By Stephanie Enright, Moneywise
Posted: 01/06/2009 07:27:56 PM PST

These days, most workers are far more concerned about hanging on to their jobs and incomes than planning their exit strategy.

But that is shifting somewhat as employers move toward more flexible arrangements in how they employ longtime workers nearing retirement age, thanks to provisions in the Pension Protection Act of 2006. Increasingly, valued employees may find themselves offered options beyond merely setting their retirement date and leaving the company.

Question: My CEO recently sent out a memo to a handful of us "old-timer" scientists indicating that if we're interested in staying on beyond our expected retirement date, there are "some exciting options for flexible employment." We know there is concern about losing a lot of intellectual capital and research knowledge all at once. At 61, I'm one of six scientists planning to retire within a few years. What are the financial issues I should think about if I decide to look into the options?

Answer: Many companies are wrestling with brain-trust exodus issues, with an estimated 25percent of the U.S. work force nearing retirement. The "exciting options" are probably "phased retirement" programs. Per the modified pension laws, companies can now start paying pension benefits to employees age 62 and older who have defined-benefit plans, even if they continue to work. And workers age 59 and older who switch to part-time employment may start tapping a portion of pension benefits.

In the past, companies offering pension plans, and workers who wanted to access them, were forced into an all-or-nothing proposition. And companies legally could not pay out pension benefits until the worker had terminated employment or reached the plan's specified retirement age.

The main consideration in phased retirement is whether individuals want to continue working, and, if so, which responsibilities they'll keep, which will be shifted to others (and how feasible a split would be). The phased retirement appeals to employees who aren't itching to leave the job but would happily give up some of its aspects.

The key financial consideration is whether the additional income from employment is needed - or desired. For individuals with substantial assets already scheduled to convert to post-retirement income, more earned income could pose tax issues. However, if they are under 70 , there is no requirement to withdraw from "qualified plans." Even when they must withdraw, the percentage starts low and increases gradually. For those who need the nest-egg boost, the option could be a godsend.

It's wise to discuss the big-picture situation with a financial adviser before making any commitment.

Stephanie Enright is founder of Enright Premier Wealth Advisors of Torrance. Write to her by e-mail at or by fax at 310-316-0401.



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