AirTalk for September 15, 2011

Mercer 21114

It’s a tough economy for green technology

Solyndra, a solar panel manufacturer based in Fremont, CA, declared operations would cease on August 31st and filed for bankruptcy last week. In a time when many businesses are forced to throw in the towel, this is hardly news. However, this particular company received a $535-million loan guarantee in 2009 approved by the Obama administration, arranged by the Energy Department and processed by the Federal Financing Bank, which is under purview of the Treasury Department. The company’s failure has now led to Congressional hearings by a House Energy subcommittee of government officials, as well as investigative probes by the FBI and the inspector generals of both the Energy and Treasury Departments. House Republicans are accusing the Obama administration of rushing the loan approval, ignoring economic red flags of the company’s poor performance and putting half a billion dollars in taxpayer money at risk. The White House has responded by saying the loan was already in the process of being granted when Obama took office, and it was simply a push to stimulate the economy and create more jobs. What does Solyndra’s bankruptcy mean for the future of green technology? Did the Obama administration act too hastily in supporting the innovative company? Were Solyndra employees misleading government officials with financial reports? What will the Congressional hearings and investigative probes uncover?
Mercer 21116

Palestinians push for statehood at the United Nations

When world leaders descend on New York City for the annual General Assembly next week, they could be asked to consider a new member. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas plans to seek recognition for a Palestinian state by the United Nations. The move has caused a whirlwind of diplomatic activity for the last days, weeks and months. The United States has tried to use its leverage to dissuade the Palestinian initiative -- including a promise to veto any application for statehood made to the Security Council. That would leave Palestinians with the option of pursuing status as a nonmember observer state (Abbas very likely has the required votes from UN members to support the move). Former President Jimmy Carter called the proposal a "real step forward." Whereas, the Obama administration has said resuming peace talks is the only way forward. It sent two more high-level envoys to the region yesterday to negotiate with Israeli and Palestinian leaders in a last-ditch effort to stop the UN bid. Why is the Palestinian leadership pursuing this path? What could the consequences be for all the stakeholders? How could it impact the current impasse in negotiations? Who supports the move and who is opposed?
Mercer 21117

Where’s the (tainted) beef?

The United States Department of Agriculture announced yesterday that they would require the beef industry to test for six more strains of e.Coli bacteria than they already do. Beef manufacturers have had to test for one type of e.Coli for nearly two decades, after tainted meat sold at a Jack In The Box restaurant killed 4 people and sickened 700 in 1993. According to the USDA, they’re too often stuck behind the 8-ball, scrambling to react to an outbreak instead of stopping them before they start. They say regulatory policy must change and evolve, just as food borne pathogens have. The meat industry is steamed about the new regulations. They say it’s expensive to implement and the science just doesn’t hold up. According to the American Meat Institute, the industry’s oldest and largest trade group, they want to eliminate toxic beef from the food supply just as much as the USDA, but there’s just not enough evidence linking ground beef to outbreaks. They also insist that increasing the number of pathogens that manufacturers must test for won’t positively impact public health and will increase the cost of their products for consumers. The argument essentially comes down to science: do these six strains of e.Coli sicken consumers? If they do why would the beef industry want to keep them on the market? If they don’t, why would the USDA want to hamper an important U.S industry with unnecessary regulations?
Mercer 21090

Scientology, America’s most secretive religion

Despite its significant following and its high-profile adherents like Tom Cruise and John Travolta, the ins and outs of Scientology remain for the most part a well-kept secret. Rolling Stone journalist Janet Reitman spent five years researching the organization to uncover what lies behind its fortress of mystery. In her new book “Inside Scientology” she recounts the life stories of current and ex-members as well as the story behind the controversial founder of the Church, science-fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard.
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