Archive for July, 2010

Oil spill taints UC Berkeley’s BP-funded research (AP)

Saturday, July 31st, 2010 | Finance News

BERKELEY, Calif. – BP's catastrophic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is fueling opposition to the University of California, Berkeley's research partnership with the British company, with activists and professors on the famously liberal campus calling for a severing of ties.

The oil giant gave UC Berkeley a $500 million grant in 2007 to create the Energy Biosciences Institute, which works to develop new sources of plant-based fuel. The 10-year deal, believed to be the largest-ever corporate sponsorship of university research, has outraged many students and professors who worry the global oil company will exert too much influence over academic research and damage the university's reputation.

Now, as the spill devastates the Gulf Coast, some local activists and faculty members say it's time to end the partnership.

"Our bottom line is the public good, and their bottom line is profit," said Ignacio Chapela, a UC Berkeley professor of environmental science. "There comes a point where those positions are irreconcilable, and I think that point is now."

On Friday, a group of activists staged an anti-BP demonstration next to the construction site where the university is building a new facility to house the research institute. They poured chocolate syrup on the sidewalk — to represent the oil spill — and held signs the read "Berkeley Petroleum" and "Do you want BP Pollution in Berkeley?"

"Now that we can see what BP is responsible for in the Gulf, we demand that the contract between UC and BP be re-looked at," activist Stephanie Tang said, speaking to onlookers through a megaphone.

But UC Berkeley officials say the institute has nothing to do with the Gulf spill, and the university has no plans to end its research partnership with BP.

"The horrible events in the Gulf should only strengthen our commitment to find alternatives to fossil fuels," said Graham Fleming, UC Berkeley's vice chancellor of research. "Why would anyone's interest be served by stopping this research?"

BP officials also say the company remains committed to funding the Berkeley-based research institute, as well as its other alternative energy research programs.

"The spill hasn't changed our commitment to investing in biofuels and wind and solar development," said BP spokesman Tom Mueller.

The BP-Berkeley partnership has stirred debate about corporate funding of academic research at a time when UC is grappling with deep cuts in state funding that have led to faculty furloughs, course cutbacks and steep tuition hikes.

Critics say corporate money steers university resources toward certain types of research, and widens the financial disparity between faculty members in science and engineering and those in the humanities and social sciences.

"It creates an apartheid within the university between the haves and have-nots," said Miguel Altieri, a UC Berkeley entomology professor who is concerned about the environmental impact of biofuels. He recently wrote a newspaper article urging UC Berkeley officials to terminate the research partnership.

UC Berkeley receives research grants from other corporations, mostly in the technology sector, but none are as big as the BP grant.

Partnering with private industry helps university researchers get their ideas and discoveries out of the laboratory and into the real world, said UC's Fleming.

The Energy Biosciences Institute funds nearly 70 projects involving about 350 researchers at UC Berkeley and its two partner institutions — Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

The academic researchers determine what research to pursue, their participation is completely voluntary and their home institutions own the patents on their discoveries, university officials said.

"The corporate influence is really minimal when you look at how it's managed from day to day," said Susan Jenkins, the institute's assistant director. "We accepted a grant to work on bioenergy and that's what we're doing."



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Michigan voters search for economic savior (AP)

Saturday, July 31st, 2010 | Finance News

LANSING, Mich. – Michigan voters frustrated over lost jobs, home foreclosures and budget deficits will vote in Tuesday's primary election for leaders they hope can move the state out of its economic morass.

With seven men running for governor and nearly two dozen candidates running for three open congressional seats, the hardest task may be sorting through the barrage of names, campaign ads and economic rhetoric.

The candidates and voters agree that Michigan is at a crossroads. After a decade of malaise that has left the state with the nation's second-highest unemployment rate and one in every four residents relying on unemployment insurance, Medicaid, cash assistance or food stamps, creating more jobs is the overwhelming priority and topic of debate.

The gubernatorial candidates are competing to succeed outgoing Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm, who can't run again because of term limits and whose popularity sank with her struggles to revive the economy.

All seven gubernatorial candidates say they plan to cut business taxes to attract employers. Most of the five Republicans also say they would slash state regulations and cut state spending. One, Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard, proposes getting rid of laws forcing workers to join unions to get certain jobs.

Among the Democrats, Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero is visiting factory gates and union halls to pledge he'll stand up for middle-class workers and jobs. His opponent, Andy Dillon, a business turnaround specialist who's now the House speaker, promises to bring in more alternative energy jobs to replace lost manufacturing work.

With platforms that are similar, the Republicans are using their job credentials to assure voters they would be the best at managing the economy.

Rick Snyder, an Ann Arbor venture capitalist and former president of computer maker Gateway Inc., is promoting himself as the only businessman and job-creator in the race. U.S. Rep. Pete Hoekstra has served 18 years in the House but also emphasizes his 15 years as an executive at furniture maker Herman Miller Inc.

Although not a businessman, Attorney General Mike Cox has won the support of the Michigan Chamber of Commerce with his pledge to eventually eliminate state business taxes.

Republican voter Tom Shedd, a 60-year-old retired police officer in Jackson, said he's trying to figure out who would do the most for the economy. "I want a fiscal conservative. I want a moral conservative," Shedd said. "The only way you're going to create jobs or bring jobs to Michigan is to get an environment tax-wise that's appealing to a business person."

Hoekstra has been targeted in television ads by Cox and outside groups for voting to bail out the financial industry and raise the federal debt ceiling, two moves unpopular with tea partiers in the state. Meanwhile, Cox is fighting off allegations that he mishandled a 2003 investigation into rumors of a never-proven wild party at the Detroit mayor's official residence. Polls have shown no clear leader in the race. But an EPIC-MRA poll conducted Monday and Tuesday showed Bouchard and state Sen. Tom George significantly trailing in the GOP contest.

Among the Democrats, Dillon's stance against abortion and embryonic stem cell research is also drawing attention. Polls indicate his position is unpopular with traditional Democrats and could play a role in the outcome. Dillon has garnered support among many business groups while Bernero has the most union backing. Bernero had an apparent lead in an EPIC-MRA poll conducted July 24-26, but more than a quarter of voters remained undecided.

In Detroit, U.S. Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick is facing a tough challenge to keep the seat she has held for nearly 14 years but the issue is not the city's devastated economy, where unemployment was 24 percent in June. Opponent Sen. Hansen Clarke has stressed the legal problems of her son, Kwame Kilpatrick, who resigned as Detroit mayor in 2008 after pleading guilty to obstruction of justice, and is now in prison for probation violations and facing federal fraud and tax charges. The winner of the five Democratic candidates is all but guaranteed a general election victory in the heavily Democratic district.

Elsewhere in the state, three congressmen are retiring after 18 years, setting off a scramble to replace them.

National Republicans are focused on trying to regain the northern Michigan seat held by 1st District Democratic Rep. Bart Stupak, who retired after fighting hard to get a presidential guarantee that the new federal health care plan wouldn't allow public money to be used for abortions.

The GOP race to replace him revolves as much around geography as ideology. Surgeon Dan Benishek lives in the state's Upper Peninsula, which is separated from the rest of the state by Lake Michigan and Lake Huron and prizes gun rights and self-reliance; state Sen. Jason Allen of Alanson represents the tourism-oriented resort communities in the northern Lower Peninsula. Democratic state Rep. Gary McDowell of Rudyard is running unopposed.

With Hoekstra running for governor, the open 2nd District seat that runs along Lake Michigan has pulled seven Republicans into the race. The decision of Grand Rapids GOP Rep. Vern Ehlers to retire has attracted five GOP candidates and two Democrats in the 3rd District primary.

National GOP interest in unseating freshmen Democratic Reps. Mark Schauer in mid-Michigan's 7th District and Gary Peters in the Detroit suburbs in Oakland County has Republicans vying in both districts for the chance at a November matchup.

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Movie tax cuts ‘help struggling California economy’ (AFP)

Saturday, July 31st, 2010 | Finance News

LOS ANGELES (AFP) – A year-old program granting movie studios tax breaks for filming in California has saved jobs and should yield two billion dollars in direct spending, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger said.

In a statement released Friday, the governor said the program was "creating and retaining tens of thousands of jobs and generating spending in California."

"This is exactly why I fought so hard for tax credits in last year's budget," Schwarzenegger said. "Just the first two years of this incentive will generate two billion dollars in direct spending, with even more to come."

The program, passed last year, allows the state to give up to 200 million dollars in tax breaks to production companies in its first year, and up to 100 million a year thereafter through the 2013-2014 fiscal year.

It was intended to help the state battle its ballooning deficit and keep jobs and money from the massive movie industry in California.

In its first year, Schwarzenegger said, 77 projects benefited from tax breaks, including 51 feature films, seven television series and 14 made-for-television movies.

He said the program had generated over 730 million dollars in wages paid in-state and that beneficiary projects had hired 18,200 crew members, 4,000 cast members, and over 100,000 extras for movies and television series.

In recent years, production companies have flocked away from California and US entertainment industry capital Los Angeles, taking advantage of tax breaks offered by other states, including Georgia, Louisiana and New Mexico.

The Milken Institute estimated in a recent report that the state has since 1997 lost 10,600 jobs in the entertainment industry and another 25,000 jobs indirectly related to the industry, a total loss for the state of around 4.2 billion dollars.

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