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Archive for January, 2012

Let The Ex-Im Bank Do Its Job Supporting U.S. Exporters

A lawsuit by the Air Transport Association of America (ATA) against the U.S. Export-Import Bank (Ex-Im Bank) has raised broader questions about U.S. policies to help U.S. companies remain competitive, specifically the critical role of the Ex-Im Bank. Last fall, the ATA filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court of the District of Columbia to block the Ex-Im Bank from providing $3.4 billion in loan guarantees for aircraft financing to Air India. Air India has placed orders for a total of 68 Boeing jet aircraft, 38 of which have already been delivered, and this financing assistance would enable Air India to complete its purchase of the final 30 aircraft. The ATA claimed that without injunctive relief their member airlines and pilots would suffer irreparable harm. ATA argued that “if Air India places just one new Bank-backed aircraft into service pending resolution of this suit, U.S. airlines will be forced to cut routes, cut capacity on other routes, and layoff employees.” The ATA argued that the Bank’s guarantees could give Air India a competitive advantage in the aircraft financing markets that could enable it to expand its international routes, thereby harming U.S airlines’ market share and further claimed that this injury happened to one ATA member, Delta, in 2008 when it was forced to cut its New York to Mumbai service after Air India used Ex-Im Bank financing to increase its passenger capacity on that route.

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Bits & Bricks

Originally authored by Phil Bernstein, Vice President of Autodesk and cross-posted from the Digital Energy Solutions Campaign Blog. For ITIF’s take on bringing innovation to the contruction industry, check out Steve Norton’s coverage of the Bits and Bricks event here.

The construction industry is widely understood to have missed the productivity surge created by the digital revolution. Why is that, and what is the government’s role in stimulating innovation and change in today’s building industry, particularly in the digital realm? This week’s ITIF “Bits and Bricks” conversation suggested some provocative opportunities. The U.S. Government, between DoD and GSA, represents the world’s largest property owner, tenant and construction client combined. So anything they decide to do will move the needle in the otherwise highly fragmented and disorderly world of architects, engineers and builders. But how to focus?

Our panel explored a number of ideas and formed more questions than answers. Even the Government doesn’t act a single entity, so its influence is and will be felt in a variety of ways. But some common themes emerged from the discussion, including:

  • Identifying and sponsoring innovation research (an area traditionally
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Cranes Over Downtown Washington, DC

IT is the Foundation for Better Building

We live in a wireless world of tablets, 4G networks, and cloud computing. But on construction sites, where the future is actually being built, making sure there’s place to plug in a microwave to heat up an abandoned cup of coffee is too often about as high tech as it gets. Despite innovations in recent years such as virtual design models, building innovation modeling and laser scanning, the construction industry may have the distinction of having lower productivity than it did 40 years ago. At best construction productivity lags far behind other sectors. “You really have to work at that,” commented ITIF President Rob Atkinson.

Atkinson was speaking at “Bits and Bricks: Transforming the Construction Industry Through Innovation,” an event ITIF co-hosted with the Information Technology Industry Council and Autodesk, that explored how IT can play a crucial role in making the construction sector more productive, innovative and globally competitive. Even in these recent bleak recession years, we spent some $1.3 trillion on “things that are built and how they are used,” according to S. Shyam Sunder, director, Engineering Laboratory, NIST – that is roughly 4.5% of U.S.

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What Role Should the States Play in Boosting the Clean Economy?

In a new report released today, Lew Milford, President of the Clean Energy Group and Mark Muro, Policy Director at the Brookings Metropolitan Program discuss an underreported, but key state clean energy policy – public clean energy investment funds.  These funds are investment vehicles for clean energy projects backed by dedicated revenue streams such as ratepayer electricity surcharges, RPS compliance payments, bonds, and other taxes.

And these funds are leveraging a significant amount of public dollars. Combining the 20 state funds on the books today, over $2.7 billion has been invested in the last decade, leveraging an additional $9.7 billion in federal and industry investments.  Of course, this doesn’t compare to the $3 billion to $5 billion the federal government invests in energy innovation annually or the roughly $17 billion invested in renewable and nuclear energy in just FY2010 including innovation investments, tax expenditures, and subsidies.  Even so, in a time of federal budget cuts and policy gridlock, any dedicated investment vehicles for clean energy are important.

But if state clean energy funds are to have a long-term impact, policy changes are needed. As it stands, state funds support

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McAfee Pirated Content Graph

Piracy and Malware: Two Parts of a Single Problem

Compartmentalization is one of the things people do best. Life is complicated, so it’s a lot easier to deal with its troubles and travails in little pieces. As Scarlett O’Hara said when she lost Rhett Butler in Gone With the Wind: “I can't think about that right now. If I do, I'll go crazy. I'll think about that tomorrow.” Compartmentalization plays a large role in both engineering and Internet policy. Engineers and policy makers can influence the nature of the Internet in countless ways by developing new features and enacting new policies that affect its overall behavior. On the one hand, we’re all tempted to make the Internet better by addressing its various shortcomings, and on the other we’re tempted to leave it alone because it’s produced so many benefits. So we tend to reserve our creativity for the problems that we deem most critical and leave the rest alone.  Besides, it’s hard to change the Internet, so every new feature or regulation is likely to cause side effects that we don’t like even if there are net benefits.

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Clean Energy Innovation Roundup (1-6-2012)

Here are some of the top clean energy innovation-related news stories, analysis, and commentary from the last week (and some from the holiday break):

Emerging innovations key to driving down cost of clean energy in 2012 and beyond. McKinsey Quarterly (reg. req.) provides its top 5 clean tech innovations to watch in 2012 including next-gen utility-scale storage, advanced ICT-enabled power conversion systems, new energy efficient air conditioning and window technologies, $2/gallon algae-based fuels, and significantly cheaper CCS. 

And efforts to make these breakthroughs a reality are already in development.  The Carbon Capture Simulation Initiative – a national lab/university/industry partnership – are developing state-of-the-art simulation and modeling tools to accelerate the development of cheaper carbon capture technologies. A USC-led research group has developed a breakthrough absorbent technology that is more efficient at stripping carbon from coal smokestacks and could play a role in sucking CO2 out of the atmosphere. The Pennsylvania-based EOS Energy Storage is starting manufacturing on a utility-scale zinc-air rechargeable battery that has three times more capacity than a lithium equivalent and is much cheaper to produce. And a publically supported New Jersey solar start-up, Natcore, is implementing

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Magical Manufacturing Thinking: Manufacturing NOT the Bright Spot in the U.S. Economy

A great deal of economic thinking in the U.S. has become based on fads and popular delusions and the current one that says manufacturing is back and leading the recovery is a prime example. Don’t worry about the United States losing a greater share of its manufacturing jobs in the last decade than we did in the Great Depression, this thinking goes, manufacturing is coming back! The New York Times journalist Floyd Norris’s recent article is emblematic of such thinking.

Norris’s piece looks at some recent data to draw what are ultimately faulty conclusions:

In total exports, including manufactured goods as well as other commodities like agricultural products, the United States ranked second in the world in 2010, behind China but just ahead of Germany.

Of course we do, we’re the largest economy in the world. Besides, it’s not exports that matter, its trade balance, and on this we are running massive trade deficits in goods production, which have been increasing since the end of the recession.

Since employment in the United States hit its recent low, in February 2010, the economy has added 2.4 million jobs through November,

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