Thursday, March 22, 2012

Who Steals My Per Se Steals Trash

I think that's a quote from Shakespeare, who knew a lot about politicians.

Anyway, I'm thinking about it because of President Obama's interview on a Marketplace segment that was broadcast on NPR the other day, in which he went into full back-pedal mode when the host brought up the Solyndra loan debacle.

Ryssdal: With all respect, it was kind of a gutsy move I think to come to a solar facility. Your administration has staked a lot on clean technology, green jobs. The biggest item most people know about that strategy is, of course, a company named Solyndra, which your administration gave loan guarantees to, that then went bankrupt and has been the subject of many investigations. Are you doing your "all of the above" strategy right if that's what we have to show for it -- Solyndra?

Obama: We are doing the "all of the above" strategy right. Obviously, we wish Solyndra hadn't gone bankrupt. Part of the reason they did was because the Chinese were subsidizing their solar industry and flooding the market in ways that Solyndra couldn't compete. But understand: This was not our program, per se. Congress -- Democrats and Republicans -- put together a loan guarantee program because they understood historically that when you get new industries, it's easy to raise money for startups, but if you want to take them to scale, oftentimes there's a lot of risk involved, and what the loan guarantee program was designed to do was to help start up companies get to scale. And the understanding is is that some companies are not going to succeed, some companies will do very well -- but the portfolio as a whole ends up supporting the kind of innovation that helps make America successful in this innovative 21st century economy.

The part I like best is that term "per se." It may have originally meant 'being such inherently, clearly, or as a matter of law,' but in American political rhetoric it now means don't look at me, it's really not my fault

According to the political lexicographer William Safire: “As a get-out-of-trouble-word the Latinism [per se] has a scholarly ring, and with its meaning slipping old moorings, we can expect to hear it fuzz up debate for years to come.” Exactly.

ABC News fact-checked the President's statement about bipartisan support for subsidizing clean energy start-up companies, and he came up very short:

Obama rightly notes that Congress created with bipartisan support an Energy Department loan guarantee program for clean energy start-ups in 2005, during the George W. Bush administration.

However, he incorrectly suggests Solyndra received its financing from that 2005 appropriation of funds. Instead, the company’s $500 million in fast-tracked loan guarantees came from a new section of the program created by the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, also known as the stimulus. The Recovery Act did not receive any GOP votes.

See for details on the differences between the 2005 and 2009 energy subsidy programs:

There are two loan guarantee programs for renewable energy companies. The first was created under section 1703 of Title XVII of the Energy Policy Act of 2005. It was designed to help support U.S. companies developing “a new or significantly improved technology that is NOT a commercial technology,” according to the Energy Department’s description of the program. It was a self-pay credit subsidy program, meaning the companies receiving the loan would have to pay the government a fee “equal to the present value of estimated payments the government would make in the event of a default.”

The second program was created with the passage of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, more commonly known as the stimulus law. The recovery act amended the Energy Policy Act of 2005 to create section 1705 for “commercially available technologies,” as the Energy Department explains on page 12 of a 2009 report on stimulus funding. The stimulus provided more funding for the loan guarantee programs. The loans under the new program also came with no credit subsidy fees, making them more attractive and less expensive than those under the program signed into law by President Bush. It was under this program that Solyndra was able to get financing, although the company initially applied under the section 1703 program.

In a March 2009 press release announcing a $535 million loan guarantee for Solyndra, the Energy Department said: “This loan guarantee will be supported through the President’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act" ... Damien LaVera, an Energy Department spokesman, confirmed that Solyndra’s funding came solely from section 1705.”

So, the energy subsidy program that predates the Obama administration is for currently non-commercial technologies, pays for itself with a system of fees, and had bipartisan support. The other program, which the Obama administration created, is for "commercially available technologies," does not charge fees or otherwise pay for itself, and received no Republican support. Solyndra got all of its boodle from the second program.

Solyndra actually is Obama's program inherently, clearly, and as a matter of law. He ought to cowboy-up and take responsibility for it instead of hiding behind fuzzy Latinisms.


Anonymous said...

Great history on "per se" TSB! That "up to scale" phrase is a little dodgy too. I wonder if it means
send em the $$$ but put it on the scale and see how much they need to pay to get more? gwb

Anonymous said...

TSB:"The Operators" Tells the whole story of the first reporter to bring down a US General in charge of a war with a magazine article! Everyone, especially the media elites, was furious! How could he do the unthinkable? Tell the truth and pop all those mythical tales that keep this crap going? gwb

TSB said...

GWB: Subsidizing companies to get them "up to scale" may or may not be in the public interest, but I really hate it when some political appointee can put his thumb on the scale and get away with it.

Anonymous said...

TSB: Last night I was reading the beginning of Walter Lord's The Good Years (1900-1910). It was an incredibly optimistic time. Have you read any of his stuff?

How about putting one of those search boxes on this blog so us history buffs can save some time finding the old stuff? Thanks! gwb

TSB said...

I haven't read that yet, but I'll put a library hold on it. You're right about that era - and the following decade or so - being optimistic, especially about the ability of science to improve everything. Many American novels written at that time are full of futuristic stuff like hydroponic farming, airships moving cargo and people all over the country cheaply and easily, and so on. Even crime and disease were going to disappear (through eugenics). The future must have looked very good.

Anonymous said...

He was from Md, Princeton law dg did great "in-person" retrospective on Dunkirk and a beauty about a british sailor who decided to spend his leave time adventuring thru the US civil war and getting to know all the important people involved. Imagine touring through today's wars and "stopping by" to meet all the important people involved. gwb