The Daily Cannibal extends its heartiest congratulations to Joe Nocera at the New York Times, who blessed us today with a masterpiece. Titled “The Phony Solyndra Scandal,” it stuns us with its headline, and just gets better. The opening sentence gives you some idea of what to expect:
“If Brian Harrison and W. G. Stover, the two Solyndra executives who took the Fifth Amendment at a Congressional hearing on Friday, ever spend a day in jail, I’ll stand on my head in Times Square.”
Now, there’s a ringing character reference for a couple of out-and-out swindlers who lied thorough their teeth to scam the government for a $500 million loan. Briefly, George Kaiser, a major fundraiser for and contributor to the Obama presidential campaign, is a major investor in the company. Its application was bumrushed through the approval process in response to White House pressure and over the written objections of the due diligence team vetting the loan. And the due diligence team was quite right to object: as it obtains, Solyndra was going bankrupt at a rapid pace, even as it assured the feds that “business was terrific.” Actually, it was — if only because Solyndra had to slash its prices to the point where the more it sold, the more it lost — sort of like “The Producers,” solar-style.
But, advises Nocera, this was largely brought on by a stunning collapse in the price of solar panels over the past year or so. Stunning? Really? Not according to Tim Worstall at Forbes, who notes that the compay’s defenders claim that
“…Solyndra failed because silicon prices came down, something that no one at all could have foreseen. Thus Solyndra’s non-silicon technology got bushwhacked by something no one could have anticipated. Well, as someone who works in the markets for these weird metals (but no, not silicon) I can tell you that it was obvious that the price would come down. Blatantly obvious that this would happen.”
This is a phony scandal? A company uses its White House connection to gull the government out of $535 million even as it knew it was going bust, but hey, it’s green energy — green jobs! — so we should look the other way and pretend it’s all above board? Yes! And why?
That’s right. Glossing over the clear reality that the only reason this cesspool sham of an “energy company” got one red cent stemmed from White House interference in due diligence on behalf of a major campaign contributor and fundraiser, Mr. Nocera takes a quick zig to the Twilight Zone and raises — what? The Yellow Peril? Well, yes:
To say “no” is also to cede the solar panel industry to China, which last year alone provided some $30 billion in subsidies for its solar industry. Over all, the American solar industry is a big success story; it now employs more people than either steel or coal, and it’s a net exporter.
But solar panel manufacturing — a potential source of middle-class jobs, and an important reason the White House was so high on Solyndra, which made its panels in Fremont, Calif. — is another story. Not so long ago, China made 6 percent of the world’s solar panels. Now it makes 54 percent, and leads the world in solar panel manufacturing. Needless to say, the U.S. share of the market has shrunk. The only way America can manufacture competitive solar panels is to come up with innovative technologies that the Chinese can’t replicate. Like, for instance, Solyndra’s.
Manufacturing? We are going to compete with the Chinese in manufacturing a simple panel? In whose reality will this take place? The reason we lose manufacturing jobs to the Chinese owes a great deal more to labor costs than subsidies and technology. And saying “no” to an obvious dog like Solyndra is not a concession of competition, however much Mr. Nocera would like to have us think it. The question here is not whether or not the government should subsidize emerging energy technologies.; that’s still a good question, but not the one anyone is asking.
The question, Joe, is this: was there fraud involved in the loan and did the White House exert undue pressure on behalf of a political crony?
A lot of people — sober, reasonable and rational people, not, as you insist, because “the party out of power gins up phony scandals aimed at hurting the party in power.” Sometimes there really is a scandal.
Actually, there might be two — and the second involves Nocera himself. In our research for this post, we came across a post by Dave Johnson at ourfuture.org titled “The Phony Solyndra Solar Scandal.” Mr. Johnson’s article –dated several days ago — is in complete agreement with Nocera’s, referring to Solyndra as “the latest whipped-up, anti-green, anti-government, anti-Obama ‘scandal.'” Johnson goes on at considerable length in his post, but guess what keeps popping up?
So Solyndra ran out of money. Conservatives and oil interests are using the bankruptcy as a platform to attack green energy and the idea of green jobs in general, solar power in particular, President Obama as always, stimulus funding and the idea of developing a national strategic industrial policy to push back on China and others who have their own national policies to win this key industry of the future.
Those pesky Chinese. Both Johnson and Nocera make them out to be outright villains — subsidizing green technology! The idea! (What was it the Solyndra loan was supposed to be doing?) And of course, it’s really no “scandal.” In fact, it’s a shining example of how government can engage the marketplace with taxpayer money and propel America into an energy-independent leader in solar technology. Well worth the price. Give Kaiser et. al. a hand.
Oh, and — Mr. Johnson? You may want to give Nocera a call and tell him the next time he cribs your post, he should change the whole headline.