Solyndra – government crony par excellence

DOE logo. Did the DOE improperly lend money to Solyndra under White House pressure?
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Solyndra, a maker of solar batteries, is a government crony in a favorite industry. Even the mainstream media knows it now.

What is Solyndra?

Solyndra, a California company, makes rooftop solar batteries for low-rise, large-footprint factories, office buildings, and the like. They claim success stories from Pfizer, Inc., and from Italy and Czechoslovakia. But that wasn’t enough. On September 6, Solyndra went bankrupt. Solar energy is a high-risk industry in any case. Solyndra simply spent all its money and did not make the sales.

Under any other circumstances, Solyndra would be just another failing business. But the man now holding office as President, Barack H. Obama, personally visited Solyndra and made a speech from there. He held Solyndra up as an example of “green technology” in action, “creating green jobs.” Worse yet: Solyndra received a government loan under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. Worse yet, it received another loan this year, of more than half a million dollars.

This alone says that the government poured more than a million dollars into a company that was spending money too fast. (It was also using an obsolete technology; the Chinese make rooftop solar batteries from silicon, much less expensively than Solyndra did.) But recent evidence now shows that Obama’s staff knew that the company was in trouble and ordered other officials to lend the money regardless.

The e-mail trail

DOE logo. Did the DOE improperly lend money to Solyndra under White House pressure?

Logo of the US Department of Energy

On September 13, ABC News reported on a cache of inter-office e-mails from the White House. Solyndra was the subject. White House budget analysts frantically warned that the company might fail.

From Ronald A. Klain, chief of staff to Vice-President Biden:

If you guys think this is a bad idea, I need to unwind the WW QUICKLY.

For “WW” read “West Wing.” Three days later, from an unnamed budget analyst:

This deal is NOT ready for prime time.

The dates on these e-mails are most damning of all: March 7 and 10, 2009. More than two years ago.

Those dates are telling for another reason. Apologists for Obama said that Solyndra applied for a loan in the last months of the George W. Bush administration. True enough. But the Bush White House put that loan on hold in the last days. Once Obama took over, the loan was back on track.

The Washington Post said plainly that the White House rushed the loan process. Biden wanted to attend the groundbreaking ceremony for Solyndra in September. So in August 2009, the e-mails were flying again. One of Biden’s own advisers made this typical complaint:

We have ended up with a situation of having to do rushed approvals on a couple of occasions (and we are worried about Solyndra at the end of the week). We would prefer to have sufficient time to do our due diligence reviews.

Motives for the pressure

The White House had two motives to apply such pressure:

  1. George Kaiser, one of Obama’s best fund-raisers, invested heavily in Solyndra. He visited the White House 16 times in the last two years to talk about Solyndra.
  2. “Green energy” is a political dream of liberal politicians and philanthropists. Today it looks like a pipe dream.

The White House, and Mr. Kaiser, deny any pressure campaign. But the evidence is conclusive. More remarkably still is that it comes from The Washington Post, not The Washington Times. (And from ABC News, not Fox News.) The evidence also shows that the government knew that Solyndra would run out of money this month, as it has. And it knew it two years in advance.

Solyndra broke ground on its factory on September 4, 2009. On November 19, 2009, the “Climate-gate” story broke into the professional and semi-professional news services. And on September 6, 2011 (see above), Solyndra “suspended operations.” (See also these reports from RedState.com.)

Reaction

Reaction to the Solyndra story is not typical. An Obama apologist might compare the “green technology initiative” to, say, Project Apollo. He might point out that NASA did not cancel the Moon landing program after Astronauts Grissom, White and Chaffee burned alive during a dress rehearsal gone horribly wrong. He then might challenge any opponent to say that losing half a million dollars was worse than losing three brave men. But Bob Beckel, resident Obama apologist on Fox News’ The Five, did none of these things. Instead he made a petulant speech accusing Obama’s opponents of political motives—and then sat for the rest of the September 14 segment holding his hands over his ears.

See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.

The next evening, Beckel behaved himself better. (Doubtless his producers told him that holding his hands over his ears was not only unavailing but undignified.) But he still refused even to comment on the story, or on the outrage of Congressional investigators when Department of Energy officers disclaimed any responsibility for losing taxpayers’ money.

Megan McArdle is at least as good a friend of Obama as is Beckel. But she did not flinch from saying that Solyndra is a serious problem. The special treatment of George Kaiser isn’t her problem. The thoroughly bad judgment that the government showed, is.

[W]hen government bureaucrats [try to] make political dreams come true with Other People’s Money, [disaster can result].

McArdle finishes:

When banks engage in this sort of behavior, we call it a bubble, and try to figure out how to fix things so they won’t do it again. When government agencies do this, we call it a weekday.

Worse yet, the government subordinated its claims to those of private investors in any bankruptcy proceeding. That’s against the law. (Representative Morgan Griffith, R-VA, explains that in the video below.)

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney lamely complains that critics of Solyndra have political motives. Carney forgets that the purpose of separation of powers is to give some members of government a political reason to check the bad behavior of other members. Motives are one thing; evidence is another. The evidence has convinced some of Obama’s best friends in the media that his administration has blundered badly. And his other friends who try to defend him, aren’t doing him any favors with their own behavior.