A Politician's View of Policy Making

(Editor's note: Below is an essay by new TheOilDrum contributor Debbie Cook. Debbie was formerly Mayor and Councilmember of Huntington Beach, CA from 2000-2008 and a US Congressional Candidate, 46th District in 2008. She is also President of the Board at the Post Carbon Institute. Long active in resource depletion related outreach with TOD, ASPO and PCI, she is also locally involved with energy/water and permaculture issues in southern CA.)

Jeffrey Sachs, economic advisor to the UN, in his recently published article, Fixing the Broken Government Policy Process , articulates four manifestations of the breakdown in Washington:

1. Inability to focus beyond the next election
2. Decisions are made through negotiations with those who will be funding the next election (i.e. industry lobbyists)
3. Technical expertise is ignored or bypassed
4. The public is largely excluded from the process

Sachs asks, “How can business and government work together without policies falling prey to special interests?”

He suggests that government initiate a more “open, transparent and systematic public-private policy process in each major area of sustainable development”—high-level roundtable proceedings that are open to the public, web-based, and include representatives from private business, nongovernmental organizations, government officials, scientists, and engineers.

While this all sounds good in theory, my eight years in public office tells me that one more group, no matter how it is constituted, issuing one more report, is not going to drive better public policy.

In my opinion the best way to influence policy is for the “scientists and engineers” to influence policy makers directly—and you don’t do that in a report, in a letter, on a petition, or a blog. It requires a commitment to face-to-face relationship building, nurturing, and maintenance—not the kind of activity typically selected by the pocket protector/lab coat types.

Rarely does a policy discussion center solely around facts. Emotions like trust, loyalty, anger, contempt, and sympathy are often just below the surface of every discussion. Facts become attached to emotions in large part because of the relationships that have developed between individuals, groups, and ideas. Words like “politician” and “government” evoke strong emotions that may have very little to do with facts and everything to do with how we synthesize information.

Here is a real life example of policy making on the fly.

On the same day that Scientific American published Professor Sachs’ article, the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) was taking up the issue of E85 ethanol fueling stations. See here and here for the agenda items. SCAG is the largest Metropolitan Planning Organization in the United States covering 6 counties and 19 million residents. It is guided by an unwieldy 83 member governing board whose members are elected representatives of cities and counties within the region. SCAG is mandated by the federal government to undertake planning and policy initiatives within the areas of transportation, growth management, hazardous waste management, and air quality.

This particular policy debate surrounding the E85 fueling stations serves as a good example of the fragmented decision-making process described by Sachs. It is also an example of the cast of characters whose relationships will have influenced the issue prior to it reaching the policy making body: a lobbyist who had applied for and won a grant in the agency’s name but without their knowledge; a businessman who was the sole source recipient of the grant; an Executive Director concerned over rejecting a DOE grant for fear it would affect future grant awards; an elected official or two whose communities are being targeted for an ethanol plant; air quality officials whose mandate is to reduce emissions; and a former colleague (myself) who spent her years on the board introducing concepts like peak oil and energy return on investment.

Every member’s vote represented a unique “truth” to that member based on facts filtered through their relationship matrix. It was the interactions between and among the characters that influenced the range of expressions preceding the vote. There were votes of loyalty for the Executive Director; votes of trust for a former colleague; votes of sympathy for the businessman who was losing out on an opportunity to build 55 fueling stations; and votes of anger against a lobbyist who may or may not have obfuscated information from the agency.

For me, the result was both unexpected and unsatisfying—unexpected because the inertia behind the industry seemed insurmountable, and unsatisfying because many board members are still holding onto the belief that cellulosic ethanol will displace transportation fuels and bring the U.S. closer to “energy independence.” Dissuading policy makers from these and other fantasies is going to require many more conversations.

The hope for cellulosic ethanol appeals to the same fantasy themes ascribed by Dr. Benjamin Sovacool, researcher on issues related to energy policy, to the hydrogen economy: independence, patriotism, progress, democratization, and inevitability. As Savacool says, “The desire to experience these sorts of fantasies will likely continue even if the hydrogen economy does not come to fruition.”

Indeed, the ethanol fantasy continues even as targets come up 90% short.

I have my own fantasy—to see CBS news journalist Dan Rather pay atonement to Robert Rapier for Rather’s 60 Minutes piece. Something akin to Mad Money’s host Jim Cramer’s repentance to Jon Stewart, host of the Daily Show:

Cramer: I always wish that people would come in and swear themselves in before they come on the show. I had a lot of CEOs lie to me on the show. It's very painful. I don't have subpoena power…. But Dick Fuld, who ran Lehman Brothers, called me in—he called me in when the stock was at 40—because I was saying: "Look, I thought the stock was wrong, thought it was in the wrong place"—he brings me in and lies to me, lies to me, lies to me.

Stewart [feigning shock]: The CEO of a company lied to you?

Cramer: Shocking.

So returning to Sachs’ idea that we can work together to fix government policy-making, here is my prescription for scientists, professors, and engineers:

1. Participate in the public discourse
2. Publicly challenge your peers who put forward junk science
3. Be mindful of fallacies in your own assumptions
4. Relationships are primary and every policy is derived primarily from relationships, not facts.

To each critic sitting in their ivory tower, I challenge you to create the conditions for these relationships to flourish.

Welcome Debbie to The Oil Drum staff! And thanks for this these insights on the political process!

Those who are naturally inclined to seek high profile leadership positions, public or private, may not be best suited for policy making, especially with regard to big problems requiring unpopular solutions. Selling people on realistic long term energy policies for example, would probably require leaders with atypical personality traits, perhaps not so motivated by status or approval, but rather by evidence and reason, as well as compassion. To set an example, lead others, to plant the seeds of possible solutions regarding resource limits, ecological limits or Climate Change, I think someone with prolific social -and- technical expertise would better serve humanity. But how many engineers and scientists do you know who are gifted socially and even interested in high profile leadership? Can wealth & status seekers be as helpful as compared to the more scientific or technically inclined in the face of such large scale problems as Peak Oil?

Debbie - Nice to hear from someone who has been there. A very good historical discussion of public policy making is contained in Gustav's Le Bon's book "The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind" http://etext.virginia.edu/toc/modeng/public/BonCrow.html

The means of persuasion of the leaders we are dealing with, apart from their prestige, consist in the factors we have already enumerated several times. To make a skilful use of these resources a leader must have arrived at a comprehension, at least in an unconscious manner, of the psychology of crowds, and must know how to address them. He should be aware, in particular, of the fascinating influence of words, phrases, and images. He should possess a special description of eloquence, composed of energetic affirmations -- unburdened with proofs -- and impressive images, accompanied by very summary arguments. This is a kind of eloquence that is met with in all assemblies, the English Parliament included, the most serious though it is of all.

This may be some good advice on framing an issue from republican strategist, Frank Luntz.

The First Rule of Fighting Climate Change: Don't Talk About Climate Change


Thanks. And another excellent book on framing is The Political Mind by George Lakoff.

i second the recommendation.

yes, I just finished reading Lakoff's "Don't Think of an Elephant." which was interesting.

Bruce Wexler's "Brain and Culture: Neurobiology, Idology and Social change" is excellent too. http://kolber.typepad.com/ethics_law_blog/2006/04/bruce_wexlers_b.html

I would like to add:

5. Government's advisers and consultants deliver the good news and the reports which guarantee their next jobs

Example from Australia:

Report Card 2009 (part 1) - Energy Policy - Has the Federal Government prepared for declining oil production?

4. Relationships are primary and every policy is derived primarily from relationships, not facts.

Too often this is called, or becomes "The Old Boys Club". I am thinking of Haliburton and contracts with Bush Govt. as a recent example. Certainly, real professionals act differently, but do they get very far in the decision making world?

"Follow the money". I think well-meaning participants are shorted by a corrupt process. Having said that, news and exposure by non-traditional means, blogs like TOD, are taking over the oversight role that used to found in investigative journalism. Thank God.

[quote]Having said that, news and exposure by non-traditional means, blogs like TOD, are taking over the oversight role that used to found in investigative journalism. Thank God.[/quote]

I second that.

I rarely visit news sites anymore, other then the financial sites to watch oil prices skyrocket (like today) and to read the comments by the clueless growth forever mindset zombies.

Unfortunately, this process is becoming increasingly irrelevant. 'Letting all the little people have their say (and letting a few big- shots determine the outcome)' is now a waste of time. The little people and the big shots are now on the same page which is an across- the- board desire to return consumption to 'normal' levels.

Our institutions themselves are at issue. Most of society's institutions are not useful for managing our industrial economy - this includes the US political process. Our country's political institutions evolved during the late Middle Ages in England and Scotland. There is no inherent mechanism to exclude special interests that co- opt the process itself because the interests are given special treatment as 'entrepreneurs'.

The entrepreneurs have innovated new forms of corruption unthinkable to the John Locke- reading Founding Fathers.

At the core of our current crisis is an institution gap. We need certain social bodies immediately but we cannot imagine what they will look like and what they will do. This gap is on display in Europe, where the Euro monetary and fiscal management mechanisms come up against their designed- in 'democratic' shortcomings. Everyone is panicking for good reason. The result of similar stresses not that long ago gave rise to such institutions as Adolf Hitler. The default position is always winds up being a variation- on- the theme of Gestapo.

Which is probably the outcome in the US and other 'civilized' places that have surrendered every resource to unrestrained commerce, consumption and luxury.

Right now the US destiny is in the hands of some Middle Eastern sheiks, this despite a large US military presence in the area. A demonstration of the hollowness of another cliché - that of the overwhelming political effectiveness of the American military.

Another social institution dives over the cliff, right?

I certainly understand the frustration captured in your comment. One valuable lesson I learned from my experience was not to see government as an institution. Government is not Congress or your state's assembly. There are governments everywhere. It is much more than just state, local, and federal. There are special districts (water, sewer, fire, transportation), there are homeowner associations, and there are transition town governance bodies. The government body that is closest to you has the most impact on your life. But we spend most of our time arguing about what Congress is or isn't doing. I would prefer to look at the problem as a relationship gap rather than an institutional gap.

I suspect a major part of our problem is the public policy equivalent of information overload. Our federal government was designed for a much simpler and slower-paced world, and was intended to be quite small and narrow in focus. The founders thought they were reserving so many powers and responsibilities to the states that the federal government would be left with only a manageable few things on its plate. At the time, they were right. However, the federal government's plate is now filled to overflowing. Actually, it was filled to overflowing many decades ago, yet it has continued to get worse and worse and worse. Now, it is not possible for anyone - President, Congress, bureaucrats, "experts", media - to sort it out and keep track of everything.

The FedGov is like a fruit tree that has been left to grow untended for years, except for continual grafting of more and more branches on to the tree. It is now a tangled mess. We wonder why it does not produce more fruit, or why grafting yet more branches on to the tree fails to produce the desired results. The answer is obvious: this tree is in desperate need of a very severe pruning. Only after it has been severely pruned can it start being productively fruitful. If you want to graft new branches into it, they will only bear well if the rest of the tree has already been well-pruned, so that it can really direct its energy into the new graft.

This, IMHO, is why all the clammoring for the FedGov to do this or that new thing or to solve this or that problem is going nowhere, and why the FedGov seems to be effectively paralyzed.

Much as we might want to get action on the urgent problems confronting us, a radical pruning of the FedGov MUST be the first and foremost priority. Otherwise, nothing will get done, and any effort to try to get things done will just be unproductive and frustrating.

Thus, while I think that the suggestions in this article have merit, I am certain that they will not produce the results desired unless and until there has been a severe pruning of the FedGov. Only after that has first been done will these recommendations be likely to be highly productive.

Where to prune? Obviously, different people will have different opinions, and that is part of the problem. When you prune a fruit tree, though, the selection of branches to prune is not an altogether arbitrary manner; there are reasons why you cut out some branches and not others. Some branches are inherently unproductive. Apple trees have "suckers", vertical branches that produce no apples; those are the first to go, suggesting that finding programs that really have outlived their usefulness or never were as useful as originally though should be the first to be identified and put on the chopping block. (And let's chop them out entirely, not just pare them back - we really need to radically reduce the overall complexity of the entire FedGov.) Secondly, you remove branches that are rubbing against other branches, as that just creates entry points for insects and diseases; programs which are counterproductive to other programs obviously fall in this category, and need to be eliminated. Thirdly, you look for branches that might be diseased in some way, and cut those out entirely; some of our government programs are just so terminally dysfunctional that they are beyond repair, and we are probably better off just being rid of those. Finally, you look at the overall shape of the tree and try to strive for balance, and providing for good sun exposure and air circulation for the entire tree; that is more of an art than a science, but clearly some things - like "defense" and "entitlements" have overgrown to the point where they are limiting the capacity of the FedGov to address any other national problems, no matter how severe, and these do need to be severely pruned back.

This will all be very painful. I will be very surprised if it can be done without rioting in the streets, and maybe a considerable amount of bloodshed. However, we must bite the bullet and do what must be done.

Unfortunately, I very much doubt that the current lot in Washington are up to it. That is the real insurmountable problem that we face, and I really don't have a good answer for it.

I think your "pruning" proposal may kill the organism in an attempt to save it.

Far wiser would be to begin investigating radically new methods of democratic government. Question. If these means of communication we all regularly employ were available 225 years ago, how would Jefferson and Franklin and Washington etc. have incorporated them into the system they designed?

Well, chopping down the tree and planting a new one in its place is always an alternative. If pruning is neglected long enough, that may very well be what ends up happening.

Of course, if you are going to have a fruit tree and want to get fruit from it, then you really are going to have to get into the routine of pruning it regularly. We in the US never did that, perhaps that was our fatal flaw.

The "new" house they are working on this season of "This Old House" on PBS has been stripped down to the studs, needed almost an entirely new foundation laid, not to mention they've had to add on to the existing "structure". The point is, they could have saved $1000's/$10000's if they would have just bulldozed the house to begin with and start over new... I'm sure they could have salvaged some of the old beams/etc...

Fruit trees-
Don't forget to bend those branches. Its works! Induces early fruiting. If you want to be really evil, you can wound the tree and make it think its dying and i believe that too will induce early fruiting.

I like your metaphor. I spent Sunday at my Permaculture class and watched a group of students pruning an Apricot tree. It was a "group pruning" and I'm afraid the tree will probably only bear fruit on the highest branches that they couldn't reach.

While I'm not going to attempt to prune the federal tree because I don't know it well enough, the local tree is being pruned right now without the perspective of the energy savvy folk like you.

I like the analogy, and it reduces down to Tainters "declining returns on complexity"

In pruning a tree, it is important that it not become top heavy. This is the problem with our Federal Government. The trunk may not be adequate for the weight it is being asked to carry.

Continuing the metaphore for a moment, much of what needs to be done must be done at the State and local level. That means, not all of the fruit being borne by a single stem, but more trunks, and multiple trees. We are still a federation of sovereign states; each state is able to enact local ordinances (keep in mind that the Federal mandate is mostly for commerce, so far as it crosses state lines). Thus, to the extent that energy use crosses state lines, the Federal Government may enact ordinances controlling and regulating it "for the common good." Pollution crosses the lines, as do power lines, gas and oil pipelines, and fuel deliveries in general. Federal Laws concerning these are possible.

States, when enacting local laws, must not violate the federal. They may do what they want with intrastate transportation, state highways, local power and so forth. Danger: overbearing Federal laws on any subject might create consequences not intended. Corporation look for, and intentionally campaign for these. Federal banking laws have destroyed local state usury and credit laws, for instance! Similarly, Federal laws regulating financial institutions in general, as well as general Federal Regulatory laws have grown into out of control spending machines.

Government does not need to be expensive, it needs to be efficient.

Government does not need to be expansive, it needs to be effective.

Too many laws, too many regulations, too many branches grafted onto the tree, overwhelm its carrying capacity.


Yes, I favor the devolution of most domestic responsibilities to the state and local governments. They are going to need to prune back too, a declining economy is simply not going to be able to afford to do all the things that it could when it was wealthier. They will be better able to make those hard decisions because they will be more focused, and because they won't have the reality-cloaking, money-printing machine of the Federal Reserve to hide behind.

The FedGov needs to focus just on national & homeland security (actual defense, not imperialistic interventionism), foreign affairs, and those few things that truly are national/continental in scope. As I see it, all of the entitlement programs - ALL of them - could and should be handed off to the states, and the states should be given the freedom to do whatever works best for them.

What's happening is that people are looking at the gap and the abyss looks back into them!

Tea Party Movement Lights Fuse for Rebellion on Right

Published: February 15, 2010

SANDPOINT, Idaho — Pam Stout has not always lived in fear of her government. She remembers her years working in federal housing programs, watching government lift struggling families with job training and education. She beams at the memory of helping a Vietnamese woman get into junior college.

But all that was before the Great Recession and the bank bailouts, before Barack Obama took the White House by promising sweeping change on multiple fronts, before her son lost his job and his house. Mrs. Stout said she awoke to see Washington as a threat, a place where crisis is manipulated — even manufactured — by both parties to grab power.

The various administrations - local and otherwise - are also poised at the edge of the same abyss. After decades of mis- investment in sprawl that they have discovered has no positive returns on the investment. At the same time there is no consensus about what to do about it except add more incentives for more sprawl because the sprawl industry is the only form in a position to offer blandishments.

The issue is a race against time; between circumstances changing the form or citizens finding the means to do so voluntarily. The Tyranny Types are already jockeying for position, readying easy answers and usual scapegoats for the time when circumstance offers them the opportunity to seize power.

It's not going to be enough on the large scale where our current crisis is playing out to embrace that which may or may not be comforting. New forms - be they institutions or not - are required yesterday. Here's Simon Johnson in the Wall Street Journal describing the malfunction of ... whatever they are:

Even following Thursday's EU summit, an orderly resolution of these problems seems unlikely. The Germans will push for draconian cuts to Greece's government spending and public sector wages but they won't budge on relatively tight monetary policy and the overly strong euro—and they definitely won't agree to loosen their own (German) fiscal policy.

Ireland is already cutting hard. Such fiscal austerity leads to double-digit declines in GDP, and risks massive political revolts. Ireland's banks are today probably insolvent. Who can afford to repay their mortgages when wages are falling and unemployment rising? Irish house prices continue to speed downward. This is not an example of a "careful" solution—it is a nation in a financial death spiral.

Other EU countries will lobby for a continuation of the status quo. They would prefer the ECB keep lending to the periphery, and the problems be pushed off for another day. This too is no solution.

You can come to your own conclusion about whether this is an institutional failure or not. Here's Ambrose Evans- Pritchard:

The last two weeks have cruelly exposed the Original Sin of monetary union: that EMU was launched without an EU treasury or debt union. This will be tested again and again by bond vigilantes until such a mechanism is created. Europe's hope of fending off markets with "constructive ambiguity" must fail, as will become obvious this week if EU finance ministers fail to flesh out rescue details.

The EU finance ministers cannot flesh out a rescue because they cannot imagine a framework where the rescue does not do great damage to some other part of the European economy. The bond vigilantes are the same entities that are arbitraging California's failure to imagine a system that can provide comfort for retirees against a California that cannot raise tax revenues.

Regardless of 'whatever you wish to name it', what is taking place represents an expanding vacuum of institutional - even traditional - authority. People look for answers and get lies. The system itself needs leadership and becomes entombed in Kafkaesque process, instead. The next logical step is the question the need for ... whatchamacallits, altogether. Ever since the euro crisis began a few months ago the discussion leads to eliminating the euro and breaking up the ECM. This is not the stuff from which authority gains the ability to function either properly or fairly. Outside of tyranny, the outcome is anarchy.

Right now, the list of 'whatever they are' that are failing miserably is long and growing:

- Religion
- Parliaments at all levels
- Business and finance at all levels
- The Academe
- Military
- Science
- Technology
- Medicine
- Agriculture

... there really isn't much left over. Monarchies such as Saudi Arabia's seems to endure and function because they lack the compunction that strangles democracies' sense of self- preservation. Saudia can write off a percentage of its own citizens and be done with it. The Saud family clan functions better than our massive government/finance/banking and Federal Reserve altogether!

Corporations are flexible and amorphous enough to be successful but the corporate success is measured against its effects on society at large. Law itself does not provide systemic security to any degree greater than its adherents and practitioners who are as co- opted as parliaments. Business's atomizing success at advertising is defeating by every measure except its own.

The world's societies are made from these things. They have failed or are failing. What's next?

California simply cannot raise revenues without raising taxes and raising taxes reduces younger generations into harsh debt slavery to older generations while prices of homes and other goods remain elevated due to misguided Keynesian economic policies. California could increase their state income tax by 100% (doubling it) and still not close the existing budget deficit... and that does not even address the underfunded CALPERS retirement system!

Quite simply, the empire is extracting too high a cost from all participants for promises that cannot and will not be kept. Should younger generations today accept lower wages, inability to buy homes, and high taxation solely to support the elderly who foolishly believed in free lunches?

You make excellent points regarding existing institutions, but viewing humanity through the lens of evolutionary psychology I am not sure that I can expect any other outcome than either the corruption you mention or the jackboot of oppression as its alternative. In short, I am not sure the problem is solvable even if we tried.

Don't you think, David, that the problem that California has is shared by all states, and is different from the Federal problem. That is, a state may not issue its own money. Like Greece, California is burdened with debt that MUST be paid using money issued by another authority. Consequently, California cannot monetize its debt. Instead, California, like Illinois, must pay it off or default. Paying it off can either be done by 'growing' their way out of the debt without tax increased (which is a way of increasing taxes by increasing the taxable base, being incomes and wealth), or by increasing rates of taxation. Peak Oil will prevent 'growing' their way out of their debts. Neo-Conservatives and their corporate masters have rejected increasing taxes, out of respect for their credo, "Greed is Good." So long as they control the legislative process directly or indirectly, the only option available is default.

To avoid your conundrum,

Should younger generations today accept lower wages, inability to buy homes, and high taxation solely to support the elderly who foolishly believed in free lunches?

my suggestion is that the new taxes be placed on personal and corporate wealth! That is to say, a tax on personal property in excess of and exclusive of residential real estate, lived in as the primary residence of the taxpayer [perhaps limited in total amount]. I believe this could be done on a restricted basis, over a period of time, for the stated purpose of retiring all state debt. Once the debt is paid off, the tax dies. Of course there must be restrictions on new debt at the same time, or the politicians would run rampant. Difficult to craft, but not impossible.

The alterative is default, and the national and international reprecussions of California's default are unthinkable!


It's going to be fun watching all the older feminists who thought they didn't need a husband to help them out or children because they were career minded as their retirement savings and eventually social security, medicare, and pension programs melt down.

Younger generations aren't going to pay for their trips to the beach and to Costa Rica, they can't afford to. The debts won't be paid off by raising taxes, they'll be paid off either through inflation or default.

Don't forget, Ted Kennedy was the one who wrote Medicare Part D, D for disaster.

I don't know that Ted Kennedy "wrote" part D. I do know that the final signature on it was that of the moron formally known as President Bush.

It's going to be classic watching all the older Chauvinists who thought they were self-made men start to recognize how much real work the women have been doing in their lives while they were pushing unnecessary paper around and buying toys, too.

Shadenfreude will surely be coming from all sorts of Poetically Just directions. I'm not all that worried about the independent women that I know, they're FAR more realistic and able to recognize and cope with adversity than any of the Hard-headed men I've met.

Shadenfreude will surely be coming

We get our simple pleasures where we can.

Hi Bob,

Thank you for sparing me the diversion of writing a reply that's either a 1) thoughtful critique of feminism, including a brief history of such things as the discovery and prevention of of child abuse, laws against sexual harassment in the workplace, etc. , following by the "critique" part; or 2) a "personals" ad.

Bob to the rescue, once again! My kind of TOD-man. :)

OTOH, in the event the societal "we" choose to cope as you imply, by making arrangements that can only function with large families, as in bygone days of yore, the results are not going to be very pretty. 100 billion people, here we come?

Default has happened numerous times throughout history and is therefore quite thinkable. You, personally, may not like the idea of default but you cannot force a generation who was never asked to shoulder the debt of a generation who was too foolish to even learn basic economics.

Understand this and understand it clearly - the young will have the ultimate say in this matter. If they choose this yoke, so be it. But it is completely within their rights to refuse to wear a yoke crafted by the foolishness of another generation. At that point, default will become quite thinkable and whatever the consequences of that default are ride squarely on those voters who have voted for promises of pork and more pork for the last several decades. They will have no one to blame but themselves. And mind you, people have refused the yoke of debt servitude in the past and will again in the future. Is this a destructive process? History tells us that unfortunately it usually is. But I say again that the blame will lie squarely on the shoulders of those who fostered the debt, not on those who refused to pay something for which they individually never agreed.

I don't even think in terms of the antiqued system of debt usury anymore.
All it is bits and bytes in servers somewhere in cyberspace or numbers typed on paper.
All bullsh@t.

We have the resources what we need is a new attitude and to re-industrialize and make our own stuff again.
That is what made America the envy of the world at one time.
This system that has rewarded and created layer upon layer of parasites needs to be destroyed and replaced with a system that is in alignment with the ecology and also rewards productive behavior not swindlers.
Money needs to be relegated to a medium of exchange only if it is to be used at all and all financial relationships should be equity and debt should be outlawed and punished severely.

All it is bits and bytes in servers somewhere in cyberspace or numbers typed on paper.
All bullsh@t.

A typo I think.
But if you meant "All Bullshit", then I concur.

The default is thinkable, and likely. The consequences to the world economy are unthinkable. No one knows what impact that will ultimately have. Perhaps it will be good, and make debt less do-able. Maybe it will destabilize the economies of the world, and create endemic depression and a new dark age. I certainly do not know, and I don't care to predict.

From a personal perspective, I personally have not incurred any debt since about 1995, except for a 30-yr, fixed rate, VA home mortgage in 2001. I am happy to say that my mortgage is not under water, and I am likely to have it paid off in 2011 or early 2012.

I agree that debt is ultimately destructive. And with PO it will remain so, since it will not be possible to grow out of it in the way we expected in the past. Many corporations will find this to be a problem as their debt service increases in relation to their income. Unlike personnel, they cannot 'lay off' their debts, and as they reduce other expenses, mostly labor, that relationship is bound to grow. The hedge funds who service the debt are money eating machines, and merciless. Corporate action, like personal action, in acquiring debt is short sighted and seldom rewarded.

I really enjoy your outlook on debt. It is a priceless and refreshing change from the endless propaganda we see. Thank you.


But all that was before the Great Recession and the bank bailouts, before Barack Obama took the White House

I find it hilarious to see attempts to attribute blame for the financial crash of 2007 to the Obama administration. Do Republican party spin doctors actually believe the voters are that stupid? Is that why they fight against attempts to educate the populace? So such nonsense can be repeated without challenge?

The Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act (GLBA)

The Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act passed in November 1999, repealing the BHCA and portions of the Glass-Steagall Act, allowing banks, brokerages, and insurance companies to merge, thus making the Citigroup/Traveler Group merger legal. Top Citigroup officials were allowed to review and approve drafts of the legislation before it was formally introduced.[4] After resigning as Treasury Secretary and while secretly in negotiations to head Citigroup, Robert Rubin helped broker the final deal to pass the bill.[4] He later became one of three CEOs that headed up CitiCorp.


President Barack Obama believes that the Act directly helped cause the 2007 subprime mortgage financial crisis.[22] Economists Robert Ekelund and Mark Thornton have also criticized the Act as contributing to the crisis. They state that while "in a world regulated by a gold standard, 100% reserve banking, and no FDIC deposit insurance" the Financial Services Modernization Act would have made "perfect sense" as a legitimate act of deregulation, but under the present fiat monetary system it "amounts to corporate welfare for financial institutions and a moral hazard that will make taxpayers pay dearly."[23]

Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman has called Senator Phil Gramm "the father of the financial crisis" due to his sponsorship of the Act.[24] Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz has also argued that the Act helped to create the crisis.[25] An article in The Nation has made the same argument.[26]

Contrary to Phil Gramm's claim that "GLB didn't deregulate anything" (see Defense), the GLB Act that he co-authored explicitly exempted security-based swap agreements (a derivative financial product based on another security's value or performance) from regulation by the SEC by amending the Securities Act of 1933, Section 2A, and similarly the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, Section 3A, to read, in part:[27] [28]

1. The definition of "security" in section 2(a)(1) does not include any security-based swap agreement (as defined in section 206B of the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act [15 USCS § 78c note]).
2. The Commission is prohibited from registering, or requiring, recommending, or suggesting, the registration under this title of any security-based swap agreement[.] ...
3. The Commission is prohibited from ... promulgating, interpreting, or enforcing rules; or ... issuing orders of general applicability; ... as prophylactic measures against fraud, manipulation, or insider trading with respect to any security-based swap agreement[.]

Note that Gramm et al's financial time bomb was signed into law by President Clinton, a democrate, but it passed in the republican Senate with a sufficient majority to have overridden his veto had he tried.

This video on the banking system might be of some interest.


I find it hilarious to see attempts to attribute blame for the financial crash of 2007 to the Obama administration.

The blame must be shared with many administrations and Congresses through the past, at least, 29 years! Obama's sin is that he did not provide change. He retains the same advisors, coming from Wall Street in general, and Goldman Sachs in particular, and continues the same reckless policies that have failed us for so long. And, it is maintained, financed and abetted by the Corporate power structure that now owns the US Supreme Court and the Congress of the United States. The extend of their encroachment into state and local government is debatable, and must be considerable.

So, it is not really hilarious to recognize that Obama has followed the crowd, and continued the same policies that threaten to destroy the world economy, at a time that Peak Oil renders their actions so dangerous as to be, IMHO, treasonous.


Well, it is rather hilarious (for an outsider) to see endless repeats of blame on Obama for a comparably negligable failing on a quite nebulous promise only to his own supporters, (eg. his opponents who are constantly pointing out that failing NEVER WANTED THE PROMISE TO BE MET IN THE FIRST INSTANCE so why are they worried?) alongside complete ignoring of the actions with deliberate intent of others long in government as pointed out in my post above.

I mean, what is it the detractors are saying? That McCain and whats-her-name would have by now implemented a complete restructuring of the US economy without any debt incurred? Employment would be now happily moving along at 4.5%, the armed forces would be additionally financed, and the federal deficit would be eliminated? If only the president had chosen a financial adviser who doesn't know a thing about the financial system?

A break, please.

Oh yeah? This sounds a little convenient..

The Blame gets shared, and for whom are the triumphs claimed?

It sounds far too much like the shadowy Corporate ploy of 'Privatizing Profit/ Nationalizing Costs'

Any attempt to make Bush and Cheney take responsibility for Econ Policy, for these completely wasteful and unnecessary wars all the sudden becomes a problem of 'Politicians' or 'Government' in general.

No. They should stand trial.

I don't follow politics much, but if I have to I generally figure any politician needs to do three things:

1) Tell the truth

2) Obey the law

3) Do their job

...needless to say, any politician meeting those three rules certainly deserves to stay out of prison.

1) Tell the truth

I guess it depends in part on what truth is!
As in lies, damn lies and statistics...

It is not my intent to bash Obama in particular, I happen to think the entire political process in the US is completely broken but I do find his administration's rhetoric to be rather disingenuous. This little gem showed up in my in box the other day.

Wondering what the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act -- President Obama's stimulus bill -- has accomplished? Look at this:

No, not really!

I think that graph is actually correct, FM. What is your point?

Len -- I suppose it’s how you view the world. I look at the graph and it supports what I’ve felt for a long time: it doesn’t matter who the president/congress is when it comes to economic cycles. Look at President Bush’s side of the curve: he had the same low job loss numbers after 7 years of his presidency as President Obama has after one year. If you give President Obama the ability to reduce job loss then you have to credit President Bush with the same for most of his term. In fact, if I recall correctly, President Bush saw some of the lowest unemployment ever seen. All those who think it was his brilliant policies that achieved it please raise your hand. Now get out of my sight. IMHO, no president has such power. IMHO, they can make things a little worse or a little better. But they can no more change the cycle then they change the tide chart. If we see a jobless (or worsening) jobless rate in the next couple of years as some predict I wouldn’t necessarily point a finger at President Obama for the same reason. It all reminds me of that scene in the movie where the Mayan king uses his knowledge of a forth coming solar eclipse to convince the people he has control of the sun. Worked with those folks…why not ours.

And that's a loss curve, not an unemployment curve, so Obama is now flat at the lowest number. A long, positive rate of job gain is needed to get back to pleasant, mindless norms.

I think that graph is actually correct, FM. What is your point?

Yes, I'm sure it is. However Obama is taking credit for a recovery that 1) doesn't exist and 2) he couldn't have created even if he tried.

So as far as I'm concerned he is still being disingenuous.

You can fool some of the people all of the time. You can fool all of the people some of the time. But you can't fool all of the people all of the time.

Fortunately for politicians, the first statement is all that is really necessary, while the second statement allows them wiggle room and a chance at self-aggrandizement. That some small number of people are fooled very rarely does not concern the political class at all. Such persons can either be safely ignored or easily marginalized, and thus the lies continue. This is the essence of human politics, whether capitalist or socialist, tyrant or democrat.

Ok, point taken and valid. Obama neither created or is solving the unemployment problem. Done, he's off the hook. HOWEVER, I do think there is a clear path from Chicago School Economic (de-regluate everything) --> Reaganomic / Thatcherism --> gutting of Glass SteagaL by republican congress in 1990's --> zero SEC oversight of derivatives swaps --> economic crash of 2007.

Yadda Yadda Yadda.

From the outside looking in, it is a comedy skit of "The Angry Beavers" futilely bopping each other on the snout.

Are we having fun yet?

No, I don't agree with that assessment. From my observations, Obama appears to be furthering the exact same type of response made by Bush to the Great Recession in the first place - socialization of losses, privatization of profits to friends of the administration, and further entrenchment of the bureaucratic police state, which while semi-benign at the current time is still a police state.

I don't think Obama is "off the hook" at all. He had a choice at his election. He could have made the hard choices, appointed a Volcker like candidate to the Federal Reserve and forced the country to take its medicine. Instead he renominated Ben Bernanke so now he owns Bernanke and all of Bernanke's failures. Obama chose Geithner as his Treasury Secretary. Geithner was president of the NY Fed under Bush and he was directly involved in all of the paperwork and negotiations that committed US funds to bailing out AIG, and thus by extension to bailing out the big Wall Street firms behind AIG, such as Goldman Sachs. Obama is the Chief Executive of the Executive Branch of government. He has not forced Holden, his Attorney General, out from behind his cushy desk to even begin to investigate the massive fraud of companies like Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, Bank of America, and others, despite completely public revelations of wrong doing to such an extent that this last week the European Union defiantly asked Obama how much longer he would allow rogue firms like Goldman to continue their destructive operations. And Obama was completely silent.

Obama is completely part and parcel of the problem as he has consented at every turn to the exact same sorts of policies initiated by Bush and even by Clinton. The liberal dream, that liberals didn't create this mess, is false. Both liberals and conservatives created this mess because both used the exact same tools to win elections - buying votes with deficit spending, simply with different target constituencies. Thus neither "mainstream" liberal nor "mainstream" conservative policies can be expected to solve the crisis that they created. It is only at the far left and far right edges of the political spectrum that I find anything interesting being said at all, and precisely because these people are at the extremes of the political discourse, they are marginalized and thus their solutions will never be tried.

It is for reasons such as these that I believe that collapse similar to the USSR is inevitable somewhere in the future of the United States. I have no idea of when but the road we are on simply cannot be sustained, even by increasing taxes. We're already past the knee in the debt curve when you include the unfunded obligations. It simply cannot ever be paid off and thus ultimately must be defaulted in one manner or another. And default by an empire the size of the United States will likely mean the end of the political structures that denote the United States as we know it today.

Just a friendly reminder lenny -- Glass Steagal was repealed with the help of a big supporting vote by the Dems in Congress at the time and signed by a Dem president. I see the G-S stupidity shared equally by both parties. Not much to debate on this point: it's all in the Congressional record.

Ah, finally. A republican agreeing that the financial collapse is not entirely Obama's fault. Baby steps, but progress.

And whether or not you think Republicans and Dems share equally in the blame for passing the putrid Gramm-yadda act, at the time congress was controlled by Republicans, the bill was sponsored only by Republicans, and those voting in favour of it were more than 2 to 1 Republicans. With that setup, you can be sure it wasn't a democrat who wrote that last bit I posted explicitly prohibiting the SEC from policing swaps

The Commission is prohibited from ... promulgating, interpreting, or enforcing rules; or ... issuing orders of general applicability; ... as prophylactic measures against fraud, manipulation, or insider trading with respect to any security-based swap agreement[.]

Whoever initiated that clause is just pure evil.

Mish's comments on Illinois & California:


I've described it as the Great Grand Prix of Debt, with various government entities racing each other to the edge of the cliff.

US, Europe Will All Default On Their Debt: Marc Faber

The governments of every developed economy will eventually default on their sovereign debts, including the US, the UK and Western Europe, Marc Faber, editor of the Gloom, Boom & Doom report, told CNBC.

"In the developed world we have huge debt to GDP, in terms of government debt to GDP and unfunded liabilities that will come due," Faber said in a live interview via telephone. "These unfunded liabilities are so huge that eventually these governments will all have to print money before they default."

Debbie Cook comes from the the Hotel California and knows the process. I call it Californication after the Red Hot Chilly Peppers Song. Californication is a dream of something for nothing, a fantasy world where we are programmed to receive but never have to earn. It is a world that can be created out of thin air just like a Hollywood movie and where reality doesn't matter much.

California was the center of the real estate fantasy that spread across most of the country and is currently the center of the energy fantasy. It's dream is pollution free electric cars powered by wind turbines. Ethanol from Brazil if at all. And oil that just appears like magic, pollutes less than ethanol and does not have to be paid for with real resources since resources also appear like magic in a Hollywood movie.

To me the whole country is under the spell of Californication.


I love these lyrics from the Hotel California because they describe the beast and the politicians trying to kill it:

Welcome to the Hotel California
Such a lovely place (Such a lovely place)
Such a lovely face
Plenty of room at the Hotel California
Any time of year (Any time of year)
You can find it here

Her mind is Tiffany-twisted, she got the Mercedes bends
She got a lot of pretty, pretty boys she calls friends
How they dance in the courtyard, sweet summer sweat.
Some dance to remember, some dance to forget

So I called up the Captain,
'Please bring me my wine'
He said, 'We haven't had that spirit here since nineteen sixty nine'
And still those voices are calling from far away,
Wake you up in the middle of the night
Just to hear them say...

Welcome to the Hotel California
Such a lovely place (Such a lovely place)
Such a lovely face
They livin' it up at the Hotel California
What a nice surprise (what a nice surprise)
Bring your alibis

Mirrors on the ceiling,
The pink champagne on ice
And she said 'We are all just prisoners here, of our own device'
And in the master's chambers,
They gathered for the feast
They stab it with their steely knives,
But they just can't kill the beast

Last thing I remember, I was
Running for the door
I had to find the passage back
To the place I was before
'Relax,' said the night man,
'We are programmed to receive.
You can check-out any time you like,
But you can never leave!'

The last time California had the spirit to manage itself was about 1969 more or less. In the masters chamber (Governors Office) they try but just can't kill the beast.

You can check out (die) any time you want, but you can never leave.

Love it.


Why would you have us leave California? Isn't it better to keep us all contained? But really, it is a bit hard to leave 80 degree winter days like today.

Why would you have us leave California?

Oh, I don't know, drought and earthquakes come to mind but then I live in South Florida in the hurricane and flood zone less than 2 miles from the beach ;-)

Don't forget the fires.

Yes, fantasy California. The state that produced the computer revolution, 1/5 of the U.S. economy, 90% of the nation's fresh fruits and vegetables,a major portion of domestic oil production. What a fantasy. Everyone likes to think we are crazy because we don't shiver in the frozen muck three months of the year and have more businesses than churches.

Think what you like but please stay away.

I live in Wisconsin. If i had the means, i would join the California masses and enjoy the dream while it lasts. That area of the country is by far the most beautiful, with an almost perfect climate. These midwest winters are no fun.

Hi mymom,

I live in Wisconsin also. I traveled most of the US and lots of other places on the planet. I can think of no better place to live than southeast WI - but, then I grew up in Duluth - I assumed this was the warm southern part of the US when I came here after high school.

.. alright, was it Kurt Cobain who said 'Live part of your life in NYC, but leave before it makes you too hard, and live part of your life in SoCal, but leave before it makes you too soft.' ?

Of Course, Dar has an answer to CAL as well..

There's a part of the country could drop off tomorrow in an earthquake,
Yeah it's out there on the cutting edge, the people move, the sidwalks shake.
And there's another part of the country with a land that gently creaks and thuds,
Where the heavy snows make faucets leak in bathrooms with free-standing tubs.
They're in houses that are haunted, the with kids who lie awake and think about
All the generations past who used to use that dripping sink.

And sometimes one place wants to slip into the other just to see
What it's like to trade its demons for the restless ghost of Mrs. Ogilvey,
She used to pick the mint from her front yard to dress the Sunday pork,
Sometimes southern California wants to be western New York.


This song rips me up every time.. right now, in fact.

California is a BIG state. I lived there for 3 years, in southern California (the worthless crime-ridden desert slum part of California)

Central and Northern California is where most of the value of California comes from. (computers, vegetables, wine) If the Northern half of California seceeded and made a new state, what would be left? (Actually not a bad idea, you could let the Bloods and the Crypts battle MS-13 and the illegals for control of southern California.

I'd rather "shiver in the frozen" muck (rather actually sitting in front of a nice warm woodstove with firewood from my woods out back) than have my house destroyed by a mudslide, earthquake or a wildfire.

Places like Los Angeles (and Las Vegas in neighboring Nevada) are unsustainable.

I don't know, X. It sounds like there is plenty of fertile soil in the Midwest for growing Corny, Fantastical Dreams that don't require much reality underfoot. Callie doesn't have any monopoly on that bit of magic.

How I long to fall just a little bit, to dance out of the lines and stray from the light,
But I fear that to fall in love with you is to fall from a great and gruesome height.
So I asked a friend about it, on a bad day, her husband had just left her,
She sat down on the chair he left behind, she said,
"What is love, where did it get me? Whoever thought of love is no friend of mine."

Ioway oh ooo oh, Iowa oh ooooh ooo oh I-Iowa

Dar Williams - 'Iowa'

I dunno - I think the Chili Peppers may have missed a bet by failing to include some verses on, oh, say, Illi-noise. Taking relative population into account, the Land of Lincoln seems to be in just as deep doo-doo as California, having made far too many of the customary, insupportably lavish public-employee pension arrangements beloved of corrupt politicians.

I used to hear stories from very old-timers about extracting hooch from the bottom of silos back when they were foolish young men (and no, sad to say, I'm not making that up, and yes, in their older and wiser days they admitted that it tasted absolutely awful.) It's just possible that ethanol of that, or some other, sort is every bit as addling in its own way as the sometimes-brutal California sunshine...

Since you brought up the Tea Partiers I wonder where specifically they believe the Feds should cut back on in order to reduce their taxes without increasing debt. There are 3 big sacred cows in the Fed budget which stand in the way of making any significant reduction in Fed spending. One is defense which is the right wing's sacred cow. This is what Ron Paul wanted to cut back on and you know how that worked out among his GOP buddies. In the middle is Social Security which was created by FDR and pronounced a central part of the safety net by Reagan. On the left is Medicare which the GOP has chronically underfunded on the one hand while increasing benefits with the other hand. Everything else the Feds do is too small to make any difference. Even all those billions in infrastructure is dwarfed by the Big 3 sacred cows.

Does anybody know what the Tea Baggers will they admit is a proper job of the Federal government? As pointed out in the essay facts don't matter to most people. There was the lady who demanded that the government keep its hands off her medicare and was shocked to learn it is a government program.

I'm not in the "tea party" crowd, I don't know what they think or what their answers would be to your questions. However, speaking just for myself, could I take a stab at them?

Where to cut back?

1. We need to begin the process of disengaging from the entire eastern hemisphere, and pulling back behind a maritime defense perimeter: mid-pacific, mid-atlantic, mid-arctic, and caribbean. By the time we have completed this re-deployment (which might take half a decade or so to complete), we should have been able to cut our defense budget back by about half, with 1/3 coming from the Navy (including USMC), 1/2 from the Air Force, and 2/3 coming from the Army.

2. I know that bashing foreign aid is getting very old at this point, and it isn't all that much money. Nevertheless, we can't afford it, and most of it has to go.

3. The entitlement programs - ALL of them - need to be devolved to the states, and the states need to be given the freedom to reconfigure these in the way that best makes sense in their situation - even eventual elimination should not be off the table. However, there should be some transition rules so that people who are presently dependent upon these programs (retirees, mainly, but also disabled, etc.) are not suddenly left totally in the lurch.

4. Eliminate subsidy programs of all types. That includes implicit subsidies like home mortgage tax deductions, as well as "corporate welfare". Some of them may have been nice ideas, but we can't afford them, and the market is going to have to be left to sort out for itself who the winners and losers are.

5. We need to consolidate the constellation of regulatory agencies into just a few, and then streamline them. For example, there should be just one regulatory agency overseeing all financial transactions.

6. There is no good reason why the regional authorities like TVA need to continue under the Federal umbrella. Allow the states in which they operate form a consortium, and spin the retional authorities off to these consortia.

7. Scale back the war on drugs. We are wasting billions, and mostly just promoting corruption. Encourage the states to enforce tough laws against driving or operating equipment "under the influence" of any mind-altering substance, and give employers the green light to do random drug testing.

8. Get the FedGov out of the education business entirely. That is strictly a state and local affair. Ditto with housing and "urban renewal". Ditto with health care, excepting the CDC and maybe the FDA (which needs to be refocused just on protecting consumer SAFETY). FedGov involvement with transportation needs to be limited just to those conveyances that cross state lines, and needs to be limited to protecting public safety and refereeing and coordinating between the states.

9. Manned space exploration is already on the way out, and that is a good first step; we simply can't afford it. There is a lot of other science and quasi-science R&D that we won't be able to afford either, we are going to have to limit our spending and select very carefully.

10. I would try to find some way to repackage most national debt into vary-long-term bonds (maybe 100 year maturities) with a fixed interest rate. I would make these revenue bonds, funded by a dedicated tax. This needs to be a very broad-based tax that is not very vulnerable to economic cycles and is pretty much of a sure thing; once it is in place, it should be impossible to change short of a war. The hope is that by doing this, we can get a pretty low fixed interest rate for these. I would also prohibit any issuance of any new debt other than to just roll over anything else outstanding other than these long-term bonds; this will effectively preclude the possibility of any more FedGov budget deficits. Finally, I would reign in both the Treasury and the FedReserve and force them to lock down the money supply and stop inflating it. This will all be painful, but this is the type of strong medicine which is necessary to tackle the cost of interest paid on the national debt, which is one of the largest and least controlable federal expenditures.

Unlike the Tea Party and Republican people, I am not totally adverse to increased taxes, but I would prefer to see those within the context of a thoroughgoing reform of our entire tax system, with a view toward simplification. I think we do need to end up with a VAT (that is the only thing that can place our exports on a more level playing field with those of other countries), we need to eliminate the double taxation of dividends, we need to eliminate the preferential taxation of capital gains, and we probably do need to tax accumulated wealth more and income - especially lower levels of income - less. I am not in favor of seeing our total tax burden at all levels rise much beyond 40% of GDP, which doesn't really leave much room for increases (we are closing in on that now). Remember that more room is going to need to be made for taxation at the state and local level, so there probably isn't going to be much room for any net new taxation at the federal level at all. Tax reform is going to have to end up being more a matter of taxing people better, rather than taxing them more.

... we need to eliminate the double taxation of dividends, we need to eliminate the preferential taxation of capital gains...

Those two tax issues have done us far more harm than most imagine. Double taxation of dividends makes investing for the longer term excessively painful for anyone, wealthy or not. Lower taxes on capital gains drives more gambling-like behavior in the markets. Put together, those two tax tax policies are a pure toxic soup. Simply inverting them today would drive massive behavioral changes by US corporations with a much higher emphasis on the longer term vision instead of the next 90 day bottom line.

Personally, I have long wanted to tax capital gains at staggered rates, with the highest rates on the shortest term turnover and the lowest rates on stocks held 5 or possible even 10 years. Such a structural change drives the stock market from being a casino where daily bets are made to a place where investment is made for the future.

Such a structural change drives the stock market from being a casino where daily bets are made to a place where investment is made for the future.

Thank you! I have made this point repeatedly to friends, collegues, and even strangers when the occassion arose. Stocks need to be held for the income they are able to produce; the whole idea of making money by stock arbitrage is a huge part of the bubble mentality so many have.

How about this for an idea? Corporate income is taxed at the highest personal rate, unless it is distributed to the shareholders, which must be done each fiscal year for the corporation. Once distributed, the corporation withholds the highest rate tax and sends along a W-2 or appropriate 1099 showing the dividend and the tax paid. The tax payment should include medicare and social security, and all corporate dividends must be included in medicare, social security taxes. This way, the highest possible tax is collected; the individual taxpayer has a credit in the amount of withholding to apply to his/her personal income tax and social security. If soc. sec. is already maxed out, it is refunded, with any overpayment of tax. This results in corporate income being taxed one time only.

Oh, and options must be taxed as personal income, which of course they are, when exercised, and withheld on. Most shareholders, if they knew that and to what extent the payment by options dilutes their shares would be furious. Of course, this is not publicized or discussed, so they go along with it, ignorant of the decpetions.

As for capital gains... longer term gains should be taxed lower at least because there is no averaging available any more. Years back, of a person had a one year abnormally high income, she could average it over, I believe it was 5 years. If it continued, for several years there would be a considerable savings. It helped me out during the 70s.


So you favor a race to the bottom among the states which brings us back to the robber baron economics of the late 19th century. In order to get businesses to myopically invest in the states with the lowest taxes and the least regulations means putting more Americans into the rampant poverty of previous centuries. The public would need to put up with more dangerous products and workplaces.

I would simplify taxes by only taxing investment transactions at roughly a 5% rate. No more income taxes, property taxes, whatever taxes state and local governments now have. The real economy where over 90% of the money that changes hands is on Wall St which isn't taxed the way money changes hands on Main St. This shows who really rules our country since the King never taxes himself. We need to rule Wall St instead of being taken advantage of by them. Since different parts of the country have different public needs the States would receive block grants according to population which in turn would pass on grants to local governments.

We need big government because we are a big country in many ways. We especially need big government to protect us from the sociopaths who all too often rise to the top of corporate hierarchies. The Archdruid J M Greer recently gave us an excellent way for holding corporations accountable for the harm they cause to individuals, their customers, their employees, their investors, and the communities they do business in.

I also believe we are way too past the time for a new constitutional convention in order to have a central government which serves the technologically more sophisticated society we have become. We are way past the time where being just a collection of sovereign states make sense. The States have in effect become more like dependent provinces of the Federal government are our constitution needs to better reflect that reality. We can now cross the country in less time than it took to ride a horse between two county seats 200 years ago. Information now travels at near the speed of light so people in Pago pago become aware of what happens in DC as quickly as the folks who live just across the Potomac. Yet we are still stuck with a constitution with its head firmly stuck in the 18th century. The Europeans were forced by the outcome of WW II to create entirely new central governments which better reflect the realities of the late 20th and early 21st centuries and on the whole are happier folks than the average American for having done it.


So you favor a race to the bottom among the states

No, I favor a race to reality. The US is facing severe, long-term decline. We MUST adjust to reality, which means adjusting to living within our means. BAU will not go on, the only question is how we are going to manage the decline. Facing up to reality is a necessity. We have no choice, declining resources and national wealth will force us to change, one way or the other.

The future is going to have to be more small-scale and local - the energy base just isn't going to be there all that much longer to support an economy or government that continues to be large-scale and continental in scope. We will be fortunate if we can keep a minimal federal government going that will keep the states or regions from tearing each other apart. There is a real danger that in trying to hang on to too much - to BAU - we will end up losing even what we feasibly could have kept. That has happened so many times across history it is like a broken record - one of the few genuine examples of history repeating itself, many times.

As for regulating the corporations, they concern me, but I also tend to suspect that most of them are dinosaurs. The asteroid is bearing down, yet they continue blissfully oblivious. Their days are numbered. The future belongs to small businesses that are scurrying around in the underbrush, out of sight, or even to small businesses that haven't been invented yet.

The moneyed interests disgust me, but their day will end, and probably sooner than anyone suspects. This is another pattern that has repeated in history over and over. They always over-reach, and after winning big they end up losing big; greed and arrogance lead to hubris, "pride goeth before a fall". Often, their end is not at all pleasant. Interestingly, often it is not big government that does them in, but something else. In the meantime, I'm just trying to do my little part to starve the beast and to avoid doing anything which aids or abets them. I sense that increasing numbers of people are thinking the same way, and maybe that is laying the groundwork for big money's demise even as we converse.

There really isn't much point in having a constitutional convention right now. That would end up being just as dysfunctional as today's congress, and in any case whatever they came up with would be just as inappropriate for our future as is the constitutional regime we have now. The best thing that can happen right now is for the FedGov to be cut back as much as possible, or at least prevented from expanding further. I'm not holding my breath on either happening, unfortunately. Ultimately, the destiny of the present constitutional regime is not to be reformed, but replaced; it is very late, and real reform is nowhere on the horizon. I'm dreading most of the possible replacements, and just hoping that we can be spared the worst of the nightmares. We may very well go through several regime changes on the way down.

I am doubtful that the map of North America will remain the way it is even throughout this century. Eventually we'll end up with maybe 1-2 dozen regional sovereignties. Hopefully these will be joined in at least a minimal continental confederation that will keep the peace and allow free movement of people and information. That's my best case long-term scenario, or maybe just a vain hope.

Are you sure they're happier? Happiness is so subjective. And relatively unimportant.


Some Qs on your points:

1. re: we should have been able to cut our defense budget back by about half

What happens to the formerly employed (or, deployed, as the case may be)?

2. Some (unknown to me) percentage - possibly a large one - of what is termed "foreign aid" is actually military/weapons subsidies in not-very-thin disguise. http://www.cdi.org/adm/1227/
"Welfare for weapons dealers."

So, I'd say to cut out that part of it. Except for the fact that you still have to deal with point (1) above.


3. No comment. Or questions. Well, actually, I will say this. People dying when it appears unnecessary and avoidable causes trauma all around.

4. re: "as well as "corporate welfare"."

How do you plan to eliminate "corporate welfare." Ask them politely?

How do you prevent the corporations from moving headquarters to a place out of reach of the tax person?


Employment is a big problem now, and is going to be no matter what we do. Trying to sustain the unsustainable just digs us further into a hole and makes all problems worse. A big help would be a revival of the New Deal CCC, which could be done at either a federal, or preferably state, level. Its mission could be expanded quite a bit beyond what the depression-era CCC did. It would soak up a lot of young people who are unemployed, and get them on the first rung of the employment ladder at a critical time in their lives, as well as reduce the crime rate. The main thing that is going to have to happen is that wages are going to have to be allowed to decline to their market clearing rate. Since we now have a globalized economy, wages around the world are converging to a global mean. Since we are a high-wage economy, our wages are going to have to go down. Anything that artificially tries to keep them up (minimum wage laws, union contracts) is only going to serve to increase unemployment. I know, I hate all this, and pulling back on globalization would be a better answer. It has to be one or the other, though.

I think a lot of people just assume that if the entitlement programs were devolved to the states, all the states would just cancel them and let their people die. That seems a rather extreme assumption to me. I think there would be very substantial changes in the way the entitlement programs were structured and run. The possibility should be entertained that at least some of the states might actually do them better, delivering better benefits at a lower cost.

Overseas corporations are not totally exempt from US taxation, they do have to pay some taxes on income earned from their US operations. However, an even better way to assure that foreign as well as domestic corporations pay their fair share is to have a VAT. Most other nations, being run by smarter people, have a VAT for precisely this reason, among others.

As to how I plan to make my proposal happen, I don't. I don't think the policies I propose can possibly be implemented by our present constitutional regime, and that is its fatal flaw. When a regime can no longer do what it has to do to survive, then it eventually fails to survive and is replaced by a different regime. Sad, but that seems to be an iron law of history.


Thanks for your reply.

Do you know if China has a VAT? (I'd look it up but am clean out of time.)

So, if you do the CCC concept, then, is it really the case that you will be saving money? Or, simply shifting it from one sector to another? (In your scenario.)

Anyway, this sounds like something that would be compatible, in a way (perhaps) with the idea of doing something like: 1) electrification of rail (please none of this high speed stuff); 2) re-localization and increased redundancy in the ag sector, along with increased sustainability (is this even possible?); 3) retro-fit built structures for energy efficiency - and, umnnnn....where were we in our post-peak list?


Yes, China does have a VAT. Most countries do, because it makes sense. It is only in the country that does things that don't make sense - the USA - where you don't find a VAT.

The CCC was actually pretty cheap, because the deal was that you got 3 good meals a day, shelter, uniforms, and medical care. You also got a small cash stipend, which most guys sent home to their families, but it wasn't much money. Almost all of the administration was by the US Army, which was otherwise unoccupied. If they were to have created a separate civilian bureaucracy, and paid the guys prevailing wage rates so that they could buy their food, shelter, etc., it would have cost much, much more. Compensating people in-kind rather than in cash is going to have to become much more common in the years ahead, it is going to be one way to adjust wage rates downward. The IRS is going to argue that in-kind compensation is still compensation, and should be taxable income, of course, but they are going to have a very hard time enforcing that to any great extent, especially when the FedGov itself will be doing it.

Yes, I could see crews of Neo-CCC workers doing energy efficiency retrofits in low-income housing, etc. Probably a more relevant form of "conservation" for them to be working on these days.

VAT is regressive tax by nature, ie it taxes the poor and middle class proportionally MORE than the rich.

Since the US economy already diverts a disproportionate amount of wealth to the wealthiest portion of society to the detriment of the poor and middle class, how do you propose to make a VAT tax FAIR to the poor and middle class?

I'd suggest eliminating the payroll taxes for SocSecurity and Medicare, which are even MORE regressive, in exchange. We are going to have to do a massive restructure of these entitlement programs eventually anyway, so we might as well restructure how they are funded at the same time.

You can also make VAT less regressive by taxing essentials like basic foodstuffs (the WIC-eligible items, for example) and non-elective medical care at a lower or zero rate, or provide a rebate or tax credit that is means-tested. Many of the nations with a VAT use one or both of these strategies.

Recent Nobel Leauate, Elinor Ostrom's work "Governing the Commons" offers some wisdom about how local institutions and governance can make a difference and how to design such institutions. http://www.forbes.com/2009/10/12/nobel-prize-economics-elinor-ostrom-opi...

Jim, one of Debbie's points is that policy is made without reference to expert advice.

Ostrom's wisdom will be politely applauded and completely ignored.

yes, unfortunately, that is most often what happens. Ostrom recommends that the locals who all know each other and are dependent on a common resource get together and govern themselves. It is tight knit community with high visibility of each others actions, poaching, etc. That is in fact the way my cousins in Nova Scotia manage their lobster resource and it can work.

The problems with this successful format often begin when control is taken out of local hands and given to an outside governing force. That is when the politics and payoffs begin that can corrupt the governing process.

So you think cellulosic ethanol or hydrogen will not reduce our dependence on foreign oil( not that anyone claims that per se--as Pickens says--"Wind, natural gas, etc. we will need them all")?

It's all an incredible LIE, right?
It's disappointing that public officials(such as yourself) fall into demagogy
and mob psychology when confronted with difficult problems
rather that believing scientist such as those at the DOE.

No, don't tell me...all those government scientists are all LYING.

I am truly dismayed that you prefer to quote blogger and green diesel entrepeneur R^2 on energy independence rather than Robert Hirsch who promotes mitigation(aka 'energy independence').
But I find it even more interesting that you slam cellulosic ethanol and hydrogen, the two truly CO2 neutral fuels. These are being researched for this very reason. Are you a CC denier or maybe have concluded that climate change mitigation is also impossible?

You have met the enemy and it is you.

Where there is no vision, the people perish--Proverbs 29:18

And when did you stop beating your wife?

My instinct is to rush in and defend Debbie.
But I think not.
Methinks she is capable of her own defense.
Go Debbie!!

Thanks Arthur, appreciate the thought. Years ago it was pointed out to me that comments like those made above were just intended to distract you from your goals. Best to treat it as background noise.

Welcome to the Oil Drum , Debbie, on behalf of all of us who are interested in actually learning what works and why.

You have put into clear and unambigious words ideas that have been buzzing around in my head for a long time.

I will take it upon myself to apologize on behalf of the rest of us for the fact that there is always at least one rotten apple in very barrel.I should know, being both an apple farmer and a regular here for the last six months.

Big problems can only be solved by examing them root and branch leaf and twig.You are absolutely correct in saying that things happen in terms of human endeavours such as making policy because of relationships rather than facts.

I believe that this is something most of us instinctively know, but we have failed to CLEARLY articulate the thought and incorporate this fact into our understanding of how politics work.

Now I have one short concise sentence to say something I have whole spent paragraphs on before, with lesser results.

Welcome, Debbie!
The Supreme Court's recent decision regarding corporate funding of campaign adds is, IMO, the nail in the coffin of public discourse and debate. In our political system of half-truths, lies and propaganda, those with the biggest megaphone ultimatly control elections and policy. Corporations and PACS have been given an overwhelming ability to shout down reason and reality. Any thoughts on this?


While I never agreed with the granting of "personhood" to corporations, I don't think the recent decision changes anything. Campaign finance was broken, it is now just more broken. The place to put our time and energy is at the local level. There are still a lot of good people who want to do the right thing and are doing their best. They can and will do a better job if they have the support of their constituents. But you cannot expect anyone to take a bullet for you. You have to be there with them. I will never forget the groups of residents who came to every meeting of the Orange County Sanitation District to urge higher treatment of effluent. When they finally won the vote (by a margin of one), they suddenly vanished when the discussion turned to how much to raise the rates to pay for it.

While I have had some success being heard on the local level, I usually have the sense that I am preaching to the (small) choir. This new, expanded ability to "manufacture consent" will be as effective at the local level as at the national. Chomsky and Vidal are more relevant today than ever.

That said, it doesn't mean that folks like me will stop working for change. I just want to give you some insight into why you may encounter some negativity on TOD. We tend to consider all aspects of our collective predicament(s). It can be discouraging when one has the courage to remove one's blinders and face reality, eyes open.

We need to harness the negativity and turn it into something of value.

Double Plus!

Harness negativity to what end?

There are two general groups on TOD with respect to the political process - those who think things are broken and can be fixed and those who think things are broken and cannot be fixed. You might succeed in "harnessing the negativity" of the first group but the second group has already concluded that the system is not fixable. To "harness" that energy would require convincing them that their fundamental world view is wrong and surely you have some understanding of the difficulty of trying to convince someone that they are "wrong" about how the world works? Your time would be better spent elsewhere, I suspect.

To "harness" that energy would require convincing them that their fundamental world view is wrong and surely you have some understanding of the difficulty of trying to convince someone that they are "wrong" about how the world works?

As one who firmly believes that our current political system is broken beyond repair and does not consider this to be an expression of negativity but rather a realistic assessment of the status quo, I still have plenty of energy that I'd be more than willing to expend in building a new system.

As one who firmly believes that our current political system is broken beyond repair and does not consider this to be an expression of negativity but rather a realistic assessment of the status quo, I still have plenty of energy that I'd be more than willing to expend in building a new system.

I agree.

I want to party with you dude!

I suspect she wrote that comment quickly to get past the jabs of a fairly surly comment.

I took it to mean that when possible, you take the negative energy that is thrown at you and recognize the 'energy' part of it, to see if you can't understand the direction that this other person is heading with their intensity, and try to see how it can be complementary to your own goals, and not just see it as 'opposed'. Lemons into lemonade, as they say.. or remembering that breathing involves both breathing IN and OUT.. the opposites are there for good reasons, and we'd be smart to understand how they all fit in the big picture.

I suspect she wrote that comment quickly to get past the jabs of a fairly surly comment.

What was "surly" about my comment? I actually try to use restraint when addressing issues. Debbie lost me when she minimised the impacts of the SCOTUS decision. And it is true that there is some negativity on TOD, usually born of valid assesments of things as they are, not as folks would like them to be. To say there is no value in negativity is naive IMO. Every cloud does not have a silver lining, and even the ones that do will still rain on your parade. I submit that too much "positive thinking" has resulted in many of our predicaments: "Full speed ahead! This ship is unsinkable!"

Sorry if I wasn't clear. I didn't mean you. You were simply challenging her ideas, and she spoke to you 'about' negativity. But you were not being antisocial about it. I felt Majorian's comment that started the thread was typically snyde and unpleasant. Probably just my own interpretation of what she was referring to, but any time a commenter starts out with the challenge ..

"So you think ..." as Majorian did, and then lines like ..

"No, don't tell me...all those government scientists are all LYING."

"You have met the enemy and it is you."

"Where there is no vision, the people perish--Proverbs 29:18"

Then it is clear to me that he has no interest in discourse any more, and the conversation perishes.. and as I consider what the politicians in my city and state go through, I wonder how one takes such negativity and trains themself to stay on topic, and maybe even find a way to create something useful from such a confused and raging person.

I can manage it sometimes, but sometimes my response to antisocial communication doesn't go in a positive direction. Maybe a slap for a slap is justified sometimes, but usually, it just turns into a vicious exchange, and noone is the better for it.

As the judge says in 'Bonfire of the Vanities'.. "Be Decent to each other."


I like your post Debbie Cook and it is a refreshing and positive divergence from most of the doomers here.

Scientists and engineers.
That is the key.
California was a hotbed of the Technocracy design movement in the 1930's before Hearst and crew shut it out of the media.
The ideas were viable alternative to the present political price system method.
It is an alternative system based on science and engineering principles.
So... the alternative you are looking for has been around since then.
If you have the guts and overview to tell people about it, maybe some constructive changes can occur in our very uncreative and dead on its feet system.

Maybe an incentive for the current brand of politicians to act as transition people into a science based system is an idea worth looking into.

The system we now use is something arbitrary that was 'thought up' and could have done a number of things differently and still can change into something else Technocracy and thermodynamics

Its the political Price System that is now the culprit to stopping creative change.
Any system using debt tokens dooms us now, as our resource base is being destroyed for debt tokens that are valueless except for maintaining a throwback class system. The default template from the ancient middle east (Sumer) contract/debt society is now dysfunctional. That which ceases to function ceases to exist.

Using an abstract debt token system that relies on the antique Adam Smith notion of 'work' does not work anymore, and if we stick with it everyone suffers.

Why not clue people as to a humanitarian and secular method?
Science is that.
It is wondered how it is that people involved in biophysical/thermoeconomics economic ideas are also not more involved in social activism as to alerting people of the present no win situation and non market energy accounting solutions.
Not much historic sense maybe?
Cutler Cleveland is one of a few notable people currently, that has explored the very basis of our societal template in that regard... biophysical economics at encyclopedia of earth E.o.E.
There are a lot of ideas around... not many of which are viable or just repeat the business as usual of political and business control and not science control.
An administration of science is the next most probable if a 'future' is something people want.
An economy based on thermo-economics, energy accounting.

My reading of Technocracy is that it is just another flavor of Marxism which looked like a pretty good idea after the Crash of 29. Back then our money was backed by gold and it didn't prevent billions of dollars from evaporating in a matter of a few hours.

Then I guess you know absolutely nothing about the subject.

Sounds good. But I think Argentina under Peron, and pretty much since then, was run largely on Technocratic principles.

I don't think the outcome is very good for most people -- although large farmers and Monsanto seem to be doing pretty well.

Another uninformed comment.

please inform. I have done some reading on Technocracy since one of my friends announcecd he was a card carrying Technocrat. I wasn't overly impressed with what I read, but it might have been in the wrong places. OTOH, I suppose engineers can't be much worse than lawyers.

We grasp the concept of the second Law of Thermodynamics
We understand the consequences of exponential growth.
We even understand the role of ATP
And, some of us understand what James Lovelock was on about.

What we lack is "That which is within."

("Bring forth that which is within and it will save you.
If you lack that which is within,
What you lack will destroy you.")JC

NeverLNG on February 16, 2010 - please inform.

Here is some basic info on the Technocracy technate design Article Index

Growing fuel and investing billions, trillions for the infrastructure in and around that simply guarantees an exponential increase in tossing anything and everything we grow into the hopper.

This illustrates a deep and fundamental ignorance of the problems facing mankind, particularly with regards to agriculture.

There is nothing even remotely sustainable about it.

This all gets to what Steve from Virginia talked about up above. We can't even imagine what we actually need.

But I find it even more interesting that you slam cellulosic ethanol and hydrogen, the two truly CO2 neutral fuels.

How is H2 a carbon nuetral "fuel" ?

Renewable hydrogen of course is CO2 neutral. Hydrogen from fossil fuels is neutral(or +90% in current technology) if the CO2 is buried deep underground.

If you burn H2 in a car you get H20 not CO2.

Where does the H2 come from?

Answer: it comes from water and it takes MORE energy to separate the H2 from the H20 than it stores.

In otherwords, H2 is not an energy SOURCE but merely a STORAGE for the energy (sort of like batteries or supercapacitors are).

And hydrogen is small molecules, likes to escape containers, tends to be volatile as the people on the Hindenburg can attest too...

With all their coal-burning power plants, and increasing demand for cars, China is ripe for a carbon "neutral" hydrogen economy.

Did I forget to mention hydrogen technology is expensive? Ooops.

The DOE estimates that the cost of hydrogen from coal is around $1 per kg or $1 per gallon equivalent of gasoline(114000 btu per gallon).

It doesn't look that expensive.

The US mines 1 billion tons of coal for electricity.
A billion tons of coal converted to hydrogen gas with the CO2 captured would produce the hydrogen equivalent of 111 billion gallons of gasoline a year. The US has 250 billion tons of coal.

Here's something for you to read .


Mining coal creates a number of problems in addition to CO2. Loss of mountaintops and filled-in valleys, for example.

We could, of course, hydrolyze water with solar power out in the California desert. If there was any water, that is.

Hydrogen is no free lunch. Jury is out whether it is better than Lithium

Yep Coal AND Hydrogen great!

Given that what we are generally talking here is a less top down and more local approach to problems being the likely path in a more revenue and credit constrained environment, please no more big new untried tecnofuture fixes.

The tried and true consevation technologies which we know work with the 'current' (bad pun) distribution system are all we will likely manage. The boondoggles which have been proxies for BAU heretofore are further disaster IMVHO.

Expensive fuel cells on what? electric bikes? Fueling stations for $100,000 vehicles in cash strapped COMA states? Trains towing huge gasbags instead of electrification or HE diesel-electric power? Please stop.

IF we have a chance to keep the grid up and running with a combination of re-enforcement with multiple small grid tied producers, wind, hydo and exteme conservation in combination with car-pooling, passenger rail and plenty of bikes ebikes and local production of food that's a program we might just get by with. California Dreamin' was a song. It's quickly coming to look-around-and-see-what-still-works-and-use-it.

Hi xburb,

keep the grid up and running with a combination of re-enforcement with multiple small grid tied producers, wind, hydo and exteme conservation in combination with car-pooling, passenger rail and plenty of bikes ebikes and local production of food

This is a very difficult concept to grasp. Gasoline is $2.50 here in WI. On the TV we learn that the US has its own energy supplies that will fuel or current lifestyle for hundreds of years. Great bargain prices at the mall. Car sales are up so "growth" is coming.

Happy motoring and all you can eat - god bless the USA.

Hey dave
Yeah I know incredible isn't it. Guess I'm spending too much time here, Oughta get out more ;-)

You want a vision? Here is the best one.

Remove all forms of taxation.

All revenue is raised by taxing carbon at it's source.
You, who use a lot of carbon will pay my taxes for me because I use very little.
Any amount of revenue can be raised this way.

The little darlings will cry piteously at the pump and sing hal⋅le⋅lu⋅iah on payday.
And boy, will they get the message.

Well, if its in the bible it must be true.

Does it say in there that hydrogen is a source of energy?

It's not in the Bible. However, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

God works in mysterious ways. We haven't seen nothing yet

Richard Zubrin is working to persuade politicians to go for Energy Victory. See his presentation and talks and articles. The simple critical action he seeks is an Open Fuel Standard that mandates that at least 50% of all cars sold in the US be fully flex-fuel for methanol and ethanol. Once implemented, a small differential in fuel price switches consumer choice to alcohol fuels. Switching the US to flex-fuel will then drive the world.

Zubrin shows that after Brazil required flex fuel cars, it has moved completely to alcohol fuels and is now exporting ethanol.

China has established a national standard for methanol fuel and is rapidly increasing and using methanol for transport. See
Methanol Fuels: The Time Has Come, Gregory Dolan, Methanol Institute, International Symposium on Alcohol Fuels, Taiyuan, China, October 2008. China is now the largest producer and user of methanol. It is projected to increase from 2 billion gallons/year (6 million tons) in 2005 to 10 billion gallons/year (30 million tons) in 2015.

Per Debbie Cook's observations, I recommend calling and meeting with your politicians to enact this Open Fuel Standard.

David -- FYI: read a report yesterday that due to a shortage of sugar Brazil is now importing ethanol as local production cannot meet demand. Didn't save the link...sorry

Is this what you saw?
CME Group Ethanol Outlook Report - February 15, 2010

Ethanol prices were also hurt by Brazil's statement last week that a cut in its 20% tariff on imported ethanol to zero would be postponed until at least July. Brazil is considering the tariff cut in order to step up the pressure on the U.S. to drop its 54-cent tariff on imported ethanol. The U.S. ethanol industry is hoping for a window to export some ethanol to Brazil, which has become more feasible in the wake of high sugar prices due to heavy rain in Brazil. . . .
The USDA's estimates imply that 32.7% of the US corn crop in 2009/10 will be used for ethanol production, which would be a record high and up from 30.4% in 2008/09 and 23.4% in 2007/08. Unless corn yields and crop sizes continue to increase, corn use for ethanol could creep higher to 40% by 2012 and to 46% by 2015 based on current corn-based ethanol mandates, which rise from 12.0 billion gallons in 2010 to a maximum of 15.0 billion gallons in 2015.

As oil prices increase, this indicates ethanol could rapidly take up more than 50% of US corn - a major concern in the Food - vs Fuel debate. Major issue is grain vs cellulosic ethanol.
Michael Wang reviews ethanol EROEI indicating dry ethanol is net energy positive - but overall not by much.

That does not appear have an EROEI > 3 that is essential to be competitive in the long term.
I expect ethanol to fall by the wayside in favor of methanol due to competitive economics.

Yes David. Mucho thanks. I couldn't remember the details and wasn't sure I characterized the situation correctly. Once again the depth of TOD comes through.

Note: Petrobras Imports Gasoline on Ethanol Shortage, Estado Reports

Petrobras, as the Rio de Janeiro-based oil producer is known, is importing the equivalent of about 2 million barrels of the fuel from Venezuela, the newspaper said. Ethanol supply isn’t meeting demand after rains interrupted the sugar-cane harvest, causing prices to increase, Estado said.

i.e., weather is a major supply risk for biofuels.

Yes - burning food is the best way to counter peak oil and climate change. That sure will reduce population.

Yes - burning food is the best way to counter peak oil and climate change. That sure will reduce population.

Engrave that in brass.

Why shouldn't they embrace cellulosic ethanol? It's your word, backed up by some blogger, against the frickin' Secretary of Energy of the United States! Talk about a mouse that roared.

Better to work grassroots - how about forming a club for eBike enthusiasts? You could stockpile batteries and kits, learn how to do conversions. Things that can be financed on the personal level. This would be a transportation sector equivalent of the social networks Greer has written about, your Masons and Oddfellows and the like, which used to provide community services that governing bodies couldn't or wouldn't supply themselves, and which also weren't satisfactorily provided by private individuals. Focusing efforts along those lines isn't a bad idea either, of course. If things backslide to a great extent community will have to be rebuilt or reinforced.

But my initial idea would be an excellent way of covering for a shortfall in supply, which you could start all on your own, ala Transition Towns. Your prescriptions won't be enough for the patient; junk science never dies, for instance, thus your neverending supply of patents for water powered cars. But I'm not speaking from experience in the political arena; some real life examples would be helpful/instructive. Are there muni governments that have gone farther than forming some peak oil task force, for instance?

I agree we don't want to starve people for fuel.
Zubrin shows that, at least at present, there was sufficient growth in corn to feed the Chinese market that there was a net increase in food as well as an increase for fuel in the US. Eventually when US production is constrained by land, then food vs fuel will become major moral problem.

Methanol from solar or underground coal gasification are likely to be most cost effective while having potential for sufficient volumes to replace petroleum.

KLR wrote:

Why shouldn't they embrace cellulosic ethanol? It's your word, backed up by some blogger, against the frickin' Secretary of Energy of the United States!

I served on a Congressional hearing panel with Dr. Chu before he was appointed Secretary and I learned that he is more than capable of saying what needs to be said for political gain. That's how he got the job.

At a meeting for the preliminary draft of the platform in my legislative district party, there was a plank that said something to the effect that we support biofuel production with signficant net energy benefit and no impact on the fuel supply. I challenged this on the grounds that it is a pie-in-the-sky ideal, and it gives the misimpression that it can be done today or in the near future. It turns out that no one on the platform committee is an expert on the subject, and so the plank might be reduced to something about supporting research. I would have liked to get rid of it entirely, and I will keep trying for that. Just two years ago I made no headway whatsoever with a similar project.

With biofuel targets coming up woefully short, this is a good time to present the hard truths to elected officials, party members, and other opinion leaders in society. After hearing primarily from lobbyists and wild-eyed ideologues (on both sides), I think that they will find actual scientific evidence to be very refreshing.

You bring up another layer of government I had forgotten to mention--the central committees of the political parties. They all have some serious shortcomings when it comes to energy literacy. It is fertile ground for someone like yourself to make a difference.

Interesting insights Debbie and thanks for sharing.

I have also been involved in a small way with government/business interactions and it is an eye opening expereince. Frustrating on many levels because real change is hardly ever desired by those with the most to gain.

I suggest that you missed one major factor in your examples above.
Namely that IMHO we are entering a new era, similar but very different, from when we went from horses to automobiles. This new era, where fossil energy is as much the problem as the solution, is disruptive to the entrenched powers of our society.

We all love democracy and capitalism when there are no losers. At issue today is that the current changes more or less gaurantee a large group of losers in a very short time frame. The same as moving populations from the farm to cities, using electricity, trolleys and cars doomed many of the craftsmen of their day. The current business paradigm controls all the money and power and is having trouble figuring out how to hold onto that money and power in the face changing conditions.

I agree that emotions like loyalty, trust, fear, contempt, and the like are often more important in the public debate than the science. That is precisely the scientists dilemma in that they are trained not to use those tactics to validate or search for the truth. Don't blame the "Scientists and Engineers" for not doing enough to win the public debate, that is not their role. That in fact is the role of politics and government. Politicians can choose to understand the science and learn the issues or they can choose to ignore it in an attempt to grasp or retain power.

The role of good politics is to use science as a base for moving public understanding and commitment of resources in certain directions that benefit society as a whole. Not doing so may work for awhile but ultimately the greater population will wrest power from the politicians in some way.

So in summary we don't have a lack of science to know what to do. We have a lack of political will to challenge the existing power base to move the country in a fundamentally new direction than we have been on for the last 100 years. How many politicians do you know that are willing to do that when a whispered word or a negative commercial spot could put them out of office next year?

Change will come but never as fast as the science dictates it should because most human nature is not as rational in making decisions as the scientific method dictates. Even scientists fall prey to their emotions when not doing science.

Politics is about people. IMO, scientists have an absolutely critical role in politics. If scientists aren't willing to be the bridge between the information and the people, someone else, like a corporate lobbyist will. Lobbyists are successful because they have a relationship with the person they are lobbying. Scientists need to understand this. People listen to people they know and trust. They may listen to a scientist delivering information, but the information will not necessarily be trusted or acted upon. Drumbeat is a perfect example. On any day you can see articles that contradict each other. But if the neighbor you adore, who works at NREL tells you something, it is going to be pretty hard to dissuade you of the idea.

So when the scientific community vocally supports steep reduction in energy consumption via increased use of public transportation, electrified grid, bicycles and walkable neighborhoods coupled with rooftop solar (water and voltaic) and wind then policy makers should move in that direction?

There would never be a situation where the existing zoning codes to support such lifestyle have to be overturned from current definitions where transformers are allowed on roofs but not solar arrays which are highly restricted merely on an aestetics concern?

No pressure by the development community for spending government money (our taxes) to expand roads to multiple lanes, or build sewer lines further out of the city to support "virgin land" (read farm land) conversion into housing tracts because that is the "best way" to raise revenues?

Conventional, but inneficient houses, are granted permits quickly because they fit the zoning models but innovative construction is blocked due to code violations or "non uniform" building practices?

Many of the correct approaches would not have time and monetary barriers in front of them? The model that has made money for people would not be continuously optimized and vigorously defended at all levels? The current businesses would never have a paid staff of people that always attend the meetings and work with government staff on proposals while the new ideas are unfunded grass roots only voiced at the open meetings? That would never happen?

I hear your sincerity Debbie and believe you want positive change as the outcome. The reality is that maintaining the status quo is the full time PROFESSION of one group while it is a passionate but unfunded and unorganized pursuit by the other side. Change will be slow until it costs more to prevent change than to foster it. We are not there yet.

So when the scientific community vocally supports steep reduction in energy consumption via increased use of public transportation, electrified grid, bicycles and walkable neighborhoods coupled with rooftop solar (water and voltaic) and wind then policy makers should move in that direction?

It isn't about being "vocal." It is about figuring out that there is chemistry to this process. Touching someone's life is chemistry. Lecturing a person is vocal. So with regard to your question above, yes, that is exactly what we see in communities that have figured out the chemistry involved in changing public discourse around a topic such as walkable neighborhoods or alternative energy.

HB is a perfect example. Solar permitting is easy because a few individuals took the time to develop the relationships to make it happen. On the other hand, the City of La Verne disregards State law and makes it a challenge. My guess is that there is some work to be done there. Not difficult, certainly an opportunity for change, just takes someone willing to do it. You don't have to change Washington to make a difference in your own community.

The reality is that maintaining the status quo is the full time PROFESSION of one group while it is a passionate but unfunded and unorganized pursuit by the other side.

I don't see it that way. It doesn't take an entire group to change the status quo. It just takes one or two people taking a small bite of a bigger problem.

San Dimas (next to La Verne) also made (makes?) it a challenge to effectively install solar. I put in PV 8 years ago after some skirmishes with city hall and rolling my eyes at the inspector who didn't have any idea how it functioned. However, I see more houses with PV every month so I like to think that the dinosaurs who don't know the difference between PV and hot water are being forced to learn and that PV is going from kooky tree hugger stuff to a mainstream asset.

Keep up the good work, Debbie!

Hi dr,

rolling my eyes at the inspector who didn't have any idea how it functioned

As a DIYer who built his own house, I suspect that building regulations (building codes, architectural standards, etc) will come into sharp conflict with the concepts of urban farming, local energy, number of occupants, etc.

I think there will be a great deal of frustration over these issues as the scarcity of oil unfolds. I say this as a person who thinks basic building codes are very useful - but the bureaucracy behind them is something else.

A point of view that I've found that may contain a lot of truth is that in order to have a real paradigm shift, in something as major as how we govern ourselves, the old entrenched generation will have to die off before it will happen. I believe a similar progression sometimes happens in the scientific world (plate tectonics comes to mind).

The old dogs in power not only do not want change from BAU, they don't even understand that serious paradigm change is possible and desirable.

Many of the "old dogs in power" are quite young. You will die waiting for an 'unentrenched' generation.

My advice is to seek liberation from the imprisoning idea that only a few of us are truly able to 'make a difference'. What any one person does to affect the current of history is only slightly less effective than what any elected official, say for example the President of the United States, is able to do. Which is to say, that we all need to free ourselves of the idea that any one person, whether chosen or self-appointed to the throne of authority, has significantly more power to move the world towards social or intergenerational justice than any other person.

Martin Luther King, for example, was not influential until others began to empower themselves through learning and action. The power of his speeches came not only from his own self-empowerment, but from the self-achieved empowerment of his audience.

It is wise, all the same, to remember lessons of scripture. The spawn of Satan are everywhere, at all times. Know them by their relentless willingness to disinform.

It requires a commitment to face-to-face relationship building, nurturing, and maintenance—not the kind of activity typically selected by the pocket protector/lab coat types.

Long, long, long <sigh>. OK, let's leave aside the snide connotations of that sentence, which well and truly deserve to be left as far aside as possible (are pocket protectors even made any more?) Let's just consider that: scientists are fairly rare; the good ones are incredibly busy and must stay busy at science in order to remain good; and there are just 24 hours in anyone's day. Meanwhile, the vast revolving throng of government officials, nannies, bullies, and busybodies just grows exponentially and without limit.

It's just not even slightly clear to me that there are anything like enough practicing scientists surfeited with enough spare hours to engage in enough "face-to-face relationship building" with enough of that metastasizing governmental horde to make enough of a difference ever to matter. Despite our seeming desire to wallow in nostalgia in these pages, the nineteenth century is long gone, so that if we insist on nineteenth-century methods of doing politics, then it may well be inevitable that the scientists will simply be hopelessly outnumbered.

Could democratic politics idealized in such a manner simply be a logistical impossibility? Given the gargantuan nanny states that now envelop and suffocate everything in sight, could we have reached Peak Time, i.e. simply no longer enough time for all the conversations needed to plan all that suffocating and enveloping? Didn't the Marxist-Leninist central-planning system run into somewhat similar constraints? Would there have been enough time even in the eighteenth century?

Or... were there reasons why the founders of the USA envisioned a limited government?

I can certainly understand why people can't imagine that a scientist developing chemistry with his own local city council could yield positive results, but I've seen it happen. Sometimes it happens on neutral ground at a conference on basket weaving. Or it happens because they belong to the same Scout troop. Certainly the way we have been playing the government game isn't working so why would we keep doing it the same way? I'm suggesting a way that can deliver results today rather than waiting for some event to happen.

What was the post recently that talked about Scientists avoiding political hot-potatoes etc? I think it was outlining how James Hansen had chosen to cross that forbidden bridge and 'go public'.. but I can see how the ethic of scientific detachment would keep many in these disciplines holding such messy popular topics at arm's length and behind protective goggles.

Of course, I'm also regularly reminded that this 'detachment' carries another aging conceit of the Scientific Canon, which is that you can keep things separated, like Mr. Spock with Logic and Emotion.. and that as such, whether it's Heisenberg or Fritz Haber's various uses of Nitrogen as the Shiva that is both Creator and Destroyer, AND is central to so many civic discussions even today, that these connections aren't broken by PetriDishes and Strict Discipline, and that Science is, was and will continue to be so interconnected with public interests, that this detachment is actually a bit of a harmful illusion that is keeping the outside world insulated from the knowledge that they seek.

Now how to convince them that they need some hybrid of PR-agents and Interpreters to reconnect them more fully to the public sphere.

Thanks for the Post, Debbie!


Thank you for reminding us that Nitrogen, as well as Nuclear is the Shiva angel of Creation and Destruction. Most of what is going on in our current "limited" wars is nitrogen-based.

And of the impossibility of good scientists maintaining either their reputation or their sanity when they get involved in politics.

Politicians and lobbyists are paid to lobby and politic and be one on one, for days at a time if necessary. I don't see that in the job description of a scientist -- or a doctor. No way I can get away from doctoring to cozy up to people in politics -- even if I thought it might help. That time is taken from the kids, the wife, the dogs, the cats, from sleep. Not from patients.

From my time in India, I think that hindus have more fun than christians on their holy days.

Yah, sure, but that wasn't at all what I was questioning. After all, I can certainly imagine the occasional scientist developing such "chemistry", possibly even to the point of yielding a "positive result".

My question was about time and scale. A vast Bowling Alone sort of literature informs us that random social encounters aren't quite what they used to be. The discussion right here at least aligns with that, as it implies that such encounters are not leading politics to be informed (sufficiently) by science.

So: in this day and age, can one person possibly have the time to do both science and horse-and-buggy style politics well enough to matter? Given the sheer size and limitless scope of modern government, I still suspect that there simply aren't nearly enough scientists to go around, even if the scientists were surfeited with spare time, which most aren't.

It seems as though power-mad government has put so much onto its plate - down to what color people may paint their window frames and what light bulbs they may use - that sheer logistics alone suggest that even if it were run well, it can't possibly function rationally. How could it ever handle that vast self-imposed load well, and in a timely manner, by cumbersome fact-averse nineteenth-century old-boy-network methods? No, more likely, it's well on its way to drowning all life in a cesspit of corruption as has already happened in a few countries.

Hi all! I will respond to several directly later. Meanwhile, this thought.

...my prescription for scientists, professors, and engineers...

That is well and good, and your ideas are well founded, IMO. Meanwhile, we need to have a direction for those of us who are not scientists, professors, and engineers. Like me. As much as I might dream of being a scientist, I made choices that place me in the mass of men who are not. Nor did I select a career in politics or government service (though I might have elected government service, had I been allowed. More on that at another time, and another site). No, what we need is direction for the rest of use.

It seems to me that we spend far too much time preaching to each other, and not enough time on practical ways to change what we see coming, and to change it for the better. Either that or we complain and gripe about how bad things are going to be, and how impossible it is to effect any change. And, sadly, I recognize myself when I say this.

Instead we must remember that politics are all local. The problems we see today are, in many ways, a reflection of who took over the local governmental power. The term I see used the most to describe them is "soccer moms." These are the suburban housewives whose view of reality is shrouded by their inherently conservative nature. To them, all change is bad. This is where the main impetus for "business as usual" derives, and it is at this local level that we must, as a group focus our attention. Until the typical 'soccer mom' realizes the horrendous impact of peak oil on their comfortable lives, she will continue to nurture the corporate craziness that is hindering any response to the crisis enveloping us today. Until she changes, nothing changes.

That means that, as a group we must enter the political fray, beginning at the most basic levels. School boards, city governments, county boards, state representatives, starting at the lowest level, educating and electing responsive officials and maintaining our efforts until we have replaced, insufficient numbers, the Democrats and Republicans who are currently tapping the corporate till for donations and support. A till now opened to an ever greater degree by SCOTUS in its reprehensible decision [see: Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, 558 U.S. ___ (2010)] of late.

Because of "Citizens United," we must also open our pocketbooks to those of both parties who are running contrary to the Corporate BAU formula.

And, don't expect a third party to come along and improve the situation. Third parties are mitigated against by our Constitution and our history. The most they can do is to wake up a single party (by 'stealing votes' from them for one election) to unpopular extremes. Or to the venting of a special interest group. What it will take will be a shift away from corporate to public government. Perhaps a widespread push for and passage of a constitutional amendment addressing corporate personhood. Maybe another covering donations for elections of any sort, possibly directing that all donations be to a universal fund that contributes equally to all candidates? Or, better, making paid political advertisement illegal? That would end virtually all donations, of course, which may not be a bad thing. Then politicians would have to debate and educate the public as to their position, instead of buying air time for a million 10 second, meaningless spot ads. The framing of such would be difficult, and I can see many problems from it, and the corporate personhood suggestion is more practical. And, still, either may be better than what we see today.

The point is that individual participation at the most local levels is imperative, both as candidates and as supporters. Unless anyone can think of something else that we, as a group, might be able to do to implement needed change, in which case, I am open to suggestions.

Thanks for following along.


Soccer moms are not a conservative block standing in the way of progress. They are the ones most concerned about our neglect of the weakest among us i.e. Democrats. Conservatives are found mostly working in sales of one form or another. They all believe that selling something will someday make them very wealthy. I have yet to meet a salesman who is openly Democratic. They are the ones who complain about taxes the most and are blind to fact that their well being is connected to the well being of all their potential customers.

The point is that individual participation at the most local levels is imperative, both as candidates and as supporters. Unless anyone can think of something else that we, as a group, might be able to do to implement needed change, in which case, I am open to suggestions.

Spot on. However, once you are engaged and educated about what is happening at the local level, you begin to see things very differently and understand why things haven't changed.

For example, suppose a majority of residents in your town wants to build a $19 million Senior Center. You see the world through your knowledge of energy and debt and resource constraints. If you oppose it, you are cast as a "senior hater." The risk in opposing it are very high and there are no rewards except for your knowledge that in the long run the community will be able to keep a more worthy "meals on wheels" program. As my friend tells me, "People will always forgive you for being wrong, but never for being right." Be honest with yourself, what would you do?

I certainly understand why the quality of candidates is a bit thin when it comes to public office. Just when it gets more difficult, when the revenue dries up and the public is clamoring for more help, we need people who can both make the tough votes but also hang on to a base of support.

I like what Oswald Spengler wrote in "Decline of the West" (about a hundred years ago)

Wikipedia has a good summary, the best part of that is this exerpt:


Democracy and plutocracy are equivalent in Spengler's argument. The "tragic comedy of the world-improvers and freedom-teachers" is that they are simply assisting money to be more effective. The principles of equality, natural rights, universal suffrage, and freedom of the press are all disguises for class war (the bourgeois against the aristocracy). Freedom, to Spengler, is a negative concept, simply entailing the repudiation of any tradition. In reality, freedom of the press requires money, and entails ownership, thus serving money at the end. Suffrage involves electioneering, in which the donations rule the day. The ideologies espoused by candidates, whether Socialism or Liberalism, are set in motion by, and ultimately serve, only money. "Free" press does not spread free opinion—it generates opinion, Spengler maintains.
Spengler's analysis of democratic systems argues that even the use of one's own constitutional rights requires money, and that voting can only really work as designed in the absence of organized leadership working on the election process. As soon as the election process becomes organized by political leaders, to the extent that money allows, the vote ceases to be truly significant. It is no more than a recorded opinion of the masses on the organizations of government over which they possess no positive influence whatsoever.

Spengler notes that the greater the concentration of wealth in individuals, the more the fight for political power revolved around questions of money. One cannot even call this corruption or degeneracy, because this is in fact the necessary end of mature democratic systems.

On the subject of the press, Spengler is equally as contemptuous. Instead of conversations between men, the press and the "electrical news-service keep the waking-consciousness of whole people and continents under a deafening drum-fire of theses, catchwords, standpoints, scenes, feelings, day by day and year by year." Through the media, money is turned into force—the more spent, the more intense its influence.

For the press to function, universal education is necessary. Along with schooling comes a demand for the shepherding of the masses, as an object of party politics. Those that originally believed education to be solely for the enlightenment of each individual prepared the way for the power of the press, and eventually for the rise of the Caesar. There is no longer a need for leaders to impose military service, because the press will stir the public into a frenzy, clamor for weapons, and force their leaders into a conflict.

If anyone, including Debbie can dispute the above, I'd be interested in hearing the refute.

I'd say our system is broken and unfixable. Not all problems have solutions, mathematics can teach you that. Solve this: 8x² + x + 1 = 0 (answer: this is no solution with real numbers)

What do you make of Joseph Tainter's objections to Spengler in Tainter's book The Collapse of Complex Societies? See pages 77-79, 83-84.

Summary: Tainter gives Spengler good marks for poetic imagery but says that Spengler is excessively mystical and criticizes him for (a) relying on biological growth imagery, (b) relying on value judgments, and (c) explaining things by referring to intangibles.

I'm not anti-government, just anti-BIG government. Just like I'm not anti-business, just anti-BIG business. The larger the scale of the institutions, the more divorced they become from the ordinary people who are their constituents and customers, and the more inhuman these large-scale instituions tend to become. They also tend to become either terminally dysfunctional or nightmarishly brutal.

There really is only one good solution for the US FedGov, and that is to make it far smaller. It needs a radical pruning, and many of its domestic activities need to be devolved to the states. If and when our economy has declined far enough, even the breakup of the US into smaller regional sovereignties might be possible, and maybe even desirable.

The good thing about small countries with small governments is that there is so much less mischief that they can do. Of course, if life becomes too unbearable in a small country, one can always just walk a few dozen miles and take up residence in a different country. (See Kohr's The Breakdown of Nations for a more thorough explication.)

It's not the size of the government, it's how it makes decisions, it's who has access to the representatives, it's how we approach elections, it's how we discern what information must be part of the public discussion, and what voters need to know.

Making a large and ineffective system into a small and ineffective system is what we made happen to Haiti.

Think about the FUNCTION and PROCESS of government, not the size.. that's just someone's talking point.

In a way, you are correct. However, I continue to assert that it isn't an accident that as the US FedGov has grown, it has become more dysfunctional.

One of the reasons that China's government has been successful militarily and economically is that most of the people in top level positions come from engineering disciplines.

Engineers, not lawyers rule the country. It makes a difference. The best thing we could do is declare a law degree a conflict of interest with serving in the legislature and take all lawyers of out government immediately.


I noticed the same thing.

Hu Jintao was a hydro engineer.

Having lawyers run government is like having child molesters run a daycare. We shouldn't be surprised at the result.

2500 years ago Plato said that we could not have successful government until kings became philosophers or philolsphers kings. Of course, he was a philosopher, so what would you expect? Still in all, his discussion of the demise of the Polis is interesting and insightful.

Being a lawyer, I of course represent your remark. Lawyers can be useful in government, since as wordsmiths they can craft laws that say what they mean and mean what they say. The problem I see with what we have done is the polar opposite. We have constructed laws that are decietful, impossible to comprehend, and then as the final arbiter we decree them the mean what they, in good faith, cannot. For which we deserve the scorn heaped upon us as a group.

OTOH, we have the ability, and in my mind the duty, to put things to right. First, by stepping down as Representatives/Senators and using our talents in a better way, fashioning statutes and codes that are direct, and do indeed mean 'what they say."

Not that I expect that we, as a group, will do so. It is just a generality, and one that I feel personally. Regretably, like so many others, lawyers are greedy, easily purchased, and have feel few ethical restraints, not unlike our captains of commerce, religious leaders and the like. Just people, being people, we saunter off the cliff into the void, following the lead of our worst natures. Which, of course, is what neo-Conservatives of the Chicago School extol as a virture when they say, "Greed is good." And, of course, to our collective and everlasting regret, we will all, IMO, discover they are 100% wrong about that.

Of course, we all know that no engineer, when elected to high office, would ever craft a bad law to favor his corporate sponsor. Perhaps a child molester, in running a daycare, would be very careful not to molest those in his charge. Methinks the metaphore of fox in the henhouse is a bit more apt.


Fox in henhouse IS more apt, actually...

Lawyers have a place, but they should be ADVISORS, not RULERS...

The Chicago School is a disaster... I prefer the Austrian School.

The Chicago School is a disaster... I prefer the Austrian School.

Frankly, I am not enamored of any economic school. They all seem to me to be mathematicians filled with hubris, trying to graft a theoritical math onto a disparate field, having no logical connection. And their theoritical position is suspect as well.

In particular, they attempt to graft statistical math onto evolutional theory, and pigeonhole the entire grotesque ensemble onto economics in an effort to transform it into a science. For which entirely too many are gifted with Nobel prizes.

The basic problem they all have, beginning with Karl Marx [who tried to graft historical dialectic onto economics], and continuing through today, is that they all presume universal behavior of a certain type, and that any variation by any significant individual destroys the validity of their theory. And, that is assuming that their underlying assumptions are correct, which they almost certainly are not.

In logic, they try to prove the antecedent by the consequent... using sometimes subtle equivocation, that seem strangely valid, though it is not.


You are quite correct, which is why I specifically said "prefer" as opposed to "believe" :)

The other false assumption most economists make is that humans make rational decisions, which is something any psychologist or marketer will tell you is quite often patently false.

Behavioral economics is fascinating however - a dosage of reality in a field contaminated with hubris.

The basic problem is that the human mind has evolved to do pattern recognition, and we do it very well - that just might have been the "killer app" that most contributed to our spectacular success as a species.

Unfortunately, we do pattern recognition a little too well. We are constantly, obsessively, trying to find patterns, so we do have the unfortunate tendency of sometimes seeing them where they don't exist. This is exactly why we have the phenomena of "optical illusions", why people can amuse themselves imaginging that random puffs of clouds look like something, why people imagine that the random patterns of stars in the sky are "constellations" that symbolize something, and why people keep seeing images of Jesus or Mary in pieces of toast or indentations in window screens.

"Scholars" and "scientists" are not totally immune to this tendency. What is something like economics, except the effort of human minds to seek out and find patterns in what would otherwise seem to be nothing but random phenomena? Sometimes we do discover patterns that genuinely do exist, and our conceptualization and description of those patterns are valid and reliable. Other times, however, the patterns we thought we had discovered turn out to actually only be random.

Statistics is a powerful tool that does help sort this out. While statistics is less fallible than human minds, however, it is not totally infallible, and is of course only as good as the people who use it. There is a reason why How To Lie With Statistics has been a perennial best seller. Talib's books The Black Swan and Fooled by Randomness also illustrate the many ways that people who should know better misuse and misinterpret statistics.

One of the main problems with economics is that, unlike the physical sciences, much of it has not been built on empirical experimentation and observation (which is where you apply the tools that statistics provide), but rather on the attempt to build abstract theory upon informal observation of historical and real-time events. It may be argued that they had no choice, one can hardly do controlled experiments with national economies. True, but that doesn't change the fact that, absent the types of checks which controlled experiments interpreted by statistical tools provide, the field of economics is inherently vulnerable to the same types of mistakes in pattern recognition that a child makes when he looks at a cloud and sees a panda bear.

One of the reasons that China's government has been successful militarily and economically is that most of the people in top level positions come from engineering disciplines.

I do wonder sometimes, though, as I ponder the frenetic pace of motorization in their country, just what the engineers who run China are smokin'.

I don't read anyone whose last name is Sachs.

Public policy talks is silly and useless unless we get rid of authoritarianism. Our authoritarian governments do not have to listen to what any citizen wants. They will not listen to the technicians either. What makes you think anything you do will change that?

We do not need to change our PR. We need to abolish the entity that gets in the way of change; authoritarian rule.

When we replace the authoritarians with authorities (technicians). It is time to revolt.


Oh, seems like some people are already getting started:

Bomb Explodes at JP Morgan Offices in Athens

A bomb exploded on Tuesday outside the Athens offices of JPMorgan, the second largest U.S. bank by assets, causing minor damage and no injuries, police and the company said.


It is instructive, Christian, that the bomb was at a Corporate office, not at, say, the US Embassy.

Much better choice, since it goes to the directive side.

Not that I condone such acts. I do not! I do recognize them, though, as instructive and indicative of the direction history is taking today. And, I do not like what I see.


Why do you not agree with the act? Would you not do anything to protect your children against an attacker?

The only difference between war and terrorism is the level of funding available.

One definition I heard was that 'Terrorism is the Privatization of War' .. there might be something in that.

Is acting in self defense war? Is it terrorism? Shouldn't we make the distinction between attacker and victim? Between slave and owner? Between the free and the unfree?

Why do you not agree with the act?

The reason I disagree with the act is, not that it is not deserved, or that the motives might not be in some way "good." It is because bombs so often create unwanted collateral damage to innocents. A second reason is that, even as to those who are not innocent, they remain human beings. I reject capital punishment, I reject abortion after the first trimester, and I reject deadly force as a response to economic repression. I reject all of these things because they are intentional acts that take a human life.

I do accept resistance to force, but as a defensive measure. And so, I rejected the Iraqi war. I reject our actions in Afghanistan. Just as I rejected our actions in Vietnam during another era. I also rejected the acts of domestic terrorists who bombed buildings in Wisconsin, because they accidently took and were likely to accidently take innocent lives.

As far as protecting my children against an attacker, that I would do, and with all force, including deadly force, necessary for that purpose! There is a difference. Think about it.


Election Funding should be limited to $5,000 per candidate per election from all sources, subject to audit by the government auditor. Any breaches would not only be a felony, but result in the automatic and immediate loss of the seat. Salaries paid by the government concerned, no other income other than investment income permitted. That would put politicians back in their electorates, talking to their constituents on the door step. in their living rooms and in the town halls.

This sort of funding limit would basically gaurantee victory for whoever has the most friends in large organizations-unions, govt,churches, media companies, academia, perhaps the armed forces.

The ppeople on NPR and public television would be doing thier sophisticated soft sell for the left while talk radio would be looking out for the loudest and lowest common denominator for the right.

The National Rifle Association has a hell of a lot of members, and several times as many sympathizers.

The teachers unions exist to look after teachers, not students.

A super giant homeowners association would probably spring into existence shortly, and distribute voters guides making sure every homeowner knows who has promised to feeeze or lower property taxes.

The corporate ownership of every newspaper in the land knows how to get it's message out thru the editorial page,editors after all need thier jobs too.

The system we have is busted, no doubt about it, but this suggestion won't fix it.

I don't know that the system can be fixed to be honest.

It can be improved, and Debbie's ideas are good as any, sfaI cs.

Anybody have views on whether and how the public airwaves should be made available with equal time to candidates, so that the ridiculous costs of purchasing Airtime are removed as one of the great burdens of being heard as a candidate?

Debbie, what have you thought of the Airwave access question? Should this be part of the FCC Licensing agreement for the use of public Bandwidth?


Funding limits won't end the nonsense and campaign gimmicks that you see in political advertising. We'd still have "free media", which is basically campaigns doing whatever they can to get on the news. We'd end up with even more short sound bites and stunts and less reasoned discussion than we have now. Hard as that is to believe.


Your intent is good but more regulations will just tend to futher limit candidates. I ran for office once and the contribution rules were enough to make me refuse all donations. If I had taken any I would have had to spend real money on lawyers staying in compliance.
P.S. I lost the election.

It's a pity greenish no longer comments here. In the past he (?) had many insightful things to say on this topic, as an activist with over 30 years in the field.

If you can formulate the right search criteria you might strike gold by searching greenish's comments here on TOD.

Drop Greenish a line. I'm sure he would be happy to add some of his thoughtful musings.

Hey there. Not dead, just late to the party. I've been dealing with family eldercare and health issues which have left me less time to read TOD or comment. And I will tend to fade away as I ramp up some of my own next programs more.

Thanks for the kind words. And it's good to see Debbie injecting more of her real-world expertise into the site; she's worth listening to, as always.

My past comments, such as they were, have represented the fringe of the fringe. A bit alien for a public blog when I actually get into it.

I'll be around for awhile, and will check back from time to time. All best!

Great artical. I commented on last weeks "peek oil" artical about the lair of small government that seems to have the ability to drive up taxes, cost time and grow government. There to impliment laws or to create laws?

I am the businessman described in the article Debbie wrote. She and I have never had a conversation and she does not give herself enough credit. She almost single handedly convinced SCAG to decline all the grant money and give it back to the grantors. This is still very puzzling to me, because in many ways we are cut from the same cloth. I stood up at the SCAG meeting and told them that it is my belief that our nation's dependence on foreign oil is the greatest challenge we face as a nation. I told them that I would bring in ethanol made from a waste beverage feedstock immediately and cellulosic ethanol as our partner in the grant (who already has a demonstration plant) brings it on line. The reality is that that there are about 450,000 vehicles in California that can run on high blends of ethanol and there are 33 public stations. These cars will be on the roads for many, many years and they will only burn two fuels, gasoline and ethanol. They will never burn hydrogen, biodiesel, CNG or anything else but gasoline or ethanol.

We put together this project in response to competitive solicitations from the Department of Energy, the California Energy Commission and in response to a request by the local Clean Cities Coalition (The Partnership). I believe that the Executive Director of the Partnership is whom Debbie is referring to as a lobbyist. It turns out that SCAG controls the Clean Cities Coalition, not The Partnership. This was a surprise to me and many others. This project was fully vetted by both the DOE and CEC and was evaluated using the Well-to-Wheel GREET model, which accounts for indirect land use in its greenhouse gas emissions. It was selected from 38 projects from California and was one of three winners in the entire state and the only winner that was going to build E85 stations.

The project was planning to accomplish the following:

· Save or create 221 jobs, many of which pay Prevailing Wages.

· The project, when complete, was expected to replace 7,147,000 gallons of gasoline annually.

· Per the required Well-to-Wheal Greenhouse-Gas performance analysis required in the CEC submittal, the project is expected to reduce GHG emissions by 275,495 metric tons over 10 years.

But none of this will now happen since Debbie killed the project. Regarding the single source contract, my company and the station owners were required to match the grant funding in the amount of $2.9 million dollars and were legally forbidden from making any money on the construction. Of the 221 jobs, only 3 were at Pearson Fuels, the rest were vendors or contractors. They still call every day, having not heard the news and I am still at a loss of what to tell them.

So since Debbie has never once asked me a question about our project and I had never even seen her or had any interaction with her until she stood up to kill our project, I would like to ask her a few questions of my own:

1) Do you not think the Well-to-Wheel GREET model analysis; developed by CARB that takes into account indirect land use is the proper way to analysis this project for environmental benefits?

2) What would be a better method?

3) Do you really think the environment and the people are better served by having those 450,000 vehicles I described above burn gasoline instead ethanol?

4) What is a realistic (within 5 years) alternative that is environmentally superior to using a feedstock made from expired, waste beverage. We committed to using some of that feedstock from day one.

5) Since you are in the business of picking winning and losing technologies, what have you picked as a winner? Do you then think that all other alternatives should be resisted even if they have some incremental benefit? Do you think it would be reasonable for those that don't believe your chosen technology is superior to do everything they can to kill you projects? Would that be reasonable and get us where we need to go?

Finally look us up, my company Pearson Fuels, for many years has been ground-breaking in California with alternative fuels including ethanol, biodiesel, CNG, LPG, electric charging and we are now working on hydrogen fueling. If you think we are the enemy here, then I don't know whom I am fighting for.

Now, how about some answers to those questions?

Mike Lewis
Pearson Fuels

These cars will be on the roads for many, many years and they will only burn two fuels, gasoline and ethanol. They will never burn hydrogen, biodiesel, CNG or anything else but gasoline or ethanol.

This seems like a pleading for an evolutionary change away from Business as Usual.
It also seems to me that bad choices have been made. People will be left with stranded assets. Their cars. Their choice.
We are addicted to carbon. We have to hit rock bottom, and as soon as possible.
If we give them glimmers of hope, the denial will continue. And when it happens, the crash will be more lethal.

The solution? Give us credit. We have survived a lot of evolution. We can think, but it hurts.

From my, somewhat distant, perspective there are two things wrong.

1. Trying to drag a crop based fuel into the current paradigm (business as usual) is a mistake. Neither fossil fuels nor crop based fuels are going to be able to maintain a social system that requires the use of 27 quadrillion Btus of energy each year.

2. There is no evidence that cellulosic ethanol, like hydrogen, will ever be a viable transportation fuel for any significant portion of the economy.

I had followed this development in southern California with some interest and reviewed the presentation in support of this grant proposal. I wasn't at the meeting however, so I don't know and can't comment on what actually happened there. But I do think the outcome was appropriate, given the serious problems with cellulosic ethanol, the flawed assertions in the presentation, and the longer-term consequences of locking into an infrastructure based on an unsustainable fuel supply.

The GREET model treatment of cellulosic ethanol is flawed (as is the California LCFS methodology) since it asserts both energy and emissions reductions that aren't physically possible given the underlying assumptions used in their analyses. Part of the problem is the use of flows instead of stock in looking at plant energy use: where GREET and other models assume both net electricity exports and plant fuel self-sufficiency from the biomass feedstock, the yields from that same feedstock input they assume does not leave sufficient residue to provide for this at all. As a result, the energy balances and emissions figures are inaccurate, without even considering the land use issue. This is explored in some depth in the CEC PIER Report you can get at http://www.energy.ca.gov/2009publications/CEC-500-2009-007/CEC-500-2009-.... Applying some of the principles in that report would provide you with a better idea of what is possible.

Further, CEC and other California agencies treat biomass as carbon-neutral without taking into account scale of consumption or combustion and the possible carbon debt that arises when multiple years of carbon uptake are combusted in a single year. At the current scale of consumption in California this isn't a big issue, but it distorts the actual carbon performance of biomass in their guidelines. Given all this, I am suspicious of the emissions claims in the presentation.

Personally, I think the environment is better served by lowered consumption, not by alternative supply. The idea that ethanol contributes to reducing foreign oil dependence is a widely held myth and central to our energy policy. But absent policies to concurrently reduce demand for propane, LPG, naphtha, kerosene, jet fuel, diesel, fuel oil, asphalt, lubricants, and all the other products we produce from crude oil, reducing gasoline usage simply increases the gasoline surplus, which would then have to be exported and thus it would be consumed elsewhere. Although refineries have some latitude to tweak their cuts, it would take massive investment in new processing equipment to substantially change the output slate, and this would have to happen in a time of reduced refinery profits from the decline in gasoline demand. Can you really credit yourself for a decline in gasoline demand if you can't demonstrate that gasoline production would also fall and not just be displaced to elsewhere?

I notice you keep referring to "expired, waste beverage." I'm not quite sure what that is, but there are alternative uses for that material that could be environmentally superior to turning it into energy-intensive alcohol. One option, for example, is anaerobic digestion and methane capture, which actually can serve as a drop-in to the existing gas network (and CA has nomination practices that allow consumers of alternative methane in stationary fuel cells in other cities to be nominated by a producer to capture the subsidy stream available there as well.) This for example, would avoid emission of the other pollutants from ethanol (eg. formaldehyde) that weren't addressed in the presentation.

I think key to your last question is what you consider a "winner". Is the metric only carbon? Is it energy security? Is it sustainability? Is it total environmental impact? Is it peak oil response? Is it water efficiency, which is a serious issue in California? Your question "does it 'get us where we need to go?'" in this regard, I think, is important, since that end-point may, to you, justify the means you support to get there; but under a different framework of analysis, say, looking at biodiversity, land degradation, soil loss, deforestation, nitrogen imbalance, fishery collapse, climate change, peak oil, and overpopulation--all challenges we face today, can suggest a destination that can't be achieved by continued reliance on moving 200 lbs of flesh around in 4000 pounds of metal on concrete or asphalt roads, and that more radical responses may be needed. In this regard, perhaps you and Debbie aren't that far apart as you suggest, but perhaps your end-points look different?

I apologize for jumping in when you clearly were addressing Debbie directly, but I was fascinated by this post.

1. No.

According to Robert Rapier:

In the case of gasoline, the GREET model treats the crude oil input as an energy input. However, in the case of ethanol, it only considers what was actually consumed. In the case of oil, the oil that was “consumed” ended up as gasoline. In a nutshell, the GREET model compares the efficiency of gasoline production to the energy return of ethanol. If you compare efficiency to efficiency, you get 85-90% for gasoline and maybe 25% for ethanol. If you compare energy return to energy return, you get (per the GREET model) 1.23 for ethanol, but something like 6/1 for gasoline. If you compare different metrics, you get people like you coming to wrong conclusions.

The long version can be found here: http://i-r-squared.blogspot.com/2006/04/energy-balance-for-ethanol-bette...

2. A better model: besides being reflective of reality, would include the consequences of the ethanol strategy to our food, soil, air, water, fertilizer, infrastructure, and vehicle engines to name a few. We must stop looking at our energy challenges in isolation of everything else.

3. Please show me the math and the assumptions you are making with regard to the 450,000 vehicles. Are you saying that oil imports have diminished as ethanol production has ramped up? I haven’t done the analysis but here is one that makes a lot of sense: http://i-r-squared.blogspot.com/2009/09/does-ethanol-reduce-petroleum-im...

I would also be interested to hear your explanation as to the drop in ethanol sales in Iowa (the leading producer): down 2% for E10 and 15% for E85? http://www.heartlandconnection.com/news/story.aspx?id=417279

4. Do we really need to blow nearly $11,000,000 on 55 fueling stations for a miniscule amount of ethanol made from waste soda? Is it even enough to provide ethanol to our existing stations, assuming anyone wants to buy it? The only reason that anyone is doing this is because they are being subsidized by cheap oil and tax dollars. They will both be gone within 5 years. I think spending money for tomorrow’s stranded assets is the worst option—even if it means the loss of 221 temporary jobs. We would be better off distributing the $11m to 221 people—at least we wouldn’t have wasted the resources to build them.

5. While I’m not “in the business of picking winning and losing technologies,” I’d like to think I can recognize an obvious loser—and I would hope that you could too. Ethanol is the king of losers for everyone except those who are profiting from the continued hype. What is the “incremental benefit” from ethanol? Unless you see higher food prices, loss of topsoil, depletion of aquifers, and Gulf dead zones as a benefit, I’m at a loss to understand.

For my money, I would stick with “biodiesel, CNG, LPG, electric charging” and forget about hydrogen—that’s not going anywhere either. Or even better, start pushing “mobility” and stop focusing on cars.

You are not the only person who has been harmed by the ethanol scam. And I am sorry for that. But I'm reminded of the cartoon where an Aztec chief is making a human sacrifice into a volcano. A bystander asks why he keeps making these sacrifices when it hasn't appeased the gods. The chief responds, "so the previous sacrifices won't have been in vein."

The GREET model gives emissions for upstream GHG emissions plus combustion emissions.
For fossil fuels there are positive upstream CO2 emissions but for biofuels the upstream emissions are carbon negative.
Why, you ask?
Because only a portion of the crop ends up as CO2 in the atmosphere. For example an acre of corn would represent 10 tons of raw biomass but the corn kernels would only be turned into 5 tons of fuel to be burnt fast in cars. (In the case of green-diesel by gasification all the biomass is harvested and so the upstream emissions would be either zero or positive--making it no more carbon negative than natural gas.)

In the case of corn ethanol so much fossil fuel is used in making the average of upstream emissions only slightly carbon negative at -0.005 g/Btu. The wheels-to-well life cycle emission is 0.070 g/Btu.
With cellulosic ethanol very little fossil fuel is used and the average upstream emissions very carbon negative at
-0.064 g/Btu. Here is wheels-to-well life cycle emission is
only 0.012 g/Btu.


I am mildly shocked that the President of the Board of the Post-Carbon Institute should favor gasoline, which emits 0.097g of CO2 per Btu W-T-W versus cellulosic ethanol that only emits 0.012 gCO2 per Btu and then go on to slam ethanol as a waste of money(as greedy businessmen do) and an environmental disaster based on nonsense like aquifer depletion(Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas are not major corn producing states) or dead zones--the consequence not of ethanol production but any kind of intensive agriculture(like the Baltic) and a reversible problem.


Ethanol is the king of losers for everyone except those who are profiting from the continued hype.

Mob psychology rules and Science must hide its head in shame(taking money from corn farmers--eewww--how could you sink so low).

Is the Post-Carbon Institute really this silly?

I am not a part of the Post-Carbon organization, but for their sake I'm disappointed by the tone of the comments offered by Majorian.

It is well established that corn ethanol has very marginal or possibly negative energy return on energy invested (EROEI). Cellulosic ethanol likewise suffers from the same limitation, and has the further complication that it hasn't been perfected commercially. See http://www.oilcrisis.com/ethanol/.

Optimistic reports that Brazil is energy independent because of its ethanol production are oversimplified: most transportation in Brazil is on public conveyances run on diesel, not ethanol, and if Brazil's fleet and fuel were to be transferred to the USA, one would have enough fuel to drive 9 days per year. Details at http://www.oilcrisis.com/br/.

It's a pity that some would consider the automobile more important than the Amazon.

Regarding #1 and #2. I am glad you have at least thought it through and have an opinion. I will be the first to admit that I have not. I was told by the CEC to use a certain model and that is what I used, there was no other option for the grant submittal but at the meeting you stated to the Board that we and the SCAQMD were not taking into account Indirect Land Use and the model we used does.

#3 I stated in my original post, "The reality is that that there are about 450,000 vehicles in California that can run on high blends of ethanol and there are 33 public stations. These cars will be on the roads for many, many years and they will only burn two fuels, gasoline and ethanol. They will never burn hydrogen, biodiesel, CNG or anything else but gasoline or ethanol." There are no math or assumptions I have made other than above. Are you telling me that you went on a mission to kill this project and you are not aware that these vehicles exist? The drop of ethanol sales in Iowa is irrelevant. I say regularly that people will not buy E85 unless it costs substantially less than gasoline. You may have noticed the price of gasoline collapsing in 2008. I can tell you we sell about 1/3 the E85 we sold in 2008 because of the lack of a good pricing differential. Sales of CNG, biodiesel and Hydrogen are not so reliant on expensive gasoline as they cannot be substituted for gasoline in the near term.

#4 I was building 55 retail stations with that $11m, it is quite possible that money now will be spent to build 3-4 hydrogen stations. Good job. The waste beverage is a stepping-stone to more sophisticated feedstocks as the corn is to cellulosic. I agree that the ethanol industry and almost every business on earth is subsidized by cheap oil and it will be gone in 5 years. The question is, where will be then? I personally think that the transition beyond peak oil will less painful with thousands of E85 stations in existence than if there are not. In this situation, it will be the gasoline pumps and the gasoline cars that will be the stranded assets.

#5 You are absolutely in the business of picking losing technologies and since you are, then I want to hear what you pick as a winner. You can just tell us all what won't work with no alternative solutions. It is a lot easier to shoot down others ideas that they have spent their time and treasure than come up with your own. I agree that CNG (a fossil fuel), LPG (a fossil fuel), electric charging (generated from a % of fossil fuel) have potential. I built a station with all of those fuels in it 8 years ago! For the record, we well sell B20, often for the same price of diesel, open to the public 24hrs a day and after 8 years our throughput is the lowest it has ever been (100 gallons a day 80 dino and 20 bio). I also agree in pushing mobility and stop focusing on cars. Until recently, I was the chair of a non-profit that taught over 40,000 middle school children about car pooling, public transit and alternative fuels. I also own and operate the largest electric charging facility in San Diego with 6 free chargers open to the public and not one single vehicle has come by to charge in 2 years. Talk about stranded assets!

Are you telling me that you do not think ethanol has any incremental benefit to gasoline? If you are trying to compare it to something else, I can just about bet you in advance it does not exist commercially in any quantity to make a difference in the next 5 years, unlike ethanol. It is a lot easier to talk about going to Jupiter one day than to go back to the moon right now.

My final point is that we should be on the same team. We agree on peak oil and I think that there are many required and possible solutions. When people like you, who have the same goals as us, kill a project like this, then you have no complaint when someone kills a project that you deem as superior, because they are convinced that is not a viable solution. So often the solutions that get every body excited are there as a red hearing because they can be used to discount what is doable right now. If they learned how to make commercial quantities of ethanol from algae tomorrow, then there would still only be 33 public stations in California that could sell it as E85.

Mike Lewis

Now, how about some answers to those questions?

Mike, let me make a few comments. I am sure your heart is in the right place, but I have an issue with tax money that I think will be wasted. In this case, look no further than Pacific Ethanol or Cascade Grains to see the financial struggles ethanol companies are going to have trying to operate on the West Coast. What does that mean? Your ethanol is going to come from the Midwest.

Well guess what? The Midwest can’t even sell out E85. If they can’t sell it out there, why do you think they will be able to ship it halfway across the country – at additional energy expense – and sell it out in California? Why should they? No, I think your E85 venture would end up just about like Cascade Grains. I suppose if you get taxpayers to pay for the pumps, then they are the ones who will be left to pay the bills if things don’t work out.

I am not sure what you are referring to when you mention the use of expired beverage. I have seen one company float a concept based on expired beverages. My conclusion was that this particular idea was floated by people who failed economics:


My guess is that you are talking about something like this. Regardless, cellulosic ethanol struggles to be cost competitive mainly because the process tries to take a beer that is about 4-5% ethanol up to fuel grade ethanol. That takes a lot of energy; in fact just about as much energy as is contained in the beer. The problem is that if you are using expired beverage, you are probably talking about ethanol in the 3-5% range. This is only viable if it is being subsidized. For reference, corn ethanol titers run in the 15-20% range, and their natural gas inputs are a big chunk of their energy balance. Yours will be a much bigger chunk (and if you are using electricity – as was the case in the link above – you are certainly going to use more energy than you get back out).

I will stop there, as others have addressed other pieces of your comment. In general, I don’t favor picking technology winners. What I do favor is making fossil fuels more expensive, so all the technology contenders can compete against each other. But I am strongly opposed to funneling money preferentially to one particular technology. Government are lousy at picking technology winners, so they should get out of that business.

Finally, I may take a crack at your E85 FAQ at some point:


There are quite a few things in there that won’t pass scrutiny. And like I say, if you exaggerate a technology, it can look pretty good. That is, until someone starts poking around and pointing out the exaggerations.

Regardless, cellulosic ethanol struggles to be cost competitive mainly because the process tries to take a beer that is about 4-5% ethanol up to fuel grade ethanol. That takes a lot of energy; in fact just about as much energy as is contained in the beer. The problem is that if you are using expired beverage, you are probably talking about ethanol in the 3-5% range.

The distillation energy to get fuel grade ethanol is about 36000 btus per gallon or 54000 btus per gge. The energy to make gasoline out of oil is 23000 btus per gge. Tar sands gasoline needs 1000 cf of natural gas per barrel of product or an additional 24000 btus per barrel up to 47000 btu per gallon of gasoline. In the case of CTL, one ton of coal, 20 million btus makes 100 gallons of ersatz gasoline or 200,000 btus per gallon. Similarly, BTL gasification at 105 gallons(Syntec) of green (bio)diesel per ton of dried wood(14 million btus) will require 120,000 btus per gallon equivalent, more than twice the energy of ethanol distillation.

And like I say, if you exaggerate a technology, it can look pretty good. That is, until someone starts poking around and pointing out the exaggerations.


Similarly, BTL gasification at 105 gallons(Syntec) of green (bio)diesel per ton of dried wood(14 million btus) will require 120,000 btus per gallon equivalent, more than twice the energy of ethanol distillation.

Several of your numbers are wrong, but this one is atrocious. Of course you know that, because I have pointed it out numerous times. To produce 1 BTU of liquid fuel via gasification takes roughly half a BTU. But that half comes from the feedstock, and also results in produced steam and electricity.

I continue to be amazed, though, that you think a process that is extracting a dilute fuel from water is less energy intensive than on that is self-sustaining and results in a water-insoluble product. I presume you never sat in on too many science classes.

Shall I wait in anticipation until you make this claim yet again? Funny that when Nazi Germany and South Africa were both cut off from liquid fuels that they didn't turn to cellulosic ethanol as the solution. As I have documented, the technology did exist then. But both turned to gasification. It has been demonstrated to work at large scale (and there are large-scale gasification operations ongoing today). Cellulosic ethanol at large scale is still a fantasy.

But that half comes from the feedstock, and also results in produced steam and electricity.

You have extra energy not going into green diesel?
Excellent because you'll need to dry out your biomass prior to gasification.
Green wood is +50% moisture, dry wood is less than 20%. Perhap you can use solar powered wood dryers.

Today one of the more interesting methods(Zeachem) produces
ethyl acetate from biomass, by fermentation and adds hydrogen to produce 135 gallons per ton of dry wood versus 60-100 gallons per ton for other methods.

According to the company it produces even less CO2 than corn cobb cellulosic ethanol.


The government says biochemical cellulosic ethanol beats out thermochemical cellulosic ethanol for low GHG emissions.


All we need is a CO2 tax to drive the market toward innovation.

The government says biochemical cellulosic ethanol beats out thermochemical cellulosic ethanol for low GHG emissions.

Well, if the government says it, then that's the end of discussion. We know that they know best.

I would never produce ethanol via thermochemical processes. But since you mention it, I will tell you yet again what I have told you before. Those numbers are based on assumptions plugged into a model. That's it. When they actually demonstrate some of those numbers, I will be impressed.

You have extra energy not going into green diesel?
Excellent because you'll need to dry out your biomass prior to gasification.

Yeah, we know how to integrate heat like that. Gasifiers operate at very high temperatures, and there is a lot of heat that can be used for things like drying.

Today one of the more interesting methods(Zeachem) produces
ethyl acetate from biomass, by fermentation and adds hydrogen to produce 135 gallons per ton of dry wood versus 60-100 gallons per ton for other methods.

Yes, hydrogen, which we know grows on a hydrogen tree.

You want to do what? with the alcohol?

Are you mad sir?

I confess I was flabbergasted by SCAG's decision to reject the $11million for ethanol pumps. I think I can reduce it to one point.

We need choices at the pump - the more stations that offer more choices the better. Brazil exemplifies a country that embraced the flex-fuel concept and shown the advantages to the consumer and the country's balance of trade. Let consumers decide what fuel is better and let them pay the mark-up, if necessary, to satisfy their conviction. They will be somewhat protected if they aren't forced to buy outrageously priced gasoline because of available options.

We have been caught twice in an oil price spike of gut-wrenching proportions in the '70's and this decade and the only difference was how addicted we were to foreign oil at the time. For an oil President to admit we are addicted oil it must be true. To be spending, as Zubrin documents, 120% of the budget for the Department of Defense on foreign oil is a strategic resource blunder that the DoD is finally facing up to.

How many times will we be caught in this bind? What about when the Chinese and Indians start consuming more fossil fuels? I don't think anyone knows when the peak will happen, if it hasn't already. What we do know is that fossil fuels are not renewable. It is time to develop alternative fuel technologies and begin building a flex-fuel infrastructure to deliver it.

Let consumers decide what fuel is better and let them pay the mark-up, if necessary, to satisfy their conviction.

But Scott, that isn't what is happening. Consumers already said "We don't want it" which is why we got mandates in the first place. Ethanol - even with the subsidies - was losing the battle to gasoline. So we got mandates.

As far as an oil replacement and the danger of oil dependency, I couldn't agree more. But there aren't always easy answers to difficult problems, and I don't think using taxpayer money to put E85 pumps in California when consumers aren't screaming for it in Iowa (where it should have the biggest competitive advantage against gasoline) is going to do anything to help with our oil dependency.

Perhaps there is a need to provide a choice within the choice. Are the pumps that are stipulated in the grant "E85 only" or are they blender pumps (that would allow consumers to buy E10, E20, E85 for instance)? Would that difference in the plan have made any difference to Debbie Cook?

I doubt it. Debbie rejects cellulosic ethanol out-of-hand as a "fantasy." Yet she professes that "In my opinion the best way to influence policy is for the “scientists and engineers” to influence policy makers directly." But then she ignores the DOE's stance, led by a very qualified scientist, that continues to provide seed grants to support further c.e. development. California companies receive most of the grants for its innovative research and California V.C.'s are willing to take the risk, but deployment goes elsewhere because of policymaking and regulatory obstructionism like this one. No wonder we are going bankrupt! Are we prepared to see these deployments and jobs go to GA and MS?

We need to start somewhere. Killing early initiatives offered by the DOE even at such a small scale means that we aren't even willing to support people who innovate. It took a hundred years of trial and error to gestate the oil paradigm we are now in. I believe alternative fuels deserve at least this modest support.

I believe you, Robert, have not rejected thermochemical conversion technologies for producing alternative fuels. Since you agree on the danger of oil dependency, how would you develop policy to support development of alternative fuels and the infrastructure to enable it to reach the market?

The SCAQMD - rarely a supporter of any new technology deployment - seems to get it. They support the plan as is. I wish SCAG would give them and the DOE the benefit of the doubt.

As Robert notes in a recent post:

As I have pointed out, cellulosic ethanol technology is more than 100 years old. You heard it here, and you can hold me to it: There will be no breakthrough that suddenly makes it cost-competitive to produce. On the other hand, press releases that announce big breakthroughs for small incremental steps? No end to those I am afraid, nor any retraction when they can't replicate this outside the lab. The impression this leaves is a steady upward march in the commercialization of cellulosic ethanol - and no setbacks that weren't simply related to lack of funding.

SCAQMD is not going to diverge from the administration's course.

'More Choices' don't improve your situation if all of them are bad choices.

Having a bigger menu at McDonalds, when all they've added is more sugar, starch and fat recipes is no improvement.
Voting for more candidates, when you can see that they will all vote the same way as before doesn't get you a better government.

Burning Ethanol is still Burning Fossil Fuels, and then also Topsoil, Aquifer Water, and a hefty Government subsidy to boot. Poor Choice.

One choice that has to be kept in mind is to start to get away from the pump. Reduce Miles driven, reduce unnecessary shipping or commuting. It seems to have become anathema in the USA to suggest 'getting rid of anything'.. we're supposed to be able to keep it all because we still want it all. So sacrifice and thrift are compromise, and we have decided that a compromiser is equal to a 'loser' ..

1. Inability to focus beyond the next election

The party, Republican or Democrat, is the most important thing to those politicians. Since Obama has been elected, the right has done anything and everything they can to punish 'The People' for having voted him in, by acting as obstructionists. The more they can stop as much legislation of Obama's as they can, the more he will seem like a failed president and the better their chances of getting one of their guys in next time.

And it's working. Obama is way down in the polls. Regardless of whether or not healthcare changes might help 'The People' it will never go through now. Not even a super watered down version.

It's a political system that is a complete and absolute failure. You cannot have two factions with completely opposite interests running the country. In some ways its as bad as having Nicolae Ceaucescau running the country, who was the incompetent leader of Romania during the 80's.

This form of democracy failed. Can it be changed? No. The only way it can change is the for country as a whole is to become a failed state. Then out of the chaos of destruction it might rise again in another form, that will also probably fail. Cynical, you say. Yes, I'm past being cynical about governments. They simply do not work. The top dogs always rig it to become super wealthy at the expense of 'The People', and that doesn't seem to ever change.

The political system is not a failure at all. Its function is to enable lobbyists to craft laws that suit the needs of multinational corporations. In terms of bang-for-buck, it's incredibly efficient and profitable.

If you see it as a device for serving the needs of the people, you simply misunderstand. Politicians tell you this because it works - it is like how a lion's coat is the same color as the tall grass. The lion is not grass, but it hopes you think so, because it wants to eat you.

Well done. You have made it this far.
Now for a special treat that happens to right on topic,

The latest TED speech.



Thanks for the link.

I've taken the time to read the 103 comments above this. What I am struck by is the assumption that GAU (Government As Usual) will continue into the future.

I've only run for elective office once (our local school board - and lost). But, I have served on several non-profit boards so I am not unaware of outside pressures.

What I see is "localism" and even "stateism" being undercut by what is, in essence, a plutocracy.

I am totally unconvinced that local action, whether it is city or statewide, can actually make a difference.

My FIL served in the in the NY State Assembly but was re-districted out of office. Gee, a demo can be cut down by changing the lines to make it repub? But, that isn't the point.

There is an underlying belief that these actions have meaning. I hate to be so cynical but I see all that is going on as a dog and pony show to placate the masses.

I'd suggest looking at Chris Hedges essay at http://www.adbusters.org/magazine/88/chris-hedges.html (Zero Point of Systemic Collapse) and also take the time to read John Galt's fictional story, The Day the Dollar Died, at http://www.johngaltfla.com


"What I am struck by is the assumption that GAU (Government As Usual) will continue into the future."

"What I see is "localism" and even "stateism" being undercut by what is, in essence, a plutocracy."

You seem to make contradictory statements. GAU is the national plutocracy...the federal government from which flows all of our laws and even the concept of federalism and statehood. And it's finished, dead-it just doesn't know it yet. So yes, GAU is over.

It follows then, that what happens at the local level is all of a sudden very real and relevant...our cities, states, or even regions will become nations one day. People involved locally may be operating in a defunct system now, but they're basically ahead of the curve.

See collapse of Roman Empire.

Hi Debbie,

Thanks for encouraging scientists to speak out.

We have a project going - volunteers most welcome! - to set in motion a study by the National Academy of Sciences that covers the following:
1) Global oil supply, AKA "peak oil"; 2) Impacts of global oil supply decline; and 3) Policy options.


We'd like to start a letter of concern from scientists. Any scientists here and/or lurking, please do contact me. (aniyacafe (at) yahoo (dot) com.

While GAU and BAU cannot continue, we still have in place our best shot at a scientific assembly, looking at things objectively.

The last comprehensive energy study by the NAS was in 1982. They saw "peak" coming, and here we are (more or less).

The significant thing about calling on the NAS is that they have a process for input. This means that not only can the best of TOD be put forward, but so can policy proposals, such as those of Alan Drake, et al.

This would give something for governments and citizens at all levels to refer to - a solid, scientific look at "peak oil" by the one entity that is supposed to give impartial and objective scientific advice to the Nation. www.nationalacademies.org

The current NAS energy study avoids looking at the global supply picture. We can remedy this.

The NAS can be directed by any State government, or any federal agency or Congress. Funding has to accompany a request, however, it's minimal in the grand scheme of things.

Having the NAS deliver the "bad news" is a plan of genius, IMVHO, which I'm entitled to say as it was not my original idea.

I'll spread the word.

Hi Aniya,

All the "local is beautiful" talk aside, I remain convinced that only the Federal government can implement the programs and standards on a national basis that will be needed to mitigate the worst consequences of PO. If the NAS does not prod the administration, nothing of any real significance will happen.

Thanks, Dave,

re: "If the NAS does not prod the administration,"

Hopefully, the NAS will report the reality of the numbers we see here on TOD, and also gather the policy options that will enable a "better of worse" path as we face the "remorseless decline" (Campbell) on the down run of peak.

Really, all the NAS scientists have to do is tell the truth. They're set up to do that. It's their job.

In terms of process, the way it works is that the administration - or *any* State government - or *any* federal agency - can direct the NAS to do the "peak oil" study.

It's that simple.

Call your Congressperson and tell them to sponsor the petition.

I think the following are good points, even if they may be a little kind to the process!

1. Inability to focus beyond the next election
2. Decisions are made through negotiations with those who will be funding the next election (i.e. industry lobbyists)
3. Technical expertise is ignored or bypassed
4. The public is largely excluded from the process

That said, point 2 is a reccommendation that Elections should be purely Public funded, there should be NO PRIVATE MONEY allowed party's or specific Politicians.

There is probably no real way to get around 1, but at least if you ban Private Funds from elections, then perhaps the Politicians could look more at what their doing, rather than which vested interests they have to please, for the next election fund raiser!

Items 3 & 4 largely take a back seat, because of items 1 & 2!!!

And, I really am being generously here, as there is often more to the process than is desireable.

As California goes so goes the rest of the USA, but it just takes longer and I really do not believe in that mantra.

As to Debbie? I wonder if she is willing to stand by a statement she made some time back about Lobbyists?

It was that she welcomed them and in her opinion they performed a valuable service!

Airdale-just wondering

Maggots that eat dead animals perform a valuable service, because otherwise we'd be stuck with stinky dead bodies lying around for a lot longer.

Since our political and economic system is pretty much DOA now, through political entrophy and energy decline, maybe we need MORE lobbyists not fewer, to accelerate the process of eating it away.

When you take the chip off your shoulder, I'd be happy to have a discussion with you. Your comment misconstrues comments from an earlier post. Why not link people to the actual conversation so they can interpret for themselves.

I do find it interesting that many people here think that we need to try to reform the system we have, have a revolution to start a new system, etc.

This sort of reminds me of when my wife told me about driving and she hit an icy patch in a parking lot and she tried right up to the end to use her brakes and tried to steer out of the ice, and just ended up damaging the car's tire, struts etc by hitting a curb anyway with the tires at an angle.

I encountered a similiar situation going along a curve on a road going probably 10 MPH faster than the wife was on the same horrible icy morning. When I realized I had Zero traction, I just took my foot off the gas, straightened out the steering wheel and braced for impact. I had damage but about $600 less than the wife's car.

The political system is broken and is designed to corrupt or expel anyone who tries to reform the system. If you are a freshman representative hell-bent on reform, you may find money for projects in your district that provide jobs for your constituents yanked by those less enthusiastic about reform. After this, good luck on getting re-elected.

Oswald Spengler in his writing uses biological metaphors (which Tainter criticizes) to describe cultures and political systems because everything dies, biological or political. Our system is terminal. There is no remedy, no reform, and our system will be strong enough until its utter collapse to defeat any revolution.

The only prescription is to just dig in, and brace for impact when the system implodes of its own accord. There are no systemic solutions, only individual or small community solutions.

I can't blame people for trying to rescue a dying system. As a culture, Americans do not accept death in any form, hence the current obsession with health care (which really should be called "death delay" instead of health "care", because I'm not sure spending like 80% of the money on someone's last week of "life" stuck in a bed with tubes all in them is "care")

Hello ranger,

re: "There are no systemic solutions, only individual or small community solutions."

This may well be the case.

However, the thing is - right now small communities, larger communities and everyone in between - including "individual"(s) has no unbiased report from the one entity that's set up to advise our country on matters of scientific import.

The sooner we get the NAS to review "peak oil" and report back to the Nation, the sooner there's a solid basis for implementing whatever positive actions can be taken.


As it is, my community is expanding the airport. Widening the freeway, and who knows what else (I hate to look).

Why else do you think I'm walling up my 2+ acres 360 degrees around behind a hedge of evergreens (green giant thuja) and roses (rosa rugosa) and blackberries?

Because in 6 years I'm going to construct a carport and greenhouse on the driveway and deploy solar panels on it, and no one outside my property will be able to see it. No one will be able to see the small fruit orchard (figs, apples, peachs, pears, cherries, grapes, kiwis, 15 blueberry bushes, cranberries, wintergreen, strawberries) potatoes, corn, vegetables or some of the 200 species of plants I raise. This year I am getting 25 chickens and building a chicken coup. No one will be able to see that either.

By 6 years I will have finished remediating the clay soil with thousands of gallons of compost. I have 2 springs and 3 streams.

I will have a small watertower with purification that will be able to provide running water to the house, as well as a solar water heater, and composting toilets.

In short I won't need the outside world, or its problems, and I won't care a whit when it implodes. And I have the means to defend what I have from anyone dumb enough crawl through a 15 foot thick hedgerow.

Hi rangerone,

Sounds lovely, except for the (presumed) "means." (I mean, I'm rather hesitant to venture into the topic realm of defense. That's how peace-loving I am. Or scared, whichever.) :)

Any chance you could write up your experiences?

It sounds like you have a very ideal spot, with running water and a climate (or greenhouse?) that allows for the ag diversity. Is it too much of a bold question to ask what part of the country you're in?

I'd be very interested in your ideas and plans, especially the water system part.

Mid-Atlantic east coast northeast of DC, zone 7 ag. (So no peanuts, waterchestnuts, etc)

Debbie -

I'm a political scientist, for what it is worth, and I would like to say that your comments match my thoughts exactly as to why environmental/resource-depletion issues and the science to back up being concerned about them are so often discarded for, what seems to us, silly reasons.

You speak truth - politics is not and never has been about 'the truth' as revealed by facts, figures, or logical argument. It is about contending actors in a vicious, competitive system competing to push forward versions of truth to further their own self-interest. Social truth - the only kind that matters for the purposes of politics - is constructed out of a matrix of power, interest, ideological worldview, and scientific reality by political actors as they negotiate with one another, sometimes violently, for a place in the sun. Sometimes, a version of the truth is so useful or powerful politically that it become a hegemonic idea in the political discourse - i.e. America is "for" freedom, or "free markets" trump public ownership/management in all cases, or "greed is good". When this occurs - when ideas become truth because the elites believe it, it becomes, very, very hard to displace it because to rise in the system, you have to adopt more and more of the worldview of that system's interests and elites.

Westexas has referred to this as the Iron Triangle - he is right, but it is both more pervasive than that and less conspiratorial. The adoption and spread of hegemonic ideas in the discourse is like consumers adjusting to price signals - it happens near automatically and silently behind the scenes. Remember that shape-shifting Terminator from Terminator 2? Hegemonic beliefs in a political system are exactly like that - it takes criticism or a political assault against it and simply absorbs it and moves on. It takes a very powerful weapon to destroy it.

Take Nate Hagens stuff on the psychology of decision making and add this politico-cultural logic on top of it.... and, well.....

I am very, very pessimistic about these issues ever being dealt with in a way most here would want them to because of this. The politico-cultural interests behind the current system are simply too powerful at the moment. It is going to have to take a crisis the likes of which this country has never seen to rattle those interests enough to make change possible.

Son -- rather thought provoking…thanks. Reminded me of a report I studied in another lifetime about military tactics. I forget the exact technical term but it was essentially a force adjustment or redistribution. I.E. one flank receives a great deal of pressure and you shift your reserves to bolster it. But this anticipated response also leads to an effective counter move: Anticipate the opponent to make such an adjustment to your aggressor force and then design a strategy to take advantage of that reaction. Looking at the current political climate (Tea Baggers, anti-incumbents, etc) it would seem to be obvious to TPTB what is ahead of them. I wonder if you and Debbie can offer some incite into what sort counter offensive TPTB might be considering. Could some of the recent decisions by D incumbents to voluntarily drop out be part of a strategy designed at party level? Could the R’s try to co-opt the Tea Baggers (if they are really a viable option down the road) and appear to redefine themselves as the new improved brand when in reality it’s the same ole same ole?


First, I think you need to junk the idea that there is an entity called 'The Powers That Be' - maybe in a real dictatorship or oligarchy there are such actors, but in our system power is so diffuse that many, many actors wield effective vetoes over action. The Senate filibuster is just the most egregious example of this. There is no coherent response because there is no one 'in charge' - just groups scrambling for power, influence, and wealth. Policy gets made when groups temporarily align with one another to overwhelm the opposition. I don't think either 'party' is centralized or strong enough to promote any sort of long-term strategy beyond winning the next election.

As for the Tea Baggers.... let me tell you a story. There was a former corporal who became the leader of a similar group in another country. He was a very good speaker, he picked up on his audience's fears and petty prejudices and made what was a small party with next to no following into a large, mass movement. He was a very adept politician - he made the right alliances with the right people representing the right institutional interests.

The established conservative political elites at the time in his country (did I mention he was a bit of a right winger?) didn't know what to make of him or his movement. Some opposed him, some aligned with him, but they were generally too overwhelmed with their fight with established politicians on the left, each other, their own incompetence in creating a mass base of support, and the huge problems facing their deeply polarized country that making deals with this former corporal seemed the expedient thing to do. When he was finally elevated into high office these same conservative elites thought they could control him - they would be the real power, he would be the charismatic face in front of the cameras. He eventually killed himself in a bombed-out palace bunker in the ruins of this capital city.

The illusion that Adolf Hitler was a "right winger" continues to be propagated even long after the proof to the contrary is set in stone. Hitler was a National Socialist, a leftist who was opposed to individual liberties, and who seeked to elevate the state above all, including the corporations that were part of his fascist political structure, and who further had a fascination with obscure Germanic pre-Christian religious distortions popular in that period.

I am really curious as to how you personally define a "right winger", as usually when I ask that question of someone, I get a answers that correspond to no real political leaning (neither left nor right) whatsoever and which simply lay bare the biases of the person being questioned. Note that I get the same level of ignorance when I ask someone what they mean by a "left winger", especially when "left winger" or "right winger" is used as a deliberate pejorative, as you just did. In fact, the usual use of either term is a deliberate attempt to stifle discussion, not further it. Given your above post, the only logical conclusion I can see is that you also were attempting to use such a tactic to discourage further discourse.

Shame on you.

Please cite your published academic sources (university press books or major scholarly journals) that would discount the idea that Hitler was 'right wing'. I would suggest you begin with some real scholars in the field - Mann's 'Fascists' and Paxton's 'Anatomy of Fascism' would be a good start. Half-baked books written by conservative pundits don't count. And, yes, I am mocking you. More to the point, Hitler's non-Nazi allies in the Wiemar system before the Nazi seizure of power were all right-wing conservatives. The only Wiemar faction to consistently oppose both Hitler and support the principles of liberal democracy as we would recognize it here were, sorry to disappoint you, the center-left Social Democrats.

Furthermore, Hitler's policy program was one of racist, ultra-nationalist, militant chauvinism. It was, in other words, cultural conservatism (in German form) on steroids. His economic policy, such as it was, was one that geared to subordinate the economy for the purposes of rearmament and to re-engineer it along more explicitly racist lines. The heart of the Nazi economy was thus a fusion of state and corporate power in the heavy industries wherein the state provided strategic direction, financing, and labor control and the corporations managed production. Outside the major heavy industries, private enterprise was allowed to exist within a heavily regulated (on issues of security and race) sphere.

So, Nazi fascism, like all fascism, was a mix of both 'right' and 'left' wing elements, but the organizing principle was not so much seizure of the means of production and redistribution of wealth as per Marx, but the glorification of Germans as a racially/culturally superior people and the state as the guardian/expression of that people. The logic that flows from this is the subordination of society to the state/nation - which is why fascism is more properly called right-wing, or "NATIONAL" socialism. (Duh - It's IN THE NAME!) Fascists glorify the cultural group - i.e. the nation - whereas Communists/authoritarian socialists glorify an economic group - i.e. class. In practice, you end up dead or in a concentration camp in both because they both have contempt for individual rights and liberal rule-of-law, but the organizing principle, for those who know what they are talking about, is distinctly different.

People often get confused on this because the extreme right and the extreme left look and act very much alike. They do so because they both oppose the ordering principle of a liberal society - the primacy of the individual and individual freedom in both cultural and economic affairs.

Or, another way to put it. Communists, in theory, want to socialize everything and give it to all "workers" regardless of ethnicity, race, and so on. Fascists, in theory, want to socialize everything and give it to people who look just like them.

Hitler would have more in common with the culturally conservative Tea-Bag right than he would with the multicultural left. He would promise them he wouldn't let Obama get his socialist(read black) hands on their Medicare.

So, kindly, fuck off.

To further add to Prodigal Son's response.

The terms Right and Left descend from the arrangement of the class representatives in the French legislature before the overthrow of the king: the barons and the church hierarchy sat on the king's right as a sign of their higher position, and the represenatives of the commoners sat on the left.

So our entire definition of left and right is tangled up in concepts like monarchy and class.

The American capitalist apologist would argue that he is the true heir of the Founding Fathers' rebellion against monarchy, barons and state churches. But modern capitalism has simply created new barons, who are legally commoners but have interests opposed to the rest of us.

The lie is in viewing politics as being an eternal battle between the state and free men, which is something that American conservatives proclaim as their true defense of infallible European Christian civilization (betrayed by all those awful communists who run the countries that just happen to be our allies in NATO). European conservatives have simply been more honest in admitting that they expect the state to protect the entrenched economic elites and the state church due to the necessity of regimenting their countries to survive the Darwinian elimination tournament of Europe, which once had hundreds of countries. European leftists thus can openly say they want government to be re-routed for other interest group agendas.

So Hitler's role as a right-winger is entirely obvious. His people had been indoctrinated beyond reason by the Prussian kaisers to blindly "conserve" traditional values, property rights, patriotism, the work ethic, Christianity, yadda yadda by obeying their military-industrial complex and waging war to prove that they "deserve" supremacy over all other peoples. When the kaisers failed, many groups debated how fundamentally wrong the system had been and what needed to be radically replaced, but Hitler simply talked a confused, divided people into doubling down on the stupid - II instead of I. His choice of allies utterly confirms that.

The issue, then, is whether American right-wingers are unique, in which case you should stop calling Hitler a leftist because your definitions are meaningless beyond these shores. I would argue that American right-wingers are not unique; they simply preach a model of caste inequality that purports to be based on America's unique history, but the end result must still be a racist police state. Consider these prominent right-wing movements of recent years:

South Africa's apartheid regime
Rhodesia's settler police state
Israel's settler movement under Likud/Kadima rule
the US segregationist movement that merged with Reagan's GOP

Now are these pro-state or anti-state movements? A reasonable observer would see that they all want a state that:

1. affords property owners total impunity
2. "gets out of the way" of polarization of wealth
3. evangelizes extreme state AND private violence on any resistance to #1 and #2
4. inculcates a culture of paranoia that seductively hints at some future final solution against race traitors and outside agitators
5. uses #4 to tie the supporters to a military-industrial complex that becomes the "true" government as opposed to the corrupt liberal government of objective judges, welfare agencies, and equality activists - until war against the latter is indistinguishable from war against external threats (kill Biko, kill Rabin, kill MLK)

Now note that the above were all in "new" countries created by settlers. In settler societies, equality of outcome by government intervention is supposedly not necessary because there is still a frontier to be conquered by plucky Horatio Algers. There's equality of opportunity!

But wasn't there a time when you could have said that about every country? The European conservative (before 1945) appealed to nostalgia for the simplicity of feudalism, when government (like war) was so simple that the landlords and Church could handle it all by themselves. Of course it was simple because in Medieval times you had a low-density, low-energy society that had not yet used up the available land. Polarization of wealth was retarded by an economy based on land, not fast-moving money. The evolution of that Europe into a crowded tinderbox of violent rivalries and dispossessed peasants meant that by 1600 European monarchs had already gone from being the fake umpire who really worked for the landlords, to an active intervenor trying to hold off the explosion.

Ironically, that's why they sent out settlers to start the whole tragedy all over again, to squeeze their colonies for profit for as long as they could hold onto them until the colonists demanded the simplicity and lower taxes of independence.

The US, Rhodesia, South Africa and Israel all went down that road and ended up ever more complex, ever more diverse, ever more aware of the insanity of their founding premises yet more paranoid about losing the caste supremacy that those rigged premises ensured.

Meanwhile back in Germany, what was Hitler's desired end state? His buddy Himmler envisioned nothing less than a return to Medieval feudalism. His rival Rohm wanted worker control of factories. Hitler shot Rohm and promoted Himmler. Hitler's businessmen gladly accepted industrial slavery. Hitler himself seemed to believe that a return to the superior past required the will of a single leader, which contradictorily meant a powerful state apparatus. Perhaps he viewed this as a temporary phase until contaminating ideas like Marxism were exterminated and Germans returned to "natural" beliefs, at which time they could be trusted to good-think on their own.

So then is the Right statist or anti-statist? Consider the belief every conservative in my examples above shared.

That a certain kind of human is so naturally superior to all others that whether by government or by absence of government, he deserves to be their masters regardless of the suffering they must thus endure.

So whether you believe that "entrepreneurs", "Anglo-Saxons", "Christians", "Aryans", "the natural aristocracy", "The Moral Majority", "real Americans", "Abraham's heirs", "bringers of civilization", "Objectivists" or "small-government advocates" deserve to live in castles while the rest of us live in shacks, you are my mortal enemy and I am just as flexible about whether to kill you by government or absence of government rather than envision my descendants living the kind of degradation experienced by the majority in all the past societies you idealize.

I guess that makes me a leftist.

Prodigal and Super390, excellent discussions, acurate and thorough. Is it me or is this notion of trying to smear modern social democrats as "Hitler / Nazi" becoming more common? Plus ca change, plus le mem chose, I suppose.


First, I think you need to junk the idea that there is an entity called 'The Powers That Be' - maybe in a real dictatorship or oligarchy there are such actors, but in our system power is so diffuse that many, many actors wield effective vetoes over action. The Senate filibuster is just the most egregious example of this. There is no coherent response because there is no one 'in charge' - just groups scrambling for power, influence, and wealth. Policy gets made when groups temporarily align with one another to overwhelm the opposition. I don't think either 'party' is centralized or strong enough to promote any sort of long-term strategy beyond winning the next election.

As for the Tea Baggers.... let me tell you a story. There was a former corporal who became the leader of a similar group in another country. He was a very good speaker, he picked up on his audience's fears and petty prejudices and made what was a small party with next to no following into a large, mass movement. He was a very adept politician - he made the right alliances with the right people representing the right institutional interests.

The established conservative political elites at the time in his country (did I mention he was a bit of a right winger?) didn't know what to make of him or his movement. Some opposed him, some aligned with him, but they were generally too overwhelmed with their fight with established politicians on the left, each other, their own incompetence in creating a mass base of support, and the huge problems facing their deeply polarized country that making deals with this former corporal seemed the expedient thing to do. When he was finally elevated into high office these same conservative elites thought they could control him - they would be the real power, he would be the charismatic face in front of the cameras. He eventually killed himself in a bombed-out palace bunker in the ruins of this capital city.


First, I think you need to junk the idea that there is an entity called 'The Powers That Be' - maybe in a real dictatorship or oligarchy there are such actors, but in our system power is so diffuse that many, many actors wield effective vetoes over action. The Senate filibuster is just the most egregious example of this. There is no coherent response because there is no one 'in charge' - just groups scrambling for power, influence, and wealth. Policy gets made when groups temporarily align with one another to overwhelm the opposition. I don't think either 'party' is centralized or strong enough to promote any sort of long-term strategy beyond winning the next election.

As for the Tea Baggers.... let me tell you a story. There was a former corporal who became the leader of a similar group in another country. He was a very good speaker, he picked up on his audience's fears and petty prejudices and made what was a small party with next to no following into a large, mass movement. He was a very adept politician - he made the right alliances with the right people representing the right institutional interests.

The established conservative political elites at the time in his country (did I mention he was a bit of a right winger?) didn't know what to make of him or his movement. Some opposed him, some aligned with him, but they were generally too overwhelmed with their fight with established politicians on the left, each other, their own incompetence in creating a mass base of support, and the huge problems facing their deeply polarized country that making deals with this former corporal seemed the expedient thing to do. When he was finally elevated into high office these same conservative elites thought they could control him - they would be the real power, he would be the charismatic face in front of the cameras. He eventually killed himself in a bombed-out palace bunker in the ruins of this capital city.

I completely agree with everything Prodigal Son's said in this thread. I don't think peak oil will ever enter mainstream political discussion, because it doesn't concentrate money in elite hands, and doesn't flatter the masses either. I can't think of one example of peak anything in history that ever entered mainstream political discussion.

As for your corporal, Prodigal Son - the propaganda of his party is archived on The Internet, in English. If you actually read it, you will not find monstrosities such as "i like waterboarding" or "killing 500,000 children is worth it." Guess which two parties' leaders said such monstrous things on TV, with no public outcry.

The statement "I like waterboarding" was never made publicly by any elected official that I can find. The statement is a smear campaign against Senator Joe Lieberman, a Democrat at that point in time because Lieberman "reluctantly acknowledged" that he does not believe waterboarding is torture. The usual form of the smear by liberal bloggers is by presenting his name in the form Joe "I like waterboarding" Lieberman.

As to the second quote, when questioned by Leslie Stahl on 60 minutes, the person who said such killing of children was "worth it" was U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, under President William Jefferson Clinton on May 12th, 1996.

Stahl: "We have heard that a half a million children have died [because of sanctions against Iraq]. I mean that's more children than died in Hiroshima. And--you know, is the price worth it?"

Albright: "I think this is a very hard choice, but the price--we think the price is worth it."

In my opinion, the debate over waterboarding is the wrong debate. The more important questions, such as those asked by people like Noam Chomsky or Ron Paul about why we are even over there in the first place, simply never get public debate time. Thus, liberals and conservatives both who refuse to bow to the empire are automatically marginalized, especially by the mainstream media, because the very questions they ask are the truly dangerous questions to the empire's very existence.

I think waterboarding should be made an Olympic event.

Heck, if America can take gold in snowboarding, just imagine what we can do in waterboarding!

I have to say something here.
I have been water-boarded in training and it is scary but it is not that bad.
Real torture maims and even threatens to kill.
The most effective methods I remember is to threaten to execute another.

The two key points are "training" and the un-said "by my guys".

However, in the proposed Olympic event, each contestant will spin a random chance wheel that indicates which other team will waterboard him. If it lands on your own country, you have to spin again. Now imagine that it's your turn to spin and the pointer lands on Iran, or Russia, or some other, rendition destination country. How "not bad" do you think the experience is going to be for you?

Breaking News: In another unfortunate accident at the Summer Waterboarding Olympics, all four under-water contestants failed to survive. Three were awarded posthumous medals.

When you lose consciousness you don't remember who is causing it.
What is your experience?

While I agree that it will take a crisis to rattle enough cages, I don't see how waiting for a crisis puts us in a better position to deal with it. When an earthquake hits, knowing my neighbors is better than not knowing them. Relationships increase resilience and there is no better time than now to heed the call to action.

I agree with that, Debbie. And, furthermore, in my view our greatest evolutionary edge as a species is cooperation. The extreme, greed induced, hypermanic individualism we see to day is, IMHO, counter-productive and reduces our ability to survive. Which is why I so often say and ask,

Strange Species, Homo Sapiens. Wonder if they'll be missed.

In essence, Richard Dawkin's Meme.


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Our fascination with Peak Oil might blind-side us to other acute catastrophes.
Look behind you.

196 comments and no one mentions accountability.

Political view should be independent to know the needs of people especially those who worked hard not only to gain profit for themselves but to prove their worth as responsible and usable citizens. A lot of people don't know much about investing for retirement, and the standard retirement savings/investment plan is the ubiquitous 401(k) plan. Part of a 401(k) plan is that withholdings are before taxes, whereas a Roth IRA is post-taxes, but the hitch is that that withdrawals are subject to taxes, whereas withdrawals from a Roth are not. (Some people are better off in a Roth IRA than other IRA plans.) Pension plans are increasingly rare, so investment in a 401(k) or other IRA is best done sooner rather than later, as one does not want to need payday loans in their golden years. There are also maximum contributions, and other things to consider as well.