Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Ethanol: Too Much Hype—and Corn

Ethanol enjoys subsidies from Congress and has upped corn prices. The rush to alternative fuels has been unwisely skewed to this one industry. Pro or con?

Pro: Bush’s Cornfield of Dreams
by Moira Herbst

Amid the explosion of consumer interest in all things ecological, elected officials are rushing to promote environmentally friendly policies. In his State of the Union speech, President George W. Bush announced his proposal to cut U.S. gasoline consumption by a fifth over the next 10 years, with a major boost in ethanol and other alternative fuels.

But before the proposal gets cheered into law, it requires further scrutiny. The reality remains that ethanol is no magic potion for meaningfully reducing oil dependence and lowering greenhouse gases. The prospect of boosting ethanol production to 35 billion barrels by 2017 will require massive tax subsidies and produce such environmental damage that the plan can be considered little more than a dream.

One problem with ethanol is its cost. It’s subsidized by the U.S. government at a rate of 51 cents per gallon, and federal and state subsidies for the fuel added up to $6 billion last year. As the number of gallons produced multiplies, so will the cost to the taxpayer.

Taxes aren’t the only burden that will fall on consumers. As ethanol usurps more of the corn crop, the price of corn rises, boosting food prices. Already, about 20% of the corn crop goes toward ethanol production, up from just 3% five years ago. That drove up corn prices 80% in 2006 alone. This week, Richard Bond, the chief executive of meat producer Tyson Foods TSN, warned that if corn continues to be diverted from animal feed, consumers will likely pay “significantly” more for food.

But even if ethanol costs a lot, doesn’t it at least benefit the environment? Not necessarily. Because it’s an oxygenate, ethanol increases levels of nitrous oxides in the atmosphere and causes smog. Researchers are debating the extent to which it reduces greenhouse gases, with some estimates as low as 5%. Also, ethanol lags gasoline in fuel efficiency, and it requires fossil fuels like coal or gas to refine and transport it.

Ethanol’s supporters say that not all ethanol will come from corn crops, and point to the great promise of “cellulosic” ethanol—made from nonfood crops like corn chips and wheatgrass. But the great hope of cellulosic is dampened by a gaping hole in the technology: The enzyme that will convert these plants to starch, and thus ethanol, has yet to be discovered.

So what’s the alternative to Big Corn? If the government is serious about finding cost-effective and environmentally sound alternatives to oil, it will need to invest more in research for cellulosic ethanol, as well as for wind and solar energies. Of course, the other alternative—less costly but surely not as popular—is conservation. That word was noticeably absent from the State of the Union speech.

Con: Ethanol Is Our Most Viable Choice
by Justin Bachman

Ethanol enjoys its favored status because it constitutes the only real option the U.S. has to disrupt what President Bush terms our addiction to foreign oil. A congress of science and economics hasn’t yet managed to generate other viable technologies to power our vehicles—and a shift toward greater use of alternative fuels is clearly necessary. As a nation, we use three times more of the worldwide oil output each year than the next-largest consumer does, and we contribute far more than our share of global carbon emissions. That makes Bush’s call for 35 billion gallons of alternative fuels over the next decade practically a mandate for our role as responsible global citizens.

Additionally, the ethanol industry plays a crucial role for the U.S. Farm Belt. Higher corn prices are helping to recharge economically depressed rural economies, and new ethanol plants bring decent-paying jobs to areas that have suffered chronic underemployment (see BusinessWeek.com, 01/10/07, “Who Profits from Corn’s Pop?”). The 5.3 billion gallons of ethanol used last year consumed only 20% of the nation’s corn crop. Meeting Bush’s goal would still require less than half of the entire corn crop—and that’s only if no new corn production is added.

Moreover, the U.S.’s vital agriculture economy depends heavily on healthy corn prices for farmers, and the current cost of around $4 per bushel is manageable for the economy. The genius of free-market capitalism will sort out what needs to happen as corn prices mature and other corn-dependent industries compete for the feedstock. Ethanol also could become much cheaper than it is now, roughly in line with unleaded gasoline, if Washington ends tariffs on imported ethanol. That tariff, 54 cents a gallon, distorts ethanol’s real cost and slows its U.S. expansion.

Archer Daniels Midland ADM, VeraSun Energy VSE, and other ethanol producers are spending heavily to research feed materials beyond corn, “cellulosic ethanol” (produced from cornstalks, sorghum, wood chips, and switchgrass), and the like. These efforts would render moot worries that greater corn use will adversely affect the overall economy. Regardless of feed source, ethanol has proved a viable industry, as seen by Brazil’s dramatic success in converting its fuel systems to the fuel.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007




2008 Election Issue !!


Perhaps we are asking the wrong questions during election years.

Our Senators and Congresswomen DO NOT
pay into Social Security and, of course, they do not collect from it.

You see, Social Security benefits were not suitable for persons of their rare elevation in society . They felt they should have a special plan for themselves. So, many years ago they voted in their own benefit plan.

In more recent years, no congressperson has felt the need to change it. After all, it is a great plan.

For all practical purposes their plan works like this:

When they retire, they continue to draw the same pay until they die.
Except it may increase from time to time for cost of living adjustments..

For example, Senator Byrd and Congressman White and their wives may expect to draw $7,800,000.00 (that's Seven Million, Eight-Hundred Thousand Dollars), with their wives drawing $275, 000.00 during the last years of their lives.

This is calculated on an average life span for each of those two Dignitaries.

Younger Dignitaries who retire at an early age, will receive much more during the rest of their lives.

Their cost for this excellent plan is $0.00
. NADA..! ZILCH ...

This little perk they voted for themselves is free to them. You and I pick up the tab for this plan . The funds for this fine retirement plan come directly from the General Funds;


From our own Social Security Plan, which you and I pay (or have paid) into, every payday until we retire (which amount is matched by our employer). We can expect to get an average of $1,000 per month after retirement.

Or, in other words, we would have to collect our average of $1,000 monthly benefits for another 68 years and one (1) month to equal Senator! Bill Bradley's benefits!

Social Security could be very good if only one small change were made.

That change would be to:

Jerk the Golden Fleece Retirement Plan from under the Senators and Congressmen. Put them into the Social Security plan with the rest of us

Then sit back.....

And see how fast they would fix it.

If enough people receive this, maybe a seed of awareness will be planted and maybe good changes will evolve.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Gas prices spring forward

The price of gasoline is an average of 10 cents a gallon higher than a year ago, and weekly motor-fuel demand reached a record this month. And the traditional summer driving season hasn't started yet.

By U.S. News & World Report

Alongside crocuses and baseball, there's a new harbinger of spring: the gasoline price run-up.

After 11 consecutive weeks of price increases, U.S. motorists last week were paying $2.88 a gallon, up 27 cents in just three weeks and 33% since late January.

Americans are no longer waiting until summer to hit the road, the Energy Information Administration says, with March and April demand strong for several years.

"For years, the typical summer driving season was considered to occur between the Memorial Day and Labor Day holidays," the agency said in a recent analysis. "While this characterization still holds, in recent years, demand patterns have shifted somewhat to include more robust levels of gasoline demand earlier in the season with a pre-summer peak in gasoline prices."

What's different now
But this is a spring price peak with a vengeance. Even with the new average price nearly 10 cents a gallon higher than a year ago, weekly U.S. motor-fuel demand reached a record high for April. Meanwhile, supplies were even tighter than they would have been with the usual slowdown in gasoline production, as refiners switch to making fuels that meet special environmental requirements for summer.

Two major refinery fires, one at BP's giant Whiting, Ind., facility and the other at Valero Energy's McKee plant in Sunray, Texas, will result in lost gasoline production for weeks.

In California, where special clean fuels are required by law, production of gasoline dropped 7% in one week, with a fire at a Chevron facility in Richmond and an unplanned outage at the BP refinery in Carson. The average price for regular grade in California was $3.31 per gallon, 41 cents a gallon above last year's price.


Thursday, April 19, 2007

Americans Speak on Gun Control

Will college shootings change minds on either side of the debate?
By Melissa Segrest

When madmen go on killing sprees in America, they use guns. Inevitably, in the aftermath, the arguments about gun control begin. But a poll conducted in the days after the Virginia Tech massacre found that the majority of Americans don't fully align themselves with either the pro- or anti-gun arguments.

The MSN-Zogby poll found that 59 percent of Americans do not believe stricter gun control policies would have prevented Cho Seung-Hui from killing 32 people and then himself in the worst mass murder in America's history. The poll found that only 36 percent of those polled believe stronger gun control could have prevented the shootings.


Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Gun Control and Virginia Tech Killings

"If I get drunk, then drive my car into a school parking lot killing 32 inocent people; do you then demand strickter laws on automobiles too?"

It's hard to imagine what it must be like to watch in horror as a crazed man with a gun starts firing shot after shot at Innocent men and women who just moments before, engaged in life, have now been stripped of everything.

Why was this senseless act of violence committed? Does it matter? I don't think the "why" is important at all. Put another way; Could there possibly be ANY justification for murdering 32 innocent people? Equally as unimportant is where and how the killer obtained his firearms. Bottom line is that upstanding citizens DO NOT kill Innocent people either with guns or other means. A person capable of murder in the first degree is equally capable of acquiring guns or other weapons no matter what laws are put in place. Additional laws are only restrictive of law-biding citizens. Why would we want to dis-arm them?

I think we need to focus on the real issue of violence. Not the instruments that the violent use to enact their unjust judgment.

I feel strongly that if more law abiding citizens were lawfully able to carry firearms that we could potentially have fewer victims of violent crime. Bottom line, in the face of evil it is easy to blame the systems in place or the tools that were used. Let's not allow a few evil people to strip Americans of our Constitutionally protected rights.

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Urine Tests

Like a lot of folks in this state, I have a job. I work, they
pay me. I pay my taxes and the government distributes my
taxes as they see fit. In order to get that paycheck, I am
required to pass a random urine test, which is no problem.

What I do have a problem with is the distribution of my
taxes to people who don't have to pass a urine test.
Shouldn't one have to pass a urine test to get a welfare
check, because I have to pass one to earn it for them?

Please understand, I have no problem with helping people
get back on their feet. I do, on the other hand, have a
problem with helping someone sit on their butt. Could
you imagine how much money the state would save if
people had to pass a urine test to get a public assistance

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Bush's Shadow Army

video posted March 15, 2007 (web only)
Bush's Shadow Army
Jeremy Scahill

Jeremy Scahill reports on the Bush Administration's growing dependence on private security forces such as Blackwater USA and efforts in Congress to rein them in.

Jeremy Scahill reports on the Bush Administration's growing dependence on private security forces such as Blackwater USA and efforts in Congress to rein them in. This article is adapted from his new book, Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army (Nation Books).

On September 10, 2001, before most Americans had heard of Al Qaeda or imagined the possibility of a "war on terror," Donald Rumsfeld stepped to the podium at the Pentagon to deliver one of his first major addresses as Defense Secretary under President George W. Bush. Standing before the former corporate executives he had tapped as his top deputies overseeing the high-stakes business of military contracting--many of them from firms like Enron, General Dynamics and Aerospace Corporation--Rumsfeld issued a declaration of war.

"The topic today is an adversary that poses a threat, a serious threat, to the security of the United States of America," Rumsfeld thundered. "It disrupts the defense of the United States and places the lives of men and women in uniform at risk." He told his new staff, "You may think I'm describing one of the last decrepit dictators of the world.... [But] the adversary's closer to home," he said. "It's the Pentagon bureaucracy." Rumsfeld called for a wholesale shift in the running of the Pentagon, supplanting the old DoD bureaucracy with a new model, one based on the private sector. Announcing this major overhaul, Rumsfeld told his audience, "I have no desire to attack the Pentagon; I want to liberate it. We need to save it from itself."

The next morning, the Pentagon would be attacked, literally, as a Boeing 757--American Airlines Flight 77--smashed into its western wall. Rumsfeld would famously assist rescue workers in pulling bodies from the rubble. But it didn't take long for Rumsfeld to seize the almost unthinkable opportunity presented by 9/11 to put his personal war--laid out just a day before--on the fast track. The new Pentagon policy would emphasize covert actions, sophisticated weapons systems and greater reliance on private contractors. It became known as the Rumsfeld Doctrine. "We must promote a more entrepreneurial approach: one that encourages people to be proactive, not reactive, and to behave less like bureaucrats and more like venture capitalists," Rumsfeld wrote in the summer of 2002 in an article for Foreign Affairs titled "Transforming the Military."

Although Rumsfeld was later thrown overboard by the Administration in an attempt to placate critics of the Iraq War, his military revolution was here to stay. Bidding farewell to Rumsfeld in November 2006, Bush credited him with overseeing the "most sweeping transformation of America's global force posture since the end of World War II." Indeed, Rumsfeld's trademark "small footprint" approach ushered in one of the most significant developments in modern warfare--the widespread use of private contractors in every aspect of war, including in combat.

The often overlooked subplot of the wars of the post-9/11 period is their unprecedented scale of outsourcing and privatization. From the moment the US troop buildup began in advance of the invasion of Iraq, the Pentagon made private contractors an integral part of the operations. Even as the government gave the public appearance of attempting diplomacy, Halliburton was prepping for a massive operation. When US tanks rolled into Baghdad in March 2003, they brought with them the largest army of private contractors ever deployed in modern war. By the end of Rumsfeld's tenure in late 2006, there were an estimated 100,000 private contractors on the ground in Iraq--an almost one-to-one ratio with active-duty American soldiers.

To the great satisfaction of the war industry, before Rumsfeld resigned he took the extraordinary step of classifying private contractors as an official part of the US war machine. In the Pentagon's 2006 Quadrennial Review, Rumsfeld outlined what he called a "road map for change" at the DoD, which he said had begun to be implemented in 2001. It defined the "Department's Total Force" as "its active and reserve military components, its civil servants, and its contractors--constitut[ing] its warfighting capability and capacity. Members of the Total Force serve in thousands of locations around the world, performing a vast array of duties to accomplish critical missions." This formal designation represented a major triumph for war contractors--conferring on them a legitimacy they had never before enjoyed.

Contractors have provided the Bush Administration with political cover, allowing the government to deploy private forces in a war zone free of public scrutiny, with the deaths, injuries and crimes of those forces shrouded in secrecy. The Administration and the GOP-controlled Congress in turn have shielded the contractors from accountability, oversight and legal constraints. Despite the presence of more than 100,000 private contractors on the ground in Iraq, only one has been indicted for crimes or violations. "We have over 200,000 troops in Iraq and half of them aren't being counted, and the danger is that there's zero accountability," says Democrat Dennis Kucinich, one of the leading Congressional critics of war contracting.
While the past years of Republican monopoly on government have marked a golden era for the industry, those days appear to be ending. Just a month into the new Congressional term, leading Democrats were announcing investigations of runaway war contractors.

Representative John Murtha, chair of the Appropriations Committee's Subcommittee on Defense, after returning from a trip to Iraq in late January, said, "We're going to have extensive hearings to find out exactly what's going on with contractors. They don't have a clear mission and they're falling all over each other." Two days later, during confirmation hearings for Gen. George Casey as Army chief of staff, Senator Jim Webb declared, "This is a rent-an-army out there." Webb asked Casey, "Wouldn't it be better for this country if those tasks, particularly the quasi-military gunfighting tasks, were being performed by active-duty military soldiers in terms of cost and accountability?" Casey defended the contracting system but said armed contractors "are the ones that we have to watch very carefully."
Senator Joe Biden, chair of the Foreign Relations Committee, has also indicated he will hold hearings on contractors. Parallel to the ongoing investigations, there are several bills gaining steam in Congress aimed at contractor oversight.

Occupying the hot seat through these deliberations is the shadowy mercenary company Blackwater USA. Unbeknownst to many Americans and largely off the Congressional radar, Blackwater has secured a position of remarkable power and protection within the US war apparatus. This company's success represents the realization of the life's work of the conservative officials who formed the core of the Bush Administration's war team, for whom radical privatization has long been a cherished ideological mission. Blackwater has repeatedly cited Rumsfeld's statement that contractors are part of the "Total Force" as evidence that it is a legitimate part of the nation's "warfighting capability and capacity." Invoking Rumsfeld's designation, the company has in effect declared its forces above the law--entitled to the immunity from civilian lawsuits enjoyed by the military, but also not bound by the military's court martial system. While the initial inquiries into Blackwater have focused on the complex labyrinth of secretive subcontracts under which it operates in Iraq, a thorough investigation into the company reveals a frightening picture of a politically connected private army that has become the Bush Administration's Praetorian Guard.

To Read the rest of this story: http://www.thenation.com/doc/20070402/scahill_vid