Where Do We Go?

I read a column in the New York Times that explains much of what has bothered me over the last few years. It was a column by Thomas Edsall. Now, reading his stuff is much like reading a research summary in Science magazine. Very dense, and you can lose yourself easily in it. But what I took out was that we now have two parties which are predicated on either intellectualism or anti-intellectualism. Both parties view adherents of the other party as evil dupes who just cannot see the virtues of their own philosophy. This is why the remark about deplorables in 2016 was such a divisive statement, and one that led inexorably to Hillary Clinton’s defeat. Instead of being taken as a put down, it was viewed as a badge of honor to many who saw the remark as a typical denunciation from the coastal elites.

One party adores anti-intellectualism. One party denies the universe exists according to scientific principles, and therefore prayer and quack pharmacology can defeat the evil cabal who are trying to force-feed medical solutions upon the unwilling. One party eyes any argument about climate change as denying the supremacy of God over our physical universe, and besides, it will cost us money and make it likely we may suffer from energy shortages if their evil green agenda ever comes to pass. One party believes women have no right to determine if they will be fit parents and will force all women to become parents if they ever find themselves pregnant. One party believes immigration is part of a globalist plot aimed at diluting the purity of essence of the nation’s true patriots (and heaven help anyone who dares to utter a version of history which doesn’t match the Hollywood image of noble men rescuing hapless women from savagery). This party cannot conceive of any value for any position held by the other party.

So the other party acknowledges intellectuals often do know whereof they speak, and are willing to give credence to the claims of scientists. The other party does look down on those less educated, since they have made a moral judgement that being educated is an indicator of more worth. The other party is willing to question their beliefs if reality does not match what they’ve been taught. The other party thinks the laws of economics are obsolete, and we can fix any problem by creating more money and spending it on revised national priorities. And the other party is unwilling to acknowledge any position held by the other party since it is obvious they are ignorant.

Then you have those who don’t hold truck with the beliefs of either party. This is the fastest growing group in the United States, the independents or others. They find themselves trapped within a political system which ignores their real concerns. Sooner or later, one or both of the existing parties will fatally fracture, and we may find the leaky block of the center becomes the glue holding this country together.

But the deck is stacked against any third party becoming a real force in the political spectrum of this country. All states are governed based upon two parties sharing legislative power. In our state of West Virginia, we have a Mountain Party which pretends to put up candidates, then complains when those candidates are ignored by all powers that be. They receive their 1-2% of the vote, just enough to keep them alive in the electoral system, then they retreat back into their den of irrelevancy.

It will really take some major event to cause the two parties to schism enough to cause a new party to arise out of the debris left behind by the fractures. One might have thought one party’s insistence upon electoral fraud followed by an attempt at holding onto power via mob violence would have been enough. But alas, what might have been a schism in the Republican party ended up healing poorly when the initial cries of presidential responsibility were replaced by scenes of groveling at the feet of the ex-President. Likewise, the progressive wing of the Democratic party misread the election as a mandate rather than as an act of revulsion against the former President. So now they are trying to go boldly where no party has gone before, and rectify 40 years of inaction on the social front with a plan to address every social ill all at once.

The Republicans may be seeding the sprouts of their own demise by ill-considered devotion to a single politician, rather than standing behind principles of their own (unless you consider mindless adoration to be a principle). But the Democrats seem destined to fulfill Will Roger’s pithy quote of “I am not a member of any organized political party. I am a Democrat.” Just shows that nearly 100 years later, the same disorganization seems determined to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, and result in party cannibalism.

So what is the answer? Will we cede control to the tribal group who believe the only good election is one that they win? Or will the tribal group win who believes only equality of results will repair the ills of the nation? God forbid that we actually have some rational actors seize control of our body politic and steer the ship of state by the rudder, instead of trying to direct the ship by rushing first to one side of the ship, then the other, thinking those actions are substitutes for steering.

It’s Now Or Never

What is “vengeful taxation”? That seems to be the sticking point now for my senator Joe Manchin from supporting some version of the Democratic social safety net spending program. Note how over the years, the emphasis in discussion has changed from describing the objective of the bills, to strictly focus on the overall cost of the programs. But back to “vengeful taxation”, according to Manchin it is not vengeful to seek the correction of the 2017 tax cut bill, as long as the tax rate for corporations keeps them globally competitive. Whatever that means.

Look, we in West Virginia have benefitted from the attention paid to this small, land-locked state lacking in so much of what is valued in the US these days. Having a Senator at the fulcrum of power is useful. And I am reminded of how small this state really is when I recall we encountered Senator Manchin at a local restaurant as he came in, bereft of staff and entourage, to join a party at another table. He gave us a couple of minutes as my wife pressed a couple of points home to him, and he was able to respond in the way many politicians have mastered – clasping hands, literally backslapping, and saying nothing that could not be interpreted in many different ways.

We seem to be stuck in a do loop (as Andrew Yang noted recently, betraying his computer programmer roots). We cannot break out of the prison of the dichotomy of the Democrats, where the progressive wing says our way or the highway, while a small minority of Senators holds firm to less fiscal stimulus. What I think is being missed by both sides is we’ve had 40 years of underinvestment in both human and physical infrastructure, and this time right now seems to be the only time where it is possible to get anything accomplished. The Republicans are insistent upon their nihilism, where they lay insensate upon the governmental table, while they await their normal due of mid-term elections to anoint them as the powers in Congress. This very time is the opportunity to get something done, in order to have accomplishments to tout for the next election cycle. Maybe, just maybe, if we can get something done, and people are working next year on infrastructure jobs, we can disrupt the Republican’s expectations of mid-term gains.

So much of the political discourse recently is predicated upon who can yell the loudest. Inside of the social media platforms, it is those on the right who seem to reach for the simplistic slogans which seem to captivate the nation’s attention. Couple that with the historical illiteracy of the American populace and it is no wonder the Republicans are able to characterize the Democratic proposals as socialism. It is painful to watch the true socialism for the rich over the past 40 years ignored, while the first attempt to use government to aid the workers at the bottom of the income scale is classified as handouts to the unworthy. But you have to admit it is effective, when polling shows ongoing gains for Republican positions while polling for Democrats shows decreased support since people have forgotten the messiness of the legislative process.

Has there ever been in the history of this nation such a handicap placed in the way of one political party? Where for over a decade, one party declares its implacable opposition to any action of the other party, with zero support for even critical actions like raising the debt ceiling? We should not even have a debt ceiling based upon how it is used as a cudgel rather than as a tool to restrain excessive spending. The consequences of not adjusting this artificial limit far exceed the political gains that one party may achieve in stifling raising the debt ceiling. But who among Americans have the attention span to realize it was the Republicans who were responsible for the dismemberment of our country’s credit rating, and the consequences yet to come if we do technically default on the debt?

The ruling class seems to think only those who can write a sizable campaign check are worthy Americans. They are near to their objective to institute a permanent oligarchy since they seem to view all opposing views as unworthy of consideration. In fact, only their votes would count in the world they wish to impose upon the majority of Americans who do recognize the problems 40 years of trickle-down economics hath wrought. We’ve gone from an America where the middle class was able to get ahead, to one where only raw wealth counts. It is an un-American country we now have. Unless you already have wealth, or unless you can count on a degree from an Ivy-league university to lubricate your rise up the social ladder, you just don’t matter as a human. The new oligarchy will deign to deal with your non-economic concerns, but really they are just laughing at those they patronize by letting them think they have political power.

But at least we won’t have socialism!

And If Elected, I Promise To ….

My career choices have expanded exponentially. All I have to do now is lie unashamedly and the future is mine as a Republican elected official. It is amazing, you don’t even need to worry about those videos showing your deeds and words, all you need to do is, say, recast those events into more flattering versions of the truth. And to be sure, your version of the truth has just as much merit as any other version that just happens to be backed by video and audio.

So instead of acknowledging the medieval violence perpetrated by those in the vanguard of the storming of the Capitol on January 6, you can portray those inside of the Capitol building as normal tourists, even managing to draw (stay) inside of the lines as they took selfies desecrating congressional spaces. Why, it is impossible for white citizens to have evil intent. We all know it is those others from BLM and Antifa who were the real terrorists. Those Proud Boys and those 3 Percenters? Just patriotic tourists who happened along and shared hugs and kisses with the Capitol police.

If those mean ole Democrats propose any changes to the taxation structure of this country, thereby risking reversal of 40 years of pandering to the rich? Just portray them as unrepentant socialists, who are working at implementing redistributionist policies, taking money away from the hard relaxing billionaires whose spending keeps so many of the little people employed.

If businesses have difficulty hiring people at starvation wages, expound ceaselessly on the dignity of work, and state that America has lost its work ethic. Never worry about the lives of those who have risked their existence by working during this pandemic, just define those who are using what little power they have (their labor) as morally corrupt for not wanting to exchange an hour’s work for 8 federal reserve notes. Of course, we who hold millions of those federal reserve notes have proven our moral integrity and should never be chastised.

Yes, I can lie with the best of them. I can claim no one has ever seen this virus everyone is scared of, and all of the hospitalizations are just efforts at getting the highest reimbursements from our socialized medicine providers. I can claim that since the advice from the scientists has changed from what was given 18 months ago, then all advice from scientists should be ignored, and my anecdotal evidence about efficacy of horse dewormer out trumps your peer reviewed massive trials. I have my rights and you are not about to infringe on them by pansy-assed pleas to consider the public good.

I can even lie about what is going on all around us. Sure, we never used to have these massive fires in Australia, Greece, Portugal, and the US west coast. But it cannot have any relationship to the increase in temperatures we’ve seen across the globe. And those flooding rains we seem prone to now? Has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that higher dew points induced from a warmer climate allows for higher rainfalls. But God would never allow for his infallible creatures to be capable of inflicting harm to the environment. Therefore, all who worry about the coming climate crisis can just go on with their lives (and the campaign contributions of the vested interests keep on rolling in).

I will have to work on my ability to cry crocodile tears at the opposing political party for insisting that we take responsibility for our actions in the past at increasing the deficit. Just as long as I can feign concern for our debt when I didn’t care about increasing deficits as long as the favored classes made out from our tax cuts. I’m not really good at naked hypocrisy, so my acting skills need a little brushing up before I can stand in front of cameras and wail about the reckless spending taking us over Niagara Falls without even a barrel to shield us from the rocks below.

I can if I wish start at the state level. I can say that I’m going to change human nature, and eliminate all rapists from the streets while I prohibit any possibility of abortions. I can insist that all who inhabit our penal systems are deserving of every bad thing they get, and once someone has made a mistake, they forfeit all rights forevermore. I don’t care about offering any rehabilitation programs in prisons, all those who find themselves there are unworthy of anything other than white bread and bologna sandwiches. Bring back Joe Arpaio! He had the right ideas.

Of course, only those who see things the way I do deserve to be placed in positions of public trust. Therefore, I must manipulate the electoral system so that only I and my fellow travelers can win elections from now on. I must pick any remnant of the liberals from my clothing in disgust, so I can remain pure and unblemished.

I can hardly wait. The next election cycle is upon us, so I must hurry so I can establish myself in the minds of those we allow to vote.

It’s Mine. Mine, I Tell You.

Photo by Flavio Gasperini on Unsplash

The word of the day is:  Selfishness. This is the one thread that binds many of our current social ills together. Selfishness is behind those who proclaim loudly they need not support our schools since they no longer have any students of school age. Selfishness is behind those who claim they made it on their own, and therefore have no sympathy for those who may need a hand up. Selfishness is behind those who claim their decision not to be vaccinated affects only them, they have no responsibility for the rest of society. Selfishness is behind those who believe fervently that any public policy aimed at providing a needed service is symptomatic of creeping communism.

It was Ayn Rand who popularized selfishness. Before her books hit the mainstream, it was unfathomable that people would believe it was a moral wrong to provide charity. But her memes infected many who gained power over the years. Her philosophy served as impetus for people like Paul Ryan to wield his gavel in the service of selfishness. For many years, it was not thought necessary to inveigh against her beliefs, since the predominant philosophy from mainline Protestantism was Christian charity. That some of the charity was done by government was viewed as a necessary evil, and thus many of the programs set up became infested with bureaucratic means testing which often served to demean anyone who tried to use the “free money”. So people were prohibited from accumulating assets if they used a government program, since they could “afford” to go without the money if they had any assets whatsoever.

There is no doubt that the desire to prevent people from living high off of the dole has caused many programs to be bloated with government overhead. And many folks who could benefit from the programs, refuse to be subjected to the oversight of the government masters. Even the age of technology has been an impediment, since private enterprise is able to use technology efficiently to implement things like rewards programs, while government programs such as unemployment are saddled with antiquated systems totally incapable of dealing with the surges our new economy is able to create.

So the belief that anyone who became dependent on government support was morally inferior caught on with more and more of the population. Meanwhile, the private sector kept on evolving, while the government sector kept getting throttled and prevented from adopting new technology. Well, now we have seen the effects. An economy where the number of unemployed and the number of job openings are both high. An economy where private home ownership becomes unaffordable to more and more of the population, while inadequate investment in affordable housing creates legions of homeless populating the streets of major urban areas. Will we use the disruption created by the pandemic to remake the fundamentals of this economy? Or will we jump at the chance to regain a semblance of normality, and accept the human detritus unable to climb aboard the economic ship as a cost of doing business?

Even with the increased spending aimed at maintaining private consumption, we still find it nigh unto impossible to give the IRS additional funds aimed at collecting legal taxes due. Any attempt to include additional revenues from tax collection as offsets for additional spending were quashed. Why? Because of selfishness and a misguided belief that the government is already too intrusive on our lives, we certainly should not give them additional funding. So its ok to reduce taxes on the wealthy, but not ok to ask the wealthy to not cheat and to pay their fair share. I view this as an overt form of hypocrisy from our political classes. Though the Congressional Budget office predicts that $80 billion in additional spending will result in $200 billion in increased revenues over the next 10 years, the IRS is a Republican boogeyman, which makes any effort to increase its budget problematic at best. Let’s just chalk up one more issue that is falling prey to selfishness. Please note that IRS audits have increasingly focused on potential abuse of the earned income credit, where a few thousand dollars are at stake. The IRS is outgunned on dealing with higher income folks, and cannot take on the army of accountants and lawyers the rich can employ. So the bipartisan infrastructure bill lost its IRS component, leaving a long-term plan to address IRS changes in limbo.

Sooner or later, the concept of a guaranteed basic income will come to pass. If this is enacted, with no means testing, then it will prove to be an incentive to work, since benefits will not decrease with salary. As much as people may detest the idea of folks sitting on their asses, living it up on the government’s dime, we may need this type of program to rebalance the power differential between the wealthy few and the many who struggle in today’s economy. Think of it. We can eliminate welfare departments and greatly reduce the overhead required to administer benefit programs. As more jobs are eliminated due to automation and AI, this type of floor may be needed to prevent mass starvation and mass homelessness.

At some point, those who do not share in the prosperity around them, even though they work for wages, will realize they have the power to disrupt the lives of those who are comfortable. The right decried the demonstrations of 2020, where commercial properties were looted and burned. What will they do when it is the gated communities that become the target for mass action by those who do not believe they have anything to lose? If you don’t accept programs to improve the hope of the many, you just may receive the backlash from those who have no hope.

American Taliban? You Decide

It’s an ill wind that blows from outside. The wind that brings disease and death to those it encounters who are not armed against it. The wind that causes schisms within towns and families, as it dismantles inhibitions for those who adamantly believe in the other side’s evil. The wind emanating from the new phenomena of the internet, with its ability to connect huge crowds only to give them faulty information to share among the most rabid.

In the end, the wind comes from ourselves. We are the ones who keep the falsehoods and lies alive through our incessant need to be proven right. We are the ones who end up yelling at each other as we encounter those who won’t follow our correct protocol. Look, I received much scientific and mathematical training during my years of schooling. I know which side of the faith / science divide I land on. It is certainly not the side of those who expound their faith that natural immunity given by God will protect them from this virus they don’t even believe exists.  It is on the side of those who believe God gave man the intelligence to assert dominion over even the lowliest near-life forms we share the planet with.

But it is a reality that the other belief system does exist, and those who adhere to this belief system cannot see the virtues of the opposing arguments. In fact, many of those people believe that the vaccine is a tool for mass depopulation by the evil ones who are inspired by Satan. It is evil these people believe they are facing down as they encounter those who favor public health measures.

In a way, it is like the belief systems exhibited by the Taliban, as they re-impose their will upon a people resistant to their beliefs. They know they are right, and if the entire rest of the world disagrees with them, they know their heavenly reward is guaranteed through their actions. At some point, folks who have a rational bone in their body would realize the rest of the world might just be right, not those few who yell the loudest and grab the most attention.

So the difficulty with defeating the viewpoints of those who deny both the virus and the vaccine is similar to changing the minds of those who adhere to the beliefs of the Taliban. Both are utterly convinced they are the only ones who are right, and they will ignore all contrary evidence in front of their faces. Thus we have the local politician who attends an anti-vaccination rally mere days after the death of his wife from COVID. Thus we have the fanatics in Afghanistan enforcing their version of Sharia law while the society they conquered falls apart around them.

Maybe we need to call the anti-maskers and anti-vaxxers the American Taliban, since they seem to exhibit the intolerance of the Afganistanian group. Both groups wish to take society back in time, to where there is no need to acknowledge anything other than the magnificence of God. It is God who governs all actions, and vaccines subvert God’s will in that they prevent God from culling those who should be culled.

In my previous writings, I discussed various existential threats facing human civilization. One of those is the rise of Willful Ignorance. As I look back at this piece of writing now three years old, it is amazing how many of those threats we are facing right now. Certainly we have seen how vulnerable we are to the risk of infectious diseases. A plague that kills only 1% of those it infects is capable of grinding economic activity to a halt. Add to that the growth of Tribalism and Denialism, and you can understand the reaction of many governments to the pandemic. After all, in their opinion, the plague is caused by outsiders, not by true citizens. And then add willful ignorance to the brace of problems we face. What I did not anticipate was the pride that those who are willfully ignorant take in their ignorance. There was no way I could expect a group of people to self-identify who wear their maskless faces as badges of honor, and view anyone who exercises caution by wearing a mask as threats and cowards.

Those of us who are fortunate enough to live in a developed country do not realize the gifts we have been given. We live lives unimaginable to the vast majority of humanity through the millennia who never could enjoy adequate (or excessive) food, comfortable living quarters, personal transportation at our beck and call, treatment for most acute diseases, and instant world-wide communication available in our hands. Many in our world today would trade places in an instant themselves, and to see our civilization ripped asunder by those who refuse to take advantage of yet another of mankind’s advances, a new vaccine therapy, leaves many throughout the world wondering about the sanity of the inhabitants of the US. Count me in their number. I too question the sanity of those who insist upon taking horse de-wormer as a way of treating this disease that in their opinion is supposedly no worse than the flu.

In the end, we will either wear down this virus through mass exposure of the population, or through sufficient vaccination to cause it to seek new vulnerable hosts in vain. Letting the virus course through the population invites still more death and disability. It also enables new variants to develop and sooner or later, one will come about that laughs at our previous vaccines while ripping through the population at a pace that even the most fervent deniers will be unable to reject the evidence of their eyes. When human powered carts roll through our streets, with someone calling out to “Bring Out Your Dead”, then maybe those who have pooh-poohed this virus will finally admit we have something to be worried about. But by then, it may be too late for this civilization to fix the problem, and our descendants will find themselves living lives much like peasants in medieval times. Only with cell phones.

The Sweet Smell of Government Revenue

What’s a poor mobster to do? Over my lifetime, various forms of government have usurped one or another of the functions organized crime used to provide.

Numbers racket? Taken over by multi-state consortiums running nation-wide lotteries, and single-state simple lotteries.

Sports bookie? Through partnerships with the various states, you can now throw your money away on sports betting without having to worry about your legs being broken if you could not pay. You now only have to worry about paying your credit card bills which reflect the losses from sports gambling.

Gambling? The casinos in most states are partners in crime with the state government, resulting in favorable treatment for businesses whose business model relies upon separating its customers from their money.

Loan sharking? In many states you can use one of the legal services for a “payday loan”, or lend your car title to a business that can legally charge rates and fees originally reserved for the shady characters who frequented the alleys in cities.

Selling marijuana? In many states, that is now under the purview of the state, through licensing of the industry.

About all an honest mobster can do now is to import drugs other than marijuana, and facilitate prostitution. Of course, those activities are up for grabs as local governments keep searching for sources of revenue where those who are paying don’t object to their own debasement.

Two things are apparent when you look at the arc of history. One is that human nature has not changed much. It will always be profitable to prey on the need for fast money, money that is not earned through labor. More on that later. The second apparent thing is the need for escapism, either through chemical means, or through mass entertainment honoring humanity’s ability to inflict pain. See WWE and MMA for examples of those diversions.

Those who are on the side of the culture wars decrying man’s descent into debauchery see these growths in government activities as examples of what happened once we turned away from God. What they do not see is human nature, and how much of what we may decry actually hides the real villainy allowed by our legal structure. It is abundantly clear we have abandoned any pretense at honoring labor, since our taxation system is heavily weighted towards valuing capital over labor. Since the radical capitalists captured our legislative functions, the steady march towards giving capital a more favorable view than labor has been unimpeded since the beginning of the Reagan administration. Until now, that is. For the first time in a very long time, someone is proposing to reverse a few of the benefits of capitalism. And the wail from the capitalists is loud and long, as the specter of socialism is invoked on any proposed change favoring the working public.

Look, the Republican party laid their cards on the table when in 2020, they gave up any pretense at being a party of ideas. When things are going well for the money parties, it is not necessary to do anything but hold on to existing gains. Therefore, no party platform was proposed other than what Donald Trump wants. He is the flag-bearer for all of the cadres who wish to keep the favored position of capital. His overt fanaticism for one variant of patriotism, where he literally hugged the flag, hid his true agenda from view. That is, to ensure the continuation of the favored position of capital over labor.

So the ongoing culture wars really are a smoke screen aimed at diverting the attention of the voting public from the real agenda going on. If you get emotionally engaged at the threat of the “other”, you won’t care about the theft of the nation’s monies enabled by legislative action. One thing to consider though, is whether the animal spirits unleashed by the culture war engagements can be put back into the bottle. Witness the horrendous scenes where anti-maskers threaten those who have concern about conditions in schools. Witness the fanaticism unleashed on January 6, where even sober individuals who would not even consider breaching the capitol, were willing to follow and enter once the true believers broke through. Civilization has always had a thin veneer, and those who actively work to strip off this veneer for political and monetary gains must answer for these actions. They may not be able to stop the mob once they have unleashed it, and when that happens, the mob tends to strike back at those who enabled it.

Meanwhile, the real needs of people are still out there. Roads need to be paved, and sewage needs to be treated, and water needs to be delivered. Students must be educated, even though many in the privileged classes gave up long ago on public schools. These services, provided mainly at the local levels, have been hamstrung by limitations on taxation. The effects of Grover Norquist and his acolytes run deep within the legislative class. Therefore, if more revenue is needed, the government tends to coopt something originally considered to be a sin, and enable more revenue to be generated without raising the tax rates.

Are we better off to have the government as the one who skims off the top of the revenues we so willingly give away, as compared to organized crime? Probably we are. But that does not hide the unmistakable truth that government is promoting these activities now, all due to the prohibition against raising taxes. Maybe what we need to do is convert our income tax system into a lottery, where some people have their taxes forgiven, while a fortunate few receive refunds in multiples of the amount due. Perhaps we just are not looking at taxes in the right way, and we need to tap into the inherent greed of the American people and turn taxation into a glorified form of the lottery. We might be surprised at how much tax revenue would be released if that were to happen.

Corn? Corn Is Always Good!

Corn Ethanol Plant Craig MO

It is 2021, not 1973 with its Arab oil embargo and lines of cars dancing the slow samba towards the still-working pumps. Nowadays, no one can claim with a straight face of the necessity to grow corn to produce ethanol, thereby increasing domestic energy supply, and loosening the noose of foreign oil producers on the neck of the United States. Yet the mandate to use ethanol in gasoline has become a sacred shibboleth, and its importance gets reinforced each presidential election cycle, where Iowa is the first state to hold a presidential preference event Thus no serious candidate can propose elimination of the ethanol requirement in gasoline. Why? Because the corn industry, and its lobbyists, will whip up the furor of its Iowa farmers to decry any change in policy as being anti-American.

So we are shackled to a policy which doesn’t save energy, causes demand for corn to be well above the market for nutritional usage, increases soil erosion and loss of nutrients to our waterways, and tricks Americans into believing the mantra of energy self-sufficiency. What’s the upside? We no longer have to worry about gas line freeze-up in winter.

There were two chemicals proposed to increase the oxygen concentration in gasoline. One was ethanol, and one was methyl tert-butyl ether (MTBE). Increasing the oxygen concentration in gasoline reduces tailpipe emissions, while reducing engine knock. Thus MTBE was favored initially by gasoline refiners since it was simple to produce in scale, and was inexpensive. It does have one very bad characteristic, though. If it is released into groundwater, it migrates into the water, rather than stay with the organic phase. MTBE soon found its way into ground water, and into drinking water. It is a compound that can cause significant harm to humans over prolonged exposure, so MTBE was phased out of gasoline in the early 2000’s. Ethanol soon took over as the preferred oxygen additive to gasoline, and it had the unexpected benefit of raising the cost of corn for farmers in the Midwest who needed a price boost in order to stay solvent.

Once legislative mandates were in place requiring use of corn ethanol, the investment soon followed. When I graduated college in chemical engineering in Nebraska in the 1970’s, there was essentially zero chemical industry in the region. I had to move to where they made chemicals in order to get a job. Now, there are ethanol refineries dotting the farm landscape throughout the corn belt. You can see the steam plumes from miles away. Corn ethanol is favored legislatively. During the formative years of the corn ethanol industry, there was a $0.50 / gallon tax benefit given to gasoline refiners in order to use the mandated amounts of corn-derived ethanol. Thus US tax policy drove gasoline refiners to select corn-derived ethanol, imposing in essence a tax of 5 cents per gallon on the consumer to enable ethanol to thrive. In fact, the true price to the consumer is even higher, since the demand for corn for ethanol has put a floor on the overall corn price. If you look at food prices, much of that comes from corn, through its value in feeds for meats, or use as sweeteners. So by making the price of corn higher than it would be, the price of all derivatives of corn is higher as well.

One of the most pernicious effects of the legislative mandates for increased use of ethanol in gasoline is increasing corn acreage. Using USDA statistics, the 3-year average of corn acres in 2019-2021 was 91 million, while the 3-year average from 1997-1999 was 79 million. The key difference between the two periods was the increased demand for ethanol from corn. The 15% increase in acreage means that corn has increased its fertilizer demands, and it is no surprise that an ancillary effect of a dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico due to excess nutrients, that dead zone has also increased in size during the two-decade period in question. Not only that, when all inputs are factored in, ethanol from corn may barely create more energy than it takes to produce. If methanol were allowed as an oxygenate, it could be generated from natural gas and reduce the impact on the land.

So why do we have this policy which seems in opposition to many goals we aspire to as a country?  We say we want to reduce the impact of humanity on the environment, yet we persist with a counter-productive policy mandating the use of corn ethanol in our gasoline supply. Square that requirement for an absolute volume to be blended with the now stated policy of converting half of new vehicles to electric by 2030. Sooner or later, the demand for gasoline will fall to the point that you cannot blend the mandated quantity of ethanol and still stay at a 10% ethanol concentration. When we get to that point, it will be interesting to see how the politicians deal with the physical limitations of the gasoline market. Of course, we could always export more gasoline and fulfill the legislative requirement that way, but I don’t think that will be looked upon favorably.

It is time now to look at the mandated use of corn ethanol and begin to wean the farm sector away from the incremental corn demand brought about by this legislation. Phasing out the requirement over a 10-year period would reduce the effect on any individual farmer, and then only the companies who have invested in corn ethanol production facilities will end up on the short end of the stick.

Do I expect our politicians to have this degree of foresight and begin to reduce the mandated volume? Amazingly, there is a bill stirring in the Senate that would repeal the mandate to use corn ethanol to produce gasoline. Tellingly, none of the Senators mentioned in conjunction with the bill are from major corn-producing states. Given the entrenched opposition towards ending any government quota program, my expectation is that the bill will suffer an ignominious death. But maybe, just maybe, it may be revived in the future, and face a better fate. I’ll believe it has a chance when I see some courageous presidential candidate have the guts to tell Iowa voters that corn ethanol is bad for the climate, and economy, and must go.

Don’t Believe Your Lyin’ Eyes

We have seen the future, and it is not pleasant. We have devolved into warring classes where we ascribe horrible motives to anyone who dares think and speak differently than we do. The Republicans seem to take immense pleasure in diminishing the stature of anyone who uses expertise to advocate for a position. Thus we see the marginalization of public health experts and scientists who developed a new class of vaccines and advocated for their use. In Tennessee this led to the dismissal of a public health officer who dared to state the legal fact that some adolescents under the age of majority could take ownership of their own decisions concerning their body. Even when state law is settled and several decades old, this mere acknowledgement of facts brought a backlash Dr. Michelle Fiscus could not withstand, leading to her firing. Not only was she fired, but it resulted in the abandonment of campaigns for any vaccination of minors.

This rejection of science and expertise has ramifications far beyond a mere cancellation of a vaccination campaign in a single state. It is symptomatic for what has become the abandonment of the scientific principle by those populists across the globe who have gained ascendency over the past decade. A scorched earth policy has taken over the political mind. This is especially clear in Brasil, where the scorched earth is literally scorched earth, where virgin rain forest lies in a smoking ruin as the inevitable advance of soybean cultivation marches on.

We have built a civilization where scientific advances have made it possible to support an unimaginable increase in human population, and has allowed significant increases in lifespan. But the technological advances have left a significant proportion of the population behind, mired in an ever more futile attempt to stay economically solvent. No longer is it possible to depend upon the mill down the road, or the local assembly plant, to take up the slack of those who lack technological skills in the job market. Multi-national corporations have done two things. First, they arbitrage labor and regulatory requirements globally, moving their operations towards the lowest common denominators. Second, they use technology and their advantage in capital to blast away at local retail establishments. These mega retailers are more efficient, but by displacing an entire class of entrepreneurs they have removed the ability of local communities to sustain a middle class.

So you have huge swaths of the country with no economic raison d’etre, where generations have now grown up with the reality of needing to leave their place of birth in order to have any economic prospects. It is even worse in my state of West Virginia, since the local work force depended upon low-education coal mining as its economic engine. In the time since I’ve moved here in the mid-1980s, I’ve seen the decline in shipments of coal. Few coal barges ply the Kanawha River now, and the coal trains that were once ubiquitous, now are an exception along our rail lines. Still, the local politicians view coal’s demise as a temporary aberration, and see no need in investment in education as the way to bring the local economy into parity with the rest of the country.

  We’ve built a global economy where low price is the mantra driving decisions. We now depend upon systems that would have been viewed as impossibilities 50 years ago. But the maintenance of these systems is dependent upon accepting the science underlying their foundations. If we wish to bring back lower skill industrial work, then we must accept the reality that items manufactured here will cost more. We are seeing the stirrings of this reality as we climb out of the trough of the pandemic, since people are not willing to accept the starvation wages of the service industry. In order to hire people back, wages must increase, but no one wants to accept the higher prices this will cause.

So now the political lines are drawn. One side insists the evidence of your eyes not be believed, and you must transform the events of January 6 into a Spongebob dream world, where prancing unicorns spread candy rainbows across the sky. That side is aligned with those who reject the benefits of science, which has resulted in novel vaccine development in record time. According to this side, not only must you reject the evidence before your eyes, you must reject anything developed by scientists, who after all are only interested in making money, and are wishing to push experimental poisons into the muscles of the unwilling.

The other side is somewhat smugly relying upon their knowledge that they are in the right, and it will only take time before the veracity of their position is apparent to those who are opposing them. Unfortunately, when one side is able to direct the discussion, the triumph of reason and logic is not assured. Humanity reacts to visceral images, and those who proclaim the anecdotal exception as a reason for their rejection of science, are likely to prevail over reasoned appeals about statistics and peer review.

For the side of logic and reason to prevail, it is necessary to bring up the anecdotal evidence of those who failed to take the vaccines and now are regretting that decision as they realize it has cost them their life. Fighting emotional fire with fire is the only way to win in the arena of public opinion, and those who do not wish to get down in the mud to wrestle with the pigs, will see the opponents grabbing the rhetorical high ground.

We are on ecologically shaky ground. As a species, we’ve grown our numbers far beyond the carrying capacity of this planet. The tools of science and logic have enabled this to happen, but the results are complex systems with non-uniform sharing of the economic benefits. It seems the response from many is to tear down the entire edifice, but if we do, we’ll find out how fragile our world really is and how mean and nasty life will become when everything is transformed into a struggle against starvation and warfare. At least, we no longer will be concerned about the fate of the Kardashians.

At Last! A Health Care Proposal From Republicans!

It was warm and humid down in the boiler room of the club house. Yet those who toiled down here kept coming up with winning strategies, even if they seemed just a bit far-fetched.

“Let’s say that all of the votes for Joe Biden came from illegal aliens. No, not just those people who are here illegally, but the aliens from all of the flying saucers we keep hearing about. Think that’ll fly?”

Lem switched the ever-present cigar in his mouth from one side to the other. He had long ago reconciled himself to living in a smoke-free world, but the taste and feel of a cigar still held sway in his mind. He snarled out his reply. “You’ve got it! No matter how they spin this, we win! Even if people come up and say they voted for Biden, you can get folks saying they aren’t really human, they came from the saucers.”

Shannon let a thin smile turn up the corners of her lips as she basked in the praise she got from her boss. It was hard for her to acknowledge how fast her rise up the chain had been. Only a few short weeks ago she had been an intern for the congressional representative from northwest Georgia, where she had been indoctrinated into the mysteries of Q and the reality of the stolen election. Now she was partly responsible for coming up with the lines that would be echoed across the conservative biosphere.

She wondered whether she dared to bring up the dream idea she kept buried deep in her psyche. But she realized there would never be a better time to broach the subject.

“Look, no one has ever seen any of these viruses or bacteria, right? Why do we think they exist?”

Lem shifted in his chair, his green eyeshades tilted slightly as he turned to look at Shannon. “Where are you going with this?”

Shannon brought her hands together, fingers connected at the tips as she continued. “Why do we believe any of this nonsense about disease. It’s gotta be a hoax aimed at keeping the doctors and pharmaceutical companies rich and comfortable. What if we said all of these were fake news, and we had recruited an army of shaman to deal with health issues?”

Lem leaned back in his chair, the light from his table lamp casting immense shadows on the back wall as he shifted back. “I like it. We could make it so no one had to spend any money on medical stuff. You know, this is the health care plan we’ve been looking for, for so long.”

Shannon smiled more openly this time. She continued with her dream scenario. “In one fell swoop, we eliminate the Medicare racket and all of the unnecessary money people spend on this stuff. And we make it so people could stop all of these tax withholdings because of religious beliefs.”

Lem picked up the thought line. “In one brilliant insight, you’ve come up with the holy grail. Get rid of that accursed Obamacare, eliminate the Medicare deficit, and cut the payments of true Americans for health care down to almost nothing. Those shaman, they don’t need much money, do they?”

Shannon pondered, but only for a moment. “I wouldn’t think so. And it will be so much cleaner when we don’t have to worry about the greedy insurers and doctors. You know, we may begin this as voluntary, but when people see how much money they can save with this new health care system, it should take over for all.”

Lem shifted the cigar again in his mouth. “Ever since Obamacare came out, we Republicans have been searching for some way to discredit it and let free enterprise come up with the solution for the nation. I can see, this is IT! I can’t wait to tell this to the big guy, hear him at the podium start to sell this to his followers. Shannon, you’re a genius!”

And so it came forth, that the new Republican program for health care was to have witch doctors contract with individuals to give aid and comfort to those who suffered from illnesses. And the people of the Donald saved many millions of dollars, and were very happy. Until they became subject to illness, and died.

In his tomb, the shades of Darwin smiled.

Let Me Know When We Get Back To Normal

The former Trump Plaza casino is imploded on Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2021, in Atlantic City, N.J. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

We’ve had more self-proclaimed witch hunts than Salem had at its peak. One more government prosecution, one more charge of a political witch hunt coming from our witch-in-chief. Yet we should not be surprised. We are now witnessing the ultimate case of failing up, and the denouement of this case is causing severe angst amongst the few who benefited from the Trump empire.

Certainly it has not been the myriads of small businesses and craftspeople who built the edifices intended to glorify the namesake of the empire who benefited from the business. They had to resort to legal action in order to recover even a tiny portion of what was owed them. Certainly it has not been the banks, who had to take over ownership of the various pieces of the empire after they had fallen into bankruptcy. Certainly not those family members who were associated with his loser brother, who had the temerity to renounce the family business and take on a proletariat occupation. They disgraced the family name and had to settle for a pittance of what they were truly owed.

Failing up. Imagine an entire career where the Peter Principle was embodied by its leader. Only this was a case where the one true skill of the leader, self-aggrandizement, was successful enough to cause millions of followers to be mesmerized into believing in the divinity of the leader. The embodiment of greed became the mantra of masses of otherwise normal people. So instead of the real example of a failed businessman who had never truly succeeded at any of his ventures, the image of the self-made business genius prevailed, and nothing anyone could say would disabuse his true believers from their delusions. Certainly not the investigative reporting of the various media sources, which had been transformed into the “enemies of the people” by the repeated statements of the leader.

Now, with the indictment of the Chief Financial Officer, and the indictment of the business itself, Donald Trump may find it impossible to fail upwards anymore. Everything for him is now pointing downhill, like the demolition of one of his Atlantic City casinos shown in the photo above. Whether this is the event which will cause the dear leader to accept his failings is doubtful. We’ve plenty of evidence to show it is impossible for The Donald to accept any self-failings. It has to be someone else’s fault. It is simply not possible for any actions of Donald to be less than glorious in its magnificence.

His minions and worshipers will be unmoved by the legal travails emanating from the various indictments swirling around. They still believe in the neo-deity and divine inspiration of the charlatan. In order to acknowledge the failings of Trump, it would be necessary to admit they were wrong in hitching their wagon to his ascendency. After all, the vision of a world where black and white were clearly defined, and each was in its place, is at the heart of the world view of his followers.

It is nearly six months since the leader of this movement abdicated his Washington shrine for his southern estate in Florida. This nation wants desperately to move on, yet we continue to be held hostage by the ravings of the ex-President, and by the sycophantic sniffling of those who still curry favor with the failed leader. It is now entering the dangerous phase, where a significant segment of the US population believes blindly in the lies and deceptions uttered by those who seek to gain from their association with the ex-President. We now have a schizophrenic Congress, with a split personality. Who will be our psychiatrist capable of reconciling these diametrically opposed personalities? Will we reach reconciliation before we have violence in support of the big lie?

Once more, it is necessary to put our faith in the hands of the administrators of justice. Only they have the ability to ensure the behavior of the Trump organization does not become normalized across the business world. Only they are able to finally administer accountability to the man who has held this nation hostage, by letting him know once and for all that his behavior was and still is unacceptable. Certainly it is not possible to expect Congress or state legislatures to administer this accountability. In the case of Congress, the culpability of many members in the January 6 insurrection must be covered up and buried. For state legislatures, they sit in craven fear that the Republican base will come after them if they dare to show independence from the story of the big lie.

I wish I still did not feel obligated to express my feelings about the failure of our 45th President. Maybe in another six months, he will have receded far enough from the daily topics of the news so that he himself will no longer present a danger. But it will be a long time before his followers can be deprogrammed, and re-enter the world of reality. There lies the real danger.