Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Your Votes At Work

As we move towards anointing another Defender of The (Oil) Faith (aka US President), how do the wannabes stack up in confronting the mounting energy crisis? Here are some facts on their "energy policies".
  • Clinton and McCain both favor suspending the 18.4 cent per gallon federal gasoline tax for the summer driving season. This populist measure is analogous to pushing for lower cigarette taxes as tobacco prices rise. Let's all root for more cancer and emphysema, shall we?
  • Obama and Clinton promise $150 billion over 10 years to develop alternative energy. Do a simple comparison: at today's prices the US spends $1 trillion per year on crude oil alone. Anyone that believes that $15 billion is going to make a real difference is naive, uninformed or in denial - or just throws out round numbers to palliate voters. Or all of the above.
  • Clinton and Obama both want higher fuel economy standards from the current 25 mpg. Admirable, but Clinton wants 55 mpg by 2030 and Obama 50 mpg by 2026. Since our politicians love stargazing while whispering sweet nothings to our ear, how about 100 mpg by 2100? Perpetual motion by 2200? How about the simple fact that, should they get elected, they will be out of office by 2016 at the very latest? The problem is now and we must confront it right away. Forget McCain, he comes from another planet altogether: in 2003 he voted down a measure to increase fuel economy to 40 MPG by 2013.
  • Clinton and Obama want to "investigate manipulation of oil prices". That's what I call the Darth Vader initiative: send noble knights to fight the Dark Side and liberate the Republic from the claws of the Evil Manipulator. Plays well with those who view issues in black and white and cartoons in Technicolor (IQ<100 a must).
To summarize, these policies are best described as follows: the "Fuel Low" warning has lit up in the middle of a flight, high above the Atlantic Ocean. Instead of altering course for the Azores or Iceland, the Captain decides to stick to his original flight plan, passes free booze to everyone - including himself and the co-pilot - and blames the ground crew for the empty tank. He also promises that after 25 years the plane will go further with less fuel.

No wonder the passengers are getting nervous...

OK then, what should be done? Well, first of all we need to land the plane without killing everyone on board. After decades of mostly forced growth (think of how foie-gras is made) we actually need a prolonged period of shallow recession to retool the national (and global) economy away from the Permagrowth model. If the rest of the world doesn't want to follow, too bad. That's what we have the Customs Service for.

Some concrete proposals:
  • Legislate a stream of steady increases in taxes for carbon-based fuels (e.g. 10 cents/gallon every six months, 5 cents/kwh of "black" energy), to raise at least $100+ billion per year and recycle the money into alternative energy sources and systems.
  • Impose sales and annual use/registration taxes for automobiles on a sliding fuel economy scale. Those getting over 50 mpg will pay very little or nothing, whereas gas guzzlers will pay 5% of their original factory MSRP every year. Recycle the money into public transport, including high speed trains.
  • Withdraw from Iraq and Afghanistan within one year and reduce the overall size of the military involved in securing fossil fuel sources and routes, at a pace commensurate to the switch to alternative energy. This will save a minimum of $150 billion/yr at once and eventually at least $300 billion/yr. (the total military expense is now $630 billion/yr).
  • Revamp the current pensions and medical benefits scheme, since it is entirely based on the Permagrowth and serial bubble paradigms. This is key because people will not accept both present and future sacrifice. If changing energy is difficult, this is an order of magnitude harder.


  1. I'll vote for you...unfortunately I'm not American...

  2. ...since it is entirely based on the Permagrowth and serial bubble paradigms.


    To say I am not optimistic about meaningful change is an understatement.

  3. in order for change to be possible, Americans must be (at least mostly, in the beginning) united in their desire FOR change, which requires a different value structure.

    there's only two ways to create a different value structure in the political arena-- hard power or soft power.

    And since I don't like the feel of cold steel to my head, I'll gladly choose the soft power of persuasion.

    And since Obama is best able to persuade in the most 'honest' (i DO realize this is politics), way, my logic demands that I vote for Obama.

    Curious... his campaign is about 'hope' and 'change'? Seems like circular thinking to me, but then again, I'd rather be indoctrinated by a Positive feedback loop than its self destructive counterpoint most any day.

  4. I sincerely hope, that on a steady basis, you are sending links to posts like this one to your legislative reps in D.C.

    I urge every one out here to do it as well. Make it part of your daily routine. Now excuse me, I am sending the entire post to my reps.

  5. Hell,
    Never underestimate the power of denial. Yesterday I mentioned my experience with my college eco prof and how he became aggitated when I suggested to him the the country was in real peril.

    If a man who has studied and taught economics all his life won't contemplate the ugly realities that confront us, how do you expect plumbers and carpenters to be able to comprehend the stark inevitability that faces us.

    The number of people who spend their time examining the technical and economic constraints limiting our future as a country and planet is probably no more than 2 or 3% if that. To most Americans that we have the biggest nuclear arsenal means the normal rules don't apply to us and we can always have what we want. It's going to take alot more pain to divorce the mainstream from the fantasy. By then it probably will be too late but kudos to you for trying to prepare a plan if the country ever wakes up.

    BTW, I hope nobody with a heart would ever consume foie-gras or veal. Its bad enough how meat, milk and eggs are produced but those first two are criminally sadistic.

  6. One of the myths of our time is that of "leadership", and how a politician, cleric, or other charismatic authority will lead us to the promised land.

    Have you ever noticed that leaders are never too far from their "flock"? In fact, if you look closely, you'll see that they're always a few steps behind where the people already are.

    I encourage you to continue to exhort for change, Hell, and to pick out a few things that individuals can do, without provided permission or resource from others, to tackle the great issues of our time.

    Once everyone's doing smart things, you can be sure the politicians will all be clamoring to catch up and take credit for it.


  7. Anon:

    "Have you ever noticed that leaders are never too far from their "flock"? In fact, if you look closely, you'll see that they're always a few steps behind where the people already are."

    You mean like Abe Lincoln stating in 1860 America that black people were created equal to whites? FDR and national social programs? How bout JFK and putting a man on the moon? MLK and Nelson Mandela, risking life and freedom for human rights?

    These are leaders, please don't confuse them with the criminal Cheney administration. Shrub and company maintain power through fear mongering not by mitigating fear.

    Some people are so beaten down by mediocrity and incompetence in our executives that they think these pirates are the best we can do.

    You want to know a secret? Don't drink the "torture president's" cool aid and you will avoid suicide.

  8. Marcus,
    I left a post for you yesterday about the movie Zietgiest in case you're interested.

  9. This comment has been removed by the author.

  10. M3ANON said:

    Hellasious -
    As you write
    "The problem is now and we must confront it right away".
    But many of your suggestions do not actually help matters "now" or "right away".
    #1. Postponing the 18.4 cent federal tax is in no way toxic to our health. It is immediate relief at the pump for consumers that need to buy gas "now" ( your alternative energy developments, Greenback Model, and rising mileage standards do not help consumers "now". The government makes more money from a gallon of gas through taxes than "Big Oil" makes - government does nothing to bring gas or oil products to consumers but they profit more than the companies that actually bring it to the consumer).
    #2. How does your entire section on raising fuel mileage help the consumer "now"? It doesn't. Getting rid of excess taxation does help the consumer "now" because they will not need to pay it. On another note - if Bill Clinton had voted to drill in ANWAR in 1994 we would be having that oil "now" to help lower the price "now" when it is needed -there are no cars or trucks that run on wind or solar power "now".
    #3. Try as I might I cannot wrap my mind around your Greenback Model. You of all people know the folly of relying on human whim with regard to fiat currency but you are willing to create an entire currency system based on derivitive-like products - all based on a particular subjective scientific view of observable fact? How is that to provide meaningful help to the consumer "now" ?
    #4. You continually want to tax and penalize people who bring oil and oil products to the market as well as those people who actually use oil products "now" because they have no other choice. People's form of transportation and heating their homes is fossil fuel - but you want them to pay as much as possible and believe this helps the their situation "now" ?

    I could go on but it would be a waste of time because I am finally getting the point of the argument. It is based on this
    "..we actually need a prolonged period of shallow recession to retool the national (and global) economy away from the Permagrowth model"

    For crying out loud - isn't the consumer going through enough "Creative Destruction" as is without giving them more of "what's good for them"?

  11. Excellent article as usual.

    We lead by example, when one of the Presidential candidates embraces personal poverty for the sake of others we will have a leader.

  12. M3ANON,
    It's either a moderate amount of steady pain now or sudden and catastrophic devestation (mass death) later; which appeals to you more?

  13. Edwardo is right; Hell's revolutionary edicts need to be nailed to someone's door in D.C. Will the "5% MSRP" tax apply to semis, cruise ships, and airplanes? It should. Hadn't seen Carter speech before surprisingly. You'd think he'd be yelling "I told you so" during every interview he gives.

    M3Anon- Its not really penalization. Its waking people up to the true cost of their lifestyle. Maybe the withdrawal symptoms will be strong enough that they'll be extra motivated to learn about alternate energy. Necessity is the mother of invention.

    Yoyomo- How do you feel about eating seafood? I waiver on this one. Its been easier to stop eating beef than giving up dairy (cheese specifically). Gorgonzola and chevre monkey on my back.

  14. Very well said Yoyomo, thank you.

  15. HellasIOUs I think you’ve done us a good thing by putting together the skeletal framework for real action as well as new thinking.
    Some of the posters raised good points without realizing you had already addressed them (with an answer they did not want to hear); while others grazed close to good points.
    Your posts acknowledge that short-term growth will be sacrificed. I’d expect this to resemble how Reagan/Volker sacrificed big chunks of the economy (and electorate) in 1981-1982 in their vicious throw-down against inflation. Throwing the economy into recession for a greater good will cause a decline in driving: the unemployed don’t drive 2 work, an unemployed spouse trades daycare & excessive soccer runs for at-home care and neighborhood play under the parents watchful –though stressed out – eye. If unemployed white-collar workers lose their house in an isolated suburban cul-de-sac, maybe they’ll find an apartment near public transportation.
    Bottom Line: It will be painful and ugly, but worth it. Let’s toss in real money for safety nets for the duration.

    Now, try herding 5 cats. Then take those skills/lessons and try herding 50 cats. Lesson doesn’t apply, do they? How’s this relevant? Read on.

    Hell, your post acknowledges human psychology...but this is pretty dicey. 1983 media heralded predictions of Reagan as a sure 1-termer due to public anger over the 1981-82 recessions. Fortunately, the republicans had no control/majorities in 80-82 Congress and thus, had little to lose in sticking w/Reagan. Will be very hard to get a Dem prez to whip whiny dems in Congress into supporting such foul-tasting medicine. Poster Marcus cited Lincoln and Roosevelt as leaders willing to lead ahead of the flock. Hmmmm. One was assassinated by a disgruntled voter; the other knew he was going to die sooner than later. It’s good he mentions them because they were in causes that both involved mind-boggling sacrifices including but limited to 600,000 deaths (Lincoln’s Civil War) and 418,000 deaths (WW2 deaths). Americans no longer like anything resembling self-suffering or self-sacrifice.

    I remind people that numbers count...think of herding cats. Lincoln basically led a population the size of modern Greater Metro New York City to fight the population of modern Greater Metro Chicago in order to liberate the enslaved population of Downstate Illinois. Civil War era USA was a small nation of 30 million (all races) Canada’s 2008 population is 33 million. FDR led a bigger nation but only 39 million voted in the 1932 election that launched the New Deal (49 million voted in 1944 which was FDRs final campaign). Whoever leads us out of the current energy/deleveraging crisis has to get a solid working majority out of 300 million. Ten-fold the challenge faced by Lincoln. Try herding 10 cats. Then take those skills/lessons and try herding 100 cats. Lesson won’t apply. (Obama can’t herd 5 out of 10 democrats despite the hollow HopeN-Change rhetoric cheerleading).

    We have a bad habit of keep reciting historical events as evidence of potential change relevant to today. Or they cite Canada. Better to cite change involving democratic nations of 300 million or more. Cats, anyone?

  16. Marcus:

    You offered an excellent list of great leaders that appeared to be "moving the people".

    Here's my rebuttal: if those leaders had been all by themselves, not supported by hundreds or thousands of unsung heroes who had already bled, and suffered, and struggled to make the opening these leaders could stride into, the progress of the "great leader" would not have occurred.

    Let's use Lincoln. Were not the Quakers, the abolitionists, the Underground Railway, the John Browns of the world already agitating? What about the Missouri Compromise? How could such divisive legislation have passed if not for a major sentiment in favor of halting the spread of slavery? To take it a step further, Lincoln was loathe to make the Emancipation Proclamation - he feared, rightly, that it would energize the South for more years of war. The countervailing force was Lincoln's need to keep a northern political alliance intact long enough to win the war. The Emancipation Proclamation helped accomplish that goal - and it happened at least as much from bottom-up pressure as it did from top-down policy.

    This is why Ghandi, who might have made your list of great leaders, said "be the change you want to see in the world". He knew how much depended upon having the multitudes ready-willing-and-able to support his proclamations.

    I'll re-affirm my point: change comes bottom-up. There's no top of the pyramid that's all that far from where the base is.

    The bottom row of bricks on the pyramid has to grow legs in order to move the pyramid. Hell's challenge is to educate and inspire people to grow legs and use them.


  17. Interesting; blog and comments. Change will come; it will be unexpected (by the majority)and may manifest itself as some variant of National Socialism.

    The Permagrowth model, fueled by fossil energy and electronic credit is changing from impulse power to coasting - like a VL bulk-carrier, without power, in an on-shore breeze, drifting onto a lee shore. The ship's officers and crew, with the exception of the look-outs, are partying. Mesmerizing stuff.

    Proposals for action are necessary, and useful, but you need 36% of the decision-makers to be willing, and able, to push them through. In democracies this is virtually impossible - other than during a real shooting war. Since a real shooting war would be very destructive, an appropriate alternative will have to be conjured up; and I do not believe that either of the pygmy-style engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan fit the bill. You need something that poses a real danger to the Homeland.

    Think very carefully on this latter point. There are some possible candidates - you just have to start lifting rocks to locate them.

    Bye the bye. H, could you hold the reading recommends for a while. If I have to read any more my brain will capsize! Thanks.

    Brian P

  18. yo said

    "If a man who has studied and taught economics all his life won't contemplate the ugly realities that confront us, how do you expect plumbers and carpenters to be able to comprehend the stark inevitability that faces us."

    How would you like it if someone came and offered proof that everything you've devoted your life to was wrong?

    Carpenters don't have as much to lose.

  19. We have already revamped the pensions (read Social Security) for a loss-to-date of 70% thanks to the past 25 years of CIP jiggering. Would you have us give up more???

  20. Dink,
    Other than boiling lobster alive I'm fine with seafood. Fortunately those things are so expensive it's not a dilema I have to agonize over. I eat diary but when money isn't tight I go for organic, those animals are treated a little better. BTW I'm not vegetarian (wish I were but don't have the will power) but I eat mostly chicken or fish.

  21. Outerbeltway:

    "Here's my rebuttal: if those leaders had been all by themselves, not supported by hundreds or thousands of unsung heroes who had already bled, and suffered, and struggled to make the opening these leaders could stride into, the progress of the "great leader" would not have occurred."

    Einstein saw the possibility decades into the future of a thermo-nuclear device. Roosevelt made the executive decision to assemble thousands of scientists together with huge amounts of capital to get it done NOW.

    Nasa scientists saw the possibility of eventually putting a man on the moon JFK made the decision to get it done within a decade.

    "Let's use Lincoln. Were not the Quakers, the abolitionists, the Underground Railway, the John Browns of the world already agitating?"

    Yes they were "agitating" but certainly a minority of the population. Lincoln took the agitators moral outrage and articulated slavery as an affront to the Constitution, proposed a solution, rallied states support, and effected the solution.

    Let's compare this to the idiot-in-chief AKA the anti-leader: Bush decided to go into Iraq not by fleshing-out the beliefs of agitators but with 70% of the country behind him. He did a poor job of articulating the problem (why are we invading Iraq? How is this part of the GWOT?, What is the GWOT?), his "solution" is a debacle, a misjudgment of monumental proportions, and there is no resolution leaving a quagmire for the next administration.

    Leadership matters, Bush II is not a failure, he will always be used as a bad example.

    Thanks for the link YOYOMO.

  22. Thanks for consistently good writing on this and related topics. Just wanted to contribute a link to information on possible global cooling that changes the equation somewhat (assuming one trusts the sources):,25197,23583376-7583,00.html

    The increasing cost of oil exploration justifies a sustained push toward new fuel sources, of course, but (what seems to me) a more realistic assessment of our short-term ability to alter the global climate is reason to approach economic overhauls with caution.

  23. America is broke. The consequences of this is that we are going to withdraw from the Gulf because we are fighting for access to oil that we can't afford anyway.

  24. M3ANON said:

    Yoyoma -
    Might you please enlighten me as to what "..sudden and catastrophic devestation (mass death) later.." refers to ? I don't know what you are referring to. You aren't going to refer me to Gore's theatrics are you? Incidentally we had a frost warning here last night and it will be below 35 degrees tonight and it's May 1st - how exactly is man-made Global Warming responsible for this?

    Dink -
    The problem is that you, Yoyoma, and Hellasious seem to be under the impression that, given an economic collapse, society will rebuild itself on energy methods that are more expensive than fossil fuels. By hellasious' own words you all seem to have the idea that only Creative Destruction will cause people to "wake up" and rebuild society using a more expensive means of powering that society's energy needs. Such rebuilding will be based on the cheapest means possible - because we will not be able to afford the more expensive.
    To top it off you all seem to be in favor of rebuilding society on alternative energy methods that, at present, are not efficient or even self-sustaining. It might be a different matter if the alternative energy methods you all propose were actually efficient and capable or maintaining society as we know it but your alternative energy methods of today can in no way fit the bill - that is why, in the world of Reality, the ideas in this "Votes at Work" posting only take the U.S. to the point of destruction (the proposed base to reconstruct society with is not up to the task).

    Honestly - is the truth of helping people with their energy needs "now" really so difficult a question to answer?

  25. M3ANON,
    I agree with you 100% that alternative energy will never replace fossil fuels. My point is that human civilization as presently organized is nowhere near being sustainable and will collapse and the biggest challenge is going to be how to manage that collapse.

    Will it be orderly and managable or will it be sudden and chaotic. Mass death will come from starvation as food production can't continue at current rates muuch longer. Soil fertility is depleting, ground water for irrigation is depleting, mineral deposits for fertilizer are depleting (potash went from $50/ton to $560/ton in the past couple of years) and fuel for the machines that plant, irrigate, harvest and process our food is depleting.

    Global warming isn't the most immediate threat unless it leads to droughts in farming regions which will only lead to the depletion of ground water at a faster rate. To get a better idea please read:

    Eating Fossil Fuels at

    The Olduvai Theory at

    The vast infrastructure necessary (and it won't be enough) will never get built without high taxes on energy to subsidize it. It will be extremely painful but it can't be avoided. Either we deal with reality while we still have a chance or it will ruthlessly deal with us at a time and place of its choosing.

    The ugly truth is we humans have overshot the earth's carrying capacity and we WILL be reduced; the only question is how.

  26. The only solution is high gas prices...that will solve this situation faster than hippie @$$ socialist taxes or laws.

  27. This reminds me of something I heard on the radio the other day, where the woman insisted that all we have to do is make everyone drive a hybrid. At the wages I make, I can't even afford a 1980s model right now. I figure the hybrids might be an option for me about the time that I get too old to drive at all.

    Not all of us live in the cities or suburbs. Is it fair for those of us without other transportation options to be reduced to beggary, just to try and force soccer moms to give up their in town driving? And how come no one seems at all aware of the changes in work shifts these days. Back in the 70s, I could car pool because everyone at that place started and ended work at the same time. Way too many companies now require that you work some weird shift, or worse yet, change shifts on a regular basis. I do not see any way I can work up a car pool for a job 27 miles away that has me working 10-7pm and sometimes wants me to come in on weekend days too. Your solutions are not workable and would cause any politician stupid enough to propose them to be unemployed in short order.

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