Take the Balanced Budget Amendment Pledge!

Everyone knows that politicians take more pledges than a frat house during Rush Week.

So let’s ask ’em all to take one more:

“If elected, I will return each year to the Treasury my family’s share of the National Debt,  except during a time of war, or in any year where Congress passes and the President signs, a budget with a surplus.”

Copy this succinct little sucker and email it to your local candidates! Ask them to sign on.

Think how many Republicans took Grover Norquist’s “no taxes” pledge. (In the 112th Congress, 236 House members and 41 Senators have taken the pledge.)

Consider this pledge Version 2 of the Norquist Pledge. Some folks have issues with Norquist’s approach, arguing, “It asks politicians to outsource your principles and convictions,” as former Florida Gov Jeb Bush put it.

Not so this pledge: it puts politicians’ money in the same purse or wallet as their principles and convictions. (Another carefully parsed analogy, by the way.)

Let’s hope this idea catches on. If candidates step up, there would be no need for a constitutional amendment, a US law, or even a Congressional rule to require what we’re proposing here, although all three of these would be completely legitimate and legal approaches.

Congress has become so bad at managing our affairs that current members should offer to repay their family’s share retroactively from their first day in the hallowed halls, exempting those years of declared war (none in office would be so affected) or a balanced budget. Maybe that will be Version 3.

 

 

Making Votes Count — Part 2

Voting is a right, not a requirement, in the US and in most of the world. However, some 30 countries, ranging from Australia to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, require adults to cast a ballot.

There are arguments pro and con to a compulsory vote. The greatest factor in favor is that elections are decided by a true majority of the population, rather than the slice that makes its way to the polls. The biggest factor against is that voting can be a real pain in the butt — and what to do if you don’t, in fact, like any of the candidates?

Another argument against compulsory voting is it would “dumb down” the election, as many people forced to vote might do so in spite, or ignorance, or (as in the case of some honest-to-goodness ballots), use the dots to create pretty patterns.

The question of fraudulent voting — which is attracting a great deal of attention of late as Republicans pass laws to require photo IDs to cast a ballot, and the Democratic US Justice Department files lawsuits to prevent this — is likely the greatest challenge to compulsory — therefore universal — voting.

All of that said, would not we as a nation be a more democratic republic (and please take note of that careful phrasing) if more of us took part in the process?

Based on the 30 or so countries that require voting,  whether compulsory balloting is good for the country (or not) is unclear.

Perhaps that is because they only require voters to cast a ballot, nothing more.

Finally, the idea

On each ballot, include  three questions:

  • Who is the president of the US (Carter Reagan Bush Clinton Bush Obama: pick one).
  • Who is your state’s current governor? Pick from a list of recent candidates.
  • Does the US Government run at a deficit? Yes or no.

It would need to be multiple choice. And fairly simple. There’s a “civics test” making the rounds of the internet (click here to try it out) that’s tough — and also subject to quibbling over what answers are correct. These questions are clear-cut. Create a list of 20 similar ones and spit out different questions on different ballots.

Here’s the deal: For a ballot to count, the voter must answer at least two of the three questions on his or her ballot correctly.

Not an especially high hurdle, and maybe the bar needs to be higher. Then again, look at what we got with our current system:  Carter. Reagan. Bush. Clinton. Another Bush. Obama. Hmmmm.

And one other requirement: for national offices, there should be a “none of the above” choice. And if “none of the above” prevails, elections are held until someone takes the prize.

Jeffersonian Democracy is based on this notion:  democracy demands an educated and informed electorate. Would it even matter if voters took the answers to the questions into the booth with them? They can take a sheet saying whom to vote for with them now, after all. And would it even matter if “illegals” voted, as long as they are “educated and informed?”

Would educated and informed voters have changed “Carter. Reagan. Bush. Clinton. Another Bush. Obama?” Would this idea help make votes count?

Hmmmm.

 

 

 

Why Biofuels Haven’t Succeeded in Florida

Why isn’t the biofuel market taking hold in Florida? Here are five reasons:

Military

Their intent is good, but their process is a disaster. The military insists on purchasing “drop-in” renewable fuel, which can be used in place of petrofuel. While there are several approaches being developed, none of them are commercially viable yet, and none of the resulting products are certified for use as a replacement fuel. The military blends all of it with petrofuel before use (50-50 blends of several crops are now certified). Drop in facilities cost hundreds of millions to build; couple that with the short-term, competitive, contracts the military uses, and the cost per gallon is enormous, as the producer shoots for the highest price possible to help recoup their enormous investment.

We can make competitively priced biodiesel easily that can be blended with petroleum, but the military doesn’t want what we can make.

Financing

Federal (and previously State) grants to build or test or research, etc., fuels, kept just about everyone scurrying after those “free” dollars — and that in turn has kept private sector funding largely out of the picture. There are exceptions — companies like GEVO that are developing products like isobutanol made from corn are doing pretty well (I picked up some GEVO shares a few weeks ago, in fact). Typically, you’ll find these companies have backing from oil companies. In my opinion, grants have delayed, rather than aided, the development of alternative fuels. Companies and other researchers chase these dollars, spending a huge amount of time developing proposals, waiting for review, and then not receiving a grant. Waiting for funding through a grant program has kept a lot of good ideas from being implemented.

Restrictions

The carbon cap restrictions — the military by law can’t buy non-petro fuel that does not have a lower carbon content than petroleum — has been a complete failure. For example, a Florida firm we do some work with can make a gasoline equivalent out of coal, for less than the cost of petrogas. But, because of the restriction, they have no buyer. It’s likely this restriction will be removed, which is a good thing. Interestingly, it’s the Republicans pushing for the rescission of that requirement, while Dems like Udall and Murray want to keep it.

Strategy

One sad truth we’ve learned over the past four years is that there is no strategy at the state (much less Federal) level for development of alternative fuels. The old Climate Change Commission grants were awarded with no path forward. For example, they granted some money to grow feedstocks, but there were (are) no facilities in Florida that could crush/squeeze the crops into a product that can then be processed in a refinery. This is because the state has never done an inventory of what facilities exist, what crops or other resources are available, or what products can be made — to say nothing of finding buyers for them. Commissioner Putnam understands this and is working on a resource inventory. The initial inventory will be of forest resources. Farm crops are not yet being inventoried.

As an example of the problems caused by a lack of strategy, the kenaf crop (which is a good energy crop) that has been planted the past two years is sitting in round bales around south Florida, with no buyers. The farmers who grew it lost a good bit of money on that one.

MW Consulting has proposed a series of workshops between regulators, refiners, growers, and investors to help develop this path forward. It’s cheap, easy, and effective; we did a similar series for the marine industry a few years ago with great results. But…. not yet. $250,000 would pay for the whole program.

Markets

We’ve been aggressively seeking support for a proposal to refine RP-1 — Rocket Propellant used for pretty much everything launched at Cape Canaveral — from feedstocks sourced here in Florida. It’s a small, lucrative niche market. The challenge has been to get all the government agencies involved in space to act. Very honestly, they don’t know how to be proactive.

To sum up, government has been a hindrance — not a help.

Making Votes Count — Part 1

On Father’s Day, ABC News aired photos of presidents and other celebrity dads with their kids. The photo of JFK and daughter Caroline was just plain adorable. The one of Nixon (do you prefer RMN?) and daughter Tricia — he looked angry and she looked scared.

That’s how JFK and Nixon are always — always — portrayed.

Make no mistake about it, media didn’t hate Nixon: they loved him. They loved to ridicule him, attack him, portray him as the ugliest American. In a weird way they probably loved Nixon more than JFK, whom they could only cover in that dog-loyal to the point of drooling on your leg sycophantic kowtowing that even today requires a handsome Jack and shadowy Tricky Dick.

So what’s that go to do with voting? Quite a lot. Long before JFK made media swoon, pundits fretted that granting women the vote would turn elections into popularity contests — like voting for homecoming king and queen, as women would be unaware of the real issues of the campaign. An insult, to be sure.

The same’s been said about African-Americans (and pretty much any immigrant). In the nation’s early days (ending about 1850), only those white men with property could vote, because arguably they were the only ones with “skin in the game”, and thus motivated to vote intelligently.

Insults, to be sure. A slap in the face to the bedrock concept of inclusiveness in a democracy.

Just look at who those white men elected President back then. Washington. Adams. Jefferson. Madison. Monroe. Another Adams.  What a bunch of losers!

Compare that to whom we elect now:  Carter. Reagan. Bush. Clinton. Another Bush. Obama.

Hmmmm.

Let’s be honest: Those who sought to disenfranchise everyone but themselves may have  been correct — albeit for very, very wrong reasons. They argued that (insert group here) should be denied the vote because (repeat group name) is insufficiently informed to vote responsibly.

Prejudice, of course, is BS. The truth is, people of any and all groups who are ill-informed cannot vote responsibly. Still, we cajole and plead for people to vote, despite all the hoopla about “purging” voter rolls, then ridicule the fools who cast a vote for (insert candidate here).

Voting has become a right detached from responsibility. Which goes a long way toward explaining that Carter-Reagan-Bush-Clinton-Bush-Obama electoral report card….

And, just as truthfully, too many of us form opinions and cast ballots based on infotainment: such as pictures of cuddly presidents and kids. Take a look at pre-TV Presidents. Who would vote for a shocker like Lincoln? With a madwoman wife? And those kids! And Washington — he had wooden teeth for cryin’ out loud.

Carter. Reagan. Bush. Clinton. Bush. Obama.    Hmmmm.

 

Why Renewable Fuel Only Works on “Dallas”

The reincarnation of the prime-time soap “Dallas” is back on the air. This time, it pits cousins John Ross and Christopher against each other in a battle between oil and renewable fuels. John has struck oil, while Christopher has a dream about frozen methane.

Only on TV will you find anyone willing to walk away from a bona fide gusher in order to lick a frozen fuel slurpee.

Out here in the real world, the renewable fuel business is a mess. Billions spent, years wasted, and the Navy is still paying $64 a gallon for its Green Fleet “drop-in”, low-carbon fuel — and it still mixes the high-priced stuff with petroleum!

In the meantime, entrepreneurs who can make plain ol’ biodiesel that’s cost-competitive with the petro version, can’t find investors or get a loan. Why? Because everyone is still lined up at the Federal trough of “free” grant money — and until that trough is emptied, the private market can’t — and won’t — compete.

 

A Balanced Budget Amendment That Works

The US national debt is nearly $16 trillion (as of this writing). It is increasing every day by almost $4 billion — billion!

Critics of a balanced budget amendment argue that, in times of national emergency or war, Congress needs the authority to spend more than it brings in.

Whether you believe that or not, it’s sadly clear that neither Congress nor the President take ownership of the debt. They create it, but are not responsible for it.

What can we do? Here’s an alternative to a balanced budget amendment:

Per capita, each person in America “owns” $50,000 in Federal debt.

Congress and the President should deduct from their salaries their share of the debt, every year. This could be done legislatively, or as an amendment.

Every candidate should be asked: if you believe in what you are proposing to spend, will you shoulder your personal burden of that expense you are creating by deducting that amount from your salary and returning it to the Treasury?

And while you’re at it, what about your family’s share?