Our Opposition Party Sucks

Doesn't anyone speak for sanity any more?

Washington runs on political leverage, and at the current moment few people have more of it than Chuck Grassley. President Obama is desperate to have the Iowa Republican sign on to some version of ObamaCare to give cover to jittery Democrats. So in a remarkable noncoincidence, the Obama Administration decided to roll over last week on one of Mr. Grassley's major concerns: ethanol.

OK, we will give in to your ridiculous use of government power if you will accept our ridiculous use of government power.   Lots more on the complete waste of money and time that is corn-based ethanol here.

  • Mesa Econoguy

    Whooo!!!!!! Partaaaay!!!!!!

    Signed,
    Ted Kennedy

    PS Die.

  • DKH

    I am aggravated every time someone (that is, a right-of-center person or Republican) opposes health care reform on the basis of cost, while adding that it might be something worthwhile if our economic situation were better, or that there are good ideas in the President's health care reform package. I've seen otherwise sensible Republicans suggest that excluding people on the basis of pre-existing conditions should be made illegal. I'm convinced that people don't think critically when they want to say something to make themselves feel good.

    Cost is a great reason to oppose "health care reform." But there are a lot of other great reasons to be against it, and very few to be for it.

  • Bart Hall (Kansas, USA)

    I'm gonna split this into two comments, one political and one far more technical. Political first.

    Our current political class constitutes a significant existential threat to our nation. Not every single individual, most certainly, but not just Washington, most definitely. Both sides of the political aisle at all levels of government have become replete with functionally rather dangerous people.

    Some thirst actively for power over others. You know the type; most professional associations and even the local library board are full of them. Ever experienced the politics of a neighborhood association? Or a school board? These folks work hard, but always towards the same goal: control over others.

    A second type fall into the "Look what I did!" category. They always want to be seen as doing something for "the people." One council member in the nearby city, population 5000, has in the last three years persuaded her colleagues to go along with a $3 million bond for a new swimming pool, open limited hours for ten weeks a season (insufficient funds to pay staff); a $10 million bond for a new sewage treatment plant (it will bring development); and another 2 million out of a general bond for building a new park in a mosquito-infested river bottom (it will attract business to town).

    Net result, the little local city now has bond obligations in excess of $170 million, which doesn't count their $165 million share of local school board bonds for things like a $60 million administration building.

    These trivial examples are my point -- the most 'successful' of such people may move up the political ladder. Certainly 3/4 of them wish they could. Now, concentrate that attitude and approach at every step down the line to Washington. Are we surprised with what we have?

    The most important aspect, however, is the most depressing. Folks like these are regularly re-elected at all levels. Most voters (to say nothing of the 50% who don't vote) simply do not care. They squawk about taxes but seem completely unable to identify the causal relationship.

    A very liberal friend recently won election to the council of a regional city, population 100,000. During his campaign he was closely in contact with the voters and always tried to ask them the same question: "We have a serious budget problem. Should we cut programs or raise taxes?" He was absolutely shocked by the overwhelming response -- "No, we want more programs and lower taxes." Less than ten percent understood his simple explanation of why that approach could not work.

    That attitude illustrates why such a dysfunctional political class remains so persistently in office. When hunger for power links up with "Look what I did" (as is so disgustingly common in Washington) you end up with people like Grassley ... and like the people who so willingly exploit him to our common long-term detriment.

  • Bart Hall (Kansas, USA)

    Now, for some technical issues.

    Typical gasoline provides about 116,000 btu/gal. Ethanol provides 76,000 btu/gal, and a 10% ethanol blend produces about 110,000 btu/gal, a 5% reduction. Many drivers report more like a 10% reduction in fuel economy when running ethanol blend, requiring 11% more fuel to go the same distance.

    Net result? No significant reduction in total gasoline consumption. 90% of 111% is still 100%. At best, there's a couple percent reduction in gasoline use. But wait, there's more. Totally energy consumption to grow the corn, ship it, grind it, strip it, ferment it and distill it is about 130,000 btu/gal. Obviously it makes absolutely zero technical sense, and corn is really tough on the land, to boot.

    A much better long term approach is di-methyl ether (DME) -- H3C-O-CH3 -- which can be refined from coal, natural gas, and even bio-mass feedstocks, is easily used in existing diesel engines with minimal, off-the-shelf modifications, mainly to adjest for the necessary pressures for liquification, which are about the same as propane. DME also produces about 68,000 btu/gal, compared to 128,000 for diesel, so there are some non-trivial re-fueling issues. DME could nevertheless within a few years be fueling most of America's trucks and trains, as well as our farm equipment.

    Technically, that's the way to go.

  • SJChannel

    Excellent comment, Bart.

    The same people keep getting re-elected because the choice available to the voters is very limited. An established incumbent usually has zero or one viable opponents in any given election. When there is any viable opponent, he is usually not significantly different from the incumbent in terms of how principled he is. Grassley is a prime example. Sure, he's a "Republican", but when it counts does he honor individual liberty any more than a Democrat?

    Note I am talking about *viable* opponents. Sure, you can vote for a 3rd-party candidate in some cases. But that candidate won't win, and your vote will most likely benefit the (marginally) less desirable of the viable candidates.

    It's a real dilemma, and I don't think anybody has ever found a way out of it.

  • Mesa Econoguy

    Will someone please off Ted Kennedy?

    Jesus, that fat vegetable bastard is driving up the cost of our health insurance, and as we all know, we spend far too much on healthcare in this country.

    So just die already, scumbag.

    Signed,

    The State

  • galop47

    Technically, Bart, you don't know what you're talking about.

    While ethanol does have less btus than gasoline, it, also, has a 129 Octane Rating (compared to gasoline's 84.) This means it can "utilize" its btus much more efficiently.

    According to DOE, and "my" personal experience you lose about 2% mileage on a 10% Blend. As for 130,000 btus to produce (fertilizer factory, to gas pump) a Gallon of ethanol is just "Bonkers."

    A Gallon of ethanol from a modern dry grind refinery, taking ddgs into account, will, typically, embody approx 32,000 btus of nat gas, and diesel. Ethanol from some refineries will be considerably less (Corn Plus, probably 23,000.)

    Wholesale price (without any Subsidies - to the Farmer, or Blender) is, today, $1.56/Gallon. DME will never come within a hundred miles of that.

    Beside, 99.99% of American cars run on Gasoline, not Diesel. Ethanol mixes perfectly with gasoline. I don't know what your agenda is, but your argument is "specious to the Nth."

  • James H

    galop47, the problem with what you're saying is that to get the increased efficiency of the higher octane you need much higher compression and/or a turbo or similar, and then you have an ethanol-only engine, unable to run gasoline blends. Ethanol filling stations aren't available across wide areas of the country, so your travel would be limited. Production capacity is several orders of magnitude lower than gasoline, so there probably won't be enough to get to critical mass where it would make commercial sense to do this.

  • Bart Hall (Kansas, USA)

    galop47: odd how I apparently ended up so ignorant. My first two degrees are in geology and the Alberta oil patch paid for the second one. From there I went on to soil chemistry and agronomy, and consequently know one hell of a lot about corn production.

    The problem with ethanol is on the corn production end, and the 130,000 btu figure has been known for nearly a generation (see Pimentel circa1988). Corn production is somewhat more energy intensive now than then.

    The only way anyone will ever convince me that ethanol is anything other than a political boondoggle is the successful operation of a three-year completely closed-cycle prototype -- from the seed forward, and amortizing the energy capital costs of every single piece of equipment involved in the process.

    If after three years the prototype is selling enough ethanol at a profit -- and I require it to set aside ethanol to cover amortized energy capital costs -- to pay even for the guy who sweeps the floor ... I'll accept your position.

    As an agronomist, however, my personal inclination would be to require coverage for the loss of soil organic matter and consequent degradation of soil quality.

    And in case anybody wondered about "cellulosic" ethanol from switch grass and such ... you're essentially talking about moving huge quantities of HAY from point A to point B. Have y'all ever moved much hay?

  • rsm

    As an agronomist, however, my personal inclination would be to require coverage for the loss of soil organic matter and consequent degradation of soil quality.

    Absolutely critical issue. Corn != happy soil over anything approaching a long term.

  • Jim Collins

    I have to agree with Bart. The higher octane rating is only good if the engine is designed to take advantage of it. Something like 70% of cars are NOT designed for the higher octane. The other thing that isn't considered is the evaporation rate of alcohol. The current vapor recovery system doesn't work efficiently with alcohol. If you fill your car with ethanol, odds are that you are going to lose most of the alcohol through evaporation, before your engine has a chance to burn it.

    I wonder if anyone has done a study to see what the pollution ratios are between engines equipped with modern pollution controls versus the same engine without pollution controls. Modern refining has gasoline a lot cleaner than it used to be. I wonder if the loss in power due to pollution controls is really necessary anymore? Removal of those controls would give anywhere between a 7% to 10% gain in milage.

  • So many erudite observations, and the only thing I can think of is to disagree with the headline. If Opposition Party sucked, it'd actually be good for something.

  • Zach

    "While ethanol does have less btus than gasoline, it, also, has a 129 Octane Rating (compared to gasoline’s 84.) This means it can “utilize” its btus much more efficiently."

    No, what that means is that ethanol can withstand a higher compression without spontaneously detonating. In an engine that's specifically designed to handle it, yes, you can extract more energy out of it. But an engine designed to fully exploit pure ethanol is, at best, going to knock like crazy (and probably throw a rod) on regular unleaded or even premium unleaded. One premature detonation in the cylinder while the piston is in the midst of its compression stroke and you have an ex-engine.

    A compression ratio of 10:1 is pushing it for regular unleaded (87 octane rating). A compression ratio of 11:1 or greater and you're in the realm of premium (91-93) gas only.