Pensions face bankruptcy in the future

2016-4-10. US faces disastrous $3.4 trillion pension funding hole. Collective deficit of retirement plans is three times larger than official figures. Financial Times.

The US public pension system has developed a $3.4 trillion funding hole that will pile pressure on cities and states to cut spending or raise taxes to avoid Detroit-style bankruptcies. The Stanford study found that the states of Illinois, Arizona, Ohio and Nevada, and the cities of Chicago, Dallas, Houston and El Paso have the largest pension holes compared with their own revenues.

Devin Nunes, a US Republican congressman, said: “It has been clear for years that many cities and states are critically underfunding their pension programs and hiding the fiscal holes with accounting tricks. When these pension funds go insolvent, they will create problems so disastrous that the fund officials assume the federal government will have to bail them out.”

Large pension shortfalls have already played a role in driving several US cities, including Detroit in Michigan and San Bernardino in California, to file for bankruptcy. The fear is other cities will soon become insolvent due to the size of their pension deficits.

Joshua Rauh, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, a think-tank, and professor of finance at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, who carried out the study, said: “The pension problems are threatening to consume state and local budgets in the absence of some major changes. It is quite likely that over a five to 10-year horizon we are going to see more bankruptcies of cities where the unfunded pension liabilities will play a large role.”

In order to deal with the large funding shortfall, many cities and states will have to increase their contributions to their pension funds, either by raising taxes or cutting spending on vital services.

Olivia Mitchell, a professor at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, told FTfm last month that US public pension plans face “grave difficulties. I do believe that US cities and towns will continue to suffer, and there will be additional bankruptcies following the examples of Detroit,” she said.

Currently, states and local governments contribute 7.3% of revenues to public pension plans, but this would need to increase to an average of 17.5% of revenues to stop any further rises in the funding gap, the research said.

Several cities and states, including California, Illinois, New Jersey, Chicago and Austin, would need to put at least 20% of their revenues into their pension plans to prevent a rise in their deficits, while Nevada would have to contribute almost 40%.

Mr Rauh’s study claims the “true extent” of funding problems in US public pension system has been obscured because plans calculate both their costs and liabilities on the assumption they will achieve returns of between 7 and 8% a year. This rate is “wildly optimistic and unlikely to be achieved. A more realistic return rate, based on US Treasury bond yields, is around 2 to 3% a year.


Melin, M. April 10, 2014. Bridgewater Founder Says 85 Percent Of Pensions will Go Bankrupt. $3 trillion in assets against $10 trillion in liabilities

Dalio’s mathematical skills are on display as he shocks observers saying US pension funds don’t have the wherewithal to pay out benefits in coming years.  What was stunning was not Dalio believing the pension math was turning negative, as Detroit and Chicago examples are in front of our eyes.  What was stunning is that he said it in such plain talk and so bluntly in public.

According to a USA Today report, Dalio does the math – and its doesn’t add up, says the man who studies mathematical probability tables for a living.  Bridgewater deduces that 85% of public pension funds will go bankrupt in three decades, and they are projected to achieve 4% returns on their assets, or worse.

After conducting his quantitative version of a stress test, Dalio likely threw a little discretionary analysis into his thesis.  The economic environment will not always be positive, if history is any guide. Odds are that economic environments will shift, and with a taper undoing the needle in the stock market’s arms, he considered a variety of realities. Public pensions have obligations exceeding $10 trillion, yet only $3 trillion in assets to cover the coming expenses.  That is simple math.  Bridgewater, then, notes an investment return of nearly 9% a year is required to meet those onerous obligations.  They won’t get 9% in bonds – that could be a drain on assets if the coming rise in interest rates reduces the asset value of bonds.  Public pensions are looking at a 20% shortfall, Bridgewater claimed in the USA Today report.



Posted in Debt, Pensions | Leave a comment

Paul Craig Roberts on why neocons make nuclear war with Russia more likely

Paul Craig Roberts On The Real Likelihood Of Nuclear War

March 17, 2016 interview by John Harrison

Dr. Paul Craig Roberts, who served as an Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Economic Policy in the Reagan administration, shares his view that there is a real likelihood of a nuclear war breaking out. Below are the main points covered in this radio program.

Firstly there is the Wolfowitz doctrine, which basically makes it clear that the United States should prevent the rise of any state that could present sufficient power to threaten American unilateral action. Russia has risen and has displayed such power….This is the reason for the constant demonization of Russia’s leader. We have the number one candidate for the democratic Nomination Hillary Clinton, who now compares the President of Russia with Hitler….So what has happened is that every American president during my lifetime, especially Nixon and Reagan worked to create trust between the two major nuclear powers. But beginning with Clinton, the trust that had been achieved was progressively destroyed.

When you destroy trust between nuclear powers you recreate the possibility of nuclear war, either by intent, or miscalculation. So this is a reckless and irresponsible act on the part of Washington….The information war that is going on now is to prepare the American population and NATO countries allies for military conflict with Russia. This is part of the preparation of that. We now have high level people in the US government and military who go to Congress and say that Russia is an existential threat. This is rubbish!…You have to remember that before the wars started in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, it was the constant demonisation of the leaders of the governments, against Gaddafi, Hussein. When you see these kinds of demonization it fits a pattern.”

A hot war can come from a new cold war. Another factor is the American military industrial complex, with a turnover of a trillion dollars annually. Their entire revenues come from serving the war capability of US government. They have a huge interest in having a major enemy. They tried to make terrorists that enemy, but that is not serious enough, so this complex has great interest in recreating the Russian threat. From the neo conservative standpoint, they actually regard any country with an independent foreign policy to be a threat to the United States. So that part of the equation means that they can move the cold war into a hot war, it only takes a small amount of miscalculation. I don’t see how the Russian government can believe one word coming out of Washington.”

Some neocons say: what’s the good of nuclear weapons if you can’t use them? They have a theory that the US has sufficient superiority to win a strike against Russia. If the US cannot win against a few thousand Taliban, it will not be able to win  a possible conventional war against the Red Army, it will go nuclear rather lose…. A nuclear war cannot be won.”

The neoconservatives now have no competition, there is nobody out there apart from Washington wishing to take over the world… As long as the American vassal states that compromise the NATO accept it, they magnify the chance of a new massive war… Republican candidates are competing with each other to see who can treat Russia the most aggressively.”


Posted in Nuclear | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Family Planning – A Special and Urgent Concern by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

[ Below are excerpts from this May 5, 1966 speech by Martin Luther King Jr. after he was awarded the Margaret Sanger Award by Planned Parenthood ]

Recently, the press has been filled with reports of sightings of flying saucers. While we need not give credence to these stories, they allow our imagination to speculate on how visitors from outer space would judge us. I am afraid they would be stupefied at our conduct. They would observe that for death planning we spend billions to create engines and strategies for war. They would also observe that we spend millions to prevent death by disease and other causes. Finally they would observe that we spend paltry sums for population planning, even though its spontaneous growth is an urgent threat to life on our planet. Our visitors from outer space could be forgiven if they reported home that our planet is inhabited by a race of insane men whose future is bleak and uncertain.

There is no human circumstance more tragic than the persisting existence of a harmful condition for which a remedy is readily available. Family planning, to relate population to world resources, is possible, practical and necessary.

Unlike plagues of the dark ages or contemporary diseases we do not yet understand, the modern plague of overpopulation is soluble by means we have discovered and with resources we possess.

What is lacking is not sufficient knowledge of the solution but universal consciousness of the gravity of the problem and education of the billions who are its victims.

There is a striking kinship between our movement and Margaret Sanger’s early efforts. She, like we, saw the horrifying conditions of ghetto life. Like we, she knew that all of society is poisoned by cancerous slums. Like we, she was a direct actionist – a nonviolent resister. She was willing to accept scorn and abuse until the truth she saw was revealed to the millions. At the turn of the century she went into the slums and set up a birth control clinic, and for this deed she went to jail because she was violating an unjust law. Yet the years have justified her actions. She launched a movement which is obeying a higher law to preserve human life under humane conditions. Margaret Sanger had to commit what was then called a crime in order to enrich humanity, and today we honor her courage and vision; for without them there would have been no beginning. Our sure beginning in the struggle for equality by nonviolent direct action may not have been so resolute without the tradition established by Margaret Sanger and people like her. Negroes have no mere academic nor ordinary interest in family planning. They have a special and urgent concern.

Recently the subject of Negro family life has received extensive attention. Unfortunately, studies have overemphasized the problem of the Negro male ego and almost entirely ignored the most serious element – Negro migration. During the past half century Negroes have migrated on a massive scale, transplanting millions from rural communities to crammed urban ghettoes. In their migration, as with all migrants, they carried with them the folkways of the countryside into an inhospitable city slum. The size of family that may have been appropriate and tolerable on a manually cultivated farm was carried over to the jammed streets of the ghetto. In all respects Negroes were atomized, neglected and discriminated against. Yet, the worst omission was the absence of institutions to acclimate them to their new environment. Margaret Sanger, who offered an important institutional remedy, was unfortunately ignored by social and political leaders in this period. In consequence, Negro folkways in family size persisted. The problem was compounded when unrestrained exploitation and discrimination accented the bewilderment of the newcomer, and high rates of illegitimacy and fragile family relationships resulted.

For the Negro, therefore, intelligent guides of family planning are a profoundly important ingredient in his quest for security and a decent life. There are mountainous obstacles still separating Negroes from a normal existence. Yet one element in stabilizing his life would be an understanding of and easy access to the means to develop a family related in size to his community environment and to the income potential he can command.

The Negro constitutes half the poor of the nation. Like all poor, Negro and white, they have many unwanted children. This is a cruel evil they urgently need to control. There is scarcely anything more tragic in human life than a child who is not wanted. That which should be a blessing becomes a curse for parent and child. There is nothing inherent in the Negro mentality which creates this condition. Their poverty causes it. When Negroes have been able to ascend economically, statistics reveal they plan their families with even greater care than whites. Negroes of higher economic and educational status actually have fewer children than white families in the same circumstances.

For these constructive movements we are prepared to give our energies and consistent support; because in the need for family planning, Negro and white have a common bond; and together we can and should unite our strength for the wise preservation, not of races in general, but of the one race we all constitute – the human race.

Posted in Population | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Why economic corruption or an oil decline will lead to a financial crash, depression, and permanent energy crisis

This is the introduction to the Corruption category under the Menu item 3) Fast Crash.

The posts in this category show that another, much worse crash, is inevitable.  Meanwhile, low oil prices have led to less oil production and discoveries.  I can’t decide whether corruption or oil decline will bring on the next depression first, but even if there are energy shortages at first, the following financial crash will mask the role of the oil crisis as demand drops as employment falls, and any price is too high to pay.

Alice Friedemann  author of “When Trucks Stop Running: Energy and the Future of Transportation”, 2015, Springer and “Crunch! Whole Grain Artisan Chips and Crackers”. Podcasts:  KunstlerCast 253, KunstlerCast278, Peak Prosperity , XX2 report ]

The world runs on oil, as you’ll quickly find out if you try to stuff dollar bills into your gas tank.  But money and oil are entwined, because capital and huge amounts of credit are needed to finance new oil  extraction projects.  This is an overview, but the best coverage of the intersection of money and oil is at Gail Tverberg’s Our Finite World, and the financial corruption and instability at The Automatic Earth.

A major financial crash could slow or stop investments in new oil projects, which would inevitably lead to an energy crisis.

In fact, an energy crisis appears to be on the way right now due to low oil prices.  Oil discoveries around the world in 2015 were the lowest in more than 60 years, preparing the ground for a game-changing spike in oil prices (and another depression) and raising serious questions about energy security.  The amount of oil found so far in 2016 is likely to be even less than in 2015.

Low oil prices have led to many articles proclaiming that peak oil is dead. But Hallock et al. (2014) has data showing peak oil already happened in most oil-producing nations, and has or is likely soon to happen for the entire world.   The public assumes the opposite because gasoline prices have been falling, although they are still high by historical standards, and have gone back to buying gas guzzling SUVs and light-trucks, and electric car sales have been declining.

Since the 1970s, the price of oil has gone up and down as mismatches  occurred between supply and demand. In 2015, the world had an oil glut so prices dropped. These cycles—supply and demand mismatches—most likely will continue. But they do not negate the fact that sooner or later, the amount of oil coming out of the ground will begin to decline.  Even if abiotic oil existed, which has been soundly shown not to be true by Höök (et al. 2010), this imaginary oil is not being produced fast enough. We’re using 7 times more per year than we’re finding.

Whenever oil prices become too high, the economic system falls into an “oil trap.” In fact, high oil prices have helped trigger 11 out of 12 past recessions since World War II (Hamilton 2013). Recessions drive oil prices down, slowing or stopping new oil projects, possibly for a long time, since for unemployed and low wage earners, oil at any price is barely affordable. In a recession, credit shrinks and it is hard to find the capital to drill for more oil or transition to alternatives.

The oil trap might also snap if investors generally became aware of peak oil, because this could cause a financial panic, crashing stock markets, and capital might not be available to lend to oil projects (Macalister 2009). A 2010 German military peak oil study also thought peak oil awareness was likely to lead to market collapse, and that the decline of oil would eventually cause global economic failure, because in a shrinking economy, companies could not make and distribute profits, or pay back debts. As businesses and nations went bankrupt, supply chains would break (BTC 2010).

So I expect that if the next financial system crash is caused by peak oil, few people will realize it, since that awareness would end stock markets since no one would be willing to lend anyone money, since energy is the only way to grow businesses and the economy.  You’ll never be paid back!

And there may not be much oil left to find (see How much oil is left and Matt Simmons “Twilight in the Desert” Saudi Arabia oil: how much left?).  There is a great deal of evidence conventional oil (90% of our oil) peaked in 2005 and that unconventional oil (shale, tar sands) is likely to peak soon.

Even if there is a lot of oil left, it can stop flowing due to oil shocks from chokepoints, declining exports, the flow rate dropping from the Niagra Falls it is today to a trickle, especially shale oil which on average declines 85% within a few years.

It also takes more time to get the remaining distant, nasty, gunky oil.  For example, it can take ten years to build new tar sand extraction facilities, deep offshore oil platforms, and the infrastructure to support them, such as new roads, rail lines, and pipelines to deliver raw crude to refineries.

If we ever figure out how to get arctic oil, it will be at least 30 years before the first drops reach the lower 48 states, because there is no infrastructure.

Many oil-producing countries are not investing enough in their oil fields, and lack technical expertise, which can harm oil fields and reduce the ultimate amount of oil produced (GAO 2007). Exports from oil-producing countries may decline due to increasing domestic use, or to make oil resources last longer for future generations. This would bring the onset of oil decline sooner (Hirsch 2008). China and India have increased their oil imports every year and are able to outbid other nations for exported oil. If their oil imports continue to grow as they have so far, theoretically China and India would be buying all exported oil in 2030 (Brown 2013).


Brown, J.J. June 10, 2013. Commentary: is it only a question of when the US once again becomes a net oil exporter?

BTC. 2010. Armed forces, capabilities and technologies in the 21st century environmental dimensions of security. Peak oil. Bundeswehr transformation centre, future analysis branch.

GAO. 2007. Crude oil. Uncertainty about future oil supply makes it important to develop a strategy for addressing a peak and Decline in Oil Production. U.S. Government Accountability Office.

Hallock, J. L., Jr, et al. 2014. Forecasting the limits to the availability and diversity of global conventional oil supply: validation. Energy 64:130–153.
Hamilton, J.D. 2013. Historical Oil Shocks in Routledge handbook of major events of economic history. Routledge.

Hirsch, R.L., 2008. Mitigation of maximum world oil production: shortage scenarios. Energy Policy 36(2):881–889.

Höök, M., Bardi, U., Feng, L. & Pang, X.  October 2010. Development of oil formation theories and their importance for peak oil. Marine and Petroleum Geology, Vol. 27, Issue 9: 1995-2004.

Macalister, T. 2009. Key oil figures were distorted by US pressure, says whistleblower. The Guardian.

Posted in ! About Corruption | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Are humans an invasive species?

Rob Jordan. April 5, 2016. Populations of early human settlers grew like an ‘invasive species,’ Stanford researchers find. Stanford University.

Stanford researchers studying populations of early humans in South America looked at how societies overcame the limits of their local environments. One example: Andean farmers adapted their mountainous environment for agriculture through terraced farming.

Bustling cities, sprawling suburbs and blossoming agricultural regions might seem strong evidence that people have always dominated the environment. A Stanford study of South America’s colonization shows that human populations did not always grow unchecked, but were at one time limited by local resources – just like any other species.

In fact, the study, published by the journal Nature, finds that for much of human history on the continent, human populations grew like an invasive species, which are regulated by their environment as they spread into new places. Populations grew exponentially when people first colonized South America. But then they crashed, recovered slightly and plateaued for thousands of years after over-consuming local natural resources and reaching continental carrying capacity, according to the analysis.

“The question is: Have we overshot Earth’s carrying capacity today?” said senior author Elizabeth Hadly, the Paul S. and Billie Achilles Professor in Environmental Biology and a senior fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment. “Because humans respond as any other invasive species, the implication is that we are headed for a crash before we stabilize our global population size.”

The paper, titled “Post-Invasion Demography of Prehistoric Humans in South America,” is the first in a series on the interaction of local animal populations, humans and climate during the massive changes of the last 25,000 years in South America.

The study lays a foundation for understanding how humans contributed to the Pleistocene era’s largest extinction of big mammals, such as ground sloths, horses and elephant-like creatures called gomphotheres. It reconstructs the history of human population growth in South America using a newly assembled database of radiocarbon dates from more than 1,100 archaeological sites. Unlike many archaeological studies that look at environmental change in one particular site, the Stanford research’s continental approach provides a picture of long-term change, such as climatic fluctuations, fundamental to human populations rather than a single culture or ecosystem.

The researchers found strong evidence for two distinct phases of demographic growth in South America. The first phase, characterized by logistic growth, occurred between 14,000 and 5,500 years ago and began with a rapid spread of people and explosive population size throughout the continent.

Then, consistent with other invasive species, humans appear to have undergone an early population decline consistent with over-exploitation of their resources. This coincided with the last pulses of an extinction of big animals. Subsequent to the loss of these big animals, humans experienced a long period of constant population size across the continent. The second phase, from about 5,500 to 2,000 years ago, saw exponential population growth. This pattern is distinct from those seen in North America, Europe and Australia.

The seemingly obvious explanation for the second phase – initial domestication of animals and crops – had minimal impact on this shift, the researchers wrote. Instead, the rise of sedentary societies is the most likely reason for exponential population growth. Practices such as intensive agriculture and inter-regional trade led to sedentism, which allowed for faster and more sustained population growth. Profound environmental impacts followed.

“Thinking about the relationship between humans and our environment, unchecked growth is not a universal hallmark of our history, but a very recent development,” said co-lead author Amy Goldberg, a biology graduate student at Stanford. “In South America, it was settled societies, not just the stable food sources of agriculture, that profoundly changed how humans interact with and adapt their environment.”

Today, as the world’s population continues to grow, we turn to technology and culture to reset nature’s carrying capacity and harvest or even create new resources.

“Technological advances, whether they are made of stone or computers, have been critical in helping to shape the world around us up until this point,” said co-lead author Alexis Mychajliw a graduate student in biology. “That said, it’s unclear if we can invent a way out of planetary carrying capacities.”

Posted in Biodiversity Loss, BioInvasion, Peak Food | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

The rich may be sheltering as much as 14% of global wealth in tax havens

[ There’s no need to go to Panama to hide money as this article points out: Here Is Rothschild’s Primer How To Launder Money In U.S. Real Estate And Avoid “Blacklists” 

Alice Friedemann ]

Powers, L. April 6, 2016. Panama Papers only a glimpse into ‘astonishing’ wealth stashed offshore. CBC News, Canada

Some estimates suggest from 8 to 14% of global wealth is kept in tax havens

The provocative revelations coming out of the so-called Panama Papers are just a glimpse into the murky global network that’s keeping “absolutely astonishing” amounts of money out of public coffers.

The 11.5 million files taken from Panama-based law firm Mossack Fonseca show how the financial elite exploit a secretive system to manoeuvre wealth anonymously and ensure the taxman doesn’t take his cut.

The firm is “the world’s fourth biggest provider of offshore services,” according to the Guardian, with about $42 million in yearly revenue. The documents contain information about more than 214,000 shell companies, trusts and foundations — usually used to hold or transfer financial assets while obfuscating the identity of their real owner — that were registered with the firm.

“That gives a sense of the tremendous scope of this in terms of the flows of money into these largely mysterious companies, and this is only one firm,” says Nicholas Shaxson, an investigative journalist and author of Treasure Islands: Tax Havens and the Men who Stole the World.

It’s difficult to delineate what constitutes a tax haven but it’s generally agreed that, depending on the criteria, there are between 70 and 92 of them worldwide. And there’s an estimated two million shell companies registered with offshore firms in these states.

“For a long time, people thought of tax havens as an exotic sideshow of the world economy. Now it’s clear they are absolutely central to it. We’re talking about absolutely astonishing, mind-boggling amounts of money,” Shaxson says.

Estimates of how much wealth is currently stashed offshore vary considerably, a reflection of the opacity of an industry that some economists contend has grown exponentially in recent decades.

Gabriel Zucman, author of The Hidden Wealth of Nations and a professor at the University of California at Berkeley, puts the figure at least $7.6 trillion.

But the Tax Justice Network, an international research and advocacy organization, says the number is far greater. The group estimates that as of 2010, there was between $21 and $32 trillion kept in offshore holdings. That would represent between eight and 13 per cent of total global wealth.

Resource drain

Perhaps most troubling, according to one economist, is that somewhere in the ballpark of $1 trillion is illegally funneled out of developing nations each year into mysterious shell companies.

It’s a system that bolsters kleptocracy and corruption, says Matt Salomon, chief economist with Global Financial Integrity.

“It’s a real resource drain in countries where the money is needed most. At the same time, wealthier nations are standing by as this is happening, insisting that they support development in these places,” he says.

“It’s possible that the $1-trillion figure only represents a drop in the bucket since the data is so murky.”

Many of the dealings facilitated by offshore firms are entirely legal and are encouraged by major financial institutions the world over. Canada’s biggest lender, RBC, was named in the Panama Papers, having used Mossack Fonseca to set up at least 370 shell companies for clients.

There’s a searing public anger over a system that so blatantly favours the wealthy and operates with near impunity, says Shaxson. It’s putting pressure on governments to finally crack down on tax dodgers that cost countries billions each year.

Canada alone loses between $6 and $7.8 billion annually to offshore tax havens, according to a report in the Toronto Star. In response, the federal government dedicated $440 million over four years in the 2016 budget to probe tax evasion and what the Canada Revenue Agency called “aggressive tax avoidance.”

Even before the Panama Papers prompted public outrage though, more than 100 countries since 2014 had committed to increasing transparency around the financial holdings of foreign customers.

The U.S. is among the countries resisting these changes. States like Delaware, Nevada and South Dakota allow for levels of anonymity and secrecy that “rival any of the countries we usually think of as tax havens,” says James Henry, former chief economist at the consulting firm McKinsey.

‘The level of anger is higher than ever’

“It’s insufficient to just say ‘offshore tax havens’ because the industry has expanded so aggressively to countries around the globe,” adds Henry, now a fellow at Columbia and Yale.

Despite big promises from governments, real reform will not come easily. Tax havens and all the perks that come with them “are the projects of some of the world’s wealthiest people,” says Shaxson.

There’s a lot of money to be made by interests with considerable political clout, Henry notes, and the very nature of the business makes it difficult for so-called crackdowns to be effective. Financial institutions rarely face any significant consequences, and past investigations have ended up completely toothless.

“Look, for decades, governments have known about this, law enforcement have known about this and the response has been pretty pathetic. I think the reasons for that are pretty clear at this point,” Henry says.

“But the level of anger is higher than ever, and it will probably only intensify as more stories come out of the leak.”

Related stories:




Posted in Corruption, Tax Avoidance | Tagged , | Leave a comment

The phony in American politics: how voters turn into suckers

[ This article skewers many politicians, but my favorite part is what I’ve excerpted below, about one of the first political candidates in the 1930s who ran as a Christian to snag those voters for the big money interests, Texas’s richest oilmen and bankers. He delivered virtually nothing to his working class followers, who continued to vote him in even when it was clear he owed his allegiance to corporations.

British Ben Fountain concludes that “In the arsenal of the phony, the politics of God is one of the deadliest punches to the sweet spot of the American mind. Citizens capable of the most acute analysis in other areas of their lives – regarding finance, say, or electronics, or the infinitely complex variables of fantasy sports leagues – are reduced to blithering dupes when exposed to the Christian pitch.”

The last section is about 1950s Senator Joe McCarthy who “was disliked by his fellow senators, who found him quick-tempered, insolent, and crude; the Senate press corps voted him “worst senator” one year.”  A photo of Ted Cruz follows this statement, who has been called loathsome among other things by former roommates and colleagues…

Alice Friedemann  author of “When Trucks Stop Running: Energy and the Future of Transportation, 2015, Springer]

Ben Fountain. February 14, 2016. The phony in American politics: how voters turn into suckers. The Guardian.

History tells us that the skeptical American people are easily conned when confronted with the promises of politicians. In 2016, the hairstyles may have changed but the schtick remains the same

“To strike the broad pure vein of American credulity one need dig only a bit to turn up such gems as Wilbert Lee “Pappy” O’Daniel, of Fort Worth, Texas, a Depression-era salesman for the Burrus Mill and Elevator Company. In the early 30s, O’Daniel began hosting a radio show featuring the soon-to-be famous Bob Wills and the Light Crust Doughboys, though O’Daniel’s soothing, fatherly voice and easily digestible patter quickly became the real draw of the show. At 12.30 each weekday the broadcast opened with a country matron’s request to “please pass the biscuits, Pappy”. For the next 15 minutes, listeners – many of them housewives taking a midday break – were treated to twangy renditions of gospel and hillbilly tunes, interspersed with Pappy reading scripture, ad copy for Light Crust Flour, sentimental poems, and tributes to motherhood, Texas heroes, and good Christian living. His popularity grew to the point that he left Burrus Mill and started his own company, Hillbilly Flour, and began blasting his show over the 100,000 watts of XEPN, a pirate radio station across the border in Mexico.

Flour sales boomed, and Pappy himself was a star, the biggest mass-media celebrity in the south-west and a man with his eye on the next big thing. On the regular Hillbilly Flour program of 1 May 1938, he announced that as the result of a letter-writing campaign from thousands of listeners, he would bow to popular demand and run for governor. His platform consisted of the Ten Commandments, tax reform and a guaranteed pension of $30 a month to every Texan over the age of 65. His campaign theme was Pass the Biscuits, Pappy, his motto the Golden Rule. He avowed that his business experience would enable him to manage state government in a businesslike manner, and with his wife, three kids, and the Hillbilly Band (Wills had left years ago, disgusted with Pappy’s skinflint ways), the radio star began a barnstorming tour across Texas.

The effect was electric. O’Daniel had what would later be known as “name recognition”; everyone had heard, or at least heard of, Pappy. Crowds of 20,000 or more turned out for his rallies, and more than once mobs of fans forced his caravan to an unscheduled stop so they could hear the “common citizen’s candidate” rail on professional politicians, recite scripture, and plug Hillbilly Flour. An evangelical fervor was present from the start, fanned by the candidate’s Christian oratory and old-timey gospel music. The prominent Baptist minister J Frank Norris compared Pappy to Moses, predicting he would lead the country back to its Christian roots. As one historian wrote:

The O’Daniel rallies appealed to the same deep human instinct and provided the same emotional outlets which the camp meeting formerly offered. Here again was the chance to enjoy the thrill and glory of a martial movement without risking any physical bloodshed. Christ was still the hero and Satan still the enemy, but … Christ’s good, which had previously radiated from the camp-meeting preacher, was now represented by the flour-salesman. Satan’s evil, previously attached to that abhorred aristocracy which had been the pioneer’s European superior, was now found to reside in the professional politician.

When attacked by establishment candidates, O’Daniel responded with scripture: “Blessed are ye when men shall revile you and shall say all manner of evil falsely against you for My sake.” He countered objections to his Yankee origins (he was born in Ohio, reared in Kansas) with a touching story about his name: one of his uncles, a Union soldier in the civil war, had been mortally wounded, but was nursed so tenderly on his deathbed by a southern family that he sent word to his sister saying if she should ever have a son, he should be named after the great Confederate general Robert E Lee. In answer to charges of being secretly backed by big business, he replied: “How can you say I’m against the working man when I buried my daddy in overalls?”

If you’re looking for the phony in American politics, you could do worse than follow the money. In fact O’Daniel was being backed by a cabal of Texas’s richest oilmen and bankers, ultraconservatives all, and his campaign was directed by a sharp PR man out of Dallas. O’Daniel himself had grown wealthy in business and real estate, which didn’t keep him from sending his pretty daughter out at rallies with a small barrel labeled “Flour Not Pork”, appealing for desperately needed campaign funds. Sales of Hillbilly Flour doubled over the course of the campaign, and O’Daniel swept the election with more than twice the number of votes of his nearest competitor. Once in office, he began broadcasting directly from the Governor’s Mansion, pledging: “This administration is going to be me, God, and the people, thanks to the radio.”

Listening to O’Daniel’s broadcasts today is to be treated to the rankest sort of huckster charm, along with a primer in the shamelessly pandering arts of political suasion. Christian homilies, dogtrot poetry, and treacly moralizing are delivered in a smooth, slightly formal country voice that goes down like lemonade with all the tang sugared out of it. Did he believe his own schtick? He was, one longtime acquaintance said, “a born actor. He may not believe it, but he feels it at the time.” Once, his eyes tearing up as the band played The Old Rugged Cross, Pappy leaned over to a visitor and whispered: “That’s what brings ’em in, boy. That’s what really brings ’em in!” In person he was aloof and awkward, reluctant to engage the legislators with whom he had to work, even avoiding constituents who journeyed to Austin to meet their hero and tell him their troubles. But with a microphone to his lips, O’Daniel, as they say in showbiz, killed. “Son,” one longtime listener explained to her bewildered offspring, “I’ve been having breakfast with Lee O’Daniel on the radio … for the past eight years, and I know he’s a good man.”

A man who delivered pretty much zilch to the working people who adored him. In the span of four years he won four statewide elections for high office, including a 1941 special election for the US Senate in which he beat a young congressman named Lyndon Johnson. Even as his allegiance to big business and special interests became increasingly clear, Pappy’s rural and blue-collar base kept the faith. “Just because he’s a Christian man.” “Because he’s honest, mister, and because he ain’t no politician.” “He’s almost a preacher. He knows how to catch up with them congressmen and tell us about them.”

In the arsenal of the phony, the politics of God is one of the deadliest punches to the sweet spot of the American mind. Citizens capable of the most acute analysis in other areas of their lives – regarding finance, say, or electronics, or the infinitely complex variables of fantasy sports leagues – are reduced to blithering dupes when exposed to the Christian pitch. Something spooky happens to that excellent American mind that brought us moon landings and the silicon chip and the wonderful stuff that saves our kids from polio. No matter if the candidate has had three or four wives or fired thousands of workers or dropped biblical plagues of bombs on rice farmers and sheep herders, merely saying the magic words makes it so. Christian values. Strong for Jesus. In God we trust, and all the rest. Incantations that render large chunks of the electorate as dazed and vulnerable as pre-contact tribesmen from the deepest Amazon hearing a transistor radio for the first time.

Posted in Human Nature | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Fruit and nut crops decline as climate change melts fog

Fimrite, P. May 22, 2014. As Central Valley fog disappears, fruit, nut crops decline. San Francisco Chronicle.

California produces 95% of U.S. fruit and nut crops that depend on disappearing Tule fog.

The soupy thick tule fog that regularly blanketed the Central Valley has been slowly disappearing over the past three decades, declining by 46%, a University of California, Berkeley study has found. Tule fog is a dense ground fog that usually forms during calm winds and cold temperatures after the first significant rainfall of the season and can be so dense there is only 5 feet of visibility.

“It is jeopardizing fruit growing in California, we’re getting much lower yields” said Dennis Baldocchi, a biometeorologist at UC Berkeley and lead author of the study.

Almonds, pistachios, cherries, apricots and peaches rely on the thick ground fog to hold down temperatures and bring on a dormant period, a necessary physiological process that helps them produce buds, flowers and fruit during the growing season.

“If we don’t get enough chill, the flowers and fruit doesn’t form, an insufficient rest period impairs the ability of farmers to achieve high-quality fruit yields,” said Baldocchi, a professor of environmental science, policy and management.

In 1980, for instance, there was an average of 37 foggy days in Fresno compared with 22 now. Long-term averages were used in an attempt to correct for times of drought. Only two foggy days were recorded this past winter.

Held down by warmer air from the surrounding mountains, the fog can linger for days or even weeks and cover as much as 400 miles from Bakersfield to Red Bluff (Tehama County).

And things aren’t expected to get better. Climate forecasters predict steadily warming winters in the Central Valley. Baldocchi said temperatures have increased 3 to 4 degrees Fahrenheit in places like Chico, Davis and the foothills since the 1940s. Various other studies have shown dramatic declines since 1950 in the number of hours temperatures in the Central Valley have been below 40 degrees, according to the report.

“Farmers may also need to consider adjusting the location of orchards to follow the fog, so to speak,” Baldocchi said. “Some regions along the foothills of the Sierra are candidates, for instance. That type of change is a slow and difficult process, so we need to start thinking about this now.”

Posted in Climate Change, Peak Food | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

A billion new autos by 2030 will kill climate change

[ By 2030 we’ll be 25 years past peak conventional oil production, as well as the tiny amount unconventional oil kicked the numbers slightly up from the conventional oil plateau, and there will be a lot fewer autos on the road.  Electric cars are not likely to work out either.  At least peak oil means that the IPCC RPC 2.5, rather than RPC 8.5 is more likely.  Alice Friedemann

Jolly, D. December 7, 2015. Despite Push for Cleaner Cars, Sheer Numbers Could Work Against Climate Benefits. New York Times.   Excerpts:

The number of automobiles on the world’s roads is on pace to double — to more than two billion — by 2030. And more likely than not, most of those cars will be burning carbon-emitting gasoline or diesel fuels.

That is because much of the expansion will be propelled by the rise of the consumer class in industrializing parts of the globe, especially in China and India, as hundreds of millions of new drivers discover the glory of the open road. Those populous and geographically sprawling countries might be hard pressed any time soon to assemble the ubiquitous electricity grid required for recharging electric vehicles; and much of the electricity China and India will produce in coming decades will come from coal-fired power plants that are some of the planet’s biggest emitters of carbon dioxide.

Given the limitations of electric cars so far — including their limited range between charges — many experts predict that most of the billion additional cars predicted to be on the road in 2030 will have internal combustion engines that spew greenhouse gases.

ut virtually everyone who studies the issue understands that transportation, which is still 95 percent reliant on petroleum, is the world’s fastest-growing energy-based contributor to greenhouse gases. About three-quarters of the total comes from motor vehicles.

But optimists argue that even in the case of cars with internal-combustion engines, carbon dioxide emissions can be cut significantly by measures like increasing fuel economy and introducing smart-driving technologies to make cars move about with greater efficiency.

The countries with the most cars today have set aggressive goals for improving fuel mileage. The United States, under President Obama’s fleetwide standards for carmakers, is aiming for an average of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025, up from about 30 m.p.g. now. China is aiming for 50.1 miles per gallon, and the European Union 60.6.

Still, the math is daunting. If the number of cars doubles, and the average mileage improves by only 50 percent, all of the fuel-economy gains would be offset by the emissions from the new vehicles.

And that assumes the auto industry does its part to comply with the new standards and that national regulators diligently enforce them. Recent revelations that Volkswagen, for one, deliberately misled regulators, and that European Union air-quality standards and enforcement have been far from rigorous, do not inspire confidence.

“But the automakers are attacking these standards as we speak, both in Congress and through a review of the program they demanded from the Obama administration,” Mr. Becker said. “Similar attacks are underway in the E.U.”

Congress, in an effort to make the United States more energy independent, passed a law in 2007 mandating a 35 m.p.g. auto-fleet standard by 2020. But before that, there had been no official change to American fuel-economy standards in more than 30 years.

“The U.S. auto industry was successful between 1975 and 2007 in preventing any improvement for mileage standards for CO2 emissions,” Mr. Becker said. “They exploit every loophole in the standards, making more SUVs, pickups and other light duty trucks than cars because trucks have weaker standards than cars, and more large vehicles because large vehicles have weaker standards than smaller vehicles.”

But Mr. Becker, at the Safe Climate Campaign, points out that electric vehicles are only as environmentally friendly as the electricity that recharges them. China, though it is rapidly adopting nuclear power plants, is still heavily reliant on coal-fired electrical plants.

And India, where the biggest growth in automobile ownership is expected to occur as the country industrializes and its population surpasses China’s by 2030, might actually increase its reliance on coal-fired electrical power plants between now and then.

“At the end of the day, when you talk about transport emissions for transport in general, including for freight transport, they increase when the economy is growing,” he said. “So what are we going to say, we’re going to stop the economy to stop emissions?”

Posted in Automobiles, Climate Change | Leave a comment

Why is passenger rail so damned inefficient?

[ This is about passenger rail, not freight rail, which is incredibly efficient. Freight rail is efficient because to reduce aerodynamic drag and diesel fuel use (USDOT 2008), they travel on average  only 23 miles per hour (to reduce aerodynamic drag), accelerate slowly, and stop very infrequently. The opposite is true of passenger rail: fast acceleration, fast speeds, frequent stops — all of these waste energy.

Although passenger trains should be shortened during the day to save energy since there are far fewer passengers, they seldom are.  This is because of the expense of union wages, the risk of problems and trains not available to meet the schedule, and/or a lack of side rails to rearrange trains on and store rail cars until rush hour.

Since studies were first done on the energy efficiency of different passenger modes starting in 1977 until the most recent studies today, buses are always significantly more energy efficient than trains. And they can be scaled up and down more easily, burn less fuel because they usually travel a shorter distance on roads than trains. The only reason trains are built is because the middle class thinks trains are classier than buses.  Well, get over it!

Alice Friedemann  author of “When Trucks Stop Running: Energy and the Future of Transportation”, 2015, Springer and “Crunch! Whole Grain Artisan Chips and Crackers”. Podcasts:  KunstlerCast 253, KunstlerCast278, Peak Prosperity]

NRC. 2015. Comparison of Passenger Rail Energy Consumption with competing modes. National Research Council, National cooperative rail research program, National Academies Press.

…”Decisions about train types and operating patterns in the passenger rail industry have not been strongly influenced by energy use and efficiency concerns. Instead, many technology and operations decisions have been motivated primarily by safety concerns, the ability to use proven equipment designs, initial implementation costs and the need to work within existing operating and infrastructure constraints.”

Although U.S. commuter rail ridership has grown over the past 15 years, energy efficiency on a passenger-mile basis has not improved. Yet technologies are available to improve passenger rail energy efficiency.

The high upfront capital cost of some energy efficiency upgrades is often much greater than funding available. So instead, agencies are more concerned on achieving a “state of good repair” (SOGR).

Tight budgets can lead to few spare locomotives. Taking them out of service for equipment overhauls and tune-ups is likely to lower service capacity or quality. But not maintaining them as recommended by the manufacturer or upgraded with energy saving technology leads to locomotives not running at optimal energy efficiency much of the time.

The uncertainty of what future funding levels will be can energy efficiency improvements by reducing the ability to plan future capital investments and make strategic plans.  This is made worse by  transportation funding authorizations getting shorter. In the 1990s rail operators had 6 years and since then it’s gone down to just 2 years.

Since locomotives can last over 30 years, and rail cars over 40 years, old equipment can reduce energy efficiency and increase costs for fuel for decades.

Another barrier is the internal accounting structure of passenger rail operators, which often doesn’t  incentivize departments or personnel to improve energy efficiency. For example, if the mechanical department purchases locomotives or energy efficiency upgrades, but the operational savings are received by the transportation department, there is no incentive for the mechanical department to improve locomotive energy efficiency.  If financial horizons are short-term, then the high upfront costs of a new locomotive will prevent one from being purchased, even if the long-term savings on fuel and operations would save money.

An individual train operator may not be incentivized to take energy-efficient actions because it’s impossible to measure fuel use with enough precision, so actions such as saving fuel by handling train-sets in a fuel-efficient manner or connecting train-sets to wayside hotel electric power for maintenance instead of idling the locomotive aren’t rewarded.

On the other hand, it’s pretty easy to notice and measure negative effects. If a train were late because of efforts to save energy, the negative impact on customer service of the train operator would be noticed. And unlike a car, a late train can affect hundreds of thousands of people.  So an individual is unlike to take risks to improve efficiency when there are no upside benefits and strong downside consequences.

It’s also risky to buy new technology before someone else has tried it (“service-proven”) in case it doesn’t function well enough.  It also might take a while before the energy efficiency improvement could be measured.

The lack of detailed data at a micro-level (e.g., trip-level) is another barrier to improving energy efficiency.  Data collection is hard, there is often no count of how many passengers boarded a train at a given stop, how much fuel was burned between stops (due to imprecise gauges on diesel equipment and inconsistent electricity metering And although electricity usage can be measured, it is not collected or recorded on an ongoing basis. As a result, it is difficult to provide feedback to locomotive engineers and maintenance staff or identify ways to reduce energy consumption on an ongoing basis.

Agencies are reluctant to divert funds from buying equipment to research and development to improve efficiency.

  1. 2.3 Conservatism and the Trade-off between Customer Service and Efficiency

The highest priority and key goal of passenger rail operators is customer service, followed by safety and security.  Energy efficiency is usually at the bottom of the list, though if ridership can be increased though good customer service, that will improve the energy efficiency per passenger-mile, though not the train miles per gallon, since passenger weight doesn’t affect overall train efficiency.

In the rare times when money to buy new rolling stock (locomotives, rail cars) is available, often the only choices are existing designs, and the cycle perpetuates itself, slowing the pace of innovation, and even resulting in no net change in energy efficiency.

There are many ways improving customer services reduce s energy efficiency

  1. Agencies operate equipment with the “pedal to the metal” to accelerate and go as fast as possible to improve travel time
  2. Trains that leave the platform early to minimize the number standing in the aisles
  3. More spacious seating
  4. Amenities such as Wi-Fi
  1. 2.4 Barriers to Improving Off-Peak/Backhaul Load Factors

Twice a day, during the morning and afternoon commuter rush, trains are likely to get pretty full and have higher passenger-mile efficiency.

But in many systems, the train passengers get off downtown and the train returns with few passengers to the suburb to pick up more passengers.  Only systems with layover areas or yards downtown can avoid this.

During the day, the passengers riding trains tends to be low, so ideally very short trains would run less often.

But often the same very long rush-hour trains run during the day, because labor costs are often 70% of expenditures, with energy only 10%.  That makes it too expensive to use labor to change train lengths between morning and evening rush hours.  Management also fears a malfunction during the coupling/uncoupling process which would prevent the train from running on schedule, especially since there are few spare locomotives and railcars. This is far more important to rail agencies than energy efficiency.

  1. 2.5 Market Size and Regulations Specific to North America

In the United States, very old, obsolete regulations force locomotives and rail cars to be far more heavy than trains elsewhere to withstand 800,000 pounds of pressure in a crash without permanently bending or buckling. In Europe, Australia, and Asia much lighter weight trains exist because they have a better way of designing passenger cars to withstand a crash.

This result is that U.S. transit agencies can’t purchase energy-efficient off-the-shelf trains which doubles their costs (Edmondson 2013).

  1. 2.6 Barriers to Implementing the Use of Alternative Fuels

Several of the respondents were asked if their company or agency were considering the use of alternative fuels to power their rolling stock. In the case of technologies that use liquefied natural gas (LNG) and fuel cells, respondents suggested that the major barrier to implementation is the limited availability of mature technology for passenger rail. One respondent suggested that the infrastructure requirements for fueling also represent a barrier, particularly for Amtrak, because its operations are nationwide and Amtrak does not own most of its infrastructure. Respondents mentioned successful Amtrak trials of a 20% biodiesel blend (B20) in 2010, but noted that the scope of this study was limited to assessing the impact of biodiesel on the diesel locomotive prime mover. These trials were facilitated by a $274,000 grant from FRA (Amtrak 2011). No subsequent tests were planned. A Volpe Center/FRA report highlighted some recent tests of alternative fuel locomotives (Brecher et al. 2014); however, few respondents were able to provide concrete examples of an alternative fuel that they are closely following, which suggests that the technology is not mature enough for implementation.

Electrification of infrastructure was the main “alternative fuel” discussed. Apart from the high capital cost, other barriers include electrical utilities wary of allowing energy from regenerative braking from locomotives back into the electrical grid; shared track with freight railroads poses a technical barrier since the high overhead clearance requirements for double-stack containers need a higher and longer, and freight rail doesn’t want to run both diesel and electric trains on the same track, or build a second track with overhead catenary, since that would reduce their flexibility.


Edmondson, D.  June 2013. Report: the FRA makes trains less safe, more expensive.

USDOT. 2008. TABLE 3-4-8 – Rail Freight Average Speeds, Revenue Ton-Miles, and Terminal Dwell Times. United States Department of Transportation.

Posted in Mass Transit, Railroads, Transportation | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments