Monday, May 29, 2006


Notes on the pickle we’ve made for ourselves…

On the 19th of May, The Arizona Daily Star online broke the news of a border bust:

“Tip leads Border Patrol to 91 illegal entrants in truck”

“Border Patrol agents discovered 91 illegal entrants who were smuggled into the country in the back of a box truck Thursday night southwest of Sonoita, an official said Friday.”

There’s a photo of the truck – it’s a big single-axle with a maybe a thirty foot box on it…

And the tale reads like a bad joke… How do you get 91 Mexicans into a van?

You offer them a ride to work…

Meanwhile, the Minutemen are stringing barbed wire on the border – HuffPo has a positively ridiculous photo from AFP:

You can tell whose side this photographer is on… I’m afraid that fence won’t do much other than stimulate barbed wire sales. It won’t catch many immigrants… But that’s not what it’s for, of course. It’s designed to catch a government with its pants down… And maybe a controversy…

FoxNews gives a more balanced take:

“Minuteman Group Begins Building Border Fence in Arizona”,2933,197291,00.html

Fanning the Minutemen’s ire are reports the Border Patrol is tipping of the Mexican Government as to their whereabouts and activities.  From the Minutemen’s website:

“U.S. tipping Mexico to Minuteman patrols”

Some days, a good vigilante just can’t win…

Then there is the fifth column. reports:

“Surge of volunteers expected to help illegal immigrants cross desert”

“Leaders of two faith-based groups, No More Deaths and Samaritan Patrol, say they've signed up hundreds of volunteers to deliver food, water and medical aid to migrants illegally walking into the country from Mexico. No More Deaths alone has 500 registered volunteers, up from 300 last summer.”

Illegal entry notwithstanding, some believe it’s just plain inhuman to let people die trying to cross the desert…

I wonder… What’s going to happen when one of these Minutemen patrols get into a confrontation with someone from, say, the Samaritan Patrol… and someone gets shot? What if there is a full-fledged donnybrook down there? The National Guard may find itself trying to keep Americans from killing each other…

In Washington - the “bad” Washington - Our Senate has decided to build a fence… Somewhere… But Michelle Malkin points out Senator Chris Dodd has inserted a rider into the passed bill requiring consultation with all involved parties, including the Mexican government, before any actual fence is built:

“Mexico Gets Veto Power? "Consultation" Req'd”

One might argue consultation doesn’t necessarily entail deference, but in the real world…

On the subject of “getting real,” Michael R. Bloomberg, Mayor of New York, published an excellent articulation of the middle of the road position last week in the Wall Street Journal:

“Enforceable, Sustainable, Compassionate
On immigration, it's time to get real.”

One five-star alarm this raises with me is his proposal to create a National DNA database for everyone – not just foreign workers. He wants to make it a requirement even for native-born citizens…

Like hell you will. You can have my DNA when I’m done with it and not before, you prick…

Back in the “bad” Washington, and across the campus, members of the House of Representatives are sweating bullets, trying to decide whether or not to actually listen to their constituents on this question, most of which want a leak-proof border, even if it requires a moat of alligators.

From The Washington Post:

“Immigration Deal at Risk as House GOP Looks to Voters”

The House is collectively viewing the next election as if it were a runaway locomotive and they a damsel on the tracks… If they side with the majority, it’s likely there will be no action at all. If they don’t, a lot of them may get unelected…

And then there’s that pesky minority – all the people on both sides of the border that are cleaning up – or at least surviving - on all this lawbreaking… Smugglers, drug runners, the entire US Farm sector, the Hospitality industry… The Nation of Mexico…

The biggest benefactor of all this law breaking may well be that Nation south of the border. does a pretty good summation of this angle:

“Give and take across the border
1 in 7 Mexican workers migrates -- most send money home”

One in seven… and, according to SFGate, “Last year, Mexico received a record $20 billion in remittances from migrant workers. That is equal to Mexico's 2004 income from oil exports and dwarfing tourism revenue.”

Not to mention the benefit of not having to cope with all those desperately poor people Mexico cannot provide for…

Adding insult to the injury, Mexico itself has received certainly unwelcome publicity of its own profoundly xenophobic immigration policies:

“Mexico Works to Bar Non-Natives From Jobs”

Immigrants are second-class citizens in Mexico, irrespective of how long they have been there, and are just plain discouraged from trying to settle. Partly as a consequence, Mexico’s foreign-born population is only a half percent of their total.

I wonder if there is another consequence… Is their reluctance to accept immigrants one of the things that is holding them back?

A little closer to home, we have an alarm being sounded on a very practical matter. From The New York Times:

“With Illegal Immigrants Fighting Wildfires, West Faces a Dilemma”

I think there is something to this. For a long time Hispanics have been dominating certain aspects of the forest products industry. It was already a factor back when I did this sort of work in the ‘80’s. It isn’t just fire fighting. There is tree planting, pre-commercial thinning, fertilizing – all more or less related. You plant & fertilize in winter, thin in spring and fall… And try to keep it all from burning in the summer…

And a last item for the holiday. Jim Derych over at HuffPo reminds us of Lance Corporal Jose Guitierrez, one of the first Marines killed in the Iraq war.

“Lance Cpl. Jose Gutierrez--Illegal Immigrant, American Hero”

As a kid from Guatemala, he train-hopped his way across Mexico and then entered the US illegally. When he was 18 he acquired resident alien credentials and thereafter joined the Marines. He died in a firefight near Umm Qasr.

RIP. You’re a better American than many, Corporal.

Friday, May 26, 2006


The Seattle Times fleshes out the no-win dilemma that hit Boeing employees earlier this week:

“Regence faces union fallout”

The Select Network Plan, billed as a means to provide Boeing employees with a “high-quality, cost-efficient” medical insurance plan option, has decided to exclude approximately 500 previously included physicians… Regence will not release their selection criteria, but, according to the Times, “it appears that Regence is more concerned with how much doctors cost than with whether they give good health care. Many patients said highly competent doctors were excluded.

It is admitted by Regence “the ratings are based only on billing data, because "that's the current best available method to do this analysis."”

High-quality, cost-efficient… An oxymoronic lie like that could only come from a salesman or a politician…

More Chinese fire drills with health insurance… The whole idea of an insurance poll is to average the total cost across enough individuals to prevent accidental and incidental costs from ruining any one individual… Enter the chiselers, who give some of the pool a break if they will patronize Dr. Low Budget.

It’s another aspect of the race to the bottom, and it can have only one effect: The erosion of the overall quality of available medical services…

As long as there is a dime of profit in the medical insurance industry, there will be chiselers trying to manipulate it.

National Health Care NOW.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006


FoxNews brings us an update in the case of Lashuan Harris, who, last October 19th, dropped her three kids into San Francisco Bay, drowning them:

“Mom Due in Court in San Francisco Bay Kids' Deaths Case”,2933,196809,00.html

Diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic with delusional thought disorder, Harris told the Court via her attorney "The voice of God called upon me to sacrifice my three children"…

What would they have said about Abraham???

Just wonderin’…

Tuesday, May 23, 2006


Yesterday, well-known Seattle commentator Ken Schram excoriated initiative champion Tim Eyman over his recent church-based drive to collect signatures for an anti gay-rights initiative he intends to field this year:

“Timmy Is Turning To God”

Opines Mr. Schram:

“Timmy is turning to God.

I guess Mr. Eyman figures that since Jesus turned water into wine, the Lord would be willing and able to transform church-going Christians into bigots.

Timmy describes this as an "opportunity" for 500,000 voters in 5,400 churches to sign a petition to cancel out gay rights legislation passed in Olympia earlier this year.

Timmy says it's all about ending "preferential treatment."

I say it's all about legalizing discrimination against gays and lesbians.

And I think that Timmy's just trying to turn conservative Christians into another tool in his money-making initiative arsenal.

To those folks, I have a now familiar question: What would Jesus do?”

A damn good question for Christians… A damn good question asked by a man who, if one can judge by his writings, is himself a Christian – A liberal one.

A liberal Christian? In the eyes of many that’s an oxymoron. For quite some time –since at least the Reagan years – conservatives have worked to claim sole ownership of the American church. By and large, unbelievers such as myself have given “them” a bye on this claim – it is, after all, not our fight - and media professionals have abetted it by discussing social issues in the language created by religious conservatives, speaking of “family values,” “morals,” and the like as being “conservative” issues.

Meanwhile, religious liberals, prompted, perhaps, by Christ’s promise that the meek would inherit the earth, have meekly stood by and allowed the conservatives to claim the American church as theirs alone…

Success often sows the seeds of failure…

And so it may be with the conservative movement and their allies, the religious right. For them, the Presidency of George W Bush has been the greatest success in a very long time.

For liberal Christians, it has been a wake-up call… And more than a few are fighting back.

Speaking of Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright recently remarked “"I worked for two presidents who were men of faith, and they did not make their religious views part of American policy,” a policy that clearly leaves the Secretary uneasy:

“Bush's faith worries Albright”

Madame Albright describes herself as “"an Episcopalian (U.S. Anglican) with a Catholic background" and states "I know I believe in God but I have doubts, and doubt is part of faith,"”

I hear the snickers and groans… Bill Clinton, a Christian? Such is the nature of the conservative’s success…

But if a “Christian” is any person who believes in the redemptive sacrifice of Christ – and if belief is a private thing – how can any short of the Almighty dispute their claim?

Over at, Andrew Sullivan makes the arguments very well:

“My Problem with Christianism
A believer spells out the difference between faith and a political agenda”

It’s a subscriber link only, but the piece is a worthy read if you can get it:,10987,1191826,00.html

Mr. Sullivan begins:

“Are you a Christian who doesn't feel represented by the religious right? I know the feeling. When the discourse about faith is dominated by political fundamentalists and social conservatives, many others begin to feel as if their religion has been taken away from them.
The number of Christians misrepresented by the Christian right is many”…

He elaborates, describing a tolerant church of many denominations: “very orthodox believers who nonetheless respect the freedom and conscience of others as part of their core understanding of what being a Christian is… evangelical Protestants who believe strongly that Christianity should not get too close to the corrupting allure of government power…  lay Catholics who, while personally devout, are socially liberal on issues like contraception, gay rights, women's equality and a multi-faith society.”…

He bridles at comments such as those made recently by the disgraced former House Majority Leader Tom Delay: “"Sides are being chosen, and the future of man hangs in the balance! The enemies of virtue may be on the march, but they have not won, and if we put our trust in Christ, they never will."”

Mr. Sullivan then asks: “So Christ is a conservative Republican?”

It’s the awakening of a sleeping giant… Perhaps…

Yet Mr. Sullivan argues against the creation of a “religious left,” suggesting instead that what the religious right practices isn’t a religious faith at all, but rather an “ism:” Christianism. He elaborates:

“"My kingdom is not of this world," Jesus insisted. What part of that do we not understand? So let me suggest that we take back the word Christian while giving the religious right a new adjective: Christianist. Christianity, in this view, is simply a faith. Christianism is an ideology, politics, an ism. The distinction between Christian and Christianist echoes the distinction we make between Muslim and Islamist. Muslims are those who follow Islam. Islamists are those who want to wield Islam as a political force and conflate state and mosque. Not all Islamists are violent. Only a tiny few are terrorists. And I should underline that the term Christianist is in no way designed to label people on the religious right as favoring any violence at all. I mean merely by the term Christianist the view that religious faith is so important that it must also have a precise political agenda. It is the belief that religion dictates politics and that politics should dictate the laws for everyone, Christian and non-Christian alike.
That's what I dissent from, and I dissent from it as a Christian. I dissent from the political pollution of sincere, personal faith. I dissent most strongly from the attempt to argue that one party represents God and that the other doesn't. I dissent from having my faith co-opted and wielded by people whose politics I do not share and whose intolerance I abhor. The word Christian belongs to no political party. It's time the quiet majority of believers took it back.”

It’s a powerful idea, if powerfully wielded by people brave enough to speak their minds, even if their voice shakes. And it’s about time, IMO… As a nonbeliever, I have watched in disgust as the religious right sought to drag this Nation back into the dark ages of governmental enforcement of religious intolerance and governmental approbation of nonsense like creationism. But I have been even more disgusted by the disorganized, misfeasant fashion in which tolerant Christians have defended their faith…

Watching the two groups, I have become utterly convinced there is no value in either…

So I welcome the new counterattack. People, by and large, need faith to survive – it’s built into man, as if it were a philosophical instinct. Yet the “faith” of the religious right - and the policies it inspires - is clearly a destructive influence in a modern, creative, diverse society that will only become more diverse as time goes on.

Maybe the “religious left” can give the American church a better way.


VIA Orbusmax, we have two items concerning developments in an unforgivable incident of animal cruelty. First, KATU Portland brings us the basics:

“Court To Rule On Landmark Pet Death Case”

The case concerns one Raymond Weaver, who was convicted of animal abuse after he deliberately ran over his neighbor’s dog, Grizz. In what could be a precedent-setting case, the family is suing for loss of companionship, asking for 1.5 million in damages. As KATU notes:

“States typically limit damages in such cases to an animal's fair market value. An award for loss of companionship … could lead to an expansion of pet owners' rights in Oregon, and possibly the nation.”

Meanwhile over at 750 KXL, Lars Larson offers an opinion on the matter:

“What is a dog's life worth?”

Succinctly put, Mr. Larson opines that while running over the dog was “an evil thing to do” the suit is “inappropriate:”

“Now loss of companionship is something you get for a child or losing your wife; for a human being, not for a dog. Not for any kind of animal… Do I think the family deserves a million bucks in compensation or more for the loss of their dog? Absolutely, positively not.”

What’s a dog’s life worth? I think that’s the wrong question to ask.

What’s the life of a dirty sonofabitch who would deliberately run over a dog worth?

A lot less than a dog, I think.

Mark Greenup and his family deserve every penny of that 1.5 million and more. And Weaver deserves to be locked away for the rest of his life… In a dogpound. Build him a special cell next to his betters and lock him away every night. Let him out to tend the animals – and divert the wage he would have earned to reparations.

And if he gets sick or injured, just “put him to sleep”…

Monday, May 22, 2006


FoxNews reports on the Grand Jury indictments of four persons accused of setting the fires that destroyed several buildings at the world-class Vail Colorado ski area:

Grand Jury Indicts 4 Accused Ecoterrorists for 1998 Vail Firebombing”,2933,196219,00.html

From the article:

“Four alleged environmental extremists have been indicted in a 1998 firebombing at the Vail ski resort that caused $12 million in damage — one of the most devastating ecoterrorism attacks in U.S. history.”

I find the semantics here fascinating… “alleged environmental extremists”…

These are “alleged arsonists”… There is nothing “alleged” about their extreme attitudes or politics, of which they are very proud…

A slip of the pen? Maybe… But this same wording, more or less, can be found in several news accounts of this event.

I wonder… Is someone implying being an environmental extremist who burns buildings is somehow different than a common arsonist?

Is it a more – or less – heinous crime? Is why they lit the match more important than lighting it?

And how is the implied reasoning any different than the reasoning behind hate crimes?

Just wonderin’…

Thursday, May 18, 2006


The Washington Post today is carrying an absolute MUST READ from George Will:

“Who Isn't A 'Values Voter'?”

Dr. Will’s thesis is aptly summed in the first two paragraphs:

“An aggressively annoying new phrase in America's political lexicon is "values voters." It is used proudly by social conservatives, and carelessly by the media to denote such conservatives.
This phrase diminishes our understanding of politics. It also is arrogant on the part of social conservatives and insulting to everyone else because it implies that only social conservatives vote to advance their values and everyone else votes to . . . well, it is unclear what they supposedly think they are doing with their ballots.


I’d like to make a couple of observations:

“"values voters." It is used… carelessly by the media to denote such conservatives.”

It’s interesting to note “values voters,” being mostly “social conservatives,” tend to hold the MSM in very low esteem… Social conservatives are usually first to hurl the “bias” charge.

So why does the MSM play along with this? Why give people they are thought to disagree with the right to define the social debate?

A cynic might suggest it’s just pandering to a large, powerful market. Market share is hard to come by today, with choices constantly proliferating.

I’d suggest something simpler. This is another good evidence the MSM isn’t biased toward the left.

Dr.Will goes on to argue everyone votes values; it’s just different values:

“Today's liberal agenda includes preservation, even expansion, of the welfare state in its current configuration in order to strengthen an egalitarian ethic of common provision. Liberals favor taxes and other measures to produce a more equal distribution of income. They may value equality indiscriminately, but they vote their values.

Among the various flavors of conservatism, there is libertarianism that is wary of government attempts to nurture morality and there is social conservatism that says unless government nurtures morality, liberty will perish. Both kinds of conservatives use their votes to advance what they value.”

It’s the basic work of politics: Creating a system where people of different values can co-exist… As opposed to a “system” where people believe violence alone can protect their “values.”

And that’s a caution to majorities… Present and future.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006


VIA Drudge, we have a link to in Florida, reporting Pat’s latest prophecy:

“Robertson: God Says Storms Will Lash U.S.”

The link won’t load on this atheist’s computer… Maybe it’s God’s will…

From the teaser:

“The Rev. Pat Robertson says God told him the U.S. will suffer bad storms this year and maybe a tsunami.”

I’ll have to assert: If there is a God, and if there’s a Tsunami, it’ll kill Robertson… And if there’s a benevolent God, it’ll get Anne Coulter, too…


Mark Finkelstein over at Newsbusters reports comments by Da Vinci Code actor Ian McKellen, speaking to Matt Lauer:

“Da Vinci Code Actor: Bible Should Have 'Fiction' Disclaimer”

Spake Gandalf “"Well, I've often thought the Bible should have a disclaimer in the front saying this is fiction. I mean, walking on water, it takes an act of faith."”

According to Finkelstein, McKellen’s comment is a “stunning bit of blasphemy” that is “likely to test the adage that all publicity is good publicity.”

LOL! This little side-circus gets better every day!

McKellen has a point… Even if you are devout, you must realize many serious Bible scholars don’t take many parts of the Bible seriously…

OK, maybe asking for a fiction disclaimer is a little provocative… But at least the Bible ought to carry a disclaimer it hasn’t been peer reviewed…


VIA Orbusmax, reports on a change of policy in Idaho:

“Wages must double for employers to receive state funds”

The Idaho Workforce Development Council, which pays up to $3,000 per worker to businesses which locate or expand in Idaho, formerly offered assistance to any business paying at least $6 an hour. That will now be raised to $12 an hour and / or benefits.

“Officials say that paying six an hour is a hidden tax because those workers are eligible for food stamps, housing assistance and Medicaid.”

Damn good idea - $6 an hour is a sweatshop wage. Or at least it’s a damn good start…

We have a problem in this nation. On one hand, government has “sold” the electorate on policies that amount to a defacto guarantee of a minimum standard – not just a minimum wage employers will pay but a minimum standard of care.

Minimum compensation should meet the minimum expectation…

I know… What I just said is in some senses absurd. Who defines “minimum?” Should a minimum standard of care imply therefore that compensation should be linked to family size?

Now there’s an idea… If you want to promote a baby boom…

But that absurdity is exactly what we have, via that minimum standard. A young single person with no dependents isn’t eligible for anywhere near as much state aid as that same person would be as a single parent of two or a traditional family of five…

Yes, I know we “do it for the kids.” I also know subsidies have often counterintuitive economic effects, one of which is exploitation of the system by capitalist pirates.

You don’t have to pay your people enough to survive if their survival is otherwise assured…

The enemy of capitalism is capitalists… The inspired thinkers who, many years ago, outlined the principles of capitalism wrote at length of the necessity for capitalism to be self-regulated by the ethics of the participants. It’s just plain unethical to offer poverty wages – and it’s doubly unethical take state training money and use it to set up a shop that pays a poverty wage…

And when a state agency allows that to happen it stops being a promoter, becoming instead an enabler… The government shouldn’t enable the unethical.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006


Just about everybody today is discussing – or at least cussing – the President’s speech last night on the topic of immigration reform. VIA Breitbart, AP provides the text:

A good effort, I think – a good effort at compromise. Very middle of the road. And to his credit our First Texan did not suggest branding illegal aliens on the ass, steer-style, before tossing them back over the Rio…

GWB covered all the bases, throwing a bone to all constituent groups. More border security, more workplace enforcement, including a so-called tamper proof guest worker ID to be used by the participants in a huge new guest worker program. And all wrapped up in a warm and fuzzy blanket of protection for those GWB refers to as “the vast majority of illegal immigrants are decent people who work hard, support their families, practice their faith, and lead responsible lives. They are a part of American life but they are beyond the reach and protection of American law.”

Kumbaya… Kumbaya…

But it’s not amnesty… Not for the illegal immigrants, at least.

It’s amnesty for the illegal employers…

I was surprised this morning. Over at the popular anti-immigration blog Daniel’s Political Musings I read thirty comments to “The president's sellout” and not one of them mentioned the problem of illegal employment… There was mention, as there was in GWB’s speech, of “jobs Americans won’t do.”

I’ve billed myself as a moderate. By “moderate” I mean I’m more interested in evidence than ideology, but “moderate” is a poor descriptor. It would be more accurate to say I am an unaligned skeptical pragmatist, willing to change my mind as the facts dictate.

And I have a few immoderate comments… Followed by an immoderate suggestion…

The evidence becomes increasingly clear: The root of the problem isn't security at the border. Its thousands of repeat felons among us. Not the illegal aliens in their millions, but the thousands of US employers who routinely, deliberately break the law or at least violate its spirit.

"Jobs Americans won't do." Bullshit!

Jobs Americans won't do for half a wage, perhaps. Jobs Americans won't do without being properly compensated for overtime. Jobs Americans won't do under substandard conditions or with substandard, unsafe equipment. Jobs Americans won't do because the foreman is the clone of an 1840 Alabama slavemaster.

Increasingly it becomes clear that whole industries have used immigrant labor, legal or otherwise, to gut the labor market, debase the wage and benefit expectations, and generally put unscrupulous entrepreneurs in the driver's seat - and they're driving the rest of us off a cliff.

The rest of the arguments are studies in the chimeric:

Border security is a pipe dream, as is forced deportation – neither are practically attainable, if only for reasons of expense. To his credit, the Compromiser-in-Chief recognizes the scaling issue and doesn’t advocate forced deportation. But he does mollify the “build a wall” crowd with a promise of 6,000 National Guard troops to aid the 12,000 immigration officers already present.

Still, a force of 18,000 on a 2,000 mile border between two nations that do 100 billion dollars worth of legal trade a year on top of all the illegal activity is a joke…

And the guest worker program is a sellout to the capitalist bastards who created the problem, one illegal hire at a time.

Let's get to the root of the issue. We need real enforcement of the hiring laws we have. And while a biometric ID sounds good in theory, it’s how many years away? And what good will it do in an atmosphere of wink & nod enforcement?

GWB proposes more agents on the border to follow the “temporary” guard deployment. Here’s a better suggestion: Let's put those agents - we can't use the troops - in the workplace. And throw the book at every employer, no excuses accepted, no slack cut. Bankrupt them. Shut them down. And no plausible deniability, either. We don't care if you didn't know; you're still done.

If you accept a counterfeit $100 bill, you lose the $100 dollars – and you might just get arrested for a crime you didn’t commit. Why should accepting counterfeit ID be an acceptable excuse for committing a felony?

Employers don’t know? My ass they don’t know. They don’t want to know. You see no evil with eyes wide shut.

There is no other way. Staying in the middle of the road will make us all roadkill. We either have to give up and move as fast as possible toward total integration of the two Nations – one unified economy with one set of labor, wage, and environmental standards – or we have to enforce our standards at home and leave them in the third world they choose to inhabit. In order to enforce our standards, we have to shut down the “Mexican” sub-economy operating here in the US. The way to do that is jail the bastards who profit from that economic activity. Jail them and confiscate all of their assets. When the opportunity dries up the illegal aliens will deport themselves.

Allowing two economies to operate side by side has vastly degraded the lot of the American blue-collar worker and the unskilled, entry-level worker, and it has helped to pull everyone else down as well. Wage-wise, we’re all treading water – while the collateral strains on infrastructure sap public treasuries.

One way or the other. Moderation got us into this fix in the first place.

Any takers? Not among GWB's business supporters, I'll wager...

Wednesday, May 10, 2006


VIA just about everybody, The New York Times brings us their latest NYT/CBS poll of the President’s performance, with asides on Congress as well as Republicans and Democrats in general:

“Bush's Public Approval at New Low Point”

The entire poll can be read here:

The poll itself offers nothing really new, being merely a continuation of previous trends.  The President’s job approval rating, 31%, continues to slide, but he’s still rated better than Congress, which is viewed favorably by just over one in five…

The President’s personal approval rating, currently 29%, continues to slide as well, although he still fares better than some – John Kerry, for example, is favorably viewed by only 26% of the surveyed group and Dick “Mr. Charisma” Cheney by only 20%...

Democrats in general beat Republicans 55% to 34%.

On today’s hot-button issue, immigration, Mr. Bush’s policies are favored by only 26% of the sample group…

The survey group contains more Democrats than Republicans, and more self-described moderates than either conservatives or liberals – and more Bush voters than Kerry voters. Interestingly, this 46 page work doesn’t contain opinion breakdowns by party.

But the recent Gallup Poll does, and it’s the subject of an interesting treatment by Byron York at National Review online:

“Inside the President's Terrible Poll Numbers”

Mr. York argues that the oft-noted erosion of Republican support is only partly responsible for the situation. He notes that according to Gallup, the President has only 4% support among Democrats – zero, statistically – and 26% among independents. He then goes on to analyze the erosion of “the base,” pinning it largely on immigration, the one issue where more than half – 52% - of Republicans disapprove of his policies.

Over at the New York Post, John Podhoretz looks at the same data and comes to different conclusions:

“Dubya's Dilemma Why Sinking Polls Now?”

Mr. Podhoretz recites the expected laundry list: Americans are nervous about the future, the perceived stalemate in Iraq, and are just plain disgusted with the denizens of the Beltway generally. On the erosion of Republican support, Mr. Podhoretz opines:

“So here's a theory: Republicans and conservatives have grown weary of defending Bush. They've been fighting and fighting and fighting for years, and they see no letup in the hostility toward him or in the energy and determination of his critics. Faced with that implacable opposition, they've grown not disaffected but disheartened. They thought they were on a winning team. Now they're not so sure, and they're feeling let down, the way passionate sports fans do when their guys stumble and fall in the second half of the season.”

Tying it all together is Micky Klaus over at Slate, who links both of the aforementioned pieces:

“Bush's Polls--The Simplified Model. Immigration is killing his ratings. Duh!”

It’s immigration, stupid…

I have to agree.

Mr. Podhoretz notes “Americans are more nervous about the future.” Why? Objectively, most things are going fine. Despite setbacks, most of us are prosperous and the situation is improving. The war is a problem, but for most people it’s an issue in the abstract, more a debate than a life-shaping circumstance. Why the nervousness?

It’s immigration, stupid… Those huge, albeit peaceful demonstrations have opened a door in our awareness that can’t be shut again. The “original Americans” – not the Amerinds but the descendents of the original European settlers – are looking at their children and at the future those children face and they see the time of their decline – a time when they will be the minority. As The Washington Post noted this morning:

“Of U.S. Children Under 5, Nearly Half Are Minorities”

“Nearly half of the nation's children under 5 are racial or ethnic minorities, and the percentage is increasing mainly because the Hispanic population is growing so rapidly…Hispanics are the nation's largest and fastest-growing minority group. They accounted for 49 percent of the country's growth from 2004 to 2005, and the increase in young children is largely a Hispanic story, driving 70 percent of the growth in children younger than 5. Forty-five percent of U.S. children younger than 5 are minorities.”

It’s not an evenly distributed phenomenon, being more pronounced in the west and much less in the old rust belt – as the demonstrations’ turnouts showed.

Nor is it just “white” Americans that are feeling the pinch. As the New York Times reported on May 4th:

“Growing Unease for Some Blacks on Immigration”

Many of the self-appointed black “civil rights leaders” bridle at the comparison between the civil rights movement and the immigration amnesty movement. Some see bias in even the current immigration policies. From The Washington Times:

“Blacks slam immigration bias”

From the article:

“Black leaders say Mexicans and other Hispanic nationals are getting preferential immigration treatment, as the U.S. systematically turns away people from countries with largely African-descended populations, such as Jamaica and the Dominican Republic.”

Others have more practical concerns. Earl Ofari Hutchinson wrote in Pacific News Service:

“Why So Many Blacks Fear Immigration”

There is a growing perception in the black community that the new Hispanic immigrants – legal or otherwise – are pushing blacks to the back of the national bus, taking jobs from lesser-skilled young black men who are still no less qualified than immigrants. It’s led to violence in parts of California…

And weaving it all together is a new awareness of just how dependent the US economy has become on immigrant labor, legal or not. Daniel Gross of Slate commented on a recent Bureau of Labor Statistics report on the subject:

“The Immigrant Economy”

For the whole report, “"Foreign-Born Workers: Labor Force Characteristics in 2005:”

Like it or not, the immigrant contribution is huge and vital – and the numbers alone make draconian remedies impossible. As the President recently noted, much to the chagrin of his supporters: “Massive deportation of the people here is not going to work... It's just not going to work.”

Looking ahead through my badly cracked, clouded crystal ball, I see immigration becoming the vital issue for at least the next two election cycles if not far longer. For 50 years this has been much like a chronic National illness, a diseased organ needing treatment. It’s been mostly ignored, as the chronic so often is, but the continued growth of the illegal immigrant population, coupled with the recent demonstrations, has pushed the “illness” to the forefront of public consciousness. The issue “we” have ignored for too long can be ignored no longer.

Some want to treat the organ, to restore it to health. Others believe it’s a tumor that must be removed...

In any case, it’s sure to be the greatest catalyst of change this Nation has faced since 1860 – and it has landed like a bomb in GWB’s lap.

And it’s an ultimate irony: Illegal immigrants, the shadow “citizens” of our Nation who cannot legally vote have, by merely existing, come to wield more power than all the legal voters combined. We the voters may make the final choice, but it will be they who define the options and put the choices in front of us.

Let’s hope there are some good choices after all.

Monday, May 08, 2006


Jerusalem Post today carries the words of Israeli Vice Premier Shimon Peres, responding to the always truculent Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad:

“'Iran can also be wiped off the map'”

Nothing new in the article… And while the particulars of the argument are “new,” it’s still the same 2500 year old feud…

But if only… If only the rest of us could just get the hell out of the way and let them go at it… Any bets on a winner?


VIA USATODAY, we are informed GWB’s approval rating has dropped to a record low:

“Bush approval rating hits new low”

The analysis suggests the decline is primarily due to faltering support among “the base.”

Oh well… six more points and he’s down to 25%... At last we’ll have a two-bit politician for a President…

Wednesday, May 03, 2006


VIA The statesman Journal, AP brings us the latest news on the newest fad in fuels:

“Biodiesel now cheaper than regular diesel”

The article relates that the price of B-99, a mix of 99% biodiesel and 1% petroleum diesel is now $2.77 a gallon, 2¢ cheaper than the average pump price for petroleum diesel in the Portland, Oregon area. The article doesn’t relate whether or not the price of B-99 is in any way subsidized.

Biodiesel… For years, its been the holy oil of the green movement – the fuel of tomorrow, easy to make out of everything from old fryer oil to hemp seed, usable as-is in any diesel engine – David, come to slay the oil company’s Goliath…

It was a dream worthy of the hemp some wanted to make it from…

It’s caught on in some diverse places. Willie Nelson, country singer - and hemp fan extraordinaire – has launched his own enterprise selling biodiesel, which he calls “Biowillie:”

“His Car Smelling Like French Fries, Willie Nelson Sells Biodiesel”

Spurred by price, the current industrial renaissance of biodiesel has gotten a head start in Europe, where industrial scale production has been growing steadily since the late ‘90’s. According to the European Biodiesel Board, last year Europe’s 25 biodiesel producing nations produced 3.1 million metric tons of biodiesel – by my calculations just shy of a billion gallons or 23 million barrels:

More recently here in the US, big industry has jumped on board and the biodiesel express is leaving the station, French Fry exhaust rising from the stacks. Last year, the total US production topped 75 million gallons. Locally, Oregon is currently producing 2 million gallons annually – plus whatever the backyard crowd is making – and Carson Oil, mentioned in the original link, just arranged with a Minnesota producer to sell its soy-based biodiesel in Oregon, intending to move 15 million gallons a year through the Columbia River port of Vancouver just north of Portland in Washington State.

Not to be outdone, Washington’s legislature, prodded by Governor Christine Gregoire, passed a bill during the last legislative session mandating a minimum biofuels content in automotive fuel sold in the state by 2012. Designed to compliment the Federal Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS) that mandates the US reach 7.5 billion gallons of  annual biofuel use by 2012, the State mandate requires 10% ethanol for gasoline and 5% biodiesel in diesel by the target date.

So is this “IT?” Is biodiesel the fuel that can replace petroleum, saving the planet from pollution & global warming, providing an inexhaustible supply of domestically produced, farm-raised fuel? If there are pitfalls – environmental or otherwise – what are they?

And what is biodiesel, anyway? First, what is diesel?

Diesel can be defined two ways. Diesel fuel is a middle distillate of reformed petroleum, but diesel can also be defined as fuel that will burn in a diesel engine, irrespective of source. Biodiesel, at its best, meets this definition.

At its best… Under most conditions, the best biodiesel will run head to head with petroleum diesel. More conservatively, biodiesel – especially if made from reclaimed fats or oils – is only usable as a blend, the common ratios being 2%, 5%, and 20%, called B-2, B-5, and B-20, respectively. So it is more accurate to refer to biodiesel as a diesel extender.

But what is biodiesel?

Chemistry lesson… Bear with me…

Biodiesel is a mixture of fatty acid methyl esters, sometimes referred to in the lab as FAMES. Esters are the result of the combination of a carboxylic acid and an alcohol.


If you combine ordinary ethyl alcohol with the carboxylic acid acetic acid – the acid in vinegar – and prod the mix with a bit of sulfuric acid, it forms the ester ethyl acetate and water. Ethyl acetate is a common, useful solvent for lacquers and such innocuous things as fingernail polish.

“Alcohols” are defined by the presence of one or more hydroxyl groups, chemical subunits consisting of an oxygen and a hydrogen; shorthand, OH. An alcohol molecule can have one to several hydroxyl groups.


Start with ordinary propane, consisting of a three carbon backbone and eight hydrogens. Now, just substitute one hydroxyl for a hydrogen. Put it on either end, you get propyl alcohol. Put it in the middle you get isopropyl alcohol, the stuff in rubbing alcohol. If you now do another substitution on another carbon you get a di-ol, propylene glycol, the stuff in pet-safe antifreeze. Do a third substitution – the maximum possible – and you get the tri-ol glycerol, otherwise called glycerin.

You can make esters out of glycerol, which are known as glycerides. These can be mono, di, or triglycerides. The fats in foods are triglycerides, formed from glycerine and three units of any of several long-chain – 16 carbons, more or less - carboxylic acids known as fatty acids.

Now you are ready to make biodiesel. To do so you trans-esterify – change one ester to another. In the mind’s eye, picture a stool with three long, spindly legs. That’s a triglyceride. If one mixes methyl alcohol with caustic soda, the resulting highly reactive compound “breaks” the legs off the stool, creating that methyl ester of the fatty acid and converting the triglyceride back to glycerin. You get three units methyl ester for every unit of glycerin byproduct. Chemically, it’s an elegant system. A light alcohol and a heavy ester rearrange themselves into a lighter ester and a heavier alcohol.

Making biodiesel is like making a soufflé. It’s easy to do, but a lot harder to do it right… The basic procedure only works with the best oil. Some virgin oils and all used oils like fryer oil must first be measured for free fatty acids, and then esterified to treat the free fatty acids which will otherwise form soap. All biodiesel has to be “washed” to remove excess caustic soda, and the residual methanol must be extracted. Either of these substances can ruin an engine. Which might be a caution to the adventurous…

For a wealth of information the organization Journey To Forever

is a good place to start. They have a pair of excellent recipes for biodiesel I would recommend – if you’re adventurous…

If the foregoing seems a bit tedious, consider it as necessary to de-bunk some of the wild claims made about biodiesel, foremost being:

Biodiesel doesn’t pollute. Poppycock! Esters are modified hydrocarbons. The combustion of hydrocarbons produces carbon dioxide and water. No free lunch here. Yes, there is oxygen in an ester – in the case of biodiesel the average oxygen content is around 10% by mass. But this oxygen is already combined. Its dead weight, doing nothing except dampening the process, which is all any so-called “oxygenate” does.

In a comparative sense, it’s true diesel contains secondary pollutants, including a very small amount of acid-rain and smog causing sulfur, and biodiesel doesn’t. But burning biodiesel or any hydrocarbon with ordinary air in an internal combustion engine still creates oxides of nitrogen which does much the same thing. No free lunch there, either…

Where did the “non-polluting” idea come from? That’s an extension of the short-cycle theory. So how does this hold up? That depends…

It’s a straightforward concept. If I plant a crop, as it grows it consumes carbon dioxide and water. If I then make fuel out of it and burn it, I “liberate” the carbon dioxide and water, “replenishing” the atmosphere so the material can be re-used.

Very natural… But where do you grow your crop, how much do you get for your efforts… And what is growing there now? After all, in terms of pollution, while it may be argued planting “new” acreage zeros out pollution, merely swapping one crop for another does nothing, since existing crops already consume carbon dioxide and water.

Now we get into some of the finer points. First of all, some more chemistry. As any cook knows, the properties of various oils – palm oil, canola oil, etc. vary. This is because the fatty acid chains vary. They vary in length, physical shape, carbon content, and hydrogen saturation – hence the terms saturated, unsaturated, & polyunsaturated encountered when discussing oils. Whole oils contain varying amounts of free fatty acids which must be dealt with. Just as there are “better” oils for cooking, there are better oils for making biodiesel. The degree of saturation in particular matters, as it affects the freezing point of the product and its mixing characteristics with petroleum diesel.

So it turns out that while you can make biodiesel from any oil source, there are “best” choices. Likewise, there are best choices for the farmer. Obviously not everything will grow everywhere, and predictably yields per acre will vary widely. Journey To Forever provides this dandy chart:

The 36 oil plants listed vary in yield from a low of 18 gallons per acre for corn to a high of 635 gallons per acre for Oil Palm. In the temperate zones, the crop choices are necessarily limited: Three common candidates are rapeseed, peanuts, and soybeans. Rapeseed, the source of Canola oil, will yield approximately 127 gallons per acre; peanuts, 113; and soy – the source oil for Carson Industries Oregon imports – about 48 gallons per acre.

Hemp is only good for 39 gallons per acre… Sorry, hempsters…

This brings us to another wild claim that needs debunking: Biodiesel can replace petroleum diesel. A thought experiment…

Let’s pick a practical candidate: Soy. According to the USDA, a bit over 72 million acres of soybeans were cultivated last year.

If we use Journey To Forever’s self-described “conservative” estimates of yield for soy as well as their yield conversion factor of .8 for biodiesel yield, and divert every bit of US soy production to biodiesel, we have:

72,000,000 X 48 X .8 = 2,764,800,000 gallons of biodiesel production “possible.”

2.7 billion gallons… The current US consumption of diesel for transportation is around 50 billion gallons a year. Transportation only – that doesn’t count other diesel uses, or the gargantuan demand for heating oil, quite similar to diesel chemically.

All of our soybean production… A 5% drop in the bucket… Needless to say, that crop is already spoken for. So suffice it to say the US would need a lot more soybean production to meet the goal…

Could soybean acreage under production be doubled? Tripled? I don’t know. But we would need a twenty-fold increase in total production, a combination of better yields and more acres, to replace all of our diesel consumption. A billion and a half acres, accepting our 48 gallons per acre production.

The numbers are sobering. According to the USDA, there is just under a billion acres of farmland in the US today, of which about 434 million acres are classified as cropland and 300 million acres are currently in production. If one could, by fiat, put the difference into soybean production for biodiesel – a tripling of total soybean production -  the 134 million acres would yield about 5 billion gallons of biodiesel… 10% of the current demand. Needless to say, a lot of that 134 million acres won’t grow soybeans – or any other oil crop.

Even if every scrap of the billion acres currently unused – about 700 million acres – could be magically made to produce soybeans, we would still only be able to produce just over half of our current diesel consumption. And none of this accounts for the immense effort and energy cost involved in growing, harvesting, and processing the oilseed.

Impossible. It really doesn’t matter how you juggle the numbers, there isn’t enough production capacity available to do more than slightly augment current supplies, and any effort to do more would merely transform our fuel shortage into an arable land shortage, with biodiesel competing against many other needs.

So where do we get the oil? We’re back to foreign dependence… And some of the sources are very suspect environmentally.

Consider Oil Palms…

Probably the best current choice for biodiesel production is the Oil Palm. Beating soy’s yield by better than ten times, it is also the best oil for biodiesel manufacture, having the best chemical properties. It’s a tropical plant, not suited to much of the US…

There is an ecological disaster in the making, created by the demand for biodiesel…

Tropical rainforests are being destroyed to make way for Oil Palm. In Malaysia, some of the Earth’s most vital rainforests are being dozed and burned to make way for palms. The biggest new customer for this expanding industry is the European biodiesel industry. From the UK Guardian:

“The most destructive crop on earth is no solution to the energy crisis”,5673,1659036,00.html

The pattern is being repeated in Indonesia, Central America, and Brazil. Brazil is especially keen on the prospects; the Brazilian government has set use targets similar to those in the US:

“Brazil Takes the Biodiesel Route”

Brazil is moving aggressively to expand Oil Palm, soy, and Castor Bean. Only the last is being planted in otherwise “unused” land: Palm and soy production is claiming thousands of acres of rainforest annually.

And as petroleum prices outstrip biofuels prices the trend can only accelerate.

On a practical level, an environmentalist recognizes there are parts of the earth that are more valuable ecologically than the rest. Without a doubt, the most important terrestrial ecosystems are the tropical rainforests, accounting, as they do for a vastly disproportionate amount of total atmospheric renewal. Destroying the lungs of the earth to produce “clean” fuel is perhaps the greatest mistake technological man can make.

It shouldn’t be a surprise to any critically thinking person: It took nature millions of years to create the petroleum reserves we are consuming today, and the scale of that use is staggering. All biofuels suffer from the same defects as biodiesel: They are relatively expensive, their production is labor, land, and energy intensive, and they are fraught with unexpected environmental downsides. Oh, there are possibilities: An algae being investigated for biodiesel is believed to be capable of perhaps 100 times the yield per acre as its next competitor. But that’s tomorrow… Maybe…

And all other “renewable” energy sources have similar problems. Hydro power, wind farms, you name it – there is an ecological harm involved, and usually somebody ready to fight to prevent that harm…

Bottom line: Replacing the 80 million barrels of crude oil the world uses for fuel and the manufacture of a host of products including fertilizer, plastics, and chemicals EVERY DAY is a task too big for any one source or technology currently available and probably too big for all of them put together. But as long as the price remains high, markets will dictate the ongoing development of those alternatives. So there’s certainly a future for biodiesel… But it’s almost equally certain the future is a lot less rosy than the proponents of biodiesel want us to believe.

What’s needed is a hardheaded approach designed to “boondoggle proof” biodiesel and other biofuels. While it may be a societal good to, for example, mandate a biofuels fraction in fuel, it’s sure to backfire if the only way it works is to subsidize the industry, as has been the case with ethanol in the past. It has to pay – which makes the recent price news good news. And it has to prove it can pay its way environmentally, something as yet unproven.

So for now, caveat emptor…

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?