Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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January 23, 2011

'ETHANOL IS A JOKE'.... It's probably best to retire my ongoing count of John McCain's Sunday show appearances. As of this morning, the Arizona Republican has been on 27 times in just two years, but I think folks get the point -- Sunday show bookers continue to be obsessed with McCain, and they shouldn't be.

What I found interesting this morning, though, is what the conservative senator said this morning, during his sixth appearance on "Face the Nation" over the last 24 months.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) sees an easy target in the drive to cut spending while leaving no "sacred cow" untouched.

"Ethanol is a joke," he said Sunday on CBS' "Face the Nation," saying that programs promoting the corn-derived fuel are wasting millions.

That's certainly a reasonable position to take, but it's worth remembering that McCain went from being against ethanol (in 1999) to for it (in 2006) to against it again (in 2011), pulling off the hard-to-execute flip-flop-flip.

I can only assume McCain's latest reversal will be perceived by his media champions as evidence that the "McCain of old" might yet make a comeback.

Steve Benen 11:35 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (26)

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The advantage of flip flopping is that sometimes you're right.

Ethanol is a joke. So is McCain.

Posted by: foosion on January 23, 2011 at 11:46 AM | PERMALINK

I like the ongoing count of McCain appearances: it's a fantastic reminder of the vacuity of commercial news and influence peddling.

That said, the science and economics of ethanol - especially corn-based ethanol - has changed over time: I have great respect for politicians who will admit that their policy views have changed based on science and fact. McCain, on the other hand, uses policy positions as levers and bludgeons, and has no actual affinity for reality.

Posted by: Ahistoricality on January 23, 2011 at 11:55 AM | PERMALINK

Nah, McCain just doesn't remember his previous positions, or the reason for them.

He's the perfect example of a Markov Process Politician.

Posted by: charles on January 23, 2011 at 11:55 AM | PERMALINK

It's probably best to retire my ongoing count of John McCain's Sunday show appearances.

Say it ain't so!

Posted by: cr on January 23, 2011 at 12:08 PM | PERMALINK

Obviously they don't grow corn in Arizona. And McCain would favor ethanol subsidies if they did, or if they made ethanol from mixing sand and cacti.

It's politics.

Posted by: K in VA on January 23, 2011 at 12:13 PM | PERMALINK

I've read that Hemp might be a better source of biofuel: very easy to grow in temperatate latitudes and doesn't make inroads in our food supply.

Posted by: Evergreen2U on January 23, 2011 at 12:17 PM | PERMALINK

pulling off the hard-to-execute flip-flop-flip

there is no evidence that mccain "pulled it off". Most people likely take it as further evidence of mccain's irrelevance.

Posted by: pluege on January 23, 2011 at 12:21 PM | PERMALINK

And just think of all the offshoot industries of THAT biofuel. . .

Posted by: Michael on January 23, 2011 at 12:24 PM | PERMALINK

Or another sort of grass that will grow on marginal land:

Posted by: Evergreen2U on January 23, 2011 at 12:25 PM | PERMALINK

This time His Majesty Maverickiness McFlipflop has a good point indeed. Ethanol (at least from corn and/or as it's rigged up) is indeed a "joke." First, the energy/money cost to grow the corn pretty much ruins the value it provides, except for it not giving money to other nations that may not cherish our interests and values such as they are. Maybe giving money to our farmers instead of sheiks is an improvement, but it still costs us and is a net environmental question mark at best. The demand also drives up food prices (like in Mexico - very bad for poor people there) and that further reduces the supposed net advantage.

There are some decent or potentially decent non-corn-E (couldn't resist) alternatives, like switch grass, algae, and even hemp oil. (I rode in that Hempcar, it ran great.) Let's work more on them.

Second, it does oxygenate but is hard on lots of cars. Although E10 is rather widely accomodable (is that a word?), the push to raise to E15 would be disastrous for many older car owners (I mean 80s or even 90s, not 70s OK?) and not very good for even new ones that aren't specifically flex-fueled. Ethanol is mostly a political scam pushed by first-primary-fascist interests and for once or so some conservative thinkers have a point.

Posted by: neil b on January 23, 2011 at 12:31 PM | PERMALINK

Ha, don't abandon your first plan, the hemp industry is multidudinous :)

Posted by: Michael on January 23, 2011 at 12:31 PM | PERMALINK

Ethanol subsidies are a great example of how our presidential primary system distorts federal policy. My did McCain back ethanol in 2006? Because you can't win the Iowa Caucus unless you back ethanol. Now that he no longer needs to win the Iowa Caucus, McCain is free to base his policy preference on what is the right policy.

Posted by: fostert on January 23, 2011 at 12:36 PM | PERMALINK

Plus, it realeases a fair amount of carbons into the air in the making process, it's enviromental detriments make it not much of an alternative.

Posted by: Michael on January 23, 2011 at 12:37 PM | PERMALINK

12:31 is a t, not a d

Posted by: Michael on January 23, 2011 at 12:40 PM | PERMALINK

Far better would be for him to call for ending ALL energy subsidies, including those for petroleum and coal. This would have the effect of leveling the field for renewables, which otherwise cannot compete against petroleum. Failing that, let's at least ban subsidies for corn-based ethanol.

Posted by: baustrophedonic on January 23, 2011 at 12:41 PM | PERMALINK

Michael: that's interesting and could you give links to show the figuring. In theory, one of the bennies of using plant fuel is recycling carbon from the atmosphere instead of bringing in more as from underground. (So few people appreciate this.) But I think you mean, the effort put into raising the corn. That's part of the advantage of using hemp or switchgrass (just let it grow, few fertilizers, etc.)

Posted by: neil b on January 23, 2011 at 12:42 PM | PERMALINK

@neil, Its been awhile since I ran across the information, haha quite awhile, but i suspect you are correct that it is in the growing process.As for the hemp, there is so many uses for hemp as a replacement product, I believe there has been a push by major companies to not allow this poduct to market, majorly as its byproducts result . . .keeping it illegal.

Posted by: Michael on January 23, 2011 at 12:53 PM | PERMALINK

A historical note; There is still a lot of 'hemp' growing wild in the USA, as a result of the Japanese cutting off our supply of the fibers need to make Manila rope during WWII. Unfortunately, it is too low in TCP for recreational use.

That is NOT true, by the way, of the corn ethanol made in farmer owned distilleries throughout the midwest, and large amounts never make it to the gas tanks of cars and trucks.

Posted by: DAY on January 23, 2011 at 1:21 PM | PERMALINK

pulling off the hard-to-execute flip-flop-flip
Sounds like Dick Button describing iceskating at the Olympics...

Posted by: pol on January 23, 2011 at 1:52 PM | PERMALINK



The company, Joule Unlimited, was granted a patent in Sept. for their first in a series of microscopic organisms -- genetically altered versions of the E. coli bacteria -- that use sunlight and water in a process similar to photosynthesis to convert captured CO2 into usable crude oil.

They called it "Liquid Fuel From The Sun," which uses their "proprietary organism" to devour waste and defecate custom hydrocarbons. . .

It was apparently so promising that John Podesta -- the current president of the Center for American Progress who served as President Bill Clinton's former chief of staff and helped oversee President Obama's transition into power -- has joined Joule's board of directors.

I have seen and heard many proposals by renewable energy companies, and can unequivocally say that Joule has a technology and a system unlike any other, with industrial viability and a clear path to market within the next several years, Podesta said in a prepared statement.

"Unlike biofuel processes that require costly intermediates such as sugar, algal or agricultural biomass, Joule is the first to achieve and patent a direct, single-step, continuous process for the production of hydrocarbon fuels requiring no raw material feedstocks setting the stage for fossil fuel replacement at unprecedented efficiencies and costs as low as $30 per barrel equivalent," the company said in a media advisory.

Their first modified E. coli bacteria, which produced diesel fuel, allegedly outputs more energy than it takes in. This would ultimately lead to "unlimited supplies of ethanol and hydrocarbons without the high production costs or environmental consequences," according to Bill Sims, Joule's president and CEO.

Posted by: cld on January 23, 2011 at 2:08 PM | PERMALINK

I think the best predictor of a politician's position on ethanol is that politician's interest in the Iowa caucuses.

Posted by: biggerbox on January 23, 2011 at 2:17 PM | PERMALINK

pulling off the hard-to-execute flip-flop-flip.

...If he pulled it off, how hard can it be?

Posted by: weboy on January 23, 2011 at 2:30 PM | PERMALINK

Yes there was a conspiracy to make hemp illegal due to business interests, mostly Dupont, William Randolph Hearst, Andrew Mellon - Hoover’s Secretary of the Treasury and and "DuPont’s primary investor." (Shouldn't all public officials have to divest all shares before taking office?) (Compare the electric trolley takedown, etc.) To show it's a crossover concern, from Lew Rockwell:
Note that Henry Ford ran a hemp oil car!

Posted by: neil b on January 23, 2011 at 2:45 PM | PERMALINK

[...] pulling off the hard-to-execute flip-flop-flip. -- Steve Benen

I think the other term for the maneuver is "salto mortale" and it is, indeed, hard to pull off for someone his age and general physical condition.

Posted by: exlibra on January 23, 2011 at 4:11 PM | PERMALINK

The first comment by foosion is almost right. If you flip flop you're bound to be right on either the flip or the flop. Ethnanol, as it stands, is a joke. Future developments in the genetic modification of microbes may, in the future, make biomass conversion to fuels more economically feasible.

Posted by: Peter G on January 23, 2011 at 8:09 PM | PERMALINK

He's right, but I see a correlation between his stance when he's not running for President(ie., only representing Arizona) and when he was running for President(ie., trying to win votes in Midwestern states where BigAg is powerful. They don't grow many crops for ethanol production in Arizona.

Posted by: Tom on January 23, 2011 at 8:28 PM | PERMALINK



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