One of my regular criticisms of George W. Bush as President was, when presented with an opportunity to achieve greatness, he repeatedly failed to rise to the occasion. Indeed, his presidency can be viewed as a long series of missed opportunities:

“Once in a generation, the stars align for a political leader. There is this perfect moment – too often based on some enormous danger of long-lasting consequences for generations to come . . . the perfect combination of leadership and threat, of challenge and response meet. The leader – imperfect, fallible, yet ready to rise to the occasion – grabs the brass ring.”

That was what I wrote following 9/11. There was a moment to transcend politics. Restructure global alliances, refocus military spending away from its cold war footing, force some sort of Israeli/Palestine deal, wrestle structural US deficits to the ground. Rather than dare the nation to rise to the challenge, to make personal sacrifices for the greater good, to step up to greatness, the country was told to . . . go shopping.

Barack H. Obama seems to be following W’s footsteps. He has failed — twice — to is rise to an occasion of great import. In the words of White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, he has “wasted a good crisis” — for the  second time. The financial collapse was a grand opportunity to undo three decades of misguided decision-making and radical deregulation. He chose to focus on . . . Health Care.

Now, we have another crisis — the BP Gulf of Mexico disaster. And yet again, we see another missed opportunity. The Oval Office speech last week was just that — a speech, filled with platitudes and mere words. Where was the challenge, the sense of national need, the urgency? It was the same tired energy speech that, as The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart has pointed out, every single president since Nixon has given.

For the greatest orator of his generation, our president appears to be lacking in imagination.

I am not a presidential speechwriter, but if I were, this is what I would have suggested to President Obama that his less than historic, June 15, 2010 Oval Office speech should have looked like:


“Good evening, my fellow Americans.

On April 20th, an explosion ripped through BP Deepwater Horizon drilling rig, about 40 miles off the coast of Louisiana. It killed 11 people, began pouring oil into the Gulf of Mexico. Estimates of this leak have risen from 1,000 barrels per day a month and a half ago to as much as 100,000 barrels per day. The Gulf of Mexico is now endangered — the food that it produces, its pristine beaches, its travel and tourist destinations are all threatened with despoilation.  This is an environmental catastrophe of unprecedented proportions.

But there is worse news: This tragedy may be the future we are looking at. This may be the first of many such catastrophes we face in the years ahead. It is the result of a series of too many bad decision made by too many people about too many important things. Our corporate partners have made the inexpedient judgment to take on more risk in order to pursue greater profits. We saw this in both the banking sector, the auto industry, and most recently, at energy exploration companies.

Our regulators have become too cozy with their charges. Our Supreme Court somehow has mistakenly come to the conclusion that corporations are equivalent to Human Beings, with the same guarantees to free speech and political participation. We have failed to develop fully explore alternatives to fossil fuels. We have allowed ourselves to become so inured to the benefits of cheap, plentiful energy, that we have ignored their risks and costs.

We are in danger of losing our way, of no longer being a Democracy, and morphing instead into a corporatocracy — a nation of, by and for Corporations

This has gone on for far, far too long.

So tonight, I am proposing 10 sweeping changes for America:

1. Energy R&D: First, we need to recognize that a decade into the 21st century, we are as a nation overwhelmingly wed to 19th century fuel sources. What we need is a fundamental breakthrough in energy technology. Toward that end, I am convening a new “Manhattan Project” — only this time, it is for fundamental research into new forms of Energy. We need more than incremental improvements in solar and battery power, we need a major breakthrough that is the equivalent of the Atomic bomb in its magnitude.

I am requesting Congress Fund a $250 billion dollar Federal research agency to fund fundamental physics and chemistry research — into battery technology, solar efficiency, wind and wave power, thorium nuclear, and all manners of new ideas. The private sector has failed to do this over the past century, so it is up to we the people to get this accomplished.  (If we were able to find $185 billion dollars for AIG, then surely we can find $250B to secure our energy futures).

2. Gas Taxes: Gasoline is cheap and plentiful. This has encouraged us to be incredibly wasteful in our energy choices. We are the only industrialized western nation that has not implemented some form of disincentive to to be so profligate in our fuel consumption. Hence, we will be phasing in Pigou taxes over the next 10 cents per year for the next 10 years for a total of $1.00 per gallon of gasoline by 2010.

The US consumes 16 million barrels of gasoline a day. Automobiles use nearly 10 million of those barrels — about 400,000,000 gallons per day. We want to slow that consumption, and channel the pigou taxes into productive research and mass transit. Speaking of which:

3. Mass Transit: I am implementing a massive overhaul of our national mass transit. We are too inefficient in how much energy we consume merely getting around from place to place. Hi Speed rail between cities, increased rail within the cities, natural gas burning buses, and electric vehicles will become the standard.

4. CAFE Standards: For local driving, we need to also be more efficient. Thus, we will raise our national Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards for automobiles. We were making progress in the 1970s and early 80s, but we got complacent. I am confident that our auto engineers and manufacturers will find a way to deign more efficient vehicles.

We will work closely with those who want to convert our long haul trucking fleet to natural gas. We will figure out how to get this done.

5. Alternative Energy for Homes: I have already established tax credits for making homes more efficient, replacing old furnaces, upgrading insulation and windows. But we can do better. So we will be offering a new set of tax credits for alternative energy sources at the home level. Solar, geothermal, wind will all be subsidized by a federal tax credits for home and multi-unit apartment owners.

6. Upgrade the Grid: Our existing energy grid is antiquated, inefficient and problematic. I am appointing a panel of scientific experts to make recommendations to upgrade the electric grid, transmit power more efficiently, and help to reduce black outs. Further, we need to make the grid more secure from attack from overseas hackers and others who would use our open society to do us harm.

7. Campaign Finance Reform: I have appointed my old colleague, John McCain, as head of a task force on campaign finance reform. Both sides of the aisle have become corrupted by the money in politics. No one knows the campaign finance rules better than John, who has been working on this issue for decades. The time has come for reform, to prevent the banksters and the oil company lobbyists from having their way.

8. Lobbying Rules: The revolving door between regulators and industry, between Congress (and Congressional staffers) and lobbying firms is totally unacceptable. Whether its Toyota and Auto safety regulation, the SEC and Corporate defendants, or BP and mineral and mining agency that supervised them. , it will no longer be tolerated.

Hence, as CEO of the Executive Branch, I am putting a 5 year waiting period before you can leave government employment and take a job with the industry you were regulating. For Congress members and their Congressional staffers, you cannot go into any industry covered by the elected official you worked with. This includes any legislation they worked upon. This moratorium will also be submitted as legislation for Congress to pass, and woe to the lawmaker who votes against it.

9. Corporate Donations:  The Supreme Court’s recent decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission granted “corporate personhood” — it gave corporations the same speech rights as flesh-and-blood human beings. This was an error, and was not what the founders envisioned when they wrote “We the People.” Hence, I have introduced legislation into Congress to reverse that Supreme Court decision.

10. Transparent Disclosure: Finally, we are mandating a completely transparent system of disclosures — for all campaign donations, lobbying activity, and any and all donations to groups that engage in lobbying. You have the right to give money to whatever groups are trying to influence legislation . . . but the people have a right to know what was given to whom and for what purpose. All of this information will be published on publicly available websites.

My past 6 predecessors in this office all made similar promises — but the danger was not acute enough to get the nation to act. The Gulf tragedy has now focused our attention in a way that perhaps never was before. It will require effort, sacrifice, hardship. But it will also create new jobs, develop new industries, and put the United States on firmer footing to be a world leader in energy.

In the end, we will be a better nation for it — stronger, more secure, wealthier — for the sacrifices I am calling upon all of us to make.

Good night, and God bless America.


That is the speech I would have had the President make. Truly inspiring leaders, when presented with terrible situations, find a way rise to the occasion, to achieve greatness. He missed the last time out. If the mess in the gulf gets appreciably worse, he will have one last opportunity. I hope he doesn’t pass up the chance yet again.


The Tragedy of the Bush Administration (November 2nd, 2004)

Tactical Error: Health Care vs Finance Regulatory Reform (September 9th, 2009)

Category: Bailouts, Energy, Politics, Really, really bad calls, Regulation, War/Defense

Please use the comments to demonstrate your own ignorance, unfamiliarity with empirical data and lack of respect for scientific knowledge. Be sure to create straw men and argue against things I have neither said nor implied. If you could repeat previously discredited memes or steer the conversation into irrelevant, off topic discussions, it would be appreciated. Lastly, kindly forgo all civility in your discourse . . . you are, after all, anonymous.

121 Responses to “Missed Opportunity: BP Gulf of Mexico Disaster”

  1. Mike in Nola says:

    Once again you reveal yourself as a hopeless optimist.

    My view of the future is Charlton Heston shouting “Soylent Green is made from people.”

  2. cewing says:

    Two thoughts:

    1. I would say Health Care is a pretty big deal. I’m glad Obama focused on it, although the result left much to be desired.

    2. Governing by crisis is a horrible idea, precisely because of what happened during the Bush administration. Governments that need a national emergency to make decisions are no better than dictatorships.


    BR: My issue with Health Care was the timing of it. He should have done Health Care AFTER Financial reform

  3. Lariat1 says:

    You are spot on. After 9/11, Bush could have done anything, the world had paused and exactly, we went shopping. Why don’t they step up when needed? (even Obama). Could getting reelected to that second term be that important that it overshadows every decision that is made? I seriously can’t fathom why we don’t have great leaders anymore. I may be naive, but I want to believe that during great troubling times, someone is capable of rising to the occasion.

  4. YY says:

    A wonderful post BR and just hitting the bulls eye. But…

    Reality is that leadership simply does not exist anymore, this is a complex world ruled by narrow interests often driven to zero-sum thinking.

    Leadership can exist only if leaders feel that they have the trust of a wide base in society, as you suggested this happens only fleetingly, so much so that it can be perceived as a power-grab should they act decisively (in much the same way Bush handled military and freedom of movement and expression issues after 2001).

    Oh well…

  5. Crabbybill says:

    Does that Washington Kool-Aid come in different flavors?

    This list or the need to make the let’s fix the world list, is why it seems that the problem at hand never actually is fixed. Why not establish the credibility by actually implementing drilling standards and the enforcement system? Why not put in formalize the framework that establishes regional response systems/plans that are generic by design, but allowing quick first and second response mobilization, with specific tactics/expert personnel centralized and ready for dispatch. Why not systematize the concept of the immediate financial mitigation of economic damage — that part of the BP fiasco may actually help!


    BR: That is an excellent suggestion, but I think you may have this blog — The BIG Picture — confused with another blog, called The Micro-Granular-Detailed-Very-Specific Picture. (I don’t have the URL handy for that one).

  6. flipspiceland says:

    You assume ‘greatness’ is the brass ring these puppets strive for when nothing could be further from the truth.

    What is sought after by these temporary lumpkins, all of them, is the increase in the personal fortunes of their men behind the curtain, and after leaving office, their own personal fortunes measured purely in cash.

    These criminal class clowns know that it will be future paid for revisionists who will paint the best possible picture of their reign.

    ‘Greatness’ is an impossible goal in a world as complex, interconnected, and at odds with each other as ours is, a ‘zero sum’ game with the only possible positive outcome being the guaraneed one: You will be materially wealth beyond your wildest dreams at the end of your 4 yr 8 yr temp job,

    And all the while you get the use of the limo, Air Force One and Two, Marine One and Two, and all that adulation from those wishing to blow you for some favor you are able to be grant. like Marc Rich is enjoying right this moment courtesy of bill crooked dick clinton. Wonder how many millions that cost the billionaire.

  7. Transor Z says:

    Agree with BR’s reform agenda but cewing at 8:07 am makes a really important point. We don’t need more bully-pulpit stuff from the Executive as much as we desperately need the fucking Congress to do its job.

    Historically, mostly bad things happen when the people give the Executive (king, generalissimo, emperor, etc.) a broad mandate to “rescue us” from crisis.

    There are no fucking easy solutions and the whole point of this whole mess is people refusing to do the complicated hard work year in and year out to build and maintain a healthy society and economy. The idea of an enlightened despot/president riding to the rescue is more short-term/quick-fix thinking.

    Barry, as much as I respect and share your list of concerns, what you are calling for is really more Bailout Nation when you think about it — but in the political arena instead of the economic one. Congress jerks off for a few decades, abdicating their duties to the Executive while playing partisan games to avoid accountability and the American people let them by tuning out of civic life and getting fat. Now comes the Day of Reckoning. The answer can’t be to have a philospher-king wave his holy hand and sweep decades of shit away. People have to get off their asses, find some integrity, and do the heavy lifting.

  8. TBJ says:


    Would you ever consider running for president? Our nation needs your objectivity, unbias analysis, and dedication to imporving this nation. I am quite pissed that during my lifetime this country’s leaders have been blind to the potential of this country to create a peaceful, sustainable world.

  9. Run for office?

    I am too impatient, and don’t like people enough to fake the diplomacy necessary.

    There is also my unfortunate truth telling tendencies, and my inclination to call the assholes of the world, well, assholes.

    I have other things on TTD list.

  10. Greg0658 says:

    11. I am request’g Peter Orszag form a panel of experts to design a 22nd century economic system based on some other ‘ism than what exists today .. maybe called Utopianism – maybe another name .. but understanding the desires of a small number of activitist/combatants can have such dire consequences on the world over .. that a new system must be developed to halt such activities .. and that system would revolve around removing the cash incentive for personal gain.
    This Corporatocracy I spoke of earlier .. required this day and age with the technological advances of human activities, needs a rein in for their and our own good.

    _end_ Peter Orszag turns in his resignation the next morning.

  11. jjay says:

    Obama wasn’t put into power to “Change” anything unless it involves stripping the average citizen of the last of his rights or treasure.
    You’ve got him confused with Perot, Buchanan, or possibly Ron Paul, who Joe Six Pack ridiculed or ignored. Those three offered at least a slim hope of turning the tide in favor of the proles.
    The Imperial Wars will on and on, the Corporate Loooting will go on and on, the debasement of the currency will go on and on, the shredding of the Constitution will go on and on.
    The people in power do not care about the people or economy of the USA as a going concern.
    They are in the final process of the liquidation of both.


    BR: And people say I’m cynical . . .

  12. Marcus Aurelius says:

    America thought they were electing a progressive who would set the Corporatist overreaching and criminality of Bushco straight. What we got was a new corporatist boss who is exactly the same as the old boss.

    BR, while your list of recommendations for things economic is good, there are also some REAL shenanigans that need fixing elsewhere. A partial list:

    1. Return to recognition of Habeas Corpus (including the repeal of all laws and reversal of SCOTUS decisions — by the enactment of legislation — that empower the government to deny any person due process and equal protection under the law)

    2. End government spying on citizens

    3. Re-empowerment of regulatory agencies, across the board

    4. Real healthcare reform

    5. Ending the reliance on mercenary forces to operate outside the legal constrictions on our military

    There are a host of others. Writing this has made me realize exactly how far around the bend we’ve gone.

  13. bocon007 says:

    What about eliminating $35 billion in tax breaks for the oil industry? When the American public pays the real price of a gallon of gas, they will more willingly embrace the national project envisioned in your post.

    Many people have faulted President Obama for focusing on healthcare instead of financial reform when first elected. While I agree financial reform measures would have come much easier for a first-year President following the market collapse and subsequent bailouts, I don’t fault the President for placing healthcare reform higher on the list. For an increasing number of Americans, healthcare reform had become, quite literally, a matter of life and death.

  14. Marcus Aurelius says:



    jjay Says:

    “You’ve got him confused with Perot, Buchanan, or possibly Ron Paul.”

    What? You must have a major liking for the crazy. Perot dropped out of the race for President based on a wild and cockamamie story about his daughter’s wedding (after ruining the reputation of James Stockdale by choosing him as a running mate). Buchanan hasn’t bee right about much for years, if ever. While Paul’s efforts to end the Fed (as we know it) and the wars are admirable, Libertarian ideas for government are half-baked and easily overcome by honest, rational scrutiny.

    You left out Lyndon LaRouche.

    The real man to lead America is the often reviled and mostly correct (in the final analysis) Dennis Kucinich (with paul as a V.P.. if he’d promise not to go all religious right on us should something happen to DK).

  15. bondjel says:

    Wow, your speech ideas are great. I hope he reads The BIG Picture. I don’t agree that his focus on healthcare was misguided, I do believe it is likely the single biggest threat to our national financial solvency and with all the handwringing about our solvency lately people should be more focused on healthcare costs. I suspect they would be except for right-wing ideology and the public’s fears of change.

  16. JSchmid says:

    The Department of energy has been around for over30 years now and its sole task at its creation was to end the US dependence on foreign oil. Since then we have increased our dependence on foreign oil despite spending over $25bln /year in recent history.

    This not only seems to be a complete failure, but rather an EPIC Failure. We should eliminate the DOE and use $5bln / year in energy research and another $1bln in contests that reward private industry for reaching new energy standards or milestones.

  17. krice2001 says:

    Barry – I generally agree with you and frankly listen to you anyway, since you’re more astute than me in most of the topics you cover.

    I agree with your points, clearly we have become a corporatocracy leaving the left and right fight over who governs for what really have become social isses – Choice, Seperation of Church and State, Family Values. The left amr right still think they’re fighting over how business is conducted but it is hard to see any difference right now, at least.

    The only issue I have with your list is that the partisans can make hay from so many of your valid points and effectively turn them into horrible negatives (anti-business! Increasing the decificit!). I can gear it now. And then there’s the lobbyists. I just can’t see anyone having the fortitude to actually try to do this.

  18. wally says:

    A good opening paragraph to a speech does not sweep aside generations of controversy, economically opposing positions, prejudices and just plain unreasonable silliness.

  19. cswake says:

    “Libertarian ideas for government are half-baked and easily overcome by honest, rational scrutiny.”

    And that’s why a Federal government following those principles for its first ~150 years allowed a country to become the wealthiest, freest nation in the history of man. Remember, we are a Republic that allows the States individually to solve your “half-baked” problems, rather than turning the entire system into a centralized power-grab that corrupts nearly everything in Washington, D.C.

    Which leads into Barry’s suggestions. They might be decent at face-value and could work in a perfect world, but the reality is that all of them would amount to more crony capitalism and anyone who does not see our Federal institution as fully corrupt is blind. The last thing we need to do is to give Washington more power and/or money.


    BR: Nothing we can do, just accept our fate and lie back and enjoy it? Don’t even bother to try to fix what lies at the root of the corruption? Lobbying, dirty money, corportae control — you are ok with that? And how can the states solve these problems? How have they addressed ANY of the recent big problems?

    Your comments are as perplexing as they are inane

  20. Init4good says:

    Could getting reelected to that second term be that important that it overshadows every decision that is made? YES

  21. morning_star says:

    Ritholtz for President!

    (Yes, I know you don’t want the job, but the country needs you)

  22. Forbes says:

    “Be not afraid of greatness: some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them”. – (Quote : Twelfth Night, Act II, Scene V).

    Notwithstanding Bill’s prescient observations of leadership I am confused with BR’s alternate speech.

    The alternate speech that BR has proposes is very similar (points one through six) if not identical to the one Obama gave and it is precisely that one third of the Obama speech that was dedicated to the energy agenda that in part is why his speech received such bad reviews.

  23. zitidiamond says:

    Gas tax? You mean “strip mall tax” because it taxes frequent trips for beer and cigarettes.

  24. ItalicBold says:

    Why are we all so paralyzed by this need for leadership?

  25. wngoju says:

    BR – wow. outstanding.

  26. V says:

    This really does need to meet the desk of the President.

    The world is waiting for a new approach and someone who is willing to be bold. It is primarily about restoring free markets from the captured creations they have become.

    Get this guy consulting for starters.

  27. tenaciousd says:

    Item #9 is tantamount to declaring aboliton of slavery in 1859. I honestly believe it could spark a civil war.

  28. WFTA says:

    I recall thinking in 1983, when we were coming off the oil shocks of the ‘70’s, that now would be a great time to impose additional taxes on gasoline—people were accustomed to higher prices; we had learned to be mileage conscious. Why not keep us that way?

    $0.10 per gallon additional tax from that time until today would have yielded almost $400 billions and perhaps we would never have seen a Hum Vee on an American street.

  29. BR,

    We’d be more likely to hear a Speech like that if We were, actually, Represented by any of our recent “Administrations”.

    But, POVs like:

    jjay Says: June 22nd, 2010 at 8:33 am

    Obama wasn’t put into power to “Change” anything unless it involves stripping the average citizen of the last of his rights or treasure.
    You’ve got him confused with Perot, Buchanan, or possibly Ron Paul, who Joe Six Pack ridiculed or ignored. Those three offered at least a slim hope of turning the tide in favor of the proles.
    The Imperial Wars will on and on, the Corporate Loooting will go on and on, the debasement of the currency will go on and on, the shredding of the Constitution will go on and on.
    The people in power do not care about the people or economy of the USA as a going concern.
    They are in the final process of the liquidation of both.

    are, much, too reflective of the governing actuality..

    though, most likely, wading through these eddies..

    far away from the “Mainstream”, will land a sufficient Catch, with which one may begin to “Catch-On”..

  30. thetruthseeker says:

    cswake: Thank God, someone on here gets it right. I love the fact that these progressives, which Barry clearly is, just think that you need the right people in the Federal Government to come in and “fix” everything. They think that if you just throw a bunch of money at the energy issue that you will create the new breakthrough automatically. It will come in its due time, but you cannot force the technological leap forward just by spending more money. There are billions already being spent on this issue, throwing more money at it won’t automatically solve it. For a group that likes to think of themselves as an educated elite, smarter than the rest of us mere mortals, this is certainly a very simplistic and naive point of view. Once again though, the progressive sees the answer to all of our problems as simply electing the right, intelligent person to “fix” the problems. This is precisely why otherwise smart and sane individuals became so enamored with Obama. He was their intellectual Messiah. How perfectly ironic given that he is and always has been just an empty suit full of empty words and inaction.

    The system is corrupt from top to bottom. The only way to fix that is through the rule of law, not the rule of men. The sad thing is that your Harvard MBA leaders have run your companies and governments into the ground. Meanwhile, us hicks, hayseeds and rubes in Middle America seem to be holding up quite a bit better. I guess it is just God showing his mercy on us ignorant, simple-minded folk. Wake up, you East Coast snobs. Try this article on for size by the great Thomas Sowell.


    BR: On a personal note, you will find that I do not fit neatly into any one category. That whole, non-ideological pragmatism thingie at work.

    But I do think we the people have the right, as self-governing members of a democracy, to protect ourselves from banksters and frauds and corporate abuses.

    In terms of the “right people” in government — I’d be happy with a group not hell bent on destroying the nation (like the last group of idiots). The present group of idiots aint much better — less venal,but no more competent.

    While I do like the idea of nonideological pragmatic technocrats like Mike Bloomberg, the system is supposed to work regardless of who is in office.

    Your Tom Sowell is the opposite of the nonideological pragmatic technocrats — he adjusts the facts to fit his theories. He certainly is not data driven. I find that the people who are impressed with him have very fixed ideological beliefs. Partisan, you might even note.

  31. constantnormal says:

    The odds of the Bananamericans receiving reform from the politicians who have made reform necessary is less likely than BP’s plugging their blowout in the Gulf.

    When you look upon that, drilling relief wells and injecting cement at the bottom of a blowout, several miles deep beneath a mile of water, in the middle of hurricane season, against humongous pressures from within the well, something that has never before been attempted under these conditions, it simply must be viewed as a thousand-yard Hail Mary pass to try and resolve the situation (so we can return to Business As Usual). You should plan on having oil drench the eastern seaboard for a Very Long Time, and be lapping up along the coastline of Merry Olde England by next year, as the blowout continues to empty into the Gulf Stream. And pray that we do not wind up experimenting with higher-risk “solutions” that could make a horrible situation worse (like learning how to nuke a blowout closed — or open — using the trial and error approach) .

    Similarly, dreaming of a spontaneous conversion of the corrupt Congress and White House is akin to clicking your heels together and repeating “There’s no place like Home” to cause one to awaken from this nightmare of a corpocracy. Just as we are almost certainly doomed to decades of oil “spills” in our global climate-changing future, we are similarly doomed to a future of goobermint malfeasance in a system they have designed to be immune from voter influence.

    At least until the Revolution arrives, or we have enough elections where ALL republican and democrat candidates are tossed aside in favor of candidates from the lunatic fringe. But I suspect that would only spur our national party duopoly to enact legislation barring election of candidates for national office other than from their slimy organizations.

    We ARE Soylent Green.

  32. halejoseph says:

    Barry, that is precisely why America needs someone like you.

  33. The Curmudgeon says:

    States exist for the foundational purpose of providing security. Great leaders achieve greatness when the security of the state is threatened in an existential way. As bad as 9/11 was, it was hardly a threat to our existence, or even to our international hegemony.

    The Gulf oil spill is even less threatening to our existence. Whether all our efforts ultimately fail or not really does not matter. The oil will eventually stop spewing and the ocean will recover. Pristine white sand beaches are a luxury, not a necessity. The world won’t stop because some vacation plans went awry. The Florida coast is in many ways is a testament to man’s folly when he has more dollars than sense, building billion dollar projects along beaches that are regularly raked by hurricanes.

    The reason we haven’t seen any great leaders in America in the last couple of decades is because America is existentially secure. Bill Clinton would probably have been another FDR had he enjoyed the luxury of governing during an a major conflict. Instead, he let a blue dress squander a legacy of governance that was competent for its time. He didn’t do anything governmentally stupid, like his Bush bookends, that history will record as two of the greatest war-mongers in US history.

    Instead of using the Gulf spill to galvanize a remaking of society, Obama should use his cool demeanor to calmly explain that things will work out for the best, which they will, if he lets them. Searching for new energy sources is nice, but even with a $100 billion Gulf spill, oil is still cheaper than anything else out there for the time being, and stupidly wasting societal resources on more expensive energy resources could ultimately yield that existential threat from which all great leaders arise.

  34. Chief Tomahawk says:

    BR, but then the ‘special interests’ would get hold of it, and by the time they were done, it would funnel most of the money inappropriately: to a financial bailout and to build more houses.

    “There is also my unfortunate truth telling tendencies, and my inclination to call the assholes of the world, well, assholes.” Isn’t the politically correct phrasing “a hole in the ass”?

  35. zitidiamond says:

    Two-in-one! Chief Justice John Roberts’ deal of the century! Now, Ray Tillerson can enjoy the free speech rights of Ray Tillerson, US Citizen, and Exxon, US Corporation.

  36. Patrick Neid says:

    #4 , the rest is just the same old same old with new fringe.

  37. VangelV says:

    Once again you reveal yourself as a confused statist. America’s greatest presidents were those that chose to do as little as possible because they recognized the greatness of the American people and the relatively free marketplace. Harding faced a huge economic crisis after the end of WW I that saw a major contraction in economic activity as the economy had to adjust. By cutting taxes and spending he allowed it to liquidate malinvestments and to recover swiftly. Yet, people like you consider him a bad president. At the same time FDR continued meddling as Hoover did before him and turned a needed contraction into a Great Depression. Yet, people like him consider him a great president. Wilson’s meddling prolonged WW I and led to the fall of the Kerenski government in Russia. That gave the world Lenin and Stalin. It also imposed a punitive settlement on Germany that allowed Hitler to rise to power and led to a major war that killed millions of people. Yet, people like you consider Wilson a great president.

    If you believe in individual liberty, personal responsibility, and the rule of law you do not want activist presidents who use crises to expand the power of government and take the country further down the road to serfdom.


    BR: So, Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, Truman, Reagan did nothing? Your read of WWI is wildly off — go read (Pulitzer Prize winning book) Lords of Finance. And FDR — not really involved in WWII?

    Please do not assume things about me. I have no views on Wilson, I support the rule of law.

    I enjoyed Hayek as an intellectual exercise, but I am too pragmatic to ignore real world solutions to problems. I detest partisans and idealogues and those who slavishly are devoted to to inflexible idealogies.

  38. Niskyboy says:

    Well, as problematic as drilling for oil is, we can’t really overlook how much energy there is in a gallon of gasoline, now can we? Chemistry can be such an inconvenience, but gasoline has a huge amount of available energy, and it is delivered in a convenient form that can be stored ffor a long time. What else besides gasoline are you going to use to propel a 3,500-pound car loaded with family and luggage over long distances at highway speeds? (OK, OK, diesel, natural gas, sure — but the point is, there’s a ton of available energy in fossil fuels, which is why we use them in the first place.)

    Therefore, although I certainly like your point #4, for my two cents it’s lacking in oomph because it’s really the MAIN point which should be emphasized. You like graphs — plot some showing the increase in engine fuel economy versus both emissions and horsepower outputs since 1970, for both gasoline and diesel engines. They are pretty impressive, and we’re nowhere near finished. For example, one could view hybrids not primarily as a step toward fully electric vehicles, but the other way, as an improvement to what is primarily an internal combustion engine-based power system.

    When an alternative energy source actually delivers enough energy — and conveniently — to be a real threat to gasoline, is when people will switch to it. Not before. Therefore, let’s stop shoveling so much R&D money into this futuristic stuff, and pour a lot more R&D funds into internal combusion engine development. It’s not trendy, granted, but it’s a winner.

    Separately, a pet peeve — better batteries. Please, you’d have to be a beliver in perpetual motion machines. Lithium is dangeous anyway– remember the laptop battery fires of a few years ago? Think that’s solved? Go ahead and drop your laptop 10 times and see how long it takes for the battery to catch fire afterward. Up here in the Albany, NY area the streets are full of potholes and other drivers are as crazy as they are anywere else — there’s no way can a lithium-battery-powered car achieve the same levels of safety current vehicles achieve routinely. And, of course, no existing or imagined lithium battery can deliver as much energy as a lowly gallon of gasoline.

  39. franklin411 says:

    It can’t be a missed opportunity unless there’s an actual chance of enactment.

    We’ve never, in the history of this Republic, had a political party entirely devoted to obstructing the governance of this nation AT ALL. We have never had the filibuster used on EVERY bill introduced in Congress.

    What we’ve had since January 2009 is a coup. The Republicans have rebelled against democracy, and they are using the rights and privileges of the democratic process to pursue their revolt.

    In this, the Republican Party is no different than Al Qaeda.

  40. RC says:

    You dont need $250 billion for energy innovation. Just $16 billion would do.
    American Energy Innovation Council is proposing a plan for the government to spend $16 billion in specific Energy related ideas that includes Solar, Nuclear (my favorite) and others. It is here

    Bill Gates is promoting this idea. He is talking a little bit of his book, because he has got investment in TerraPower, Nuclear revolutionary technology, but his heart is in the right place. Bill Gates might revolutionize life second time in his life time. That would be amazing !!!!

  41. wrongway says:

    Greatness? I would settle for simple competence.

    Obama should have said “We are going to focus all of our efforts and resources on plugging the hole in the gulf and on cleaning up the mess.” Then actually do it.

    After 9/11, Bush should have said “We are going to focus all of our efforts and resources on capturing Osama Bin Laden and stamping out Al Qaida.” Then actually do it.

    Instead of grandiose speeches and schemes, we need to focus and commit to solving individual problems. That way we would actually accomplish something.

  42. wunsacon says:

    >> “Libertarian ideas for government are half-baked and easily overcome by honest, rational scrutiny.”
    >> And that’s why a Federal government following those principles for its first ~150 years allowed a country to become the wealthiest, freest nation in the history of man.

    First, which of the founding fathers were “libertarian”? Which of the Bill of Rights are “libertarian”? When I listen to you libertarians, you seem to want to claim ownership of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Hey, don’t you know those were *liberal*, *progressive* ideas, too?

    Second, when it comes to the “wealthiest” nation, you read too much causality into the correlation (especially to support your interpretations). The US was an imperial nation for its first 150 years. (Well, it still is, except that we had an “easier go” at it many years ago.) And it ran on immigration and slavery for most of that time, too. (Read “Slavery by Any Other Name”.) Great for some people. Sure, “GDP grew”. But, it was cr@p for many. Endless resources and no one to threaten us. You’re going to claim all that was thanks to your party ideas?

  43. constantnormal says:

    BR, it’s not at all clear whether you mean a cumulative penny a year for ten years or a cumulative dime a year for a decade (re: “pigou” gas tax), but either one will do nothing in-so-far-as the consumer consciousness, as they are well within the normal variation of gas price fluctuations.

    If you really want a “pigou” tax on gasoline, I suggest a nickel a month of cumulative taxes for a decade. That would be gentle enough to not crash the economy, yet large enough to get people’s attention — and in any of these schemes, our gas prices at the end of a decade would STILL be the cheapest in the developed world …

    However, I think that we are past the point at which government encouragement is necessary, with the arrival of hundreds of millions of Chinese and Indian drivers, gas prices are going to rise all by themselves at a much faster clip. Reality is in the process of applying its own “pigou” tax.

    Rather than a “pigou” tax on gasoline, I would think that an outright ban on oil heating should be imposed everywhere in the US, with heating oil deliveries ceasing as of 12/31/2012. We have abundant natural gas supplies which should be used to replace those usages, in the event that the homeowners do not opt for your alternative energy tax credits.


    BR: 10 cents per gallon added per year — $1 per gallon gas tax by 2010

  44. The Curmudgeon says:

    Your lizard eyes are clouding your view F411. If the Republicans are obstructionist, it is because they can be–it is because they have political support for obstructionism. Aside from it being a bit disingenuous to blame minority Republican trolls for the failure of your enlightened Progressives to get all that they wish in the legislature, it simply isn’t true. Name a legislative initiative that hasn’t passed because of Republicans.

    Besides, as one that sees all colors through a political prism, you should be happy the Republicans are obstructionist. It will make them look like fools when your re-engineered society brings peace and happiness to the world.

  45. Mannwich says:

    @Transor: I believe you nailed it. Well done.

  46. xnycpdx says:

    “We are in danger of losing our way, of no longer being a Democracy, and morphing instead into a corporatocracy — a nation of, by and for Corporations”

    teh funny, that one. we have officially been a corporatocracy since the Battle for Seattle… ‘real’ people are just beginning to notice, is all.

  47. constantnormal says:

    @RC 10:21 am

    Re: Bill Gates and TerraPower — you need to investigate a bit before placing too much hope on that. TerraPower is at this time only a paper company, they have never built even a demonstration or prototype of any of their designs, and there is thus no basis to assume they will either work or be profitable.

    What Bill Gates is doing by trumpeting his nuclear power solution is to try and get the government to pay for his development costs, at which point he will, assuming it all pans out, take all the profits.

    A more probable course of investment is to ramp up the Navy’s shoestring funding of Dr Bussard’s Polywell fusion technology, which has actual prototypes (or at least proof of concept hardware) and has demonstrated net positive energy production, something that billions of dollars of Tokamak fusion research have failed to do. This too may fail in being able to be scaled up to usable levels, but it’s a lot closer than anything else.

    And in ramping up this effort, the amounts spent by the Navy to date is on the order of a hundred million dollars, a mere billion would speed things up a lot.

  48. Mannwich says:

    And GREAT points, wunsacon. Some people long for a U.S. that never was, but only lived (or still lives) in their minds.

  49. Transor Z says:


    Wow, you’re out of your freakin’ tree, buddy. Wilson staunchly opposed the punitive terms of Versailles and also proposed global divestment from colonial holdings and democratic self-determination as a general principle. Do you actually know what the Fourteen Points were??? Wilson’s 1917 intervention caused the Bolshevik revolution of October 1917 — WTF??? Don’t you know that the US intervened militarily in support of the anti-Bolshevist insurgency by the White Army and actually sent troops into Russia to fight the Red Army until 1919??? You have NO CLUE what you are talking about and your comment made everyone a little dumber. May God have mercy on your soul.


    I think it boils down to whether the burning up of all of those cheap BTUs has enriched human civilization in a lasting way — and laid the foundation for weaning ourselves off of it. Unfortunately, our consumption pattern has been more like bacteria than sentient/planful beings.

  50. Init4good says:

    @Curmudgeon – very prescient – The reason we haven’t seen any great leaders in America in the last couple of decades is because America is existentially secure.

  51. louiswi says:

    The best way to look at the political establishment today is to make a comparison to Major League Baseball. For example, A small group of teamowners control every single aspect of the game with absolutely nothing left to chance. Oh you say, “are you saying the games are fixed?” “Of course not”, I say, “the outcome of the games have nothing to do with the real interests of the owners which is solely financial.”

    In the same way, a small group of people have complete control of the political establishment and absolutely nothing is left to chance. Oh, the lefties and righties, the idealogues, the patriots etc etc all think they have a voice in the outcome but the facts are, the outcome of an election is irrelevant. Nothing is left to chance. Their guy always wins as their guys are the only players. That is why we see Obama appearing more and more like GW.

    The small group of people who are leaving nothing to chance? A handful of corporate heads, one or two media types, military/industrial folks, Israeli reps and a small handful of minor players.

  52. Marcus Aurelius says:


    I can’t tell if you’re misreading history or trying to rewrite it, but Presidents that did nothing forced those who followed them to do something (usually something radical), as we are currently relearning (although I don’t think Obama is up to the task).

    As globalization is teaching us, the American people aren’t any greater than people anywhere else. In fact, we’re getting our asses handed to us.

    Your “relatively free” marketplace included child labor, subsistence farming, company towns, government paid union busters, slavery, and a long series of land grabs.

    FDR’s policies created the middle class. They (along with Eisenhower’s highway system) pulled us into the 20th century. There is a very strong correlation between high taxes on the wealthy and the growth of the middle class. Make of that relationship what you will, there’s also the current wreckage to our economy to consider, which took place despite (actually because of) tax cuts, deregulation, the lax enforcement of laws as they pertain to the wealthy and powerful, and the elevation of the corporate body to super human status.

    Your chain of events regarding despots of the 20th century and how they came to power is cherry picking of the first order.

  53. Init4good says:

    There are some great minds on this board. Oh, that they could somehow be harnessed for the good of mankind.

  54. tawm says:

    #2) Raise Taxes? JFC, the government takes ENOUGH in taxes. There are better ways to encourage conservation (and achieve other policy goals) than raising TAXES. Until government shows that it can manage its finances responsibly (a long shot), there is simply no justification for sucking more out of the private sector. None!

  55. freejack says:

    Great ideas BR, but I’ll take issue with the idea that “Gasoline is cheap and plentiful”.
    Access to Middle Eastern oil is our greatest national security issue (and yeah, I live in NYC so I know all about the GWOT) so how cheap is oil when you factor in how much the oil industry is being subsidised via the DOD budget.
    From Amory Lovins @ RMI
    ‘Winning the oil end game’ pp 22(44)-23(45)
    Published March 2005

    “That is,the U.S. pays two to three times as much to maintain military forces poised to
    intervene in the Gulf as it pays to buy oil from the Gulf. By claiming that we’d
    need most of those forces anyway, and that their presence is largely altruistic,
    some analysts select numerators and denominators that can translate
    $54–86b/y into per-barrel costs around $2 rather than, say, $77. Econometrics
    and calculations of military-plus-Strategic-Petroleum-Reserve
    costs estimated just $10/bbl before 1991. But all these figures understate
    the distortion of paying oil-related military costs in taxes and blood, not
    at the pump, because they count only Central Command. The Pentagon’s
    other unified commands are also having to set aside many of the other
    missions that they have trained for, as they are “slowly but surely being converted into a global oil-protection service”—for example, Southern Command in Colombia, European Command in Africa (except the Horn) and the Republic of Georgia, Pacific Command in two oceans, and
    Northern Command in undisclosed places. DoD doesn’t do activity-based
    costing, so how much of its peacetime budget relates to oil is unknown.
    But if you think, for example, that half might be a reasonable estimate,
    and should be ascribed to oil use by the United States but not by its oilusing
    allies, that would be equivalent to ~$25/bbl.”

    Data was pre-Iraq war when oil was less than $35/bbl

  56. constantnormal says:

    @BR: It’s not so much a “Missed Opportunity” as an “Avoided Opportunity”.

    This was no boating accident!

  57. quidite1 says:

    Barry, Are you against the corporate free speech rights of the NY Times, Washington Post, CNN, Fox News too?

    The Citizens United Supreme Court case has been horribly misunderstood. This decision will get money out of the shadows (where I assure you it was [I work in politics]) and into the open so you can follow who is donating what to whom. And guess what — Exxon isn’t going to be spending $100 million to elect politicians because it’s a bad business decision.

    Last, remember, politicians want to eliminate any source of power that can threaten their incumbency — and every campaign finance “reform” should be understood as enhancing the power of politicians at the expense of those who threaten the status quo.

    Your points 1,2 6 and 10 have merit, though.

  58. RobertB says:

    Where to start…

    How can you clamor for “wrestle the US deficits to the ground” and then ask for a new $250 BILLION governmental agency? [BR: What you do during an expansion is very different than what you do during, or immediately after, a contraction]

    Justifying it by using the AIG bailout is nonsense and a copout! Two wrongs don’t make a “right.” This research is already going on in the private sector in a much more efficient manner. There are already huge incentives(rewards) for any technological energy breakthroughs. A new government boondoggle changes nothing. There is no guarantee of any significant development from such a project. You can’t just “will” a scientific breakthrough. They happen when they happen, and often by accident and luck.

    “Mass Transit”… Any workable mass transit system (especially in the south) will be prohibitively expensive. The population centers are just too spread out. That might work fine in the Northeast were people are squished in like sardines, but that is not how most of the nation lives. We are not like Europe and Japan geographically.

    “Gas Taxes”… As cheaply accessible world oil supplies continue to dwindle and demand increases, gas prices will inevitably rise in the future.(probably sooner than later.) A dime tax “ain’t gonna do jack” to affect consumption now. A gas tax is just another economic loss to a parasitic government. (Much)Higher future prices will eventually force different and more efficient personal choices.(and probably soon)

    “Alternative Energy for homes”… Most people have no access to solar, geothermal, and wind power options for a variety of reasons. A subsidy(more spending!!!) is not going to change that significantly.

    CAFE standards… Haven’t they already been raised?(by 2015 ?) I think you’re late on this one.

    As for lobbying, donations, and disclosures…
    Until we eliminate certain “free speech” rights(and press rights for you too), you’re just going to have to deal with a Constitution that guarantees such rights. What a terrible “burden” this “freedom” thing is.

  59. Dennis says:

    To review:

    RobertB is against restricting corporate lobbying, or corporate campaign donations, and apparently thinks alternatives to big energy are a waste of time. mass Transit is bad, gas taxes are bad.

    Most people have no access to solar? Like the entire southern half of the nation? (Seriously?)

    And you apparently believe constitutional guarantees of freedom of speech was somehow for not just people,, but corporations also?

  60. handelsblatt says:

    Interesting thoughts.

    Other interesting blog entry:

    Comparing US and European Fossil Fuel Use

  61. Deborah says:

    10c per gallon? And over 10 years? That is truly a joke. European countries pay at least twice what Americans pay and Canadians pay about 40% more.

    How about $1 per gallon over 10 years. Now you are encouraging more responsible fuel consumption. And $1 more per gallon is still cheap.


    BR: That is what I was referring to . . . I clarify above

  62. constantnormal says:

    I do support the “Ritholtz for Emperor” movement. Why elect Barry president only to hamstring him with the Congress and SCOTUS?

  63. cswake says:

    BR: Nothing we can do, just accept our fate and lie back and enjoy it? Don’t even bother to try to fix what lies at the root of the corruption? Lobbying, dirty money, corportae control — you are ok with that? And how can the states solve these problems? How have they addressed ANY of the recent big problems?

    Your comments are as perplexing as they are inane


    At least we can agree that Washington overwhelming is in control by powers that operate for the benefit of the well connected. The reason you seem to be perplexed is that you seem quick to jump to conclusions from my statements. I made no suggestion that I am okay with most Americans getting the short-end of the stick. Neither did I suggest that it isn’t a worthy goal to fix the corruption.

    The only thing you could interpret from my statement is that I was criticizing your suggestions #1 through #9 since they only exasperate the problem. The problem is that the bureaucrats have too much power and control and the further centralization of power only creates incentives for the lobbying groups to redouble their efforts.

    Before any positive efforts to fix America can succeed, I argue that the solution is to decentralize power and add transparency; however, neither of these will be given up by the politicians and their financial supporters voluntarily. In my humble opinion, nullification, interposition, or (maybe?) a Constitutional Convention prompted by citizen takeover of State governments will be the only way.

  64. bman says:

    On the R&D, you fogot to mention fusion. In fact the whole country has either forgotten or given up on fusion. There are challenges to be sure but I can not believe that controlled fusion is only possible in the interior of stars.

  65. I do not buy into the argument that we are overtaxed as a nation.

    In terms of tax burden as a percentage of GDP, according to OECD, the U.S. slots in ahead of only Mexico and Korea.


  66. James says:

    I am requesting Congress Fund a $250 billion dollar Federal research agency to fund fundamental physics and chemistry research — into battery technology, solar efficiency, wind and wave power, thorium nuclear, and all manners of new ideas. The private sector has failed to do this over the past century, so it is up to we the people to get this accomplished.


    Let’s see: we can’t pass a budget, NASA is being defrocked, and we’re spending to the moon in foreign wars without end . . . and your speech asks for $250 billion more in spending? You could at least have said something about how that war and DOD spending in general will be slashed and provided some bold ideas about longer-term deficit reduction (I’m not having any of your “anyone who calls for deficit reduction is a chickenhawk” narrative) somewhere in that speech as a way of telling people you understand the larger picture. As it is, Barry, you just gave a big speech that has no legs . . . sound familiar?

  67. Mark Down says:

    In your fake speech you never said anything about helping the good folk of the Gulf Coast. Nothing at all… Thanks


    BR: And hence, why I am not running for office . . .

  68. RC says:

    @constantnormal 10:44,
    Actually TerraPower’s technology a whole lot closer to reality than the “fusion” technology of Polywell. There is still question about whether net energy output is possible with the Polywell design. There are no questions weather energy can be generated using the traveling wave reactor. The questions are how to sustain the process and other related engineering challenges. Besides MIT Nuclear Fuel Cycle Research blesses the traveling wave reactor technology.
    Toshiba in Japan is also working on a traveling wave reactor based plant.

    On top of all of these “Small Modular reactor” designed by Los Alamos National Lab is being manufactured by Hyperion power in NM. Their deliveries of small plants (Nuclear battery type plant) will start in 2013.

    India is building a Fast Breeder type technology to enable use of Thorium (I know this is not quite technically correct description but I am not an expert)
    In the coming decades (starting after 10-15 years) the Nuclear revolution will make the demands of Hydro carbon based fuels actually go DOWN.

  69. beaufou says:

    I don’t know if read the link posted yesterday (jeg03) about engineering and the current state of affairs, I think there was a lot of truth to it.
    One tidbit:

    “Illusions of Progress

    In terms of technological innovation and industrial creativity, the United States is not today the country it once was. In the second half of the 20th century this ebb was masked by several phenomena. An illusion of sustained innovative momentum was created by the vigorously continuing exploitation of legacy technologies, including obsolete energy sourcing. Wall Street activities increased in intensity even as they became more tenuously associated with industrial productivity and innovation. Computerization, although based on innovations dating back decades, was exploited with such media panache that it fostered a misleading impression of technological growth across the board. In fact, the nation entered an era of deindustrialization in the second half of the 20th century. ”

    Managerial positions are occupied by savvy financial so-called experts bent on restructuring and outsourcing to maximize profit for their investing friends.
    There is something absolutely wrong with this one way ticket to the promised land, progress stalls in favor of paper-wealth branded as real growth.
    Long term unemployment becomes the trend, as some kind of inevitable accident, just like financial crisis; it is nobody’s fault therefore nobody can fix it, impoverishment and jobless recoveries are now accepted by those in power, I question their intelligence or their honesty, choose one or the other.
    One of the reasons we may not see another effort such as Bretton Woods in the near future or before it’s too late, is because the Dollar might suffer a blow Americans are not ready to take.
    As early as 1965, De Gaulle was shitting in the boots of Johnson, asking for gold instead of paper money, arguing the system would create unreal deficits no-one would eventually be able to repay.
    The Nixon shock made matters worse, while I wouldn’t recommend a return to the gold standard, I think Keynes idea should won have the day in 1945:

    Keynes’ proposals would have established a world reserve currency (which he thought might be called “bancor”) administered by a central bank vested with the possibility of creating money and with the authority to take actions on a much larger scale (understandable considering deflationary problems in Britain at the time).

    “In case of balance of payments imbalances, Keynes recommended that both debtors and creditors should change their policies. As outlined by Keynes, countries with payment surpluses should increase their imports from the deficit countries and thereby create a foreign trade equilibrium. Thus, Keynes was sensitive to the problem that placing too much of the burden on the deficit country would be deflationary.”

    Looking at the current situation in Greece and Germany, Greece imports way too much and does not produce enough and Germany exports way too much while not consuming enough, making each country irresponsible for its trade balance and letting loans and funds readily available to the point of no return, it’s the same story the world over.
    As for the corporate world, playing the freedom card any chance they get, they have become a destructive force similar to the gold-drunken Spaniard elite a few centuries ago, so rich they didn’t feel the need to update their own society resulting in idiocracy and inquisitions.

    We need bailouts and 0% interest for bankers to make credit available, another crock of shit served up by the ever dominating finance assholes.
    I don’t know how you can think that stagnant wages at home and slave labor abroad combined with ever increasing prices of commodities and housing will lead to consuming by people unable to pay their debt as it is.
    Maybe re-evaluating the amount of private debt one country can absorb based on its standard of living and job market rather than consumer confidence would be a good start.

    You cannot govern outside of reality, but reality has a strong lobbied bias nowadays.

  70. Marcus Aurelius says:

    RE: Spending

    We seem to have forgotten, when we discuss what are and are not acceptable levels of spending, that the very element we quibble over is as fictional as Uncle Sam. To paraphrase Robert Frost: Before one discusses money, one should define exactly what money is, and what it isn’t.

    Ours is fiat, and any shortage of it in the economy is, by that very fact, synthetic, arbitrary, and unnecessary. The perception of shortage has been induced by those who have required, under penalty of imprisonment, no less, that we use it and who then restricted our access to it, while using their monopoly on its manufacture to hoard more and more for themselves. There’s nothing morally, ethically, or managerially wrong with the creation and distribution of enough fiat money to settle our debts. There should never be a difference between the amount of credit and/or debt and the amount of fiat money available in the system to satisfy the need for credit and settle the debt in the first place. Deficit spending by the manufacturer of fiat money is illogical to the point of insanity. We shouldn’t even be paying taxes.

  71. bm says:

    @Louiswi: you have hit the nail on the head. Too bad not many people realize this aspect to our government.

    “Oh, the lefties and righties, the idealogues, the patriots etc etc all think they have a voice in the outcome but the facts are, the outcome of an election is irrelevant. Nothing is left to chance. Their guy always wins as their guys are the only players.” EXACTLY

  72. [...] The Obama administration has fumbled the opportunity in regards to the Gulf oil spill.  (Big Picture) [...]

  73. RobertB says:

    Dennis says:

    “RobertB is against restricting corporate lobbying, or corporate campaign donations,”

    I didn’t say that. You said that. But we can only do what is constitutional!!!

    “and apparently thinks alternatives to big energy are a waste of time. mass Transit is bad, gas taxes are bad.”

    I didn’t say that either. You said that. I just don’t think that the government will do a better job with development of technology. Government programs like that are always fraught with corruption, paybacks, and waste. It’s hard enough to get a good jet fighter built cheaply by the government. Why should it work with anything else? You are naive.

    Mass transit can be good. Mass transit can be stupid. I see both in this country. We already have a high gas tax. What would more accomplish unless you make it onerous? But then you could seriously impact the economy too….especially for the working poor.

    “Most people have no access to solar? Like the entire southern half of the nation? (Seriously?)”

    The cost is prohibitive for most.

    “And you apparently believe constitutional guarantees of freedom of speech was somehow for not just people,, but corporations also?”

    Exactly. Corporations are owned and run by …guess who… People!!! The constitution does not differentiate.


    BR: You do not recognize the difference between what individuals can and do and what corporate entities — fictional legal constructs — saya nd do?

  74. constantnormal says:

    @RC 12:19 pm

    Please provide link for proof-of-concept or demonstration model of the traveling wave reactor.

    Here’s a quote from this link:
    How close to reality is this technology? According to this presentation by Gilleland, “operation of a traveling wave reactor can be demonstrated in less than ten years, and commercial deployment can begin in less than fifteen years.”

    So far they have received $35M in federal startup funding/gifts to develop such a demonstrator reactor. While they also have an unspecified amount of nongovernmental funding, I have seen no time table for an expected test.

    OTOH, you are correct (and I am wrong) in that there have been net power generation tests successfully concluded with the Polywell fusion concept. All they have done to date is demonstrate that they can produce fusion reactions with their device. Further testing is expected to refine the data by the end of 2012, with a successful conclusion leading to a larger demonstration model, one that would most definitely settle the issue of whether or not they can deliver fusion power.

    While Bill Gates has managed to get $35M in government support out of the box for his ideas, the folks at Polywell are struggling along with small grants of a few hundred thousand (recently a grant of $7.86M came through) — enough to keep the project alive but not enough to move it forward very much. This is with having real hardware and real tests demonstrating that they can fuse deuterium. Marketing and political clout count for a lot.

    But I suspect that a government that can throw hundreds of billions at Fannie, Freddie, and AIG, can also support parallel efforts to produce lots and lots of electrical power without fossil fuels. It would be nice to see these efforts getting some serious money, and a commitment to license the technology at reasonable rates. I mean, if the public is funding the development efforts, they ought to get something back from it, no?

  75. farmera1 says:

    Barry you sound a lot like Jimmy Carter. Check out his speech tagged as the “malaise speech” from 1979. Lot’s of similarities.

    Truth is people don’t want to hear hard truths. Tax are you kidding. R & D, Mass transit, wow.

    I believe Carter was the last president to propose any kind of comprehensive energy policy.


    BR: The difference is I am upbeat about what we can do if we try. Even though i believe in free markets and open trade, I do not believe we can leave everything to the private sector, as they have different objectives from the public.

  76. flipspiceland says:

    It’s interesting that so many are so naive to think that this country actually can be ‘governed’ as a unit, as one country.

    Deny it all you want. Pray, hope, demand that it be governed. In the end the changes, if any, will at best be marginal. Usually they only make matters worse.

    The people who run this country are not the POTUS, Congress, and Scotus. They are the Lord Blankfein’s, Jamie Dimon’s, a few men in senile seniority that head all the important committees in defense, agriculture, and finance who are in turn owned, whose souls are on deposit with the devil.

    One need not be a cynic to recognize that the reality is far different than the ideal. Your vote? It’s a sop to those who think that they can change things. How did that work out for you bamster voters, eh?

  77. GrafSchweik says:

    BR wrote:

    “There is also my unfortunate truth telling tendencies, and my inclination to call the assholes of the world, well, assholes.”

    Barry, great, great post. I’m sending it to the White House, my senators and congressman.

    I’m a German speaker so let me warn you that should you ever visit Germany, Switzerland or Austria, please duct tape that noun to the back of your throat.

    If you were ever to utter it in any public venue, you could easily find yourself facing legal action you would not have a good chance of winning. ;-)

    So best to stay in the English speaking world and let fly the verbal grapeshot.


  78. zebov says:

    I believe the reactions here exemplify why such a speech was not given. Your blog is frequented by folks who are mostly in agreement with what you say (lest they wouldn’t care to read you), but still you have a good number of folks ready to revolt against you for this post. For you and those who agree with your political, environmental, and economic views, this would be the speech you’d LOVE to hear. However, I’m not convinced the majority of Americans are in the same boat, and thus, a speech like this in the real world would be political suicide and counter-productive: instead of inducing change, it would impede it.

  79. SteveC says:

    Hence, we will need to wait until our currency collapses, and interest rates head to the moon, before we can hear this speech. Right now, the populace has the attention span of a gnat and the media is only interested in soundbites and ideologues.

  80. Dow says:

    There’s a reason former CIA director James Woolsey has been in alternative energy since the 19080′s. And it isn’t because he thinks oil is the future. (Barry, Woolsey is a fascinating man to watch. He’s always one step ahead.)

  81. stevelaake says:

    Late to the discussion, but I would add the following change:

    All Senators, Representatives and key gov’t officials must liquidate their investment holdings (stocks, bonds, options) prior to service and place the money in a blind trust wherein the US Gov’t would guarantee them a reasonable tax-free return. An arrangement like this would go a long way to eliminate any insider dealing and influence in decision-making. How many of our leaders held stock in financials during the crisis or in BP during this fiasco. Money well spent by the taxpayers, in my opinion.

  82. Jojo says:

    It’s good to see someone propose potential solutions instead of always ranting about the problems.

    I’d vote for you for President BR. We need someone who can call an asshole an asshole without prejudice when necessary!

  83. Mannwich says:

    Good one, beaufou.

  84. Mannwich says:

    @BR: Likely not overtaxed per se, but our priorities on spending those tax revenues are most certainly out of whack.

  85. buck says:

    I hope Obama is listening.

    A little anecdote that tells me how badly we need change in DC.

    A lawyer told me he was working during the financial panic to save a company. It employed lots of people, and a bit of help from DC presumably would have made quite a bit of difference between mass layoffs and breathing space that might have saved the company.

    The lawyer rushes to DC to meet with the member of Congress whose district is home to this big employer. The meeting begins with the member of Congress, but the politician doesn’t say much. Soon, a man arrives who the Congressman’s chief aide introduces. He’s here to help the Congressman, to offer advice and to essentially take over the meeting. This man is, of course, the banking industry’s chief lobbyist.

    I don’t know much about how DC operates, but I gather it wasn’t always this way.

  86. constantnormal says:

    @Mannwich — Amen to that.

    I’m not so much opposed to deficit spending as opposed to B.A.D. deficit spending, but that seems to be about the only kind we get these days …

  87. dsawy says:

    It is a little difficult to take you seriously when you pop off with such as this:

    “I am requesting Congress Fund a $250 billion dollar Federal research agency to fund fundamental physics and chemistry research — into battery technology, solar efficiency, wind and wave power, thorium nuclear, and all manners of new ideas. The private sector has failed to do this over the past century, so it is up to we the people to get this accomplished.”

    In a word, this is nonsense. There is a lot of research being done. As an electrical engineer, I can tell you that it is not enough to do “research” into “fundamental physics.” That’s only the first step on the road to a new product technology that can be delivered to the ignorant, mouth-breathing masses who have their lawyers on speed-dial. There’s plenty of research done and on the shelf. Turning it into a product takes a lot of money – and there has to be a pay-off at the other end of this development budget.

    Take battery technology as the first in your list. There are several battery technologies that would increase power density in EV’s or HEV’s – but they’re either going to result in a hell of a problem when a car gets into a collision, or they require pre-heating to achieve the power densities. For ample evidence of what has been going on in battery technology, look at your laptop. It is probably running on LiOn batteries now, yes? 15 to 18 years ago, it would have been running on NiCd, a battery technology from WWII. If it was 10 years ago, your laptop might have been running on NiMH batteries. Today, it is Lithium-Ion batteries. Three rechargeable batteries in 15 years – That’s progress, and not without some bumps along the way – ie, batteries that have caused laptops to heat up to the point of melt-down or fire.

    Wind and wave power? There’s been plenty of research into this. There’s plenty of wind power being installed as we speak. I think it is a distraction and a waste of money because it does not increase base-load power capacity, but hey, what do I know. I’m just a dumb ol’ EE. I’ve actually had to take tests for grades on power generation and transmission, instead of just articulating wishful thinking.

    Solar efficiency: There has been plenty of research into this, at the fundamental solid state physics level. This is called the “band gap problem” in solar cell physics.

    Here’s an overview of the physics:

    As you see, LBL is working on this problem, and has been for years if you look back through the research. If you read through this paper, you see how much private sector R&D is going on into the band gap problem. This isn’t an easy problem to solve. When people talk about a “quantum leap,” they usually have no clue what they’re saying. Well, here’s the reality of “quantum leaps:” That’s what happens when you make an electron cross the band gap – it is making a “quantum leap” – and what we’re looking at here is the reverse of what happens when you see a laser emitting light: it takes a *specific* frequency of light to excite the charge carrier to cross the band gap, just as the specific quantum discharge in a laser results in monochromatic light.

    The problem then, is to get as wide as possible a spectrum of light to excite charge carriers to cross the band gap(s) in a solar cell. This isn’t easy stuff, and as you see from the following paper, there’s lots of people looking at this problem:

    As you see from “Figure 1,” there’s plenty of research being done “in the last 100 years.” Research efficiencies are improving, so we’re getting somewhere. But just because it works in a research lab, does not mean that it can be produced easily, economically in mass production fab lines. Some of the doping minerals used in some of the higher efficiency research cells are in very short supply in the world, and are therefore rather expensive. I’ll give you another example of where research doesn’t necessarily come through to the commercial market: GaAs semiconductors. We’ve known for years that gallium arsenide semiconductors are faster (much faster) than silicon semiconductors. Why aren’t you seeing computers made with GaAs chips? The yields are low – uneconomically low. That’s a big part of the economics in solid state devices – the “yield” – ie, how many silicon wafers go into the oven and then come out as *functioning* chips. In the papers above where they reference multi-layer solar cells – each additional layer in the fabrication process most often means a decrease in the end yield of the process. At some point, the yields drop to uneconomic returns. Fab lines are a huge capital investment, and they’d better produce enough marketable chips to pay down that capital investment in the right amount of time.

    Thorium nuclear reactors? We’ve already done research on that in the US. They work. Research in the US was shut down in the late 80′s, after the environmentalists succeeded in demonizing all nuclear power following TMI.

    Right now, India is doing big development on thorium reactors. We could be doing more, but we need to get a bunch of anti-nuke luddites and purveyors of hysterical nonsense to STFU.

    Here’s the thing about pure research. Throwing money at the problem doesn’t make solutions arrive faster. It is often about like asking nine women to produce one baby in one month. There are some problems that just don’t go faster when you add more people. As Feynman remarked, there’s only a few guys at the very front of the problem, and throwing more people at the problem won’t mean that they’re going to be at the bleeding edge. That’s just the way these things work. There’s invariably only a handful of people who really have their head around the problem in fundamental physics, chemistry or math, no matter how many people throw themselves at it. You’re a math guy, Barry: How many people threw themselves at Fermat’s last theorem, without success? And even when it was proven here in our lifetimes… it clearly wasn’t using whatever technique Fermat had been thinking about (“not enough room in the margin…”). Much of the mathematics used in that proof is of the 20th century, not Fermat’s lifetime. Fermat clearly had a different idea – one which we have not re-discovered.

    “Another Manhattan Project”

    Here’s where comparisons to the Manhattan Project are not apt: the physics, ie, the pure research of nuclear fission, was largely done by the time 1940 rolled around. The MP wasn’t so much a research project as a huge engineering project – turning the theories into reality. We started from ground zero in terms of nuclear infrastructure. We had no fissile material – we had to create fissile material, and that alone was the single biggest hurdle to overcome. At the peak of the MP, a huge chunk of *all* electrical power in the US was being routed into producing fissile material. Without the huge hydro projects of the 1930′s, we could never have accomplished what we did. There wasn’t anything new or ground-breaking in the production of fissile material – it was simply having huge excesses of electrical power, such as we had in the Pacific Northwest and in the TVA.

    Remember, there was no test of the Hiroshima bomb. Hiroshima was the test. That’s how “done” the physics research was on that job. The Nagasaki bomb design was what was tested in New Mexico.

    Our energy problems are NOT a problem of fundamental physics. They’re a problem of priorities. Look at what FDR accomplished with the REA (Rural Electrification Act) – which had a HUGE economic impact on rural America, and the huge hydro projects of the 1930′s. If FDR had to deal with the crap all energy projects need to deal with today in the 1930′s, we would still not have the Hoover Dam, much less the dams on the Columbia or the grid we have now.

    Go ahead, tell me with an straight face that we could re-create just what FDR did in the 30′s with electrical power today. That was generation, transmission, distribution – top to bottom, an energy revolution of the level you want, done in the US in the space of about 10 years.

    You can’t.

  88. [...] Missed Opportunity: BP Gulf of Mexico Disaster (TBP) tweetmeme_style = 'compact'; tweetmeme_service = ''; tweetmeme_source = 'ReformedBroker'; [...]

  89. diogeron says:


    For what it’s worth, I WAS a speechwriter in my former life and I give your “speech” two thumbs up. Moreover, you are correct: Obama’s speech was a terrible disappointment. I watched it with my wife and an old friend whom I first met when we were working on RFK’s presidential campaign when we were just out of college and we all (Obama voters) were ranting at the missed opportunities. Just as Bush failed to summon our “better angels” after 9-11 and told us to “go shopping”, Obama may have missed his best opportunity to push a serious agenda for solving our long term energy problems at a critical time when one would think he might find a receptive audience. Scholars of the genre have written of the concept of “rhetorical exigence”, which loosely translated means that great speeches are marked by a person’s ability to tap into the needs of the audience at the right time with the right words in a speech given by the right person. Obama missed the mark this time, in contrast to his speech on race, which may have been one of the great speeches in American public address. It’s too bad that he sank to the occasion this time instead of using his considerable rhetorical skills to say what needs to be said. Hollow slogans like “drill, baby, drill” or “stop offshore drilling now” will do little to solve our energy challenges, irrespective of the appeal to those who confuse reporting the state of one’s glands with serious public policy.

    Why is it that elected officials of both major parties are so afraid of asking for sacrifice from the American people in a time of national crisis? Are Americans really so spoiled and out of touch that they can’t be told the truth for fear of shooting the messenger?

  90. blueoysterjoe says:

    Thanks for the terrific post.

    I was a big supporter of Obama, and I am fairly depressed by his performance.

    I support true energy reform because many of my broader ideals were born out of the old school Left. But I also support true energy reform because I willingly and happily participate in America’s capitalist economy. I think the time has come where the Old Left and the Market can peacefully co-exist, and energy reform is where they can meet.

    It’s therefore maddening to me that Obama isn’t able to do anything with this. It seems like it would appeal to both his Progressive and Pro-Business instincts, but instead, he just seems mired in the same tired, and middlin’ crap that has plagued our country for many, many years.

    I don’t know if you agree with everything I just said, but a lot of your ideas spoke to me for this reason.

  91. Mannwich says:

    “Are Americans really so spoiled and out of touch that they can’t be told the truth for fear of shooting the messenger?”

    Do really want to know the answer to that question? Not sure about that.

  92. flipspiceland says:

    As with all who think we are under taxed (what relevance our income tax rates bear to the tax rate in Israel, Norway, and France have is beyond my understanding since they are no larger than some of our states) they are free to send in whatever rate they think is fair and equitable.

    BR, you should do this.

    As for the rest, they don’t really know how much in taxes they pay each year when they are all combined. Between excise, sales, income, social security, medicare, state, local, real estate, school, and hidden taxes up the wahzoo, only a very wealthy man could make such an assinine statement that we, the middle class (which pays the bulk of the taxes in this country) are undertaxed.

  93. flipspiceland

    I am a member of this society, and i derive benefits from that. I contribute more than most in actual tax dollars (tho less in percentage terms thanks to corporate ownership, good accountants, etc.)

    I am not saying I want to pay more; I am saying the argument that we are taxed too much fails when looking at our international peers

  94. Rescission says:

    This is a great discussion.
    You say “Even though i believe in free markets and open trade, I do not believe we can leave everything to the private sector, as they have different objectives from the public.”

    Every single major invention or accomplishment or idea has always come from the private sector. Einstein’s theory of relativity didn’t come about from the direction of a government agency. Henry Ford didn’t revolutionized the auto industry because of a government program. If having to choose between leaving everything to the private sector or giving it to the government, I choose the private sector. This way the power remained decentralized. Centralizing power away from individual interests is what scares me.

    Obama is not a leader and thus he is incapable of grabbing the brass ring. Neither was George W. Bush.
    A real leader could call on the people to develop solutions to our problems, give the vision. Hell, rather than taxing people and punishing them, provide major incentives for free enterprise to come up with better ways. As pathetic as BP is, no one has a worse record of managing things or managing money than the Federal Gov’t.

  95. impermanence says:

    Ya know what, you get more then two or three human beings together and all hell breaks loose.

  96. Ambiance says:

    Generally good suggestions. I think the biggest problem we face as a nation is that we’ve basically had 25-30 years of missed opportunities when it comes to doing proper R&D for energy. What we’ve been left with is a huge dependence on fossil fuels and virtually no cost competitive alternatives. I seriously doubt we’ll see much support politically for a transition until we do. Based on that premise I’d say 9 is basically not economically feasible, it costs a ridiculous amount of money to actually outfit a home with a good set of solar panels and wind simply isn’t as viable in a lot of places.

    That said I do think we need a concerted push for R&D, that’s something I wouldn’t mind seeing taxes raised for, cutting fossil fuel subsidies and tax breaks to truly reflect the cost of energy production would also help. I like Obama as a person and he had a pretty good centrist platform when he ran for election, but so far I just can’t help but get the feeling that the guy hasn’t really done very much, he seems a bit too concerned with making politically safe moves or just sitting back and let congress deal with the issues. We’re at a crucial time when we desperately need some real leadership as a nation and we’ve been left with yet another figure head.

  97. jeg3 says:

    Nice Speach, your on a Posting Roll, first giving Greenspan his due, and now reminding me of a phrase:
    There are two kinds of presidents:

    1. The presidency is a way to achieve goals.
    2. The presidency is the goal, and rasputins actually run the show. And not in favor of the American Citizens or its future.

    Lithium batteries are looking better:

    As for mass transit, every decade brings more urbanization, especially for young people. which will also lead to vertical farms (and vertical manufacturing w/robotics). I think the average age of farmers is in his fifties, with the kids and grandkids playing Farmville.

    Solar and fusion may have a future, but nuclear fission is the bird in hand.

    and there is always the possible outlier:

  98. changja says:


    You need to do a heck of a lot more research than. There has been tons of things that came about because of government programs. Both directly produced by the government and things sponsored by gov’t that ended up being commercialized via private entities.

    The freaking INTERNET was created by DARPA. A lot of the advances in flight, jet planes, rockets, etc all came from gov’t. GPS satellites came from the government. Weather satellites that allow us to tell people to get the heck out of hurricane paths. The transcontinental railroad? Human genome project? Oh and without the interstate highway program, automobile would be nowhere near the success it is (for good or for worse).

    Its ridiculous the amount of anti-government rhetoric without realizing the things that it has actually provided.

  99. Transor Z says:

    Rescission said: Every single major invention or accomplishment or idea has always come from the private sector.

    Oh goody… a bold absolute statement that leaves its author with no wiggle room for escape. I love those.

    1) Read JAMA, Nature, New England Journal of Medicine, or any peer-reviewed scientific publication. Watch out for the acknowledgment that says the study was funded by NSF, NIH, DoD, NASA, etc. As one example among, oh, thousands, NIH has funded the Framingham Heart Study for more than 50 years. Look it up. FAIL

    2) Read Walker Evans’/James Agee’s photographic masterpiece Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, using photos Evans collected while working for the FSA during the Great Depression. FAIL

    3) A number of Nobel laureates in Medicine out of the excellent Univ. of Texas system. Not to mention all of the foreign laureates who made their major discoveries at public universities. FAIL

    It’s too easy.

  100. adamsvictor says:

    Barry, Barry, once again you blow hot and cold. Yes, AIG should have been allowed to fail don’t give them $185 billion but then deal with the consequences, including ATMs that wont dispense cash even though my checking account shows a positive balance; social unrest anyone? But NO, $250 billion for energy R&D by the Government? are you insane? we couldn’t do a cash for clunkers!!! The Manhattan project was different!!! no, my friend, let me tell you the “corporations” need regulating, smart regulation, but they ARE made of people and when you punish them you always end up punishing the wrong people, the “little” people that is; as for taxes you should know better: tax increases beyond a necessary level tend to favor the well to do and do in the poor people, except for a few bones thrown by and omnipotent Government in the form of…projects? Give us a break and stop dreaming up social engineering schemes, or I’ll stop reading your (otherwise excellent blog(s) and book(s)). Take a brake Barry, life is OK, not a bowl of cherries at the moment, but “THIS TOO SHALL PASS”. Obama? the man lacks leadership qualities, I don’t know if he can or wants to acquire any; moreover he doesn’t understand business…what can the poor man do? play golf with Biden while the house is on fire???