June 21st, 2006

Book Cover

Good Morning -

I love this Solstice Day, the longest day of the year.  I woke,  the windows open and the birds singing, and felt like a little girl on a summer morning with nothing to do but snuggle and wiggle my toes.  I actually do have things to do, but I savored those luxurious moments, and now, I am joyfully up.

A woman who is writing a book on horse therapy is coming by to interview me this morning, so I am looking forward to that.

My brother informs me that a wonderful man we met because of the web has died.  My brother decided to search out our father's WWII experience.  He was a pilot of a B-17, and was shot down over Germany/Austria.  We knew he was then placed in a prison camp.  That is all my brother shared. 

As my brother searched it out, we became more and more fascinated.  It turned out the man who navigated Ground Happy lived a few miles from my brother in CT.   We went to visit him, and learned more.  

Steve and I went to Austria and saw where my father landed when he parachuted out of the plane.  We met people who saw him land.  They were children at the time.  The farmhouse had been in the same family for hundreds of years.  I stood where he was held.  They might not have turned him in;  it was a small village, but an SS man lived there.  They had no choice.  It was a most odd experience.  The barracks where he was held are on-line.  His name is there.  He is dead, and yet he can be googled.  It all felt so odd at the time.  I am used to it now.  Anyway, prayers today for a most wonderful man,  "Tiff" as he flies in new skies and easily finds his way.  His wife died a few years ago, and I see them happily together and happily hanging out now with my dad.  They meet my mom.  Scotch flows. All is very well, this Solstice Day.   Savor the moments.  They are so precious and quick, like snowflakes and the light of fireflies. 

Something else - my father's father's family came from Germany.  The people in the area where he was shot down looked like him.  Germany and Austria somewhat merge there by Salzburg.  It has always felt odd to me, this whole thing of war, and which side circumstances may force you to be on.  That is why we need peace.  It makes no sense anymore.   Today, a long, long day, a day to pray for peace.  
Book Cover

A comment on ethanol -

Op-Ed Contributor

An Ear for the Market

Published: June 21, 2006

Minneapolis

CONGRESS is considering several bills to extend the 51-cent-per-gallon tax credit for ethanol producers beyond its 2010 expiration date. But let's hope that our elected representatives don't make their decision in the grips of an ethanol haze. The state of the ethanol industry changed so substantially since the last extension, one year ago, that a fundamental and clearheaded redesign is in order.

Sky-high oil prices and a national ethanol mandate have undermined the rationale for incentives. With oil at $60 a barrel, ethanol can compete with gasoline without federal subsidies. For much of 2005, oil prices approached or surpassed the $60 level. In recent months, they've hovered near $70.

Last year, Congress ordered a near doubling of ethanol sales by 2012. Industry has responded so rapidly that the nation may have enough capacity to meet the Congressional goal by 2008. Indeed, Congress is already debating measures to increase mandated levels to 10 billion gallons in 2010 and 30 billion in 2020.

If the current 51-cent-per-gallon tax credit remains in place, these mandates would cost the Treasury Department $5 billion in 2010 and more than $15 billion in 2020. In the face of high oil prices, such subsidy levels are likely to prove politically untenable when there's no need for tax credits to make ethanol competitive.

Moreover, the rapidly changing structure of the ethanol industry argues for an entirely different kind of incentive. In 2003, some 50 percent of all ethanol refineries and perhaps 80 percent of all proposed plants were controlled by farmers, with an average annual output of about 40 million gallons each. But now, around 80 percent of new ethanol production is coming from plants controlled by absentee owners that produce 100 million to 125 million gallons.

As farmer and ethanol refinery have become delinked, so have biofuels policy and agricultural policy. True, the increased demand for ethanol has benefited farmers, but only modestly, raising the price of a bushel of corn by 10 cents to 15 cents. But when the farmer is also an owner in the refinery, he or she receives annual dividends averaging about 50 cents a bushel and more than $1 a bushel in very profitable years. Farmer-owners can also use an ethanol plant as a hedge against a drop in the price of their raw material. If the price of corn falls, so does the production cost of ethanol; all other things being equal, refinery profits and therefore dividends will rise.

How might Washington redesign the federal incentive to reflect the realities of an increasingly competitive absentee-owned, large-scale ethanol industry?

First, tie incentive levels to an index comprised of the price of a bushel of corn and the wholesale price of a gallon of gasoline. (A similar index can be developed for biodiesel or cellulose-derived ethanol.)

Such an incentive would honor the nation's commitment to both farmers and taxpayers. The farmer-producer would be protected if the price of oil plunged or the price of corn (or soybeans or cellulose) jumped. The taxpayer would be protected from having to underwrite handsome subsidies when the biofuels industry no longer needs them.

Second, transform part of the federal incentive from a gas tax exemption for those who market the ethanol into a direct payment to those who produce it. Minnesota did this in the 1980's, turning an incentive for consumption into one for production.

The new federal producer payment should encourage locally owned ethanol plants while not being a continual drain on federal resources. A payment of 15 cents per gallon for the first 20 million gallons produced each year might be offered to an absentee-owned plant with payment increasing to 25 cents a gallon if the majority of a plant's owners were farmers or local residents. No plant should be able to receive payments for more than 10 years.

Drastically changed times call for a drastically changed federal biofuels incentive, one that minimizes the long-term costs to America's taxpayers while maximizing the long-term benefits to our rural communities and farmers.

David Morris is the vice president of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.

Book Cover

Evening of the longest day -

It is a beautiful, warm night.  I spent the afternoon finding lodgings for us in Sonoma on September 8th and 9th.   It seems most everything was booked, which means I kept searching untll I found enchantment for each one of us.   We will be luxuriously and wondrously  housed.  I am thrilled.

We will meet Jan's parents on Sunday.  My good friend Elaine, who is Chinese, has helped me understand the cultural differences and what a huge step this is for them.  I thank the universe that they met with Jeff and Jan last Sunday, and now, meet with us.  I believe in peace and ease, and the mixing of us all.  May we all come to see the value in that. 

So, the sun is still touching the hills.  What a night this is - the day so long, and the night sitting there waiting,  like hot fudge sauce with ice cream, that warm clasp.   Life is rich and full for each one of us.  Absolutely every one of us, no matter how tough the circumstances, is blessed to see night and day, moon and sun, earth and sky, and water at play.  
Book Cover

Twilight -

I look at the sky before the stars - no moon, sun, or stars - no wonder it is called twilight - the three bodies of light rest before they pass the ball - exchange.