Here’s My Idea: Education (Part 3)

The issue of Education seems to bring out as much frustration as any issue that we have discussed with the parents and taxpayers of this region.  My feelings on the topic could be summarized in a pretty straightforward fashion:

  1. Local control yields the best outcomes
  2. Synergy by consolidation is a myth
  3. Out funding mechanisms are broken
  4. There are a lot of ways to be smart

Let me elaborate on these points through specific proposals.

Return to Local Control – You would be hard pressed to find a study on educational outcomes that doesn’t come to the conclusion that local commitment and accountability is necessary for a successful school system.  The idea that we send taxes to Washington and Lansing, only for them to return a portion of them (and earmarked on how they should be spent) is a dumbfounding concept.

I would suggest that parents, teachers, local employers, local higher educational institutions and students can figure out what we need to know to make it in today’s economy.  After a brief increase in spending at the Federal level for educational infrastructure, the Federal and State Departments of Education should begin to be scaled back, taking with them failed policies “No Child Left Behind,”  standardized tests like the MEAP and enormous overheads and central staffs.

Smaller schools simply work better.  This isn’t a fact that is specific to school.  Organizational theory indicates that when a population tops 300 members, it becomes increasingly difficult to keep them on mission.  Massive schools or larger school districts will no improve quality.

Synergy is a Myth – When I was in industry, I did a lot of work in the area of Mergers and Acquisitions.  Most of the businesses cases included a good deal of cost savings through “synergy,” or reduction of duplicate costs or economy of scale by simply being bigger.  I have about the same opinion of synergy savings as I do when I hear a late night TV ad say “But wait, there’s more!”  The synergies rarely materialize in execution, either because they were exaggerated or impossible to extract from employees, vendors or stakeholders who experience no benefit by helping to make themselves smaller or obsolete.

I do not believe that consolidation would yield significant savings in education.  In fact, my experience with increased centralization is a decrease in the common sense exhibited by the budget holders.  They become distant from the reality of the frontlines.  Anything can make sense on a spreadsheet.

Cracked Funding Foundations – Michigan is a poster child from broken school funding mechanisms.  We have been sold one plan after another, from the lottery, to sales taxes to changing property taxes and none of them have worked.  In fact, school funding seems to be such a variable for school administrators that it looks like the whole thing was cooked up in the casinos that were supposed to help bridge the funding gap.

The first issue is one of equality.  The separation of capital and operating budget responsibilities means that mechanisms to provide equal funding for faculty and instructional costs are rendered less effective in districts were it is nearly impossible to raise bonds for infrastructure improvements.  Schools should be beacons of hope in our poorest communities, not symbols of our failing system.

Even with no additional money in the system, we must give administrators more lead time on their funding.  Currently, they might not find out their final funding numbers until a school year is well underway.  There is no reason we can’t make these commitments 18 months in advance.

In Michigan, we need to unlink educational funding from the lottery and other games of chance.  We can’t have budget certainty by linking ourselves to such an uncertain enterprise.  Give Education a guaranteed funding slot and give something purely discretionary the connection to vice taxes.

Support for All Educational Needs – As an instructor in a technical training program, I say all the time that there are a lot of ways to be smart.  Some students are gifted in mathematical intelligence; others are really good with a wrench.  Both have value in the new economy.

Over the last 15 years, we have changed our basic approach in education.  With tests like the MEAP as a standard, we have apparently made the decision that we will put all students on a “college prep” track K-12.  Pushed aside are other areas of interest, like vocational training or the arts.  And the result of all of this is that employers say a high school diploma is no longer a sufficient credential for most jobs.

To rekindle our educational systems, and the skilled trades that also support a robust manufacturing sector, we need to return to a system that accommodates the needs of a wider variety of students.  There are no reasons why some students shouldn’t pursue their interests in the trades or the arts as a legitimate path to graduation.  With a couple of years under their belt, perhaps with the help of courses at the local community college or in an apprenticeship, a young graduate might find that they have skills that have value in the marketplace.  All you have to visualize is a 50 year old accountant spending $150 an hour on a 22 year old plumber when his hot water heater blows on Super Bowl Sunday.  Tangible skills have value.  We can do a better job of supporting the students with these natural abilities as a part of their public education.

Let’s Go Green!

Like many of you reading this, I have only a vague recollection of many courses in college.  In my case, buried somewhere under the logic and theory that goes with an engineering education, is a fuzzy recollection of English classes.  I don’t believe it was a course specific to Journalism, but I remember learning somewhere chief tenants of the trade were the questions “Who?  Where? What? Why? and How?.”  While this blog will probably never qualify as news, I’ll at least start by trying to play by the rules.

First of all the “who” question.  Some readers will know I am a native of Northern Michigan, Iosco County specifically.  I left the deeply grooved lifestyle that is “Up North” when I was about 18 and two minutes and went everywhere else.  And before you knew it, 20 some years had passed and I was a long way from home, my young family was restless and I wanted to quit.  So I did.

And I came home.  Sort of.  As a kid I’d spent a lot of time in the Tri-Cities and rents were cheap, so I settled my family in Bay County and began to look around.  I’ll admit, even for a guy who thought he had seen everything; the extent of the economic collapse in this area was an eye opener.  Every solution seemed to look to Lansing.   And Lansing looked to Washington.  And nothing got done.  And “everyone” went broke.  Michigan had for all intents become a welfare state, with very few people working to support an aging, changing, in many ways decaying, population.  It wasn’t an area in need of a fix; it was an area in need of a miracle.  Or in more secular terms, a revolution.

Actually, the Saginaw Bay Region has participated in a few economic revolutions since the Europeans first arrived and took survey of the indigenous resources.  From trading to logging to transportation, if not the center, the area was central to many waves of progress that later spread across the rest of the land.

Of course you have guessed that the “what” I am leading you into the idea of another revolution.  A Green Revolution.  A grassroots revolution where we live in a sustainable fashion, benefiting from the wisdom accumulated in our own communities, achieving rewards through responsible behavior, with compensation distributed more evenly to those that make enhance the cultural richness of our communities.  Not every valuable member of our community is a “professional.”  Some just act and manage and serve that way.  Some are just our own troubadours, local in reach but global in the scale of their talents and abilities.

I think that brings us up to “why”?  Well first of all, take a look at your bank statement.  If it looks anything like mine, you get it.  We need economic help and, once again, it looks like we are poised and ready to take advantage of another revolution: in energy.   From basic materials through highly advanced intermediate products, the Big Three of Dow, Dow Corning and Hemlock Semiconductor have actually been involved in the alternative energy business since its conception, as suppliers or technology, products and ideas to the alternative energy business.

Now that the market has finally started to catch up to the vision, these three companies are leading a wave of change in the area.  New companies are forming in the area: fabricators and companies that employ the products produced in Midland and Hemlock.  It’s similar to the pattern growth that preceded each of the last few booms.  Only this time it is the Tri-Cities at the center, rather than as a spoke.  To many of us in the industry and in the political arena, regardless of affiliation, the Great Lakes Bay Region would be a great place for the center of the Green Revolution.  It gives us a great chance to stamp our community values on these companies and on an industry. These companies and our the whole region could potentially be transformed by the scope of the energy revolution.

So how might you do this?  What do I have to do to be a revolutionary?  For now, why not try one of these:

  • Don’t wait for a job. Take a risk.  In fact, take a bet on yourself.  Start a business.  Better yet, start a non-profit.  But never forget that frugal living is central to the concept of self employment.  Fortunately or unfortunately, we have plenty of local experience at stretching a dollar.  Let’s benefit from it.
  • Get educated or learn a new skill.  Even if you are sitting on a couple of college degrees or feel you have a stable job, go learn something new.  You meet new people, pick up new skills and run into ample new opportunities to expand your mind.  Try a community college.  You wouldn’t believe what all they teach there.
  • Don’t waste opportunities.  Keep yourself ready to be part of an economic recovery.  Really, I want you to think of it like baseball, but with a 200,000 person batting order.  If it is your turn up and you whiff or, even worse, never report to the batters box, we never get that chance back.  That’s not just your chance, it’s all of ours.  Please take advantage of it. Your best effort will be fine, thank you.

In the meantime, there is one other “how” we can employ to make a real difference, beginning today.  Why not just “Do a Nice Thing.”   For anybody.  You don’t even have to let anyone know.  But you might just find that if you make a habit of helping people when they need it or lifting them up when they are down, the opportunities we were talking about a minute ago pop up more often.  Karma can be a teddy bear too, you know.

Hot, Flat and Crowded

Here is a link to a book by Thomas Friedman, who has proven to be the “prophet” of globalization, the rise of radical Islam and the migration of technology.  Hot, Flat and Crowded describes why we need a Green revolution.  He is a great writer and it is a very worthwhile read, no matter what your political persuasion.

Welcome

Like many of you reading this, I have only a vague recollection of my courses in college.  In my case, buried somewhere under the logic and theory that goes with an engineering education, is a fuzzy recollection of English classes.  I don’t believe it was a course specific to Journalism, but I remember learning somewhere chief tenants of the trade were the questions “Who?  Where? What? Why? and How?.”  While this column will probably never qualify as journalism, I’ll at least start by trying to play by the rules.

First of all the “who” question.  Some readers will know I am a native of Northern Michigan, Iosco County specifically.  I left the deeply grooved lifestyle that is “Up North” when I was about 18 and two minutes and went everywhere else.  And before you knew it, 20 some years had passed and I was a long way from home, my young family was restless and I wanted to quit.  So I did.

And I came home.  Sort of.  As a kid I’d spent a lot of time in the Tri-Cities and rents were cheap, so I settled my family in Bay County and began to look around.  I’ll admit, even for a guy who thought he had seen everything; the extent of the economic collapse in this area was an eye opener.  Every solution seemed to look to Lansing.   And Lansing looked to Washington.  And nothing got done.  And “everyone” went broke.  Michigan had for all intents become a welfare state, with very few people working to support an aging, changing, in many ways decaying, population.  It wasn’t an area in need of a fix; it was an area in need of a miracle.  Or in more secular terms, a revolution.

Actually, the Great Lakes Bay Region has participated in a few economic revolutions since the Europeans first arrived and took survey of the indigenous resources.  From trading to logging to transportation, if not the center, the area was central to many waves of progress that later spread across the rest of the land.

Of course you have guessed that the “what” I am leading you into the idea of another revolution.  A Green Revolution.  A grassroots revolution where we live in a sustainable fashion, benefiting from the wisdom accumulated in our own communities, achieving rewards through responsible behavior, with compensation distributed more evenly to those that make enhance the cultural richness of our communities.  Not every valuable member of our community is a “professional.”  Some just act and manage and serve that way.  Some are just our own troubadours, local in reach but global in the scale of their talents and abilities.

I think that brings us up to “why”?  Well first of all, take a look at your bank statement.  If it looks anything like mine, you get it.  We need economic help and, once again, it looks like we are poised and ready to take advantage of another revolution: in energy.   From basic materials through highly advanced intermediate products, the Big Three of Dow, Dow Corning and Hemlock Semiconductor have actually been involved in the alternative energy business since its conception, as suppliers or technology, products and ideas to the alternative energy business.

Now that the market has finally started to catch up to the vision, these three companies are leading a wave of change in the area.  New companies are forming in the area: fabricators and companies that employ the products produced in Midland and Hemlock.  It’s similar to the pattern growth that preceded each of the last few booms.  Only this time it is the Tri-Cities at the center, rather than as a spoke.  To many of us in the industry and in the political arena, regardless of affiliation, the Great Lakes Bay Region would be a great place for the center of the Green Revolution.  It gives us a great chance to stamp our community values on these companies and on an industry. These companies and our the whole region could potentially be transformed by the scope of the energy revolution.

So how might you do this?  What do I have to do to be a revolutionary?  For now, why not try one of these:

  • Don’t wait for a job. Take a risk.  In fact, take a bet on yourself.  Start a business.  Better yet, start a non-profit.  But never forget that frugal living is central to the concept of self employment.  Fortunately or unfortunately, we have plenty of local experience at stretching a dollar.  Let’s benefit from it.
  • Get educated or learn a new skill.  Even if you are sitting on a couple of college degrees or feel you have a stable job, go learn something new.  You meet new people, pick up new skills and run into ample new opportunities to expand your mind.  Try a community college.  You wouldn’t believe what all they teach there.
  • Don’t waste opportunities.  Keep yourself ready to be part of an economic recovery.  Really, I want you to think of it like baseball, but with a 200,000 person batting order.  If it is your turn up and you whiff or, even worse, never report to the batters box, we never get that chance back.  That’s not just your chance, it’s all of ours.  Please take advantage of it. Your best effort will be fine, thank you.

In the meantime, there is one other “how” we can employ to make a real difference, beginning today.  Why not just “Do a Nice Thing.”   For anybody.  You don’t even have to let anyone know.  But you might just find that if you make a habit of helping people when they need it or lifting them up when they are down, the opportunities we were talking about a minute ago pop up more often.  Karma can be a teddy bear too, you know.

All that and Vote Green.

Q&A With The Candidate

Following is a Q & A with Matt de Heus based around the vetting questions asked by the Green Party of Michigan.
Q:  Why the Green Party and not one of the “major” political parties?

 

I joined the Green Party in February of this year.  My concern for the current condition of our region and the diminishing prospects of people within my circle of friends and acquaintances led me to politics.  Disenchantment with the “status quo” parties and investigation of alternative options led me to the Green Party.  I found immediate empathy with the messages contained in the Four Pillars and The Ten Values.

 

Q:  What political activities and organizations (parties) have you been involved with recently?

 

I have served as the Chairman of the Bay County Green Party since March of this year, with most of my activities devoted to party building.  In the past I have been a member of the Democratic Party and an Election Day volunteer.  I also write regular features for The Review, a local political and entertainment newspaper.

 

Q:  Have you run for office before? 

This is my first time seeking an elected office.

 

Q:  Most candidates come up with some sort of “campaign biography”, from a few sentences to a few paragraphs explaining briefly who the candidate is.  What’s your short bio?

 

Over the course of two decades, I have built a solid track record of success in both the private and public sectors.  This broad experience, developed in both domestic and international marketplaces, spans such functional areas as manufacturing operations, marketing, strategic planning, environmental engineering and new technology development.  My efforts have been rewarded in large part by the creation of hundreds jobs.

 

Prior to leaving industry in 2005, I served in a variety of executive level positions within, primarily within the Burmah Castrol Group.  I have also enjoyed success as an independent management consultant, advising small to medium sized businesses on strategy, new product development, industrial marketing and M&A integration.  I have operated several small businesses, including Zovida, a firm which developed and marketed wound care products to the large animal veterinary market.  Since 2006 I have been employed as an instructor with the nationally recognized program in Process Technology at Delta College (University Center, MI).

 

I hold a BS in Chemical Engineering from Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology and an MS in Manufacturing Technology from Eastern Michigan University.  I am married with a blended family of five children.  In addition to my work at Delta, I serve on the board of two non-profits and I have spent the last six years as a youth basketball coach in the Essexville-Hampton Community League.

 

What do you believe are the most significant campaign issues in your area.

 

I would like to focus my campaign on four critical areas:

 

Energy – Sustainable, cost effective, clean and safe.  This includes the full range of associated issues – from capacity management and distribution of industrial and residential power supplies to novel applications for portable storage technologies to power consumer electronics and transportation.  We must break our dependence on fossil fuel and begin to move away from the “combustion economy” as a matter of ecological stewardship of the planet.

 

Employment – Michigan needs a renewed focus on job creation.  Early successes of “green manufacturing” firms in the Saginaw Valley has been welcome news.  I have been part of this rebirth as an instructor in the process technology program at Delta College.  While manufacturing is near and dear to my heart, we must also look to agriculture and entrepreneurship as key components in our economic revival.  Bay County in particular has rich agricultural resources and has potential for growth in both traditional food / livestock production and in new markets, such as biofuels and biomass.  We must protect agricultural land and create a modern support infrastructure that makes its possible for small to medium sized farmers to prosper.

 

Education – We must have strong public education options that cover the learning of the members of our region during all phases of their lives.  Public schools should be equitably funded and of the highest quality, community colleges should provide affordable options for those seeking to transition into a new field or to transfer to one of the State’s many publicly funded colleges or universities.  Education is the key to both economic security and to the broader goal of an informed electorate.

 

Environment – Michigan is rich in natural resources, from the Great Lakes to National Forests and some of the most fertile agricultural land in the world.  While we understand how valuable these resources have been to use over time, it is clear they are under threat.  From the twin oil spills in the Gulf and this week on the west side of our own states, to the import of trash for landfill or incineration, to the unnerving secondary effects of natural gas production on rural communities, we have unprecedented evidence that we must change our behaviors … and soon.

What is your stance on the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan?

I have not supported either of these wars since their inception.  I do not believe in violence as a means to settle cultural or economic disputes.  I would support funding only to the extent  it pays for the safe and quick removal of our soldiers from both combat zones.

And what about the Second Amendment – the Right to Bear Arms?

I am in favor of gun owners rights.  First of all, I grew up in a rural community and I believe hunting and sport shooting to be normal, healthy and generally safe hobbies.

I also call on my experience of living in England, where gun owners face far greater restrictions and handguns are basically forbidden.  At one point during my stay it was reported that around 80% of all property crime was occurring when the homeowner was present.  That simply doesn’t happen in a country in which a large portion of its law abiding citizens are allowed to keep firearms stored is a safe, but accessible fashion in their home.  It is also a fact that the UK has a steady year-on-year increase in handgun crime since enacting legislation that restricted handgun ownership.

There were a couple of more basic elements in play when our forefathers drafted the amendment in question.  First, it was meant as a matter of national security that we could call on an armed citizen militia should the need ever arise. It was also created as a balance against a concentration of “police power” in the government.  While the signers of the Constitution might not have envisioned the kind of inequity in the technologies available to the armed services and the average citizen, it does not diminish the idea that this same citizen has a right to protect the interests of home, property and family – by taking up arms, if necessary.

Where do you stand on abortion?

I believe that abortion must be legal,safe and made available on reasonable terms to women who wish to exercise this reproductive right.

Same sex unions (a.k.a. “Gay Marriage”)?

I believe that the state should allow for the recognition and sanction of same sex unions.  It is my belief that “marriage” is largely a religious rite, should be governed by the practices of that religion and this rite should hold no special preference in a secular state.  Consenting adults, however, should be able to enter into recognized unions that bestow property rights, employment benefits or similar privileges currently reserved for married couples.  The existence of a religious recognition or an active sexual relationship should have no bearing on these rights and privileges.


Why should someone vote for you?

I have the right experience for today’s environment.  Unlike many candidates, many of whom tout similar priorities, I have an actual track record in our areas of greatest need, like technology, energy, manufacturing, international trade and education.  I’ve done nothing but help people promote their own careers and their own well being all of my life.  My experience matches our problems and offers unique preparation for the challenges ahead.  I can make a difference in the lives of many people through a successful campaign.

Hemp for Fuel: An Blunt Argument for a New Cash Crop

This might be hard for some people to believe, but I used to be able to dunk a basketball.  Even though it turned out to be something I could do pretty easily, I’ll never forget the first time.  It really was a thrilling feeling.  It was fun.  And I began to have visions of basketball greatness.  Game winning slams.  High fives and chest bumps.  And, of course, cheerleaders.  And soon all I wanted to do was dunk.  I felt I was working on a living dream.  Even if I wasn’t the coolest guy in my school, at least I’d be the one with the serious hops.  It was going to be great.

Like all great sagas, it turned out I wasn’t alone in my basketball journey.  The neighborhood sports nerd, who I will call “Benny,” was working on his own hoop dream.  At about 5 ‘5” and 250 pounds, Benny wasn’t doing any skywalking.  What he did have going for him was seemingly unlimited range on a dead eye “hop shot.”  We didn’t have three pointers in those days, but that didn’t keep Benny from launching on them from 35 or 40 feet.  And more often than not, it was nothing but net.  If you needed a long shot, Benny was money.

So together we toiled as summer turned to fall.  Benny throwing them up and me throwing them down.  We were the kings of driveway basketball.  Our spire if influence may have been narrow in radius, but it was certainly high.  And so was our confidence heading into tryouts for the varsity basketball team.

It’s fair to say that Benny and I hit the ground running when tryouts began.  Individual drills really gave us a chance to show off a bit.  Benny was more accurate than ever with the tight rims and firm footing of the school gym.  And I stuffed my first lay-up and decided to try and dunk every one after that.  Even the misses created a buzz amongst the other guys in the lay-up line, so I kept trying, no matter how successful the result.

But then reality kicked in.  “de Heus!!!  I said left hand!”

The coach ripped into me when I used the left handed lay-up drill as an opportunity to try a bit of a trick dunk.  He didn’t look happy, so I settled down a bit.  But really, it didn’t get better from there.

The problem really came to a head when we started to scrimmage.  First of all, there was defense.  And they set screens.  And boxed out.  And pulled off “give and go” plays that left Benny’s head spinning and me “jumping around like a decapitated grasshopper,” if I remember the coach’s words correctly.

Clearly you know where this is parable is headed.  Neither of us made the team.  When the coach sat down to talk to us, he said it was a pretty simple decision.

“I know the dunking if fun, Matt.  In fact, I think you are kind of cool. But you really don’t contribute much when the game gets going.  You get confused and just start hopping around.  Jumping high is great, but it isn’t basketball.  You’re just not that productive when you are on the court.”

“And, Benny, I might kick myself some time this season when really I need a long shot, but it’s the same story as Matt.  You really only have the one skill.  In fact, that’s the whole issue in the decisions on both of you.  If I was producing a highlight film, you guys might be useful.  But, you are missing the whole point of the game.  The fundamentals – like defense and passing and team play.  I hate to say it, but you guys are all paint and no canvas.  It might be plain and uninteresting, but you don’t get the luxury of fancy dunks and long shots unless you have executed the fundamental elements of the game.  Don’t feel alone; most fans miss this point, too.”

By now you are probably wondering what this cathartic tale of high school failure has to do with the headline of alternative energy and hemp.  Well, the correlations are pretty easy.

Proponents of hemp have, to date, focused on a couple of pretty populist wedges in the current laws covering this particular niche in agricultural commerce.  Medical marijuana is now legal to some degree in 14 states.  California has a ballot initiative this November that would decriminalize recreational marijuana, allowing for its cultivation, sale and taxation.  As it is reportedly already the largest cash crop in the state, this sounds like a reasonable question to ask the voters.

The problem with all of this “progress” in hemp law is one of focus.  Much like my fixation on the slam dunk and Benny’s love of the long shot, recreational and medical marijuana are really fringe elements to the overall opportunity of hemp.  If we are interested in the societal benefits that would accrue by opening up a new cash crop, why aren’t we talking about hemp and its potential role in renewable energy?  It’s less divisive.  It represents a significantly lower moral threshold.  In fact, it is really good science backed by the common economic sensibilities that are almost always offered by our farming communities.

The first thing we need to realize is that that already have an amazing source for the collection and conversion of solar energy.  It’s called plants.  Photosynthesis collects energy from the sun and stores itself in the molecular bonds of a variety of carbon-based compounds, like starch or cellulose.  The carbon comes from the air.  Water and other minerals from the earth.  With hemp, this all happens in a relatively short cycle of 80 to 120 days.  It’s a quickly renewable resource at that.  Every gardener knows the weeds seem to grow faster than the “good plants.”

We’ll remember from high school chemistry that releases of the energy contained in carbon chains are the products of many reactions, including combustion, decomposition, pyrolysis and others.  It is the lowest hanging fruit when it comes to energy conversion – easier than generating current in photovoltaic cells and more efficient than capturing  kinetic energy with windmills and dams.  We simply haven’t found anything as efficient, affordable safe as tapping the energy stored in carbon-carbon bonds.  And given that we haven’t found a way to grow money on trees, the fact that alternative sources of this carbon mass may utilize existing community assets is a very good thing.

So, given that we are likely stuck tapping into carbon-based energy sources for the foreseeable future,  how exactly does hemp fit it?  Let’s take a look at a few facts about the low THC version of the more popular psychoactive relative:

  • Hemp is a very rugged hybrid, able to grow in a variety of climates with relatively low levels of human intervention (irrigation, pesticides, etc.)
  • Hemp makes and excellent rotation crop, giving current farmers another option in long term management of their land.
  • Hemp can be cultivated and harvested using the current generation of farm equipment, eliminating a need for large investments in new technology.
  • Hemp is relatively drought resistant, allowing it to be a viable crop even in arid climates.
  • Hemp produces four times are much cellulose per acre as hardwood trees.
  • After rendering and removing pulps useful in paper production, hemp still contains 77% recoverable cellulose (versus 60% for wood).  This mass can be converted to biodiesel or converted to energy from biomass.
  • Hemp can produce 10 times the methanol as the same mass of corn.
  • A hemp crop will turn over 5 to 40 times faster than renewable sources of cellulose.
  • Growing hemp produces an estimated $800.00 annual profit per acre of land. This compares to the $200.00 profit per acre enjoyed by soybeans (America’s most profitable cash crop) and the $40 produced by an acre of timber.
  • Hemp-based fuels do not contain sulfur compounds, reducing noxious emissions.
  • Combustion of hemp-based fuels releases less carbon monoxide than similar quantities of fossil fuels.
  • Hemp-based fuels are biodegradable, allowing for easier clean-up if there is an accidental release.
  • Hemp oil is easily rendered into a variety of forms – from pellets to liquid fuel to gases.  Each of these is produced using a fraction of the energy required to produce the same product from a fossil based fuel.
  • Rudolph Diesel, the inventor of the diesel engine, originally designed it to run on hemp seed oil.  Vegetable oil-powered diesel conversions are based on this original concept.
  • The US government outlawed all of this in 1938.  It is against the law to grow industrial hemp in this country.

It’s that last fact that needs to be the focus of our attention.  Many might applaud the “victories” won at the polls for medical marijuana rights.  There is a real chance California will have legal recreational pot in the very near term.

The problem is, despite the slow and steady slog toward to free the black market for cannabis, we are using up time, energy and goodwill by tying the future of the plant to its socially marginal cousin.  Much like dunks and three pointers in basketball, the medical and recreational arguments for marijuana are highlight real stuff.  But just like I learned in 10th grade, they are not the real substance of the game.

The foundation here is the cellulose in the hemp plant.  The pulpy “fruit” of a superbly robust fiber is actually the ultimate solar energy collection device and it doubles as a medium term energy storage solution.  Call it nature’s battery, if you want.  And if you think a dunk can provide electricity in a basketball game, wait until you see what it can mean to a community if 15 – 20% of your energy needs are met by a cheap, plentiful, locally produced hemp-based biomass.

Many people don’t realize that agriculture is the second largest industry in Michigan.  We really don’t have to tell farmers about alternative energy.  They’ve been using mixed solutions forever:  windmills, geothermal, solar panels, propane, fuel oil, diesel fueled tractors, methanol fueled hot rods, wood and corn burners.  If it sounds a bit like a Billy Currington song, it’s because they all are well entrenched in our rural and agricultural communities.

You know what else is in these entrenched in these communities?  Common sense.  Stretching a buck.  Giving a good day’s work for a fair price.  Honesty and personal responsibility.  If I was going to attach my economic future to any one group (and that is what we are talking about in the energy debate), give me the farmers.  You can have the fossil fuel executives and Consumer’s Energy.

In fact, you can have the medical and recreational marijuana arguments.  Those are issues best left for stronger souls than I.  Like the coach suggested in 10th grade, I’ll focus on the fundamentals.  Younger folks can worry about the dunks and highlight reels.  My feet hurt too much to dunk these days, anyway.

“Isms” At High Noon

You can hardly read a political blog without finding a comment calling President Obama a “socialist,” as opposed to the apparently preferred alternative of a “capitalist.”  Frankly, I don’t get it.  But let’s not worry about Obama for a minute.  Let’s figure out where we stand.

First, let me give you a couple definitions to work with:

Socialism:  Businesses are primarily owned by the workers. Profit is the fruit of labor and it is divided accordingly.  Workers share in both profits and losses.  Individual residents and workers pay relatively high tax rates and  retain the majority of political power.  Corporations pay comparatively low tax rates, leading to a reduction of their role in public policy.  The goal of a socialist system is improved quality of life.

Capitalism:  Businesses are primarily owned by shareholders. Profit is divided amongst those who provided this investment capital.  Workers are paid a wage.  Corporations pay relatively high tax rates and enjoy significant clout in elections and the process of policy making.  The goal of a capitalist system is an increase in the standard of living.

Now I want you to go back in for a minute and listen to any recent Obama speech.  He is a capitalist.  His rise to power was funded by large corporations and it has lead him into conflicts of interest he should have envisioned – like how to handle an environmental catastrophe caused by one of his biggest campaign donors.  Make no mistake, Barack Obama is a capitalist and any attempt to brand him as anything else is a primitive attempt to create an “us vs. them” wedge issue for the “low information” voter.  The fact is, he is trying too hard to govern like an entrepreneur – betting on businesses and even getting directly involved in some.  I’m not sure anyone voted for him with that intent.

Really, be careful before you throw around the “isms.”  Take another look at the definitions I gave you above.  Think a minute about “quality vs quantity.”  It will give you a new way to look at any politician or candidate.