back to article How much of one year's Californian energy use would wipe out the drought?

That California drought - it's terrible, isn't it? But there's nothing to be done. If it doesn't rain for a few years, and doesn't snow up in the mountains, Californians must just yield to Mother Nature and stop watering their lawns, stop washing their cars, maybe even stop growing those delicious but thirsty almonds. Or ... …

Not going to happen

The problem is that the environmental impact studies would take decades.

Then you would have dozens of environmental wacko groups suing the municipalities that are trying to build the plants. The lawsuits would take many more decades to get through the courts.

You have to remember this is California we are talking about here! It's the highest concentration of environmental activists (wackos) on the planet.

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Re: Not going to happen

It's not just environmentalists, either.

One of the interesting things about California's legislative system is the ability for any sufficiently organized [ read: they can file some paperwork and get enough suckers to sign a petition ] group of citizens to, in effect, put legislation on the ballot.

This is how we got the "Proposition 65" that, as of a couple years ago, forced Starbucks to start putting cancer warnings on their door.

There's several groups that are organized to represent "citizens concerned about governmental overreach and taxation" [ read: virulently anti-tax, and committed to abolishing every tax they can get support for ] that would be very interested in opposing any publicly-funded projects that show up on the ballot.

Even if the legislature managed to get its act together enough to begin such a program, it would be at the cost of one or more of the legislator's seats - as is evidenced by the recall campaign starting against the gent who authored the bill calling for mandatory vaccination.

So while environmentalists are, certainly, one cause that will put the kibosh on desal plants, there's quite a few others who are just as committed to keeping the state dry.

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Re: Not going to happen

"It's the highest concentration of environmental activists (wackos) on the planet."

NOT ONLY THAT, but the statistics of ACTUAL WATER USAGE have been intentionally SKEWED to avoid reporting the fact that the MAJORITY of California's fresh water goes to ENVIRONMENTAL CONCERNS. You know, like filling up the Sacramento River Delta to save that all-important DELTA SMELT. Or replenishing "wetlands" (aka SWAMPS). It's about HALF of the fresh water that California has that is for THE ENVIRONMENT. But THE ENVIRONMENT should have to undergo drought restrictions too, right?

So the REAL numbers look like this:

1. Environment (50%)

2. Farms (40%)

3. Citizens (10%)

And WHERE are all of the 'drought restrictions' focused? On the 10% naturally, because it's about THE CONTROL, and not about THE WATER.

So it's not so much LAZINESS as it is PURE NEGLIGENCE and EVIL INTENT.

link to article

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Re: Not going to happen

WOULD read and PROBABLY making a GOOD point if it were NOT for ALL those EVIL CAPITAL LETTERS.

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Re: Not going to happen

Let me get this straight, are you saying not destroying important habitats that have other benefits such as food production and acting as part of coastal defence, where the water would be going if people weren't taking it is evil?

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Facepalm

Re: Not going to happen

The killer is there are multiple salt plants who collect the sea salt after evaporating the water. There's absolutely no reason they couldn't take most of the water out to use for consumer use before putting a concentrated brine in their salt ponds and it would probably improve their salt production. No, lets just ignore that perfectly good fresh water that we can very easily capture with nearly zero environmental impact other than slightly lowering the humidity near the salt plant. The plants are already there, all they lack is a little equipment to capture the fresh water. Yep, even that is too hard.

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Re: Not going to happen

"WOULD read and PROBABLY making a GOOD point if it were NOT for ALL those EVIL CAPITAL LETTERS."

Not necessarily, since the reference is from the National Review. If it's not flaming Obama (because Obama), then the problem is environmentalists, liberals, and/or feminists, with room for feminazis, econazis, and nazi liberals. It could be completely correct, but if the National Review says the sky is blue then it's worth sticking your head outside to get a second source.

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GBE

Re: Not going to happen

"WOULD read and PROBABLY making a GOOD point if it were NOT for ALL those EVIL CAPITAL LETTERS."

His keyboard must have been out of green ink.

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According to wonkapedia it only takes 3kWh/m^3 for desalination.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reverse_osmosis#Desalination

At 200litres per person (a generous amount), that's 600Wh per person per day. Bugger all really.

Reverse osmosis of waste water produces even better efficiency.

You can guarantee though that the politicians want to keep this drought alive. Fear keeps the populace in their place.

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Flame

Re: Not going to happen

The desal plant in Carlsbad that will b coming on-line soon was delayed for several years by environmentalists. One of the more bizarre arguments was the amount of sea life that would be killed after being drawn into the sea water intakes - of course no regard was given to the number of Delta Smelt that would be saved by the water in the Delta not being sent south.

A couple of interesting factoids - less energy is required to produce a given volume of water from RO than to get the same volume of water over the Tehachapis from norther Cal. The newest membranes will require less energy per volume of water than to get water from the Colorado river to San Diego.

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Re: Not going to happen

Penn and Teller went to an "environmental" talkfest and managed to get the head of a major green organisation to sign a petition against Di-Hydrogen Oxide which is, you guessed it, water. Track down their season one episode "Environmental-Hysteria" and see for yourself. It is track 3 on CD 3 if you can get that.

When I lived in CA in the early 70s there was a proposal to use heat exchangers in the cooling systems of offshore nuclear powerplants to create massive quantities of fresh water for cities and agriculture but that was until the loonies said no.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Not going to happen

Then you would have dozens of environmental wacko groups suing the municipalities that are trying to build the plants. The lawsuits would take many more decades to get through the courts.

It's worse than that. Having briefly worked with some environmental and anti-discrimination groups, I quickly lost my childish innocence about these causes. The cold truth of these organizations is that they are all about organized blackmail. I was so naive to think they really gave a damn. it was all about payola.

The people on the street - the protestors, the letter writers, the mobs - all have good intentions. But the people running these groups all want a cut off the top. Pay up and they tell the protestors to go away. Don't pay and they suffocate you in court for years.

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Re: all have good intentions.

The road to Hell is paved with good intentions, or at least that's what I've been told.

No, I don't give the benefit of the doubt to the radicals in the streets. It requires a great intentional suspension of disbelief to assign evil motives to your neighbors. Any sane examination of the results their protests have generated will tell you what they're doing doesn't achieve their stated objectives.

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Megaphone

Re: Not going to happen

Big problem with current society is that the explanations for many serious problems just go over the heads of the people making the decisions. Plenty of MPs lack a grade-C maths O level, certainly the people who vote for them do.

Undemocratic decision makers such as civil service bods, Quangos, eurocrats may be our only hope. And that is not much of a hope, as many of these are much the same types as the MPs but not sufficiently likeable to be elected.

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Re: Not going to happen

Yeah. Can you believe those environmental wackos want to keep the Sacramento river from drying up? Letting the Delta Smelt die off is good. Letting salt water back up from the San Francisco Bay to Sacramento is good. Destroying the crop land between Berkeley and Sacramento is no problem. Destroying the food chain of the delta is no problem. Migratory birds? Screw them. We don't need rivers and salmon and trees, unless they are fruit or nut trees.

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Thumb Down

Small issue of infrastructure

So, good article, but I have a few quibbles as someone who lives in California.

First, this assumes that there are enough desalinization plants to handle demand - which there aren't, and there won't be for quite some time. Desalinization plants are expensive to build and maintain, and every time those of us who support them try to get them built, the various interests opposing them kick up a huge fuss - interests that vary depending on where, precisely, you want to build the thing, but generally including both environmentalists and very rich people who don't like eyesores. Even if you can get the things built, they still need to be certified as safe by various agencies, etc., which turns into a (mostly political) boondoggle.

Second, this also assumes that there's enough electricity capacity to manage to run the things. This is a somewhat more complex topic, but the long and short of it is that, especially since the nuclear plant down by San Diego was forced to close, electricity capacity is somewhat shaky, especially during the height of summer. California's electricity infrastructure doesn't really have the capacity for the amount of load that a bunch of new desal plants would require - we've already got advertisements all over the radio demanding electricity conservation pretty much year-round.

Remember, any power used for desalinization is power that can't be used to run the air conditioners of the rich folk in Beverly Hills, and they get all upset when rolling blackouts start.

So yes, it would be, when amortized across the entire population, a fairly reasonable cost and one which I, for one, would be more than willing to bear. However, as lovely as the plan is in theory, implementing it in practice is significantly more complex.

But if Mr. Page would like to come show us lazy Californians how it works, I'd be more than willing to give him directions to Sacramento so he can show our perpetually incompetent legislature what for.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Small issue of infrastructure

Let me punch up one point for you... the financial analysis does not consider the COST to build and maintain the infrastructure (both de-salinization and power infrastructure, not to mention water delivery infrastructure), only the cost of energy to run it. The financial model being presented is bogus.

This is akin to saying you only need $2k annually and you can have a Tesla, without taking into account acquisition, maintenance, and battery replacement costs. And oh yeah, you live in a city without a parking space so you need to factor in parking costs.

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Re: Small issue of infrastructure

> "The financial model being presented is bogus."

We are discussing a state where the government is planning to build (with tax monies) a hugely expensive high-speed train that cannot be rationally justified. Thus such a water scheme will never happen, due to it's obvious utility.

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Re: Small issue of infrastructure @ AC

You are, of course, right in the fact that there's stuff missing in the calculation.

However, the first thing that gets shouted about when it comes to desal plants is the energy requirement, and pointing out that in the grand scheme of things the energy requirement isn't impossible and actually quite fesible, provided, pulls that particular barb.

Also not included is that with proper waste water treatment you can use the same water several times over, as with a properly set up water management scheme the only water you lose is through evaporation to the air, which is mostly agriculture (this is including the green lawns and golf courses..).

The whole picture is , as ever, a bit more complicated. But Lewis has a point purely from the perspective of energy used.

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No new power infrastructure is needed...this really isn't that complicated

This isn't like turning on a light or the AC, where you need to have power available at that time. You can operate the desalination plants with off-peak energy, as well as buffer the variable demands (and supplies) during peak energy usage.

Given that this is a problem that has built up for years, and California is draining its aquifers even when they aren't experiencing a drought, you'd want to build the desalination plants so that they would be operated regularly (not continuously, we're using off-peak energy remember?)

Lewis' suggestion of adding 2% to California's energy usage to fix the problem over six years seems like a good initial target for the level of desalinization infrastructure you'd want to build. Enough to get "back to normal" in six years, and pumping the water into the aquifers to make up for those losses down the road. You can always add more plants down the road if the drought continues or worsens, or operate them less often if California starts setting yearly rainfall records.

OK, what about the environmental impact? California wants to reduce its CO2 impact, not permanently increase it by 2%! So how about wind or solar? The state I live in generates a quarter of its electricity from wind power. California's population is 13x larger, so if they added as much generation capacity as my state has, that would be their 2%. Though the desert may point to solar being a simpler alternative there - I merely pointed out the comparison with my state to forestall those who will claim "do you know how much energy California uses, there is no way renewable energy can produce that much".

The desalination plants wouldn't be directly powered by solar or wind, that would be added into the grid, and the desalination plants would act as buffers by using power that the rest of the grid doesn't need at the moment during peaks, and running on a more continuous basis during off-peak hours.

In this way renewable energy could solve California's water problems - and the water bills of California residents would pay for it. Using renewable energy may cost more today than just adding another gas fired plant or two, but getting new fossil fuel power plants built in California is not easy. Wind & solar is (at least comparatively speaking)

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Re: Small issue of infrastructure @ AC

"Also not included is that with proper waste water treatment you can use the same water several times over..."

Actually, as the extent of the drought began to take hold in the press, "toilet to tap" was getting quite a bit of coverage, particularly for the "eww" factor. I found it pretty funny since, in reality, most water was waste water at some point. It just gets cleaned up by the environment most of the time. Short cutting that process sounds perfectly reasonable to me with the right controls in place.

As to the rest of the conversation: typical. "It'll never happen because politics!" So let's all just bury our heads because we can't do nuthin.

I've always found talk of water shortages silly because, as pointed out in the article, there's plenty of water around, it just needs a little processing to be usable. So let's put our techno-industrial minds to work and get it done.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Small issue of infrastructure

@Munin, Just how much of the energy problem in California is down to the large reliance on renewable energy?

Just remember that renewable energy will never supply base load and any politician that thinks so is conning you.

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Re: Small issue of infrastructure

"Let me punch up one point for you... the financial analysis does not consider the COST to build and maintain the infrastructure (both de-salinization and power infrastructure, not to mention water delivery infrastructure), only the cost of energy to run it. The financial model being presented is bogus."

The same applies to most green policy proposals. Do they consider the energy required to refine enough aluminum for the extra transmission lines needed to make the solar economy work? No. Do they bother to look up the recycling rate to make sure that specifying 80/20 would actually increase recycling (and decrease refining)? No. Do they bother to check whether a 60 year lifespan is the hard limit for a nuclear plant? No. Do they include the CO2 cost of building factories to make solar cells in large volumes? No.

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Re: Small issue of infrastructure

"air conditioners of the rich folk in Beverly Hills"

Rolling blackout would at least show up the true green rich for trendy green rich once the backup generators start getting installed.

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Re: No new power infrastructure is needed...this really isn't that complicated

"The desalination plants wouldn't be directly powered by solar or wind" Doug S

Actually, a desalination plant is an ideal candidate to be directly connected to solar and/or wind turbines, because once you've established a reserve and have a reasonably good weather forecast model, it doesn't really matter when the plant runs and the rate at which it runs at, just as long as it runs some of the time.

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Do US A favour

Look up the video on the infrastructure requirements discussed in the Video about a cubic mile of oil. It will save you seeming as foolish as the people who upvoted you, next time you feel the need to uneducate US.

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Nuclear have life

I went around the Cemaes Bay reactor before they shut it. They got a license extended to keep it open because the graphite core was uncontaminated. Then Thatcher went to war with the miners then shortly after they closed a spate of nuclear power plants. Since then I have been looking at lots of videos on Thorium reactors and it has been a mind opener.

Large firms in the business of farming plutonium residues do so only with the connivance of corporate and political scum. The actual grunts: nuclear physicists have no say in what is best policy or why. Harvesting spent plutonium is a racket that will continue to make money for all concerned for 24,100^2 years until we start building thorium plant and shooting large power company/environmental agency management.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Small issue of infrastructure

@ Munin

What the hell is a desalinization plant!

Shirley you just mean desalination as per the article?

Burglarize v Burgle.

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Re: No new power infrastructure is needed...this really isn't that complicated

Since an earlier poster has for someone else, let me emphasize this point for you:

California is draining its aquifers even when they aren't experiencing a drought

Kali has to rethink everything they're doing out there. The problem is too many of them won't rise above the level of feeling.

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Re: the large reliance on renewable energy?

Kali has had energy problems since about the time Enron fleeced them of billions. While renewables may have exacerbated the problem, it existed before that change. Fundamentally, too many people are unwilling to live near the power plant (whichever type you want to name) for various and sundry reasons. Couple that with a failure to increase support infrastructure with population rises and you have the perfect storm.

Oh, and for all of you talking about recycling the waste water, Kali has an interesting sewage problem in a number of locations. With all of the Al Gore low flush and super low flush toilets out there, the sewer pipes don't have enough water in them to maintain waste flow. So that ain't getting ya there either.

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Re: Nuclear have life

The main restriction on thorium based reactors is finding a fuel rod container which can withstand the heat of the reactor and the corrosion of the salt solution the thorium is stored in. Otherwise it's a fantastic idea though, and definitely seems like something we should look to put money into along side renewables

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Re: Small issue of infrastructure @ AC

Ah, well, in that case, Lewis doesn't have a point. San Diego currently recycles its waste water and is moving toward closing the loop and using the recycled waste water as drinking water. It's already quite common for cities to use recycled waste water for landscape watering. It's just a matter of time before most cities are running fully closed loops.

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Re: Small issue of infrastructure

Renewable energy is about 20% of California electricity consumption. (http://www.energy.ca.gov/renewables/)

And, funny thing, the sun reliably shines here on days when people run their air conditioners. Also, in California we have geothermal energy. Works great as base load. They even have it closer to you. In Iceland.

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Re: Nuclear have life

Malarkey. Conniving corporate and political scum are all about making money. If Thorium reactors were profitable, they would be all over it.

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Re: Small issue of infrastructure

Solar power fits quite nicely with air-conditioning though.

And combining solar power generation with desalination seems a nice fit, even if you don't want to do solar distillation.

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Re: Small issue of infrastructure

Usually yes, when engineers get involved.

I think transmission lines are for power, and go with power used, not power generated.

Diffuse power production reduces the flows through transmission lines, compared to central generation.

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Me3

DeSal

Yep - I have to agree with both of the above. I live here in beautiful San Diego and we've been working to get a desal plant for the last 20 years.

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Re: DeSal

Who is the "we've" who have been working to get a desal plant in San Diego? Is it a question of money, is it being held up by the state, by the feds, by environmentalists, or what?

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Anonymous Coward

This is exactly what I was asking people the other day.

How in ${DEITY}'s name can we be short of water when we live (mostly) next to the sea.

This is the 21st Century. I'm sure that there are some clever people in California that could come up with a solution or two.

Here's a thought though: since the climate is supposedly changing and we're going to be getting longer, hotter summers, that's an awful lot of energy going to waste.

Instead of everyone putting up their arms and waving them around in despair, why don't we try and use it?

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"some clever people ...could come up with a solution or two."

And some even clever and infinitely more powerful politicians well motivated to thwart them.

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Taking the name of the lord in vane

When I jump in it is usually head first and what I generally aim at would be better use of both feet; however:

https://weatherlawyer.wordpress.com/

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>Here's a thought though: since the climate is supposedly changing and we're going to be getting longer, hotter summers, that's an awful lot of energy going to waste.

Perhaps if we had more water, we could plant more, er, plants, which would help offset the CO2, instead of crying "drought!" and letting everything turn into a dustbowl.

But as has been said, why would the companies spend millions when they can just order a shortage for free? Plus, if everyone accepts the shortage, you've got a good excuse to raise prices.

I suspect we just have to wait until things get a bit worse, so that it becomes worthwhile for a politician to stand up and say, "Oi, do it or we'll nationalise your sorry assets." Sadly, even then, they'll do it, the taxpayer will stump up for the costs and then it'll be sold off to some chums. Then we'll be back at the point where there's really no economic advantage to having plenty. Companies want scarcity.

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UK problem

It's not as though the UK as a whole (or even England on its own) could ever run short of water. It's just that most of it falls in the NW and most of the people are in the SE. There's clearly no way THAT problem could ever be solved. </sarcasm>

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Re: UK problem

There's a reason Northumbrian water is an "exporter" of drinking water to the sarf.

That would be Keilder reservoir.

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Re: UK problem

Absolutely. There's no way, whatsoever, that some form of convenient, already extremely well researched and implemented technology could help. Nope, definitely, absolutely not something like canals that could be used to transport water from one part of the country to another while also providing a phenomenally cheap, if slower than road truck, way to transport heavy goods (cheap on fuel). It'll never work.

It's not as if there's another country in the world that's putting this kind of thing in place. Oh, except China.

</sarcasm>

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The desalination plants would presumably be idle in the years when it did rain enough, yet you still have to pay the capital costs. It would be interesting to know what the capital costs would really be.

I think it comes down to this choice:

(a) make other people cut down on water use

(b) do nothing and hope it rains next year

(c) spend money

Normal, i.e. short-sighted, voters will probably choose (a) and (b).

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California's aquifers are being drained as we speak. Parts of the central valley have subsided more than 10 meters as the farmers pumped the underlying aquifer dry. Aquifers are the most efficient way of storing water- no evaporation!

Given the above, it would seem best to operate desal plants 24x7x365, rain or shine, and pump the resulting potable water directly into the aquifers until full. I'll suggest a backronym free of charge: the California Aquifer Restoration Project (CARP).

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You don't quite understand Thatcherism do you?

Thatcherism is that you sell all the socialist schemes to bring water to the unwashed to bring money to the washed. Problem solved. Since it is legal they don't even need a laundry. It works best under compression where you change all the vehicle manufacturers into one giant lame duck and offer it to China or was it India?

Someone had to set up monopoly in the poorer countries, they'd never cope just selling our shirts.

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You're too provincial. This political method is well known around the world, and Thatcherism merely refers to the British variant. As for cleaning up, well, George Washington didn't have that surname by accident!

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>Thatcherism is that you sell all the socialist schemes

For all the excesses of Thatcherism, it was inspired by noticing that all the socialist schemes were state owned and had already turned into a giant lame duck. Sometimes a clear-out is the only way to get things back on track.

Sadly the problem isn't really the economic or political model, its the corruption of those in power. Money and power almost always form an unholy alliance.

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