Sunday, April 27, 2008


In South Africa Potjiekos (poy-kee-kos), directly translated "pot food", is a stew prepared outdoors in the traditional round, cast iron, three-legged pots (the potjie) which are found in villa and village of people throughout Southern Africa. The pot is efficiently heated using small amounts of wood, charcoal or if fuel is scarce, twisted grass or even dried dung.

Traditionally, the recipe includes meat, vegetables, starches like rice or potatoes, all slow-cooked with Dutch-Malay spices, the distinctive spicing of South Africa's early culinary melting pot. Purists say liquid should never be added to the pot and the contents should never be stirred, as the lid keeps all liquids and flavors circulating throughout cooking. It is said that for a correctly cooked potjie, spices only enhance the taste. Other common ingredients include fruits and flour-based products like pasta.

Potjiekos originated with the Voortrekkers, evolving as a stew made of venison and vegetables (if available), cooked in the potjie. As trekkers shot wild game, it was added to the pot. The large bones were included to thicken the stew. Each day when the wagons stopped, the pot was placed over a fire to simmer. New bones replaced old and fresh meat replaced meat eaten. Game included venison, poultry such as guinea fowl, wart hog, bush pig, rabbit and hare.

Broadly speaking, Africans, Afrikaaners and English South Africans all cook potjiekos, but lounging around the fire for hours while socializing and enjoying side dishes is most culturally ingrained among the Afrikaaners, for whom potjiekos spicing is an esteemed art. "Potjiekos isn't just the meal. It is everything else that accompanies it. If, instead of summits and meetings, leaders held potjiekos gatherings, we all might be a little better off," said one fanatic.

Today there are numerous recipe books and potjiekos chefs, each with their own "secret" ingredients for potjiekos. Annual potjiekos competitions are held.

Doomed Chernobyl reactor to be buried in giant steel coffin

KIEV, Ukraine - Twenty-two years after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, work is under way on a colossal new shelter to cover the ruins and deadly radioactive contents of the exploded Soviet-era power plant.
For years, the original iron and concrete shelter that was hastily constructed over the reactor has been leaking radiation, cracking and threatening to collapse. The new one, an arch of steel, would be big enough to contain the Statue of Liberty.

Read more

Interesting article. They could have left out the part about what Greenpeace had to say about it, however; or at least prefaced that part with a descriptor such as: "Greenpeace, a terrorist organization that would like you to believe they are scientists..."

If you want to read more about Chernobyl, this is by far the best and most informative thing I have ever seen on the subject.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Home Biodiesel Production: NaOH Test Solution, Simplified

Emerging Infectious Diseases

Nan, in her blog "All the Good Names were Taken", offers up a link to the Emerging Infectious Diseases medical journal. Interesting reading.

WSJ Advises Food Stockpiling

From the Wall Street Journal:
I don't want to alarm anybody, but maybe it's time for Americans to start stockpiling food.
Reality: Food prices are already rising here much faster than the returns you are likely to get from keeping your money in a bank or money-market fund. And there are very good reasons to believe prices on the shelves are about to start rising a lot faster.

Read more

When the WSJ advises food storage, it's time to listen.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Home Biodiesel Production Part 2: Titration

I think I'm getting a little better at this video production thing. Unlike the video about making the base solution, I actually did rehearse this one, in the sense that I had actually carried out the steps in the video before. Not so much to improve the video, as simply following the instructions of the gurus on the mountains, so to speak; who recommend titrating 3 times to be absolutely sure of your results. It's no big deal to do it multiple times anyway, as it is a snap once you get everything set up.

I got the same results all 3 times, so there was no ambiguity there. I question the need for all the extreme accuracy though, because the experts can't even agree amongst themselves whether the correct amount of NaOH to use as a baseline should be 3.5 grams per liter, or 5 grams per liter. Both factions agree that extreme accuracy is necessary, they just can't agree on a starting point. Both factions do agree, however, that either starting point will work.
Allow me to point out that this 1.5 gram discrepancy covers quite a bit of inaccuracy in the titration process! In other words, we don't have to sweat it too much. Our "possum ugly" style of doing things should yield results that are indistinguishable from that of a professional-appearing laboratory, because of that built-in discrepancy!
Also, since I'm on the subject, I want to reiterate (and expound on) something I mentioned in the post about making the base solution (man, was that a fumble-fest!). Everything I read about making the solution stressed absolute accuracy in measuring the NaOH into the liter of water. What they didn't mention is that the stuff will be absorbing moisture from the atmosphere, getting heavier as you fumble around, trying to get it just right. Here's what I learned/figured out: Exact scales and graduations are irrelevant, so long as you use the same measurements throughout the process. If I take this mayonnaise jar and make an arbitrary mark on it with my magic marker at a point that "looks right", then use that mark to measure distilled water to pour into another jar; and then I make a couple of little dippers that each hold the same-sized two finger pinch of water, and use those dippers to measure the powdered base into the water, and later to measure the alcohol, base solution and oil into the test solution, and then later yet use the same dipper and jar with its measuring mark to measure the oil, methanol and base powder, I may not be able to articulate a name for those measurements (other than "jar" and "dipper"), but my proportions will be correct, anyway.

I think the process of titration is a stumbling block for a lot of people who would otherwise experiment with producing their own biodiesel. I know it was for me,initially. After all, the actual production process is not that much more difficult than simply mixing the vegetable oil with a certain proportion of gasoline, or kerosene, or petrodiesel, or mineral spirits, or acetone (all popular additives for viscosity reduction). The difficulty is in knowing how much base to add. Even the alcohol is added at a standard 20% proportion, so that's no real problem.

I must admit, I considered just skipping the titration process altogether, and guessing at 8 grams of NaOH per liter of oil. I'm glad I didn't, because that is exactly the number I came up with when I titrated! So when everything worked fine, I would have been tempted to conclude that titration was unnecessary after all. I may eventually arrive at that conclusion anyway, settling instead for a 1-liter test batch anytime something changes in my oil supply, but only after I titrate every batch for awhile and see how much the ph changes from batch to batch. I much prefer to know what I am doing, rather than guessing about it.

It's kinda' fun anyway, playing around with all this chemistry. Next up, actually producing some biodiesel!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Butanol: The Biofuel Nobody's Talking About

Clostridium acetobutylicum, included in the genus Clostridium, is a commercially valuable bacterium. It is sometimes called the "Weizmann Organism", after Chaim Weizmann, who in 1916 helped discover how C. acetobutylicum culture could be used to produce acetone, butanol, and ethanol from starch using the A.B.E. process (Acetone Butanol Ethanol process) for industrial purposes such as gunpowder and TNT production. The A.B.E. process was an industry standard until the late 1940s, when low oil costs drove more-efficient processes based on hydrocarbon cracking and petroleum distillation techniques. C. acetobutylicum also produces acetic acid (vinegar), butyric acid (a substance that smells like vomit), carbon dioxide, and hydrogen.

Anaerobic fermentation using C. acetobutylicum recently regained marked interest for use in vehicle biofuel production as a gasoline and diesel fuel replacement. This is because butanol, as produced by a fibrous bed bioreactor utilizing recent biotechnology co-developed by Environmental Energy Inc. and Ohio State University, produces the alcohol butanol as its primary output. The patented process using C. tyrobutyricum produces little acetone or ethanol, instead producing butyric acid and hydrogen, which is then pumped into another fibrous bed bioreactor where C. acetobutylicum converts the butyric acid into butanol, thus optimizing butanol production. The new process, then, obviates the A.B.E. process, making butanol production competitive with other biofuels with regard to both economics and energy production.

Pure butanol can be utilized in gasoline-powered cars without any modifications, producing similar mileage performance to gasoline but producing fewer NOx pollutants. If produced from a biomass source, there is no net carbon dioxide production.

Unlike yeast, which can digest sugar only into alcohol and carbon dioxide, C. acetobutylicum and many other Clostridia can digest whey, sugar, starch, lignin, cellulose fiber, and other biomass directly into butanol, propionic acid, ether, and glycerin. Apart from the need for temperature control, the A.B.E. synthesis process is relatively simple. The products are formed in layers that are easy to separate.

Biobutanol supporters claim significant advantages over other biofuels used to fuel internal combustion engine vehicles (ICEVs) and other liquid-fueled processes:

* Butanol has a higher octane fuel value than gasoline with increased low-end torque. A V8 engine has been tested on a 10,000-mile U.S. tour supporting a U.S. Department of Energy grant in 2005. The results of the butanol auto fuel demonstration were presented to the U.S. Department of Energy National Renewable Energy Laboratory's Clean Energy Forum in San Francisco on November 7, 2005.
* Butanol can be produced for less than fossil-based vehicle fuels.
* Butanol reduces vehicular emissions.
* Butanol does not readily adsorb moisture (it is not hygroscopic), so is less affected by changes in the weather, unlike the combustion of pure ethanol, which requires engine and fuel system modifications.

* Butanol does not attack materials commonly used in vehicular internal combustion engines.
* Biobutanol can also be used in the industrial paint and solvent industry to replace fossil butanol.
From Wikipedia

Butanol: The Biofuel Nobody's Talking About, Part 2

Butanol may be used as a fuel in an internal combustion engine. Because its longer hydrocarbon chain causes it to be fairly nonpolar, it is more similar to gasoline than ethanol. Butanol has been demonstrated to work in some vehicles designed for use with gasoline without any modification. It can be produced from biomass (biobutanol) as well as fossil fuels (petrobutanol). Some call this biofuel biobutanol to reflect its origin, although it has the same chemical properties as butanol produced from petroleum.

Production of butanol from biomass

Energy crop

Butanol from biomass is called biobutanol. It can be produced by fermentation of biomass by the A.B.E. process. The process uses the bacterium Clostridium acetobutylicum, also known as the Weizmann organism. It was Chaim Weizmann who first used this bacteria for the production of acetone from starch (with the main use of acetone being the making of Cordite) in 1916. The butanol was a by-product of this fermentation (twice as much butanol was produced). The process also creates a recoverable amount of H2 and a number of other by-products: acetic, lactic and propionic acids, acetone, isopropanol and ethanol.

The difference from ethanol production is primarily in the fermentation of the feedstock and minor changes in distillation. The feedstocks are the same as for ethanol: energy crops such as sugar beets, sugar cane, corn grain, wheat and cassava as well as agricultural byproducts such as straw and corn stalks. According to DuPont, existing bioethanol plants can cost-effectively be retrofitted to biobutanol production.

Algae butanol

Algae fuel and Diatom

Biobutanol can be made entirely with solar energy, from algae (called Solalgal Fuel) or diatoms.

Centia process

Centia is based on a three-step thermal, catalytic, and reforming process that has the potential to turn virtually any lipidic compound—e.g., vegetable oils, oils from animal fat and oils from algae—into 1-for-1 replacements for petroleum jet fuel, diesel, and gasoline. The three steps are:

* Hydrolytic conversion.
* Decarboxylation.
* Reforming long-chain alkanes.


Butanol better tolerates water contamination and is less corrosive than ethanol and more suitable for distribution through existing pipelines for gasoline. In blends with diesel or gasoline, butanol is less likely to separate from this fuel than ethanol if the fuel is contaminated with water.[2] There is also a vapor pressure co-blend synergy with butanol and gasoline containing ethanol, which facilitates ethanol blending. This facilitates storage and distribution of blended fuels.

Properties of common fuels
Fuel Energy
density Air-fuel
ratio Specific
energy Heat of
vaporization RON MON
Gasoline and biogasoline 32 MJ/L 14.6 2.9 MJ/kg air 0.36 MJ/kg 91–99 81–89
Butanol fuel 29.2 MJ/L 11.2 3.2 MJ/kg air 0.43 MJ/kg 96 78
Ethanol fuel 19.6 MJ/L 9.0 3.0 MJ/kg air 0.92 MJ/kg 129 102
Methanol 16 MJ/L 6.5 3.1 MJ/kg air 1.2 MJ/kg 136 104

Energy content and effects on fuel economy

Switching a gasoline engine over to butanol would in theory result in a fuel consumption penalty of about 10% but butanol's effect on mileage is yet to be determined by a scientific study. While the energy density for any mixture of gasoline and butanol can be calculated, tests with other alcohol fuels have demonstrated that the effect on fuel economy is not proportional to the change in energy density.

Octane rating

The octane rating of n-butanol is similar to that of gasoline but lower than that of ethanol and methanol. n-Butanol has a RON (Research Octane number) of 96 and a MON (Motor octane number) of 78 while t-butanol has octane ratings of 105 RON and 89 MON. t-Butanol is used as an additive in gasoline but cannot be used as a fuel in its pure form because its relatively high melting point of 25.5 °C causes it to gel and freeze near room temperature.

A fuel with a higher octane rating is less prone to knocking (extremely rapid and spontaneous combustion by compression) and the control system of any modern car engine can take advantage of this by adjusting the ignition timing. This will improve energy efficiency, leading to a better fuel economy than the comparisons of energy content different fuels indicate. By increasing the compression ratio, further gains in fuel economy, power and torque can be achieved. Conversely, a fuel with lower octane rating is more prone to knocking and will lower efficiency. Knocking can also cause engine damage.

Air-fuel ratio

Alcohol fuels, including butanol and ethanol, are partially oxidized and therefore need to run at richer mixtures than gasoline. Standard gasoline engines in cars can adjust the air-fuel ratio to accommodate variations in the fuel, but only within certain limits depending on model. If the limit is exceeded by running the engine on pure butanol or a gasoline blend with a high percentage of butanol, the engine will run lean, something which can damage it. Compared to ethanol, butanol can be mixed in higher ratios with gasoline for use in existing cars without the need for retrofit as the air-fuel ratio and energy content are closer to that of gasoline.

Specific energy

Alcohol fuels have less energy per unit weight and unit volume than gasoline. To make it possible to compare the net energy released per cycle a measure called the fuels specific energy is sometimes used. It is defined as the energy released per air fuel ratio. The net energy released per cycle is higher for butanol than ethanol or methanol and about 10% higher than for gasoline.

Substance Kinematic
at 20°C
Butanol 3.64 cSt
Ethanol 1.52 cSt
Methanol 0.64 cSt
Gasoline 0.4–0.8 cSt
Diesel >3 cSt
Water 1.0 cSt

The viscosity of alcohols increase with longer carbon chains. For this reason, butanol is used as an alternative to shorter alcohols when a more viscous solvent is desired. The kinematic viscosity of butanol is several times higher than that of gasoline and about as viscous as high quality diesel fuel.

Heat of vaporization

The fuel in an engine has to be vaporized before it will burn. Insufficient vaporization is a known problem with alcohol fuels during cold starts in cold weather. As the latent heat of vaporization of butanol is less than half of that of ethanol, an engine running on butanol should be easier to start in cold weather than one running on ethanol or methanol.

Potential problems with the use of butanol fuel

The potential problems with the use of butanol are similar to those of ethanol:

* To match the combustion characteristics of gasoline, the utilization of butanol fuel as a substitute for gasoline requires fuel-flow increases (though butanol has only slightly less energy than gasoline, so the fuel-flow increase required is only minimal, maybe 10%, compared to 40% for ethanol.)
* Alcohol-based fuels are not compatible with some fuel system components.
* Alcohol fuels may cause erroneous gas gauge readings in vehicles with capacitance fuel level gauging.
* While ethanol and methanol have lower energy densities than butanol, their higher octane number allows for greater compression ratio and efficiency. Higher combustion engine efficiency allows for lesser greenhouse gas emissions per unit motive energy extracted.

As an advantage, butanol production from biomass could be more efficient (i.e. unit engine motive power delivered per unit solar energy consumed) than ethanol or methanol routes. Also, some bacteria that produce butanol are able to digest cellulose, not just starch and sugars.

Possible butanol fuel mixtures

Standards for the blending of ethanol and methanol in gasoline exist in many countries, including the EU, the US and Brazil. Approximate equivalent butanol blends can be calculated from the relations between the stochiometric fuel-air ratio of butanol, ethanol and gasoline. Common ethanol fuel mixtures for fuel sold as gasoline currently range from 5% to 10%. The share of butanol can be 60% greater than the equivalent ethanol share, which gives a range from 8% to 32%. "Equivalent" in this case refers only to the vehicle's ability to adjust to the fuel. Other properties such as energy density, viscosity and heat of vaporisation will vary and may further limit the percentage of butanol that can be blended with gasoline.

Current use of butanol in vehicles

Currently no production vehicle is known to be approved by the manufacturer for use with 100% butanol, though any model that is able to run 10% ethanol blends should be able to use butanol without any problems.

David Ramey drove from Blacklick, Ohio to San Diego, California using butanol in an unmodified 1992 Buick Park Avenue.[1][12] Although further long term testing must be done, it is highly likely that most late model cars can run on 100% butanol safely with no modifications. Justification for this conclusion is based on data for RON in comparison of n-Butanol with Gasoline. Also, modern ECU-injected motorcar piston engines are designed to be flexible enough to deliver good performance with 91-RON fuels, which n-Butanol exceeds in RON rating.

Research challenges

The key research challenge that must be resolved is that butanol production inhibits microbial growth even at low concentrations. The result is that the product of the fermentation is less than 2% butanol. The overwhelming majority of the fermentation broth is water, so an energy-intensive distillation step is required for purification. This may be acceptable if the goal is to produce butanol for use as a solvent, but if butanol is to gain traction as a motor fuel, energy inputs into the process need to be minimized.

The Swiss company Butalco GmbH uses a special technology to modify yeasts in order to produce butanol instead of ethanol. Yeasts as production organisms for butanol have decisive advantages compared to bacteria.
From Wikipedia

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Staple foods are gettin' a little tight...

The two biggest U.S. warehouse retail chains are limiting how much rice customers can buy because of what Sam's Club, a division of Wal-Mart Stores Inc., called on Wednesday "recent supply and demand trends".
Read more

I've heard other vague rumblings recently, too; about flour among other things. Maybe we "preppers" and "survivalists" aren't so nutso after all, eh?

The Two Cycle Engine

The two-stroke internal combustion engine differs from the more common four-stroke engine by completing the same four processes (intake, compression, combustion, exhaust) in only two strokes of the piston rather than four. This is accomplished by using the beginning of the compression stroke and the end of the combustion stroke to perform the intake and exhaust functions. This allows a power stroke for every revolution of the crank, instead of every second revolution as in a four-stroke engine. For this reason, two-stroke engines provide high specific power, so they are valued for use in portable, lightweight applications such as chainsaws as well as large-scale industrial applications like locomotives.

Invention of the two-stroke cycle is attributed to Dugald Clark around 1880 whose engines had a separate charging cylinder. The Crankcase scavenged engine, employing the area below the piston as a charging pump, is generally credited to Joseph Day (and Frederick Cock for the piston controlled inlet port).


Throughout the 20th century, many small motorised devices such as chainsaws, and outboard motors were usually powered by two-stroke designs. They are popular due to their simple design (and therefore, low cost) and very high power-to-weight ratios. However, varying amounts of engine oil in traditional designs mixes with the air-fuel mixture, which significantly increases the emission of pollutants. For this reason, two-stroke engines have been replaced with four-stroke engines in many applications, though some newer two-stroke designs are as clean as four-strokes. Government mandates, rather than market forces, have driven manufacturers to abandoning the two-stroke in spite of its clear power and weight advantages.

Two-stroke engines are still commonly used in high-power, handheld applications where light weight is essential, primarily string trimmers and chainsaws.

To a lesser extent, these engines may still be used for certain small, portable, or specialized machine applications. These include outboard motors, high-performance, small-capacity motorcycles, mopeds, underbones, scooters, snowmobiles, karts, ultralights, model airplanes (and other model vehicles) and lawnmowers. The two-stroke cycle is used in many diesel engines, most notably large industrial and marine engines, as well as some trucks and heavy machinery.

Several cars used two-stroke engines in the past, including the Swedish Saab, German manufacturers DKW and Auto-Union. Production of two-stroke cars stopped in the 60s in the West, but East block countries kept producing Syrena in Poland, Trabant and Wartburg in East Germany with two stroke engines until as recently as 1991.

The two-stroke cycle

Two-stroke cycle engines operate in two strokes, instead of the four strokes of the more common Otto cycle.

1. Power/exhaust: This stroke occurs immediately after the ignition of the charge. The piston is forced down. After a certain point, the top of the piston passes the exhaust port, and most of the pressurized exhaust gases escape. As the piston continues down, it compresses the air/fuel/oil mixture in the crankcase. Once the top of the piston passes the transfer port, the compressed charge enters the cylinder from the crankcase and any remaining exhaust is forced out.
2. Intake/Compression: The air/fuel/oil mixture has entered the cylinder, and the piston begins to move up. This compresses the charge in the cylinder and draws a vacuum in the crankcase, pulling in more air, fuel, and oil from the carburetor. The compressed charge is ignited by the spark plug, and the cycle begins again.

In engines like the one described above, where some of the exhaust and intake charge are in the cylinder simultaneously the gasses are kept separate by careful timing and aiming of the transfer ports such that the fresh gas has minimal contact with the exiting exhaust which it is pushing ahead of itself. Inevitably there is some mixing, roughly speaking the degree of mixing is a function of the shape of the piston head, the configuration of the ports, and the volume of gas injected per cycle.

Different two-stroke design types

Although the principles remain the same, the mechanical details of various two-stroke engines may differ to a large extent and, in order to understand the operation, it is necessary to know which type of design is in question.

The design types of the two-stroke cycle engine vary according to the method of intake of fresh air/fuel mixture from the outside, the method of scavenging the cylinder (exchanging burnt exhaust for fresh mixture) and the method of exhausting the cylinder.

These are the main variations. They can be found alone or in various combinations.

Piston controlled inlet port

Piston port is the simplest of the designs. All functions are controlled solely by the piston covering and uncovering the ports as it moves up and down in the cylinder. A fundamental difference from typical four-stroke engines is that the crankcase is sealed and forms part of the induction process.

Reed inlet valve

This is similar to and almost as simple as the piston port but substitutes a reed type check valve in the intake tract for the piston controlled port. Reed valve engines deliver power over a wider RPM range than the piston port types, making them more useful in many applications, such as dirt bikes, ATVs, and marine outboard engines. Reed valved engines do not lose fresh fuel charge out of the crankcase like piston port engines do.

In common with many two-strokes, reed valve engines can rotate in either direction. This has been used to back up microcars such as the Messerschmitt KR200 that lacked reverse gearing, and it allows flexibility to pull or push model airplanes with either sense pitch propellers.

Many early two-stroke engines, particularly small marine types, employed a poppet type check valve for the same purpose, but the inertia of the valve made it suitable for low speed use only.

Rotary inlet valve

The intake tract is opened and closed by a rotating member. In the most commonly used type, it takes the form of a thin disk attached to the crankshaft and spins at crankshaft speed. The fuel/air path through the intake tract is arranged so that it passes through the disk. This disk has a section cut from it and when this cut passes the intake pipe it opens, otherwise it is closed.

Another form of rotary inlet valve used on two-stroke engines employs two cylindrical members with suitable cut-outs arranged to rotate one within the other - the inlet pipe being in communication with the crankcase only when the cut-outs coincide. The crankshaft itself may form one of the members such as was done with the twin cylinder Maytag washing machine engine of the 1930's and 40's and is still used on some model aircraft engines. In yet another embodiment, the crank disc is arranged to be a very close clearance fit in the crankcase and is provided with a cut-out which lines up with an inlet passage in the crankcase wall at the appropriate time. This type was used on the Vespa motor scooter.

The advantage of a rotary valve is that it enables the two-stroke engine's intake timing to be asymmetrical which is not possible with two-stroke piston port type engines. The two-stroke piston port type engine's intake timing opens and closes before and after top dead center at the same crank angle making it symmetrical whereas the rotary valve allows the opening to begin earlier and close earlier.

Rotary valve engines can be tailored to deliver power over a wider RPM range or higher horse power over a narrower RPM range than either piston port or reed valve engine though they are more mechanically complicated than either one of them.


In a cross flow engine the transfer ports and exhaust ports are on opposite sides of the cylinder and a deflector on the top of the piston directs the fresh intake charge into the upper part of the cylinder pushing the residual exhaust gas down the other side of the deflector and out the exhaust port. The deflector increases the weight of the piston and exposed surface area of the piston, also making it difficult to achieve an efficient combustion chamber shape. This type of two stroke has been largely superseded by loop scavenging method (below). With smaller size and lower piston speed the deficiencies of the cross flow design become less apparent. The last of the OMC (Outboard Marine Corporation now Bombadier Recreational Products BRP) V4 and V6 two strokes produced up to 1995 in their mid range were still cross flows. These were produced in the 90-115 horsepower V4 configuration in a 1.6 litre as well as the 2.4 Litre 150-175-200 Horsepower V6's. These engines remained extremely competitive on fuel use compared to their loop charged competitors due to advanced exhaust tuning by the manufacturer. These Crossflow engines produced more torque and horsepower by burning less fuel than the Japanese loop charged competitors. Eventually OMC shifted to the Spitfire series Loop charged V4 and V6's in their mid range.

The 235 horsepower 2.6 Litre crossflow V6 (1976 - 1986) still remains today as a very high output low weight engine compared to its much heavier loop charged 2 stroke and 4 stroke replacements.

The Crossflow design produces far more low down engine torque than the slightly more fuel efficient Looper design. Many a boater replaced their Crossflow 2.6 Litre 235 (Flywheel rated) for larger (propshaft rated HP) 2.7 Litre and 3 Litre 225 horsepower V6's only to be disappointed with the lack of low down torque offered.

During the late 1970's 1980's OMC successfully raced the OMC CCC engine. This was a crossflow, carburettored V6 2.6 Litre that out ran many of the oppositions Loop scavenged, fuel injected larger displacement competitors.

It lived on with the XP 2.6 until 1986 in a much more civilised form.

Cross flows are still to be found in small engines because it is less expensive to manufacture and allows a more compact design for multiple cylinder configurations. BRP still offer the 9.9 and 15 HP twin cylinder two stroke available through their Johnson brand as there is still no alternative to this popular lightweight high output engine.


This method of scavenging uses carefully shaped and positioned transfer ports to direct the flow of fresh mixture as it enters the cylinder. usually a piston deflector is not required conferring considerable advantage over the cross flow scheme (above). Often referred to as "Schnuerle" (or "Schnürl") scavenging after the German inventor of an early form in the mid 1920's, it became widely adopted in that country during the 1930's and spread further afield after World War II. Loop scavenging is by far the most common type used on modern engines.


In a uniflow engine the mixture, or air in the case of a diesel, enters at one end of the cylinder and the exhaust exits at the other end. The gas-flow is therefore in one direction only, hence the name uniflow. Inlet and/or exhaust may be controlled by mechanically operated valves or by ports. The valved arrangement is common in large Diesel locomotive and marine two strokes, e.g. those made by Electro-Motive Diesel. Ported types are represented by the "opposed piston" design in which there are two pistons in each cylinder, working in opposite directions such as the Junkers Jumo and Napier Deltic. The unusual 'twingle' design also falls into this class being effectively a folded uniflow.

Power valve systems

Many modern two-stroke engines employ a power valve system. The valves are normally in or around the exhaust ports. They work in one of two ways, either they alter the exhaust port by closing off the top part of the port which alters port timing such as Ski-doo R.A.V.E Yamaha YPVS, Suzuki AETC system or by altering the volume of the exhaust which changes the resonant frequency of the expansion chamber, such as Honda V-TACS system. The result is an engine with better low end power without losing high rpm power.

Stepped Piston Engine

A stepped piston engine uses piston movement to provide suction and then compression to feed fuel into the combustion chamber. A flange, or step, around the base of the piston creates a secondary chamber which draws the fuel air mixture in on the down stroke of the piston. On the upstroke, the fuel air mixture in this chamber is passed into the combustion chamber of an adjacent piston. The advantage of this system is that the piston is more easily lubricated and plain bearings can be used, as with a four stroke engine. The piston weight is inceased by the step to about 20% heavier than a conventional looped scavenged two stroke piston. The patents on this design are held by Bernard Hooper Engineering Ltd (BHE).

Direct Injection

Modern two-strokes as those used for outboard engines no longer require the oil and fuel to be mixed. The oil tank is either part of the engine or for larger engines a tank on the boat. The oil is injected just after the reeds, lubricating the rotating assembly of the engine. The fuel is injected directly into the cylinder. In most cases the fuel is not injected until after the exhaust port has closed, eliminating short circuiting (fuel lost out the exhaust port without being combusted). Direct injection creates more power and uses less fuel than a carbureted engine would as well as having better emission ratings. In some cases the two-stroke engines have emission ratings as good or better than four-stroke engines.

Two-stroke diesel engines

Unlike a gasoline engine, which employs a spark plug to ignite the fuel/air charge in the cylinder, a Diesel engine relies solely on the heat of compression for ignition. Fuel is injected at high pressure into the superheated compressed air and instantly ignites. Therefore, scavenging is performed with air alone, combustion gases exiting through conventional poppet-type exhaust valves.

In order to allow the usage of a conventional oil-filled crankcase and pressure lubricated main and connecting rod bearings, modern two-stroke Diesels are scavenged by a mechanically driven blower (often a Roots positive displacement blower) or a hybrid turbo-supercharger, rather than by crankcase pumping. Generally speaking, the blower capacity is carefully matched to the engine displacement so that a slight positive pressure is present in each cylinder during the scavenging phase (that is, before the exhaust valves are closed). This feature assures full expulsion of exhaust gases from the previous power stroke, and also prevents exhaust gases from backfeeding into the blower and possibly causing damage due to contamination by particulates.

Early two-stroke Diesels using the crosshead layout (where the cylinder is not integral with the crankcase) employed under-piston pressure to provide scavenge air to the combustion chamber via a by-pass port as used on a conventional petrol-fueled two-stroke engine. Although the cross-head layout is still used on some large engines, greater power and efficiency, as well as lowered exhaust emissions, can be obtained with a mechanical blower or turbocharger.

It should be noted that the scavenging blower is not a supercharger, as its purpose is to supply airflow to the cylinders in proportion to their displacement and engine speed. A two-stroke Diesel supplied with air from a blower alone is considered to be naturally aspirated. In some cases, turbocharging may be added to increase mass air flow at full throttle—with a corresponding increase in power output—by directing the discharge of the turbocharger into the inlet of the blower, an arrangement that was found on some Detroit Diesel two-stroke engines.

A conventional, exhaust-driven turbocharger cannot be used by itself to produce scavenging airflow, as it is incapable of operating unless the engine is already running. Hence it would be impossible to start the engine. The common solution to this problem is to drive the turbocharger's impeller through a gear train and overrunning clutch. In this arrangement, the impeller turns at sufficient speed during engine cranking to produce the required airflow, thus acting as a mechanical blower. At lower engine speeds, the turbocharger will continue to act as a mechanical blower. However, at higher power settings the exhaust gas pressure and volume will increase to a point where the turbine side of the turbocharger will drive the impeller and the overrunning clutch will disengage, resulting in true turbocharging.


Two-stroke engines often have a simple lubrication system in which a special two-stroke oil is mixed with the fuel, (then known as 'petroil' from "petrol" + "oil") and therefore reaches all moving parts of the engine. Handheld devices using this method of lubrication have the advantage of operating in any orientation since there is no oil reservoir which would be dependent upon gravity for proper function. Depending on the design of the engine system, the oil can be mixed with the fuel manually each time fuel is added, or an oil pump can automatically mix fuel and oil from separate tanks.

The engine uses cylinder port valves which are incompatible with piston ring seals. This causes lubricant from the crank to work its way into the combustion chamber where it burns. Research has been conducted on designs that attempt to reduce the combustion of lubricant. This research could potentially produce an engine having very valuable properties of both high specific-power and low pollution.


With proper design, a two-stroke engine can be arranged to start and run in either direction, and many engines have been built to do so.

Nonpoint source pollution

According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, some forms of water recreational activities contribute to nonpoint source pollution or "pollution runoff," and "the old 2 cycle motors have been said to cause more pollution in two hours than a car running for an entire year."

Because fuel leaks through the exhaust port each time a new charge of air/fuel is loaded into the combustion chamber, oil pollution is a problem at many National Parks and outdoor recreation areas that allow four-wheelers, snowmobiles, dirt bikes, and small watercraft. Modern direct injection technology, and active engine oil management systems, have bypassed many of these problems.

To address these problems, some organizations have begun to offer biodegradable two-stroke engine oil*, and newer fuel injected are more fuel efficient, and produce less nonpoint source pollution.

Pollution from small engines is also a significant source of air pollution. US emission standards specifically limit emissions from small engines. For some equipment, an electric motor alternative is available, which produces no emissions at the point of use, but may shift pollution to power plants. Emissions may still be reduced by the use of renewable energy in grid generation, or because central power plants generally must have stricter emissions control equipment installed.
From Wikipedia

*I have read reports from some people who are using biodiesel as the lube oil in existing gasoline 2 cycle engines, in the ratio of 20:1, gasoline: biodiesel. This has a cost advantage compared with using store bought 2-stroke oil, and it is claimed to also increase power and smoothness of running, attributed to the fact that biodiesel is a fuel as well as a lubricant. I may try this, but I'll start with something cheap in case it causes rapid engine wear. Perhaps my 2 stroke portable generator; that would seem to be a good application.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Home Biodiesel Production Part 1: Sodium Hydroxide Test Solution

Home Biodiesel Production Part 1: Making your 0.1% sodium hydroxide solution.
You will use a few drops of this per titration, so a liter should last for hundreds of batches of fuel.
As you can probably tell, I did not rehearse this. If I had done so, I would have learned a couple of shortcuts that would have made it faster and more accurate. I believe it will be accurate enough anyway, but if it is not, I will let you know.
In fact, 1 cc by volume is really close to 1 gram, and if you use the same dipper for oil fuel production that you use to make your test solution, any inaccuracy will be cancelled out. Besides, those dippers are safe enough for measuring gunpowder for reloading; surely they will work for this purpose! Knowing this saves one having to buy a scale. Fortunately, I already had one.
NaOH is really bad stuff if it gets in your eyes or mouth, but it is only an irritant to your skin, as long as you wash it off quickly. Nevertheless, I must strongly recommend that you wear rubber gloves IF you try this stuff. In fact, I don't recommend that you try any of this stuff, but if you do, I recommend that you wear one of those full-body biohazard suits that you have to enter through a hole in the back, and that has an oxygen line trailing behind you everywhere you go. I would do that (it would look really cool on my videos), but I don't have money for those kind of things (you can donate on my webpage, if you'd like to help me with that problem).
Stay tuned for more videos and articles about biodiesel production; I intend to document the entire process in little snippets like this so anyone can follow along.

Alan Keyes on Gun Control

Monday, April 21, 2008

Junk Silver

Junk silver is an informal term used in the United States and Canada for any silver coin which is in only fair condition and has no collectible value above the bullion value of the silver it contains. Such coins are popular amongst those seeking to invest in silver, particularly in small amounts. The word "junk" refers only to the value of the coins as a numismatic collectible and not to the actual condition of the coins; junk silver is not necessarily scrap silver.

The most commonly collected U.S. junk silver pieces are Mercury and Roosevelt dimes, Washington quarters, and Franklin and Kennedy half dollars, minted in or before 1964. These coins have a 90% silver composition ("coin silver"), and when minted contained 0.7234 troy ounces of silver per dollar of face value. In practice, the content is usually assumed to be 0.715 ounces because of wear. Less common as junk silver are Kennedy half dollars from 1965 to 1970, which contained 40% silver. Peace Dollars may also be collected for their silver value, but are also less common.

Canadian dimes and quarters contained 80% silver (0.600 troy ounces per dollar of face value) until 1966. In 1967, they were minted in both 80% and 50% varieties. In 1968 they either contained 50% silver, or none at all (Cupro-Nickel). Dollars and half dollars were minted in 80% silver until 1967.

Junk silver coins may be a desirable method of investing in silver for several reasons:

Low premiums
Junk silver can often be purchased for little or no premium over the spot price of silver, particularly during periods of economic stability.
Legal tender
Junk U.S. and Canadian coins remain legal tender, and will always be worth at least their face value, regardless of the price of silver.
Though not as common as they once were, junk silver coins are still somewhat well-known, and may be less likely to have their value disputed than silver bars or rounds.
Junk silver coins can be easily spent or traded in small amounts; as of March 2008, the silver in a U.S. silver dime was worth less than US$1.50. In contrast, silver bullion coins and bars are rarely smaller than one ounce, while gold and other precious metals are highly valued in even minuscule amounts[citation needed].

For some of these reasons, junk silver is popular among survivalists. In the event of a crisis or catastrophe during which traditional currency collapses, it is speculated that silver coins could provide a viable alternative, temporarily or indefinitely.

Saturday, April 19, 2008


The Other Side of Pakistan

Pakistani Gun Works

Here is why you can't ban guns, even if it were a good idea (it's not). For decades, heroin from this same region has made it over here to the States. Do gun ban supporters think the pistols and AK-47s shown here won't do the same?
Allow me to point out that, although it was not demonstrated here, these are real, full-auto AKs; not the semi-auto versions we have here.

Friday, April 18, 2008

The Homeland Defense Rifle

Some term these MBRs, for "Main Battle Rifle" but I'm not in the Army and don't plan on getting in any battles at all; and certainly not so many that I need my main rifle to be a battle rifle! My rifle will be fed reloaded ammo, hunting ammo in most cases, and will be used for target practice, hunting and varmint control, as well as filling the role that Swiss people understand but most Americans have forgotten (which is exactly why we're more likely to need it).

Read more

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

13 year old boy corrects NASA's Deep Impact calculations

Nico Marquardt used telescopic findings from the Institute of Astrophysics in Potsdam (AIP) to calculate that there was a 1 in 450 chance that the Apophis asteroid will collide with Earth, the Potsdamer Neuerster Nachrichten reported.

NASA had previously estimated the chances at only 1 in 45,000 but told its sister organisation, the European Space Agency (ESA), that the young whizzkid had got it right.


Both NASA and Marquardt agree that if the asteroid does collide with earth, it will create a ball of iron and iridium 320 metres (1049 feet) wide and weighing 200 billion tonnes, which will crash into the Atlantic Ocean.


Read more

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Man vs. Human: Aliens In our Midst

Niki at "Living Outside the Dialectic" takes on a theory espoused by some that mankind is comprised of two separate species, one of which (the ruling species) is descendant of alien visitors. Her comments, and those of her readers, are worth reading.

Check it out

Monday, April 14, 2008

Catfish Noodling

The Turtle Man

Sheesh! No thanks. Those things are good eating, but personally, I'll use a trap. I know two easy-to-build trap designs that work well and don't involve wading amongst those monsters, not to mention the cottonmouth moccasins.

How to Survive a Super Comet Hitting Earth

from wikiHow - The How to Manual That You Can Edit

Many comets come to earth, and while most of them end up being burned in the atmosphere. There is always a chance that the big one will come. And thanks to movies like Deep Impact, awareness has increased. Here is what to expect and how to survive.


  1. (About one year to six months before impact.) Listen To The Media. Ask yourself how big the comet will be. If it reaches over 4 Miles in diameter consider it as a definite threat. Find out where the comet will most likely strike. Find out if the government has tried to stop the comet and if so, has the attempt failed?
  2. (About one year to six months before impact) Consult the government. If they are willing to build an EEV (Earth Evacuation Vehicle) then life will be easier. Plans for such an EEV are already planned at NASA, in the case of an abrupt emergency.
  3. (About one year to six months before impact.) Stock Up. Buy foods, drinks, and maybe even weapons. Be warned, this will be one of the times that total civil unrest can occur in the hurries for food and supplies. You may need to defend yourself. In the case of an EEV learn to use a greenhouse and get a major in hydroponics. You may need to learn how to do that to survive on your own in the icy cold of Mars. Also; learn how to build your own underground shelter. Learn to use a space suit. Generally just become a giant science nerd because knowledge is what you will need to survive.
  4. (About one year to six months before impact.) When and Where? Thanks to new technology scientists can predict time of impact and even approx. location of impact, If reports state that the comet will strike near where you live you must evacuate. Depending on the comet's size, everything within a 250-2750 mile radius could be affected. Consider evacuation quickly.
  5. (Three months before impact.) Find Shelter or Evacuate Completely. Look around in your town for a shelter, underground shelters are best suited since they will survive most of the aftermath the comet brings. If you are too close to the impact point evacuate using the least used evacuation style. Using your car probably won't work. Just walk or bike to the nearest airport.
  6. (One month before impact.) Bring Supplies, Possessions, and Weapons. Don't think that after the comet impact you can go home, as the comet can have aftermath effects than can damage the world. Bring any healthy food, drinks, MREs (Meals Ready To Eat) all the possessions you hold dear to you (pets, pictures, etc), LED flashlights, hammers, hand cranked Generators, Swiss Army knives and a normal knife. Launch the EEV and set a course that is away from the comet or Earth's debris. Do not land on the moon as planetary material may destroy your materials.
  7. (A few days before impact.) Take Complete Shelter (Preferably Underground) and Back Down EVERYTHING! Don't even think about going outside as the comet approaches. Don't let your pets or anything outside either.
  8. (Obvious) IMPACT! At the point of impact a EMPW (Electromagnetic Pulse Wave) will surge across the world and temporarily disable everything electronic. Use the crank generator and an electrical cord to fix that. The impact will trigger increased seismic activity and Magnitude 4-9 earthquakes will occur all over the world. At the same time, get away from any volcanoes in the general area. The impact will increase lava pressure underground due to the massive amount of force rippling through the Earth, thus forcing dormant volcanoes to erupt.
  9. (From one day to approximately 4 1/2 years after impact.) Global Aftermath. Temperatures will soar to far above 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Tsunamis are coming now, and they will stop only at about 25-150 miles inland. Eventually the massive amount of rock the comet blasted off will fall across the Earth as a devastating fire-rain, possibly rubble-ising most of man's great works. Next comes the worst part, Global Ice Age. The Sun will be blocked out due to the high levels of ash and dissolved rock particles for months or maybe years. Be prepared to go from living to simply existing for a while. Did I mention total anarchy and civil unrest during some of this part? This is the main step you'll use weapons.
  10. (4 1/2 years after impact-varies depending upon your current location.) Destination: Mediterranean. As soon as the temperatures start to increase find a way to get to the Mediterranean or any place that has warmth, is tropical, or is untainted nor corrupted by the malicious wrath of the comet. You may consider using a boat but use something that isn't likely to sink in the increased winds.
  11. (Varies-the rest of your life.) Enter: Regeneration Saga. Once you reach the Mediterranean be prepared to start life anew. Slowly the earth will come back to life again. You might notice new species of animals and plants. Rejoice the fact that you've survived something that's similar to what wiped out an entire generation of earthbound life we call the dinosaurs.


  • Underground shelters are better at protecting you from the impact and aftermath of the comet, up to a certain extent.
  • Keep family and friends together, and salvage as many survivors as possible during Step 9.
  • Look for army bases with underground bunkers.
  • Have a blanket with a foil top to reflect heat.
  • Always carry a light or anything that can be used to set a fire for warmth
  • for added protection and if you get lucky stock up on military weapons as theres gonna be a lot of riots, vandalism, etc. if you have a friend thats from the army he might be able to help you out and if not then your on your own!


  • Electronics will most likely be disabled by the fact that an electrical wave will be created by the comet, plan accordingly or get a manually cranked generator and an electrical cord.
  • The likeliness that every person you've ever known who's friend or family will survive is-no matter where you live- 35.56% likely. Be prepared for losses.

Things You'll Need

  • Flashlight, candle or lighter
  • Warm Clothes
  • Water
  • Food
  • 1 month Dry food supply containers ($100 at COSTCO) (1 Mo per person per 23 lb container) X # persons X 12 per month X 7 Years (Biblical formula to survive famines)
  • LOTS of Water
  • 1 Rifle per person plus 1000 rounds of ammunition
  • Axe
  • Tip: Remove batteries in automobiles 1 hour before impact. Reinstall after impact and EMP have passed.
  • EVERYTHING needs to be underground
  • In space you will need to have necessary materials and knowledge on how to build and survive on a planetary base or space station.

Sources and Citations

Article provided by wikiHow, a collaborative writing project to build the world's largest, highest quality how-to manual. Please edit this article and find author credits at the original wikiHow article on How to Survive a Super Comet Hitting Earth. All content on wikiHow can be shared under a Creative Commons license.

When I saw this one, I knew I HAD to post it! I have some disagreement with the equipment list, though. It's kinda' incomplete.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

How to Survive the Wilderness With Just a Knife

from wikiHow - The How to Manual That You Can Edit

Believe it or not, survival in a temperate environment is easy. In the woods one can die from a number of different things. However, by simply having the knowledge and exploiting what you know, the woods can become a home and a new reality. By having a simple blade, one can fashion his own tools and his own means for survival.
NOTE: Before considering any of the information below, recognize that temperature defines precedence in the wilderness. If the temperature gets below 40 degrees at night consider fire your most important prerequisite. However if the temperature rises to greater than 90 degrees during the day, consider moving and working at night and sleeping under cover during the day.


  1. Find Water. First things first, you are stranded somewhere in a temperate wilderness during late morning, the worst case is that you do not know where you are. That is not a problem. You don't know where you are, but you know where you want to go...downhill. This is because water is held stringently by the laws of gravity and you want water first as you can only survive three days without it. Move to the lowest point you can find.
  2. Make friends with trees. On your way downhill, educate yourself of three different trees.

  • White Birch Look for a white tree with a paper-like material coming from it. This is an important tree, it's called the White Birch. Not only is the inner bark edible, but the outer bark can be used as a waterproof container (if it doesn't have any holes in it). Also, most people don't know this but you can cut a hole in the tree and get a spicy sweet sap a lot like a maple. Some other useful attributes are a follows:

~~ One can cook soup in birch bark as it will not burn with liquid inside it.
~~ Birch bark can be used as temporary rope
~~ The white birch can be carved into a good walking stick.
~~ Birch bark has been used in the making of native canoes.
  • American Basswood The second tree you should know is called a Basswood. This tree is really easy to recognize. It has grey, sometimes veiny bark and some of the largest heart-shaped leaves to boot. Do not get this tree confused with a moose maple, which has leaves with three points. This tree is important, as it is going to be your source of rope, snares, straps and ultimately your backpack. You will start to see this tree as you get closer to water, it's thirstier than you are and can also be a source of water if you don't feel daft sucking on the side of a tree.
  • Common Maple The third and final tree you need to know is the common Maple. This is going to be your walking stick as well as your protection. It is a very hard wood with a clean grey-looking bark. Now picture a Canadian flag in your head, that is a maple leaf. If you don't know what a Canadian flag looks like, suggestion is to pick up a book and find out before you go into the woods.
  • Cut some Basswood bark. If there is no water, move to the base of a hill or a mountain where a stream or river will most likely run near its base. This is where that tree lesson will come in handy.

    • Find a Basswood. As stated above, they love water and high banks.
    • Use your knife to cut a horizontal line all the way around the trunk. Do this at the bottom and about four feet above that.
    • Now cut one straight vertical line from the top line to the bottom one.
    • Observe that the top line looks like a T where the two lines meet. This T is where you will dig your two thumbnails into the tree.
    • Now gently pull these two flaps away from the white wood below. You should now have a curved floppy rectangle.Now the easy part:
    • Cut this strip into as many smaller vertical strips as you can. Ideally they should be about 1/4 inches wide.
    • Now flip these strips over to reveal a wet shiny layer, THIS IS THE LAYER YOU WILL USE FOR ROPE.
    • Carefully pull the green outer bark away from this thin sheet of wood. Observe that the green part will be significantly thicker than the thin material that you want.
    • Wrap these thin strips around themselves so that they each make a ring about 3 inches in diameter.
    • Use your green junk to wrap up about three quarters of your new rope.
    • Place this wide jumble of rope around your wrist so it will be out of the way.
    • Use the other 1/4 of your rope to make shoulder straps, a belt, and most importantly a bicep strap to go on your upper arm for your knife.
    • All your green bark scrap should be saved and strapped to you otherwise, using your new lashing or other strips of bark.
    • After all that work you will most likely be thirsty. Luckily all you have to do is go downhill to get some much-deserved water.

  1. Go Muddin'. While your getting some water, there is a very important step that will save you a lot of grief latter. While you're near water, it is important for you to cover yourself in a thin sheet of blue clay or dirt if no clay is available. This layer must cover every piece of open skin. This layer will be your only defense against black flies, deer flies and ticks. The best advice that can be given is to enjoy yourself, this step is very important and seriousness will not help your morale nor your situation. Enjoy the innocent child you left behind.
  2. Invite some friends. After you have your armor, it's now time to set some snares. Find game trails, which should be littered all around the banks of your water source. Take off around 6 of your strips and tie a 1-inch diameter loop at the end. Slip the other end of your Basswood snare through this loop and prop it up above the ground at a level appropriate for the game trail you are occupying. Small trails speak towards small game, large trails should be avoided. For rabbit, raccoon, quail and partridge, place the snare 4-10 inches above the ground. For added measure, one can rub mud around this loop to disguise the scent and the appearance of the freshly wrought basswood.
  3. Ugh... Make Fire! Now if the day is getting late, your best bet is to make a fire. It is often best to gather a lot of dry wood first, with sizes ranging from twigs to small logs. For multiple fire starter methods, type "how to make a fire" into the WikiHow search directory. The fire bow method works particularly well with basswood. Before lighting your fire, clear a 6-foot circle around your fire site. Choose a location without branches immediately above the fire. Collect as many head-sized stones as possible to ring the fire and keep it from spreading. This method is actually optional, as fire will contain itself if there is no fuel around it. However, a ring of rocks will trap and reflect heat inward making it easier to keep going. One of the most important aspects to remember about fire is to respect it. Keep it contained.Once you have your fire, it is important to keep the flame below two feet, that way your fire will not take much in the way of fuel. You do not want to go back into the forest for more wood. Insects will maraud you. Your thin coat of mud or clay will block their bites but not their sound. On a psychological level, the simple fact that they could still get in your eyes and ears should keep you well stocked before you start your fire.
  4. Build a shelter. One does not really need a shelter in average conditions. However if you do need one, or expect rain, the main thing is to keep it small, dry and off the ground. Never spend time building small cabins or even a shelter bigger than your body. This is a waste of energy and resources, and it's easier to keep heat captured in a smaller space. Large clumps of moss that you can use to cover a small wooden skeleton work well. Also, Birch bark makes for an excellent shingle. Your best bet, however, is to use massive amounts of softwood and ferns. If you are quick, you can gather enough for a six-inch barrier that will shed rain as well as hold heat. In two hours one cannot only sleep comfortably but dry and warm.
  5. Stay conscious of the fire. As you sleep, make sure you are aware of just how far away your fire is. Grogginess could have you lying right on top of it with no one there to put you out. If you do not feel comfortable with a fire going while you sleep, you can put it out and dig a hole where you are to sleep and fill it with the coals. By putting a layer of dirt over this spot you can lie on top of it and sleep very comfortably.
  6. Look for breakfast. When you wake, be aware that insects come out a dawn. Now is the time to pick up your metabolism and move quickly, as the insects can still get in your eyes. Also, movement trains your body to provide its own heat through exertion. The only problem is that one's motivation to move is usually lacking. Your motivation should stem from the fact that you had set 6 snares the previous day and one of them might hold breakfast lunch and dinner. So to raise your body heat, move from snare to snare. You may have gotten lucky.
  7. Tighten that belt... Now it is important to prepare yourself for two contingencies.

    • The first is that you got absolutely nothing and have a very hungry and downtrodden demeanor. If this is the case, simply go to your nearby Birch tree and cut a 4-inch triangle out of the bark. Turn one point towards the ground. You can eat the underside of this bark, as it is very nutritious. Also, a small trickle of sugary sap comes out of the bottom point of this triangle. Don't worry if it's not much. Surprisingly, a human can survive off a tablespoon of food a day for a limited time.
    • The second contingency is that you got something, most likely a rabbit or a small game bird. There is a pretty good rule for eating things on animals: Don't eat anything that looks inedible. Otherwise, almost anything's fair game if you cook it well enough ... and by well enough I mean burnt.
    • Here's another rule with food: Don't eat where you sleep or sleep where you eat. Scraps and entrails will attract predators (ie BEARS). Discard bones, entrails, beaks, etc., VERY far from your shelter.

  8. Follow that water. Now that you know how to gather food and water, it is important to recognize the other use of rivers. Humanity was not build upon the backs of man, but on the banks of rivers. To find humanity, simply follow your river downstream. Using all of the things stated above, a person can live indefinitely in the woods.


  • For Antiseptic, seek out the common honeybee. The grey oozy substance they use on the inside of their nests is one of the worlds greatest antiseptics.
  • For Energy, seek out soy plants and sources of vitamin B as well as sugar foods and fruits to provide great amounts of energy on an empty stomach.
  • For Band-aids, seek out the common spider. Their webs can be inserted into open gashes or cuts to stop bleeding.
  • For Fire Starter, seek out the fir tree. The bubbles on fir bark can be popped to reveal highly flammable sap.



  • Berries are common in the wild and make excellent meals. However, beware situations like the one shown to the right. Bears are often great connoisseurs of berries and will often inhabit that source of nourishment. Most bears will retreat if you encounter them in the open. However, they might see you as competition is such a scenario and attempt to remove you from the situation. The picture below shows a blackberry patch (A) and a rather large rump print on the ground next to the bush (B). This is proof that a bear will sit in these bushes to feed. Do not go near bushes if you hear rustling sounds.
  • The best experience with a wild bear is the one that never happened. Like most animals, they naturally fear man. Making lots of noise as you hike about (clanging metal, blowing whistles, singing, banging sticks, etc.) will alert them to your presence and usually make them move away. Obviously, this is counterproductive when you're hunting. One should note that grizzles and polar bears are curious animals and will go towards unnatural sounds. However grizzly and polar bears are often found north of habitable regions. 98% of the worlds grizzly population being in Alaska.
  • NEVER approach a bear cub. Trust that even if you don't see her, Momma is nearby. She won't be happy with you. If you see a cub, walk quickly and steadily away.

Mountain Lions

  • Mountain lions and large cats are the exception to most game rules. You cannot play dead with a mountain lion and you can't outrun them. Also even if you move away slowly and get them out of sight, they will undoubtedly follow you waiting for any vulnerability. The best advice is to be vicious and decisive. They will come at you and dodging is usually not an option. However there is a technique to be used. Hold your left forearm in front of your neck and wait for the lion to bite. It will bite your forearm in order to remove the defenses around your neck. With it jaws locked quickly plunge the length of your knife upwards into the bottom skin of its jaw. Because of the head trauma it may not let go, plunge the knife into the skin around its jaws, twist and push away in one motion. If it is not dead it will most likely be trying to rub its head against rocks or trees. Run in a zig zig pattern away from the wounded animal. Wait for a half hour and return to make sure it is dead. Now you have food. Apply honey to spiderweb and place both on your arm. check periodically and make sure no blood gets out as it could attract other predators.


  • Ticks can be one of the most psychologically and physically taxing parasites in a temperate environment. They are small eight legged arachnids, that like insects are attracted to heat sources. They will often times lay in wait in grass two to three feet high where they will then transfer to your clothing. From there they will go to your head or your crotch, the two highest sources of heat on the human body. from there they will secrete a local anesthetic that they use to hide their movement as they bore headfirst into your skin. In this state they look like a piece of corn stuck loosely to your flesh. However when you touch them their legs pop out and wriggle making even the hardest of woodsmen cringe. Several removal methods and misconceptions will be addressed bellow.
  • NEVER burn a tick out. Often times their guts will spurt into the open cavity that they use to feed, namely under your skin. If you use this method you must burn the skin an inch around the area of infestation or you run the risk of getting Lyme disease and rocky mountain fever. There are better, and less painful ways of tick removal.
  • NEVER yank the tick out, their anchor like jaws will stay under your flesh and may give you rocky mountain fever or Lyme disease.
  • Removal method: Find a fir tree. Look for a Christmas tree with bubbles on the bark. Grab a stick, pop the bubble and place that end flatly under the new hole, now roll one end of the stick up over the bubble with pressure applied, use this method to squeeze the sap out. This should gather sap on the end of the stick. Now spread this sap over the tick generously. Pop more bubbles if you need to. Now with the pitch on your arm find a very oily plant or tree. Ash works well. Now observe that the tick has pulled himself up a bit. spread as much ash oil on the pitch as you can and repeatably wipe the sap off. The tick will pull himself up because he cannot breath. After the tick has been rubbed off spread more oil over the area to lift up the sap, if all else fails cover the spot with peanut butter, or animal fat, wait, and then wash your hands in water, the sap will come off quite easily. Also note that the vitamin C in the sap has made the skin more supple.

Intestinal Parasites

  • Intestinal parasites can be dealt with in many ways. Two of these ways are as discussed bellow.
  • One effective way is to find a fern that grows in most temperate environments. This fern is called pasture brake. During the early days of its lifespan it looks like a small fiddlehead with brownish white hair growing off from it. The typical species of pasture brake is four inches tall. During this stage it is edible both raw and cooked. It is, however a mild poison that changes the environmental conditions of your intestine making survivability a tall order for any parasite. As this plant gets older it becomes more poisonous. If the plant is tightly curled you can eat one every hour or if it is fully grown, one every other day to get rid of the parasite.
  • Another way to rid yourself of intestinal parasites is to eat two cigarettes a day until they are gone. The poisonous nature of cigarette ingredients are not lost on intestinal parasites.

Poison Ivy

  • Poison ivy is a small three leaved plant that usually lies very close to the ground. In order to turn away any would be predator its leaves contain a chemical called urushiol which bonds with skin cells and creates a very prominent and uncomfortable rash that can last as long as five to six weeks. If you have made contact early stages will show a simple rash. However, for severe reactions expect significant blistering and/or oily discharge. Treatment methods and myths will be listed below.
  • NEVER Burn Poison Ivy its smoke is highly toxic. Also urushiol cannot be destroyed or dissolved by ordinary means.
  • NEVER cut out the blisters or attempt to remove them. The ooze that comes from them is not contagious and will not spread the rash under ordinary circumstances.
  • NEVER urinate on the rash, this does not work and can even intensify the reaction due to the ammonia in the urine.
  • MYTH: Clothing will not protect you from poison ivy, urushiol will seep through clothing in as little as fifteen minutes. If you know you have come in contact do not physically touch the area as the urushiol will spread. Instead, remove the article with thick cloth or bark covering your hand and anchor it in moving water for at least an hour. After a time the urushiol will leave the artical.
  • Useful Method: If contact is made in less than seven minutes the chemical can usually be washed off with soap before it bonds with your skin cells. However the chemical is a oil so soap is needed to wash it off. In other words water will not work alone. However this method is highly debatable as soap can also house the chemical and spread it in the same fashion.
  • Useful Method: Immerse your body in water for an extended period of time. Oil is lighter than water so the urushiol may as matter of physics remove itself from your skin before it has bonded.
  • Useful Method/Myth: Alcohol will not dissolve or remove urushiol by itself. However it may delude it enough so that it can be drawn out with a spongy material or cloth.
  • Conclusion: urushiol cannot be pulled away from the flesh once its bonded, the only thing that native technology can do is to numb the itch or treat the reaction not the chemical itself. Therefore the only one that can truly treat it effectively is a doctor armed with Tecnu or Ivy remover.

Related wikiHows

Article provided by wikiHow, a collaborative writing project to build the world's largest, highest quality how-to manual. Please edit this article and find author credits at the original wikiHow article on How to Survive the Wilderness With Just a Knife. All content on wikiHow can be shared under a Creative Commons license.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Black Rifles

A collection of videos about the patriot rifle of choice, the AR-15. Press the second button to scroll through the videos.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Florida "Take Your Gun to Work"

From Reuters: "Most Florida residents would be allowed to take guns to work under a measure passed by Florida lawmakers on Wednesday.
...Backed by the National Rifle Association and some labor unions, the so-called "take-your-guns-to-work" measure would prohibit business owners from banning guns kept locked in motor vehicles on their private property.
"This is an attempt to trample upon the property rights of property owners and attempt to make it more difficult to protect the workers in a workplace and those who visit our retail establishments," said Sen. Ted Deutch, a Boca Raton Democrat.
"We are disappointed that politics clearly won over good policy," Mark Wilson, president and chief executive of the Florida Chamber of Commerce, said in a statement." Read the article

What a bunch of crap. Here's the real deal: companies across the US have for the past several years been implementing policies that force employees to allow their vehicles to be searched at any time while on company grounds. Generally, the company coordinates with cops so that, if something that is against any law in the jurisdiction is discovered, the employee will be arrested on the spot, not to mention losing their job. The stated intent of the search is to look for weapons; with a policy that the employee will be fired if any are found. Even if it is legal. Even if it is only there because the employee is planning to go hunting or to the local shooting range after work, as my friends and I have done many times.
See, this is a coup by large companies, insurance companies and increasingly (in part driven by the insurance companies) smaller companies; to negate individual rights by claiming that it is the right of the property owner. Even if the property owner doesn't really want to do it, but is forced by his insurance company.

This law, while being attacked by the ultra fascists, doesn't protect people's rights. The 4th amendment right to be free from having ones vehicle searched is not protected here. Nor, contrary to NRA types' claims, are 2nd amendment rights, as evidenced by the fact that only those who have bought and paid for a LICENSED PRIVILEGE to bear arms are protected; and that only from prosecution for exercising their license, not from having their property searched against their will.
The "right" of the company to search your vehicle, or to give cops permission to do so against your will, is not being contested.

Most everyone I know is now working under such a policy. So did I, before I became self-employed. When the policy was instituted, initially I refused to sign it. A deadline was set for all employees to sign the waiver of their rights, after which any holdouts would be fired. Then the waiver was re-written, and the new version stated "as an employee of..." and I signed that one to hold on to my job for awhile. With that clause added, I was not waiving my rights because had they ever demanded that I allow my vehicle to be searched, I would have quit on the spot, thus no longer being an employee. I would have done this, even if I had nothing to hide.
I even told the owner of the company this. See, the (then) owner of the company is one of my best hunting buddies. Lots of times on Fridays, he and the two or three employees who hunted with him would bring our guns and other hunting equipment to work in our vehicles, then we would all take a couple of vehicles and go hunting for the weekend. Sometimes we would even bring our guns into the plant to work on them.
So why did he implement this policy? To keep from having his insurance canceled.
He even told us that he had no intention of actually demanding such a search and, true to his word, he never did so.

This news article is a perfect example of the kind of doublespeak that keeps me from lending any credence, or my valuable time, to the mainstream news media, beyond what I happen to see in passing. See, this is a subject I am well versed in, and I can easily see through their lies. But what if they are "reporting" on a subject I know nothing about?
No thanks. If I can't find the real story independently, I'll choose ignorance over brainwashing, thank you very much.

Cheap water filter

This is a pdf file of a simple water filter that is marketed to folks in 3rd world countries. You don't have to actually buy one though; the instructions are sufficient to suggest how to make your own using a clay pot (without a hole, or with the hole plugged) inside a food-grade poly bucket.

Here's a link to the file.

It reminds me of the plans I saw for a filter that was built into a cistern. It was just a box built of red bricks, enclosing the potable water pickup. Same idea, in reverse.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Firearms Safety

For those who don't already know, the fully automatic fire (multiple rounds with one pull of the trigger) shown near the end of the video, is not a capability that a standard AR-15 has. Owning a full auto requires a full background investigation, FBI approval, approval of the chief local law enforcement official, and payment of a $200 tax stamp. Not to mention that a legal transferable full auto AR-15 (M16) costs about $30,000 now, and may no longer (since 1986) be produced. OTOH, they are still produced for sale to cops; and to them they cost no more than a semi-auto-only rifle (under $1000).
One more thing. The ready availability of gun locks is a good thing. Manufacturers including a gun lock with new guns is a good idea. The government requiring that people keep a lock on the gun, however, is a bad idea.

Basic AR-15 Operation

I'm glad to see this video up again. It was taken down about a month ago after Waffen SS, I mean BATFE thugs arbitrarily raided Cavalry Arms and stole, I mean confiscated all their stock (and of course, customer records), in an attempt to run them out of business. No charges were filed. Let me say that again, for the benefit of those whose first thought is "but...but they must've done something to justify this." NO charges were filed.
BATFE has been systematically doing this to small gun manufacturers, because most of them can't afford the kind of legal team the big guys have. Also, the big guys can stay in business by selling only to military and law enforcement. These small businesses need our support.

The Biodiesel Tree

Copaifera langsdorffii
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Diesel tree

Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Division: Magnoliophyta
Class: Magnoliopsida
Order: Fabales
Family: Fabaceae
Subfamily: Caesalpinioideae
Tribe: Detarieae
Genus: Copaifera
Species: C. langsdorffii
Binomial name
Copaifera langsdorffii

The tropical rainforest tree Copaifera langsdorffii is known as the diesel tree and kerosene tree. It has many names in local languages, including kupa'y, cabismo, and copaúva. It produces a large amount of terpene hydrocarbons in its wood and leaves. One tree can produce 30 to 40 liters of hydrocarbons per year. The oil is collected by tree tapping. The main compound in the oil is copaiba, an oleoresin which is useful in the production of oil products such as lacquers and can be used as biodiesel. The tree is also the main source of copaene, another terpene.

It is a medium-sized tree usually reaching 12 meters in height, with white flowers and small, oily fruits. The wood is light due to its porosity. It is honeycombed with capillaries filled with oil. Tapping the tree involves cutting a well into which the oil seeps and where it can be easily collected. Despite its vigorous production of oil the tree does not grow well outside of the tropics and does not show promise as a reliable source of biodiesel.

Bees utilize the tree for pollen collection. The wood can be burned for firewood or used in carpentry. The plant has a great number of historical medicinal uses.

Too bad they only grow in the tropics. Of course, if the great scientist algore is right, we could be living in the tropics in a couple of years!

Monday, April 7, 2008

Socialist Insecurity, continued

In the comment section of my previous post on this subject, a reader opined:

"The Repugnicans have been trying to kill Social Security since day one and I see you have bought into their propaganda. SS is the reason we no longer have county and city poor farms where those who could no longer work went to live until they died. SS allowed people to send their kids to college because their parents had an income to live on. The real problem is that the 'borrow and spend Repugnicans' have run up such a huge national debt that there is little money for anything but let's spend more money on the military than the rest of the world combined anyway. There are many things we could do to save SS but there are too many people who don't have a pot to p in or a window to throw it out of who think taxing those who can afford to pay it is wrong and we should instead give them more money."

To which I replied:

"Actually, I'm not buying into any politician's propaganda; I'm reading what nonpartisan professionals with doctorates in economics are saying.
When FDR pushed that law into existence in 1935, it was just like every other piece of crap program that Stalin-worshiping jackass shackled us with: a socialist program that gave a little to the people and a lot to the government.

"It was not and is not a plan to save for your retirement. It is an insurance policy with the premiums paid by you (even the part your employer supposedly pays: that is still part of your reimbursement package that the employer considers when deciding how much he can pay you); that money is used to pay those currently receiving benefits, as opposed to actually belonging to you.
Imagine if the money you and your employer paid in were put into an account with your name on it, with 1% or so deducted for administrative costs, and placed in an interest-bearing account. Working people would end up, at retirement, with a nest egg large enough to live off the interest, and when they died the remaining principal would go to their heirs.
The existing system has been a boon, for the government that is, because up to now there has always been more money coming in than going out. The government has happily spent the excess; not just since Bush has been in office, but from day one. This worked because of the baby boom generation (of which I am a part, btw); a larger generation than that preceding (and that following, hence the impending problem) it."

At that point, I decided to make it into a new post, dispense with the mud-slinging and look to Wikipedia for some facts. So here goes. First, a Wikipedia article about the Chile pension system. For those who don't know, Chile, looking to the US for guidance, copied the social security system. The same thing that is happening here, happened there (they didn't have a Baby Boom to buoy it up, so the system failed sooner for them); in the aftermath of which US economist Milton Friedman assisted them in developing an actual workable national pension system. Wikipedia says this:

Chile pension system
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

On November 4, 1980, Chile, under the leadership of José Piñera, Secretary of Labor and Pensions under President Augusto Pinochet, implemented with the collaboration of his team of Chicago Boys (a group of libertarian economists influenced by the Chicago school of economics of American economist Milton Friedman) the first comprehensive change of a state-run, defined-benefit pension scheme to a defined-contribution system managed entirely by the private sector (by pension management companies called "AFP"), under the supervision of a dedicated government agency, the Superintendency of AFP.

The Chilean system of personal retirement accounts started operating on May 1, 1981. Civilian workers covered under the previous defined-benefit plan had the choice of opting-in to the new system or of remaining under the previous system, such election being irrevocable. Workers hired after Jan. 1, 1983 must join the new system. Today 97% of civilian salaried workers are officially in the private system. According to the Superintendency of AFP, the system had accumulated USD $100 billion at October 30, 2007, an amount equivalent to 70% of the GNP of Chile.

The Chilean system provides that all civilian salaried workers must contribute 10% of their salary to a privately run pension fund, that sum being remitted on their behalf by their employer. The worker can choose one of six private pension administrators and change at will. Self-employed individuals may contribute voluntarily, and salaried workers can also enhance their pension through additional voluntary contributions. The Chilean armed forces and police remained cover by separate defined-benefit plans.

The Chilean pension "model" has to date been implemented by 30 countries. Many of them have combined this new defined-contribution system with their former state-run, defined-benefit pension schemes. Among these 30 countries are: Mexico, Colombia, Peru, El Salvador, Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, Romania, Kazakhstan, Sweden, and Hong Kong.

Note how many countries adopted their system, once it had been demonstrated to work. It's interesting that Mexico now has a better, more progressive retirement system than does the US.

Make no mistake: those of us who advocate replacement of this failing system believe that those who have paid into it are OWED their money, WITH INTEREST. The government (both parties) disagrees. Here is the Wikipedia article on the social security system:

Social Security (United States)
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Social Security, in the United States, currently refers to the federal Old-Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance (OASDI) program.

The original Social Security Act[1] and the current version of the Act, as amended[2] encompass several social welfare or social insurance programs. The larger and better known initiatives of the program are:

* Federal Old-Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance
* Unemployment Insurance
* Temporary Assistance to Needy Families
* Health Insurance for Aged and Disabled (Medicare)
* Grants to States for Medical Assistance Programs (Medicaid)
* State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP)
* Supplemental Security Income (SSI)

Social Security in the United States is a social insurance program funded through dedicated payroll taxes called Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA). Tax deposits are formally entrusted to[3] Federal Old-Age and Survivors Insurance Trust Fund, or Federal Disability Insurance Trust Fund, Federal Hospital Insurance Trust Fund or the Federal Supplementary Medical Insurance Trust Fund. The main part of the program is sometimes abbreviated OASDI (Old Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance) or RSDI (Retirement, Survivors, and Disability Insurance). When initially signed into law by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1935, the term Social Security covered unemployment insurance as well. The term, in everyday speech, is used only to refer to the benefits for retirement, disability, survivorship, and death, which are the four main benefits provided by traditional private-sector pension plans. In 2004 the U.S. Social Security system paid out almost $500 billion in benefits.[4] By dollars paid, the U.S. Social Security program is the largest government program in the world and the single greatest expense in the federal budget, with 20.9% for social security and 20.4% for Medicare [5] The Social Security Administration is headquartered in Woodlawn, Maryland just to the west of Baltimore.

Largely because of solvency questions ranging from immediate crisis to large projected future shortfalls, reform of the Social Security system has been a major political issue for more than three decades during the presidencies of Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush. (See Social Security debate (United States).)


A limited form of the Social Security program began as a measure to implement "social insurance" during the Great Depression of the 1930s, when poverty rates among senior citizens exceeded 50%.[6]

Creation: The Social Security Act
President Roosevelt signs Social Security Act, at approximately 3:30 pm EST on 14 August 1935. Standing with Roosevelt are Rep. Robert Doughton (D-NC); unknown person in shadow; Sen. Robert Wagner (D-NY); Rep. John Dingell (D-MI); unknown man in bowtie; the Secretary of Labor, Frances Perkins; Sen. Pat Harrison (D-MS); and Rep. David Lewis (D-MD).
President Roosevelt signs Social Security Act, at approximately 3:30 pm EST on 14 August 1935[7]. Standing with Roosevelt are Rep. Robert Doughton (D-NC); unknown person in shadow; Sen. Robert Wagner (D-NY); Rep. John Dingell (D-MI); unknown man in bowtie; the Secretary of Labor, Frances Perkins; Sen. Pat Harrison (D-MS); and Rep. David Lewis (D-MD).

The Social Security Act was drafted by President Roosevelt's committee on economic security, under Edwin Witte, and passed by Congress as part of the New Deal. It was controversial when originally proposed, with one point of opposition being that it would cause a loss of jobs. However, proponents argued that there was in fact an advantage: it would encourage older workers to retire, thereby creating opportunities for younger people to find jobs, which would lower the unemployment rate. Historian Edward Berkowitz subsequently contended that the Act was a cause of the "Roosevelt Recession" in 1937 and 1938. However, the program has gone on to be one of the most popular government programs in American history.[8]

The Act is formally cited as the Social Security Act, ch. 531, 49 Stat. 620 at 15:40 on (14 August 1935), now codified as 42 U.S.C. ch.7. The Act is also known as the Old Age Pension Act. The Act provided benefits to retirees and the unemployed, and a lump-sum benefit at death. Payments to current retirees were (and continue to be) financed by a payroll tax on current workers' wages, half directly as a payroll tax and half paid by the employer.

In the 1930s, the Supreme Court struck down many pieces of Roosevelt's New Deal legislation. In the spring of 1935, Justice Roberts joined with the conservatives to invalidate the Railroad Retirement Act. In May, the Court threw out a centerpiece of the New Deal, the National Industrial Recovery Act. In January 1936, a passionately split Court ruled the Agricultural Adjustment Act unconstitutional. In another case from 1936, the Court ruled New York state's minimum-wage law unconstitutional. President Roosevelt responded with an attempt to pack the court via the Judiciary Reorganization Bill of 1937. On 5 February 1937, he sent a special message to Congress proposing legislation granting the President new powers to add additional judges to all federal courts whenever there were sitting judges age 70 or older who refused to retire.[9] The practical effect of this proposal was that the President would get to appoint six new Justices to the Supreme Court (and 44 judges to lower federal courts), thus instantly tipping the political balance on the Court dramatically in his favor. The debate on this proposal was heated and widespread, and lasted over six months. Beginning with a set of decisions in March, April, and May, 1937 (including the Social Security Act cases), the Court would sustain a series of New Deal legislation.

Two Supreme Court rulings affirmed the constitutionality of the Social Security Act.

* Steward Machine Company v. Davis, 301 U.S, 548[10] (1937) held, in a 5–4 decision, that, given the exigencies of the Great Depression, "[It] is too late today for the argument to be heard with tolerance that in a crisis so extreme the use of the moneys of the nation to relieve the unemployed and their dependents is a use for any purpose narrower than the promotion of the general welfare". The arguments opposed to the Social Security Act (articulated by justices Butler, McReynolds, and Sutherland in their opinions) were that the social security act went beyond the powers that were granted to the federal government in the Constitution. They argued that, by imposing a tax on employers that could be avoided only by contributing to a state unemployment-compensation fund, the federal government was essentially forcing each state to establish an unemployment-compensation fund that would meet its criteria, and that the federal government had no power to enact such a program.

* Helvering v. Davis, 301 U.S. 619 (1937), decided on the same day as Steward, upheld the program because "The proceeds of both [employee and employer] taxes are to be paid into the Treasury like internal-revenue taxes generally, and are not earmarked in any way". That is, the Social Security Tax was constitutional as a mere exercise of Congress's general taxation powers.

Ida May Fuller, the first recipient
Ida May Fuller, the first recipient


Payroll taxes were first collected in 1937, also the year in which the first benefits were paid, namely the lump-sum death benefit paid to 53,236 beneficiaries.

The first monthly payment was issued on 31 January 1940 to Ida May Fuller of Brattleboro, Vermont.


The original 1935 statute paid retirement benefits only to the primary worker. Many types of people were excluded, mainly farm workers, the self-employed, and anyone employed by an employer of fewer than ten people. These limitations, intended to exclude those from whom it would be difficult to monitor compliance, covered approximately half of the civilian labor force in the United States.

The 1935 Act also contained the first national unemployment-compensation program, aid to the states for various health and welfare programs, and the Aid to Dependent Children program. The initial tax rate was 2.0% of the first $3,000 of the employee's earnings, shared equally between the employee and the employer. The tax rate has been raised several times over the years, beginning in 1950, when it was raised to 3.0%. [11]
A poster for the expansion of the Social Security Act
A poster for the expansion of the Social Security Act

Social Security payroll taxes are collected under authority of the Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA). The payroll taxes are sometimes even called "FICA taxes."

In the original 1935 law the benefit provisions were in Title II of the Act (which is why we sometimes call Social Security the "Title II" program.) The taxing provisions were in a separate title, Title VIII. There is a deep reason for this, having to do with the constitutionality of the law (see discussion of the Constitutionality of the 1935 Act).

As part of the 1939 Amendments, the Title VIII taxing provisions were taken out of the Social Security Act and placed in the Internal Revenue Code. Since it wouldn't make any sense to call this new section of the Internal Revenue Code "Title VIII," it was renamed the "Federal Insurance Contributions Act."

The payroll taxes collected for Social Security are of course taxes, but they can also be described as contributions to the social insurance system that is Social Security. Hence the name "Federal Insurance Contributions Act."

So FICA is nothing more than the tax provisions of the Social Security Act, as they appear in the Internal Revenue Code.

In 1956, the tax rate was raised to 4.0% (2.0% for the employer, 2.0% for the employee) and disability benefits were added. Also in 1956, women were allowed to retire at age 62 with reduced benefits (70%). In 1961, retirement at age 62 was extended to men, and the tax rate was increased to 6.0%.

Medicare was added in 1965 by the Social Security Act of 1965, part of President Lyndon B. Johnson's "Great Society" program. (See List of Social Security legislation (United States).) Social Security was changed to withdraw funds from the independent "Trust" and put it into the General fund for additional congressional revenue.

Automatic annual cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs), not requiring legislation, began in 1975.[12]

During the Carter administration, immigrants who had never paid into the system became eligible for SSI (Supplemental Security Income) benefits when they reached age 65. SSI is not a Social Security benefit, but a welfare program, because the elderly and disabled poor are entitled to SSI regardless of work history. Likewise, SSI is not an entitlement, because there is no right to SSI payments.

The 1983 amendments to the SSA, resulting from the 1982 report of the Greenspan Commission[ REPORT OF THE NATIONAL COMMISSION ON SOCIAL SECURITY REFORM]. Retrieved on 2008-03-15. empaneled to investigate the long-run solvency of Social Security, taxed Social Security benefits for the first time: benefits in excess of a household income threshold, generally $25,000 for singles and $32,000 for couples (the precise formula computes and compares three different measures) became taxable. The amendments also gradually increased the age of eligibility for full old-age benefits, from 65 to 67 for those born after 1959.

In 1940, benefits paid totaled $35 million. These rose to $961 million in 1950, $11.2 billion in 1960, $31.9 billion in 1970, $120.5 billion in 1980, and $247.8 billion in 1990 (all figures in nominal dollars, not adjusted for inflation). In 2004, $492 billion of benefits were paid to 47.5 million beneficiaries.

The 1970s and the negative financial outlook

Throughout the 1950s and 1960s during the phase-in period of Social Security, Congress was able to grant generous benefit increases because the system had perpetual short-run surpluses. Congressional amendments to Social Security took place in even numbered years (election years) because the bills were politically popular, but by the late 1970s, this era was over. For the next three decades, projections of Social Security's finances would show large, long run deficits, and in the early 1980s, the program flirted with immediate insolvency. From this point on, amendments to Social Security would take place in odd numbered years (not election years) because Social Security reform now meant tax increases and benefit cuts. Social Security became known as the "Third Rail of American Politics." Touching it meant political death.

Several effects came together in the 1970s to rapidly change the outlook on Social Security's long term financial picture from positive to problematic. By the 1970s, the phase-in period, where workers were paying taxes but few were collecting benefits, was largely over, and the ratio of elderly population to the working population was increasing. The long run financial structure of a pay as you go program was simply not attractive.

These underlying negative trends were exacerbated by a colossal mathematical error made in the 1972 amendments. In these amendments, Congress hiked benefits 20 percent and attempted to index benefits to inflation so that benefits would rise automatically. If inflation was 5 percent, the goal was to automatically increase benefits by 5 percent so that the real value didn't decline. However, this decision cause benefits to double that of the current times inflation. Unfortunately the 1970s was a period of incredibly high inflation which led to benefit increases that were nowhere near financially sustainable.

During Carter's administration, the economy suffered double-digit inflation, coupled with very high interest rates, oil shortages, high unemployment and slow economic growth. Productivity growth in the United States had declined to an average annual rate of 1 percent, compared to 3.2 percent of the 1960s. There was also a growing federal budget deficit which increased to 66 billion dollars.

The 1970s are described as a period of stagflation, meaning economic stagnation coupled with price inflation, as well as higher interest rates. Price inflation (a rise in the general level of prices) creates uncertainty in budgeting and planning and makes labor strikes for pay raises more likely.

The high inflation, double-indexing, and lower than expected wage growth was financial disaster for Social Security. To combat the declining financial outlook, in 1977 Congress passed and President Jimmy Carter signed legislation fixing the double-indexing mistake. Quoting Carter, "Now this legislation will guarantee that from 1980 to the year 2030, the social Security funds will be sound."[13] This turned out to be not the case. The financial picture declined almost immediately and by the early 1980s, the system was again in crisis.

1983 amendments

After the 1977 amendments, the economic assumptions surrounding Social Security projections continued to be overly optimistic as the program moved toward a crisis. In 1982, projections indicated that the Social Security Trust Fund would run out of money by 1983, and there was talk of the system being unable to pay benefits.[14] A commission chaired by Alan Greenspan was created to address the crisis.

Also of concern was the long-term prospect for Social Security because of demographic considerations. Of particular concern was the issue of what would happen when people born during the post-World War II baby boom retired. The commission chaired by Alan Greenspan made several recommendations for addressing the issue. [15] Under the 1983 Amendments to Social Security, signed into law by President Ronald Reagan, a previously enacted increase in the payroll tax rate was accelerated, additional employees were added to the system, the full benefit retirement age was slowly increased, and up to one-half of the value of the Social Security benefit was made potentially taxable income. [16][17]

As a result of these changes, particularly the tax increases, the Social Security system began to generate a large (short run) surplus of funds, intended to cover the added retirement costs of the "boomers." Congress invested these surpluses into special series, non-marketable U.S. government bonds held by the Social Security trust fund. Under the law, the government bonds held by Social Security are backed by the full faith and credit of the U.S. government. Because the government had adopted the unified budgeting since the Johnson administration, this surplus off-sets the total fiscal debt, making it look much smaller. There has been significant disagreement over whether the Social Security trust fund has been saved, or has been used to finance other government programs and other tax cuts. (See the Social Security trust fund article for a more in depth discussion.)

The special series, non-marketable bonds currently held in Social Security Trust Fund are off-balance sheet and are excluded from the U.S. national debt calculation. Unlike traditional bonds, the bonds held in the Fund cannot be sold on the open market. Due to these unique features, some have argued that the bonds held in the trust fund are only "IOUs" that the government has written to itself. The Social Security and Medicare Trustees note:

Since neither the interest paid on the Treasury bonds held in the HI [Hospital Insurance] and OASDI Trust Funds, nor their redemption, provides any net new income to the Treasury, the full amount of the required Treasury payments to these trust funds must be financed by some combination of increased taxation, increased Federal borrowing and debt, or a reduction in other government expenditures. (Status of Social Security and Medicare Programs: A summary of the 2005 annual reports) [18]

This means that these bonds represent a promise to pay the trust fund later, whether by increasing taxes, by cutting benefits, or by borrowing more money. While this is true of all bonds[19], bonds are normally funded by an immediate income from a private source, when the bond is purchased. The bonds placed in the trust fund are placed printed and in the trust, with no external source of money. The Federal government "buys" the bonds from itself.

Because the Social Security Administration only has legal authority to pay benefits out of its current FICA contributions or accumulated trust fund, the existence of the trust fund provides legal authority for the federal government to continue to pay benefits when current benefits exceed current FICA taxes until the trust fund completely depletes. The issue of funding or financing — because OSADHI (including Medicare) is so massive — is difficult to segregate from discussion of the rest of the federal budget. The size of the budget may mean that the United States has no other government spending, has massive tax hikes, or makes cuts in benefits. Massive government borrowing would not work unless the borrowed funds come from abroad; the net fiscal stimulus of extra domestic borrowing is offset dollar for dollar by less private domestic spending.

Dates of coverage for various workers

* 1935 All workers in commerce and industry (except railroads) under age 65.
* 1939 Age restriction eliminated.
* 1946 Railroad and Social Security earnings combined to determine eligibility for and amount *of survivor benefits.
* 1950 Regularly employed farm and domestic workers. Nonfarm self-employed (except professional groups). Federal civilian employees not under retirement system. Americans employed outside United States by American employer. Puerto Rico and Virgin Islands. At the option of the State, State and local government employees not under retirement system. Nonprofit organizations could elect coverage for their employees (other than ministers).
* 1951 Railroad workers with less than 10 years of service, for all benefits. (After October 1951, coverage is retroactive to 1937.)
* 1954 Farm self-employed. Professional self-employed except lawyers, dentists, doctors, and other medical groups. Additional regularly employed farm and domestic workers. Homeworkers. State and local government employees (except firemen and policemen) under retirement system if agreed to by referendum. Ministers could elect coverage.
* 1956 Members of the uniformed services. Remainder of professional self-employed except doctors. By referendum, firemen and policemen in designated States.
* 1965 Interns. Self-employed doctors. Tips.
* 1967 Ministers (unless exemption is claimed on grounds of conscience or religious principles). Firemen under retirement system in all States.
* 1972 Members of a religious order subject to a vow of poverty.
* 1983 All federal civilian employees hired after 1983; all employees of nonprofit organizations. Covered state and local government employees prohibited from opting out of Social Security.
* 1990 Employees of state and local governments not covered under a retirement plan. [20]

Retirement, auxiliary, survivors, and disability benefits

The largest component of OASDI is the payment of retirement benefits. Throughout a worker's career, the Social Security Administration keeps track of his or her earnings. The amount of the monthly benefit to which the worker is entitled depends upon that earnings record and upon the age at which the retiree chooses to begin receiving benefits. For the entire history of Social Security, benefits have been paid almost entirely by using revenue from payroll taxes. This is why Social Security is referred to as a pay-as-you-go system. In approximately a decade (2019), payroll tax revenue is projected to be insufficient to cover Social Security benefits and the system will begin to withdraw money from the Social Security Trust Fund. The existence and economic significance of the Social Security Trust Fund is a subject of considerable dispute because its assets are special Treasury bonds; i.e., the money in the trust fund have been loaned back to the federal government to pay for other expenses (hence it is said that the fund consists of nothing but "IOUs").

The Supreme Court decided, in Flemming v. Nestor (1960), that "entitlement to Social Security benefits is not a contractual right". In that case, Ephram Nestor, a Bulgarian immigrant to the United States who made contributions for covered wages for the statutorily required "quarters of coverage" was nonetheless denied benefits after being deported in 1956 for being a member of the Communist party.

The case specifically held:

2. A person covered by the Social Security Act has not such a right in old-age benefit payments as would make every defeasance of "accrued" interests violative of the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment. Pp. 608-611. (a) The noncontractual interest of an employee covered by the Act cannot be soundly analogized to that of the holder of an annuity, whose right to benefits are based on his contractual premium payments. Pp. 608-610. (b) To engraft upon the Social Security System a concept of "accrued property rights" would deprive it of the flexibility and [363 U.S. 603, 604] boldness in adjustment to ever-changing conditions which it demands and which Congress probably had in mind when it expressly reserved the right to alter, amend or repeal any provision of the Act. Pp. 610-611. 3. Section 202 (n) of the Act cannot be condemned as so lacking in rational justification as to offend due process. Pp. 611-612. 4. Termination of appellee's benefits under 202 (n) does not amount to punishing him without a trial, in violation of Art. III, 2, cl. 3, of the Constitution or the Sixth Amendment; nor is 202 (n) a bill of attainder or ex post facto law, since its purpose is not punitive. Pp. 612-621.[21]

In simple terms, the decision means that Congress can cut benefits at any time.

Primary Insurance Amount

A worker's retirement income benefit is based on his PIA (primary insurance amount). The PIA is based on the average of the highest 35 years of the worker's covered earnings (before deduction for FICA). Covered earnings in any year are limited by that year's Social Security Wage Base, the maximum earnings that could be subject to the OASDI portion of FICA payroll tax ($102,000 in 2008 [22]). If the worker has fewer than 35 years of covered earnings, zeros are used to bring the total number of years of earnings up to 35. Years of covered work more than 2 years before the year the worker turns 62 are indexed upward to reflect the increase in the national wage via the average wage index (AWI) from the time at which the earnings were covered in the past to the value of the AWI two years before the worker turns 62 (which is the most recent year available at the date the worker turns 62). One-twelfth of this 35-year average is the average indexed monthly earnings (AIME). The PIA then is 90% of the AIME up to the first (low) bendpoint, and 32% of the excess of AIME over the first bendpoint but not in excess of the second (high) bendpoint, plus 15% of the AIME in excess of the second bendpoint. Bendpoints designate the point at which the rates of return on a beneficiary's AIME change[23][24]. In 2008, the bendpoints for calculating the PIA are a change from 90% to 32% at $711 and a change to 15% at $4,288.[25][26] This PIA is then adjusted by automatic cost-of-living adjustments annually starting with the year the worker turns 62. Similar computations based on career average earnings determine disability and survivor benefits. These alternate computations average less years of earnings when the worker dies or is disabled before age 62 and use different base years for the inflation adjustments.

Normal retirement age

Main article: Retirement Insurance Benefits

The earliest age at which (reduced) benefits are payable is 62. Full retirement benefits depend on a retiree's year of birth.[27] Those born before 1938 have a normal retirement age of 65. Normal retirement age increases by two months for each ensuing year of birth until the 1943 year of birth, when it stays at age 66 years until the year of birth 1955. Thereafter the normal retirement age increases again by two months for each year ending in the 1960 year of birth, when normal retirement age stops at age 67 for all born thereafter.

A worker who starts benefits before normal retirement age has their benefit reduced based on the number of months before normal retirement age they start benefits. This reduction is 5/9 of 1% for each month up to 36 and then 5/12 of 1% for each additional month. This formula gives an 80% benefit at age 62 for a worker with a normal retirement age of 65, a 75% benefit at age 62 for a worker with a normal retirement age of 66, and a 70% benefit at age 62 for a worker with a normal retirement age of 67.

A worker who delays starting retirement benefits past normal retirement age earns delayed retirement credits that increase their benefit until they reach age 70. These credits are also applied to their widow(er)'s benefit. Children and spouse benefits are not affected by these credits.

The normal retirement age for widow(er) benefits shifts the year-of-birth schedule upward by two years, so that those widow(er)s born before 1940 have age 65 as their normal retirement age.

Spouse's benefit

Any current spouse is eligible, and divorced or former spouses are eligible generally if the marriage lasts for at least 10 years. (State marriages of same sex couples are not recognized by OASDI for spousal benefits because the federal DOMA law excluded them for federal recognition for federal rights.±) While it is arithmetically possible for one worker to generate spousal benefits for up to five of his/her spouses that he/she may have, each must be in succession after a proper divorce for each after a marriage of at least ten years. Because age 70 is the latest retirement age, and because no state recognizes marriage before teenage years, there are no more than 5 successive spousal benefits in ten-year intervals. This spousal retirement benefit is half the PIA of the worker; this is different from the spousal survivor benefit, which is the full PIA. The benefit is the product of the PIA, times one half, times the early-retirement factor if the spouse is younger than normal retirement age. There is no increase for starting spousal benefits after normal retirement age. This can occur if there is a married couple in which the younger person is the only worker and is more than 5 years younger. Only after the worker applies for retirement benefits may the non-working spouse apply for spousal retirement benefits.

Note that, since the passage of the Senior Citizens' Freedom to Work Act, in 2000, the spouse and children of a worker who has reached normal retirement age can receive benefits on the worker's record whether the worker is receiving benefits or not. Thus a worker can delay retirement without affecting spousal and children's benefits. The worker may have to begin receipt of benefits, to allow the spousal/children's benefits to begin, and then subsequently suspend his/her own benefits in order to continue the postponement of benefits in exchange for an increased benefit amount. [citation needed]

Widow's benefits

If a worker covered by Social Security dies, a surviving spouse can receive survivors' benefits. In some instances, survivors' benefits are available even to a divorced spouse. A father or mother with minor or disabled children in his or her care can receive benefits which are not actuarially reduced. The earliest age for a nondisabled widow(er)'s benefit is age 60. The benefit is equal to the worker's full retirement benefit for spouses who are at, or older than, normal retirement age. If the surviving spouse starts benefits before normal retirement age, there is an actuarial reduction. If the worker earned delayed retirement credits by waiting to start benefits after their normal retirement age, the surviving spouse will have those credits applied to their benefit. [28]

Children's benefits

Children of a retired, disabled or deceased worker may receive benefits as a "dependent" or "survivor" if they are under the age of 18, or between 18 and 19 and have not yet graduated from high school, or are over the age of 18 and were disabled before the age of 22.[28]

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A worker who has worked long enough and recently enough (based on "quarters of coverage" within the recent past) to be covered can receive disability benefits. These benefits start after five full calendar months of disability, regardless of his or her age. The eligibility formula requires a certain number of credits (based on earnings) to have been earned overall, and a certain number within the ten years immediately preceding the disability, but with more-lenient provisions for younger workers who become disabled before having had a chance to compile a long earnings history.

The worker must be unable to continue in his or her previous job and unable to adjust to other work, with age, education, and work experience taken into account; furthermore, the disability must be long-term, lasting 12 months, expected to last 12 months, resulting in death, or expected to result in death.[29] As with the retirement benefit, the amount of the disability benefit payable depends on the worker's age and record of covered earnings.

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) uses the same disability criteria as the insured social security disability program, but SSI is not based upon insurance coverage. Instead, a system of means-testing is used to determine whether the claimants' income and net worth fall below certain income and asset thresholds.

Severely disabled children may qualify for SSI. Standards for child disability are different from those for adults.

Disability determination at the Social Security Administration has created the largest system of administrative courts in the United States. Depending on the state of residence, a claimant whose initial application for benefits is denied can request reconsideration or a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge. Such hearings sometimes involve participation of a vocational expert (VE) or medical expert (ME), both independent, unbiased witnesses, as called upon by the ALJ.

Reconsideration involves a re-examination of the evidence, and the opportunity for a hearing before a (non-Attorney at law) disability hearing officer. The hearing officer then issues a decision in writing, providing justification for his/her finding. If the claimant is denied at the reconsideration stage, (s)he may request a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge. In some states, SSA has implemented a pilot program that eliminates the reconsideration step and allows claimants to appeal an initial denial directly to an Administrative Law Judge.

Because the number of applications for Social Security is very large (approximately 650,000 applications per year), the number of hearings requested by claimants often exceeds the capacity of Administrative Law Judges. The number of hearings requested and availability of Administrative Law Judges varies geographically across the United States. In some areas of the country, it is possible for a claimant to have a hearing with an Administrative Law Judge within 90 days of his/her request. In other areas, waiting times of 18 months are not uncommon.

After the hearing, the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) issues a decision in writing. The decision can be Fully Favorable (the ALJ finds the claimant disabled as of the date that (s) he alleges in the application through the present), Partially Favorable (the ALJ finds the claimant disabled at some point, but not as of the date alleged in the application; OR the ALJ finds that the claimant was disabled but has improved), or Unfavorable (the ALJ finds that the claimant was not disabled at all). Claimants can appeal Partially Favorable and Unfavorable decisions to Social Security's Appeals Council, which is in Virginia. The Appeals Council does not hold hearings; it accepts written briefs. Response time from the Appeals Council can range from 12 weeks to more than 3 years.

If the claimant disagrees with the Appeals Council's decision, (s)he can appeal the case in the federal district court for his/her jurisdiction. As in most federal court cases, an unfavorable district court decision can be appealed to the appropriate appellate circuit court, and an unfavorable appellate court decision can be appealed to the United States Supreme Court.

Current operation

Joining and quitting

Getting a Social Security number for a child is completely voluntary.[30] There is no legal requirement for individuals to join the Social Security program. The Social Security Act does not require a person to have a Social Security Number (SSN) to live and work in the United States.[31] Any "duty" to apply for and obtain a Social Security number can be summarized in this way: you get it if you need it or request it. There is no legal compulsion to do so. However, once joined there is no general provision for individuals to opt out of or quit the program. The FICA taxes imposed are mandatory on all workers and the self-employed. Employers are required[32] to report wages for covered employment to Social Security for processing Forms W-2 and W-3. There are some specific groups which are not required to pay into the Social Security program (discussed below). Internal Revenue Code Provisions section 3101 imposes payroll taxes on individuals and employer matching taxes. Section 3102 mandates that employers deduct these payroll taxes from workers' wages, at the worker's request (form W-4), before they are paid. Generally, the payroll tax is mandatory on everyone in employment earning "wages" as defined in 3121 of the Internal Revenue Code, and also taxes net earnings from self-employment.
Importantly, most parents apply for Social Security numbers for their dependent children in order to [33] include them on their income tax returns as a dependent. Everyone filing a tax return, as taxpayer or spouse, must have a Social Security Number or Taxpayer Identification Number (TIN) since the IRS is unable to process returns or post payments for anyone without an SSN or TIN. Moreover, the Internal Revenue Service will not[34] issue a TIN to anyone who qualifies for, but is not denied a Social Security number.

Trust fund

Main article: Social Security Trust Fund

Social Security taxes are paid into the Social Security Trust Fund maintained by the U.S. Treasury (technically, the "Federal Old-Age and Survivors Insurance Trust Fund", as established by 42 U.S.C. § 401(a)). Current year expenses are paid from current Social Security tax revenues. When revenues exceed expenditures, as they have in most years, the excess is invested in special series, non-marketable U.S. Government bonds, thus the Social Security Trust Fund indirectly finances the federal government's general purpose deficit spending. In 2007, the cumulative excess of Social Security taxes and interest received over benefits paid out stood at $2.2 trillion. [35] The Trust Fund is regarded by some as an accounting trick which holds no economic significance. Others argue that it has specific legal significance because the Treasury securities it holds are backed by the "full faith and credit" of the U.S. government, which has an obligation to repay its debt. It is important to note, however, that while the Treasury guarantees the interest and principal payments it makes to the Social Security Trust Fund, the benefit payments made from the Social Security Trust Fund to American retirees have no guarantee at all.

The Social Security Administration's authority to make benefit payments as granted by Congress extends only to its current revenues and existing Trust Fund balance, i.e., redemption of its holdings of Treasury securities. Therefore, Social Security's ability to make full payments once annual benefits exceed revenues depends in part on the federal government's ability to make good on the bonds that it has issued to the Social Security trust funds. The federal government's ability to repay Social Security, in turn, is contingent on fiscal policies taken today (which have tended to increase deficits and the percent of the budget spent on interest and principal payments) and in the future.


"The Office of Hearings and Appeals (OHA) administers the hearings and appeals program for the Social Security Administration (SSA). Administrative Law Judges (ALJs) conduct hearings and issue decisions. The Appeals Council considers appeals from hearing decisions, and acts as the final level of administrative review for the Social Security Administration." [36] In 2006, OHA was renamed to ODAR. [37]

Double dipping

The current formula used in calculating the benefit level (primary insurance amount or PIA) is very progressive so that sizable benefits could be obtained with much less than the forty to thirty five years of covered wages. Workers who spend their entire careers in covered employment would be unfairly treated relative to workers who spend the first half of their careers not covered (as in municipal employment) by OASDI but are covered by an alternative plan. These people who later switch into covered employment would be entitled to both the alternative non OASDI pension (presumably from a state or municipality) and get an Old Age retirement benefit from Social Security. The progressivity of the PIA formula would in effect allow these workers to double dip. Therefore, there are two provisions that mitigate the effect of the double dipping: one for those who obtain OASDI benefits from a spouse who is a covered worker and the other for those who split their careers in covered and noncovered employment. This latter double dip has a claw back factor which starts at maximum at 10 years and grades out to zero at 30 years so that there is no clawback for those with 30 years or more of covered wages. This is to prevent those with abnormally low AIMEs due to few years of covered status from being treated as lifetime (say 44 years) career low wage earners with low AIMEs.

International agreements

In today's global environment people often relocate from one country to another, either permanently or on a limited time basis. This presents challenges to businesses, governments, and individuals seeking to ensure future benefits or having to deal with taxation authorities in multiple countries. To that end, the Social Security Administration has signed treaties, often referred to as Totalization Agreements, with other social insurance programs in various foreign countries.

Overall, these agreements serve two main purposes. First, they eliminate dual Social Security taxation, the situation that occurs when a worker from one country works in another country and is required to pay Social Security taxes to both countries on the same earnings. Second, the agreements help fill gaps in benefit protection for workers who have divided their careers between the United States and another country.

The following countries have signed totalization agreements with the SSA (and the date the agreement became effective):[38]

* United States (December 19, 1991)
* Italy (November 1, 1978)
* Germany (December 1, 1979)
* Switzerland (November 1, 1980)
* Belgium (July 1, 1984)
* Norway (July 1, 1984)
* Canada (August 1, 1984)
* United Kingdom (January 1, 1985)
* Sweden (January 1, 1987)
* Spain (April 1, 1988)
* France (July 1, 1988)
* Portugal (August 1, 1989)
* Netherlands (November 1, 1990)
* Austria (November 1, 1991)
* Finland (November 1, 1992)
* Ireland (September 1, 1993)
* Luxembourg (November 1, 1993)
* Greece (September 1, 1994)
* South Korea (April 1, 2001)
* Chile (December 1, 2001)
* Australia (October 1, 2002)
* Japan (October 1, 2005)

Social Security number

Main article: Social Security number

A side effect of the Social Security program in the United States has been the near-universal adaptation of the program's identification number, the Social Security number, as the national identification number in the United States. The social security number, or SSN, is issued pursuant to section 205(c)(2) of the Social Security Act, codified as 42 U.S.C. § 405(c)(2). A multitude of U.S. entities use the Social Security number as a personal identifier. These include government agencies such as the Internal Revenue Service, as well as private agencies such as banks, colleges and universities, health insurance companies, and employers.

The Social Security Administration admits that the Social Security Act does not require a person to have a Social Security Number to live and work in the United States, nor does it require an SSN simply for the purpose of having one.[citation needed]

The Privacy Act of 1974 was in part intended to limit usage of the Social Security number as a means of identification. Paragraph (1) of subsection (a) of section 7 of the Privacy Act, an uncodified provision, states in part:

(1) It shall be unlawful for any Federal, State or local government agency to deny to any individual any right, benefit, or privilege provided by law because of such individual's refusal to disclose his social security account number.

However, paragraph (2) of subsection (a) of section 7 of the Privacy Act provides in part:

(2) the provisions of paragraph (1) of this subsection shall not apply with respect to -

(A) any disclosure which is required by Federal statute, or

(B) the disclosure of a social security number to any Federal, State, or local agency maintaining a system of records in existence and operating before January 1, 1975, if such disclosure was required under statute or regulation adopted prior to such date to verify the identity of an individual.[39]

The exceptions under section 7 of the Privacy Act include the Internal Revenue Code requirement that social security numbers be used as taxpayer identification numbers for individuals.[40]

Demographic and revenue projections

In each year since 1982, OASDI tax receipts, interest payments and other income have exceeded benefit payments and other expenditures, most recently (in 2004) by more than $150 billion. [41] As the "baby boomers" move out of the work force and into retirement, however, it is anticipated that expenses will come to exceed Social Security tax revenues if there are no changes in current law concerning taxes, benefits, and the retirement age.

According to most projections, the Social Security trust fund will begin drawing on its Treasury Notes toward the end of the next decade (around 2018 or 2019), at which time the repayment of these notes will have to be financed from the general fund. At some time thereafter, variously estimated as 2041 (by the Social Security Administration[42]) or 2052 (by the Congressional Budget Office[43]), the Social Security Trust Fund will have exhausted the claim on general revenues that had been built up during the years of surplus. At that point, current Social Security tax receipts would be sufficient to fund 74 or 78% of the promised benefits, according to the two respective projections. The Social Security Trustees suggest that either the payroll tax could increase to 16.41 percent in 2041 and steadily increased to 17.60 percent in 2081 or a cut in benefits by 25 percent in 2041 and steadily increased to an overall cut of 30 percent in 2081[44].

The Social Security Administration projects that the demographic situation will stabilize. The cash flow deficit in the Social Security system will have leveled off as a share of the economy. This projection has come into question. Some demographers argue that life expectancy will improve more than projected by the Social Security Trustees, a development that would make solvency worse. Some economists believe future productivity growth will be higher than the current projections by the Social Security Trustees. In this case, the Social Security shortfall would be smaller than currently projected.

Tables published by the government's National Center for Health Statistics show that life expectancy at birth was 47.3 years in 1900, rose to 68.2 by 1950 and reached 77.3 in 2002. The latest annual report of the Social Security trustees projects that life expectancy will increase just six years in the next seven decades, to 83 in 2075. A separate set of projections, by the Census Bureau, shows more rapid growth.

("Social Security Underestimates Future Life Spans, Critics Say"[45]) The Census Bureau projection is that the longer life spans projected for 2075 by the Social Security Administration will be reached in 2050. Other experts, however, think that the past gains in life expectancy cannot be repeated, and add that the adverse effect on the system's finances may be partly offset if health improvements induce people to stay in the workforce longer.

Actuarial science, of the kind used to project the future solvency of social security, is by nature inexact. The SSA actually makes three predictions: optimistic, midline, and pessimistic (until the late 1980s it made 4 projections). The Social Security crisis that was developing prior to the 1983 reforms resulted from midline projections that turned out to be too optimistic. It has been argued that the overly pessimistic projections of the mid to late 1990s were partly the result of the low economic growth (according actuary David Langer) assumptions which resulted in the projected exhaustion date being pushed back (from 2028 to 2042) with each successive Trustee's report. During the heavy-boom years of the '90s, the midline projections were too pessimistic. Obviously, projecting out 75 years is a significant challenge and, as such, the actual situation might be much better or much worse than predicted.

Increased spending for Social Security will occur at the same time as increases in Medicare, as a result of the aging of the baby boomers. One projection illustrates the relationship between the two programs:

From 2004 to 2030, the combined spending on Social Security and Medicare is expected to rise from 7% of national income (gross domestic product) to 13%. Two-thirds of the increase occurs in Medicare. [46]


Tax on wages and self-employment income

Benefits are funded by taxes imposed on wages of employees and self-employed persons. As explained below, in the case of employment, the employer and employee are each responsible for one half of the Social Security tax, with the employee's half being withheld from the employee's pay check. In the case of self-employed persons (i.e., independent contractors), the self-employed person is responsible for the entire amount of Social Security tax.

The Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) (codified in the Internal Revenue Code) imposes a Social Security withholding tax equal to 6.20% of the gross wage amount, up to but not exceeding the Social Security Wage Base ($94,200 for the year 2006; $97,500 for 2007; and $102,000 for 2008). The same 6.20% tax is imposed on employers. For each calendar year for which the worker is assessed the FICA contribution, the SSA credits those wages as that year's covered wages. The income cutoff is adjusted yearly for inflation and other factors.

A separate payroll tax of 1.45% of an employee's income is paid directly by the employer, and an additional 1.45% deducted from the employee's paycheck, yielding a total tax rate of 2.90%. There is no maximum limit on this portion of the tax. This portion of the tax is used to fund the Medicare program, which is primarily responsible for providing health benefits to retirees.

The combined tax rate of these two federal programs is 15.30% (7.65% paid by the employee and 7.65% paid by the employer).

For self-employed workers (who technically are not employees and are deemed not to be earning "wages" for Federal tax purposes), the self-employment tax, imposed by the Self-Employment Contributions Act of 1954, codified as Chapter 2 of Subtitle A of the Internal Revenue Code, 26 U.S.C. § 1401–1403, is 15.3% of "net earnings from self-employment."[47] In essence, a self-employed individual pays both the employee and employer share of the tax, although half of the self-employment tax (the "employer share") is deductible when calculating the individual's federal income tax.[48][49]

If an employee has overpaid payroll taxes by having more than one job or switching jobs during the year, the excess taxes will be refunded when the employee files his federal income tax return. Any excess taxes paid by employers, however, are not refundable to the employers.

Wages not subject to tax

Workers are not required to pay Social Security taxes on wages from certain types of work:[50]

* Wages received by certain state or local government workers participating in their employers' alternative retirement system.
* Net annual earnings from self-employment of less than $400.
* Wages received for service as an election worker, if less than $1,400 a year (in 2008).
* Wages received for working as a household employee, if less than $1,600 per year (in 2008).
* Wages received by college students working under Federal Work Study programs, graduate students receiving stipends while working as teaching assistants, research assistants, or on fellowships, and most postdoctoral researchers.
* Earnings received for serving as a minister (or for similar religious service) if the person has a conscientious objection to public insurance because of personal religious considerations, but only for "qualified services" performed for a religious organization.
* Other minor exceptions.

Federal income taxation of benefits

The benefits received by retirees were not originally taxed as income in the year of receipt. Beginning in tax year 1984, with the Reagan-era reforms to repair the system's projected insolvency, retirees with incomes over $25,000 (in the case of married persons filing separately who did not live with the spouse at any time during the year, and for persons filing as "single"), or with combined incomes over $32,000 (if married filing jointly) or, in certain cases, any income amount (if married filing separately from the spouse in a year in which the taxpayer lived with the spouse at any time) generally saw part of the retiree benefits subject to Federal income tax. In 1984, the portion of the benefits potentially subject to tax was 50%.[51] Beginning with the 1994 tax year, after Pres. William Jefferson Clinton's Deficit Reduction Act of 1993, the portion of benefits potentially subject to tax was increased to 85%.[52]

Criticism of the program

Critics of Social Security have made some negative claims about the program.

Claim that it discriminates against the poor and middle-class

Critics, such as Nobel Laureate economist Milton Friedman, say that Social Security redistributes wealth from the poor to the wealthy.[53][54] Workers must pay 12.4%, including a 6.2% employer contribution, on their wages below the Social Security Wage Base ($102,000 in 2008), but no tax on income in excess of this amount.[55] Therefore, high earners pay a lower percentage of their total income because of the income caps; because of this, payroll taxes are often viewed as being regressive. Furthermore, wealthier individuals generally have higher life expectancies and thus may expect to receive larger benefits for a longer period than poorer taxpayers.[56] A single individual who dies before age 62, who is more likely to be poor, receives no retirement benefits despite his years of paying Social Security tax. On the other hand, an individual who lives to age 100, who is more likely to be wealthy, is guaranteed payments that are more than he paid into the system.[57]

Supporters of Social Security say that despite its regressive tax formula, Social Security benefits are calculated using a progressive benefit formula that replaces a much higher percentage of low-income workers' pre-retirement income than that of higher-income workers (although these low-income workers pay a higher percentage of their pre-retirement income).[58] They also point to numerous studies that show that, relative to high-income workers, Social Security disability and survivor benefits paid on behalf of low-income workers more than offset any retirement benefits that may be lost because of shorter life expectancy.[59][60][61] Other research asserts that survivor benefits, allegedly an offset, actually exacerbate the problem because survivor benefits are denied to single individuals, including widow(er)s married less than nine months (except in certain situations)[62]divorced widow(er)s married less than 10 years[63], and co-habiting or same-sex couples, unless they are legally married in their state of residence[64][65][66][67][68] Unmarried individuals tend to be less wealthy and minorities.[69]

Claim that politicians exempted themselves from the tax

Critics of Social Security have pointed out [70] that the politicians who created Social Security exempted themselves from having to pay the Social Security tax. When the federal government created Social Security, all federal employees, including the President and members of Congress, were exempt from having to pay the Social Security tax. This exemption was not repealed until more than 40 years later in 1984. [71]

Claim that the government lied about the maximum tax

George Mason University economics professor Walter E. Williams claimed that the federal government has broken its own promise regarding the maximum Social Security tax. [72] Williams used data from the federal government to back up his claim.

According to a 1936 pamphlet on the Social Security website, the federal government promised the following maximum level of taxation for Social Security, "... beginning in 1949, twelve years from now, you and your employer will each pay 3 cents on each dollar you earn, up to $3,000 a year. That is the most you will ever pay." [73]

However, according to the Social Security website, by the year 2007, the tax rate was 6.2% each for the employer and employee, and the maximum income level that was subject to the tax was $97,500. [74]

Williams wrote, "Had Congress lived up to those promises, where $3,000 was the maximum earnings subject to Social Security tax, controlling for inflation, today's $50,000-a-year wage earner would pay about $700 in Social Security taxes, as opposed to the more than $3,000 that he pays today." [75]

Claim that it gives a low rate of return

Critics of Social Security [76] claim that it gives a low rate of return, compared to what is obtained through private retirement accounts. For example, critics point out [77] that under the Social Security laws as they existed at that time, several thousand employees of Galveston County, Texas were allowed to opt out of the Social Security program in the early 1980s, and have their money placed in a private retirement plan instead. While employees who earned $50,000 per year would have collected $1,302 per month in Social Security benefits, the private plan paid them $6,843 per month. While employees who earned $20,000 per year would have collected $775 per month in Social Security benefits, the private plan paid them $2,740 per month, at interest rates prevailing in 1996. [78]. While some advocates of privatization of Social Security point to the Galveston pension plan as a model for Social Security reform, critics point to a GAO report to the House Ways and Means Committee, which indicates that, for low and middle income employees, the outcome may be less favorable.

Claim that it is a pyramid scheme

Economist Thomas Sowell argues in his books and columns that Social Security is a pyramid scheme. E.g. in Social Security: The Enron That Politicians Have In the Closet, he writes:

Social Security has been a pyramid scheme from the beginning. Those who paid in first received money from those who paid in second — and so on, generation after generation. This was great so long as the small generation when Social Security began was being supported by larger generations resulting from the baby boom.

But, like all pyramid schemes, the whole thing is in big trouble once the pyramid stops growing. When the baby boomers retire, that will be the moment of truth — or of more artful lies. Just like Enron.

Current controversies

Main article: Social Security debate (United States)

Proposals to reform of the Social Security system have led to heated debate, centering around funding of the program. In particular, proposals to privatize funding has caused great controversy.

Contrast with private pensions

Although Social Security is sometimes compared to private pensions, this is an improper comparison since Social Security is social insurance and not a retirement plan. The payment of disability benefits also distinguishes Social Security from most private pensions. In other ways the two systems are fundamentally different as well. A private pension fund accumulates the money paid into it, eventually using those reserves to pay pensions to the workers who contributed to the fund; and a private system is not universal. Social Security cannot "prefund" by investing in marketable assets such as equities, because federal law prohibits it from investing in assets other than those backed by the U.S. government. As a result, its investments to date have been limited to "special" non-negotiable securities issued by the U.S. Treasury, although some argue that debt issued by the Federal National Mortgage Association and other quasi-governmental organizations could meet legal standards. Social Security cannot by law invest in private equities, although some other countries (such as Canada) and some states permit their pension funds to invest in private equities. As a universal system, Social Security operates as a pipeline, through which current tax receipts from workers are used to pay current benefits to retirees, survivors, and the disabled. There is an excess of taxes withheld over benefits paid, and by law this excess is invested in Treasury securities (not in private equities) as described above.

Two broad categories of private pension plans are "defined benefit pension plans" and "defined contribution pension plans." Of these two, Social Security is more similar to a defined benefit pension plan. In a defined benefit pension plan, the benefits ultimately received are based on some sort of pre-determined formula (such as one based on years worked and highest salary earned). Defined benefit pension plans generally do not include separate accounts for each participant. By contrast, in a defined contribution pension plan each participant has a specific account with funds put into that account (by the employer or the participant, or both), and the ultimate benefit is based on the amount in that account at the time of retirement. Some have proposed that the Social Security system be modified to provide for the option of individual accounts (in effect, to make the system, at least in part, more like a defined contribution pension plan). Specifically, on February 2, 2005, President George W. Bush made Social Security a prominent theme of his State of the Union Address. He described the Social Security system as "headed for bankruptcy", and outlined, in general terms, a proposal based on partial privatization. Critics responded that privatization would worsen the program's solvency outlook and would require huge new borrowing. See Social Security debate (United States).

Private pensions are governed by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), which requires minimum levels of funding. The purpose is to protect the workers from corporate mismanagement and outright bankruptcy, although in practice many private pension funds have fallen short in recent years. In terms of financial structure, Social Security would be analogous to an underfunded pension ("underfunded" meaning not that it is in trouble, but that its "savings" are not enough to pay future benefits without collecting future tax revenues).

Court interpretation of the Act to provide benefits

The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit has indicated that the Social Security Act has a moral purpose and should be liberally interpreted in favor of claimants when deciding what counted as covered wages for purposes of meeting the quarters of coverage requirement to make a worker eligible for benefits.[79] That court has also stated: ". . . [T]he regulations should be liberally applied in favor of beneficiaries" when deciding a case in favor of a felon who had his disability payments retroactively terminated upon incarceration.[80] According to the court, that the Social Security Act "should be liberally construed in favor of those seeking its benefits can not be doubted."[81] “The hope behind this statute is to save men and women from the rigors of the poor house as well as from the haunting fear that such a lot awaits them when journey's end is near.”[82]


The constitutionality of Social Security is intricately linked to the evolving nature of Supreme Court jurisprudence on federal power (the 20th century saw a dramatic increase in allowed congressional action). When Social Security was first passed, there were significant questions over its constitutionality as the Court had found another pension scheme, the original Railroad Retirement Act, to violate the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment. Today, no plausible court challenge exists or is on the horizon. Although a small minority, several libertarians, such as University of Chicago law professor Richard Epstein and commentators like Robert Nozick, have argued that Social Security should be unconstitutional.

In the 1937 U.S. Supreme Court case of Helvering v. Davis[83], the Court examined the constitutionality of Social Security when George Davis of the Edison Electric Illuminating Company of Boston sued in connection with the Social Security tax. The U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts first upheld the tax. The District Court judgment was reversed by the Circuit Court of Appeals. Commissioner Guy Helvering of the Bureau of Internal Revenue (now the Internal Revenue Service) took the case to the Supreme Court, and the Court upheld the validity of the tax.

During the 1930s President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was in the midst of promoting the passage of a large number of social welfare programs under the New Deal and the High Court struck down many of those programs (such as the Civilian Conservation Corps and the National Recovery Act) as unconstitutional. After having a significant portion of his enactments struck down by the Supreme Court, Roosevelt proposed legislation that would have expanded the Supreme Court to fifteen members. This would have allowed him to nominate six additional members (under certain conditions) which would be more likely to uphold his enactments with his members in place. Believing that its autonomy and independence were significantly threatened by the legislation, the Supreme Court's tone seemed to change significantly[citation needed]. The Court allowed many New Deal programs very similar to ones they had previously struck down to go through, including Social Security. (see also The switch in time that saved nine)

When Helvering v. Davis was argued before the Court, the larger issue of whether or not the old-age insurance portion of Social Security is constitutional was not decided. The case was limited to whether or not the payroll tax was a suitable use of Congress's taxing power. Despite this, no serious challenges regarding the system's constitutionality are now being litigated, and Congress's spending power may be more coextensive, as shown in cases like South Dakota v. Dole[84] during the Reagan Administration.

Fraud and abuse

Social security number fraud

Because Social Security Numbers have become useful in identity theft and other forms of crime, various schemes have been perpetrated to acquire valid Social Security Numbers and related identity information.

In February 2006, the Social Security Administration received several reports of an email message being circulated addressed to “Dear Social Security Number And Card owner” and purporting to be from the Social Security Administration. The message informs the reader “that someone illegally is using your Social Security number and assuming your identity” and directs the reader to a website designed to look like Social Security’s Internet website.

“I am outraged that someone would target an unsuspecting public in this manner,” said Commissioner Jo Anne B. Barnhart. “I have asked the Inspector General to use all the resources at his command to find and prosecute whoever is perpetrating this fraud.” See Press Release.

Once directed to the phony website, the individual is reportedly asked to confirm his or her identity with “Social Security and bank information.” Specific information about the individual’s credit card number, expiration date and PIN is then requested. “Whether on our online website or by phone, Social Security will never ask you for your credit card information or your PIN” Commissioner Jo Anne B. Barnhart reported.

Social Security Administration Inspector General O’Carroll recommended people always take precautions when giving out personal information. “You should never provide your Social Security number or other personal information over the Internet or by telephone unless you are extremely confident of the source to whom you are providing the information,” O’Carroll said. See Press Release.

Fraud in the acquisition and use of benefits

Given the vast size of the program, fraud occurs. The Social Security Administration has its own investigatory group, Continuing Disability Investigations (CDI). In addition, the Social Security Administration may request investigatory assistance from other federal law enforcement agencies including the Office of the Inspector General and the FBI.

Restrictions on potentially deceptive communications

Because of the importance of Social Security to millions of Americans, many direct-mail marketers packaged their mailings to resemble official communications from the Social Security Administration, hoping that recipients would be more likely to open them. In response, Congress amended the Social Security Act in 1988 to prohibit the private use of the phrase "Social Security" and several related terms in any way that would convey a false impression of approval from the Social Security Administration. The constitutionality of this law (42 U.S.C. § 1140) was upheld in United Seniors Association, Inc. v. Social Security Administration, ___ F.3d ___ (4th Cir. 2005) (text at Findlaw [85]). (Cert. denied US Supreme Court, May 30, 2006).