Sunday, May 18, 2008

The Farm Bill

Considering that crop prices are at their highest since, well, ever, why is Congress about to pass a farm bill that increases subsidies? And while I can understand some subsidies to small farmers (to help them along, preserve open land from development and have extra land available for crops in an emergency) it appears that most of this largess will go to large corporate farmers. The bill has passed with veto proof majorities in the House and Senate, with lots of Republicans joining the Democrats. The GOP has learned NOTHING from 2006 and will lose (and deserve to lose) more seats this November as a result.

How about a better idea -- let's get off of subsidies. I am hopeful on biofuels, so instead of an ethanol subsidy that has done little for energy independence while increasing food prices let's go with the Zubrin plan. Require within three years that all automobiles that use gasoline must also be able to accept ethanol and methanol. Wider use of methanol, made not from food crops but rather from stalks and non food crops, should help reduce food prices.

And while we are at it, let's end the tariff on Brazilian ethanol, made from sugar and with a higher energy produced to used ratio than corn based ethanol.


Rodak said...

Let's just remember that anywhere a cash crop is growing, instead of a food crop, the rich are getting richer, and the hungry are getting hungier.
This is why, for instance, there were entire populations suffering hunger on Caribbean sugar and coffee growing islands, where, despite rich farm land, all of their food had to be imported, with the resulting mark-up, because none was produced locally.
Imagine a world in which a large percentage of farm land is taken out of food production to grow hemp or some variety of grass to be used for fuel. Food remains scarce; prices remain high; hunger persists...

William R. Barker said...

"Considering that crop prices are at their highest since, well, ever, why is Congress about to pass a farm bill that increases subsidies?"

Rhetorical question I assume? Obviously the answer is - in short - because they can.

They can. (*SHRUG*) It's that simple. There's a constituency that will actually PAY (in the form of campaign contributions) for votes such as this and on the other side...


Nope. Fictional good government "vigilantes" are just that, Anthony... fictional.

As to the "whole" of the American electorate... (*SNORT* (*CHUCKLE*)... frigg'n idiots for the most part. Fat, lazy, and stupid. Oblivious at best, uncaring at worst. Let's here it for democracy. (*SMIRK*)

"The GOP has learned NOTHING from 2006..."

But they'll get YOUR vote in November - right? You'll be voting for McCain, right? Will you also be voting for the GOP congressional candidate? How'bout Senator - who's up in your state - anyone?

Even assuming you have a revalation and vote differently than I guess... (*SHRUG*)... millions - tens of millions - won't. They'll vote Party line, at BEST tangentally familiar with the issues and the probable policy outcomes which will result from their votes.

"How about a better idea -- let's get off of subsidies."


Jeez, Anthony... what a GREAT idea! I'm with you. Now... all we need do is take over the government and dictate our new policies. Brilliant! I'll drink to that!

As to the rest of your plan... when I'm absolute dictator, Anthony... with you seated at my right hand... (*SAD, LONG SUFFERING SMILE*)


P.S. - Don't take offense at the tone... it's not directed at you - it's just frustration borne of having basically NO hope that this once great nation can be salvaged. It'll take decades... but we're going down, Anthony. I take no joy in writing that.

Anthony said...

Bill -- where I live, my vote does not make a difference. My Congressman (a Democrat) voted for the farm bill. He will get reelected with 90% of the vote as usual. There is a Senate race this year, but Durbin will win easily.

As for McCain, yes, I will vote for him.

Rob -- much of biofuel production can take place in the context of non-food crops and waste. If done correctly, it can help slow or even reserve desertification in North Africa by switching small farmers to switchgrass. It is not perfect, but it is better than doing nothing. (Unless you are supportive of increasing an investment in nuclear energy).

William R. Barker said...

My congressman's a Democrat too, Anthony. He represents me as yours represents you.

Let me ask you... have YOU called your congressman's office and given your opinion to one of his staffers to pass on (let's be optimistic!) to him?

I respectfully ask that you do so. Even if it ends up making no difference, at least it gives these people an idea that no every constituent is a blind moron.



Anthony said...

Bill -- good idea -- I went ahead and did it.

Kirk Johnson said...

This is a tough one for me, being a native of eastern Nebraska and all. My home town is betting much of its' economic future on ethanol, and I have really mixed feelings, at best, about that.

William R. Barker said...

Kirk. I'm not a chemist or physicist (nor good speller!), but I know that corn-based ethanol produces - apple to apple - approximately 25% less energy output than gasoline.

In other words... let's say you drive a car that gets 40 mpg on 100% gas, you'd only get 30 mpg using 100% ethanol.

Now... *if* producing/refining/distributing ethanol cost LESS than 75% of the costs associated with gas... (*SHRUG*)

Besides being a lousy speller, I'm also lousy at math. Still... you get the basic point, right? Aside from every other consideration, the basic cost/benefit case for ethanol is suspect just on the surface price of ethanol vs. price of gas. (*SHRUG*)

* And remember... that's WITH these huge ethanol subsidies and protectionist trade barriers!

THEN... added to that... throw in environmental issues such as the WATER resources (not to mention logistical and byproduct costs incurred) that go into even TRYING to make large-scale ethanol production feasible. (*SHRUG*)

Bio-diesel seems a better bet if we're to ween ourselves off pure fossil fuel internal combustion technology over a realistic period of time.

Anyway... I'm in no way an expert. I'd be interested in reading anything you have to write on the subject.


Anthony said...

Bill -- that is about right. When I get home tonight I will check Zurbin's book but it is true that ethanol produces less power per gallon than gasoline (and methanol produces less than that). But I am a big supporter of biofuels or other alternatives.

My problem with the government getting too involved is that means the government chooses a winner, before we know who won. The rules right now mean that corn based ethanol wins, even though it is not even the best type of ethanol.

The match is still in its early stages. Who will be the winner? Will it be ethanol, methanol, synthetic gasoline, shale oil, tar sands, bio diesel, hydrogen, electric cars, hybrids or (for you Ayn Rand fans) motors that run on static electricity. Or maybe the answer has not been developed yet?

Current policy has already chosen a winner.

William R. Barker said...

Your're right on target, Anthony, with your 4:02 p.m. post. Washington has already picked the winner and as is most often the case when "Washington" picks a winner... they've actually picked a LOSER. (*FROWN*)

And now... an early Christmas present to you, Anthony...,0,7518430.story

See! I give credit where credit is due! (*WINK*)

(Have to add though... McCain - who no longer has a Republican opponent for the GOP nomination - couldn't manage to get his ass to Washington to actually VOTE NO on the Farm Bill he properly decries.



NOR...!!! (And I'd REALLY like your counter to this...)

Nor did the bastard show any REAL (rather than AFTER THE FACT RHETORICAL) leadership in terms of rallying Republican Senate (and House) united opposition to the bill.

You see my problem here Anthony???

SERIOUSLY... I SERIOUSLY started writing this post as a SINCERE hat tip to McCain but the second I forced myself to recognize the REALITY of his ineffectiveness (at best; hypocracy at worst) I just slipped into a rage of frustration against the man.

How do you stomach it, Anthony? How do you simply accept the betrayal, the slight of hand?



Anthony said...

President Bush just vetoed the bill.

And if the GOP Congressmembers vote to sustain the veto, they can say "They were for the bill before they were aganist it"

William R. Barker said...

See... that's the thing, Anthony... I'm concerned with what they DO - not just what they say.


And now... speaking of "doing"... your boy McCain has ANOTHER chance to actually DO something rather than just write editorials after the fact.

If McCain is sincere... and if McCain has ANY leadership ability whatsoever... he should be able to - standing shoulder to should with the President - convince enough Republicans who voted FOR the Farm bill to reverse themselves and vote to sustain the President's veto.

If not... if McCain doesn't try... if McCain doesn't succeed... that pretty much tells you all you need to know.