As many pundits have been remarking, the choice of Rep. Paul Ryan as Mitt Romney’s running mate appears to be a gift to the Democratic Party. Ryan is such a rabidly conservative Tea Party type that he makes Romney look fangless by comparison; as a team they are guaranteed to demonstrate just how out of touch the Republicans are with the mood of most Americans.
How could we elect a President whose VP wants to slash every social service, from food stamps for children to Pell grants for college students to health care for the poor? Ryan is a throwback to the Gilded Age, starving the poor while throwing ever bigger bones to the rich, in the form of tax cuts, loose regulation and subsidies for big business.
Funny how history repeats itself, with a Dust Bowl rearing its emaciated head this summer in the Midwest, prompting panicked farmers to appeal frantically to their Congressmen for a robust farm bill, including generous crop failure insurance to keep hope alive for the next growing season.
In the House of Representatives, Ryan and his cronies won’t hear of enacting a farm bill unless it also includes substantial cuts to the nation’s food stamp program.
That’s right—the Republicans are holding the nutrition of America’s most vulnerable citizens—many of them children and the elderly—hostage to political machinations, while also failing to protect farmers and ranchers.
But the truth is that all the farm subsidies and food stamp programs in the world are just bandaids that don’t begin to address the serious underlying issues that must be dealt with as we move on into the perilous 21st century.
Even The New York Times, surely no tree-hugging type of newspaper, published an op-ed column recently pointing to the fact that if the U.S. government simply stopped pouring so much American corn into ethanol, the anticipated drought-related food shortages and price increases would simply fail to materialize.
“Federal renewable-fuel standards require the blending of 13.2 billion gallons of corn ethanol with gasoline this year. This will require 4.7 billion bushels of corn, 40 percent of this year’s crop,” say the authors, Colin A. Carter, a professor of agricultural and resource economics at the University of California, Davis, and Henry I. Miller, a physician and a fellow in scientific philosophy and public policy at the Hoover Institution.
“Any defense of the ethanol policy rests on fallacies, primarily these: that ethanol produced from corn makes the United States less dependent on fossil fuels; that ethanol lowers the price of gasoline; that an increase in the percentage of ethanol blended into gasoline increases the overall supply of gasoline; and that ethanol is environmentally friendly and lowers global carbon dioxide emissions.
“The ethanol lobby promotes these claims, and many politicians seem intoxicated by them. Corn is indeed a renewable resource, but it has a far lower yield relative to the energy used to produce it than either biodiesel (such as soybean oil) or ethanol from other plants. Ethanol yields about 30 percent less energy per gallon than gasoline, so mileage drops off significantly. Finally, adding ethanol actually raises the price of blended fuel because it is more expensive to transport and handle than gasoline.”
Looking at this bigger picture allows us to see that the Midwest drought, while serious, does not have to result in a crisis of food insecurity in the U.S. or in the many other countries that depend on U.S. agriculture.
Not if we had a strong, smart government that could wield the power of policy and regulation intelligently.
We need a farm bill that will encourage farmers to diversify their crops rather than plant millions of acres of corn to turn to fuel.
We need an energy policy that sharply increases incentives for conservation at every level, from personal household energy use to industrial use, and starts aggressively switching our national transportation system to public mass transit, at the same time promoting the development of renewable energy sources nationwide.
We need a social welfare bill that looks deeply into the reasons why more and more Americans are forced to rely on food stamp and food pantries to stave off hunger, and figures out lasting, community-oriented solutions to the vicious cycles of poverty that plague too many American families.
It’s past time to start a new Civilian Conservation Corps that will put ordinary Americans to work at worthy projects that will be far better in every way than grudging handouts.
Recent polls show that a solid majority of Americans now acknowledge the reality of anthropogenic global heating, and they are worried about what the next season’s erratic weather patterns will bring.
It’s a good time to start enacting policy directives that will help us shift, as a nation and as a patchwork of smaller communities, away from our gas-guzzling, coal-burning past into a cleaner, wiser future.
It’s a good time to start building the resilience we’ll need at the local level to withstand the environmental and economic shocks that are coming.
It’s high time we kicked the gridlock-inducing, ham-fisted, hard-hearted Tea Partiers out of Congress, and elected some political representatives who are willing and able to be the visionary leaders this country so badly needs.