Tuesday, June 10, 2008
Vote for Pedro
a couple of years ago, a friend of mine and I got into an argument about whether or not Bush was an idiot. Before I identify which side of that argument I was on, let me say first, that if your response is "well, naturally he is!" then my burgeoning hopes for the future of the Democratic party are for naught [subject of future blog post]. And second, I am well aware that Bush is not an intellectual giant [just for the record].

Ok, so, I've already revealed which side of the argument I was on. Well, anyway. For now, I'm going to save for another day the discussion of why people thinkin' that Bush is an idiot is the reason why he's serving his second term. What is reminding me of this conversation now, though, are recent remarks by Sen. Grassley (R iowa).

The connection? It's what I think is most insidious in politicians: not stupidity (leaving aside whether any individual politician is or is not stupid) but cynicism.

Cynicism in politicians is, among other things, the belief (expressed through actions) that WE are stupid. Thus Virgil Goode's pandering and false math (see The Fifth District Race is on! below); Bush's fake Texas accent; and Sen. Grassley's disingenuous statements about how corn ethanol cannot possibly be the cause of the spike in food prices around the world, because, shucks, we just can't eat the kind of corn that ethanol is made from: "It’s not something you’d sit down at your kitchen table and eat.” Well golly day, then what's everyone crying about? ...Corn? Why don't they just eat cake?

Well, duh, Sen. Grassley, of course the corn used in animal feeds and ethanol production is not the same as the sweet corn people set on their table. But the corn that people eat around the world is not sweet corn. They eat field corn, maize, which is, in fact, basically the same kind as animal feed/ethanol corn--it's hard, non-sweet corn that is ground into cornmeal, mixed into animal feeds, and distilled into ethanol.

But, the main problem is not that we're snatching corn out of babies' mouths to make gasoline with. The fact is, the government's incentives for growing corn for ethanol production means that more farmers are growing biofuels and fewer are growing foods for human consumption--crops are being churned into ethanol, not ground into meal. And, the demand for biofuels is driving up prices for all grains across the board. This all would be true no matter what grain we used, or even if we were making ethanol out of thistles--when farmers turn away from food production, growing or diverting crops for a non-food purpose, we are diminishing our world-wide food security. We are taking land out of food production and turning it to fuel production.

Now, THIS is stupid. I've written before on how nonsensical ethanol is as a way to independence from foreign oil. But now were beyond nonsensical and looking at harmful. Children with kwashiorkor and beriberi--remember Ethiopia? It's back.

OK, so, do I think Sen. Grassley is dumb when he says ethanol is not driving up the price of food, because people don't eat field corn? Hell, no. He's cynical. He knows very well what he's doing, which is earning big bucks for his Iowa corn-farming constituents. But does he think we're dumb, to buy that argument? Apparently. And that's cynicism in politics--from Iowa corn farmer to New England WASP, it's the trademark of Republicans--to be so sure that we'll buy any bridge they've got to sell. Whether we're dumb enough to believe it and buy, or dumb enough to believe that THEY are dumb and actually believe they've got a bridge to sell, they win, and we lose. That's their whole strategy {hyperbole--I'm sure they have a few other tricks].

What can we do about it? Well, first, don't fall into the trap of thinking a politician is stupid, when you've just bought the brooklyn bridge: they're dumb like a fox. And second, always question--why does this politician say something that sounds, if not dumb, at least counterintuitive? Could it be that they know very well that it's total bullshit? Finally, enough with the ethanol already! It's a wild dream--not the solution.

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