Thursday, April 09, 2009

ETHANOL costs too much for FOOD!

Report: Ethanol raises cost of nutrition programs
Associated Press
The increased use of ethanol could cost the government up to $900 million for food stamps and child nutrition programs, a congressional report says.

Higher use of the corn-based fuel additive accounted for about 10 percent to 15 percent of the rise in food prices between April 2007 and April 2008, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. That translates into higher costs for food programs for the needy.

The CBO said other factors, such as skyrocketing energy costs, had an even greater impact than ethanol on food prices during that period. Economists there estimate that increased costs for food programs overall due to higher food prices will be about $5.3 billion in the current budget year.

Ethanol's impact on future food prices is uncertain, the report says, because an increased supply of corn has the potential to eventually lower food prices.

Roughly one quarter of corn grown in the United States is now used to produce ethanol, and overall consumption of ethanol in the country hit a record high last year, exceeding 9 billion gallons, according to the CBO. Nearly 3 billion bushels of corn were used to produce ethanol in the United States last year — an increase of almost a billion bushels over 2007.

The demand for ethanol was one factor that increased corn prices, leading to higher animal feed and ingredient costs for farmers, ranchers and food manufacturers. Some of that cost is eventually passed on to consumers, since corn is used in so many food products.

Several of those affected groups have banded together to oppose tax breaks and federal mandates for the fuel. They said Thursday that the report shows the unintended consequences of ethanol.

"As startling as these figures are, they do not even tell the story of the toll higher food prices have taken on working families, nor the impact higher feed prices have had on farmers in animal agriculture who have seen staggering losses and job cuts and liquidation of livestock herds," the Grocery Manufacturers Association, American Meat Institute, National Turkey Federation and National Council of Chain Restaurants said in a statement.

Supporters of ethanol disagreed, saying the report was good news.

"The report released by the Congressional Budget Office confirms what we've known for some time: The impact of ethanol production on food prices is minimal and that energy was the main driver in the rise of food prices," said Tom Buis, CEO of Growth Energy, an ethanol industry group.

Ethanol producers asked the Environmental Protection Agency last month to increase the amount of ethanol that refiners can blend with gasoline from a maximum of 10 percent to 15 percent, which could boost the demand for ethanol by as much as 6 billion gallons a year. They said raising that cap would create thousands of new jobs.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has said he believes the administration could move quickly to raise the cap to at least 12 or 13 percent, but the EPA has not yet made a final decision.

The report also looked at ethanol's effects on greenhouse gas emissions, acknowledging that over time ethanol's benefits over gasoline could diminish. The report says the use of ethanol reduced gasoline consumption by about 4 percent last year and reduced the gases blamed for global warming from the burning of gasoline by less than 1 percent. But the clearing of cropland and forests to produce more ethanol could more than offset those reductions.


Columbine Plus 10
It is impossible to view last week’s killing of 13 people in Binghamton, N.Y., in isolation. It will soon be the 10th anniversary of the massacre at Columbine High School and the second anniversary of the mass shootings at Virginia Tech. In the last month, multiple shootings have claimed the lives of more than 50 Americans.

In this historical context, Binghamton is yet another reminder of America’s terrible gun problem and a summons to lawmakers to insist on common-sense gun laws. Yet Congress responds with a collective shrug.

There was a moment, after Columbine, when the nation engaged in a promising conversation about gun violence, and it briefly seemed as though Congress might rise above the extremists at the National Rifle Association. In May 1999, the N.R.A. lost a showdown in the Senate over closing the loophole that allows unqualified buyers to purchase weapons at gun shows without a background check.

That victory was illusory; the gun show measure died in conference in the House, and the post-Columbine urge to do something meaningful evaporated. The Virginia Tech massacre eight years later reawakened some Congressional interest. Even the N.R.A. had to support a measure making it harder for someone with a record of serious mental illness to obtain a gun.

Still, Congress merely nibbled at the problem, and today the idea of closing the gun-show loophole and taking other steps that would help save lives without violating the Second Amendment is not even seriously on the table. Inside Washington’s bubble, it is as if the shootings in Binghamton and elsewhere never took place. The N.R.A.’s ability to intimidate grown men and women in the House and Senate remains undiminished, despite its poor record in the 2006 and 2008 election cycles.

So far, the Obama White House has not been a profile in courage either. Witness the chilly reception to recent calls by Attorney General Eric Holder and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to reimpose an assault weapons ban to make it harder for American gun traffickers to arm the Mexican drug cartels.

Congress actually seems to be moving backward. Last month, the N.R.A. persuaded the Senate to attach an amendment that would repeal the District of Columbia’s gun laws to a bill giving the district a voting member in Congress. This amendment would permit sniper rifles that can pierce armor up to a mile away to be possessed in unlimited quantity in the nation’s capital.

The district’s current representative, Eleanor Holmes Norton, is fighting to get the House to pass a clean version of the bill, without the amendment, but her prospects are cloudy. If House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer cannot muster the votes, President Obama should intervene. He should also rescind a dangerous regulation from the Bush years allowing concealed loaded guns in national parks.

More broadly, he should place the immense persuasive powers of his office behind an across-the-board, badly overdue push for sensible gun control.

Grumpy Old People Paty just doesn't GET IT!

The President Has Become a Divisive Figure

Compare his start with George W. Bush's.

The Pew Research Center reported last week that President Barack Obama "has the most polarized early job approval of any president" since surveys began tracking this 40 years ago. The gap between Mr. Obama's approval rating among Democrats (88%) and Republicans (27%) is 61 points. This "approval gap" is 10 points bigger than George W. Bush's at this point in his presidency, despite Mr. Bush winning a bitterly contested election.

Part of Mr. Obama's polarized standing can be attributed to a long-term trend. University of Missouri political scientist John Petrocik points out that since 1980, each successive first term president has had more polarized support than his predecessor with the exception of 1989, when George H.W. Bush enjoyed a modest improvement over Ronald Reagan's 1981 standing.

But rather than end or ameliorate that trend, Mr. Obama's actions and rhetoric have accelerated it. His campaign promised post-partisanship, but since taking office Mr. Obama has frozen Republicans out of the deliberative process, and his response to their suggestions has been a brusque dismissal that "I won."

Compare this with Mr. Bush's actions in the aftermath of his election. Among his first appointments were Democratic judicial nominees who had been blocked by Republicans under President Bill Clinton. The Bush White House joined with Democratic and Republican leaders to draft education reform legislation. And Mr. Bush worked with Republican Chuck Grassley to cut a deal with Democrat Max Baucus to win bipartisan passage of a big tax cut in a Senate split 50-50 after the 2000 election.

Mr. Obama has hastened the decline of Republican support with petty attacks on his critics and predecessor. For a person who promised hope and civility in politics, Mr. Obama has shown a borderline obsessiveness in blaming Mr. Bush. Starting with his inaugural address and continuing through this week's overseas trip, the new president's jabs at Mr. Bush have been unceasing, unfair and unhelpful. They have also diminished Mr. Obama by showing him to be another conventional politician. Rather than ending "the blame game," he is personifying it.

The question that will worry the Obama West Wing is whether the views of independents come to look more like Democrats or Republicans. Recent opinion surveys show that support for his policies among independents is slipping.

On both Mr. Obama's performance and policies, independents are starting to look more like Republicans. For example, the most recent Fox News poll (taken March 31 to April 1) found that Mr. Obama's job approval among independents has fallen to 52%, down nine points from the start of March and down 12 points from late January. Over the same period, the number of independents who disapprove of Mr. Obama's performance has doubled to 32% from 16%.

The same poll also found that 76% of independents worry that government will spend too much to help the economy; only 12% worry it will spend too little. Independents oppose Mr. Obama's proposed budget by a 55%-37% margin.

If independents continue looking more like Republicans, especially on deficits, spending and the economy, Mr. Obama and congressional Democrats could be in for a rough ride.

About Karl Rove
Karl Rove served as Senior Advisor to President George W. Bush from 2000–2007 and Deputy Chief of Staff from 2004–2007. At the White House he oversaw the Offices of Strategic Initiatives, Political Affairs, Public Liaison, and Intergovernmental Affairs and was Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy, coordinating the White House policy making process.

Before Karl became known as "The Architect" of President Bush's 2000 and 2004 campaigns, he was president of Karl Rove + Company, an Austin-based public affairs firm that worked for Republican candidates, nonpartisan causes, and nonprofit groups. His clients included over 75 Republican U.S. Senate, Congressional and gubernatorial candidates in 24 states, as well as the Moderate Party of Sweden.

Karl writes a weekly op-ed for The Wall Street Journal, is a Newsweek columnist and is now writing a book to be published by Simon & Schuster. Email the author at or visit him on the web at

Or, you can send him a Tweet @karlrove.
It was the concern of independents and "soft partisans" about national debt and spending that gave rise to Ross Perot in the 1992 presidential election. More significantly, independents angry about deficits and spending were the key swing bloc in the 1994 congressional races, where Republicans picked up eight Senate seats and 54 House seats, winning their first House majority since 1955.

Declining support for the Obama agenda among independents may further unnerve congressional Democrats, especially in the House. Sixty-nine Democratic congressmen represent districts carried by Mr. Bush or John McCain in two of the last three presidential contests. Forty-eight of these districts were carried by Mr. McCain last election. If independent support continues slipping, many of these Democrats will be fingering worry beads as the mid-term election approaches.

Perhaps that's why 20 House Democrats voted no or abstained on the president's budget resolution, joining all 198 Republicans in not supporting Mr. Obama's budget framework. Nineteen represent GOP-leaning districts -- and at least 16 are vulnerable to Republican challengers, including 14 freshmen or sophomore congressmen.

We don't yet know the price Democrats will pay for Mr. Obama's fiscal radicalism. But we do know that no presidential hopeful in our lifetime has made bipartisanship more central to his candidacy and few presidents have devoted as many eloquent words to its importance. Yet no president in the past 40 years has done more to polarize America so much, so quickly. Mr. Obama has not come close to living up to his own standards. It took him less than 11 weeks to achieve the very opposite of what he promised. That, in its own regrettable way, is quite an achievement.

Mr. Rove is the former senior adviser and deputy chief of staff to President George W. Bush.