Horrific Coverage of Ethanol Subsidies: Where Feeding Cows Matters More Than Feeding Future Economic Refugees

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Without Corn There Is No Country
Peasant Produced Food For Mexico
Hunger Doesn't Wait!

I've got to admit that these stories snuck up on me. Senate Republicans, led by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK), are pushing to end ethanol subsides and House Republicans, led by Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), are trying to hold the Obama administration accountable for getting involved in yet another war. Is this opposite day or just a continuation of the Republican strategy of opposite Obama? Add all of this to Ohio Republican Gov. John Kasich's rebuke of LeBron James, and for some reason I feel like I woke up this morning in an alternate reality where I'm a Republican.

Normally, I wouldn't find time to write about all of this, especially as I'm trying to hold Mass. State Rep. Ryan Fattman (R-Sutton) accountable for stating undocumented rape victims "should be afraid" to the police. However, I can't help but try to bring some perspective to what has up until this point been muddled and, in effect if not in intent, violent media coverage of a globally important issue.
I'm not as intimately involved in fight over ethanol subsidies as I am in the fight for migrants. If I've learned anything through all the inside maneuvering of the pro-migrant movement, it's that I know very little about everything else, and I'm not likely to learn much through what I read in the media. Still, from what I can discern from the foggy coverage and what I know about power, it seems as if the conglomerates of diary, livestock, and chicken farmers are angry about how much they have to pay conglomerates of corn farmers to feed their animals. I gleened this halfway through an article written by Carolyn Lockhead at the San Francisco Chronicle after about a half an hour of reading different articles:

More than 40 percent of the U.S. corn crop now goes to ethanol, an alcohol fuel made from corn and added by law to gasoline. The fuel puts upward pressure on corn prices, harming dairy, livestock and chicken farmers who feed corn to their animals and face record $8-a-bushel corn because of flooding in the Mississippi Basin.
Carolyn Lockhead - San Francisco Chronicle (15 June 2011)
If I'm doing my power analysis correctly this fight between big agribusinesses is what is turning Washington D.C. upside-down as negotiations over raising the debt limit intensify. This is the conflict that's pitting conservative heavyweights like the Koch brothers and Grover Norquist against each other. Reporters who are doing their job should make this the lede of any article they write on this complex topic. Incredibly, in this conflict between agribusiness titans, it looks as if the economic terrorists are losing out. I am referring, of course, to conservatives who are holding the debt limit hostage to closing the federal budget deficit on the backs of the most vulnerable, at the same time that they refuse to even consider tax increases on the wealthy to close that same deficit.

Now that we've established what's driving the narrative, here, let's try to put this fight in perspective, and bring up some of the people who this affects which no one in the media is talking about. Just think, if it's costing big agribusiness too much to feed their livestock, how do reporters think majority world countries with high rates of malnourishment are fairing? God help me, sometimes I wish people in the U.S. would just take their heads out of their asses and just glance at the majority world every once in a while. You know, the almost half of the world's population that lives on less than $2 a day?

As someone who comes from the majority world country of Guatemala where over half the population suffers from malnourishment (in some indigenous communities the figure can run as high as 80%), I'm constantly haunted by this perspective. The only way I can justify my transient time in the U.S. working for migrant rights, primero Dios, is in hopes that I'm able to figure out how to connect the completely disconnected worlds of privilege here in the U.S., to the communities like the one in rural Guatemala that I grew up in. I know it's a lot to ask, but I hope I can get at least some folks in the media to consider it, if politicians won't.

If they're unwilling to ask how much these ethanol subsidies are hurting majority world countries like Guatemala, at the very least they could try and connect them to the millions of unauthorized migrants now making a home in the U.S. because they've been forced off their land by these subsidies. This brings us to another poorly understood issue when it comes to free trade agreements like NAFTA and CAFTA. I won't dwell on them too long except to say that the parts of these agreements that hurt Latin American countries the most are the parts that aren't free. They're the parts do things like that shove U.S. government-subsidized corn down the throats of Latin American countries who can't possibly compete. That's not free trade nor is it fair trade. In fact, it's this specific issue that has held up global trade talks for years, now.

I haven't even gotten into the environmental implications of all of this, partly because they are so complex, and also because I'm not doing the science on this. Still I couldn't help but notice that Ryan Grimm of the Huffington Post linked to a study criticizing Brazilian sugar-based ethanol, without even mentioning environmental critiques of corn-based ethanol. Specifically, as I understand it corn-based ethanol is less energy efficient than sugar-based ethanol, which makes it a bad way to combat climate change. I'll reach out to some environmental folks I know to see if they have anything to add.

Really the reporting on all sides of this issue, from the New York Times to the Des Moines Register, from liberal bloggers to conservative bloggers, from interest groups of all sides, has been horrific and irresponsible as far as I can discern.

There is something I'm going to do about it though. Migrant communities have enough to worry about with the attacks their facing across the country, but I'm going to ask pro-migrant folks that I'm connected to take a little bit of time, today, and put in some calls to some of the Democrats in the Senate that are blocking this measure. Hopefully we can find enough that aren't beholden to big agribusiness to do what's right for migrant communities both here in the U.S. and back home. Specifically, I hope Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid can show the same leadership on this important issue as he showed for the DREAM Act.

As I've said over and over again, migration is a symptom of broader global diseases. The only way to solve the problems associated with migration is to move more towards a world where people migrate out of want, not out of need. Ending ethanol subsidies is one way to do that. It's a win for almost everyone in the world, excluding a few fat cats in big U.S. agribusiness who are living large off the government tit.

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This page contains a single entry by kyledeb published on June 15, 2011 6:45 AM.

Tim Murphy at Mother Jones "Making The Effort" to Drop The I-Word! was the previous entry in this blog.

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