Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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May 6, 2008
By: Kevin Drum

ETHANOL?...Sheesh. James Fallows runs a contest to name "the stupidest manifestation of bipartisan public policy in the last 50 years" and not a single person even mentions the Tonkin Gulf resolution? Are ethanol subsidies really that bad?

UPDATE: Ah, I see. In comments, Gaucho points out that Fallows had earlier declared that Tonkin Gulf "doesn't count." His reasoning seems mighty suspect to me, but rules are rules.

Kevin Drum 3:02 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (39)

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Comments

Nobody mentioned the Reagan-era Government Cheese program either. Short memories, I guess.

Posted by: Joe Bob on May 6, 2008 at 3:11 PM | PERMALINK

Somebody didn't read the earlier posts. He explicitly ruled out that vote:

http://jamesfallows.theatlantic.com/archives/2008/04/for_the_record_stupidest_momen.php

Posted by: gaucho on May 6, 2008 at 3:12 PM | PERMALINK

Short Answer Yes.

Posted by: ligedog on May 6, 2008 at 3:18 PM | PERMALINK

The more I learn about corn-based ethanol, the more it appears to be a racket. It neither helps the environment nor decreases our dependency on foreign oil, and even worse, it increases the price of food and wastes money that would be better served elsewhere.

It's ridiculous, and no politician will dare to do anything about it.

Posted by: Joe on May 6, 2008 at 3:27 PM | PERMALINK

KD: not a single person even mentions the Tonkin Gulf resolution?

Didn't see the AUMF and Iraq war mentioned, either.

Okay, I read the post that gaucho links to, but it's cheating for Fallows to say "I don't think that's stupidity."

In the end, though, ligedog is probably right. Ethanol subsidies and the accompanying energy stupidities could cause more death & destruction than the US. wars of the last 50 years.

Posted by: thersites on May 6, 2008 at 3:27 PM | PERMALINK

Yes. Ethanol is that bad. A complete waste of money that does nothing to increase our energy independence or address global warming.

Posted by: Jeff II on May 6, 2008 at 3:28 PM | PERMALINK

I got no problem with ethanol subsidies, I just think we are subsidizing the wrong use for the stuff.

Posted by: Yancey Ward on May 6, 2008 at 3:29 PM | PERMALINK

Joe,

Don't forget the huge water usage and that the corn remnants after making ethanol probably cause ecoli outbreaks when fed to cattle.

Posted by: Tripp on May 6, 2008 at 3:31 PM | PERMALINK

Has to be the deregulation of electric utilities in California. It was passed without a single vote in opposition (or close to it) back in the nineties.

Posted by: HL Mungo on May 6, 2008 at 3:36 PM | PERMALINK

I heartily concur with Yancey Ward.

Posted by: optical weenie on May 6, 2008 at 3:36 PM | PERMALINK

PATRIOT Act

Posted by: Mo on May 6, 2008 at 3:37 PM | PERMALINK

Corn-based ethanol and the 50 cent a gallon tariff on cane-based ethanol from Brazil.

Posted by: Randy Paul on May 6, 2008 at 3:44 PM | PERMALINK

You have to go back slightly more than 50 years, but I would suspect that "putting Americans of Japanese descent in concentration camps" would be the one...

Posted by: Pale Rider on May 6, 2008 at 3:55 PM | PERMALINK

The Senate certifying the results of the 2000 Election will go down in history as the most harmful bipartisan act.

Also, if people think that ethanol subsidies are more harmful than NCLB, it's because they're not teachers.

Posted by: reino on May 6, 2008 at 4:10 PM | PERMALINK

Funny, I dont hear people complain about the ethanol lining the shelves in liquor stores.

Posted by: Jet on May 6, 2008 at 4:18 PM | PERMALINK

No wonder we can't ever get anything done against big oil and other fossil fuels. You all have bought into their underground propoganda.

Ethanol is a gateway step. Nobody claims it will solve everything, but (except for oil-financed 'studies') it does generate slightly more energy than it uses. It gets people to think about alternatives. It is renewable. It does cut CO2.

The subsidy is a penny to the Iraq war's $Billions / week. The people (corn farmers) are real people supporting their families and providing jobs.

Worst? Shit! There are at least a hundred worse ideas that our wimpy Democrats have gone along with the last 8 years.

Posted by: LiberalPercy on May 6, 2008 at 4:28 PM | PERMALINK

The big problem with corn ethanol subsidies isn't the waste of money. It's all them hungry, cranky people wanting to know why they have to go hungry so we can keep driving our Ford Extinctions.

Posted by: thersites on May 6, 2008 at 4:32 PM | PERMALINK

Relatedly, the Farm Bill has to count for something if we're talking about sheer stupidity. And it happens over & over & over again.

Posted by: junebug on May 6, 2008 at 4:33 PM | PERMALINK

It's all them hungry, cranky people wanting to know why they have to go hungry so we can keep driving our Ford Extinctions.

Posted by: thersites on May 6, 2008 at 4:32 PM

Well Thersites, wasn't it Obama who suggested that we could all stand to lose some weight? Ergo the ethanol subsidies must be good since the messiah thinks we're fat.

Posted by: optical weenie on May 6, 2008 at 5:04 PM | PERMALINK

Long as they don't find a way to make hops into fuel, I'm good to go. I gave up the corn likker years ago!

Posted by: thersites on May 6, 2008 at 5:25 PM | PERMALINK

Didn't they pass some sort of resolution to save Terry Shiavo?

Posted by: anandine on May 6, 2008 at 5:32 PM | PERMALINK

The Bankruptcy Bill.

Posted by: Pat on May 6, 2008 at 6:02 PM | PERMALINK

I am surprised the trade embargo of Cuba didn't make the list.
-it was maintained even as we gave favored nation trade status to China and other nations with dismal human rights records
-it caused significant suffering to the people of Cuba
-it increased costs to American consumers, particularly for sugar and all foods made with sugar
-it is opposed by almost every one else that cares one way or the other, including all of our allies and trading partners in Europe and the western Hemisphere
-it produces ridiculous examples of non-compliance including tourists trips disguised and cultural and educational exchanges and a variety of people in the public eye buying Havana cigars in Canada over the decades

All of this 'might' have been justified except that there is no evidence it ever had or had any real likelihood of having any effect on Castro's ability to hold onto power.

Posted by: tanstaafl on May 6, 2008 at 6:33 PM | PERMALINK

Thersites: Ford Extinctions. That's a keeper.

Seriously, re Fallows, I would put the 1986 Anti-Drug Abuse Act No. 1, possibly. The WOD was already showing racial bias, but that put it way over the top.

I would also rank Patriot Act renewal higher, in large part because Democrats clearly caved on this one.

The Byrd-Hagel resolution might be No. 1 IF combined with the Bill Clinton Kyoto Conference Pandering; if you didn't think you could get the bill passed so much you refused to even try, why sign it?

Posted by: on May 6, 2008 at 6:42 PM | PERMALINK

I disagree with Fallows ruling out Tonkin Gulf from consideration.

The Senate should have known, whether it actually did or not, about both the stupidity involved, and the 2,000 years of Vietnamese-Chinese history (illustrated again in 1979) that showed just how ridiculous the "domino theory" was.

Hell, if they'd read the Geneva Accords that we refused to sign, it was clear Ho was a nationalist as much as a communist.

So, sorry, Tonkin does count. And, as Vietnam affected the 2004 presidential election, and Swift Boating entered our political lexicon, it should have been part of your contes

Posted by: SocraticGadfly on May 6, 2008 at 6:47 PM | PERMALINK

reino you said

Also, if people think that ethanol subsidies are more harmful than NCLB, it's because they're not teachers.
Well whatever the bad points of NCLB behind are it is at least not starving people like the ethanol subsidy is.

That forced hunger issue has to bump the ethanol subsidy up in the bad policy department.

Posted by: TJIT on May 6, 2008 at 7:05 PM | PERMALINK

I would agree with the folks who voted for the drug war and ag subsidies.

The death toll and human misery caused by those two is stunning.

Posted by: TJIT on May 6, 2008 at 7:12 PM | PERMALINK

I would go with the Iraq resolution. I would add No Child Left Behind. Ethanol, pretty bad. Farm Subsidies, recently, awful, really awful. And when you add farm subsidies and ethanol together you really get some wasteful boondoggle spending that is adding to world hunger.

Posted by: Cal Gal on May 6, 2008 at 8:06 PM | PERMALINK

I would go with the Iraq resolution. I would add No Child Left Behind. Ethanol, pretty bad. Farm Subsidies, recently, awful, really awful. And when you add farm subsidies and ethanol together you really get some wasteful boondoggle spending that is adding to world hunger.

Posted by: Cal Gal on May 6, 2008 at 8:06 PM | PERMALINK

Sorry about the double post. Got a Mac lapbook today and I'm just getting used to the feel of it.

So far just about all I miss are page up and page down keys.

Posted by: Cal Gal on May 6, 2008 at 8:08 PM | PERMALINK

Let me confess. I don't know the truth about ethanol. I hear what the farmers say. I hear what the farmers' and anti-farmers' legislators say. I hear what anti-starch-conversion scientists say.

But, somehow, I can't help but think that that I haven't heard it all yet.

That's the trouble with this f-ing century. And it's the same trouble we had with the last f-ing century.

Jack Feeney, Stow, Ohio

Posted by: on May 6, 2008 at 8:24 PM | PERMALINK

Let me confess. I don't know the truth about ethanol. I hear what the farmers say. I hear what the farmers' and anti-farmers' legislators say. I hear what anti-starch-conversion scientists say.

But, somehow, I can't help but think that that I haven't heard it all yet.

That's the trouble with this f-ing century. And it's the same trouble we had with the last f-ing century.

Jack Feeney, Stow, Ohio

Posted by: Jack Feeney on May 6, 2008 at 8:26 PM | PERMALINK

I think that we can all agree that corn based ethanol is not the answer neither long term or short term. But it did serve it purpose as a start. But if you do a little research you'll see that progress is being made using cellulosic stock. There's even progress being made converting switchgrass into gasoline.

Posted by: TruthPolitik on May 6, 2008 at 9:15 PM | PERMALINK

Unknown poster at 6:42: Ford Extinctions. That's a keeper.
Do you want mine? All you've got to do is take over the four and a half years of remaining payments. I got a '72 Impala on blocks I'm going to try and revive. Does this Ethanol stuff come in high-test?

Posted by: thersites on May 6, 2008 at 9:52 PM | PERMALINK

Thersites, that was me from work accidentally posting as "unknown."

No, no, I'll keep driving my 2001 Corolla. Still get about 31mpg on 3/4 city, 1/4 urban highway driving.

Besides, I've never bought a car on payments in my life.

Besides being frugal in general, on a community newspaper editor's salary, I save lots of $$ by never having to buy collision insurance.

Posted by: SocraticGadfly on May 6, 2008 at 11:02 PM | PERMALINK

The ethanol movement is pretty stupid on many fronts. The amount of petroleum used in the agribusiness growing the corn, the energy costs of turning corn into ethanol, and then using that to replace a fraction of the fuel we used to grow the corn first is stupid.

Sending fewer grains to starving Africans and raising the cost of food domestically because we are burning food in our SUVs is stupid.

Spending so much time and money, not to mention the painful economic adaptations, to wean ourselves off of burning gas, solves but one of two major problems for us: fuel dependency. Deciding to invest all that effort and not address the burning organics and releasing CO2 in the air is stupid.

Taxing ourselves to subsidize this? Preposterous.

Posted by: gex on May 7, 2008 at 1:41 AM | PERMALINK

Unknown poster at 6:42: Ford Extinctions. That's a keeper.
Do you want mine? All you've got to do is take over the four and a half years of remaining payments. I got a '72 Impala on blocks I'm going to try and revive. Does this Ethanol stuff come in high-test?

Does it come with a special spray that I can use to remove your vicious hate speech, you homophobic little twerp? I deleted your "fag" and "homo" posts from my website but you insisted on coming back, to the point where I had to close my own blog, sir.

You are a horrific little shit of a person and you are uncle Norman's new special project, courtesy of a grant from the Association of Republicans Who Think A No Talent Hack Like You Should Be Exposed to The World.

So, tell me, Thersites. How do you want to do this? Each and every thread, on each and every day, from now until you collapse in hysterics, screaming bloody murder at the walls? Because your uncle Norman knows how this game is played and your uncle Norman has had enough of you stalking me and harrassing me.

Payback is a glass decanter full of your own bile, isn't it? And your hateful bile was spread on my turf. So if this is your "turf" then allow me to make you uncomfortable for a change.

I will not tolerate or abide you, sir. You are shit. And I'm the person who cleans the shit and disposes of it properly.

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