Saturday, June 30, 2007

Last week the University of Flyovercountry received a 100 million dollar plus grant from the Dept of Energy to research turning biomass into energy. While I'm always happy to see the rare occasion of Federal tax dollars flowing back to Flyovercountry, I have reservations about the rush to generate energy from Ag products. There is a cascade of effects from this that seem to be overlooked by many involved.
The first problem is the same as the rush to drill in Alaska and the Gulf, it tends to obscure the fact that conservation is far more effective in reducing dependence on foreign oil imports.
Far more troubling is the disruption in the food market. The US is used to a surplus of low priced food products and this has helped to keep inflation low. The enormous shift of corn to fuel production has done almost nothing to lower fuel costs, but has already raised the price of corn markedly. Don't think that this means sweet corn is now a buck an ear. (Bad old Flyovercountry pun) This mean beef is more expensive (corn fed). This means chicken is more expensive(corn fed again). Almost any processed food you eat used corn sweeteners. I think I'll have refreshing soft drink and ponder this, oops corn sweeteners again.
The one plus should be that farmers are making a lot more, but Ag prices are not set like other products in this world. Farmers can not sit on their products and sell to the highest bidder. Ag prices are set in the commodity markets. Markets controlled by the huge Ag mega- businesses like Acrcher-Daniels-Midland. The farmer sees little of the increase and loses most of the gains to the huge increase in fuel and fertilizer prices. (Fertilizer is made from oil!)
The final cascade effect I worry about, is the trend of these Ag businesses to use food as an economic tool. NAFTA has allowed these companies to flood Mexico with corn grown in the US. This flood has caused many local Mexican farmers to quit growing corn and leaving them with no alternative crop. The loss of farm related jobs increases the immigrant pressure in the US. Within the last year corn prices in Mexico have risen to the point that poor people are unable to afford tortillas. This does not mean no "Taco Tuesday". This means children go hungry! The Mexican government has had to subsidize tortilla prices.
The bottom line here is that people need to examine the effects of simple or easy solutions to dificult problems.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

The MSN is of course all over the Scooter Libby sentencing. It is the lead story in the Bushco Treasongate saga, but I find the story of the military judges dismissing charges against two Gitmo prisoners far more telling in the Neo-con administration's long slow slide into total disarray. It's not the fact that the officers dismissed charges against an Afghanni who was fifteen when he was impressed into the Taliban and was targeted by our side because he was driving Osama around nor is it because they found the Pentagon's designation of them as Enemy Combatants insufficient under the Military Commissions Act. The key factor here is that mid-level officers in the Army are beginning to resist the criminal actions of this government.
Numerous General Staff personel have already started to speak out against this administration's illegal actvities, but they can easily move on to high paying civilian jobs. When you start to see Majors risking their careers, you know there is an under-current of dissent within the regular army.
The Army, in all but revolutionary states, is by nature a very conservative group. In the US it is strongly supportive of the Republic Party. They perceive the Republicans as more likely to provide funding for the armed services and therefore are likely to vote for them. It will be interesting to see if there is weather change in the prevailing feelings amoung the officer corps.
An even deeper question is do some officers feel they need to protect themselves from an invitation to testify at the Hague?
On Flyover Country home front news, the local school board is back-pedaling furiously on the decision to name an elementary school after the recently arrested Hmong military leader Vang Pao. This proves the theory that you never want to look to closely at the actual lives of revolutionaries or resistance leaders. They are always better viewed from afar. If war is a dirty business, insurgency is truely ugly.
This also brings back my desire to see the school named after Eugene Parks. Gene was a fiery orator, a leader of the early civil rights movement in Flyover Country, one of the first Black elective officials, and an enormous irritant of the body politic. American children could well use an example that the powers-that-be need to be poked, prodded, and needled as often as possible.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

I went to an event a week ago tha featured Stephanie Miller. She is, as you no doubt know, host of a nation-wide morning radio show. She is on the local Air America affiliate here in Flyover Country. The event was to honor the local activists that had saved the station from changing to a sports format. The local lefties had picketed, protested, and started an on-line petition to save 92 Themike from a fate worse than easy listening. It didn't hurt the cause that 92 is owned by Clear Channel Radio, octopus of the airwaves. The evening was complete with a video documentary of the activists endeavors and interviews with all involved. The air was rife with the sound of one hand clapping (Thats the sound of people patting themselves on the back).

The interesting thing about this whole story is that Clear Channel announced the format change in October of 2006. The change was to happen in December. Now I am not intimately familiar with the practices of radio broadcasting, but its been my experience that the way format changes are usually done is that they most often fire everyone at 5:00 PM Friday, play easy listening music all weekend, and then open Monday morning with "The Big Sound In The Big Town". Even more interesting is that the ratings for 92 were quite good, a fact that was repeated often by those dedicated to saving the station but that revenues were weak. The under current of the evening was that Right Wing Clear Channel was ending the format to censor the Left. By the end of the program everyone was being exhorted to advertise with 92 or buy the products advertised there and to let everyone know that you were.

The lesson of this whole episode is that while I applaud the Lefties for organizing and grass roots work, this a classic case of confusing Politics with Capitalism. While Clear Channel owners have consistantly supported the Repugs and the Bushies, they have shown their true capitalist side by not really caring what airs on their stations, right wing or left wing, if it makes them money. They don't really believe the content matters one way or the other. Their maneuver here cost them nothing and energised the political base to go out and generate revenue for them.

Oh, and by the way you got to love Stephanie. Rush is right she is a Babe!

Saturday, June 2, 2007

whence Flyover Country

Many, many Boomer years ago when I was a Freshman at University of FLYOVER, I was conversing with an Out-Of-State Student (this was then the code for Jewish from New York), when I happened to mention Saks Fifth Avenue ( of what this conversation was actually about I have absolutely no recollection). My friend, the OOSS, pulled back, gave me a "who is this?" look, and asked "How do YOU know about Saks?". At the time I thought "Who doesn't know what Saks Fifth Avenue is?" It took a little time before it dawned on me that I was born into a world that is viewed by both the East and West Coast Trend Setters and Newsmakers as just an adjunct to the "Real World". You know, the part you fly over to get to somewhere else that matters.

This feeling came back to me in 2002-2003 into the lead-up to the Iraq invasion. It seemed to me (and most of my friends) that there was plenty of evidence in the public domain to show that Iraq was of no immediate danger to the US, and yet, the Wise Men of the MSN told us this was not so and we were in imminent peril. My imaginary OOSS here is Hillary Clinton "How did YOU know ther were no WMD's?" The answer here is the same as it was 30 plus years ago: There is plenty of information out there to learn what' s real in the world if you are willing to look for it and care enough to sift the truth from the lies.

The bottom line here is I hope to winnow a few grains of truth from the incredible amount of BS that fed to us daily. Hopefully we can have some fun along the way and all learn a bit more today then what we knew yeaterday.