Entry for May 09, 2008: Corn and candidates

First off, I'd like to again offer my condolences to Bob R. on the passing of his mother and Brian D.H. on the recent death of his father. In addition, I'd like to wish all the mothers out there a Happy Mother's Day.

Friend and fellow blogger Steve M.R. and others have cited recent articles discussing the current fuel crisis. While we haven't yet seen the lines, rationing, or unrest of the 1970s oil crises, our dependence on polluting fossil fuels from politically unstable parts of the world is still a problem. I plan to blog separately on foreign policy.

Will U.S. suburbs disappear and be replaced by megalopoli or bucolic decentralized towns? Not overnight. Our society has placed a high value on the automobile, so rebuilding railways or re-examining land-use planning priorities will face cultural and institutional resistance. Having recently watched An Inconvenient Truth and Who Killed the Electric Car? it's hard to be hopeful.

In addition to such painful changes, misguided policies are aggravating or at least not mitigating human-caused environmental damage and climate change. Sure, one can say that evolution and so-called global warming are merely theories to describe complex biological and climate processes, but I think we can do more based on science than on blind faith.

For example, federal subsidies for ethanol production have led to the planting of corn as a cash crop, to the exclusion of other crops or of using it for food and feed (illustration above from Mother Jones). It's bad enough that perfectly arable and fertile land is being paved over for endless strip malls and "McMansions," but the U.S. has even been pushing corn on parts of the world where indigenous crops (such as rice or wheat) would better feed the local population. The subsidies are partly a reaction to the presidential primary primacy of states such as Iowa and the clout of agribusiness, despite any rhetoric of our tradition of family farms.

Speaking of the current race, despite missteps and scandals during her husband's administration, Hilary Clinton is the only candidate who has seriously tried to address the rise in health care costs. However, I've been disappointed at the negative campaigning between her and Barack Obama, which I hope will soon be resolved. The two Democrats' platforms are closer than their camps or personalities will admit, but Obama's lead is growing.

I was at the Democratic National Convention in Boston four years ago when Obama spoke, so I can personally attest to his charisma and promise of change. Those who are upset by his former pastor's inflammatory comments underestimate the persistent problem of racism and its effects on everyone. On the other hand, as we've seen with Gov. Deval Patrick here in Massachusetts, optimistic slogans won't balance the budget or deal with deteriorating infrastructure. At the moment, nearly any moderate or liberal would be preferable to the current administration or McCain.

As I told college chum Ron J.K., I strongly disagree with John McCain's stances, including his hawkish attitude toward the ongoing conflict in the Middle East, his flip-flops on torture and taxes, and his tepid support of environmental protection. I urge all concerned citizens, regardless of affiliation, to get informed and vote.