Letters to the Editor

Ethanol Despair

I read Art Cullen's article, "Brazil has it figured out" [7/15/05 TPP] with despair. If he would do some serious research he would have noticed Brazil stopped subsidizing ethanol and is stopping to make it. You will see why after you read the article [excerpted below].

Anyone who lives near an ethanol plant cannot even breathe the air, they stink. Plus it does not help emissions and is an energy loser.

A company tried to build one in my back yard so I did some research. It's the snake oil of the 21st century.

[From an unidentified newspaper]: "[A] Cornell University agricultural ecologist has renewed his criticism of what many believe is a renewable fuel. He claims that drivers who fill their tanks with gasohol (a blend of gasoline and corn-based ethanol) are paying three ways for a product that, he says, is both inefficient and environmentally harmful: once at the pump, once in taxes to fund government subsidies and once in higher food prices. Cornell Professor of Ecology David Pimentel makes the claim in the [June 2003] issue of the journal Natural Resources Research (Vol. 12, No. 2). ...

"In general gasohol is priced higher at the pump than gasoline yet yields poorer mileage per gallon.

"Taxpayers are the source of $1.4 billion a year in subsidies that help make ethanol production profitable for agribusiness firms.

"In addition to paying tax dollars for ethanol subsidies, says Pimentel, consumers can be expected to pay significantly higher food prices in the market place. Why? He cites the National Center for Policy Analysis' 2002 estimate that ethanol production is adding more than $1 billion to the cost of beef production. This, he says, is because producing the required corn feedstock for ethanol reduces the overall corn supply, adding about 2 cents a bushel to the price farmers receive for their corn, by his calculation. 'Because about 70% of the corn grain is fed to US livestock, doubling or tripling ethanol production can be expected to increase corn prices further for beef and livestock production and ultimately increase costs for the consumer,' Pimentel states."

Tom Sedor
Northampton, Pa.


Editor Replies: Dr. Pimentel has made a career of criticizing ethanol production, but the facts in Brazil indicate that he should reassess his position. According to a June 16 report in the Los Angeles Times, the Brazilian government used public subsidies and tax breaks, as well as a requirement that all gasoline contain 25% ethanol, to build demand for the sugar-based product in the 1970s and '80s. A 1989 ethanol shortage coupled with low gas prices caused sales of alcohol-only cars to drop in the 1990s. The government gradually withdrew its subsidies and lifted price controls on ethanol. But as gas prices have gone back up, demand for ethanol has rebounded and 40% of the fuel Brazilians pump into their vehicles is ethanol.

David Morris of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance wrote in the April 17 Minneapolis Star Tribune that with oil prices at $55 a barrel, the price of ethanol is half that of gasoline. Agribusiness giant ADM is a promoter of ethanol, but Morris noted that production incentives in Minnesota have made the state home to 15 small- and medium-sized ethanol plants, with three more being built.

Ethanol helps to control emissions. Its main use in the US is as a gasoline oxygenate to preserve air quality, as a substitute for the petroleum-based MTBE, which presents a health hazard when it leaches into groundwater.

We wouldn't necessarily want to live next to an ethanol plant, but we much prefer it to living near a petroleum refinery.

As for raising the price of corn, if that helps farmers stay on the land, we don't count that as a problem -- and at a current market rate of about $2.20 a bushel, an increase of 2 cents a bushel would have an insignificant impact on consumers.

Finally, so long as we live by Middle East oil, we die by it.


Deadly Misinformation

Your readers aren't all uneducated rubes. Your article by Robert Kennedy, "Deadly Immunity" was one of the worst pieces of fearmongering trash I have ever read. Here are a few points that Mr. Kennedy, who is clearly lacking in science training, should consider.

CORRELATION IS NOT CAUSATION! Mr. Kennedy keeps pointing out that autism rates have risen with the increase of childhood vaccinations. This may be true but this does not automatically mean the two variables are linked. Television viewing rates have risen in recent years; video game usage has risen; childhood obesity rates have risen. Perhaps these can also be linked to the increased cases of autism. The only way to tell for sure is to do a study. Several have been completed and published in peer-reviewed journals showing that there is no correlation between the MMR vaccine and autism rates but naturally Mr. Kennedy claimed that those studies were "flawed," although I have yet to hear anyone in the scientific community express that view.

Although I looked for units of thimerosal dosage throughout the story, I couldn't find any. I agree that thimerosal is a toxic compound but with any poison the question of exposure level has to be considered. For instance, the most powerful poison known is botulism toxin but that doesn't stop women from getting Botox injections at parties to give themselves temporary facelifts. The doctors administering botulism toxin know what dosage level is safe and adjust the injections accordingly.

Throughout the article Mr. Kennedy made blatantly ridiculous statements. "In 1930, the company tested thimerosal by administering it to 22 patients with terminal meningitis, all of whom died within weeks of being injected ..." Exactly how long does Mr. Kennedy think people diagnosed with terminal meningitis are supposed to live? Months? If Mr. Kennedy wants to act like an idiot that's his choice but he shouldn't assume Populist readers are morons as well.

The article keeps quoting Rep. Dan Burton as a credible source. Rep. Burton does not have a background in science and is considered by many people to be insane, having once starred in a documentary about the death of Vincent Foster with a pumpkin standing in for the subject's head.

If Mr. Kennedy thinks vaccines are such a bad idea I'd like to introduce him to my nephew who went deaf at 18 months from a meningitis infection caused by Haemophilis influenzae B. Had the HIB vaccine been available at that time, my nephew would still have his hearing and be able to enjoy the music that Rolling Stone reports on.

Becky Ann Bartlett
Nazareth, Pa.

Editor Replies: Vaccines aren't necessarily a bad idea, but the problem, as Kennedy noted, is that when a study revealed that mercury in childhood vaccines may have caused autism in thousands of kids, the government rushed to conceal the data -- and to prevent parents from suing drug companies for their role in the epidemic.


Read the Book

The first commandment of the 10 that so many conservatives we hear about want to post everywhere says: "Thou shalt have no other gods before thee." Second, it says, "Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image ... Thou shalt not bow down to them, nor serve them" etc. All of these laws are in Exodus 20 -- and the list goes on and on. The Old Testament is full of laws.

Here's the thing: If people who call themselves Christian insist on keeping all the laws in the Old Testament, the Bible defines them as Jews. Anyone who read any of the New Testament sees over and over that Christ's work was to free us from the law. God knew nobody could keep the law perfectly, that's why He had his Son, Jesus, come and do it for us. See Romans, Galatians, for starters.

Besides, for anyone to keep the laws perfectly requires, among other things, the Temple in Jerusalem in order to do the required sacrifices, plus the Levis to carry them out. That's a bare minimum. Obviously, that's not happening now, nor does it seem to be any time soon.

This current crop of "religious right" people, anyway, are already breaking the first commandment when they make the United States of America god-like in its position as Supreme Agent of Truth and Justice. So, as they put up the Ten Commandments, they already judge themselves as law breakers.

And this is the trouble with all of them: They don't practice what they preach. And they do not know Scriptures, as your writers have been getting better at pointing out.

"The Kingdom of God is not of this world" (John 18:36), yet all we hear from the "Christian conservative religious right" is that it is. They sure could relax a lot more -- and so could the rest of us - if they remembered even this fact that Jesus taught his followers.

There are believers in this world besides the right-wingers. And God is a God of Peace. The "right wing Christian conservatives" need to meet Him.

Cheryl Lovely
Presque Isle, Maine


Insurgents Know

The administration's reasons for discouraging reports and discussions of the way we have handled (shall we say mishandled) prisoners is because "it only endangers the lives of our troops and it inflames the insurgency." In other words if we compare Gitmo with the Soviet era Gulags (wonder how many even know about the Gulags) it would step up the insurgency. Why? Would a suicide car bomber double up upon his load of explosives when he hears such reports? If you can believe this then it is obvious that you have not really understood the level of anger caused by our killing of hundreds of thousands of them -- the mounting level of anger that comes living with bombed-out homes with hardly any amenities such as clean water, electricity, functioning sewage system, etc. It does not matter anymore if we are torturing prisoners or treating them humanely.

Recently a senator was trying to make a point that we treat the prisoners right by reading the "dinner menu of the Gitmo camp." What did this foolish senator expect -- did he expect the insurgents to lay down their arms because the prisoners are served with succulent chicken? Or did he expect a car bomber on a "sortie" to make a U-turn and head home to his garage and disarm the bombs JUST BECAUSE HE HEARS ON THE CAR RADIO THAT THE PRISONERS ARE NOW SERVED ICE CREAM AFTER DINNER? Wake up, senator (and also Mr. Bush). Our troops will always be in danger as long as they are there, occupying. Discouraging criticism will not do the trick. The insurgents know the story.

G.M. Chandu
Flushing, N.Y.


Fear, Shmear

I tired of journalists in this country whining about fear, and Robert Parry's article ["The Answer is Fear," 7/1/05 TPP] does not improve matters. Look what he says his colleagues worry about: lost status, ridicule, betrayal, unemployment, getting blackballed from a profession.

Lost status? Ridicule? How old are these people -- 15?

Unemployment and a lost profession are hard to deal with, but millions of Americans have had to deal with them, and some of those could argue that they might not have had to if the media had reported honestly on the prospects of plans like NAFTA. Still others have lost their lives, or limbs, or minds, because the media did not report honestly on the available information before the invasion of Iraq, and others because the media refuse to deal with available data on universal single-payer healthcare and the reality of 45 million uninsured Americans. The list could go on, witness the diversity of topics covered in TPP.

Why should other people's livelihoods, lives, health, and constitutional rights be sacrificed to the fears of people in the media for their careers? If they did not want to take the risks of telling the truth, why did they pick such careers? There are journalists in some countries who tell the truth at the risk of their lives.

Parry says individuals expected to be courageous must have courageous institutions to surround them. This is nonsense. Institutions are inanimate; courage resides in individual human beings. Democracy Now! is what it is because Amy Goodman and her coworkers are who they are. They didn't sit around waiting for someone to provide a safe place for them to work but assumed the work mattered and kept at it against long odds. Their passion and commitment are a tonic. No wonder so many listeners turn to them for news and inspiration!

Katharine W. Rylaarsdam
Baltimore, Md.


Just Say 'Go'

I noticed Molly Ivins repeating a statement I've heard and read several times in the course of our disastrous war in Iraq: namely, the idea that US troops can't leave until the situation in Iraq stabilizes.

I like her idea of the Iraqis cooperating in this effort, but I have to object to the original idea. Who says it's ever going to stabilize as long as we're there? Was Vietnam stable before we left?

How come we can't just pull the troops out? Could it really be any worse than what's going on now? Am I just dense? Are all the pundits who use this argument just saying it because that's what they used to say about Vietnam (ie, are we just trying to play the whole bloody game over again)?

Lucky Jean
Pahoa, Hawaii


Don't Go, Sandra D.

Much-admired Justice Sandra Day O'Connor has served nobly and tirelessly for 24 years on the US Supreme Court, representing a clear, decisive voice on issues such as sexual discrimination, abortion rights, affirmative action and preserving religious freedom. As this graceful Lady of Liberty steps down from her illustrious pedestal, the future direction of a new court hangs in swing-vote limbo. May her replacement continue to uphold the check-and-balance golden rule torch illuminating the true American Way of Truth, Justice, Fairness and Compassion for one and for all. Pax vobiscum.

Dr. Charles Frederickson
Bangkok, Thailand

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