Tuesday, April 8, 2008


The development of grain-based biofuels has provided us with some great illustrations of the Law of Unintended Consequences. The shift to corn-based ethanol to wean us away from our dependence on oil certainly seems like a good idea - after all, what could go wrong? Ethanol is easy on the environment and will allow us to wean ourselves away from our dependence on petroleum and Middle Eastern sources of supply.

Well, it's not that simple. Ethanol and other bio-fuels are made from grain. The increased demand for these commodities drives up their price which is good for farmers, but bad for consumers, and absolutely disastrous for the third world poor who rely on grains like corn for food.

Here's an example I came across recently which shows how tinkering with one part of the economic web produces consequences completely unanticipated and unwanted elsewhere in the system: The increase in corn price due to demand for biofuels recently caused a large poultry operation to lay off hundreds of workers because they could no longer afford to buy feed for their chickens. Evidently chicken food is no longer chicken feed.

Paul Krugman lays out the problem in a bit more detail and spares us the bad puns in the New York Times:

Where the effects of bad policy are clearest, however, is in the rise of demon ethanol and other biofuels. The subsidized conversion of crops into fuel was supposed to promote energy independence and help limit global warming. But this promise was, as Time magazine bluntly put it, a "scam."

This is especially true of corn ethanol: even on optimistic estimates, producing a gallon of ethanol from corn uses most of the energy the gallon contains. But it turns out that even seemingly "good" biofuel policies, like Brazil's use of ethanol from sugar cane, accelerate the pace of climate change by promoting deforestation.

And meanwhile, land used to grow biofuel feedstock is land not available to grow food, so subsidies to biofuels are a major factor in the food crisis. You might put it this way: people are starving in Africa so that American politicians can court votes in farm states.

Oh, and in case you're wondering: all the remaining presidential contenders are terrible on this issue.

There's a lot of other interesting stuff in Krugman's piece. For example, did you know that we are in a world food shortage partly because the Chinese, having moved toward a market economy, are becoming more affluent? This means they're eating more meat which increases the demand for feed grain on the world market which means the price goes up, and poor people in the third world have to go with even less food for themselves and their families than the meager portions they were previously able to scrabble together.

What's the lesson? Exploit the oil reserves we have off-shore and in Alaska that Democrats in Congress have placed off-limits. Increasing the supply of oil would drive down its price which would lower agricultural and transportation costs associated with grain and provide a boon to the poor both at home and abroad. Indeed, reducing their cost of living may be the best way to bring relief to people who exist on the edge of starvation.

So why are Democrats, the self-proclaimed party of compassion, opposed to drilling?

Check out Krugman's column at the link.


After-Action Analysis

Bill Roggio explains what happened with the Iraqi assault on the Mahdi army in Basrah:

Eleven days after Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki launched Operation Knights' Assault in Basrah, the picture of the fighting in the city has become clearer. Maliki launched the operation after giving limited notice to Multinational Forces Iraq, and an inexperienced Iraqi Army brigade from the newly formed 14th Division cracked during the opening days of the fighting. The Iraqi Army [then] rushed forces into Basrah, including Army and elite police units, to stabilize the fighting, and six days after the operation began, Muqtada al Sadr ordered his Mahdi Army to stand down in Basrah, Baghdad, and the South.

There's much more here.


The Darwin Fish

It may seem odd at first, but the 17 minute film Fitna puts Jonah Goldberg in mind of the "Jesus fish" commonly seen attached to cars and jewelry. More precisely, it puts him in mind of those who seek to deride Christianity by sporting a "Darwin" fish, a fish symbol with four tiny legs and the name Darwin supplanting Jesus.

Given the history of how early Christians used the fish symbol (The letters for the Greek word fish form an acronym for the Greek words Jesus Christ Son of God, Savior) as a sort of password or silent identity badge and who often paid for their conviction by dying horrible, brutal deaths, the Darwinist knock-off is more fatuous than clever, but that's often the case with those who mock Christianity. Most of the people who amuse themselves by laughing at a symbol of Christian suffering would not dare mock the Star of David or some symbol of Islam, and this is Goldberg's point.

He puts it this way in his concluding sentences:

It's not that secular progressives support Muslim religious fanatics, it's that they reserve their passion and scorn for religious Christians who are neither fanatical nor violent.

The Darwin fish ostensibly symbolizes the superiority of progressive-minded science over backward-looking faith. I think this is a false juxtaposition, but I would have a lot more respect for the folks who believe it if they aimed their brave contempt for religion at those who might behead them for it.

Read the whole thing. It's pretty good.


Islamo-Fascism Awareness

This week is Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week on campuses across the nation. The aims of the observance are simple - to educate students about the threat posed by global Islamism and to urge students of all ethnicities and religions to renounce genocide and hate. David Horowitz, the founder of IFAW, discusses what is happening on more than 100 campuses this week here.

Horowitz writes:

The centerpiece of this year's campaign is the Declaration Against Genocide. The Declaration calls on "student governments and Muslim groups" to condemn Hezbollah and Hamas, and repudiate the saying of the prophet Mohammed that redemption will only come when Muslims fight Jews and kill them, when the rocks and trees cry out Oh Muslim there is a Jew hiding behind me, come and kill him. The charter also affirms such radical notions as:

  • The right of all people to live in freedom and dignity
  • The freedom of the individual conscience: to change religions or have no religion at all
  • The equal dignity of women and men
  • The right of all people to live free from violence, intimidation, and coercion.

Students around the country will try to spread the call for this generation to respect the innate dignity of every human being.

One hundred Muslim Student Associations were asked a month ago to sign the Declaration. None of them have. That is because the Muslim Student Associations are not religious or ethnic or cultural groups. They are political arms of the Muslim Brotherhood, the parent organization of al-Qaeda and Hamas. As documented in a series of Frontpage articles and in the pamphlet The Muslim Student Association and the Jihad Network, the campus MSAs are part of the "soft jihad," the movement which provides moral and economic support to the terrorists and seeks to undermine the foundations of western civilization.

When students refuse to repudiate murder, when they refuse to endorse basic human rights for all people, then we have reason to fear that the night is falling rapidly upon us. Go to the link and read about IFAW.