Washington Babylon — May 29, 2008, 9:03 am

A Clinton Reader Catches Obama’s Shifting Views on Ethanol

The lavishly-subsidized federal ethanol program is one of the biggest corporate boondoggles of recent times. Eileen O’Connor, a Clinton-supporter based in California, wrote a letter (published below) which charts Obama’s flip-flops on the matter, which look like standard politics-as-usual for a typical Midwestern senator.

I would love to see Senator Obama answer “Six Questions On Corn-Based Ethanol.” By my count, he has changed his position on corn-based ethanol at least four times: from enthusiastically promoting corn-based ethanol as a “No-Brainer” (March 2005) and a way to end “our addiction to foreign oil” (July 2006), to a position that Brazilian sugar-based ethanol is “more efficient” and wind, solar and “clean coal” are also possibilities (March 2008), to a more cautious approach if not a complete reversal, urging a “Need to Rethink” government support for corn-based ethanol early in May 2008 and finally(?) adding “cellulosic ethanol” to the mix later in May 2008.

In March 2005, Obama said boosting corn-based ethanol production was a “no-brainer.” In a July 2006 speech to a Campus Progress rally (as reported in the Harper’s profile), he spent twenty minutes promoting the use of “domestically-produced fuel made from corn” as akin to doing your patriotic duty. http://youtube.com/watch?v=msIpvb8OrhY&feature=related

The Obama Senate website’s point-by-point response to your article includes the following “Fact”:

Senator Obama supports ethanol production because it is a clean, efficient, and domestically produced alternative to oil from the Middle East. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, E85 fuel produces fewer total toxins and lower levels of ozone-forming volatile organic compounds compared to gasoline. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has determined that ethanol production is efficient, creating 1.67 times the energy it takes to produce it. Argonne National Laboratory reports that by switching to ethanol and biomass fuels in our passenger cars and light-duty trucks, drivers can potentially reduce the use of petroleum by at least 68 percent. Blending ethanol with gasoline just at a 10 percent level will translate to savings to consumers of $3.3 billion a year according to independent researchers at LECG (based on 2002 prices).

In May 2006, the Christian Science Monitor published an article that pointed out serious problems with the production of domestic corn-based ethanol, and suggested sugar cane-based fuel from Brazil as an alternative.

In March 2008, Obama agreed, calling corn-based ethanol “transitional,” and jumped on the Brazilian sugar cane bandwagon. On May 4, 2008, he said on “Meet The Press” that it was time to “rethink” corn-based ethanol (on May 6, 2008, 24 Republican Senators, including John McCain, agreed). On May 14, 2008, he parsed his position yet again, calling for support of “cellulosic-based” ethanol.

As recently as April 2008, Senator Obama was still apparently backing a law that would make the manufacture of flex-fuel autos mandatory even though the environmental benefits of “blending” ethanol with gasoline has not been established and many environmentalists think cellulosic-based ethanol is one of the worst ideas on the planet (I don’t know, but I don’t think any of this is a “no-brainer”).

If Obama is so smart, how could he have been so wrong about corn-based ethanol? Could it have been political expediency? Just going along to get along? Saying what he thought people wanted to hear? Corn-producers in his state? Archer Daniels Midland? Winning in Iowa? I cannot help but wonder what his “no-brainer” trust will tell him to say next about ethanol.

I am supporting Hillary Clinton in the primaries. I am a middle-aged white woman so maybe it goes without saying. I should probably also add that I am not a “Republican troll” though I was a Legislative Assistant to a Republican Congressman for a minute way back in the 1980′s (ancient history), one of several Democrats on his staff. I am wary of the love-affair between the media and Obama. I do think Obama is a little quick to call complicated issues (such as our dependence on oil) simple. And I wonder how much of a “change from the old politics” his campaign really represents.

Eileen O’Connor

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Ashley arrived for her prenatal appointment at Black Hills Obstetrics and Gynecology, in Rapid City, South Dakota, wearing a black zip-up hoodie and Converse sneakers.1 To explain her absence from work that morning — a Tuesday in April 2015 — she had told a co-worker that she was having “female issues.” She was twenty-five years old and eight weeks pregnant. She had been separated from her husband, with whom she had a five-year-old son, for the better part of a year. The guy who’d gotten her pregnant was someone she’d met at the gym, and he’d made it abundantly clear that he wanted nothing more to do with her. Ashley found herself hoping that the doctor would discover some kind of fetal defect, so that her decision would be easier. She glanced across the waiting room at a television playing a birth-control ad and laughed darkly. “Jesus, Lord, it would be so nice if someone just pushed me down a flight of stairs.”

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Ashley arrived for her prenatal appointment at Black Hills Obstetrics and Gynecology, in Rapid City, South Dakota, wearing a black zip-up hoodie and Converse sneakers.1 To explain her absence from work that morning — a Tuesday in April 2015 — she had told a co-worker that she was having “female issues.” She was twenty-five years old and eight weeks pregnant. She had been separated from her husband, with whom she had a five-year-old son, for the better part of a year. The guy who’d gotten her pregnant was someone she’d met at the gym, and he’d made it abundantly clear that he wanted nothing more to do with her. Ashley found herself hoping that the doctor would discover some kind of fetal defect, so that her decision would be easier. She glanced across the waiting room at a television playing a birth-control ad and laughed darkly. “Jesus, Lord, it would be so nice if someone just pushed me down a flight of stairs.”

In the exam room, she perched on the table with her feet crossed at the ankles, her blond hair brushing the back of her pink hospital gown. “I don’t know what’s available for me here,” she told her doctor, Katherine Degen, who sat facing her on a stool. “I figured nothing.”

 Some names and identifying details have been changed. 

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The baby was due in November, when Ashley, who was a nurse, hoped to be enrolled in a graduate program to become a nurse practitioner. Getting pregnant as a teenager had forced her to put that dream on hold, but she had thought that she was finally ready; she had even submitted her application shortly before the March 15 deadline. For the first time in her adult life, Ashley felt as if her plans were coming together. Then she missed her period.

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Artwork by Imre Kinszki © Imre Kinszki Estate
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Ashley arrived for her prenatal appointment at Black Hills Obstetrics and Gynecology, in Rapid City, South Dakota, wearing a black zip-up hoodie and Converse sneakers.1 To explain her absence from work that morning — a Tuesday in April 2015 — she had told a co-worker that she was having “female issues.” She was twenty-five years old and eight weeks pregnant. She had been separated from her husband, with whom she had a five-year-old son, for the better part of a year. The guy who’d gotten her pregnant was someone she’d met at the gym, and he’d made it abundantly clear that he wanted nothing more to do with her. Ashley found herself hoping that the doctor would discover some kind of fetal defect, so that her decision would be easier. She glanced across the waiting room at a television playing a birth-control ad and laughed darkly. “Jesus, Lord, it would be so nice if someone just pushed me down a flight of stairs.”

In the exam room, she perched on the table with her feet crossed at the ankles, her blond hair brushing the back of her pink hospital gown. “I don’t know what’s available for me here,” she told her doctor, Katherine Degen, who sat facing her on a stool. “I figured nothing.”

 Some names and identifying details have been changed. 

“Big, fat zero, unfortunately,” Degen said, making a 0 with her fingers. The last doctor who provided abortions in Rapid City retired in 1986, three years before Ashley was born.

The baby was due in November, when Ashley, who was a nurse, hoped to be enrolled in a graduate program to become a nurse practitioner. Getting pregnant as a teenager had forced her to put that dream on hold, but she had thought that she was finally ready; she had even submitted her application shortly before the March 15 deadline. For the first time in her adult life, Ashley felt as if her plans were coming together. Then she missed her period.

It would be too difficult to attend school as a single mother of two, Ashley knew. She had made an appointment for three weeks from now at the nearest abortion clinic, in Billings, Montana, 318 miles away. But just a week and a half ago, her husband had said he wanted to get back together and offered to raise the child as his own. Was it a sign that she was meant to continue the pregnancy? As a rule, Ashley approached her problems with resolve. She was capable and tough; she liked shooting guns and lifting weights. She kept track of her stats and checked off her goals as she achieved them one by one. Yet the dilemma before her had shaken her confidence. She leaned back and turned to watch the ultrasound screen. The black-and-white image danced. A sharp, fast thumping emerged from the machine. As Degen removed the wand, Ashley wiped the corner of her eye.

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"She glanced across the waiting room at a television playing a birth-control ad and laughed darkly. 'Jesus, Lord, it would be so nice if someone just pushed me down a flight of stairs.'"
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