Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2012: Food as fuel, defense spending and virtual education

Posted Sept. 10, 2012, at 12:02 p.m.

Do what is right

While much has been said about the harmful effects of ethanol fuel additives to engines, there has been little mention of the ethical, moral and economic ramifications of burning food for fuel.

Under the Federal Renewable Fuels Standard, which requires U.S. fuel companies to ensure that 9 percent of their gasoline pools are made up of ethanol this year, approximately 40 percent of the United States’ 2012 corn crop will go to ethanol production, a crop that has been greatly reduced by drought.

As with any commodity, price is driven by supply and demand, with the net result being higher prices for corn-based food products, livestock feed and ethanol fuel additive. The higher cost of livestock feed has already resulted in markedly higher costs for meat and dairy products.

While rising food prices in the U.S. will pose an inconvenience for most and hardship for many, it is unlikely anyone will starve to death as a result. This is not the case in many economically disadvantaged nations.

I have always found the notion of using food for fuel objectionable. When, however, others’ lives stand in immediate jeopardy because of our politicians’ thirst for power and corporate thirst for money, the concept becomes completely unconscionable and morally repugnant. I urge President Barack Obama to suspend the RFS ethanol mandate immediately. In the words of the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “The time is always right to do what is right.”

Larry Balchen

Jonesport

Senators must speak up

Will U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe stand with people from Maine, or will they align themselves with Rep. Paul Ryan and rest of the extreme right-wing leadership of House Republicans who are looking to cut off 300,000 kids from free school lunches when one in five live in poverty?

They need to speak up against Ryan and his colleagues’ heartless budget approach that reneges on last summer’s debt ceiling deal to cut military spending. The debt ceiling deal was a compromise because it mandated equal cuts to military spending and social programs. If these cuts are rolled back under the Ryan and House Republicans’ plan to block the required Pentagon spending, then the required deficit reduction will come on the backs of children, the working class and the poor.

America has the world’s biggest economy and most advanced and powerful military. No other country, including China, comes close. Reining in the Pentagon budget won’t change that. Our military and defense spending played a significant role in increasing the national debt over the last decade. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan contributed to record deficits. The U.S. defense budget is six times that of China’s and equal to that of more than the next 17 highest spending countries combined.

We cannot afford for Collins and Snowe to follow the extreme right wing GOP leadership in Congress and play partisan games with our budget.

John Sweet

Mount Desert

Vote yes in November

I am writing in response to a letter from Susan Mendell from Palmyra that ran on Aug. 29. Mendell takes issue with an earlier BDN editorial whose author states, accurately, that legal rights come from government.

Mendell’s letter tries to detract from the purely legal issues at hand by insisting that the concept of government-created laws is “sophomoric” and “ludicrous.” (This kind of religious sputtering is becoming the trademark of opponents of marriage equality.) There are few tenets of our government that are more clearly understood than the separation of church and state. By the time we’re sophomores in high school, we all know that it’s the government (not the church) that makes the laws. (Is that what she meant by “sophomoric”? Probably not.)

Rights are legal constructs — period. The BDN is right: Religious beliefs are beside the point. I am not religious, and I don’t have to be to enjoy full protection under the law. Those laws should be fair to everyone. Maine’s gay and lesbian families matter just as much as Mendell’s does.

Please do the right thing and vote yes on question one in November.

Penny Guisinger

Trescott

Virtual high schools

During the last several years, there has been a lot of discussion regarding public education reform. Recently, Maine has approved the creation of 10 public charter schools. There is also discussion of a “school choice voucher” system in which parents in Maine could transfer their children to public, private or religious schools using local and state taxpayer dollars.

Another proposal is to use local and state taxpayer dollars to contract with out-of-state “virtual” high schools in which students could obtain their high school education “online.”

Reform and change are always necessary and usually difficult to achieve. As we strive to make positive changes in our public schools, it is important that Mainers define what we truly want from our education system. Historically, the U.S. has provided tuition-free public education for all students, the promise of equal educational opportunities regardless of race, gender or economic or social status, a commitment to the potential of upward mobility for all members of society and the advancement of democratic principles and values.

As we debate the future of public education in Maine, I hope we do not implement policies and reforms that benefit only students most likely to succeed in the first place or implement policies and reforms that relegate those least likely to succeed to second- or third-rate modes of education. I encourage all Mainers to pay attention to the debate on education reform and support measures that endorse a commitment to access, opportunity and quality schooling for all children from every background.

Craig King

Topsham

Vets deserve more

I am a Vietnam veteran who has lived in Calais for four years. The care I have received from the people at the Calais Veterans Clinic has been excellent. They are a dedicated, hardworking staff who go above and beyond what is asked of them, and they have worked for too long without a permanent doctor.

It is time for someone to assign a doctor to the clinic. It is ironic that Washington County has the most veterans than any county in Maine and no doctor permanently assigned to our clinic. The staff has done their best to help us veterans, but they can only do so much. We veterans deserve more. It is time to give us what we need and are entitled to receive.

Christina Fritz

Calais

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