Captive To Corn

Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) is blocking the confirmation of Thomas Shannon to be ambassador to Brazil because Shannon has been critical of ethanol tariffs. Iowa, of course, is the corn capital of the US, while Brazil contains a bountiful source of sugar cane. David Rothkopf lays it all out:

There is not a single credible analyst of biofuels [...] who thinks that corn ethanol makes a hint of sense. It is hopelessly inefficient and with every new development regarding next generation biofuels only grows more so. Brazilian sugar cane ethanol, the main target of the tariffs, is produced as much as eight times more efficiently. As such, it offers a cheaper, more abundant, more environmentally friendly alternative to American consumers at a time when one would have thought that concerns about reducing dependence on foreign oil and combating climate change would be at the forefront of our concerns.

But once again, America's electoral system rears its ugly head. So long as presidential campaigns begin in Iowa, Iowans like Grassley will use the system to put the interest of their state's three million citizens and the most vocal special interests within their midst like the corn lobby, ahead of the three hundred million or so of the rest of us.

Further, in so doing, Grassley seeks to preserve yet another dimension of America's system of farm protection and subsidies that costs tax payers tens of billions each year, forces food prices higher (according to the likes of Nobel Prize winner Joe Stiglitz) and is the single biggest distortionary factor in the world trading system. [...]

It is now July and the Obama administration does not have its own ambassador in Brasilia, capital of one the rising powers that is most important to us in the world. The guy who is there now, Bush's appointee Cliff Sobel, is widely regarded by Brazilians (and anyone else who is paying attention) as a joke whereas Shannon is seen as the crème de la crème of the U.S. diplomatic service and is a nominee viewed with great enthusiasm by the Lula administration. The Shannon pick said "Brazil is important." Grassley's move says "all politics is local."