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The Elbert Files: Ethanol and socialism


“Who would have thought?” 

The question came from deep inside the furry hood of an oddly yellow parka. The long canary-colored coat sat atop a pair of five-buckle galoshes and was approaching from the east as I neared the site of the former Rusty Skupper, a 1970s nightclub west of Terrace Hill. 


All I could see was a nose, but I recognized the voice of my old friend K.C.

“That’s certainly an open-ended question,” I said. “Who would have thought what? How cold it would be this winter?

“That Mitch McConnell would excoriate Donald Trump on live TV minutes after voting against impeachment?

“That Iowa’s normally efficient state government would fumble its response to the COVID crisis so badly?

“That Iowa State’s men would have their worst basketball season ever while the Drake men have one of their best?” 

“Those were all predictable events,” K.C. mumbled.

“Well, maybe not the weather,” he added. “This was supposed to be a mild winter.”

“That’s what I thought,” I answered. “Since I retired, I take pride in being able to play at least one round of golf in Iowa every month of the year. I had a 34-month string going until January. But since mid-December, we haven’t had a day that hasn’t been packed in snow. 

“What, besides the weather, surprised you?” I continued.

“Socialism. I’m amazed at how socialism is running rampant in Iowa,” K.C. said with a twisted smile.

“I wouldn’t think that would bother you,” I said.

“Normally it wouldn’t,” he replied. “But the hypocrisy bugs me, especially with people like Chuck Grassley.”

“I thought you liked Grassley,” I said.

“I do most of the time,” K.C. said. “I like it when he fights for the little guy and tries to protect government whistleblowers. At least, he did before Donald Trump. I know he’s never been good at bringing home the bacon to Iowa like Neal Smith was, but Grassley makes himself available  to people who don’t agree with him. He makes more of an effort than most politicians.

“What I don’t like is his hypocrisy about socialism. He calls it socialism when the government wants to provide health care to people, but not when government programs put money in the pockets of Iowa farmers.”

“That’s because he is a farmer,” I said. 

“I don’t care. It’s still hypocrisy,” K.C. said. “Government farm subsidies are as socialistic as single-payer health care. Maybe more so. 

“But what I’m really upset about now is how our governor is shameless about wanting to turn renewable fuels into a welfare program for farmers. It’s not enough that corn farmers are destroying the land with chemical pesticides and fertilizers. 

“Now, our governor wants them to grow even more corn for a product that is already of questionable value.”

“I assume you mean ethanol,” I said.

“Yeah, but this isn’t your father’s ethanol,” K.C. said.


The governor wants to up the ante. She wants to increase the amount of ethanol in every gallon of gasoline from 10% to 15% and beyond.


“She wants to make it the only fuel Iowans can buy for their vehicles by 2025.


“It’s one thing for government to require the use of ethanol as a cleaner fuel that causes less pollution. It’s a whole different deal for government to arbitrarily back one industry over another. 

“I don’t care if it is farmers versus oilmen,” he said. “But I do care that they will ruin the land to make more ethanol, when it isn’t needed to solve any real problems.

“Besides, the fuel sellers, the Casey’s and Kum & Go stores, are already rebelling at being told what to do. So are truck drivers.” 

A cold snow began to fall as K.C. walked away, mumbling something about this still being a capitalist country.

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