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The Need for a Federal Czar to Oversee the Development of the Nation's Oil Reserves

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Ethanol is produced from some agricultural products. It is a form of alcohol which is added to regular gasoline in order to make us less reliant on foreign supplies of oil, from which gasoline is derived.

The subsidy to create ethanol was first provided 30 years ago and ended December 31, 2011 when Congress decided not to renew it. The federal subsidy paid over the last 30 years to growers of corn was $20 billion. Providing that subsidy for corn meant that farmers devoted their corn crop for ethanol use, driving up the price for corn used for food, including animal feed. That in turn hugely drove up the cost of meat coming primarily from cows. My recollection of discussions concerning ethanol derived from corn is that it was the least efficient way to manufacture ethanol and that using certain grasses (not part of the food chain) provided more ethanol using less energy and the fuel (oil) required to produce that energy.

For whatever reasons, Congress was able to resist the pressures of the farm lobby to extend the ethanol subsidy. Now it's time for Congress to stand up and show the same intelligence and courage and end subsidies for a host of industries. The most profitable companies in America are the oil companies, and every so often we read about major oil companies not paying any federal income taxes or paying vastly reduced taxes because of loopholes built into the tax code by Congress. Over the years, the oil corporations, Wall Street securities firms and the banks, and the prescription drug manufacturing firms have made billions of dollars in campaign contributions to members of Congress while also keeping an array of lobbyists on their payrolls. Also, we have had members of Congress who, instead of representing the public interest, used their public office to get special deals and tax avoidance schemes for these industries. After leaving Congress, they often go to work for those very industries they helped avoid paying federal taxes and for which they obtained enormous subsidies, adding to our national deficit year after year.

The U.S., aggregating the expenditures for oil by both the public and private sectors, spends and sends to oil-producing countries abroad over $500 billion a year. If we required all 18-wheel trucks in the U.S. produced here in the U.S. to use natural gas (available in huge quantities in the U.S.), I have read that we could reduce our purchases of oil from OPEC nations by half. We could save even more, that is cut oil imports, by requiring existing 18-wheelers to convert to diesel or natural gas, which would cost approximately $64,000 a truck. Why not provide federal loans to truckers at low interest rates to do the conversions?

What has been needed for a long time -- and is needed now more than ever -- is the appointment of a U.S. czar with jurisdiction over all of our energy resources. Such a czar should have the power given to the head of the Manhattan Project which developed the nuclear bomb during World War II, harnessing the assets of our country, intellectual and material. The cost of the Manhattan Project was $2 billion, adjusted for inflation would be $21 billion today. What a bargain, if we could hugely increase our energy resources here in the U.S., including the use of natural gas fields newly discovered which are estimated to provide the U.S. with energy resources greater than the oil reserves of Saudi Arabia.

The president should lead the fight doing what he can immediately by executive order and rallying the Congress to do what is required of them. If they won't willingly work together with him on this issue, then he should make it the priority campaign issue in the 2012 election.

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There are legislators and members of the media who believe that if participation in a government program like food stamps requires fingerprinting, the beneficiary of the program is stigmatized. I think that is ridiculous. Every member of the armed forces is fingerprinted, and has been since the days I served in World War II. Today, I believe most, if not all, federal government employees and members of Congress are fingerprinted. I don't believe any of those people feel stigmatized, nor should they. My recollection is that every baby -- at least when I was born 87 years ago -- was foot-printed.

Yes, fingerprints help in recording and will also help in reducing fraud by allowing the weeding out of possible fraud. The most obvious is someone registering under different names to secure more than the allocation of food stamps they are entitled to.

The food stamps program is one of the federal government's best programs. It not only feeds hungry people, including large numbers of children, in every state of the union, it feeds the bottom line of farmers, selling their produce to these impoverished people using government food stamps.

In the Great Depression, my family, made up of mother, dad and three children, lived through a period when my father was out of a job. In those days, there was no food stamp program. I recall on one occasion, my dad had only $5 in his pocket before a major religious holiday and was worried that we wouldn't have a holiday dinner. He asked an aunt to lend him $15 and she did, and we never forgot her generous act for the balance of her life. We revered her for that act. Reasonable people, in this day and age when we are as a nation in a huge deficit situation, and there is any reasonable possibility of fraud in a government program such as Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and a host of other programs, are willing to take reasonable measures to safeguard them from fraud.

The New York City Commissioner of the Human Resources Administration, Robert Doar, responded to an editorial in the New York Times which criticized the use of fingerprinting for those applying for food stamps. His letter defending fingerprinting follows:

To The Editor: With an increase of nearly 500,000 people since 2008, the New York City Food Stamp program today provides more than 1.8 million New Yorkers benefits worth more than $3 billion a year. Given the magnitude of the program, it is imperative that we protect its integrity by preventing duplicate benefits.

Requiring applicants to be electronically fingerprinted is a simple and effective way to prevent duplication and fraud by ensuring that people cannot be approved for multiple food-stamp benefits, as was too common in the years before welfare reform.

Just a quick glance at the facts and you would understand that the purpose is to deter and detect fraud before it happens, which is why it is not surprising that the process does not lead to criminal prosecutions.

Referring low-income New Yorkers for prosecution solely because they once tried to get duplicate food-stamp benefits is not our goal, nor is it a good use of taxpayer dollars. During the last year, by catching potential duplicate benefits before being issued, the process has saved $5 million in taxpayer dollars at a cost of less than $190,000.

Last month, the Obama administration awarded the city the Hunger Champion citation, for our efforts to help struggling New Yorkers receive food-stamp benefits. New York City should be proud of the outstanding efforts we have made in providing assistance to people and families in need.

ROBERT DOAR
Commissioner, New York City
Human Resources Administration
New York, Jan. 2, 2012

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