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The Magic of Manipulation


Ask any magician the key to making a trick successful, and he will tell you it is distracting the audience’s attention with the obvious. While you focus on the hand, the wand, or the scantily clad woman, the real trick is taking place in a place where you are not looking.  The same kind of sleight of hand goes on in the arena of public relations, public policy, and politics.  Take, for example, what has been going on the past few weeks with ethanol and Obamacare.  While the headlines and sound bites have captured your attention, the real issues have remained in the shadows.


This past week, a nationally distributed story produced the by Associated Press made the claim that ethanol production was destroying our environment.  The story made the case that highly erodible land had been withdrawn from the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) by farmers who then plowed it up in order to plant corn for the ethanol industry.  The story ignored the fact that the federal government has been accepting less land into the program for the past several years as well as that land that comes out of the CRP is not highly productive farmland and, in most cases, does not go back into row crop production.  Several media contacts in Washington who had worked with the AP to provide them with the facts told me that there was a bias from the beginning and that the story was never meant to be objective or fair.


The story produced a flurry of PR damage control from ethanol and grain groups before it was even published.  But, like so many recent attacks on ethanol, it was a diversion. Tom Buis, with Growth Energy, put it best, “This is just all fodder in the weeds. The real issue is a battle with big oil over market share.”  Buis pointed out that these attacks over environmental impacts, fuel economy, engine damage, and government subsidies are all distractions to cover up the real issue: that the oil industry has a monopoly on our fuel supply, gets massive tax breaks from the government, and drives up the cost of gasoline that take billions of dollars out of consumer’s pockets and the US economy. That story, however, is lost in the flurry of charges and counter charges. These press attacks on ethanol keep the industry and public attention away from the real issue.


The Obama administration uses this same tactic both on the energy and healthcare issues.  The President makes grand speeches praising ethanol while, at the same time, his EPA is adopting policy that keeps the industry from growing. Earlier this year, the EPA dropped a program that provided incentives for car makers to produce flex fuel vehicles. Last week the EPA reduced the amount of ethanol that must be used to produce gasoline in 2014.  Are these the actions of an administration that wants to see more ethanol being used in our fuel supply?   “Today’s RFS announcement represents the biggest policy reversal of the entire Obama Administration,” stated IRFA Executive Director Monte Shaw.  “The EPA proposal turns the RFS on its head, runs counter to the law, and is a complete capitulation to Big Oil.” The Obama White House waved a flag of support with one hand but cut the legs out from under the ethanol industry with the other.


During the passage of the Affordable Care Act, the focus was on who this would help, how much less Americans’ would pay for health insurance, and how people could keep their current coverage.  Buried in the thousands of pages of legislation were details that are just now coming to light.   Just like a magician pulls off the drape to reveal that his beautiful assistant has disappeared, millions of Americans have now found it is their health coverage that has disappeared. 


The lesson here is to look beyond the headlines and to seek out the true intent and ramification of an issue. In the case of ethanol, it is that every gallon of home-grown ethanol used displaces a gallon of imported Middle Eastern oil. The oil companies who have a monopoly on our fuel supply will do everything they can to stop increased use of ethanol and keep oil and gasoline prices high.   In the case of healthcare, it is that the government wants to control your choice of health care coverage and have one part of the population pay higher premiums to cover the costs of another segment of the population.  Beware of the magic of manipulation.


By Gary Truitt