It Takes Courage to Challenge the Status Quo
It’s major news when a fellow Iowan is elevated to the Presidential cabinet. The last time that happened was with seed pioneer Henry Wallace in the late 1940’s. Tom Vilsack’s story epitomizes the American Dream of an orphaned youth that rises to lofty national stature. His impressive political journey started as a small town attorney in Mount Pleasant, Iowa. I restored the historic Harlan hotel there during the 1980’s. Vilsack and family were among our most regular customers in the lobby restaurant. Mount Pleasant is an idyllic county seat town. It could be a Mayberry movie set. This Midwest Idyll was shattered in 1987 when a “crazed” man disturbed by local government decisions voted with his gun rather than a ballot. He walked into City Council Chambers with barrels blazing. He killed the Mayor and shot Council members.
Vilsack began his political ascent as neighbors called him to serve as Mayor in this time of tragedy. He was elected to State Senate. Two terms as Governor set the stage for national politics. Vilsack was short listed as a Kerry ticket VP. He ran with the initial pack for President “08″. Vilsack soon realized this was an Obama/Clinton two way horse race, so he shifted his effort to campaign for Hillary.
Analysis of political news of 2008 proves the Clinton Camp as the real winner. Obama is a charismatic figurehead, but many of the Clinton Crew have moved into power. Vilsack exhibited exceptional savvy with his Clinton alignment.
The present political scandal of the Illinois Governor offering Obama’s Senate seat to the highest cash bidder is just the far end of a continuum of corruption. All of the seats in the Senate and House are presently determined by the financial influence of the most well funded special interest groups. The big ag giants are among the most active political funding operatives.
Vilsack rose up to Iowa political power with the state level version of this political financing machine. I ask hard questions; Will Obama bring real change to our economy? Will Vilsack foster sustainable agriculture, or continue Ag biz short-term thinking? Obama takes his cues from Wall Street, not Main Street. Vilsack’s rise up the political ladder was financed whole hog by multinational ag business. Politicians follow money. Statesmen that have the courage to initiate real change are rare as hen’s teeth.
It takes courage to step forward as an Iowan and offer an alternate view, as our state engages in mass hometown Vilsack boosterism. I offer a thoughtful and intelligent critique of the Vilsack appointment. I congratulate Vilsack as Secretary of Agriculture. I also challenge him to consider provable facts that what has worked for Agriculture during the heyday of the Petrochemical Paradigm will no longer work. We now face careening climate change and a rapid descent down the bell curve of the carbon energy era. We are in a new reality. It takes courage to face hard facts. Petrol-driven ag that consumes 10 calories to produce 1 calorie of food or fuel is not sustainable. Only real conservation of land and energy can bring us to a sustainable future. Deep systemic change is required.
I personally attest that Vilsack is a decent, intelligent man. He’s one of us “folks” with deep Iowa roots. The question is, does Vilsack get marching orders from common, concerned citizens or the four horsemen of the Big Ag Gravy Wagon; Dupont, Monsanto, ADM, Cargill? We are now in an era of rapidly diminishing returns from factory farming.
The petrochemical powered agriculture juggernaut rolls on roughshod to deplete once fertile soil, poison our waters and churn out unhealthy factory food. Big Ag has the carbon footprint of a nine hundred pound gorilla. Vilsack joins Harkin, Grassley, and Iowa Ag head, Northey to defend the Ag Empire. They all answer to the Ag Biz Lobby. Our children, deserve the quality of water and soil our grandparents stewarded into our present generation. Future generations have no lobby in Washington.
If we continue with Big Ag, Business as Usual Iowa family farms have no viable future. Half of the rich and vital black top soil has already been extracted and sent down the Mississippi river along with a toxic soup of petrochemical runoff. The Dead Zone now extends into the Gulf 500 miles beyond the River Delta. At the present rate of soil depletion, the Midwest Dust Bowl is only one generation away.
The average age of Iowa Farmers today is 64. The biofuel boom has bid land price up so high, that potential young farmers cannot afford to “buy into the system.” Only a small percentage of Iowa land is farmed by owner-occupants. Most is already leased out by absentee owners. The total shift to corporate factory farming is nearly complete. The media image of the yeoman family farmer is extinct. The remaining Iowa farmers are indentured to big banks and the four ag giants, Dupont, Monsanto, Cargill and ADM. Iowa Agriculture serves under the iron grip control of out of state multinational corporations. Formerly independent farmers have been reduced to the economic status of sharecroppers on their own deeply mortgaged land.
Iowa top soil continues to blow in the wind. Once resilient and absorptive land now sheds water like one huge paved parking lot. Flood waters rise higher, as political defenders of the status quo sell off the future of our children for a factory ag fast buck today.
Founder, Sustainable Ecological Economic Development (S.E.E.D.)
Author, Sustainable Operating Systems/The Post-Petrol Paradigm