Starting with the suit by Des Moines Water Works over farm pollution in Des Moines’ drinking water that is now in federal court, this article covers everything from Steve King, Bruce Rastetter, chickens, pork, Tyson Foods, Smithfield, Shuanghui Group, Pizza Ranch, Cruz, evangelicals, Tom Vilsack, China, Branstad, the vast right-wing conspiracy and why the presidential race doesn’t matter nearly as much as what is going on right here in our state. The complete article is 7 pages long and well worth the time. Here are a few excerpts. To read the entire article, go to Harpers.org – The Trouble With Iowa – Corn, Corruption and the Presidential Caucuses by Richard Manning.
“There is no doubt that conservatives would like to win the presidency, but they don’t actually need to. We have a naïve sense that to correct wrongs in our country, we simply need to elect the right president, pass the right laws, and that’s that. Politics in a state such as Iowa, however, teaches us that laws are only the beginning of the process, the opening bell for litigation, lobbying, and defiance. Faced with a federal mandate to regulate hog manure, Branstad simply cut the budget that paid for inspectors. Likewise, he roundly criticized William Stowe, urging Des Moines Water Works to address its issues with collaboration and volunteerism.”
Big ag poisoning our state
“The problem is simple enough. Rain falls on Iowa pure and clean, but it arrives at Stowe’s intake pipes a few hours later sufficiently polluted to violate federal standards for drinking water. Farmers have been raising corn and hogs in Iowa, and the people of Des Moines have been drinking river water, ever since the Civil War, but only in the past decade or two have the nitrogen fertilizers from industrial agriculture rendered that water undrinkable.
“These days a fair amount of the nitrates are derived not so much directly from chemical fertilizers as from hog manure. There are about 21 million hogs in Iowa, and almost all of them live in hog factories. Each hog produces the waste of about 2.5 people, meaning Iowa bears the shit equivalent, from hogs alone, of about 45 million people, some fifteen times its human population.
“But Iowa also has 52 million laying chickens, 50 million of which are in concentrated animal-feeding operations (CAFOs) that hold more than 100,000 birds. These birds likewise produce more manure than all the people in the state. Almost none of it passes through a sewage-treatment plant or even a septic tank before making its way through drainage pipes to the public waterways and drinking water…”
It doesn’t have to be this way
“There’s another way to fix the problem. It involves simple measures such as running farm-field drainage pipes into restored wetlands and permanent pastures instead of rivers. Ten acres of wetland can treat the runoff from 1,000 acres of hard-farmed corn. By timing their applications, farmers might also apply less fertilizer while still ensuring their yields. These measures do not mean growing less food, though they might require some different crops, maybe even raising a few cattle on grass. Scientists from the state’s agricultural department and Iowa State University have penciled out and tested a program of such low-tech solutions.
“If 40 percent of the cropland claimed by corn were planted with other crops and permanent pasture, the whole litany of problems caused by industrial agriculture — certainly the nitrate pollution of drinking water — would begin to evaporate. There are no technological or financial hurdles to implementing this program, but there is a political obstacle: the federal government would have to stop subsidizing the growing of corn. Between 1995 and 2012, those subsidies amounted to $84 billion.
“Tysonization” of Iowa
“Iowans have one way of saying this: they lament that their state has been “chickenized.” You could more specifically say it has been “Tysonized.” Tyson Foods prefers to describe the process as vertical integration… The process depended on a networked system of growers and farmers, who became contractors… Growers in a given region were lumped in a pool and paid on the basis of a competitive scheme that ranked them according to the pounds of chicken produced per pound of feed. Everything was tightly monitored by a flow of data that measured corn and soy in, McNuggets out. A productivity gain of a few percentage points meant the difference between bankruptcy and a paycheck for many growers — several people I met in Iowa called them ‘serfs.'”
The Pizza Ranch Strategy
“The chain offers several forms of industrial pork and chicken embedded in a matrix of cheap carbohydrates, but also satisfies a different need: Pizza Ranch “believes in the power of prayer. If you have a specific issue that you would like us to pray for, please send it in using the form below.”
The chain is a mandatory stop for Republican presidential hopefuls. The Republican contest in Iowa is really a struggle for the evangelical vote, which has slowly accumulated in Cruz’ corner… Mike Huckabee told the Des Moines Register that he won the 2008 caucuses in large part through such visits: “We created the Pizza Ranch strategy. A lot of people have copied it since then, but I think we created it.”
“This election cycle, klatches at the chain take place almost daily: a candidate in a suit (or jeans, depending on the desired optics of the day) scarfs a slice while ringed by ruddy men in ball caps, most of them obese, many of them corn growers, chicken growers, or hog growers under contract to a handful of corporations. There they speak about the problems that affect their lives, such as the coming imposition of sharia law. They also talk about the need for the federal government to “get out of the way” of free enterprise, especially their particular brand of federally subsidized free enterprise.”
“Tom Vilsack has been a terrible disappointment.”
When Obama appointed Vilsack as agriculture secretary soon after taking office, it was a way of making good on his campaign promise to reform industrial agriculture. As governor of Iowa, Vilsack had been a supporter of reform, and as agriculture secretary he used antitrust regulation to challenge the Tyson-engineered tournament system. Tyson responded by joining with Smithfield and other meat producers to mount a multimillion-dollar lobbying campaign, complete with astroturf opposition and congressional arm-twisting. Big Ag outplayed Vilsack at nearly every turn, and he quickly backpedaled on the new rules. Finally, Congress killed the reform effort late in 2011. Two years later, with the fundamentals of its business plan intact, Smithfield sold itself to the Shuanghui Group, a Chinese company. What Smithfield sold to the Chinese was less its pork production than its control of Iowa’s politics and its landscape.”
Who Owns Iowa?
“The irony of some of the world’s last remaining Communists taking over from Iowa’s swine capitalists is outdone only by Donald Trump, who spends whatever time he isn’t using to bash immigrants bashing the Chinese. He offers no hint, of course, about how he might best the Shuanghui Group, which, through finely honed contracts, now controls the landscape of all that beautiful corn in the Midwest.”
“Schooling the candidates about the realities of who owns Iowa, [Branstad] said that Xi “calls us old friends, not just me but a lot of people in the state of Iowa. That’s an important trading partner, so we want to keep that relationship.”
“Faced with regulation that will limit the carbon emissions that are killing the planet, Mitch McConnell, the majority leader of the U.S. Senate, a fellow who has sworn to uphold the Constitution, urged states to violate the law. The tightly organized, cohesive network that is the American right wing has abrogated the social contract with wholesale, institutionalized civil disobedience. Want to regulate the manner in which farms pump liquid shit? Sure. Can you do it with the twenty-eight inspectors Iowa has to oversee 4,000 hog factories, the pumping on which occurs almost entirely during a few weeks in autumn, and often at night?”
“As Stowe says, all they have to do is to protect the status quo. To do that, they don’t need to play to checkmate; stalemate and gridlock are success enough.”