Sunday, December 21, 2008

Obama and Agriculture

Something doesn't seem right about Obama's choice for Secretary of Agriculture.

The presidential cabinet consists of the secretaries of departments of the Executive branch, people knowledgeable enough in their respective fields that they can offer their opinion and advice to the presidents "upon any Subject relating to the Duties of their respective Offices." (US Constitution) Obviously, the authority of any president far exceeds his expertise; to be a responsible leader, he must rely on trusted advisers who better understand the important workings of each system of government.

Obama, as you all know, has recently been picking his cabinet. Here are some of his selections, and their qualifications for the post:

Secretary of Energy: Steven Chu. Nobel Prize winning physicist, specializing in lazer cooling, atom trapping, and molecules in biological systems. Has organized research on energy related molecular work involving big names such as British Petrolium, and is actively involved in global climate councils.

Secretary of Veterans Affairs: Eric Shinseki. Vietnam war veteran with a maimed foot, four star general. Made some early unpopular predictions on Iraq war troop needs, and was proven right.

Secretary of the Treasury: Timothy Geithner. President of the Federal Reserve Bank of NY. Vice chairman of the Federal Open Market Commitee.

Now I'm not saying that I can guarantee the ability of these people to act as good advisors to the President of the United States, but each of them has a combination of leadership abilities and experience in their field that at least makes them look qualified. These people probably know something about where their field has come from, what the challenges facing it now are, and where it might go in the future.

These are the kinds of qualifications I expected Obama to look for in a Secretary of Agriculture nominee as well. I have to say I was even a little hopeful, thinking that perhaps Obama's call for "Change" would show itself in his choosing someone who would turn over a new leaf in the field of Agriculture, as it were. Here are a few major shifts in American agriculture that I've been hoping for:

  • Elimination of farm subsidies. In trying to "support American farmers," the government has subsidised agriculture, essentially paying growers to produce food. Some of these subsidies are outright, others come in the form of tax reductions and extensive public infrastructure not found in many parts of the world. As a result, growers here can produce food for much less, meaning that food prices do not reflect food costs. Originally, these subsidies were put in place to protect the livelihoods of small farmers, who at the time of the first farm bill made up a large percentage of the beneficiaries. Now, the vast majority of the $8 billion spent each year goes to large scale growers (companies, not families). Worst of all, surplus production is then dumped overseas for prices that undercut foreign markets, destroying the ability of small farmers everywhere to survive.
  • Encourage local on-farm recycling of animal waste. We have huge feed lots with mountains of rotting cow dung, while just miles away farmers spread chemical fertilizers onto their soil.
  • Encourage consumption of locally grown food. (A complicated issue, I know, but important nonetheless)
  • Give property tax benefits to farmers on prime agricultural land, savings that must be repayed in full if the land is converted to housing or commercial development. Good soil is a precious commodity, covering it over with concrete because local housing prices are high is a crime.
  • Create a sustainable agriculture standard similar to the existent one for organic agriculture.
...and I could go on. In short, American agriculture has gone from a community sustaining way of life to an industry that is only concerned with production and profit. System health has been cashed in for system profit, and that is scary when we're talking about who is taking care of our land and producing our food.

Anyway, I've been looking forward to a regime change, not because I expected a new Secretary of Agriculture would necessarily bring about all of these changes, but because I hoped he might. Now, I'm pretty sure nothing will change, at least for the good.

Here's our guy:

Name: Tom Vilsack
  • Current position: Governor of Iowa
  • Qualifications: None, at least as far as experience in, uh, agriculture goes. He once was involved in a passing a bill in Iowa that kept communities from banning GM foods. (that's a bad thing, imho). Oh, and he flies around in Monsanto owned jets a lot. I guess both of those are kind of related to agriculture.
  • Obama's justification for appointing him: "Obviously, if you don't know agriculture, you're not going to become governor of Iowa"
Really, Obama, really? Is being a politician in a corn state really the same as having experience in agriculture? That sounds kind of like Palin's "I'm experienced in foreign policy! I can see the Russian shoreline!" line.

Seriously, why is nobody questioning this guy's qualifications? Granted, he doesn't get the office unless the Senate approves him, but going on their previous record (our current Secretary has similarly little agricultural background), I'm not holding my breath.

Okay, the little conspiracy theorist inside of me has something to say:

"Vilsack isn't the only unqualified ex-presidential candidate to get assigned a post on Obama's cabinet. What about Clinton? She's unqualified for her position too! I bet they both had some dirt on Obama, or got bribed out of the race, or something. Obama obviously was obligated to appoint them. Something's fishy here."

Now, the theorist is probably just paranoid, but ya gotta wonder...


  1. Good read man! I agree completely! Maybe you should be the sec of agg! Hah btw.........FIRST!!!!! Hehe.

  2. interesting and easy to understand..
    good stuff