The noise machine never quiets down



One of Iowa’s biggest problems is the caucuses. Not the caucuses so much for what they are but what they attract — floods of money and distortion — that corrode the civic conversation that this state used to enjoy as enlightened and balanced.

The next presidential cycle started before the last one ended. I have been getting emails from Ted Cruz and Tim Kaine straight on through. And Martin O’Malley and too many others to list in a limited space.

Last week we got a call from an environmental interest group called Mighty Earth, founded by former Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif. They were recommended to us by Iowa environmental groups and heard that we won a big award for writing about agriculture and the environment. They wanted to see if we were on board with their effort to hold Tyson accountable for pollution of the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico.

Well, no, I said. I cannot be on board with that. It doesn’t represent what is happening.

Yes, we grow corn and it is fed to hogs that are slaughtered by Tyson — and Smithfield and, soon Prestage Pork and Seaboard. Tyson is Numero Uno in activists’ eyes because nobody has heard of Prestage or Seaboard. It is not as easy to attack ethanol in Iowa, which consumes about a third of that corn crop. And, it is hard to explain in a 30-second TV commercial that drainage systems are made necessary by climate change, which is driven in large part by the driving habits of the Honorable Mr. Waxman and all the LA voters who supported him. And their eating habits. They want $2.99 hamburger and corn-sweetened Coca-Cola, but we are not targeting Safeway or Coke. The drainage systems deliver nutrients to the rivers, and ultimately the Gulf. Some of the nutrients are nature-made — Iowa soil is high in nitrogen before fertilization — and some are man-made. Most of the nutrient load comes from intensified crop production drained by improved systems as climate change has made Iowa wetter over the past 30 years.

We mentioned to the caller that up to 3,000 Buena Vista County families depend on Tyson and Rembrandt Foods for their livelihood. We love cheap pork and eggs. And we love those paychecks in a community that otherwise wouldn’t have a lot of enterprise to support itself. Yes, food processing contributes indirectly to environmental costs. But so do a lot of other things. Like charging your cellphone.

Eating has environmental consequences.

We are the ones to blame. But it’s hard building a campaign around that.

People will say that Tyson workers are exploited at $15 per hour. Just heard that this morning from a man on his way from Boston to LA. That’s more than the average wage for a book editor in New York or a young TV news reporter in Des Moines. Just who is getting exploited and by whom?

The messages get all mixed up by the noise machine until we don’t know who we are as Iowans anymore. One side says we are being taken over by Mexicans, so we had better build a wall using food stamp money, while the other side says that hogs are ruining the Gulf of Mexico and that immigrants are being exploited in Storm Lake. You hear it so much it becomes reality. And then it enters the civic conversation.

We used to be a state of friendly hard workers whose main goal was not to spend money, get in wars or offend the neighbors. Offending someone on Facebook has become our state sport. Getting in someone’s face at the caucus is the way to go. Candidates whore at the Iowa Straw Poll, paying voters to get on the bus and eat a corn dog and get off the bus and vote for Mike Huckabee because he plays the bass.

We are told by President Frump that the news is fake. The governor thinks we are in Kansas. They are coming to get your guns, the weekly email says, and a guy somewhere in Iowa is making a nice living sending them out. But nobody’s gun was ever taken or will be.

It’s just the noise.

It gets louder every time until you can’t hear yourself think.

The Iowa caucuses are running this state. We should get behind Missouri. We’re 37th in everything else. We could be Number One in civility and education again if we quit listening to it.