The Return of the Bully Pulpit — Obama´s Conservation Initiative

David Cassuto

Children in the United States spend about half as much time outside as their parents did.  Between 1995 – 2020, more land will be converted to housing in the Chesapeake Bay area than in the previous three and a half centuries.  Theodore Roosevelt is one of Barack Obama´s favorite presidents.  And President Obama will likely never shoot a bear.

This is some of the takeway from the launch of the president´s new conservation initiative — an admirable effort to cobble together a coalition of the willing to do something other than bomb other nations.  The idea is to bring federal and  state governments and the private sector together to encourage outdoor recreation, connect wildlife migration corridors and facilitate the sustainable use of private land.  In a time of little available $$ and dwindling public will, this seems like a useful way to refocus the national gaze on the natural world.  Particularly strategic (and true) is the argument that conservation initiatives create rather than cost jobs.     Continue reading

Vilsack Going South on Us

My low expectations for Secretary Vilsack (USDA) were briefly raised with Kathleen Merrigan’s appointment to the #2 spot over there (see post here).  Then I read stuff like this, where Vilsack tells Congress that the “vast, vast, vast majority of farmers who are raising livestock are very sensitive” to the need to be careful about the management of their animals.  When asked about regulating the industry so as to give animals some space, thereby helping prevent disease transmission and perhaps easing the torture which they daily endure, Vilsack replies that the USDA is working with the Food and Drug Administration to ensure “that sound animal management practices are the standard.”

If Dick Cheney were Secretary of Agriculture, I bet he’d sound just like that.

–David Cassuto

Chipping Away at Big Food

This article declaring that red meat leads to a greater risk of death provides a glimpse of the problems the nation faces regarding its approach to food.  As an initial matter, the risk of death for each and every one of us is 100%.  The author obviously meant that meat consumption can lead to an earlier death than one might otherwise expect.  But is that news?  Not for most people.

No, the real question involves how to extricate the nation from the stranglehold of industrial agriculture, which has thrived under a regulatory system that subsidizes its ongoing environmental destruction and brutalization of billions of animals.  Towards that end, there is an interesting piece in the WaPo profiling Dave Murphy, founder of Food Democracy Now!, a grass roots organization working to restore sanity to agriculture.  Perhaps the best thing about Food Democracy Now! is its Iowa base.  When folks in the nation’s midsection speak about the havoc Big Food has wrought on the nation, it is harder to smear them with the taint of elitism.

In addition to fighting CAFOs, FDN also has lobbied hard for a slate of progressive candidates for appointment to the USDA.  One of them, Kathleen Merrigan, was just named to the Department’s #2 spot.  Merrigan, a former professor at Tufts and staffer for Senator Leahy, helped draft the law that recognized organics.  As one blogger put it: While [Michael] Pollan helped put these issues onto the national agenda, people like Merrigan have long been doing the wonky policy work.”  Merrigan’s appointment counts as a significant win (related story here).  Perhaps, Obama’s appointing Tom Vilsack really didn’t constitute a capitulation to Big Food.  Maybe, just maybe, there’s reason to hope.

David Cassuto