Thursday, July 19, 2012

In Your Dreams, David

David Horsey took a vacation in Montana last week, where he helped herd cattle while on horseback. In his first column back, Horsey writes of the vicissitudes of ranching life in areas gripped by drought and what it portends for the rest of us.

In this well-moistened stretch of hills and prairies near the Canadian border, ranchers can afford to wait. Farther south, though, in Wyoming, Nebraska and east to Kansas and Arkansas, ranchers are being forced to sell off livestock prematurely. The summer’s intense heat and the extended drought have dried up water supplies and broiled the grass. With no way to sustain their herds, the ranchers are selling early, losing $200 to $400 on each head of cattle.

Beef production this year is expected to drop by a billion pounds, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates, and will continue to fall next year. That means consumers will be paying more for their steaks and hamburgers, even as many ranchers lose their livelihood. This comes on top of the wildfires, killer storms and crop failures resulting from extreme weather, so you would think it might be a serious issue that the candidates for president would want to address. If you were to think that, though, you’d be wrong.

Political campaigns are not geared to tackle daunting problems in rational ways. Manufactured issues rise up, only to be replaced in the next news cycle by another trumped-up outrage. Right now, Mitt Romney and President Obama are engaged in a contest to define the other guy as negatively as possible. Romney’s career with Bain Capital and Obama’s alleged cronyism are prime lines of attack. Beef prices, wildfires, weird weather and the climate change that may be causing it are nowhere on their list of talking points. ... just may be that Gore’s warnings about global warming are coming true. Plenty of climate scientists believe we have reached a tipping point and, within a generation or two, new weather patterns will make ranching and farming impossible in many states.

That dire possibility is surely something worthy of reasoned discussion. Yet, with American politics in its current polarized and frivolous state, it would be easier to corral a renegade cow than to make a presidential candidate talk straight about issues that really matter.
[Emphasis added]

And that, David, is why the American electorate has become cynical and lethargic. Citizens see campaigns such as this one as an elaborate shell game, one that they cannot win or benefit from. And that's just the way our owners want it to be.

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