Richard Manning’s critiques of Iowa politics [“The Trouble with Iowa,” Report, February] are all too familiar to those of us who live in the state, and many of us agree that deep structural changes are needed. But when it comes to the substance of those changes, some of Manning’s suggestions are as simplistic as those of the politicians.
He notes, for example, that “maybe even raising a few cattle on grass” could reduce waste runoff into Iowa’s rivers. But he hasn’t taken into account the scarcity of farmers who actually know enough about livestock to care for them properly, the infrastructure of fences and wells that would need to be built across the Midwest, or how those who raise and feed the animals would be able to make a decent living. Another idea, altering crop rotations, cannot be accomplished without long-term planning and financial support. Farmers can only sell what others will purchase. If farmers shift from corn and soybeans to cover crops, forages, and alternative grains, they must be able to sell them for a modest profit. This fact explains our governor’s concern about impinging on trade with China, which has been responsible for much of the recent boom in Midwestern agriculture.
Manning theorizes about large-scale schemes, such as restoring wetlands and reengineering tile-drainage systems, but he neglects to mention who will pay for these projects and how farmers are expected to survive in the process. By making these changes sound simple, he betrays either an ignorance of or an arrogance toward the economics of agriculture. Perhaps it is the luxury of being unattached to the land that makes solutions seem easy to him.
Richard Manning responds:
Defining simplicity in these matters does indeed depend on one’s point of view. The methods and technologies to alleviate nitrate and phosphorus pollution in Iowa are spelled out in a comprehensive, field-tested plan by the state agricultural department and Iowa State University and are, in fact, surprisingly simple, literally Dust Bowl–era technologies. But scaling those to cover 24 million acres of cropland in Iowa, not to mention seven or eight more states in the Mississippi watershed, is a staggering task, particularly when one includes details on how one sends a fair bill to each and every farmer. At the same time, we do manage to send a federal subsidy check to virtually every farmer, so the complexity does not seem insurmountable.
I am aware that deciding who pays is a contentious issue in Iowa, but the debate is wrongly cast in the future tense. Residents of cities such as Des Moines — many of them poor, most of them with no financial stake in the state’s agriculture — already pay millions of dollars in extra costs to remove farm pollution. What this existing solution offers in simplicity it lacks in justice.
On the macro scale, though, there is a just solution to who should pay, the exact same solution that has worked in every other polluting industry. That Big Ag can claim and receive a blanket exemption from the simple principle that the polluter ought to pay lies at the very root of the problem.
Clearly Garret Keizer has a different political framework from the Revolutionary Communist Party [“Left of Bernie,” Essay, February]. He wants an “anticapitalist” system that reforms, but doesn’t overturn, capitalism; he says he wants social justice, but he doesn’t want to relinquish U.S. imperialism. He is certainly entitled to his own views, but he shouldn’t distort those held by Bob Avakian and his followers in the party. In his assessment of the R.C.P., Keizer leans heavily on the ruling narrative and conventional wisdom that the Communist revolutions of the twentieth century were no good. This is something addressed in Avakian’s body of work, which critically and scientifically analyzes the achievements and overall secondary shortcomings of these revolutions.
Finally, Keizer asserts that the R.C.P. is a cult. He doesn’t bother trying to make a case for this from the interviews he conducted with me or other party supporters, or from the content of the presentations and exchanges he witnessed and heard. Does the R.C.P. make a big deal about Bob Avakian? Yes. The simple fact is that he is the most advanced theoretician of radical change alive today.
Keizer’s assertion would barely deserve a reply were it not for the anticommunist prejudices it is designed to play on. The snarkiness that he employs is not harmless. It turns people away from Bob Avakian’s work, which holds real answers to the problems that humanity faces. Given the state of the world and the urgent need for radical change, this is irresponsible.
Representative, The Bob Avakian Institute
Although I rely on Wikipedia as much as the next lazy pedant, the fifteen dollars I spent at a Brooklyn stoop sale for a complete, if slightly battered, Fourteenth Edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica remains one of the great bargains of my life. My set is a 1940 — a year older than the one John Crowley owns [“Rule, Britannica,” Easy Chair, February] — but it contains the same very brief treatment of Hitler, along with a much longer entry on Winston Churchill, which concludes: “He left office in September 1929.”
It took me a while to succumb to the brown behemoth’s charms. What chiefly brought me around was Britannica’s unerring instinct for the horse’s mouth: the article on “Psychoanalysis (Freudian school)” is by Freud, the entry on “Photographic Art” by Edward Weston. Henry Wickham Steed, who wrote the entry on “Propaganda,” was the editor of the Times. He also “engaged in Propaganda in enemy countries, 1918.”
D. D. Guttenplan