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Exclusive Video: How Obama Won the Iowa Caucus and What Hillary and Bernie Can Learn From Him

Exclusive Video: How Obama Won the Iowa Caucus and What Hillary and Bernie Can Learn From Him

In a little under a week, Iowa caucus goers will gather in small rooms across the state and talk amongst themselves to select the next leader of the free world. With warnings of terrorist attacks around the globe and talk of a possible economic downturn amidst growing inequity, the stakes couldn’t be higher. Today’s candidates are in the final sprint to win the Iowa caucus goers votes and Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush and Bernie Sanders may want to take a look at how a one-term Senator from Illinois with little experience managed to take the prize the last time around.

It was a little more than 8 years ago that Barack Obama walked on stage in a hotel ballroom in downtown Des Moines in front of 500 Iowa farmers, environmentalists and rural political activists to make his case for why he should be the next president of the U.S.

President Obama campaigns in Iowa in 2008. Photo credit: TushyD / Flickr

That morning, as then Sen. Obama took the stage, his ultimate victory was a long shot. If you can even fathom thinking back to the realities of the late fall in 2007, Obama was considered a rising star in the Senate, but was still a distant third place in the polls in Iowa. On Nov. 10, 2007, when Obama walked to the podium, the media was still salivating over how Hillary Clinton would be the inevitable winner and John Edwards was most likely a lock for second place in Iowa. So much for polls and conventional wisdom.

By the time the day would end however, Obama’s stardom among Iowa Democrats would be launched into the stratosphere after he gave his now famous speech later that evening at the Jefferson Jackson Dinner, which campaign adviser David Axelrod called “the seminal event” for Obama on the ground in Iowa during the 2007 caucus.

As someone who witnessed Obama’s famous 2007 Jefferson Jackson speech, I can promise you that his speech that night in front of Iowa’s most active Democrats was what finally helped cinch my vote for him. I’d spent months following all the other candidates and working with each of their staff to promote sustainable food and agricultural policies to their campaigns and like many Iowans, I was still uncertain at that point, less than two months away from the Iowa caucus.

But my support for Obama that year finally came about because of the promises he made to Iowa farmers earlier that same day at an event that I organized called the 2007 Food and Family Farm Presidential Summit, hosted by the Iowa Farmers Union and the National Farmers Union, two progressive farm organizations that tried to provide a much needed counter balance to the political muscle of agribusiness front groups like Farm Bureau, National Corn Growers Association, National Pork Producers etc. that all pretended to work in farmers’ interests, but in reality represented the worst corporate abusers that rigged public policies against real family farmers and were slowly and inevitably working to grind them out of business forever.

Many of the farmers in the audience planted GMO crops or used chemical fertilizers and pesticides on conventional non-GMO hybrids, but they were fiercely opposed to the ever increasing consolidation in the food and agricultural sectors, which not only creates a massively unjust economic playing field for small and mid-sized family farmers, but also the growing trend of factory farms, which had sprung up across Iowa in the previous decade by the thousands and had already resulted in the loss of more than 72 percent of the state’s hog farms, which had until only very recently served as economic backbone of rural Iowa.

After barely surviving the Farm Crisis of the 1980s, these farmers were rushed headlong into the buzz saw of industrial agriculture as a result of bad public policies, that consolidated power and economic market share during the 20 years of the Bush and Clinton administrations, which mirrored the consolidation of power of corporate America, where small coffee shops, book stores and corner stores disappeared only to be replaced by Wal-Mart, the Death Star of rural America and other big box giants.

In many ways, Obama really was the first major politician to talk about the food, farm and environmental movements in a cohesive and meaningful way. He not only knew the dangers of industrial agriculture, but he wanted to chart a different path. It was clear to everyone in the room, that while Bill Clinton might have felt their pain, Obama knew exactly what caused it.

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And Obama immediately had every farmer’s attention when he opened his speech with what can only be considered political manna with a pledge to be a different kind of politician from the type who made big promises during the campaign but shut them out once they got their vote—something Iowa farmers are all too familiar with.

“Because for far too long, you’ve had to listen to politicians tell you one thing out on the campaign trail and then close the door and do another thing in Washington when they make rural policy. You’re sending your message, but sometimes you can’t get through because there’s a lobbyist who’s already in line,” pledged candidate Obama.

Obama’s promise that day fell on welcome ears, especially for the farmers and environmentalists in the room who had fought against Farm Bureau and the Pork Producers for the past 15 plus years and were tired of watching elected officials from both parties abandon them when it came time to pass a law to protect Iowa’s family farmers, their drinking water and the environment.

“So when I hear other candidates say they’ll stand up to the special interests on the issues that matter to you —like CAFO’s —I’m reminded that the test of leadership isn’t what you say, it’s what you do. Voting records matter. And unlike other candidates who have changed their position on CAFO’s, I look at this issue as a matter of principle, not politics,” candidate Obama said.

Obama’s statement was a not so subtle jab at both John Edwards, who had voted with agribusiness and against a Packer Ban on livestock ownership by giant meat cartels during his one term in the U.S. Senate and Hillary Clinton, whose ties to Tyson Foods, the factory farm chicken giant from Arkansas, which were well known by all Iowa farmers and environmentalists.

But Obama really won Iowa not only because he promised a different kind of politics, but his campaign also took the time to listen to the concerns of average Iowan farmers and make them a part of his campaign platform. And for a farmer, what matters more to them than anything is making sure that as they work to grow food for other people, they can also make a living to put food on their own family’s table as well.

“For an expensive steak, a small farmer gets less than a dollar. For a loaf of bread, it’s a dime. That’s what happens when rural policy gets made in backrooms with lobbyists in Washington.

That’s what I’ll fight to change from my first day in office. And that’s what my rural agenda is all about. Leadership that finally works for rural Americans, not well-connected lobbyists.”

Obama’s lede in here couldn’t be more perfect, honing in on the economic betrayals farmers had faced in the marketplace and state capitols over and over again, setting the stage of betrayal in DC (only by his opponents of course) and then letting these farmers know what he was really ready to do if he was actually elected president.

“Here’s what I’ll do as President. I’ll immediately implement Country of Origin Labeling because Americans should know where their food comes from. And we’ll let folks know whether their food has been genetically modified because Americans should know what they’re buying. And I’ll use the bully pulpit to encourage folks to buy local because it’s better for the environment, it’s better for our farmers and it’s healthier for Americans. And we’ll stand up against conglomeration in the farm industry. That’s what I’m doing today by supporting the Packer Ban.”

Ironically, Obama received the biggest round of applause that day when he promised to honor the need for transparency in the food supply. And while the issue of Country of Origin Labeling or COOL was a hot topic at the time due to the 2007 Farm Bill fight, labeling genetically engineered food was not on any political radar at the time like it is now just 8 years later.

Today the politics of labeling GMOs is a white hot political issue, which has been pounded into a fever pitch with four ballot initiatives in the past 3 years, including California, Washington, Colorado and Oregon and the passage of three bills in Maine, Connecticut and Vermont and is currently boiling over with a major fight against biotech, chemical and America’s major food companies in Washington DC, who have for the past year been trying to pass a bill that would preempt state’s rights to label genetically engineered foods, something they already done in 64 other countries around the world.

For the most part, the White House has been mum on the issue, but I’ve been assured they’re well aware of the 1-minute clip of Obama’s 2007 campaign promise to label GMOs that I released at Food Democracy Now! in 2011 to support a Center for Food Safety petition to the Food and Drug Administration to require mandatory disclosure of GMOs in America’s food supply.

In reality, Obama’s speech that day 8 years ago and the progressive food and farming Rural Agenda that he pledged to Iowan farmers during the 2008 Iowa caucus launched the birth of the modern GMO labeling movement and catapulted the rise of the food movement during the past 7 years of his administration.

Today, I’m releasing this never before seen 14 minute video to help remind this administration of the pledges Obama made to Iowa farmers on the road to his remarkable 2008 Iowa caucus victory and in the hopes that it can inform our next president and their staff about what is really at stake in this election for America’s farmers and rural America and all our nation’s consumers no matter where they live.

Yeah, that’s right, Barack Obama promised to label GMOs in front of Iowa farmers and he won the Iowa caucus! This might be a time for other candidates to step up their game to stand for what’s good for the average American voter versus what’s good for corporate agribusiness’s bottom line. History is littered with candidates who can’t connect on the issues that really matter. I certainly hope there are some smart campaign staff talking sense to The Donald, Rubio, Cruz, Hillary and Bernie before caucus night, because Iowa voters have heard it all before and they have a pretty good sense of who might actually be able to make those campaign promises come a reality.

They say all politics is local, well there’s nothing more local than your stomach or the politics of food. Today’s politicians better realize that the food movement is coming for them, whether they realize it or not.


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A net-casting ogre-faced spider. CBG Photography Group, Centre for Biodiversity Genomics / CC BY-SA 3.0

Just in time for Halloween, scientists at Cornell University have published some frightening research, especially if you're an insect!

The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.

"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."

The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.

They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.

They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.

But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.

"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.

What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.

It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.

To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.

First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.

Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.

University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.

"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."

Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.

Hoy agreed.

"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.


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