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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

Agriculture

To say that President Joe Biden lost the rural vote is to sugarcoat the dire situation Democrats face out beyond the suburbs. Why? Well, scoff too many lazy politicos and pundits, rural America is indelibly red, filled with white rubes and racists, so Dems should write them off and concentrate resources where the big numbers are.

Aha! Might it be a problem for a political party to dismiss an entire diverse constituency of millions as a block of static numbers in some consulting firm's big-data computers — rather than, say, as human beings to be courted and won over? The national Democratic Party is a myopic, data-driven operation, as was inadvertently admitted two days after the presidential election by Rep. Cheri Bustos, head of the party's congressional campaign arm. According to The New York Times, "'Something went wrong,' Ms. Bustos said, blaming incorrect modeling of the electorate in polling."

Hello ... how about an incorrect understanding of, concern for, and outreach to rural families and communities? They are being crushed by Big Agriculture monopolies, joblessness, artificially low crop prices, farm foreclosures, Wall Street land speculators, corporate exploitation, opioids, public service cutbacks, climate change (floods, droughts, fires, storms), lack of broadband service, out-migration of youth, COVID-19, suicides, and a host of other Biblical-level plagues. Sure, Republican officials are uncaring and push policies that cause and sustain the pain of all the above. But where the hell are Democrats?

Pointing at GOP uglies is not a helping hand, and — let's be blunt — much of the rural electorate now writes off Democrats as aloof Washington-based elites who look down on them and simply don't give a damn about "out there." Even the party's good, responsive candidates and organizers in rural areas are finding it a hard row to hoe to convince farmers, workers, local business people, and other natural allies in the hinterlands that Dems are on their side. After all ... the party of the New Deal has not really been there for them in years.

In 2009, for example, it looked for one brief moment like then-President Barack Obama might stand up and finally bust the beef and pork trusts that openly rip off family farmers and ranchers. Thousands of abused producers testified at field hearings; a real ag reformer was appointed to go after the corporate profiteers; excitement spread across farm country ... and then nothing . Meat monopolists such as Tyson, Smithfield, and JBS shrieked at the White House and the Democratic-controlled Congress, so all of that grassroots testimony was shelved; the reformer resigned in disgust and protest; and the monopolists are now bigger than ever.

Note that rural America is not just about farmers, and it certainly is not monochromatic, for at least 1 in 5 rural voters are people of color — including African American, Latin American, Native American, Asian American, and others. According to Matt Hildreth of RuralOrganizing.org, a third of all new immigrants find work in enclaves far outside our major cities, as we learned last spring when untold numbers of immigrant workers at those same Big Three meat monopolists died after working in COVID-19-infected slaughterhouses. While then-President Donald Trump was the one who sanctioned this, the Democratic establishment did little more than file an objection and avert its eyes.

If Dems don't stand firm for rural people, why would rural people stand for them? As we saw last November, they won't. In fact, the Biden campaign hardly showed up last year. While the party has a rural program on paper, it has little on the ground — it's estimated that People's Action, just one of the great independent progressive groups that work with rural voters, ran a bigger and much more effective rural outreach effort than Biden did. And when the Dems do deign to go to the countryside, they basically assail the GOP but shy from even speaking the name of the real elephant stomping on the rural economy and culture: unbridled corporate power.

If Democrats ever hope to win rural/small-town America (or even to "lose better" — i.e., by smaller margins), that journey begins by literally moving a permanent party presence to the countryside, listening to the diversity of people there, standing with them, and delivering on their needs. We don't have to create a special vehicle to reach them, for a powerful office already exists with enormous authority and resources to help them restore vitality and prosperity: the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

To find out more about Jim Hightower and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators webpage at www.creators.com.

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OK, so you've got to shovel the car out and keep the water faucets dripping. You may need jumper cables to get the fool thing running. Not that you really need to go anywhere.

At least you're not a cattle rancher. Because your country cousins aren't getting much sleep this week. Stubborn beasts that they are, a million cows out in the boondocks are deciding that conditions are just right for giving birth. Ten below, thirty mph winds and driving snow? Perfect.

Of course, it's not really a decision. Back last spring when they were bred, winter seemed far away. Even so, there's nothing like a blizzard to send a cow into labor. Lovely Suzanne, the sweetheart of my small herd, chose just such a February night to deliver her first calf on windswept high ground near the hay ring. I feared that the little heifer, wet from afterbirth, would freeze to death before morning.

Fortunately, the pasture gate was close. So I picked her up, backed out the gate, and kicked it shut. Then I carried her to the barn about 50 yards away. Suzanne anticipated my intentions, ran clear around the barn and was waiting in a stall before we got there. I don't know which surprised me more: her intelligence or her trust. We named calf Violet, and she grew to be the image of her mother, sweet-natured and lovely.

Along with blizzard conditions and the coldest temperatures in 20 years, what got me thinking about Suzanne and Violet was a Facebook post a friend sent me depicting an old boy on the frozen steppes of Oklahoma, wallowing in a hot tub with an Angus calf he'd saved.

Posted by Lacie Lowry, an Oklahoma City TV journalist, at last reading it had drawn 1153 comments, mainly photos of rescued calves in unusual places: laundry rooms, kitchens, snuggling by fireplaces with children and dogs, even the occasional cat. Calves in pickup cabs, calves under hair-dryers, calves wrapped in comforters and blankets, even one calf wearing pajamas. Calves saved by farmers and ranchers all across the blizzard-battered Great Plains.

Trump voters most of them, it's worth remembering if you're an animal-loving Democrat prone to holding grudges. Decent folks, doing their best.

"The thing about cows," my Perry County neighbor Micky Hill once told me, "is they're always planning something." He'd been recounting the saga of the Milk Bandits, half-grown twin heifers who'd taken to stealing their younger siblings' milk.

"Daddy seen them calves was poorly," he said. "They just wasn't growing up right. Then one evening right around dusk, he seen them full-grown heifers sucking on mama cows. Not their own mamas. Other cows."

"So we took and put them in a borrowed pasture by themselves for a few weeks. Sure enough, the calves started thriving. Then come hay-feeding time, so we put them all back in together. Everything was fine for a little bit, but then the calves started looking sickly again."

"So one night Daddy slipped out to the barn after dark. Turned out them two heifers were chasing the Mama cows around until they'd get one cornered. Then they'd each take a side, grab an udder and lift the cow clean off the ground to where she couldn't kick or run away. They'd flat suck her dry in maybe half a minute, and then start in to chasing another one."

"And the thing is," he said "they knew to wait until dark."

The Milk Bandits had earned themselves a one-way trip to the sale barn. Likely somebody wanted them for breeding purposes, but there are no guarantees.

Like all mammals, cows definitely have minds of their own, and complex social lives. Researchers at Sydney University in Australia are just now discovering how complex. Doctoral candidate Alexandra Green has been recording and studying bovine vocalizations. She's catalogued some 333 separate sounds. She can identify individual voices without having to look.

"Ali's research is truly inspired," says her professor. "It is like she is building a Google translate for cows."

So what was I thinking when I sold Violet and her younger brother to a fellow from the next county? Well, that I couldn't let her breed with her father Bernie. She rode off down the road crying out, as they do.

However, by spring, Bernie had worn out his welcome. Trampling fences, fighting other bulls, breeding the neighbor's cows — the usual bull stuff.

Violet's new owner offered to return her as part of Bernie's sale price. Deal! If I live to be 100, I'll never forget Suzanne and Violet's reunion. Mother and daughter spotted each other from a distance as Violet stepped off the trailer. They galloped together, crying out with joy, and remained inseparable for days, nuzzling and licking each other.

I like to cried, as country people say, clearly not tough enough to be a real rancher.