Senator Barack Obama addresses the Rural Summit in Ames, IA, Oct. 27
Photo: Tim Marema

(Editor’s Note: To see what the Republicans were talking about Saturday, check out the Iowa Independent’s coverage of the Reagan Dinner in Des Moines.)

3:20 PM: Obama allows that corn may not be the best feedstock to produce ethanol, suggesting, instead, wood chips, switch grass or pond algae. He says the country needs to figure out how to make money off of food crops. As Obama finishes, he receives a standing ovation.

3:15 PM: Summit participants ask Illinois Sen. Obama about the future of the Social Security program, as they look at the imminent retirement of 78 million baby boomers. “Social Security is not going bankrupt,” Obama told the gathering. “It does have problems. We keep using money that should go in the trust fund going to things like fighting the war in Iraq.” He offered a strained assurance. “The money will be there. The question is whether we are borrowing it from the Chinese.”

His plan is not to cut benefits or raise retirement age, but to raise the ceiling of taxable income. “Most Americans pay Social Security tax on only the first $97,000” of their income. “We need to raise the income threshold on which we tax for Social Security.”

3:11 PM: What about NAFTA (the North America Free Trade Agreement)? Obama wants stronger labor and environmental agreements, ones that are enforceable. He would look at the agricultural sector in NAFTA to see whether there are things that can be improved. He adds, “One of the reasons we have so many Mexican immigrants is that those folks can�t support themselves on the land any more because of our agricultural production and trade policies.”

3:09 PM: Obama is talking about immigration. He says, “We are a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants, and those two things are not imcompatible.” He would like to “create a pathway of legalization” so that immigrants can join unions, get the protection of a minimum wage � to “not undermine U.S. workers but stand side by side with them.” He’s for those who came here illegally to pay a fine, learn English and go to the back of the line leading to citizenship. “But you can’t throw out 12 million people.” The senator gets a big round of applause when he says we need to revise our agriculture policies so the United States doesn’t undermine the economies of the nations that are sending immigrants to this country.

2:59 PM: Obama said if he becomes president he’ll hold a rural summit � not in Washington, DC, but in Iowa. So we have here a summit talking about a summit.

2:58 PM: Sen. Barack Obama is speaking. He runs through the rural platform he released last week. Nothing new here � more about capping ag subsidies.

Former North Carolina Senator John Edwards spoke of rural Americans fighting in Iraq
Photo: Tim Marema

2:30 PM: John Edwards explains what he would do to decrease the income gap between rich and poor Americans.

� Universal healthcare. Most personal bankruptcies are the result of medical bills.

� Make it easier for labor unions to organize workers.

� Change housing policy � give more Section 8 housing vouchers and get these people out into regular neighborhoods, not in areas segregated by economics and race.

� And provide better access to a college education. America should pay for college at a public university or community college for all young people who meet certain requirements and are willing to work part time.

On education, Edwards says he�d like to provide a $15,000 incentive for teachers who will teach in underserved areas such as rural school districts. He�d like to create a national teaching academy � a West Point for education � that would attract the brightest and best from the nation, give them a good education, and send them back to the places where they are needed the most, including rural school districts.

He�s in favor of using the existing anti-trust laws to break up agricultural corporations that are hurting family farmers.

Edwards proposes a moratorium on new confined area feeding operations or CAFOs � the sprawling hog farms that cover parts of the south and midwest. It�s obviously a term Iowans know about, because they applaud when he says it. Edwards says Iowa has lost up to 50,000 hog farmers in recent years because of concentrated feeding operations.

Edwards grew up in rural South Carolina, Georgia, and North Carolina. �The rural way of life is a huge part of who I am.�

It�s a popular day for country of original labeling. Edwards supports �enforcing� country of origin labeling, saying the laws are on the books to label food but that lobbyists have prevented the enforcement of that those laws.

2:10: Sen John Edwards is in the building…. He says, “Rural Americans are dying at a rate disproportionate to the size of their population in the war in Iraq. When I am elected I will end this war, if it hasn’t been ended already.”

2:00 PM: Clinton headquarters releases the senator’s rural platform.

Sen. Clinton

Sen. Hillary Clinton addresses the National Summit on Agriculture and Rural Life, Oct. 27
Photo: Tim Marema

1:30 PM: Clinton said she is a strong supporter of country of origin labeling. �I want to know when I buy an apple that it�s coming from New York, and that it�s not coming from China. Consumers want that right to know where their food comes from.�

From the California group that joined the summit via Generation Engage, the Senator received two questions about urban sprawl and the loss of farmlands to development. �The way to do that isn�t only just taking land out of development but by providing more incentives for more concentrated development in urban areas. � It�s often cheaper to go into a green area and start from scratch. We need to recognize the reality of this and have policies that encourage development in places that have already been developed.�

1:00 PM: Sen. Hillary Clinton is participating in the summit via live hook-up early Saturday afternoon, taking questions from the gathering and from elsewhere around the nation. A voter in Raleigh, North Carolina — a person with a spinal cord injury — asks whether the senator would support stem cell research. “I have said for a long time I want to end the president’s war on science,” Clinton answers. She says that she advocates responsible stem cell research and the separation of politics and science.

Dr. Cornelia Flora, of the North Central Regional Center for Rural Development, spoke on the State of Rural America. Later in the day she asked Senator Hillary Clinton: “What can we do to reduce the fear that sometimes exists in rural areas around immigration issues?” �We�ve got to have comprehensive immigration reform that keeps faith with our history as a nation of immigrants and with the rule of law,� the senator responded. She said she favored a path to legalization that required people who have broken the law to pay fines and back taxes, learn English, and to wait their turn in line behind people who have legally applied for immigration.�

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