Political Nerd Trifecta

I can’t stop grinning. If ever I have had a glimpse of political nerd nirvana it was today. Here’s the run down:
1)Went with my BFF to see the Magna Carta exhibition at the British Library. Wonderful! This year is the 800th anniversary of this ground-breaking document. The exhibit gives a great, detailed history of the document that is, after all, credited with being the foundation of democracies around the world. It was inspired by what passed for a populist uprising in those days. The Barons were sick and tired of King John taxing them to death to pay for ill advised wars. (Something of a familiar ring? We just need the uprising now.) This includes our own, somewhat tattered, democracy back across the pond in the good old U S of A. In fact, in the exhibit was Thomas Jefferson’s own copy of the Declaration of Independence and an original of our Bill of Rights. The main themes of the Magna Carta, that have carried on down through the ages, are the idea that no person can be deprived of liberty or property without due recourse to the law including a jury of their peers. Freedom of the Press and habeas corpus were also credited as ideas that came from the subsequent versions of the charter.

2)The second great event of my day was something that just came along serendipitously. As we pulled into London yesterday on the train I noticed a poster for the annual “State of London Debate.” An event where the Mayor of London gets up on stage with a presenter from LBC (Leading Britain’s Conversation, a radio station) and debates the state of the city. Mostly taking questions from the audience. The tickets were free and, other than having to get myself from one side of London to the other on the underground, it looked like a great evenings entertainment. And it was! Boris Johnson (the Mayor) and Nick Ferrari (the presenter) were obviously old pals and they gave the audience at the Indigo at the O2 a great show! The questions from the audience seemed to be mostly about transportation issues. Taxis versus Uber. New Underground lines. Where to expand the airport. But the Mayor came across as a (somewhat) populist, free-market conservative if there is such a thing. I sat next to a very nice woman from the East End who filled me in on all the details of a city that she professed to love very much. The audience was lively and held the Mayor’s feet to the fire a couple of times mostly on housing issues. A good time was had by all. But wait, that is not the kicker of the evening. I got on “the tube” to go home and was talking to another really nice woman about the evening when she said “there he is now.” I turned around and there was Mr. Johnson himself riding the Underground on his way home. “A man of the people.” My new companion said. He held court a bit with his handlers surrounding him and lo and behold got off at my stop. Well, you know me I could not miss that opportunity. “Mr. Johnson.” quoth I. He turned. “I came all the way from the states to hear you tonite.” He shook my hand. “You’re joking.” He said. “Yes.” said I “but I really enjoyed the evening.” “Thanks,” He said “Where are you from in the States?” “Maine.” “Oh, that’s beautiful.” said one of his handlers. “Yes, it is. Anyhow really enjoyed the evening.” “So glad.” He said, put on his bike helmet and was off. 

3)Came back to my beautiful little hotel in Kensington and turned on my computer to see that Jill Stein of the Green Party announced her entry into the Presidential race for 2016 yesterday. A truly populist candidate taking NO CORPORATE MONEY!!!! My day was complete.   

Is Populism Making a Comeback

Several years ago I started writing this blog and decided to call it The Populist Farmer in honor of a movement from over a century ago that I thought had a lot of things right.   They were against big monopolies and for the small farmer.   A stance that I spend a lot of  time in Augusta supporting.  They were among the first national movements to recognize the leadership and contributions of women.   Definitely ahead of their time.

Well it seems that the big pols have figured out that this is a good frame on which to hang all their garbage.  In an attempt to once again bamboozle the electorate.   Don’t be fooled folks,  the closest thing we have to a populist in the race for the White House right  now is Bernie Sanders.   But stay tuned, Jill Stein is about to throw her hat in the ring.

In the meantime read this nice little piece that appeared in YES! Magazine recently.

Is Populism Making a Comeback? What You Need to Know About Its History—And Its Future

  
The 19th century populists gave us co-ops and workers’ rights. Here’s how we can build on their work to solve 21st century problems.

Fran Korten posted June 02, 2015

You may have noticed. In our political discourse, suddenly the term “populism” is everywhere.

In April, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid joined 5,000 other political leaders in a call to make “big, bold, economic-populist ideas” the center of the 2016 presidential campaign. Outlets as disparate as The New York Times, The Nation, Time, and Fox News apply the label to politicians across the political spectrum.

Elizabeth Warren, known for her fiery critiques of Wall Street, is termed a populist. Hillary Clinton has a new-found interest in economic populism; Bernie Sanders has long worn the label. Even right-wing firebrand Ted Cruz gets the label, and Bobby Jindal applies it to himself. As Robert Borosage, head of the Campaign for America’s Future, put it, “We live in a populist moment.”

The term populist harkens back to the movement that formed in the 1880s in response to the extremes of wealth and power in the Gilded Age. As Lawrence Goodwyn describes in his book The Populist Moment, farmers found themselves in perpetual debt at the hands of local merchants and corporate monopolies. Many lost their land. They decried the concentrated wealth of the banks and big business and advocated policies that favored working people over the elites. Millions were attracted by the idea of forming cooperatives where they could buy goods and sell their produce at fair prices.

By 1892, the movement had broadened to include urban workers and became the People’s Party. At their founding convention, they enthusiastically embraced a platform that included a progressive income tax, the secret ballot, direct election of senators, the right of citizens to create initiatives and referenda, shorter hours for workers, antitrust legislation, postal savings banks, and shifting the power to create money from bankers to government.
  
In the 1896 presidential race, the People’s Party made common cause with William Jennings Bryan, the Democratic nominee. Bryan was defeated, and it looked like the populists had lost.

In fact, their ideas were only beginning to take hold. The next three decades saw much of their 1892 platform enacted. Their hope for cooperatives flowered in much of the Midwest. But they didn’t get everything they hoped for and they didn’t break the bankers’ hold on creating money.

Since the heyday of populism, many of its policies have been watered down and the flood of money in politics has eviscerated the effects of others. Now, the concentration of wealth and power is much like that of the Gilded Age. Americans are again awash in debt.

So we should not be surprised that populist ideas are making a comeback. We hear those ideas in the Occupy movement’s demands to rein in Wall Street and rectify our country’s extreme inequality. We see them in the grassroots opposition to the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision that allows corporations to spend at will on our political process. And they are echoed by the millions mobilizing for a $15-an-hour minimum wage. The dangers of concentrated wealth and power have once again captured the public imagination.

The prospect of enacting a populist agenda is daunting. The power of Wall Street banks, giant oil companies, big pharma, and big ag seems overwhelming.

But the original populists also faced daunting challenges—cotton monopolies, Standard Oil, the railroads, and a financial system rigged against them. They came together, learned the issues, and shaped the nation. Now it is our turn to advance the populist call for economic fairness, real democracy, and a dignified life for all.

Fran Korten wrote this article for Make It Right, the Summer 2015 issue of YES! Magazine. Fran is publisher of YES! Magazine.

We are Winning

  There is a famous quote from Gandhi that goes: First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win. Well, I am here today to tell you good people that we are winning.

When the Maine State Legislature considers and the Agriculture committee passes several bills that reinforce the rights of farmers to sell their goods face-to-face with their patrons. We are winning.

When Joel Salatin, a hero of the food sovereignty movement, flies in from Virginia for the day to testify to our Legislators in favor of a state constitutional amendment establishing the people’s inalienable right to food. We are winning.

When 13 towns, and counting, in the state have passed the Local Food and Community Self-Governance Ordinance. Reinforcing the right of people to participate in traditional food-ways. We are winning.

When the average age of farmers in Maine continues to fall and farmers from around the country are moving to Maine because of the great work they see us doing to rebuild the local food infrastructure. We are winning.

When two of the largest employers in central Maine, Fedco and Johnny’s, are organic seed companies. We are winning.

When the number of food cooperatives in the state more than doubles in less than five years. We are winning.

When we succeed in shortening the food chain because of a four times increase in the number of farmers markets, the rapid growth of the Community Supported Agriculture movement, food hubs and wonderful distributors like Crown of Maine Organic Cooperative. We are winning.

When the FDA becomes so concerned about the local food rights movement in our state that they not only send Mr. Monsanto himself, Michael Taylor, to speak to farmers in Maine but they also open a third field office in a state of 1.3 million people. We are winning.

When national organizations like National Family Farm Coalition, The Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund, Food and Water Watch and the Organic Consumers Association are so impressed with the progress we are making in Maine that they offer logistical and financial help to further our work. We are winning.

When the national headquarters for the Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association is in our state. We are winning.

When John Oliver spends a whole segment of Last Week Tonite excoriating the way contract chicken farmers are used and abused by the big poultry processing companies like Tyson. And his New York City audience reacts with horror. We are winning.

When Neil Young records a whole album of pro-farmer, anti-Monsanto songs, “The Monsanto Years”. We are winning.

When the deal to buy Syngenta, a deal that would have further consolidated the ownership of the world’s seed-stock into Monsanto’s hands, falls through. We are winning.

We are blessed to be living in a state with a strong agricultural tradition supported by the 11,000 members of the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association and small, nimble non-profits like Food for Maine’s Future and Local Food Rules. A state that may well be one of the climate change winners as far as access to water and arable land goes. A state with a long, and recent, tradition of activism, self-governance, and self-sufficiency.

We are winning folks.   

Congratulations.

Down in the Papaya Republic

  We have been working very, very hard in the Maine State Legislature this session to get some good, local-food-rights bills passed.   Several have been proposed and finally on Tuesday we had some good news.  Three of those bills were voted out of committee Ought to Pass.   The following is a transcript of the testimony I presented about these bills and the Right to Food constitutional amendment that had been proposed.   It is a personal story that seemed to touch many in the audience.   I fed the papaya and the cheese puffs to the committee afterwards.

“Good afternoon Senator Edgecomb, Representative Hickman and distinguished members of the committee.   As you all know by now I am Betsy Garrold from Knox and I represent Food for Maine’s Future, Local Food Rules and The Farm-to-Consumer Defense Fund.  I come here today to speak in favor of this afternoon’s collection of local food bills.

Today I am going to tell you a story.   I brought props.   In the early 1990’s I was a Lieutenant in the United States Public Health Service stationed in a place we fondly called the Papaya Republic.   The Republic of the Marshall Islands is a small nation in the middle of the Pacific.   A tropical paradise filled with coconut, banana, papaya, breadfruit, and pandanus trees; a lagoon teaming with fish; small family gardens scattered here and there around the island.

While I was there I helped the World Health Organization conduct a childhood nutrition survey that revealed that thirty percent of our children were stunted and underweight.    In other words chronically malnourished.   This was not a huge surprise but it lent us weight as we worked to start several programs to combat that blight.   I ran kitchen garden programs with the horticulture students at the college at which I taught.    I wrote a white paper for the Nitijela (the local legislature) on the need to foster breastfeeding.   This lead to National Breastfeeding Week with educational programs and celebrations across the islands.   I filmed, with the Peace Corp volunteers on the island, an educational video about breastfeeding and child-spacing.   But my favorite programs was childhood nutrition education in the elementary schools around the nation.

I would go into elementary classrooms and hold up two things.   In one hand a papaya.  Fresh whole, local food.   Not shipped in on barges.   Growing in the sunshine and ocean breezes.   In the other hand I would hold up a shiny package of cheese puffs.   Definitely not healthy and having been shipped in from the mainland United States on a huge container ship.  I would say to the children,  “Which is healthier for you?   Which is better food?”  

Invariably they would choose the cheese puffs.   But their reasoning was based on different causes then you might think.   They thought that anything that came in a shiny package from the store, and had come over the ocean from the United States must be better for you.    Must be nutritious and healthy.   Shiny packages can never steer you wrong, right?

This always lead to a lively discussion about whole foods versus processed foods.   Local food versus imported food.   Fruit versus cheesy puffs.   By the end of the hour when I opened both packages, cutting open the papaya and opening the bag of puffs the children usually made the right choice and went for the papaya first.

So what is my point?   I would like the committee vote for local food versus manufactured, over- proceed food.    Whole food versus junk food.    I would like the committee to vote the way the school children in the Marshall’s finally did.   Supporting our local, healthy food producers and farmers with their vote for these bills that support the work they do to feed us all.

Thank you for your time.”

Is a Whisper Better than a Shout?

 

 So I went down to the legislature yesterday and had one of my more interesting days at our state capitol.    I was there to testify on LD 785 more about that later.   In fact that rather good hearing was just the jam in this sandwich of a day in Augusta.  I started the day headed for the Clerk of the House’s office to make sure there were no loose ends after our Rally of Unity in the Hall of Flags on Monday.   As I walked up the marble stairs the volume of chatter from the Hall of Flags was deafening.   It was the Maine State Realtor’s Association lobby day.   The Hall  was packed and they were serving what looked like a very nice lunch.  Oh, what money can buy.  I wondered through the crowd looking for familiar faces and just sizing up the event.   Impressive scene and I’m sure the legislators were impressed.

I continued up the stairs and ran into my friend Hillary Lister who was there to lobby on some medicinal marijuana bills.   Including one that was being heard on the fourth floor in the plethora of bills having hearings that day around gun owner rights.   I looked up into the rotunda and saw it ringed with stern looking men who were there to voice what they see as their second amendments rights.  Later in the day, after I had attended the public hearing on 785, I wondered back over to the Statehouse and spoke with some friends who were also there for the marijuana bills.    I was trying to find out where the gun bills were being heard.   I was told that they were being heard throughout the Statehouse because the crowd was so beyond capacity that they were being piped into the Hall of Flags (the realtors were long gone) and the visitor’s center.  Also that no one was being allowed into the hearing room unless you were on the testimony list and there were armed guards stationed outside the door.   This I had to see.   Making my way to the fourth floor I encountered the same, or very similar, group of grim faced men standing outside the hearing room and, sure enough, armed guards at the door.   A big sign read “If you are not on the list to testify please go listen in the visitor’s center”  or words to that effect.   At the visitor’s center it was SRO with the grim faced men but a couple of babies and young women thrown in for variety.    Another impressive scene.   And again, I am sure the legislators were impressed.  But this time because of the passion of these folks for their guns.
Money and passion.   These are the two things that drive legislation.   And it got me thinking about the machinations of government.   Especially as those machinations chew up and spit out the little guy.    The bill I was there to testify about was, at its core, about transparency in government.    Here is my testimony:
“Senator Whittemore, Representative Martin, distinguished members of the Joint Standing Committee on State and Local Government.   My name is Betsy Garrold, I live in Knox, Maine and represent The Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund, a national organization that seeks to protect the constitutional right of the nation’s family farms and artisan food producers to provide processed and unprocessed farm foods directly to consumers through any legal means, protect the constitutional right of consumers to obtain unprocessed and processed foods directly from family farms and artisan food producers and protect the nation’s family farms and artisan food producers from harassment by federal, state, and local government interference with food production and/or food processing.

I come here today to speak in favor of LD 785 An Act To Provide for Legislative Review of Federally Mandated Major Substantive Rules under the Maine Administrative Procedure Act.  The constitution of the State of Maine asserts in Article One, Section Two that “all power is inherent in the people; all free governments are founded in their authority and instituted for their benefit; they have therefore an unalienable and indefeasible right to institute government, and to alter, reform, or totally change the same, when their safety and happiness require it.”
In order for the people of Maine to exercise their rights they must have free and open access to the workings of the government.   As it stands now we do have access to the legislative branch and can seek to have enacted those laws that make sense and follow what is actually happening out in the real world.   However, once those laws have been passed they are gobbled up by the various state departments and once chewed over and digested by those departments, out of sight of public scrutiny, the rules are regurgitated onto the public with no oversight by the legislators that passed the law or by the citizens.   The rules then descend on the citizens and attempt to dictate their lives without any input from the citizenry into what those rules contain.  
This is wrong.   Democracy is meant to be transparent.   As they say sunlight is the best disinfectant.   What we are asking for here is to have a little light shed into the dark recesses of the rule-making process in the form of public legislative hearings.   No mandates should be passed without the scrutiny of those affected by those rules, regulations and laws.
Please send this bill to the floor with a unanimous ought to pass vote and protect the rights of the citizens of Maine to know what their government is doing.
Thank you for your time.”
So sunlight and citizen participation.   That is what we in our quiet little corner of the legislature were asking for yesterday.   While the realtors made their presence felt with cash and the gun owners made theirs felt with overwhelming numbers we were working in the background to make sure that it is not all for show.   That the flashy lunches and huge crowds that sway the legislative machine are not all for naught.   When the people of Maine speak they can be heard.   But the bureaucrats working in the background are the real center of power and they need to be reined in.   So with no crowd and no fancy lunch we made our case for better oversight.   We can only hope that our whisper is better than a shout.

Update:  LD 785 got voted out of the State and Local Government committee unanimously Ought Not To Pass.  The feeling among the supporters of this bill was that the committee just did not understand teh issue or how the bill would correct it.   We will try again next legislature.  Maybe next time we will have to speak a little louder.

My WordPress Anniversary

It has been a busy week.   Turning 60 years old.  Trying to turn back the tide of corporate take over of our food supply.   Continuing the battle against this un-ending winter.

I have had a couple of ideas for posts rattling around in my brain pan for awhile.   One is concerning the populist ideal of frugal comfort for everyone.   I really like that concept and think it deserves more time than I am able to give it right now so I will instead talk about real milk for a minute.



I bought this milk in JANUARY and according to the large stamp at the top of the package it would have been no longer fit to drink as of tomorrow.   Of course the milk itself is long gone.   It was a stop gap that I bought because I could not get to my raw milk supplier that particular week.   Can’t remember why.  Snow, maybe?   

Anyhow my point is that this is not the real, live, uber-nourishing food that milk is supposed to be.   It is a vague facsimile created to meet the needs of an over industrialized food system.   Pasteurization was adopted by the dairy industry in an effort to disguise the bad conditions under which milk was being produced in the late 1800’s.  Milk cows were kept in what were known as confinement dairies.   These sprang up next to distilleries as a way to dispose of their waste grains.  A physician who was very concerned with this practice (Dr. Coit) is quoted as having said “They can’t hide bad practices with processing.”   The dairy industry subsequently pushed for pasteurization as a cure all because they serendipitously discovered that it increased shelf life and therefore they could ship it further and sell more.   Especially in urban areas.

So be careful of the motives of folks who are trying to convince you that real milk (sometimes called raw milk) is dangerous and bad for you and will lead to the downfall of western civilization as we know it.

OpEd Published in the Bangor Daily News Last Week



Fast Track trade authority will hurt Maine’s small farms

By Betsy Garrold, Special to the BDN

Posted March 05, 2015, at 11:30 a.m. 

In a Feb. 24 BDN OpEd, Virginia Manuel, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development state director for Maine, stated that rural economies needed “trade promotion authority” in order to “compete on a level playing field” when it comes to international trade and export of U.S.-grown food and manufactured goods. As the North American Free Trade Agreement, the Central American Free Trade Agreement and the World Trade Organization have proven, this is pretty far from the facts on the ground — unless your idea of a level playing field is one that is dirty, polluted and economically ravaged.

The background for this discussion is the impending abdication of Congress of its constitutional authority to oversee all foreign trade deals. Trade Promotion Authority, also called Fast Track, would give President Barack Obama overarching authority to sign trade deals with little congressional oversight, something a constitutional scholar such as himself should know is not at all what our founders had in mind.

What does this mean for small farmers? We know about the devastation of the manufacturing base in the American Midwest after the above mentioned trade deals took effect. Companies scurried to move their plants to places with lower standards of living, loose or non-existent environmental protections and no history of organized labor protecting poorly paid workers. If this is what we want for our small family farms, then by all means let’s sign the Trans Pacific Partnership and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, both of which, like NAFTA and CAFTA, gut our own sovereign courts’ ability to defend our soil, water, air and workers from abusive lawsuits brought by multinational corporations. These lawsuits are not decided in a U.S. court of law but by an international tribunal composed of three judges looking only at the trade rules for their decision.

In a May 2013 article on food imports to the U.S., Public Citizen’s trade watchdog stated, “Smaller-scale U.S. family farms have been hardest hit by the import influx caused by deals like NAFTA and the WTO. About 170,000 small U.S. family farms have gone under since NAFTA and the WTO took effect, a 21 percent decrease in the total number. After the WTO required elimination of various U.S. price support and supply management policies, small farmers were also hard-pressed to survive the increasing year-to-year volatility in prices paid for commodities, making investment and planning more difficult than before the WTO.”

The National Family Farm Coalition is watching these trade deals closely and has reported on the Obama administration’s aggressive push for Fast Track trade authority.

Small farmers across the country are organizing to tell Congress that what may be good for big agribusiness firms is definitely not good for struggling, small family farms across the country. Here in Maine we are fortunate to have a young, vibrant group of farmers who are working to grow food, rebuild the local food infrastructure and feed the people of Maine. Their livelihood does not depend on exports, but they are subject to the same vagaries that affect small-scale farmers everywhere. If the market becomes flooded with cheap imported food of questionable quality, they may well find it impossible to compete and will leave the land, just as countless others have been forced to do from Iowa to Chiapas.

Again from Public Citizen, “U.S. corn exports to Mexico in the three years after NAFTA soared 377 percent above the level in the three years before the deal. In 2013, the United States exported 26 times as much corn to Mexico as before NAFTA. But when the flood of U.S. corn in Mexico caused corn prices to plummet 66 percent for Mexican farmers, 2.5 million farmers and agricultural workers in Mexico lost their livelihoods, many of whom resorted to migration. In NAFTA’s first seven years, the annual number of people emigrating from Mexico to the United States more than doubled.”

Talk about unintended consequences.

The same thing would happen to Maine growers as cheap and questionable “organic” food floods the market from China. We must protect our family farms and help them grow their businesses to keep the rural economy growing and supporting all the people who live and work in towns and villages across the state and the nation.

Betsy Garrold is the president of the board of directors for Food for Maine’s Future. She monitors the Maine Citizen Trade Policy Commission for that organization. She also serves on the executive committee for the National Family Farm Coalition and lobbies in Augusta for the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund. She can be reached at hgarrold@yahoo.com or 568-3302.

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