Thursday, February 24, 2011

How much of your food cost is political?

In a recent edition of the Modesto Bee, Victor Davis Hanson asks the question another way.
In times of massive deficits, why are we borrowing millions to subsidize profitable agri- business?
It really becomes very clear what is happening when you scrape away the political rhetoric and look at who is giving thanks for their bounty and who does not reap that harvest. Of all the commodity crops (corn, soy, wheat, sugar, cotton) corn most clearly illustrates exactly how we are all getting the shaft. According to Hanson:
Corn reserves are at their lowest point in 15 years, as prices skyrocketed nearly 70 percent in almost one year. Escalating world wheat prices have caused unrest in the Middle East. Soy, dairy and meat prices are likewise reaching record levels. In other words, a growing world population, increased affluence abroad and demands for higher- priced meats and vegetables, and diversion of prime cropland for biofuel from Europe to Brazil — in perfect-storm fashion — have made food a lucrative business.
Hanson does not even address the most distressing fact concerning corn.  As the US Government moves to increase the amount of ethanol in our transportation fuel, an increasing amount of our crop is being diverted to fuel rather than food. Climate blogger, Joseph Romm, never a fan of ethanol, was petty clear about this today, but with more moral indignation that Hanson managed to convey.
In a world of blatantly increasing food insecurity — driven by population, dietary trends, rising oil prices, and growing climate instability — America’s  policy of burning one third of our corn crop in our engines (soon to be 37% or more) is becoming increasingly untenable, if not unconscionable.
I have written about the problems with commodity subsidies before: here, here and here (with Wisconsin's Jill Bussierer).

Now we have a Republican controlled House of Representative, with a large number of Republican Senators from the very states that grow most of our corn. Kari Hamerschlag, Sr. Analyst at the Environmental Working Group sent out an email about the EWG's Farm Subsidy Database in which she makes the point that the benefits go to a very few. Then concludes her letter by pointing out that we need a new agricultural policy.
In a time of large federal deficits, the agricultural budget is a zero-sum game. Every dollar that goes into wasteful, inequitable programs cannot be committed to solving serious environmental problems, promoting local and sustainable organic food systems, increasing access to healthy foods, or building new opportunities for beginning and minority farmers. A better strategy is needed to help growers and ranchers of all sizes, sectors and regions cope with the myriad challenges facing agriculture.
That is pretty much what Hanson was saying in the Mod Bee OpEd linked above. It seems to me that there is a need for someone who can challenge the status quo of our gerrymandered Central Valley congressional districts, someone who can talk about getting the waste out of Federal Budget, who can talk about putting people to work on their own land; someone who can extol the advantages of decentralizing power back to the local government, someone who knows what farmers have known for millennia, that if you take care of the land, the land will take care of you.

That sounds to me like a Green.

Monday, February 21, 2011

POINT: Madison, Greens and Public Education

This is yet another moment in time when the status quo is being challenged. As Greens we have the obligation to support the emerging vision of peoples in the US and in countries around the world. History has taught us what works and what doesn’t; what’s change and what’s a historical continuum of previously existing paradigms. So some things we can rule out for the future- we can rule out caliphates; we can rule out bureaucratic statism; we can rule out totalitarianism; we can rule out theocracy. When we shift our vision from the telescope of the world with the universe of peoples and places in motion, to the microscope of our own backyard, we can proceed as leaders who present new options and paint new alternatives on the political canvas.

Such is the case of public employees in the United States and the current movement in Madison, Wisconsin. At the heart of the issue is the issue evolved from the Industrial Revolution of union shop vs. open shop. As a disclaimer, I should add that I have been a public employee for most of my life. I have worked in open shops in a “right-to-work” state (New Mexico) for most of that time or in a non-union financial institution. It’s not the hell that it is represented to be. Although, if I really thought that the union leadership would ever be sincere about workers’ rights, I might even hop on the bandwagon of supporting the union shop. I do have scars from the experience that could have been avoided.

I am used to not being in unions while others are. Years ago, I worked in the Northeast in union factory production work and actively engaged union members to oppose plant closings and protect pensions of those who were being displaced. The plants closed while the leadership of the local AFL-CIO refused to initiate any action to address our concerns and the Rust Belt became history throwing thousands like myself out of work. As an aside, there have been times throughout my employment at different places when I sought support to organize a union at my place of work. The irony is that the union organizers who I contacted presented the same reasons to me as the boss as to why they couldn’t organize. Workers’ rights are NOT secured under the two party duopoly.

Greens have a particular need to address issues with an understanding of structural reform that we are presenting to voters. We are not just advocating for policies on one side of the current political debate. We are here to present a real alternative of governance that goes beyond existing bureaucracy and governmental entities. In New Mexico, Greens supported emerging models of education, as public schools repeatedly showed an inability to improve student performance and achievement. There is no emerging example that has demonstrated a consistent record to date. That doesn’t mean we can’t support homeschooling or charter schools. Neither does it mean we are trying to dismantle the entire public education system as some advocate. We know that urban schools are not working and new options are needed to give students a chance. We know there is educational injustice against minorities in urban schools.

Back to Madison. The teachers are right to support a union shop. They do face an uphill battle, as so few people in this nation even know what a union shop is today. And fewer are willing to switch their own position with that of teachers in this nation. The demonstrations are large and significant in expressing their resolve not to become a “right-to-work” state. And that is the focus of the battle. From the scenes of the mass demonstrations it is obvious how adamant teachers in Wisconsin are. Three realities they confront today that they might not have faced in other times. 1. The recession and unemployment has created budget crises in numerous states throughout the U.S. 2. The failure of the public education system as it exists to improve student achievement levels impacts on public opinion. 3. The low percentage of union workers in the US and the conflict between state and city budgets and state employee benefits of public employees.

From all appearances, there is much public support within Wisconsin as the public school system has demonstrated a strong record of student performance. Wisconsin fourth grade science scores were not significantly above the national average of scores in 2009, but they were higher than the national average in 8th grade science. See also NEA state stats regarding public education financing: . This year these students may face an extended school year this summer as a result of the strike of teachers against the bill before the State Legislature.

Democrats want us to fight each other to polarize public opinion and are playing their hands as anyone would in a power struggle. The actions of Democrats in the State Senate DO NOT represent the interests of teachers or other workers in Wisconsin. There are many questions in regards to the motives of the latest actions as there were reports as late as February 13 that the teachers’ union had come to an agreement with Governor Walker. “For the first time, the Wisconsin Education Association Council endorsed several major reforms that for years it had stubbornly resisted and stalled. This includes: Junking the outdated teacher pay schedule that rewarded longevity and advanced degrees. Instead, the union now supports merit pay so high-performing and high-demand teachers will earn more. Dramatically improving teacher evaluations using, among several other factors, student test results. Making it easier to get rid of the worst teachers if mentors and other help doesn’t boost performance. Shaking up the failing Milwaukee Public Schools.”

There are also forces that are pushing the Tea Party into such polarizing positions and are now mobilizing their ranks to oppose the teachers. The fact is that Greens should agree with the fiscal responsibility of the Tea Party as many did in 1992 with the Perot candidacy. Greens want to see something emerge beyond the status quo. In the United States, this is not only a budget issue, but is also a collective bargaining issue and a student achievement problem. The existing bureaucracy and public school system hasn’t proved capable of addressing any of these issues. One thing that is clear: if the teachers stay away from work too long there will be parents and others who will step in to create new alternative. If the State Legislature is unable to act, people will learn to live without it. There will be private options developed to avoid these options in the future. And there will be winners in these fights; none of whom currently are sitting at their desks for the next school day in Wisconsin.

Inevitably, I ask where the state workers were when the factories in the Northeast were closing. And the answer is they were expanding as the number of social workers increased to service the unemployed. Where were the unions when political action was needed to protect the pensions of factory workers in the Rustbelt? The structural problems of this economy have dragged us all down and its time we begin to make adjustments that mean change for everyone. Change in how our localities are governed- so that we can depend on local resources for local economies of scale; so that we can develop integrated local economies not dependent on outside corporate investment; so that we can govern and manage the natural resources in our regions with stakeholders and not corporate shills representing us. Our political institutions, our schools, our state bureaucracies and our corporate giants are devouring us all. Feeding the bureaucracy is NOT the solution. Calling it a union is not the same as calling it democracy.

If one thinks that the pension issues can be avoided come to San Francisco where one proposition has been defeated but others loom on the horizon. The bankruptcy of liberalism lies not in its intention but in its impact. The bankruptcy of conservatism is not in its impact but in its intentions. Regionally, we need to establish priorities together and come to consensus. We need to avoid the repeated scenarios of crisis-resolution-crisis and begin to plan regionally. So the warning to teachers: Don’t cook the goose that lays the golden egg. The warning to the State Legislature: Don’t leave home without it. We might not be here when you get back. To our children we say: Climb every mountain.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Long range plans and political reality.

For all of the good words that the CA legislature wrapped around it's full slate of water bills last year, which I strongly criticized, it seems that little has changed. Yes, they brought down the curtain on the puppet theater known as CalFED and replaced it with the Delta Stewardship Council, but that council was given goals that appear to be mutually exclusively… to maintain the Delta ecosystem and to provide water for both agricultural and urban use. The fact is that there just is not enough water to do both.

Yes, I know that we have had rain this year. The San Jose area might make it up to 100% of normal, y-t-d if the rains continue into next week. So, what is the problem?

Well, part of it stems from the fact that the Bay Delta Stewardship Council, acting according to a legislatively imposed schedule, has released the initial version of their plan and it is missing the most important issues, like how much water needs to flow through the Delta in order to maintain a healthy ecosystem. It also has no answer for the question of how any work is to be funded. The lack of adequate funding is one of the things that ensured the failure of CalFed.

There is an intriguing analysis of the situation at On the Public Record. I agree with most of it, including the comments by waterwonk that this analysis was incomplete. At least waterwonk provided more partial information and that is helpful.

When I posted my original critique last year, on anonymous poster responded with the most common defenses against criticism of power: we are the experts so just nod your head in agreement and shut up.
Instead of declaring all of this a failure and attacking those who are trying to help the environment (e.g., Huffman -- who has forgotten more about the Delta than you'll ever know), why don't you get off your Green Party Duff, shake off the "I won't support anything that might work" dogma, and join the environmental groups who are actively fighting for numeric public trust criteria in this State Board proceeding, which would make a big difference.
In retrospect, I think that I was right. The political system in California will not allow a responsible plan to be made for the future of the Delta. We have a Republican Congressman from the San Joaquin Valley, Devin Nunes (CA-21) who continuously rails against "wacko" environmentalists while sneaking provisions into every piece of legislation that he can find which would prevent the funding of any action that is taken to implement the federal governments own scientific findings. Nunes will use his position on the House Committee for Natural Resources to control funding for water projects in CA.

In CA, Assembly Member Jared Huffman was a key figure in both creating the structure we have now and also in getting the Natural Resources Defense Council (NDRC), his one time employer, to support it. Hell, they helped draft it and should be just as accountable for creating yet another agency whose very mission, with its mutually exclusive goal, especially without adequate funding, is almost guaranteed to fail.

It is even clear that, as Restore the Delta intimates, the Delta Stewardship Council may not want to hear the real scientific findings.

I rather agree with the version of the plant that On the Public Record wants to see. It would be as refreshing as a long drink of cold mountain spring water.
You know what would be an awesome plan? If they said, “We don’t believe the political process can resolve Delta issues and correct them before the crisis, especially since system collapse is both imminent and potentially sudden. Here is what will happen when the Delta collapses, and how we can minimize the losses.”

Thursday, February 17, 2011

SSS - Somebody Should Syndrome

I wish that I had an antidote for the Somebody Should Syndrome (SSS) that seems to be a pandemic, spreading quickly through social medial. You have all seen it, the quick little tweet that says "Somebody should put Sen. Inhofe out to pasture" or even the collective "we have to do something about health care."

One of the reasons that I am a Green is the fact that one of the key values of the Green Party is Personal and Global Responsibility. I never imagined that personal responsibility stopped when you identified a problem that somebody should go to work on.

This is all the more a strange phenomenon is a party that does not accept large corporate donations, and thus must rely mostly on volunteers. So everyone should know that effective community organization starts when someone begins to organize the community, going door to door, talking to friend as the supermarket, calling a meeting at some local diner on Saturday Morning to plan how you can make you community better.

I know what I can best do. I write. I have this blog. I have have a monthly column in my local home town newspaper called Green Talk. It takes time. But it adds up.

I read the following on a Green Party Committee's email list this week.
This would be much easier to arrange, post notices for, etc. if there was a working forum for the Greens that people actually used. (Part of my strategy proposal, of course.)

A while back I thought it would be a good thing for the GPCA to have a twitter account also. So I made one. Now, others post there, but someone had to act. If we are really true to the Green values, then the cure for SSS is someone should I will…

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Qualifying Green Candidates

There is not a lot of time between now and the next election cycle... not nearly enough if California Greens have to think about candidate training as well as recruitment.  Depending on what happens with the special election for California's House of Representatives District 36 special election, we may even see a state wide special election for Secretary of State is Debra Bowen can defeat Janice Hahn for that soon to be vacated (by Jane Harman) Congressional seat. 

This just means that we need to bring more focus to recruiting candidates to run in 2012... and I would hope that Dr. Forrest Hill takes another look at the Secretary of State position if that opens up again. 

While California Greening is mostly about  this state, I also think that we need to consider the 2012 presidential election.  Securing the right candidate in 2012 could help us all, in every state, build the party.  Selecting the wrong candidate for the times, as we did in 2008, could make our hold harder to climb out of.

Just as was the case in 2008, a Green Party candidate for 2012 will have to be able to articulate an economic policy that make sense for all.   It goes without saying that any Green Candidate will have to articulate a position based on economic justice, they will also have to talk convincingly about ecological justice.  I have seen nothing from Cynthia McKinney that indicates she has the interest to do either.

The issues of peace and freedom of expression are important and having the correct understanding of these issues is mandatory for a Green Party candidate, but they will not win over new voters any time soon. 

A Green Candidate will also have to deal persuasively with the issue of corporate power, in particular the power of corporations to influence elections.  We can not simply pass this responsibility off to the David Cobb led Move to Amend or Russ Feingold's Progressives United.

I have my own list of people that I would like to see run: Winona LaDuke and Ben Manski are near the top.  I also know that there will be a scattering of not so serious candidates&hellip: exempt in their own minds.  We need to treat them kindly, hear them out looking for a gem in the rough, but keep our minds on finding a real candidate with broad appeal.

For all state-wide or local candidates in California, the budget crises looms like tsunami about to crash on our heads.   Every politician has simplistic solutions that will not work.  I am not sure that anyone has "the answer." We will need all of our candidate to be able to articulate the options and what it means for the particular constituency they are addressing.  If they can't do that one basic thing, then we should not be supporting them from the GPCA.

In many ways, I hope to seen Greens run for school boards in the next election cycles.  Education takes up over 50% of the state budget.  When Sacrament tries to balance the budget, it will necessarily hit the schools harder than any other sector.  If we have any obligation to the future, it is to make sure that our children are educated and understand how to think.  This is what we are up against, a concerted effort to turn all local offices into incubators for future anti-tax corporate puppets and our children into acquiescent followers.
“We want to have a wide, deep victory,” he told a few hundred people gathered Sunday morning at the Manchester Grand Hyatt. “We want to take over school boards, fire boards, water boards, city councils.”
I feel that now, more than ever, Greens hold the future of CA in our hands We must not fail.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

If you thoughty you understood climate change

guess again.  I take that back, don't guess.  Read the most recent post by David Roberts at Grist.  If there is one piece of writing that will change how you think about the climate... or even about politics... this just may be it. 

Roberts clearly lays out the two notions of dealing with the climate changes coming, one from the climate scientists who are panicked about our continued under estimation of the rate of change and the economists who so believe in the power of the market to solve all problems that keep telling us not to worry. 

Humanity has never had to grapple with a problem that measures itself in centuries, threatens our very existence, and requires global cooperation to overcome. We are fairly beset by gaping uncertainties. We know it could get really bad, but we don't know exactly how bad it will get, or how fast, or where. We don't know how much it will cost to re-engineer the world along sustainable lines, or how quickly we can do it, or even whether we can do it at all.
That last phrase is what scares me "whether we can do it at all." Where does the will to act come from?  It surely will not come from those who do not take seriously the lessons of ecology.  I follow Matthew I Kahn's Environmental and Urban Economics blog, He frequently hypes his own view expressed in his book Climatopolis.  I have also mentioned it in my own posts because I don't understand where we find the revenue required by the massive infrastructure re-invention that his Climatopolis would require.  It seems the work of a free market economist who does not understand governmental fiscal policy at any level.

Friday, February 04, 2011

the street can rule but it cannot govern

It is worth saying that the street can rule but it cannot govern. Egypt is deciding its own future just as Eastern Europe and Russia decided its future. A working alliance with the Muslim Brotherhood in the current crisis is not surprising. It is an organization that will be there. We have seen in Lebanon and Gaza that the ramifications of enabling political Islamist organizations impact on the future. Other organization need to establish leadership bodies within the movement and "make the rules" that even the MB is bound to follow. But beware of sleeping with the tiger, cause when he wakes he might be looking for breakfast.
Likewise, army rule in Turkey did not prevent the oppression of the Kurdish nation and its people. It has not provided democracy or equal rights. And the continued influence of the military in governing Egypt will not be changed. In this sense, this is not a revolution at all. More like a coup from the bottom or a change of faces at the top.
Structure is something that needs to be formulated to give the democratic process a real world context. To date everything is focused on the personal reign of Mubarek. I am in solidarity with the hopes and aspirations of the Egyptian people, but if they are to govern then the place to start is with the Constitution of their nation.