Saturday, December 31, 2011

The old dilemma

From the Heartland, Margot McMillen writes:

As a writer, you have to follow rules. Sentences have nouns and verbs and end with a dot. Adjectives (“brown”) are used to describe nouns and adverbs (“happily”) describe verbs. For every era, there are certain images shaping our thoughts while other, perhaps better images, are out. So, in our era, we allow a vocabulary of sex, money, fashion, efficiency, and vampires. Our happiness, according to the day’s writers, goes up and down with the Dow, or maybe with the price of gold. It’s impossible to write about love of the land, culture, family, community, joy, and yet these are gracefully tucked into the vocabulary of Korean peasants I met last January.

And now, on New Year’s Eve, I have a glimmer of insight into how I can transmit the importance of the land we farm. I’m sitting in the same place where I’ve written all my blog entries, the corner of a book-strewn room, with my cello in the corner and here’s the answer: The Korean peasants talked about their land the way my musician friends talk about their beloved instruments. Passed from a grandfather or purchased from a best friend or discovered in a pawn shop, musical instruments embody history and, yes, love. The musician has reverence for the instrument maker, the wood, the pegs, the sound board, the design, the forest.
For every beloved instrument, there is wonder in the tale of the discovery. Mine came from a gun shop, abandoned in the corner when the shop owner took it in trade. Mice have gnawed around the edges, but a friend restored it to play-ability, and left his own marks of improvement. He said it was French-made, from about 1880…and how did it get into the corner of an Ozark gun shop?

I can imagine its history, but I’ll never know it. I can tell you where the instrument is weak and how it must be handled so it will last for another generation. I call it “the old lady,” and when I play outside my house, I take its sturdier, louder, German-made cousin. When a beloved instrument breaks, as happens sometimes simply because the weather changes, it is repaired and, taking it apart for repair, the luthier knows more about it than before and builds the new knowledge into the repair.

This is how we must think about our land. A precious instrument that, when broken, we must repair.

When I came home from that NFFC meeting last January, I began to notice how much the Missouri landscape was changing. Where there had been pasture, my neighbors were pulling up trees and filling in ponds to create flat land for row crops because, in 2011, row crops like corn and soybeans were going to make money. The strategy promoted by the chemical and seed companies is to pour Monsanto’s Roundup, or some other kind of glyphosate poison, all over the pastures and then plant Roundup-Ready crops. The crops have been genetically altered to resist Roundup, the most poisonous herbicide on the planet.

But, with pastures and animals gone, and doused with poison and chemicals, the land will not survive. As the summer wore on, hot and dry, the crops on older fields withered before the crops on newly-plowed pasture. There was no organic matter—animal manure and grass roots—to hold the moisture. We are farming on desert.

But, here in the Midwest, our advisors—extension agents, bankers, seed salesmen—don’t talk about connection to the land, or even connection to consumers. Instead, the language is all about ethanol and how high the corn prices are going to go.

Now we’re on the cusp of 2012. KOR-US is stalled in the Korean parliament, the farmers making their case with more confidence than they had here. I imagine them passing through the halls of parliament, talking to lawmakers who wear western suits. One elder wears an elegant linen robe with a sash that covers his slight body almost completely. He is the spokesman, the most articulate and manages to be commanding without losing his civility. Good manners, it seems, transcend the differences in cultures.

Others are dressed in loose-fitting shirts and trousers, practical clothes that move from home to the field. Younger, and more insistent, they are resolute that they want to stay in their traditional villages rather than move to cities, which are already overcrowded. These young men have a clear path ahead of them—resistance and perseverance. In other countries, beginning in Tunisia, similar young men have moved to the cities and found there are no prospects and no comfort.

So, after a year of writing and thinking about these things, I find myself with the old dilemma and the old demons: What will cure rural America? What will rid our neighborhoods of meth labs? What will tempt our kids to stay around? What will make us happy? How can we turn the conversation to culture and joy?

Friday, December 30, 2011

Groping for language

From the Heartland, Margot McMillen writes:
With the year about to close, everyone is evaluating. Plenty went wrong, but what went right? Well, we’re out of Iraq. Sort of. And the unemployment numbers are down, sort of, and housing sales are up. And protestors—from Madison to Wall Street to Oakland--put some of the problems into words.
For farmers, the grain prices have been good and cattle prices are high. My neighbor Angus the cattle man is happy that he’s kept his cattle and improved his pasture by planting clover. He says the clover, with root structures that actually trap nitrogen in the ground, will supply about 30 to 40 pounds of nitrogen per acre per year. That’s significant improvement without adding chemicals. “I want to hear you say it, Jerry,” I said, “improving that pasture was the right thing to do.” And he did say it.
But, despite Jerry’s model, farmers are tearing out trees on other pastures, to plant even more corn next year. The land they’re claiming for row crops is increasingly steep, meaning more potential for the topsoil to float away on the rain. Erosion. And, this at a time when the future of ethanol from the U.S. is less secure than it was a year ago. Now that ethanol is required at the pump, the multinationals are figuring out ways to import it from sugar-rich lands, where production is cheaper and higher per acre.
On January 1, 2011, as I began a year of writing a blog about policy and farming, with side trips into current events and the farmers’ protest history of the 1980s, my goal was to explain farm policy for the non-farmer and to look for themes that might emerge. Maybe these themes would reveal some solutions that I could put into words. As a writer, I believe in the power of words even though they never seem just right and the right ones are just out of reach.
From the beginning of the year, the selfishness of the export-import trade system revealed itself. At the National Family Farm Coalition meeting, I met Korean farmers that would be put off their land by the passage of the Korean-US free trade agreement, KOR-US. This agreement would make the U.S. a cheap-foods conduit for subsidized foods. All the multinationals were arguing that this would be good for U.S. agriculture, but a look at the list of foods showed that we would soon become a conduit for processed foods from all over the globe. One of the foods on the list is chocolate. Dear reader, we do not raise chocolate in this country and we don’t even process it much.
Exporting our cheap foods to Korea would mean the corporations could sell at a price lower than Korean farmers could produce it. At our meeting, the Korean farmers, members of the Korean Peasants’ League, talked about their roots on the land. Their culture goes back centuries, containing religion, festivals, foods. They didn’t talk about money. They talked with gracious elegance about family and culture. They talked about loving the land, as if it was irreplaceable. And they talked about it without apology, as if this was a normal way to talk about farming.
To these Korean peasants, farms were family homesteads stretching back centuries to the ancient ancestors, filled with memories contained in their lineages. Americans don’t talk about farms that way. In our language, farms are centers to be mined by agribusiness. This is how the media talks about farming, how the University Extension agents talk about it, how the bankers talk about it. And, for many farmers, talk about family has been reduced to talk about how well the kids are doing now that they’ve moved to the cities. Love of the land, culture, family—these things might be whispered over the kitchen table, read from a homily at the women’s club meeting or inferred from the Sunday sermon, but they’re never listed as goals for the life well-lived.
And I have puzzled about this all year long. I haven’t gone back to their words. Although I wrote some of them down the pages are buried under heaps of other papers—how to raise ginger, how to make cheddar cheese, how to apply for a grant, the results of a beard contest. But the puzzle, for a writer, isn’t really about specific words, we have plenty of those, but about spirit. Tone. Heart. That’s the trick…how to put your heart in the right place.
So the year closes and I feel I’m still no closer to the language that I wanted, the language that will give meaning to rural life, to those that choose stewardship rather than greed. I saw it in the shapes of the robes of the Korean peasants and heard it in their voices, and I’ve heard it from my neighbors when we’ve sat around the table and talked about what will happen to the land in the future. But it’s still like a secret code, a secret handshake, a wink.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

NY Times tells us the 75 things from 2011 that it wants us to talk about and remember

By Marc Jampole

The New York Times “Thursday Styles” section today published its list of the 75 things that reporters talked about in 2011, one of the silliest and yet most ideologically tinged of the seemingly infinitude of annual lists published in the news media the last two weeks of the year.

Let’s start with the premise of the article: 75 things New Yorkers talked about. Two questions immediately arise: 1) Which New Yorkers? and 2) How do we know these are the things they talked about? Neither question is adequately answered in the paragraphs leading to the list. The writer, Stuart Emmrich, no doubt expressing the consensus of the Style page staff, makes the assumption that we know who he means and that, of course, what else would they be talking about? It’s the typical attempt by the news media, and especially style, society, celebrity and new product writers, to assume a consensus that really expresses what the writer thinks are the views of a cultural elite, e.g., A-listers, people who hang out at certain bars and restaurants or executives frequenting charity balls and cocktail parties.

The article really lists what the Times Style section wants its readers to talk about—or remember—from the past year.

I broke the list down by topic. The results offer further proof that the Times is neither the intellectual beacon its friends believe it to be, nor the liberal propaganda machine that its foes accuse it of being.

Times 75 Things New Yorkers Talked About in 2011





Mass Entertainment


Hard News








Cultural Issues


High Culture




The list looks more like the front page of Yahoo! or the contents of the New York Daily News without the crime stories. The list starts to make sense if we forget that the article is supposed to be about what New Yorkers discussed over the past year and instead focus on the fact that it’s a fashion page article (“style” is a modern, more-encompassing term for “fashion.”) While there are only 5 fashion stories, fashion news often focuses on what celebrities and mass entertainment figures are wearing and doing. These topics (except for when it involves fashion) account for 57% of all topics on the list. But still, the celebrity and mass entertainment topics are not about what TV, movie and pop music entertainers and celebrities are wearing (I filed those topics under fashion), but about other aspects of celebrity. Unlike the myth of the New York Times as serious and high-minded, the actual publication often carries stories about celebrity culture and trivial nonsense stories such as this list.

The topics include the usual suspects: Kate Middleton, Lady Gaga, Chaz Bono, Alexander McQueen, Tim Tebow and Ryan Gosling as featured celebs; the Republican debates, Steve Job’s death and the deaths of Bin laden and Qadaffi as news. But beneath the superficiality, the article quietly advocates a right-leaning politics. Here are some cleverly presented right-wing messages in the details:

  • Subtle denigration of known progressive newscaster Keith Olbermann, saying that once he left MSNBC he was “never heard of again.”
  • Trivialization of the Occupy Wall Street movement by stating that all it ever did was make famous a phrase, “the other 99%,” and an obscure park.
  • Of the five stories on politics, four have to do with the race for the Republican nomination for president; the only Democratic topic about which New Yorkers evidently spoke during the year was the booing of Michelle Obama and Jill Biden by NASCAR fans.

Now for perhaps the most appalling omission on the list: the Japanese tsunami and the resulting serious leak of radiation at the Fukushima nuclear electrical-generating facility. Does anyone really think that the Fukushima nuke-out, which dominated the news for weeks, was so little talked about that it could not crack a list of 75 subjects?

What could be the ideological imperative behind deciding not to include Fukushima on this list, which purportedly reports what New Yorkers discussed, not what fashion and entertainment topics they discussed? Some thoughts, and in giving them, I am not asserting that the writer and editor consciously worked these ideas out, but rather that these ideas are embedded into their thought processes as unquestioned premises.

The style section is really about buying products and services that express the style of the buyers, their social class and their aspirations/fears. Only the most addicted shopaholic would feel like buying anything after talking about the silent poison of radiation. The best thing for a style section article to do, always, is to keep it light and ironic.

The death of Steve Jobs was also tragic, but at least Steve stands for technological consumerism. Technology consumerism was also the topic of the one technology story I found: the two-day wait for a new iPad 2. Perhaps I could have just as easily listed that story under cultural issues, but wherever it goes, it made the list and Fukushima did not. In what alternative universe did news-savvy New Yorkers talk more about a new smart phone than about a major nuclear disaster caused by yet another extreme weather disaster? Only in a universe in which technology always provides us with great new products to buy.

So with “keep it happy” and “technology is always great” screens before their eyes, the Times Style section staff might have never even thought of Fukushima when brainstorming about the chatter at restaurant tables and cocktail parties over the past year. And if they did think of it, I imagine someone quickly squelched the suggestion as not “bright” enough.

Of course, if the Times really wanted to keep it real, the following topics would have topped the list of what New Yorkers discussed over the past 12 months:

  • Their children
  • Personal finance issues
  • Their jobs, careers and co-workers
  • Other family members
  • Local weather
  • Extreme weather around the world
  • Local crime news
  • The long jobless recession, which many will recognize under its more familiar name, “the jobless recovery.”

Unless we did a survey, there’s no telling who’s list is closer to reality: mine or The Times.

Emperor of the Drones

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Why do media wait till a Republican candidate is on a roll to bring out the dirt?

By Marc Jampole

Almost overnight Ron Paul began to rise in the Iowa polls. And it seems as if it were only a day later that we discovered that he lent his name to some odious assertions and cuckoo beliefs.

Do you see a pattern here? Bachmann gets popular; Bachmann’s husband is outed. Cain gets popular. Women whom he probably sexually harassed and his mistress suddenly speak up. Everyone thought they knew all of Newt’s skeletons, but as soon as he got popular yet a new one popped out, his dealings with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Every time a new Romney challenger appears on the horizon, the media find something. Perry is the only one not to have a new scandal revealed. He plummeted the old fashioned way, from a series of self-inflicted wounds.

Why do you suppose the news media wait for the candidates to ascend? My theory is that the reporters don’t know about these scandals until someone comes to them. No one comes to them with dirt on a candidate until he or she gets big. Now if it were a Bush running for President, I would say that the Bush machine was behind it, since spreading dirt about opponents is consistent with the history of Bush campaign’s tactics (see Kitty Kelley’s The Family, for example). I infer nothing from the fact that Romney is the candidate preferred by the Bushes.

There’s a double shock in the scandal surrounding Ron Paul. The first shock is learning that Paul lent his name to ugly rants against African-Americans, Jews, the state of Israel and gays. Articles with his name on them criticized the U.S. holiday bearing Martin Luther King's name as “Hate Whitey Day” and said that AIDS sufferers “enjoy the attention and pity that comes with being sick.” The image that most have of Paul’s views is that he is an economic free market extremist and a libertarian, a rational if sometimes ill-informed thinker. Racism, anti-Semitism and even homophobia are all inimical to Paul’s rationalism. It’s shocking to see him linked to these irrational views.

The second shock is one of style. Ron Paul looks like such a kindly old man, a grandfather who always has a gentle word of advice. The imagination and most casting directors select off-balanced, crazed, intense, obsessive or somewhat out-of-control loonies to espouse these ugly views.

It’s much harder to forgive Paul his former ties to racism, anti-Semitism and homophobia than to forgive the other Republican candidates their flaws. We always knew that Romney and Gingrich were non-ideological power-grabbers, so new revelations can’t possibly shock us anymore. If Bachmann, Santorum, Perry and Cain believe nonsense and advocate false ideas, at least their wrong-headedness is traditional, theologically based and shared by a large part of the population. Don’t get me wrong: I have more forgiveness in my heart for the religiously based candidate but that does not make these candidates any more appealing than Paul, Romney or Gingrich.

And then there’s Jon Huntsman. The only thing for which we need to forgive him is for thinking that there was room in the current Republican Party for reasonable views based on science and pragmatism.

It’s a sorry lot. Many are saying that President Obama will roll to victory against any of these candidates. That’s a dangerous way for anyone to think whose interests lie with the poorest 99% of the population.

Instead, we should be thinking: No matter who wins the Republican nomination, we must keep driving Obama further left, but make sure we are registered to vote and go to the polls on Election Day.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Haitian spring

From the Heartland, Margot McMillen writes:
Reports of a re-birth in Haitian agriculture are premature, but the midwives are ready. Turns out, the United States “has opened several training centers that aim to instruct hundreds of farmers in rudimentary practices often taken for granted in other countries” and a couple of U.S. churches have built an “experimental farm” and transplanted urban Haitians to the countryside to learn self-sufficiency. They hope to build 4 more, each housing ten families.
These notes, published in the New York Times on Christmas day, are hopeful beginnings for the nation that 25 years ago took care of itself using farming techniques remembered from Africa. Still, there are significant problems to address, like where their water will come from and how the new, urban-born farmers will adapt to rural life.
If the problems sound familiar, it’s because they’re pretty much like the challenges to agriculture here at home. NYT quotes a transplanted Port-au-Prince grocer who lost his store in the earthquake. He “complains of the backbreaking work and misses the energy of the city, the parties, the friends.” “City dwellers have to believe that it is worth the effort to move their families to spend hours in the hot sun, hoeing and planting.”
One thing that’s different, though, is the fact that the Haitian government recognizes the danger of reliance on imported foods. They estimate that 52% of Haiti’s food comes from abroad, compared to 20% a few decades ago. Here in the U.S., it’s impossible to get real numbers on the amount of imported food we’re consuming. U.S.D.A. keeps track of agricultural products, like raw meats, fruits and vegetables, but doesn’t keep track of processed foods—canned meats, fruits and vegetables. Those are supposed to be tracked by F.D.A. but estimates vary widely. Is it 20%, as FDA graphs claim? Or is it 50%, as the right-wing Judicial Watch asserted using “information-sharing and collaboration among governments, the private sector and academia.”
U.S. agriculture has had a huge impact on Haiti. We sold them only about 7,000 metric tons of rice in 1985. Then came the first “free trade” agreement, under Ronald Reagan, requiring Haiti to lower trade restrictions and accept more US rice. In 1986, US imports rose to 24,683 tons and in 1987, to 100,177 tons. 1986 ended with the expulsion of “Baby Doc” Duvalier, and the Haitian government sought loans from the International Monetary Fund.
Their food supply now thoroughly dependent on “Miami rice,” Haitians booted out the president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 1991. He was gone for three years. Then, Aristide returned to power with the help of 20,000 US Army troops. Immediately after, Haiti became part of a new agreement with the IMF. Haiti’s tariffs were lowered on rice imports from 35% to 3%. In contrast, most Caribbean countries had a tariff of 25%. Haiti’s new tariff made it the Caribbean’s least trade-restrictive country.
Thus the game is played, but farmers are not the only gamesmen. There is a world of knowledge to lose—grain is handled by cleaners, millers, warehousers, transporters and processors. In Haiti, these jobs were handled in a traditional manner remembered from Africa. The system included hard work, yes, but also included tricks to make the work interesting. Traditions, stories, festivals, special foods, fun, invention, music. Losing the knowledge, along with the farmers, means the loss of the entire culture that made life rich.
For American farmers, the impact of Haiti’s rural renaissance could be significant. Reviving their sugar mills, for example, could impact the U.S. corn growers’ ethanol market because sugar yields more energy than corn. Reviving their rice culture could impact U.S. rice growers accustomed to exporting with nearly no tariff.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Occupied Wall Street 30 BCE (Before Common Era)

Old Xmas movie shows which ideological imperatives have changed and which remain the same

By Marc Jampole
Last night I flipped on Turner Classic Movies for a half hour after returning from participating in a revered Christmas Eve and Christmas tradition among American Jews—having Chinese food with family and friends. I caught the last 20 minutes of the original (and thankfully uncolorized) 1947 version of Miracle on 34th Street, in which a trial is held to determine whether a Macy’s Santa Claus is the real thing.
A lot happens in the last 20 minutes of the movie: the case is heard; the judge declares that the jolly and benevolent old man is the real Santa Claus; Santa’s lawyer, played by the forgettable John Payne, gets together with his love interest, the unforgettable Maureen O’Hara; and Maureen’s daughter, played by a 9-year-old Natalie Wood, gets her Christmas wish.
In those 20 minutes the writer and director made a number of decisions on details to move the plot along that also subtly advocate three of the most important ideological principles of the time. What’s so striking is that one of these principles has in subsequent years been turned on its ear, while the other two persist and have become even more central to mass entertainment and the mainstream news media.
Let’s start with the big ideological reversal which resides in the reason that the judge declares the old man to be the real Santa Claus. It’s because the U.S. Post Office decides to send to him all the mail it has been holding for Santa Claus. The lead-up to this denouement consists of a five-minute interchange between Payne, the prosecutor and the judge in which they attempt to top each other in praising the post office—it’s efficient, accurate and virtuous, just like the rest of the government.
It was 1947, and the United States had just won a war and was in an era in which government was expanding its influence in the economy and guiding a redistribution of wealth that led to the golden age of 1950-1980 in which we became a nation of primarily middle class and well-to-do households. People liked government and mass entertainment wanted us to like government. I imagine that if Miracle on 34th Street were remade today, the post office might still perform its role in moving the plot along, but it wouldn’t be praised to the skies. It’s also likely that the producer would put the name of the delivery service up for bid resulting in a private company like Fed Ex delivering the Santa letters in the remake; or that they might come as emails that Google sent along.
Like many holiday-themed movies and books, Miracle on 34th Street has several plot lines that twist together. One of the twists is typically the Christmas gift wish of a child. It’s a bee-bee gun in A Christmas Story. It’s a train set in the film-by-numbers A Holiday Affair star-studded with Robert Mitchum, Janet Leigh and Wendell Corey (as another lawyer). The boy in Glenn Beck’s children’s book product titled A Christmas Sweater wants a bike. The plot device of focusing on a gift that is a selfish present for a child turns the spirit of Christmas into non-spiritual consumerism. For these children, the holiday reduces to getting, and getting means buying, which the movie families typically are too poor to do.
The miracle at the end (or occasionally in the middle) of the movie always involves the child getting the material possession, which means someone bought something. Christmas was the first holiday to become a commemoration of shopping and consumerism. In 1947 in Miracle on 34th Street, we see consumerism as the ideological imperative behind Christmas, and we certainly see it today. Nothing has changed.
The third ideological imperative I identified in the last part of the movies comes inside the gift that the girl wants. It’s not a bike, bee-bee gun or train set. It’s a house in the suburbs where a car is a necessity.
A house…in the suburbs…where a car is a necessity.
It’s the big American dream after World War II, subsidized by the government, recommended by the news media of the time and furnished by the real estate, car, retail and appliance manufacturing companies that dominated ad spending. Flee the diverse city for the safe and homogenized suburbs in which all social interaction revolved around cars and malls filled with national chain stores and restaurants. 1947 was near the beginning of the post-war American dream that has turned into a nightmare, especially for the environment and those dependent on dwindling natural resources, which means all of us.
Yet preferring the suburbs to cities remains one of the most important ideological tenets imbuing today’s more ubiquitous mass media, as I have discussed on numerous occasions in OpEdge.
Love or hate of government may be a matter of political fashion, but central to both the American post-War and 21st century ideologies is consumerism. That the preferred place to live, the suburbs, features consuming as its biggest virtue makes perfect sense. And it certainly makes sense that this ideology will manifest itself in the details of holiday entertainments. The Christmas entertainments more spiritual in nature, like It Happened on Fifth Avenue— also released in 1947and a delightful variation on My Man Godfrey—tend to be less popular and less replayed on television.


Published: December 26, 2011

During a kick-off press conference, at once a kick-off for a week of protests and an introduction to the local movement for national media, five Occupy Des Moines members spoke about why they are participating and for many, why they are willing to be arrested in front of a campaign headquarters this week.

What has Obama done well?

on Blog Talk Radio

What Has Obama Done Well 12/25 by Talking Progressive | Blog Talk Radio
Join Vicki with Jim Cullen, editor, of the Progress Populist to review the year of Obama and what he has done right.The airwaves and print media are so full of demonizing Obama let us give the President a little Christmas cheer and list the good things he has been able to accomplish. Hasn't been easy to accomplish anything with the uber-rich backing the Repubs and some of the Dems in Congress to stop any progress being made.
If you celebrate Christmas - have a Merry one! Same with Hanukkah - spin that dreidel!
And for everyone have a good two weeks winding up the end of year.

If you are thinking about voting against the Democratic candidate as a protest
or not voting at all. . . answer me this -
When did those actions help you get what you wanted?
 ;-) Vicki

The Progressive Populist                      Progressive Populist Blog

Eating local--Haiti and Missouri

From the Heartland, Margot McMillen writes:

Finally. Some good news from Haiti. There’s an effort to re-build their local food system, to move people out of the cities and into the countryside. Maybe we can learn from them and re-build our own.
One of the joys of being a locavore is the fun of shopping for food. Your list has, say, a dozen items on it. And, at each stop, the visit is a little reunion with people you care about. I’m always excited to see my farmers, grocers and bakers, and at Christmas it’s twice as fun.
So, on Christmas Eve, I stopped at Clover’s Natural Foods to pick up a few things. They let me peek at the space where they’re expanding into the old liquor store next door. Wow! I had no idea there was so much room in that old liquor store—enough so that Clover’s can host demonstrations or maybe a little deli. Chair massages, oh yeah! The possibilities are endless, so they’ll be deciding and probably changing things for a long time.
Then I went to Uprise Bakery for bread. Sam gave me a report on two hens that I dropped off a couple of weeks ago. We have so many predators at our place, and her hen house is pretty well protected; fearing for their lives, I donated the hens to her. They are moulting now, but the days will get longer very quickly and the hens will come out of it. One year, at my house, we ran out of eggs at Thanksgiving and didn’t have any until February. Ever since then, I’ve given myself permission to buy eggs and now we have a few neighbors raising them. So I stock up before the days get short.
Then I stopped at The Root Cellar for pies. Jen baked them using my freshly milled flour and since I’m completely an idiot when it comes to making pie crust it was a big help. Maybe I should say it was essential. Hannah was working, so I got to catch up with her also. I borrowed her ballpoint pen to check off things on my list—only two items left, and both from the farm store—a new bit for the donkey and long underwear for the farmer. For some reason, that list made Hannah laugh.
After the farm store, I stopped at the grain elevator just to visit. Joel had added a bit of décor to the lawn. Five little deer with white lights, you know the kind, and Joel had arranged them so it looked like they were drinking out of the old toilet he plants with flowers in the summer. Those guys have way too much fun at that place.
Amazing but true: Due to the mild weather, neighbors still have lettuce, although we don’t, and we still have tomatoes ripening in the shed. So it’s an easy trade. Most of the root crops—potatoes, turnips, sweet potatoes—are still available, and so are the chard and kale, not to mention the onions and garlic. And, of course, we have every kind of meat available. So, see, it’s not hard to eat local in mid-Missouri at Christmas.
I wish the same success for Haiti as they move forward.
And that's my blog from the heart for today.

Have you seen the letter to investigate Clarence Thomas?

You can join in the demand at People for the American Way
A group of 20 House Democrats led by Rep. Louise Slaughter are now pushing for a Justice Department investigation into various possible ethics infractions by Justice Thomas.
September 29, 2011
James C. Duff
Secretary to the Judicial Conference of the United States
Administrative Office of the United States Courts, Suite 2-301
One Columbus Circle, N.E.
Washington, DC 20544
Dear Mr. Duff:
Widespread reporting, including a recent report in The New York Times titled “Friendship of Justice and Magnate Puts Focus on Ethics,” raise grave concerns about the failure of Justice Clarence Thomas to meet various disclosure requirements under the Ethics in Government Act of 1978. Based upon the multiple public reports, Justice Thomas’s actions may constitute a willful failure to disclose, which would warrant a referral by the Judicial Conference to the Department of Justice, so that appropriate civil or criminal actions can be taken.
Due to the simplicity of the disclosure requirements, along with Justice Thomas’s high level of legal training and experience, it is reasonable to infer that his failure to disclose his wife’s income for two decades was willful, and the Judicial Conference has a non-discretionary duty to refer this case to the Department of Justice.
Throughout his entire tenure on the Supreme Court, Justice Thomas checked a box titled "none” on his annual financial disclosure forms, indicating that his wife had received no income, despite the fact that his wife had in fact earned nearly $700,000 from the Heritage Foundation from 2003-2007 alone.
Furthermore, an investigation conducted by The New York Times has revealed that Justice Thomas may have, on several occasions, benefited from use of a private yacht and airplane owned by Harlan Crowe, and again failed to disclose this travel as a gift or travel reimbursement on his federal disclosure forms as required by the Ethics in Government Act of 1978.
Justice Thomas's failure to disclose his wife's income for his entire tenure on the federal bench and indications that he may have failed to file additional disclosure regarding his travels require the Judicial Conference to refer this matter to the Department of Justice.
Section 104(b) of the Ethics Act requires the Judicial Conference to refer to the Attorney General of the United States any judge who the Conference "has reasonable cause to believe has willfully failed to file a report or has willfully falsified or willfully failed to file information required to be reported." If the Judicial Conference finds reasonable cause to believe that Justice Thomas has "willfully falsified or willfully failed to file information to be reported," it must, pursuant to §104, refer the case to the Attorney General for further determination of possible criminal or civil legal sanctions.
Particularly as questions surrounding the integrity and fairness of the Supreme Court continue to grow, it is vital that the Judicial Conference actively pursue any suspicious actions by Supreme Court Justices. While we continue to advocate for the creation of binding ethical standards for the Supreme Court, it is important the Judicial Conference exercise its current powers to ensure that Supreme Court Justices are held accountable to the current law.
As a result, we respectfully request that the Judicial Conference follow the law and refer the matter of Justice Thomas's non-compliance with the Ethics in Government Act to the Department of Justice. We eagerly await your reply.
Rep. Louise Slaughter
Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.
Rep. Gwen Moore
Rep. Mike Honda
Rep. Earl Blumenauer
Rep. Christopher Murphy
Rep. John Garamendi
Rep. Pete Stark
Rep. Raul Grijalva
Rep. John Olver
Rep. Jan Schakowsky
Rep. Donna Edwards
Rep. Jackie Speier
Rep. Paul Tonko
Rep. Bob Filner
Rep. Peter Welch
Rep. John Conyers
Rep. Keith Ellison
Rep. Anna Eshoo
Rep. Ed Perlmutter

The Nation's Honor Roll recognizes courageous progressives for the year 2011.

John Nichols
John NicholsThe Nation
John Nichols, a pioneering political blogger, has written the Beat since 1999. "What a difference a year makes! Last year The Nation’s Honor Roll recognized courageous, if often lonely, battlers against an austerity agenda, an ascendant Tea Party and a Republican electoral wave that had put Democrats, working folks and the unions that represent them on the defensive nationwide. This year we celebrate the remarkable movements that have arisen not just to stem the conservative tide but to build a new vision of progressivism for the twenty-first century. How much has changed? As 2011 finished, even Barack Obama was sounding populist themes. And progressives were organizing, fighting and winning critical battles on the streets, in the polling places and in the media. The events of 2011 did not transform America. But they did confirm that millions of Americans are ready to fight for the 99 percent."
MOST VALUABLE STATE COALITION: Mississippians for Healthy Families
MOST VALUABLE AGENDA: The National Nurses’ “Main Street Contract”
MOST VALUABLE RAPID RESPONSE: Iraq Veterans Against the War
MOST VALUABLE WEBSITE: Save the Post Office savethepostoffice
MOST VALUABLE JURIST: District Judge Jed Rakoff
MOST VALUABLE BOOK: Who’s Afraid of Frances Fox Piven?
MOST VALUABLE UNION: International Association of Fire Fighters
MOST VALUABLE CAMPAIGN: Draft Elizabeth Warren
. . . continue reading at The Nation.

President Obama Speaks on the Importance of Extending the Payroll Tax Cut | The White House

President Obama Speaks on the Importance of Extending the Payroll Tax Cut | The White House:

Remarks by the President on the Payroll Tax Cut

South Court Auditorium

1:00 P.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you, everybody. (Applause.) Please have a seat. Good afternoon to all of you. Merry Christmas. Happy holidays.

We've been doing everything we can over the last few weeks to make sure that 160 million working Americans aren’t hit with a holiday tax increase on January 1st. We’ve also been doing everything we can to make sure that millions of people who are out there looking for work in a very tough environment don’t start losing their unemployment insurance on January 1st.

Now, on Saturday, we reached a bipartisan compromise that would do just that -- make sure that people aren’t seeing a tax cut the first of the year; make sure that they still have unemployment insurance the first of the year. Nearly every Democrat in the Senate voted for that compromise. Nearly every Republican in the Senate voted for that compromise. Democrats and even some Republicans in the House voted for that compromise. I am ready to sign that compromise into law the second it lands on my desk.

So far, the only reason it hasn’t landed on my desk -- the only reason -- is because a faction of House Republicans have refused to support this compromise.

Now, if you’re a family making about $50,000 a year, this is a tax cut that amounts to about $1,000 a year. That’s about 40 bucks out of every paycheck. It may be that there's some folks in the House who refuse to vote for this compromise because they don’t think that 40 bucks is a lot of money. But anyone who knows what it’s like to stretch a budget knows that at the end of the week, or the end of the month, $40 can make all the difference in the world.

And that’s why we thought we’d bring your voices into this debate. So many of these debates in Washington end up being portrayed as which party is winning, which party is losing. But what we have to remind ourselves of is this is about people. This is about the American people and whether they win. It's not about a contest between politicians.

So on Tuesday, we asked folks to tell us what would it be like to lose $40 out of your paycheck every week. And I have to tell you that the response has been overwhelming. We haven't seen anything like this before. Over 30,000 people have written in so far -- as many as 2,000 every hour. We’re still hearing from folks -- and I want to encourage everybody who's been paying attention to this to keep sending your stories to and share them on Twitter and share them on Facebook.

The responses we’ve gotten so far have come from Americans of all ages and Americans of all backgrounds, from every corner of the country. Some of the folks who responded are on stage with me here today, and they should remind every single member of Congress what’s at stake in this debate. Let me just give you a few samples.

Joseph from New Jersey talked about how he would have to sacrifice the occasional pizza night with his daughters. He said -- and I'm quoting -- “My 16-year-old twins will be out of the house soon. I'll miss this.”

Richard from Rhode Island wrote to tell us that having an extra $40 in his check buys enough heating oil to keep his family warm for three nights. In his words -- I'm quoting -- “If someone doesn't think that 12 gallons of heating oil is important, I invite them to spend three nights in an unheated home. Or you can believe me when I say that it makes a difference.”

Pete from Wisconsin told us about driving more than 200 miles each week to keep his father-in-law company in a nursing home -- $40 out of his paycheck would mean he'd only be able to make three trips instead of four.

We heard from a teacher named Claire from here in D.C. who goes to the thrift store every week and uses her own money to buy pencils and books for her fourth grade class. Once in a while she splurges on science or art supplies. Losing $40, she says, would mean she couldn’t do that anymore.

For others, $40 means dinner out with a child who's home for Christmas, a new pair of shoes, a tank of gas, a charitable donation. These are the things at stake for millions of Americans. They matter to people. A lot.

And keep in mind that those are just the individual stories. That doesn’t account for the overall impact that a failure to extend the payroll tax cut and a failure to extend unemployment insurance would have on the economy as a whole. We've seen the economy do better over the last couple of months, but there's still a lot of sources of uncertainty out there -- what's going on in Europe, what's going on around the world. And so this is insurance to make sure that our recovery continues.

So it's time for the House to listen to the voices who are up here, the voices all across the country, and reconsider. What’s happening right now is exactly why people just get so frustrated with Washington. This is it; this is exactly why people get so frustrated with Washington. This isn’t a typical Democratic-versus-Republican issue. This is an issue where an overwhelming number of people in both parties agree. How can we not get that done? I mean, has this place become so dysfunctional that even when people agree to things we can't do it? (Applause.) It doesn’t make any sense.

So, enough is enough. The people standing with me today can’t afford any more games. They can’t afford to lose $1,000 because of some ridiculous Washington standoff. The House needs to pass a short-term version of this compromise, and then we should negotiate an agreement as quickly as possible to extend the payroll tax cut and unemployment insurance for the rest of 2012. It's the right thing to do for the economy, and it's, most importantly, the right thing to do for American families all across the country.

This is not just my view. Just a few hours ago, this is exactly what the Republican Leader of the Senate said we should do. Democrats agree with the Republican Leader of the Senate. We should go ahead and get this done. This should not be hard. We all agree it should happen. I believe it's going to happen sooner or later. Why not make it sooner, rather than later? Let’s give the American people -- the people who sent us here -- the kind of leadership they deserve.

Thank you, everybody. (Applause.)

1:08 P.M. EST

'via Blog this'

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Drones could patrol in U.S., FAA says

 - Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES -- Drone aircraft, best known for their role in hunting and destroying terrorist hide-outs in Afghanistan, may soon be coming to the skies near you.
Police agencies want drones for air support to spot runaway criminals. Utility companies believe they can help monitor oil, gas and water pipelines. Farmers think drones could aid in spraying their crops with pesticides.
"It's going to happen," said Dan Elwell, vice president of civil aviation at the Aerospace Industries Association. "Now it's about figuring out how to safely assimilate the technology into national airspace."

That's the job of the Federal Aviation Administration, which plans to propose new rules for the use of small drones in January, a first step toward integrating robotic aircraft into the nation's skyways.
Police departments in Texas, Florida and Minnesota have expressed interest in the technology's potential to spot runaway criminals on rooftops or to track them at night by using the robotic aircraft's heat-seeking cameras.

"Most Americans still see drone aircraft in the realm of science fiction," said Peter W. Singer, author of "Wired for War," a book about robotic warfare. "But the technology is here. And it isn't going away. It will increasingly play a role in our lives. The real question is: How do we deal with it?"

"This is a tool that many law enforcement agencies never imagined they could have," said Steven Gitlin, a company executive. 
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