Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Chillicothe--more than sliced bread

From the Heartland, Margot McMillen writes: Something amazing has happened! On Sunday, the New York Times Magazine ran an article that actually mentioned Missouri. Chillicothe, Missouri, the home of sliced bread. This mention is amazing on so many levels I hardly know where to start. Well, for one thing, it was about Missouri. And, for another thing, it never mentioned Mark Twain or Harry Truman. See, the Midwest never gets attention from what we might call the coastal media. When we do, it’s the snarky kind, like about cow tipping or guys named Bubba. So, hey, we’ll take any sliced-bread mention when we can get it. The article says that Catherine Stortz Ripley is working on a local-history book about Chillicothe and stumbled on the sliced bread story. Good work, Catherine! I hope she also stumbles on the 1986 farmers strike that brought attention to Chillicothe and changed the laws on foreclosure against farmers. I wrote about it a lot in 2011, the 25th anniversary of the event. Here’s a little from my interview with Roger Allison: “Roger explained that, in the 1980s, farmers were trying to understand how they could be working so hard and still going broke. Groups were springing up all over the Midwest, including right-wing groups that spread a message of violence and hate. With the economy breaking down, families losing their farms, bad weather and prices out of their control, farmers were looking for someone to blame. “The first target was the banking system. After all, everyone knew that bankers were tied to the commodity market and the commodity market sets prices. And prices were the problem. When prices for farm goods are low, a farmer’s income doesn’t pay for the cost of planting. That means the farmer can’t pay the loan he got for his business. That means he carries the debt to the next year. A few years of carrying debt means a debt that can’t be paid off. Foreclosure. “Targeting the banking system was dangerously close to targeting urban folks, especially urban Jews. There are, you see, very few Jewish people in the countryside. Indeed, neo-Nazi groups had sprung up in rural America, complete with uniforms, guns and marches. People were getting magazines from them, addressed “occupant,” and spreading a message of hate. Yet the Chillicothe farmers, although they might not have said it in just this way, were focused on a mission of peaceful resistance. There were even Jewish leaders from Kansas City that joined the fight.” It’s a pretty great story, and there’s a lot about it in my book, Farming Food and Politics in the Heartland, available from Amazon and as an e-book. Well, that’s enough for today. March 5, 2013.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Missouri HJR 7 & 11

From the Heartland, Margot McMillen writes: When I talk to my friends that study social movements, we agree that it takes about 3 generations to make positive change. The first generation identifies the social stupidity (like keeping certain groups from voting, or like allowing pollution to kill entire species, or keeping certain groups from enjoying privileges) and then it takes a generation to ignore what the first generation is saying and then it takes a generation to fix the problem. So we eventually get universal suffrage or DDT bans or gay marriage. The problem is that some stupidity can’t be fixed in any easy way after it takes hold. That’s the problem with factory farms and biotech seed. Centuries of knowledge, wiped out in a generation. Reclaiming it is hard. And especially, in today’s consumer society, if it’s masked in the cloaks of convenience and technology. Today we’re fighting truly horrible Missouri resolutions that would erase decades of progress. HJR 7 & 11 has passed the House of Representatives and is on its way to the Senate. If it passes, it would strip local control from Missouri counties and elected officials so that they could not keep corporate agriculture out of their counties. Nobody could create biotech-free zones or keep CAFOs at a distance. It would make a constitutional amendment that would keep DNR from enforcing pollution controls. HJR 7&11 states: “No state law shall be enacted which abridges the right of farmers and ranchers to employ agricultural technology and modern livestock production and ranching practices, unless enacted by the General Assembly.” That’s enough for today. March 4, 2013.

Who will buy things when only a few have money?

By Marc Jampole

Was anyone shocked to learn today’s news that while corporate profits have made a recovery, jobs and incomes have not? Shouldn’t we be used to these jobless recoveries by now?

The last two recoveries before this tepid one did not see large increases in jobs.  It could be that economic bubbles hide excess labor that flourishing companies start to carry, so when the bubble bursts, millions of jobs go away permanently.

At each recession, businesses have learned how to make do with fewer workers. And as each year passes, the inequality-creating policies of low taxes on the wealthy, privatization of government services, union-busting and a low minimum wage have continued to erode the incomes and buying power of all but the top one or five percent of incomes.

This elixir of policies allows wealth to accumulate at the top and enables the owners of productive means to grab everyone’s share of a growing economy.

It used to be that when the economic pie grew, everyone’s slice got a little bigger. Now only the portion allotted by owners to themselves is growing.

The sequester is one small step in the squeezing of everyone else for the benefit of the rich. Congress and the President have decided that they no longer want to borrow money to pay for jobs and services that taxes used to finance before the Bush II tax cuts for the wealthy. Rather than raise taxes to pre-Bush levels to pay for these jobs and services, we are cutting them out. Meanwhile, the rich continue to count their tax savings.

The current trend can only go so far, however. Who will buy things if only the rich have money? Either enough businesses will realize that they need middle class customers to survive or we’ll have a 30’s-like depression and social protest movements will reach a level that scares the ruling elite into economic policies that produce a flatter income and wealth chart. 

In the mean time, however, millions of people are going to suffer. And by suffer, I don’t mean not being able to buy the latest generation of smartphones or having to go to junior college for two years. I mean not having enough to eat or having a text book in  high school classes and not having a library opened nearby. I’m talking about not being able to afford a doctor or medicine.  I’m talking about homelessness and living on the edge and off the Internet grid.

Meanwhile the wealthy will eat cake—flourless chocolate, judging from the dessert trends in expensive restaurants nowadays.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

A suffragist anniversary

From the Heartland, Margot McMillen writes: March 3, 2013. Today, let it be noted, is the 100th anniversary of the biggest suffrage march in Washington D.C. Organized by Harriott Blatch, who was back from England where suffrage protests had become violent, our suffragists were orderly, polite, but focused and firm. At the head of the parade, which was like a pageant, rode Inez Mulholland, a beautiful debutant from New York. It’s hard to tell from the photos whether Inez rode astride or side saddle. At the time, riding astride was coming into fashion for defiant women, but Inez would probably have been accomplished enough to ride either way. Joan of Arc was in vogue, with stories about her by Mark Twain and others in print. She, in armor, would have ridden astride. Nobody is celebrating this anniversary, but I’m attaching a photo of Inez so you can think about it. She looks like an art nouveau drawing, whether she’s astride or side saddle. She died at a young age because there were heavy metals in the makeup she was using. A sad irony.