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The Freakin’ Farm Bureau

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Joe Snodgrass and I had to leave, were desperate to leave. We had listened to Ted Yoho and his buddies at the Farm Bureau rant on for over an hour. It was an emergency, because our heads were going to explode and get little bits of flaming grey matter all over the room. The room would have burned it down.  We didn’t stop to consider if that would have been a public service.

The occasion was a board meeting of the Putnam Farm Bureau, consisting of farmers, a secretary, the Bureau’s lobbyist, the two candidates, and their assistants. It was June, and the 2016 campaign was just beginning to heat up.

Before the Pledge to the flag, the largest flag you could have spread across the room’s end wall, the bald preacher-man started us off with a prayer, a very very long prayer. This is the guy who later said something like, “the people are hungry for the truth; they want to speak the truth. But they can’t, because now it is labeled Hate Speech.”

We thought we would spend the evening talking about cabbages and cattle, and maybe a little water policy. But, NOOOO, they spent the evening talking about welfare cheats and the loss of Christian values in the schools, where they can’t discipline anyone any more, and teach nothing. They talked about illegitimate children, gangs, and people who are too lazy to work. Most of all, they lamented fact that people aren’t following the Word of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Ugh. I was unprepared.

If the voters are mostly like these guys, we are in deep do-do. We might as well quit now, because there is no way in hell they will vote for us. At least not once they know what we think. Fortunately, Joe is good at reading a room, and he didn’t say anything that offended them. They asked him to speak first thing, before the meeting even started, as if to get him out of the way. They were still waiting for a couple of people to arrive, including Yoho. So, Joe spoke slowly and carefully, and kept it to his farm up-bringing and the strong family values he had learned at his parents’ knees. He did speak of a grass-roots campaign, based on putting people first. But none of the rest of it (civil rights, public education, environmental protection, workers rights and women’s rights). He certainly didn’t bring up how proud he is of his union membership.

When Yoho got there, they opened the steaming plates of meat, 3 kinds, which were right in front of me, the vegetarian. There were vegetables also, and corn bread, of course. The political banter kept going throughout the meal. They think women have children out of wedlock because they like living in sin and drawing welfare. “Wedlock,” what a concept. I guess that’s where they keep their wives.

If the minimum wage goes up to $15 an hour, they will suddenly have to pay their immigrant workers that wage, they think. And then they will have no workers, because that will be such a cut in pay. They claim the workers freely choose to bust their asses for $300 a day. Ugh. Minimum wage does not limit maximum wage.

They do know about WOTUS*, but only to hate it. They obviously don’t give a flying flip what runs off their farms. I overheard the lobbyist talking about someone, whom she described as an “environmentalist” in a tone of voice that clearly said scum-of-the-earth.

Needless to say, I won’t be going back there. And this message will self-destruct when we all are finished laughing.    I hope we can laugh.

*Waters of the US, by which smaller tributaries would be regulated to prevent excess nutrients and toxins from entering our rivers. This policy would have begun to tackle the pollution that causes giant algae blooms in South Florida’s rivers. Not to mention Red Tide.

My Comment Submitted on (ID: EPA-HQ-OA-2017-0190-0042)

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 President #45 issued an executive order to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), to seek public input on existing regulations that could be repealed, replaced, or modified.  Among other things, these regulations affect air quality, fuel economy, safe drinking water, oil spill prevention, as well as pesticides and other toxic contaminants that pollute waterways and pose a risk to fish, birds, land and marine animals, trees, swamps, mountains, etc. In face, everyone is affected. Here is what I wrote:

The EPA is charged with protecting the environment, so that our grandchildren will have a safe and healthy place to live. We have not done enough to protect our natural resources, yet you want to eliminate some of the protections we do have? What is the sense in that? The EPA’s job IS NOT to improve the balance sheet of for-profit companies. It is not there to help your friends and supporters. The world saw President Trump sign this executive order, with the president of Dow Chemicals standing over his shoulder, grinning.

The EPA is there to look out for citizens and other living things. We do not live in a better world if the coral reefs die. We do not live in a better world if we have another oil spill, and the oil coats the ocean floor. We do not live in a better world if our rivers and lakes are so full of nitrogen and phosphate run-off that they choke with algae every summer. What about red tide?

It is your JOB to improve air quality. The world-wide carbon level is now up to 410! It should NEVER go above 350. What are you doing about it? The solution is not to allow more carbon to be burned, it is to drastically slow all burning of fossil fuels! Also, methane is a much more potent pollutant in the atmosphere than CO2, and since fracking wells have proliferated, methane levels have sky-rocketed (pun intended). It is your JOB to control that. It is not your job to pander to business interests. They will find a way to make a profit, through innovation and American ingenuity. No one asked coal-fired plants to close. They were asked to clean up their emissions. They can do that; they have done that. Aging infrastructure is inefficient, and needs to be replaced.

If you de-regulate and further permit oil and gas drilling, and the Polar Bears ALL die, that is on you. That is your fault.

Species are going extinct every day. Beaches are choked with jelly-fish. More and more children have asthma. Humans did this. Humans can change it, make a better, healthier, environment to leave our descendants. Waste products, whether coal-ash, nuclear waste, CO2 in the atmosphere, oil spills, all of it — count this in the cost of doing business! Don’t let companies just continue to pollute with no consequences. If every industry counted the environmental degradation it caused (as part of the cost of goods sold), the playing field would be level and industry would adjust. The cost of mining lithium AND the cost of mining coal should be counted. It is IMPERATIVE that we do this, and that the USA leads this effort. We led the world, originally, in creating pollution; we now need to lead the world in cleaning it up. This is not brain surgery. Solutions abound. Implementing solutions creates jobs, not that you are charged with creating jobs.

The EPA is charged with protecting the environment, and so far, the USA is covered with brownfields and industrial clean-up sites. That shows how far behind the EPA is in regulating toxins. The aquifers are threatened, and becoming depleted. IT IS YOUR JOB to fix them.

Don’t you have children? Don’t you want all of God’s children to have a decent place to live?

IF NOT US, THEN WHO Will Prevent Phosphate Mining in North Florida?

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By Carol Mosley (who gave me permission to publish this on my blog)

A small group of rural residents-turned-activists are determined to halt the mining of phosphate on 7,000 acres straddling the New River in north central Florida. It’s clear to these folks that Margaret Meade was right when she famously noted, “Never doubt the ability of a small group of dedicated individuals to initiate change; indeed, it is the only thing that ever really has.”

The New River is the dividing line between the two counties of Union and Bradford, and feeds into the Santa Fe River of Alachua County, home to the University of Florida.

The north central Florida area is rife with lakes and rivers that make it a haven for tubing, canoeing, and camping. The lack of development in the area provides refuge for wildlife, even a number of endangered flora and fauna, and is a sportsman’s paradise.

 But, now four families holding vast tracks of land have formed a limited liability corporation, HPSII, to mine phosphate via an experimental process. The plan is to operate a minimum of 20 hours per day, six days per week. The vague permit they seek would allow mining up to 25 feet of a wetland.

The main concern, despite the intrusion on quality of life in general, is contamination or diminished flow of water wells, the source for most people in the area. Another grave concern is the potential for release of lung cancer-causing radon gas, which is at high levels in the area. And, the karst geology is already prone to sinkholes, without pulling millions more gallons of water per day from the aquifer.

The Union County Commission, in their wisdom, enacted a one year moratorium on mining to give themselves time to review their Land Development Regulations (LDR) and perform due diligence on the mining details, and even renewed it for a second year until February 2018. However, at an “emergency meeting” the Bradford County Commission (BCC), without attendance by the public but under the sole influence of HPSII’s promise of waiting to pull permits and to work with the board, voted against any moratorium at all. When the citizens heard what happened, they flooded the next commission meeting with opposition and HPSII hurriedly submitted an application for a zoning change from agriculture to mining, tying the hands of the commissioners and gagging them from any further verbal interactions with the public.

Even though the Bradford Commission won’t engage in the conversation, these folks are determined, meeting after meeting, to give the commissioners an ear-full. They submit frequent letters to the editor of the local paper to keep the public apprised of the goings on. They have collected more than 35,000 petition signatures and gotten nearly all of the local cities and townships to pass Resolutions in Opposition. They set up tables at local events with their handouts: petitions, brochures, Q and A sheets, and even individual letters to be signed, sealed, and stamped on site then mailed to the BCC.

The most impressive aspect of this leaderless group is that they toss ideas around like bean bags until enough people with the necessary talents step in to implement the most valuable ones. It’s a fascinating, though unconventional, self-organizing dynamic that seems to work well for this group and impresses any who witness the results. Most of these folks didn’t even know each other before collaborating around this issue. But, now these bears have been poked, and they’re determined to keep their ears to the ground for early rumblings from the extraction industries so they can lodge preemptive strikes against such future destruction. As far as they’re concerned, if not them, then who? How about you?

Follow the group at: Citizens-Against-Phosphate-Mining-in-Union-and-Bradford-Counties

Election aftermath, November 2016

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Responding to the criticism beginning to happen between Democratic players in our defeat:

The Democratic Party really screwed up, but blaming our allies for our losses will only add salt to all our wounds. The party of racist, sexist, xenophobic violence and the people who voted with them are responsible for this fiasco. Apparently more than 50% of white Americans are comfortable voting for a sexual predator about whom we know nothing, over someone whose life is an open book, but who is accused of hiding some emails. If progressives turn on each other, we will be more demoralized and ineffective than we are now.

Florida went Red, except for 8 urban counties. The Democratic Party was mostly ineffective outside these counties.

North Central Florida is still dominated by those who listen to Fox “News.” Democrats don’t reach people effectively with our great ideas of how to fix the economy, the environment, making things better for ordinary people of all kinds. Not like the GOP reaches them with misinformation and lies about Democratic policies. The majority (of white people) in our rural counties don’t vote for great candidates who would expand Medicaid, raise the minimum wage, protect the air and water, control machine guns on the street, usher in women’s equality, protect civil rights, etc., etc. They don’t vote their genuine self-interests. African-American people do vote their self-interest, listen to each other and provide leadership, while living among, and usually working for, white people who just don’t get it. They are outnumbered.

In addition to Fox, the campaign featured the political and corporate ads produced by the GOP and their corporate backers. These ads give me pause– they are incredibly slick and manipulative. There has been no comparable effort on the left.  Efforts, yes, too numerous to count. But comparable, no. Our first step has to be to get money out of politics, to begin to lessen corporate control of our government. But that is not sufficient.

Can we understand what has really happened?

The “conservative movement” has been steadily and massively working to undermine unions, dumb-down schools, stop racial integration, and make it an assumption of public discourse that lower taxes and deregulation help everyone get ahead. These policies help only the rich and powerful conservatives.

People who look at the big picture call the U.S. a “center-right” country. The conservative movement took hold in the 1950’s, with tax reductions, in a time when taxes were genuinely high. It grew in the 1960’s as Jim Crow began to be outlawed and civil rights began to be enforced. It resisted equal rights for women and defeated the ERA. It pushed for continued tax reductions, elimination of Glass-Stiegel, human and religious rights for corporations (money = speech). The undocumented continued to enter our country in large numbers because agribusiness wanted the cheapest labor possible. Immigration reform laws were stalled every time because of corporate control of “political will.”

Conservatives were empowered in 2004 by anti-gay sentiment. They fought affirmative action, and indeed, segregation in our country has increased and progress for African-Americans has slowed.  Protecting the environment was once a bipartisan issue; but over time, as corporate power grew on the right, all efforts to make the world a healthier place became the province of progressives. The denial of climate science goes hand-in-hand with the denial of evolution.  When you follow the money, you can see that the biggest corporations and the men who run them have more cash than they can count, and the right-wing is their mouthpiece. Conservative policies are not populist, they are not environmentalist, and it is delusional to think otherwise.

Without corporate funding, progressives must overcome this concerted power take-over. People on our side talk about how dumb it is for our neighbors to vote against their own interests; how fearful they are, without basis, of losing their guns or their freedom to worship in the Christian church of their choice. It is all propaganda, not fact.

Trump voters just believe he will make life better, because he said so. There is basic and widespread economic loss here, but these voters are comfortable with and seem to enjoy Trump’s racism, sexism and xenophobia. More than half of women voters still think abuse is acceptable, or Trump would not have won the countryside. This situation is the flowering of a movement that began after WWII .

In rural America white men have a shorter life expectancy than they used to. Older white men are committing suicide in measurably greater numbers than they used to. Meth and Oxycoton are spreading rapidly through the countryside. These new developments are the result of PTSD, of economic loss through globalization, and the great recession. Corporate elites, the 1%, are to blame for their economic loss and war-time experiences.  Not Mexicans, women, and Black people.

White men who used to have what they considered good jobs are living in a despair they are unprepared for. Ironically, it is the kind of despair that women, people of color, sexual minorities, and economic migrants know all too well. Guided by Fox “News” and their elected leaders, older white men turn their hurt on us, blame us. The one thing we know about Trump is he believes in revenge. So do his voters.

Extracting America from this morass is a huge project. The Democratic Party is not equipped to take it on. A much larger movement is the only thing that even has a chance. I sure hope Democrats will be integral to growing a movement like this, while not dominating it.