NYT Essay on Troublesome Facts About John McCain

The Candidate We Still Dont Know
Published: August 16, 2008

AS I went on vacation at the end of July, Barack Obama was leading John McCain by three to four percentage points in national polls. When I returned last week he still was. But lo and behold, a whole new plot twist had rolled off the bloviation assembly line in those intervening two weeks: Obama had lost the election!

The poor guy should be winning in a landslide against the despised party of Bush-Cheney, and hes not. He should be passing the 50 percent mark in polls, and hes not. Hes been done in by that ad with Britney and Paris and by a new international crisis that allows McCain to again flex his Manchurian Candidate military cred. Let the neocons identify a new battleground for igniting World War III, whether Baghdad or Tehran or Moscow, and McCain gets with the program as if Angela Lansbury has just dealt him the Queen of Hearts.

Obama has also been defeated by racism (again). He cant connect and close the deal with ordinary Americans too doltish to comprehend a multicultural biography that includes what Cokie Roberts of ABC News has damned as the foreign, exotic place of Hawaii. As The Economist sums up the received wisdom, lunch-pail Ohio Democrats find Obamas ideas of change airy-fairy and are all asking, Who on earth is this guy?

It seems almost churlish to look at some actual facts. No presidential candidate was breaking the 50 percent mark in mid-August polls in 2004 or 2000. Obamas average lead of three to four points is marginally larger than both John Kerrys and Al Gores leads then (each was winning by one point in Gallup surveys). Obama is also ahead of Ronald Reagan in mid-August 1980 (40 percent to Jimmy Carters 46). At Pollster.com, which aggregates polls and gauges the electoral count, Obama as of Friday stood at 284 electoral votes, McCain at 169. That means McCain could win all 85 electoral votes in current toss-up states and still lose the election.

Yet surely, we keep hearing, Obama should be running away with the thing. Even Michael Dukakis was beating the first George Bush by 17 percentage points in the summer of 1988. Of course, were Obama ahead by 17 points today, the same prognosticators now fussing over his narrow lead would be predicting that the arrogant and presumptuous Obama was destined to squander that landslide on vacation and tank just like his hapless predecessor.

The truth is we have no idea what will happen in November. But for the sake of argument, lets posit that one thread of the Obama-is-doomed scenario is right: His lead should be huge in a year when the G.O.P. is in such disrepute that at least eight of the partys own senatorial incumbents are skipping their own convention, the fail-safe way to avoid being caught near the Larry Craig Memorial Mens Room at the Twin Cities airport.

So why isnt Obama romping? The obvious answer and both the excessively genteel Obama campaign and a too-compliant press bear responsibility for it is that the public doesnt know who on earth John McCain is. The most revealing poll this month by far is the Pew Research Center survey finding that 48 percent of Americans feel theyre hearing too much about Obama. Pew found that only 26 percent feel that way about McCain, and that nearly 4 in 10 Americans feel they hear too little about him. Its past time for that pressing educational need to be met.

What is widely known is the skin-deep, out-of-date McCain image. As this fairy tale has it, the hero who survived the Hanoi Hilton has stood up as rebelliously in Washington as he did to his Vietnamese captors. He strenuously opposed the execution of the Iraq war; he slammed the presidents response to Katrina; he fought the agents of intolerance of the religious right; he crusaded against the G.O.P. House leader Tom DeLay, the criminal lobbyist Jack Abramoff and their coterie of influence-peddlers.

With the exception of McCains imprisonment in Vietnam, every aspect of this profile in courage is inaccurate or defunct.

McCain never called for Donald Rumsfeld to be fired and didnt start criticizing the war plan until late August 2003, nearly four months after Mission Accomplished. By then the growing insurgency was undeniable. On the day Hurricane Katrina hit, McCain laughed it up with the oblivious president at a birthday photo-op in Arizona. McCain didnt get to New Orleans for another six months and didnt sharply express public criticism of the Bush response to the calamity until this April, when he traveled to the Gulf Coast in desperate search of election-year pageantry surrounding him with black extras.

McCain long ago embraced the rights agents of intolerance, even spending months courting the Rev. John Hagee, whose fringe views about Roman Catholics and the Holocaust were known to anyone who can use the Internet. (Once the McCain campaign discovered YouTube, it ditched Hagee.) On Monday McCain is scheduled to appear at an Atlanta fund-raiser being promoted by Ralph Reed, who is not only the former aide de camp to one of the agents of intolerance McCain once vilified (Pat Robertson) but is also the former Abramoff acolyte showcased in McCains own Senate investigation of Indian casino lobbying.

Though the McCain campaign announced a new no-lobbyists policy three months after The Washington Posts February report that lobbyists were essentially running the whole operation, the fact remains that McCains top officials and fund-raisers have past financial ties to nearly every domestic and foreign flashpoint, from Fannie Mae to Blackwater to Ahmad Chalabi to the government of Georgia. No sooner does McCain flip-flop on oil drilling than a bevy of Hess Oil family members and executives, not to mention a lowly Hess office manager and his wife, each give a maximum $28,500 to the Republican Party.

While reporters at The Post and The New York Times have been vetting McCain, many others give him a free pass. Their default clich is to present him as the Old Faithful everyone already knows. They routinely salute his independence, his maverick image and his renegade reputation as the hackneyed script was reiterated by Karl Rove in a Wall Street Journal op-ed column last week. At Talking Points Memo, the essential blog vigilantly pursuing the McCain revelations often ignored elsewhere, Josh Marshall accurately observes that the Republican candidate is graded on a curve.

Most Americans still dont know, as Marshall writes, that on the campaign trail McCain frequently forgets key elements of policies, gets countries names wrong, forgets things hes said only hours or days before and is frequently just confused. Most Americans still dont know it is precisely for this reason that the McCain campaign has now shut down the presss previously unfettered access to the candidate on the Straight Talk Express.

To appreciate the discrepancy in what we know about McCain and Obama, merely look at the coverage of the potential first ladies. We have heard too much indeed about Michelle Obamas Princeton thesis, her pay raises at the University of Chicago hospital, her statement about being proud of her country and the false rumor of a video of her ranting about whitey. But we still havent been inside Cindy McCains tax returns, all her multiple homes or private plane. The Los Angeles Times reported in June that Hensley & Company, the enormous beer distributorship she controls, lobbies regulatory agencies on alcohol issues that involve public health and safety, in opposition to groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving. The McCain campaign told The Times that Mrs. McCains future role in her beer empire wont be revealed before the election.

Some of those who know McCain best Republicans are tougher on him than the press is. Rita Hauser, who was a Bush financial chairwoman in New York in 2000 and served on the Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board in the administrations first term, joined other players in the G.O.P. establishment in forming Republicans for Obama last week. Why? The leadership qualities she admires in Obama temperament, sustained judgment, the ability to play well with others are missing in McCain. He doesnt listen carefully to people and make reasoned judgments, Hauser told me. If John says Im going with so and so, you cant count on that the next morning, she complained, adding, Thats not the man we want for president.

McCain has even prompted alarms from the rights own favorite hit man du jour: Jerome Corsi, who Swift-boated John Kerry as co-author of Unfit to Command in 2004 and who is trying to do the same to Obama in his newly minted best seller, The Obama Nation.

Corsis writings have been repeatedly promoted by Sean Hannity on Fox News; Corsis publisher, Mary Matalin, has praised her authors scholarship. If Republican warriors like Hannity and Matalin think so highly of Corsis research into Obama, then perhaps we should take seriously Corsis scholarship about McCain. In recent articles at worldnetdaily.com, Corsi has claimed (among other charges) that the McCain campaign received strong financial support from a group tied to Al Qaeda and that McCains personal fortune traces back to organized crime in Arizona.

As everyone says, polls are meaningless in the summers of election years. Especially this year, when theres one candidate whose real story has yet to be fully told.

Read original article here at the New York Times.
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Chilling Video Suggesting “McCain Will Make Cheney Look Like Gandhi

It literally made the hair on my arms stand on end, and that’s why I am forwarding this video.

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Obama Milwaukee Campaign Team Offers Us “Intergenerational Civic Engagement”

Obama and the Obama movement take the concept of “civic engagement” very seriously. And much of the campaign’s genius derives from the sparks that fly when different generations and culture streams of the United States work for worthy visions.

If you are an overworked American with too many other responsibilities to spend extra hours in direct campaign work, e.g. phoning, canvassing, meeting, how about letting your family members less swamped with everyday challenges know their as a real live democratic candidacy to be won.

Participatory and Nuanced Obama Campaign Structure

The Obama team structure is the campaigns way of keeping this movement local. There are 12 field organizers in the county, organizing 12 regions, and each region has 6–7 teams.

The teams themselves will be responsible for the voter contact within their specific region. Voter contact, just to be perfectly clear, would be canvasses, phonebanks, volunteer recruitment, voter registration, house meeting recruitment , and helping us with any special events. As a team, there is a lot to do.

But that is the beauty of ityou get to work as a team. The individual team will break down into a canvass coordinator and a phonebank coordinator, volunteer coordinator and registration coordinator, etc. As team member, you get to play to your strengths and your interests, working effectively and efficiently in your own community.

In terms of a time commitment, the campaign requests that you commit at least 10 hours a week, either making phone calls and knocking doors, prepping for those things, or just spending an afternoon talking to your friends and local business owners getting them involved.

When it comes to resources and support, the field organizer will be your backbone, giving you the guidance and materials that youll need to accomplish your tasks. That is why I copied in Javier and Kalpa.

Become Part of the Obama Campaign in Milwaukee

Host House or Cafe Meetings With Your Friends & Obama Field Organizer

Gather their social and activist networks with the purpose of bringing some of them into the campaign. The host would have a co-host from the Obama campaign, probably a Field Organizer, and it involves a simple format where the host and the Obama co-host share some of their life stories and how they came to support Obama, just as some people did last evening, showing a short DVD, and then opening the floor to discussion.

Finally the Obama co-host makes a pitch for volunteering and passes around sign up sheets. The house meetings are great for recruiting additional volunteers and additional house meeting hosts so that the personal-relationship-building (the key to Obama style community organizing) and the volunteer pool for voter contact activities continues to expand.

Obama Team Members

10 hours a week to the campaign important voter contact activities

  • neighborhood canvassing
  • phone banking

Voter Registrars.

I would also add that during canvassing some voter registration goes on as well, so it would be good for people to get the city and/or state training to be deputized as voter registrars.

Training to Become a Deputy Registrar Is Easy!

To register people who live in the City of Milwaukee:

Elections Commission, City Hall, Milwaukee

Room 501, 200 East Wells St.

Tuesday, September 16: 11:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m

Thursday, September 18: 2:00 p.m.- 3:00 p.m.

Tuesday, September 23: 11:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m

Thursday, September 25: 2:00 p.m. - 3:00 p.m

Arrive early to ensure a place, as the EC only trains 20 people at a time.

The phone number for the City Elections Commission is 414–286–3491.

To register those who live anywhere in the State of Wisconsin:

The Elections Division of the State of Wisconsin Government Accountability Board will do training to deputize registrars who may register anyone living anywhere in the State of Wisconsin. This makes it possible to register Milwaukee-area citizens who live in the surrounding suburbs. A date for the post-primary Milwaukee state deputy registrar training will be set soon.

You must register in advance for this at the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board website:


For more information contact Alison Coakley at 608–266–8005 or by email at [email protected]

To register anyone who is a citizen residing in the United States:

You do not have to be deputized to register voters using the federal registration form. Federal forms are available online or at the Democratic Party offices.

We are not encouraging using federal registration forms because voters registered this way must bring state identification cards and proof of residency to the polls on election day, the same identification required to register at the polls.

The Facebooker Who Friended Obama

Published: July 7, 2008

Last November, Mark Penn, then the chief strategist for Hillary Rodham Clinton, derisively said Barack Obamas supporters look like Facebook.

Chris Hughes, 24, a founder of Facebook, left the company to develop Senator Barack Obamas Web presence.

Chris Hughes takes that as a compliment.

Mr. Hughes, 24, was one of four founders of Facebook. In early 2007, he left the company to work in Chicago on Senator Obamas new-media campaign. Leaving behind his company at such a critical time would appear to require some cognitive dissonance: political campaigns, after all, are built on handshakes and persuasion, not computer servers, and Mr. Hughes has watched, sometimes ruefully, as Facebook has marketed new products that he helped develop.

It was overwhelming for the first two months, he recalled. It took a while to get my bearings.

But in fact, working on the Obama campaign may have moved Mr. Hughes closer to the center of the social networking phenomenon, not farther away.

The campaigns new-media strategy, inspired by popular social networks like MySpace and Facebook, has revolutionized the use of the Web as a political tool, helping the candidate raise more than two million donations of less than $200 each and swiftly mobilize hundreds of thousands of supporters before various primaries.

The centerpiece of it all is My.BarackObama.com, where supporters can join local groups, create events, sign up for updates and set up personal fund-raising pages. If we did not have online organizing tools, it would be much harder to be where we are now, Mr. Hughes said.

Mr. Obama, now the presumptive Democratic nominee, credits the Internets social networking tools with a big part of his primary season success.

One of my fundamental beliefs from my days as a community organizer is that real change comes from the bottom up, Mr. Obama said in a statement. And theres no more powerful tool for grass-roots organizing than the Internet.

Now Mr. Hughes and other campaign aides are applying the same social networking tools to try to win the general election. This time, however, they must reach beyond their base of young, Internet-savvy supporters.

By early April, Mr. Obamas new-media team was already planning for the election by expanding its online phone-calling technology. In mid-May, to keep volunteers busy as the primaries played out, the campaign started a nationwide voter registration drive. And in late June, after Senator Clinton bowed out of the race, the millions of people on the Obama campaigns e-mail lists were asked to rally her supporters as well as undecided voters by hosting Unite for Change house parties across the country. Nearly 4,000 parties were held.

The campaigns successful new-media strategy is already being studied as a playbook for other candidates, including the presumptive Republican nominee, Senator John McCain.

Their use of social networks will guide the way for future campaigns, Peter Daou, Mrs. Clintons Internet director, said at a recent political technology conference. Mr. Daou called Mr. Obamas online outreach amazing.

The heart of the campaigns online strategy is a teeming corner of Mr. Obamas headquarters two blocks from the Chicago River, a crowded space that looks more like an Internet start-up company than a campaign war room. During a visit in late May, a bottle of whiskey sat, almost empty, atop a refrigerator (there had been plenty of victories to celebrate lately, a staff member explained).

Sitting amid a cluster of cubicles, Mr. Hughes, whose title is online organizing guru, handles the My.BarackObama.com site, which is known within the campaign as MyBo. Other staff members maintain Mr. Obamas presence on Facebook (where he has one million supporters), purchase online advertising, respond to text messages from curious voters, produce videos and e-mail millions of supporters.

Before helping build Facebook, the social network of choice for 70 million Americans, the fresh-faced and sandy-haired Mr. Hughes, who grew up in Hickory, N.C., went to boarding school at Andover, where he joined the Democratic Club and the student government. In the fall of 2002, he went to Harvard, where he majored in history and literature. He and a roommate, Mark Zuckerberg now the chief executive of Facebook shared a room that was just about as small as my cubby at work is these days, Mr. Hughes said.

Mr. Zuckerberg and another Facebook co-founder dropped out in 2004 to work on the site full time, but Mr. Hughes graduated in 2006 before venturing to Silicon Valley.

In February 2007, after showing interest in Mr. Obamas candidacy and being reassured that the campaigns new-media operation would be more than just a couple Internet guys in a corner, he left Facebook, where he has stock options that are potentially worth tens of millions of dollars, and moved to Chicago, where he lives and dresses like any other recent college graduate. Cabs are a luxury, he said.

As supporters started to join MyBo in early 2007, Mr. Hughes brought a growth strategy, borrowed from Facebooks founding principles: keep it real, and keep it local. Mr. Hughes wanted Mr. Obamas social network to mirror the off-line world the same way that Facebook seeks to, because supporters would foster more meaningful connections by attending neighborhood meetings and calling on people who were part of their daily lives. The Internet served as the connective tissue.

While many candidates reach their supporters through the Web, the social networking features of MyBo allow supporters to reach one another.

Mr. Hughess abrupt shift from Facebook pioneer to campaign aide was not easy. In the lonely months before the Iowa caucus, he grappled with the small scale of his new social network, measuring its membership by the thousands rather than the millions he was accustomed to. He had to learn mystifying political shorthand (VAN, for voter file management; N.P.G., for the donor and volunteer database) and figure out how campaigns operate. Eventually, he grew comfortable.

At first, his main focus was a single state. Throughout last summer and fall, the prevailing attitude was, What can you do for Iowa today? Mr. Hughes recalled.

Mr. Obamas win in the Iowa caucuses drove new supporters to the MyBo site in droves. Using the campaigns online toolkit, energized volunteers laid the groundwork for field workers.

So far, MyBo has attracted 900,000 members, although aides play down the raw numbers.

The point is not to have a million people signed up, said Joe Rospars, the campaigns new-media director, although he does expect to have well over a million signed up on MyBo by November. The point is to be able to chop up that million-person list into manageable chunks and organize them.

In some primary and caucus states, volunteers used the Internet to start organizing themselves months before the campaign staff arrived. In Texas on March 4, Mrs. Clinton won the popular vote, but Mr. Obama came away with a lead of five delegates, thanks to a caucus win. Caucuses are a test of organizational strength, and Mr. Obamas team used database technology to track 100,000 Texas volunteers and put them to work. This permitted campaign staff members to skip Steps 1, 2 and 3, Mr. Hughes said.

So maybe the Obama core does look like Facebook. Mr. Penns remark, made at the Jefferson-Jackson Dinner in Iowa and reported by The Politico, was cited by both Mr. Rospars and Mr. Hughes in separate interviews.

Virtual phone banks greatly benefited Mr. Obama. During the primaries, volunteers could sign in online, receive a list of phone numbers and make calls from home. The volunteers made hundreds of thousands of calls last winter and spring. At the end of June, the Obama campaign began carefully opening up its files of voters to online supporters, making it easier to find out which Democratic-leaning neighbors to call and which registered-independent doors to knock on.

One goal is to drive online energy into in-person support. From January to April, for instance, the Obama campaign spent $3 million on online advertising to steer would-be voters to their polling places with online tools that tell people where to vote. The locators are hard to build, but once you build them, they have a very high return on investment, Mr. Hughes said.

Much of the technology in the Obama toolbox was pioneered by Howard Deans 2004 campaign. We were like the Wright brothers, said Joe Trippi, the Web mastermind of the Dean campaign. The Obama team, he added, skipped Boeing, Mercury, Gemini theyre Apollo 11, only four years later.

Mr. Rospars and other former Dean aides formed a consulting firm, Blue State Digital, to refine their techniques. The Obama campaign purchased the backbone of MyBo from Blue State and has set out to improve it. Its still TheFacebook, Mr. Hughes said, comparing Mr. Obamas current site to the earliest and narrowest version of Facebook. Its still very, very rough around the edges.

Last month, acknowledging that attacks during the general election are likely to be more vociferous, the Obama campaign tried to capitalize on its network by creating a Web page, FightTheSmears.com. Through that site, the campaign hopes that supporters will act as a truth squad working to untangle accusations, as bloggers have informally in other campaigns and as many did when CBS reported on President Bushs National Guard service in 2004.

People who have posted on the site have already taken up five rumors, including that Mr. Obama was not born in the United States (a birth certificate was displayed) and that he does not put his hand over his heart during the Pledge of Allegiance (the site links to a YouTube video of him doing so).

Republican strategists say, wryly, that Senator McCains 2000 campaign was innovative in its use of technology. (The candidate held a groundbreaking virtual fund-raiser and enabled supporters to sign up online.) But that was back when Mr. McCain ran as an outsider; as the presumptive nominee, he is no longer an upstart. His social network, called McCainSpace and part of JohnMcCain.com, is virtually impossible to use and appears largely abandoned, said Adam Ostrow, the editor of Mashable, a blog about social networking.

By all accounts, Mr. McCain is not the BlackBerry-wielding politician that Mr. Obama is. But he has given credit to what he calls Mr. Obamas excellent use of the Internet, saying at a news conference last month that we are working very hard at that as well. The McCain campaign recently reintroduced its Web site and hired new bloggers to broaden its online presence.

Patrick Ruffini, a Republican strategist who was the Webmaster for President Bushs 2004 campaign, said that a campaigns culture largely determines its digital strategy. The McCain campaign could hire the best people, build the best technology, and adopt the best tactics on the Internet. But it would have to be in sync with the candidate and the campaign, Mr. Ruffini said.

Mr. Hughes and other Obama aides say that their candidate gravitates naturally toward social networking, so much so that he even filled out his own Facebook profile two years ago. Mr. Obama has pledged that if he is elected, he will hire a chief technology officer; Mr. Hughess face lights up at the thought.

Other administrations have adapted to the Internet, but they havent valued it, he said.

Mr. Hughes has not decided whether to return to Facebook, and the decision does hinge in part on the fate of the campaign. But the lessons he has learned in political life seem to reinforce those learned in Silicon Valley.

You can have the best technology in the world, he said, but if you dont have a community who wants to use it and who are excited about it, then it has no purpose.
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David Brooks Essay on Where Obama Movement Dollars Come From: “Information Age Analysts”

The real core of his financial support is something else, the rising class of information age analysts. Once, the wealthy were solidly Republican. But the information age rewards education with money. There are many smart high achievers who grew up in liberal suburbs around San Francisco, L.A. and New York, went to left-leaning universities like Harvard and Berkeley and took their values with them when they became investment bankers, doctors and litigators.

The trends are pretty clear: rising economic sectors tend to favor Democrats while declining economic sectors are more likely to favor Republicans. The Democratic Party (not just Obama) has huge fund-raising advantages among people who work in electronics, communications, law and the catchall category of finance, insurance and real estate. Republicans have the advantage in agribusiness, oil and gas and transportation.

Over the past several years, the highly educated coastal rich have been engaged in a little culture war with the inland corporate rich. This is a war over values, leadership styles and social networks.

Op-Ed Columnist
Obamas Money Class

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Published: July 1, 2008

Barack Obama sells the Democratic Party short. He talks about his fund-raising success as if his donors were part of a spontaneous movement of small-money enthusiasts who cohered around himself. In fact, Democrats have spent years building their donor network. Obamas fund-raising base is bigger than John Kerrys, Howard Deans and Al Gores, but its not different.
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The Conversation

Times columnists David Brooks and Gail Collins discuss the 2008 presidential race.
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As in other recent campaigns, lawyers account for the biggest chunk of Democratic donations. They have donated about $18 million to Obama, compared with about $5 million to John McCain, according to data released on June 2 and available at OpenSecrets.org.

People who work at securities and investment companies have given Obama about $8 million, compared with $4.5 for McCain. People who work in communications and electronics have given Obama about $10 million, compared with $2 million for McCain. Professors and other people who work in education have given Obama roughly $7 million, compared with $700,000 for McCain.

Real estate professionals have given Obama $5 million, compared with $4 million for McCain. Medical professionals have given Obama $7 million, compared with $3 million for McCain. Commercial bankers have given Obama $1.6 million, compared with $1.2 million for McCain. Hedge fund and private equity managers have given Obama about $1.6 million, compared with $850,000 for McCain.

When you break it out by individual companies, you find that employees of Goldman Sachs gave more to Obama than workers of any other employer. The Goldman Sachs geniuses are followed by employees of the University of California, UBS, JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, National Amusements, Lehman Brothers, Harvard and Google. At many of these workplaces, Obama has a three- or four-to-one fund-raising advantage over McCain.

When he is swept up in rhetorical fervor, Obama occasionally says that his campaign is 90 percent funded by small donors. He has indeed had great success with small donors, but only about 45 percent of his money comes from donations of $200 or less.

The real core of his financial support is something else, the rising class of information age analysts. Once, the wealthy were solidly Republican. But the information age rewards education with money. There are many smart high achievers who grew up in liberal suburbs around San Francisco, L.A. and New York, went to left-leaning universities like Harvard and Berkeley and took their values with them when they became investment bankers, doctors and litigators.

Political analysts now notice a gap between professionals and managers. Professionals, like lawyers and media types, tend to vote and give Democratic. Corporate managers tend to vote and give Republican. The former get their values from competitive universities and the media world; the latter get theirs from churches, management seminars and the country club.

The trends are pretty clear: rising economic sectors tend to favor Democrats while declining economic sectors are more likely to favor Republicans. The Democratic Party (not just Obama) has huge fund-raising advantages among people who work in electronics, communications, law and the catchall category of finance, insurance and real estate. Republicans have the advantage in agribusiness, oil and gas and transportation. Which set of sectors do you think are going to grow most quickly in this centurys service economy?

Amazingly, Democrats have cultivated this donor base while trending populist on trade by forsaking much of the Clinton Third Way approach and by vowing to raise taxes on capital gains and the wealthy. If Obamas tax plans go through, those affluent donors could wind up giving over 50 percent of their income to the federal government.

Theyve managed to clear these policy hurdles partly by looking out for tort lawyers and other special groups. But mostly they have taken advantage of the rivalry between the two American elites.

Over the past several years, the highly educated coastal rich have been engaged in a little culture war with the inland corporate rich. This is a war over values, leadership styles and social networks.

Socially liberal knowledge workers naturally want to see people like themselves at the head of society, not people who used to run Halliburton and who are supported by a vast army of evangelicals.

If the Democrats are elected, this highly educated class will have much more say over policy than during the campaign. Undecided voters sway campaigns, but in government, elites generally run things. Once the Republicans are vanquished, I wouldnt hold your breath waiting for that capital gains tax hike or serious measures to expand unionization.

Over the past few years, people from Goldman Sachs have assumed control over large parts of the federal government. Over the next few they might just take over the whole darn thing.

London Urban Farmer’s Projects and Book “Edible Estates”

proposes the replacement of the domestic front lawn in cities with “an edible landscape”.

Edible Skyscrapers Become “Sky Farms”

“The urban farmer: One man’s crusade to plough up the inner city”

By Kate Burt
Sunday, 1 June 2008

Haeg details his concept in his new book Edible Estates, which proposes the replacement of the domestic front lawn in cities with ‘an edible landscape’ Meghan Quinn

Fritz Haeg isn’t perhaps the obvious representative of a revolution in global farming. As an architecture and design academic and practitioner, the American has had his work exhibited at Tate Modern and the Whitney Museum of American Art, and has taught fine art at several US universities. Yet it is last year’s community-collaborative project on an inner-city council estate in south London that best showcases his current passion: the urban farm.

Last April, in a discussion about the global food crisis, Gordon Brown announced: “We need to make great changes in the way we organise food production in the next few years.” High on the list of viable changes is the idea of inner-city agriculture. Which is the theory behind Haeg’s concept, detailed in his new book Edible Estates: it proposes the replacement of the domestic front lawn in cities with “an edible landscape”. Last year, to illustrate this point, Haeg was commissioned by the Tate to create a permanent “edible estate” on a triangle of communal grass in front of a housing estate near Elephant and Castle, bordered on two sides by a main road along which London buses thunder every few minutes.

The aim was to engage and involve the local residents and together they miraculously transformed a patch of grass previously favoured by dogs and drunks into a luscious agri-plot housing apple and plum trees, a “forest” of tomato plants, aubergines, squashes, Brussels sprouts, runner beans, sweet peas, a “salad wing”, herbs, edible flowers and 6ft artichoke plants. It is also quite beautiful: “The design was inspired by the ornate, curvy raised flowerbeds you find in front of Buckingham Palace,” explains Haeg. Interestingly, although this space is still accessible by passers-by unlike the traditional allotment, which Haeg feels is outdated there has been no theft or vandalism. The London project was mirrored in several locations around the US.

“All the projects I do are rooted in the way that an architect thinks and works,” says Haeg. “How we live and the spaces we make for ourselves.” And right now, he believes, we need to re-evaluate exactly that, and urgently so particularly in our overcrowded cities.

As part of its “One Planet Living” initiative, the World Wildlife Fund calculated our average personal carbon footprint in Britain. Perplexingly, it found that food production and its transport accounts for our greatest use of carbon 23 per cent per person beating personal transport, home energy and even shared services (the running of schools, hospitals, banks and so on). These results, combined with food shortages and escalating costs the price of apples and eggs has risen by 30 per cent in the past year mean action must be taken, says Haeg. Ornamental urban space is a luxury we can no longer afford, he believes: we need to be growing food on our lawns, greens, driveways and even public parks.

Haeg is not the only one to think it is time for change. The global Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) strategic alliance estimates that, by 2015, more than half the world’s population will be living in urban areas, provoking one of the greatest challenges in the history of agriculture as we try to find a way to keep a lid on food miles and produce enough food for everyone. “Now, more than ever,” urges Sustain, the alliance for better food and farming, “we need to grow more food closer to where people live.” And in this climate, it seems that everyone from town planners to head teachers, TV chefs to agri-entrepreneurs are getting excited about farming food in the big smoke.

But is it realistic to turn over our spare urban soil to the cause and is there really enough of it to do so? Erik Watson, an urban design director at the town-planning company Turley Associates, strongly believes that inner-city agriculture is the future. As such, he is already advising his clients on ways to incorporate farming into their developments and is particularly excited about the potential for transforming existing space enclosed in the traditionally British city structure, the “perimeter block” (a row of buildings constructed around an enclosed, private square typically divided into private gardens). “Look at an aerial view of London and you’ll see there’s an enormous amount of private open space contained within these blocks. It is perfect for this urban agricultural revolution,” he says.

Re-apportioning private space might not be as far-fetched as it sounds. Later this month Sustain is hosting a conference, called Growing Food for London, where ideas to be aired include the possibilities of using derelict council facilities, social housing land and unused private gardens for commercial agriculture, as well as the planting of fruit and nut trees in parks and along roads, creating community gardens in public parks and replacing ornamental plants with edible crops. It will also look at alternative food production such as mushroom growing, beekeeping and planting edibles in window boxes, as well as ideas for the little-explored area of rearing livestock in urban areas.

While beekeeping is on the rise in British cities it is estimated that there are 5,000 beehives in London alone other urban animal-based edibles are rare. Hunting might be the answer here squirrel meat has already been seized upon as a sustainable, free-range delicacy in rural Cornwall could it catch on in cities? Might pigeon pie become a Trafalgar Square speciality; has anyone thought of fox cutlets?

Perhaps more realistic is organised urban livestock rearing. “There are issues with planning noise pollution and so on,” says Zeenat Anjani from Sustain, “but you could definitely raise chickens and other small animals. We hope the Growing Food conference will open more people’s minds to these sorts of ideas and get the right people in the same room to talk about what they can do.”

Many are already talking about it. Inspired by the “victory gardens” of the First and Second World Wars, when civilians were urged to “dig for victory” to survive the food shortages, Jamie Oliver’s newest venture is to inspire the residents of inner-city Rochdale to eat like our wartime forebears and grow their own, while Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s new River Cottage series challenges five Bristol familes to transform a derelict patch of land into a fruitful smallholding.

In Middlesborough, the Groundwork South Tees trust has begun an urban-farming education programme to teach people how to cultivate herbs, vegetables and fruit even if they do not have a garden, by providing containers for patios, balconies and windowsills. There are also sustainable-food grants available to those who want to educate others how to produce their own food in cities, and how to compost effectively to improve typically poor-quality urban soil. ‘

If it comes off, perhaps one of the most high-profile initiatives still at bid stage is the Feed the Olympics proposal. It is a radical blueprint from several green organisations outlining how 6,000 acres of land in London could be put to work to grow enough food to provide the 14m-odd meals that will be needed during the 60 days of the 2012 Games, instead of importing it. This would involve creating 2,012 new food-growing spaces across the capital, including community gardens, allotments and roof gardens.

Revolutionary? In this country, yes but we’re lagging behind countries such as China, Japan and Cuba, which already have farms integrated into the social, economic and physical structures of their cities; as early as a decade ago Beijing town planners had begun to incorporate agriculture into the urban landscape. The Chinese government also offers courses to aspiring urban farmers and plans to cultivate gardens on nearly 10,000,000sq ft of roof space over the next 10 years.

Similarly, Argentina’s Programa de Agricultura Urbana (PAU) was set up to support city-based farmers in the aftermath of the country’s financial collapse. And in Cuba, when the US-led trade embargo resulted in severe food shortages, the government responded by investing in urban farms, providing state-owned plots and teaching relevant skills in schools.

But will it work in Britain? Carole Wright, who manages the communal garden created by Haeg in south London, says it already is. “It cost less than 5,000 to create and it is capable of feeding three blocks of flats with 24 households each,” she says. “We run family gardening sessions, Sunday sessions, after-school clubs and also container gardening, so residents can grow things on their balconies too. High- density housing is no barrier you can grow things out of an old baked-bean can. The more people we can get, the more we can produce. It’s not about the size of the land it’s about the maintenance.” She has had no shortage of regular, enthusiastic volunteers surprisingly most of whom are children.

Wright was delighted when one girl, a moody teenager who described herself as a “cybergoth”, grew her own beetroot. “You’d never have known she was excited about it,” says Wright, “but I spotted her one evening with her friends, holding the thing in her hands. ‘What are you doing with that?’ I asked. ‘Well,’ she said, ‘I grew it I wanted to show my mates.’ She comes down every day now to water her sunflowers.”

It’s not just about financial and health benefits Wright has also noticed social benefits. “People who have not spoken for five years are suddenly chatting again, discussing what they’ve grown. And it brings together people from different cultures too they lean over the fence and reminisce about the vegetables they grew in their countries as children okra, bananas, yams, sweet potatoes.”

Wright describes one gardener, an elderly widow, who has planted an almond tree as a memorial to her late husband and says he would have loved to see how the space had been transformed. “One guy has even replaced the photo of his family on his mobile phone with a picture of the garden. It’s given them so much pride.”

The impact of the garden has been enormous, says Wright. People from further and further away are coming along to get involved, learn new skills and socialise. “They see it and it’s like a lightbulb and they say, ‘We want our own edible estate.’ Well, it makes sense, doesn’t it?”

The world’s first edible high-rise

The potential of city-based farming could be vastly expanded if we extend upwards as well as using ground-level plots.

Of course, one major problem with growing produce on our roofs is the quantities of soil needed, which would add unfeasible amounts of weight. However, hydroponic technology using nutrient-enriched water instead of soil could be the solution.

Toronto scientist Gordon Graff has created plans for a 58-floor concept building the SkyFarm which would grow crops in the heart of the city and could provide enough food for 35,000 people every day. Crops would be irrigated by water recycled through the building’s hydroponic system and, with no soil, many diseases are ruled out meaning no need for chemical pesticides.

Rumours abound of a similar skyscraper farm being developed in Las Vegas. It is said that the 30-storey structure would be not just about agriculture, but would house pigs too though some have suggested the vertical pork farm could be a hoax. Punchlines on a postcard, please. KB
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Cuba’s Urban Farming Program a Counterrevolutionary Plot

With Food Prices Soaring, Cuba’s Urban Farms Create Petite Bourgeois Kulak Class Exploiting and Profiteering from Masses


By NIKO PRICE Associated Press Writer
HAVANA June 8, 2008 (AP)
The Associated Press
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Sacred Soil from Sacred Grounds

I have recently been blessed with a gift to urban farmer/gardeners
By the Quaker House in Riverwest, Milwaukee, of wood chips
That have been “cooking” on their grounds for about 3 years!

The bottom of their very large pile of wood chips,
Dropped off to them gratis by the Milwaukee Department of Public Works,
Appears to this apprentice urban mini-farmer to be wonderful.
My worms love it!

The Quakers used their wood chip pile for an on-site garden
But now have so much they have offered it to people in the community.

Would it not be a good thing to encourage other spiritual communities
To have other department of public works deposit quantities of wood chips
At an appropriate place on their grounds, first for their congregation’s gardens,
And then for their neighbors’ use?

The wood chip pile could be an occasion to educate people about composting
And gardening, and connect spiritual communities with their neighbors.

Perfect Spring Morning in Milwaukee
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Obama as “Lightworker”

“Barack Obama and good vibrations”

Mark Morford
Friday, June 6, 2008

I find I’m having this weird little debate with colleagues, readers, liberals and moderates and deeply depressed Republicans and spiritually amped people of all stripes and, in particular, with those who seem confused, angry, nonplussed, as they all ask me the same thing: What’s the big deal about Obama?

I, of course, have an answer. Sort of. It goes likes this:

Barack Obama ain’t really one of us. Not in the normal way, anyway.

This is what I find myself offering up in response to the whiners and to those with broken or sadly dysfunctional karmic antennae, to all those who just don’t understand all this chatter about Obama’s aura and MLK/JFK-like vibe, and, therefore, even if they’re liberals, they’re refusing to vote for him because they just aren’t feeling that deeper connection or, worse, they actively dislike Obama, believing him to be a slick and dangerous pawn of some sort of sinister machine they can’t quite define.

To them I say, all right, you want to know what it is? The appeal, the draw, the ethereal thing that keeps drawing millions of people in from all over the world, that keeps opening up and firing into new channels of the culture normally unaffected by politics? No, it’s not merely youthful vigor or handsomeness or even inspiring rhetoric. It is not fresh ideas or cool charisma or the fact that a black president will be historic and revolutionary in about a thousand different ways. It is something more. Even Bill Clinton, with all his effortless, winking charm, didn’t have what Obama has, which is a sort of powerful luminosity, a high-vibration integrity.

Dismiss it all you like, but I’ve heard from far too many smart, spiritually attuned people who’ve been blown away by Obama’s presence - not speeches, not policies, but sheer presence - to say it’s just a clever marketing ploy, a slick gambit carefully orchestrated by hotshot campaign organizers who, once Obama gets into office, will suddenly turn from perky optimists to vile, soul-sucking lobbyist whores with Obama as their suddenly evil, cackling overlord.

Here’s where it gets gooey. Many spiritually advanced people (not coweringly religious, mind you, but deeply spiritual) I know identify Obama as a Lightworker, that rare kind of calmly enlightened being who has the ability to lead us not merely to new foreign policies or health care plans or whatnot, but who can actually help usher in a new way of being on the planet, of connecting with this bizarre earthly experiment. These kinds of people actually help us evolve. They are philosophers and peacemakers of a high order, and they reignite the soul.

The unusual thing is, true Lightworkers almost never appear on such a brutal, spiritually empty stage as national politics. This is why Obama is so rare. And this is why he is so often compared to JFK and Martin Luther King Jr., to those leaders in our culture whose compelling vibrations still resonate throughout our short history.

Are you rolling your eyes and scoffing? Fine by me. But you gotta wonder why the JFK legacy has lasted so long, is so vital to our national identity? Yes, the assassination canonized his legend. The Kennedy family is our version of royalty. But there is something more. Those attuned to energies beyond the shallow, literal meanings of things say JFK wasn’t assassinated for any typical reason you can name. It’s because he was just this kind of high-vibration being, a peacemaker, at odds with the war machine, the CIA, the dark side. And it killed him.

Now, Obama. The next step. Another try. And perhaps Bush, who laid waste to the land and embarrassed the country and pummeled our national spirit into disenchanted pulp, has helped set the stage for an even larger and more fascinating stage of evolution in which we are finally truly ready for another Lightworker to step up.

I’m not arguing some sort of total revolution, a big happy global group hug with Obama as some sort of happy hippie camp counselor. I’m not saying the man’s going to swoop in like a superhero messiah and stop all wars and make the flowers grow and birds sing and solve world hunger and bring puppies to schoolchildren.

I’m certainly not saying he’s perfect, that his presidency will be free of compromise or fat-cat insiders or a great ugly heaps of politics as usual. While Obama’s certainly an entire universe away from George W. Bush in terms of quality, integrity, intelligence and, overall, inspirational energy - well, so is your dog. It isn’t hard to stand far above and beyond the worst president in American history.

But there simply is no denying that extra kick. As one reader put it, in a way, it’s not even about Obama, per se. There’s a vast amount of positive energy that’s been held back by the armies of BushCo darkness, and this energy has now found a a lightning rod, and is now effortlessly self-organizing around Obama’s candidacy. People and emotions and ideas of high and positive vibration are automatically drawn to him, because it is clear he is of the same material. It’s exactly like how Bush was a magnet for the low vibrations of fear and war and oppression and aggression, but, you know, completely reversed. And different. And far, far better.

Think that’s all a bunch of tofu-sucking New Age BS and Obama is really a dangerously elitist political salesman whose inexperience will lead us further into darkness because, when you’re talking national politics, nothing, really, ever changes? I understand. I get it. I often believe it myself. Not this time.

— Mark Morford columns with inset links to related material can be found at sfgate.com/columnists/morford.

Mark Morford’s column appears Wednesdays and Fridays on SFGate.com and in Datebook. E-mail him at [email protected]

San Francisco Victory Garden Initiative…

A local network of home gardens = A community of food producers!

Victory Gardens 2008
(VG2008+) is a project of Garden for the Environment and the City of San Francisco’s Department for the Environment. A two-year pilot project to support the transition of backyard, front yard, and unused land into organic food production areas, Victory Gardens 2008+ derives its title from, and build on, the successful nationwide Victory Garden programs of WWI and WWII. Victory Gardens 2008+, however, redefines “Victory” in the pressing context of urban sustainability. “Victory” is growing food at home for increased local food security and reducing the food miles associated with the average American meal.

Victory Gardens 2008+ was ideated by San Francisco based artist and designer Amy Franceschini in the Fall of 2006, for which she received the 2006 SECA award from the SF MOMA. Amy Franceschini partnered with Garden for the Environment for the planting of three initial Victory Gardens, and to develop and operate a citywide Victory Gardens program in San Francisco.

Backyard Victory Gardens (Current)

In 2008, Victory Gardens will install at least 15 pilot urban organic food gardens in San Francisco. Participation in the pilot program includes a multi-year commitment to the pilot program and a specified number of public Victory Garden tour dates. Once chosen, Victory Garden staff will install, and support, each Victory Garden. Through public outreach and education programs, VG08+ aims to create a community of urban food producers. Additionally, Victory Gardens is assembling data on the location and productive potential of urban land through the programs City Garden Registry.

You can pick up a paper copy of the Victory Gardens Application at City Hall in the Mayor’s office of Neighborhood Services, Room 160, in San Francisco.

Demonstration Victory Garden (Current)

Victory Gardens has developed a demonstration of the productive potential of small urban spaces for growing organic food at the Garden for the Environment, located at 7th Ave and Lawton Streets in San Francisco. Please stop by Wed 11AM-2PM to talk urban food with our Backyard Victory Garden Manager, Brooke Budner.

Urban Food Growing Workshops (Summer, Fall 2008)

Victory Garden and Garden for the Environment staff will host regular workshops on organic horticulture, with the specific goal of increasing gardeners capacity to successfully grow their own food in San Franciscos challenging Mediterranean climate. Workshops will be targeted to the pilot program participants, however workshops will be open to the public.

City Hall Victory Garden (Summer, 2008)

During the summer of 2008, the Victory Gardens program is creating a quarter-acre, edible, ornamental landscape in front of San Franciscos City Hall. The garden concept is a Living Quilt of people and plants, a garden of community. In partnership with Slow Food Nation, City Slickers Farms in West Oakland, and numerous partners, we will garden, educate, and produce food for those most in need in the city. Groundbreaking is July 1st, the first community planting day will be held July 12th, the Slow Food Nation Event is August 29 September 1st, and in mid-September the garden will be harvested, and the organic produce that we have grown over the course of the summer will be donated to the Glide Daily Meals and other City food service programs.

San Francisco Victory Garden City Farm Program (Future)

The SFVG City Farm program builds on the legacy of the Victory Gardens from the First and the Second World Wars and reinvents the original concept to meet contemporary needs building community around local food production, providing food for the poor, mitigating the environmental impact of our current food system, and enhancing San Franciscos food security & emergency preparedness. The project strategy is to create a network CSA model that maximizes productivity of urban lands while coordinating volunteerism and stewardship.

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Michael Pollan on the Farm Bill USA 2008 and Deb Eschmeyer Summary of the Same


I haven’t been in touch for a while, and some of you have written asking for an an update on the 2008 Farm Bill. After many, many months of wrangling, the bill was just passed by Congress, overriding a veto by the President. In my view, it is not a very good bill— it preserves more or less intact the whole structure of subsidies responsible for so much that is wrong in the American food system. On the other hand, it does contain some significant new provisions that, with luck, will advance the growing movement toward a more just, sustainable, and healthy food system.

You might rightly ask why there was so little movement on commodity subsidies, in a year when crop prices are at record highs and public scrutiny of the subsidy system has been intense. Indeed, the people on the Hill I talk to tell me they have not seen so much political activism around the farm bill in a generation. All the calls, cards, and emails sent by ordinary eaters clearly made a difference. So why so little change on the key issue? Why didn’t we get a food bill, rather than another farm bill?

Here’s what I think happened. Critics of farm-policy-as usual— and I count myself among them— did a much better job of demonizing subsidies than they did proposing alternative forms of farm support that would have won over some percentage of the farmers now receiving subsidies. The whole discourse depicting subsidies as a form of welfare — payments to celebrities, rich people in cities, mega-farms etc— convinced many farmers that the ultimate goal of the farm bill’s critics was to abolish subsidies, rather than to develop a new set of incentives that would encourage farmers to grow real food and take good care of their land. Had the reformers crafted proposals that were easy to explain and attractive to even just a segment of commodity-crop farmers, we could have made much more progress. Instead, faced with what appeared like a threat to their livelihood, the old guard hunkered down and defended the status quo, refusing even to negotiate on the central issues. Better alternatives could have split this block, and it was our failing not to devise and promote them. What the Old Guard did instead of negotiating a new system of farm support was what it has always done: pick off the opposition, faction by faction, by offering money for pet programs. The history of the farm bill has long been about such trade offs: Urban legislators support subsidies in exchange for rural support for food stamps. That Grand Bargain has now been extended to supporters of organic agriculture, local food systems, school lunch advocates, etc. The reason that, in the end, most of the activist groups wound up urging Congress to override the veto is that, by the end, they all had been given something they liked in the bill. You could put it more baldly, and suggest they’d all been bought off— that the $300-plus billion bill represents the exact price of buying off all the critics of the farm bill, plus the cost of maintaining the status quo. But this is how the game is played, and the fact is, some good will come of these programs, modest as they are— they will sow seeds of change and legitimize alternative food chains, or so we can hope.

The challenge for the next farm bill is clear: it’s not enough to engage the public, important as that is; we also have to get much smarter about both policy and politics, and craft some attractive proposals that will divide the farm block as well as move us to a healthier and more sustainable food system— economically sustainable for farmers and farm workers and environmentally sustainable. This is the project for the next few years. We’ve got our work cut out for us.

Below is a very good article summarizing what in the bill, for better and worse. It’s by Debra Eschmeyer, a farmer and activist who has been an important player in the reform movement. I pass it on with her permission. Best, Michael

Old MacDonald Has a Farm Bill

By Debra Eschmeyer

We’ve all noticed higher grocery bills, but did you know Congress passed a $307 billion farm bill in late May that has a much bigger impact on what you will eat for dinner tonight than what you chose to place in the grocery cart?

The farm bill has a hand in all that happens before the swallow. The bag of Tyson chicken wings (grain subsidies), gallon of Horizon Organic milk (forward contracting), and pound of Fuji apples (country of origin labeling) are all regulated in some fashion by this policy determining how our food is raised and who profits.

But does the massive legislation support family farmers? Increase food access in urban food deserts? Or feed the 40 million poor and hungry in the United States?

Yes and no. Reauthorized and revamped every five years, farm law has its roots in the 1930′s New Deal efforts to handle the overproduction of agricultural commodities while maintaining stable prices. Although most of the money in the current bill, around 75%, goes to nutrition programs such as food stamps, the politics of writing the bill is still driven by commodities such as corn, rice, wheat, cotton, and soybeans.

One way to interpret farm policy is to follow the money. According to the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, Cargill’s profits increased nearly 1000 percent from $280 million in FY1997−98 to $2.34 billion by FY2006−07. Add to that pile of profits the $35 billion in indirect subsidies that the industrial animal factories (owned and controlled by corporations like Cargill) reaped by being able to buy feed crops at 20–25 percent below the cost of production.

Farm-bloc legislators were challenged this time around to make the connection between the current farm policy’s cheap corn complex and the growing problem of diabetes and obesity. Unfortunately, prior policy plunders were not weeded out of the current farm bill. As the House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson (D-MN) explicitly stated that except for some “minor changes,” the new farm bill is “very much like the current law that we have been operating under.”

For those farm bill pugilistssustainable agriculture groups, anti-hunger advocates, faith-based organizations, conservationists, community gardeners, and grassroots family farmer coalitionsthat tried to have their voices heard above the industrial agriculture cacophony, the final 2008 Farm Bill is bittersweet. Bitter due to the numerous multifunctional reforms that never came to fruition while corporate agribusiness deepened their roots and sweet for the minor victories for sustainable agriculture, nutrition, and conservation.

The policies that survived through countless revisions, late night conferences, numerous listening sessions, lobbyist wrangling, and earmarks are far from the wish lists various groups envisioned. However, more than one thousand food and farm organizations came together and requested that Congress override the President’s promised veto. As stated in their joint letter to Congress:

“Communities across the nation, from urban to rural, have waited too long for this legislation. The Conference Report makes significant farm policy reforms, protects the safety net for all of America’s food producers, addresses important infrastructure needs for specialty crops, increases funding to feed our nation’s poor, and enhances support for important conservation initiatives. This is by no means a perfect piece of legislation, and none of our organizations achieved everything we had individually requested. However, it is a carefully balanced compromise of policy priorities that has broad support among organizations representing the nation’s agriculture, conservation, and nutrition interests.”

Passing through the House with a margin of 306 to 110 and the Senate 82 to 13, the votes in both chambers were far past the majority needed to defeat President Bush’s veto. Formally called the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008, the 673 pages of legislative prowess represent a precarious balancing act of principles and politics.

Below are samples of positive seeds of change planted in the new Farm Bill:

  • Community Food Projects and Geographic Preferences: The new Farm Bill provides $5 million in mandatory annual funding for innovative Community Food Projects for matching grants to community groups building sustainable local food systems addressing hunger, nutrition, and meeting food security goals. There is also new statutory language clearly stating that preference can be given to local purchasing of agriculture products for schools serving meals that receive federal assistance, resolving a conflict in USDA’s interpretation of the 2002 farm bill.

  • Local Food Initiatives: Another provision provides funding for new local and regional food supply networks including $33 million in mandatory funds for the Farmers Market Promotion Program, $56 million for the Seniors Farmers Market Nutrition Program, and $1.2 billion to expand the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program that will enable 3 million low income children across the country to have access to healthier food options.

  • GMO Oversight: New mandates to strengthen USDA oversight of GMO crops will help prevent the disaster that occurred when an unauthorized genetically modified rice strain entered the U.S. rice crop and caused massive losses to export markets. The new regulatory framework will reduce the potential for future GMO contamination events at field trial test sites.

  • First Ever Livestock Title: Provides much needed protections for independent ranchers and farmers raising livestock under contract, which includes preventing mandatory arbitration clauses for livestock/poultry contracts; allowing a three-day period to cancel contracts; and requiring contracts to disclose the requirement of large capital investments.

  • Diversity Initiative: The Farm Bill gives significant recognition to the importance of minority and socially disadvantaged farmers. There are specific targets for minority and socially disadvantaged farmer participation in conservation, farm credit, Value Added Producer Grants, and the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Programs. Minority Outreach and Education (Section 2501) authorized in the 1990 farm bill receives for the first time mandatory funding at $75 million over 4 years. This competitive grant program to community based organizations and educational institutions helps minority and socially disadvantaged farmers access USDA programs through effective outreach programs.

  • Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program: Provides $75 million over four years in mandatory money for competitive grants to groups providing technical assistance and other services to beginning farmers and ranchers. This program was created in the 2002 Farm Bill but was never funded.

  • Country-of-Origin Labeling and Interstate Meat Shipment: The Farm Bill includes language to implement long-awaited COOL requirements for produce, beef, pork, chicken, lamb and goat that will go into effect in September 2008. COOL was included in the 2002 Farm Bill, but food industry, USDA and meatpackers’ opposition have delayed its implementation. There are also provisions allowing for the interstate shipment of state-inspected beef that meets federal inspection standards. Both of these policies represent victories for consumers and farmers aiming to rebuild local food systems.

  • Organic Agriculture: The bill provides $78 million in mandatory funds for the Organic Research and Extension Initiative, which enhances the ability of organic producers and processors to grow and market organic food, feed, and fiber. For those transitioning to organic production, $22 million in mandatory funding is provided for the next five years.

The above positive provisions represent alternatives to the current food system without replacing the industrial model, which will take even more advocacy for good food policy in the next farm bill and beyond.

On one of my farm bill lobby visits to Washington, DC, I spoke to several Congressional Offices advocating for fair prices on behalf of family farmers. After one of my meetings, a young amiable congressional staffer with a mixed countenance of pity and arrogance, proceeded to tell me, “We aren’t looking to revolutionize the food system, Deb, let alone the farm bill.”

Well, I am looking to revolutionize the food system, and I am not alone. Yes, we have an uphill battle. Biotech giant Monsanto Co. spent nearly $1.3 million in just the first quarter of 2008 to lobby on farm bill provisions to protect their investments, but there are thousands of grassroots organizations working for public policy that will protect and strengthen the future of our food supply, environment, public health, and communities.

I’m on the frontline of this food revolution as a beginning organic farmer and food justice advocate. Will this farm bill help me with the infrastructure I need to process my chickens? Or provide me with the confidence that my sustainably raised food will be price competitive so that all people with empty and deep pockets alike have access to good, fair, and affordable food?

I’ll let you know in five years, but in the meantime, I’ll keep planting those seeds of change and hope you’ll join me in cultivating more palatable food policy.

For more information on farm bills: http://nationalaglawcenter.org/farmbills.

Debra Eschmeyer is the Marketing & Media Manager of the National Farm to School Network and the Center for Food & Justice. She works from a fifth-generation family farm in Ohio, where she continues her passion for organic farming raising heirloom fruits, vegetables, and chickens.

Prior to joining CFJ, Debra was the Project Director at the National Family Farm Coalition in Washington, DC where she focused on U.S. agricultural policy and food sovereignty initiatives among grassroots domestic and international rural advocacy and other social justice networks. She was also the Asia Program Coordinator for the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund at Conservation International and the Humanitarian Grants Asia Coordinator for Rotary International.
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Dancing in the Streets of the U.S.A.

In my mind’s eye, we’re dancing the in streets today.
What a great gift we’ve offered ourselves and the world!

Perhaps the world’s oldest political party
Has chosen a fine son of the best
Of the movements of our time.

The dreams of our visionary leaders
From days gone by,
Are in many inspiring ways
Taking shape, manifesting.

The Obama movement
Has enormous possibilities
For peace and reconciliation,
For justice and harmony,
For some kind of transcendence.

He and his team have loosened
Some rich soil and
Connected with many new sources
Of nutrients and energy!

May Obama live a long life!
May he inspire and advance
Our movements!

New Day, Milwaukee

Click here for more poetry by Olde Godsil
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Urban Agrarians Hope to Inspire Bill Moyers Show On Urban Agriculture and Edible Playgrounds

We’re hoping to find 100 people sending e-mails to Bill Moyers on this theme.

“Bill Moyers” <[email protected]>

Here are some examples…

Vicki Garrett

Dear Mr. Moyers:

There is a growing group of people concerned about increasing food prices and hunger in the world, and the effects of U.S. agriculture and energy policies on these issues. Suburban sprawl and agri-business have had the effect of separating Americans from the sources of their food, and as fuel prices go up, food security and cost become uncertain.

Buying food locally and growing it in cities have become obvious solutions to many people. Urban gardeners can provide impressive data on tons of food grown on small urban lots and its dollar value. This is accomplished through the superior care afforded by small initiatives and intensive gardening methods. Urban gardening not only makes fresh, nutrient-rich food available to people who otherwise might not be able to afford it or buy it in their neighborhoods, it also provides healthful activity, community building, and gives a bit of independence to many.

The subject, however, is noticeably absent from the any of the presidential campaigns. Farmland preservation is an important idea, but in many places, is heavily weighed toward making things more profitable for agribusiness rather than providing local healthy food to cities.

Have you considered a show on this subject?

Thank you for your consistently excellent journalism!

Vicki Garrett


Hi Mr. Bill Moyers,

I wanted to request that perhaps you do a segment on problems associated with industrial agriculture, but perhaps show what’s possible in terms of alternatives like localized agriculture and fuel production. My work, shown below on my website, deals exactly with sharing not only growing alternatives to the havoc wreaked by monocropping agriculture, but also emerging young farmers in the field of small scale food production. I think with the rising cost of food, fuel, and unemployment that now is the time to take advantage of what we have here to practice and experiment with what’s possible in our communities.

I think that the interest in localized food production and community building is only picking up momentum and I think many people would be interested. Thank you for your time and I hope you devote some thought to this endeavor.

Warm regards,

Garden Cycles Film Project
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Last edited by tyler schuster.   Page last modified on September 07, 2008

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