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Organic Checkoff — NO, New U.S. operating system — YES

Organic Checkoff — NO,  New U.S. operating system — YES
Posted April 18, 2017

This blogpost contains two parts:
A. My comments on the USDA Organic Checkoff proposal
B. Additional resources for learning about the U.S. economy’s operating system — money, banking, language, and democratic process.

A. Public comment regarding the Organic Checkoff proposal
(submitted on April 19, 2017 to the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service at

1. I oppose the Organic Checkoff, both in concept and content, on the grounds that the operating system of the entire U.S. economy (money + banking policies) encourages extraction, corner-cutting, and over-use of our natural resources. This makes the real growth of organic farming and distribution untenable — no matter how much how much $$ gets funneled into “organic” marketing and research.

2. Any U.S. food-and-farm policy that wants to grow the U.S. organic sector in a way that is fair to all U.S. farmers, eaters, and non-humans (our natural resources) must first address the disfunctional operating system.

3. I would be happy to work with a coalition of U.S. organic farmers and organic eaters who want to address the U.S. operating system through Congressional legislation, such as the NEED Act (HR2990, introduced in 2011 by Cong. Dennis Kucinich and John Conyers).

For background and more information, please read on.
“U.S. food system needs a new operating system”
In 2007, when I was working on the Illinois Food, Farms, and Jobs Acts, an Idaho agricultural banker-turned-publisher gave us our first serious media attention. Ben Gisin published a 2-page article (with pictures) in his magazine Touch The Soil.

A year later, we were in the throes of the 2-year Illinois Local and Organic Food and Farm Task Force. We were writing a report (Local Food, Farms, and Jobs: Growing the Illinois Economy) and drafting a second bill to create a State of Illinois food-and-farm council. One of our task force members, Dean Craine (AgriEnergy Resources in Princeton, IL) invited Ben to speak at an AgriEnergy conference. Ben and his wife, Susan Gisin (co-editor and publisher), came to Illinois and I was able to meet them in person.

In subsequent phone conversations, Ben kept talking about the U.S. needing a new “operating system”. I knew he meant something about money and banking. But he didn’t have a specific plan and I didn’t know enough to ask the right questions.

By 2010, I was getting a clear understanding that no matter what U.S. food-and-farm advocates did to address food-and-farm disparities and injustices, the numbers — dollars-and-cents — were never going to add up for most of us. That included farmers, eaters, food businesses of all kinds, and food-and-farm advocates such as myself. I was starting to see what Ben was seeing: The operating system itself was (and is) disfunctional.

Since then, I’ve been gathering details. According to many observers — economists and non-economists, Americans and non-Americans — the operating system of the U.S. economy is currently:
a. Not under public control (e.g., the Federal Reserve Bank is not owned by the U.S. government)
b. Rigged and manipulated by private interests for private profit (e.g., tax laws, campaign contributions, fractional reserve loans)
c. Being rigged and manipulated with increasing technological sophistication and at an ever-increasing pace — including frequent changes to the rules of the game (public policy) at multiple levels (federal, state, local)
d. Rigged, manipulated, and obfuscated by jargon, fake news, legalese, and other linguistic gobbledygook
e. Out of sync with and in many ways contradictory to nature’s operating system

Hence, the need for a NEED Act.

Public Money under Public Control for Public Purposes
The NEED Act – National Emergency Employment Defense
Quotes from Climate Change, Land Use, and Monetary Policy by Geraldine Perry

a. “This Bill…contains all the monetary provisions of the 2009 draft of the American Monetary Act which itself represented a culmination of efforts and contributions from Charles Walters and numerous other seasoned monetary scholars, researchers and reformers, under the auspices of the American Monetary Institute.” p. 202

b. The American Monetary Act “proposes that infrastructure expenditures, including education and health and farming parity be used as mechanisms to get newly created money spent into circulation to promote the general welfare.’” p. 207

c. According to Stephen Zarlenga, director of the American Monetary Institute, “The three essential elements of proper monetary reform” are:

‘First, incorporate the Federal Reserve System into the U.S. Treasury where all new money would be created by government as money, not interest-bearing debt; and be spent into circulation to promote the general welfare. The monetary system would be monitored to be neither inflationary nor deflationary….

‘Second, halt the bank’s privilege to create money by ending the fractional reserve system in a gentle and elegant way….

‘Third, spend new money into circulation…starting with the $2.2 trillion that the Civil Engineers estimate is needed for infrastructure repair; creating good jobs across our nation, re-invigorating local economies and re-funding local government at all levels.’” pp. 207-8
This is the organic bailout for the Earth — and the rest of us.

Debbie Hillman

B. Resources: U.S. economy’s operating system
Money, banking, language, & democratic process

1. NEED Act (National Emergency Employment Defense) HR2990
Major monetary reform for the U.S., sponsored by Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich (2011-12).
No current lead sponsor.

a. Bill homepage
Very readable summary.

b. Talking points (1 page)
Probably needs to include specifics about:
— farms and farmers as essential infrastructure
— mothers as essential infrastructure
— student debt relief

2. American Monetary Institute (New York)
More information on the NEED Act and other monetary policy.
Next annual conference in Chicago (Sept. 2017).

3. Climate Change, Land Use, and Monetary Policy (2013)
Geraldine Perry (Illinois)
This is the only book that I know of that connects monetary policy directly to climate change (weather and carbon sequestration) and historical land use — and to healthy (nutrient-dense) food.

4. Michael Hudson – Economics, Univ. of Missouri-Kansas City, Univ. of Peking
Dr. Hudson has been working overtime in the last few years trying to explain what many Americans know — that our economic and financial systems are rigged. His latest book (J is for Junk Economics) just came out in February and he is working even harder doing interviews, etc. Much of his recent work (including this book) concentrates on words, definitions, language, etc. Hint: The meaning and history of the term “free market” has been totally co-opted and distorted.

a. J is for Junk Economics: A Guide to Reality in an Age of Deception (2017)
Two recent interviews with Michael Hudson about this book:
— Interview with Laura Flanders
— Democracy at Work (audio podcast) April 2, 2017

b. Michael Hudson website 
Lots of other interviews, articles, speeches, etc.

c. The Lost Tradition (debt cancellation in ancient Near East — Jubilee, clean slate)
Very readable and interesting paper. Reminds people that the content of the Rosetta Stone includes a “clean slate” decree.

5. Debt or Democracy: Public Money for Sustainability and Social Justice (2016)
Mary Mellor (sociology professor emeritus, Northumbria University)
In my opinion, this is the best overall explication of the issues. So far as I know Prof. Mellor is the only scholar who differentiates between public money and private money — a very effective and accurate differentiation for understanding our collective confusion.

6. NORM Economics – National Organization for Raw Materials
It is the mission of the National Organization for Raw Materials to maintain and add to the body of knowledge of raw material economics, then use all possible informational means to educate an ever-growing number of U.S. citizens and leaders. It is NORM’s belief that a citizenry, informed about raw material economics, can return the U.S. economy to widespread and stable prosperity.

NORM is a 40-year old organization whose membership includes many farmers. There are lots of short, readable essays on specific topics (Farm Bill, parity, NAIS, Monsanto, etc.) that help explain the disfunctions of our money and banking systems.

7. Public banking & local currencies
Please note that at the moment I disagree with Stephen Zarlenga and other experts at the American Monetary Institute about “banking not being a function of government”. I think that state banks can provide an extra level of response to on-the-ground needs. I think public banking is a type of local currency — without all the confusion of different kinds of currencies.

a. Public Banking Institute
Actively supporting groups all over the country trying to create public banks at the state, county, and municipal levels.

b. Creating Wealth: Growing Local Economies with Local Currencies (2011)
Gwendolyn Hallsmith, co-author Bernard Lietaer
Gwen is an urban planner, long-time Vermont resident.

8. The Smell of Rain on Dust: Grief and Praise (2015)
Martin Prechtel (New Mexico)
Chapter 9: Money Eats the World
Mythology and spirituality of money as “blood money”, money as loss, money as unmetabolized grief.  Incredibly beautiful prose.

9. Touch the Soil blog
Ben and Susan Gisin (Idaho)
Food-and-farm news from all over the world, with an eye for high-leverage events, actions, and policies.