April 17, 2009


Filed under: Food and Farms, Land Reform, Relocalization — Tags: , — Russ @ 12:20 pm


Here in New Jersey budget problems are at least as bad as anywhere else in America, and after years of fiscal recklessness which if anything were even worse than at the national level, governor Corzine is desperately looking for something, anything to cut.
While all sorts of monster boondoggles are politically untouchable (there NJ is exactly like the federal government), Corzine seems to have a knack for cutting pennies for what are by far the most cost-effective state programs, and the ones most symbolic of where we need to head as a country.
The Jersey Fresh  initiative is a state program to publicize local growers. With a budget of just a few million, it has contributed significantly to a surge of interest in Jersey-grown produce. While it’s not focused on organic growers and does not stem from a broader relocalization principle, it has still helped create the environment from which relocalization must embark, the special valuation of locally grown crops in the mind of the public. So whatever its nominal purpose, it’s a step in the right direction.
What’s more, state farmers and food advocates are unanimous that for its modest budget Jersey Fresh has had a huge multiplier effect on the farmers’ bottom line, the establishment of farmers’ markets, nutrition and public health, energy security, and helping to lay the infrastructure for the regional and local food distribution which will soon be not a consumer choice but a historical necessity.
In the same way, cutting this modest amount is expected to have a multiplied detrimental effect, depressing all the benefits which have been flowing so inexpensively. Yet amid gargantuan budget travails, where NJ is insolvent to the tune of nobody knows how many $ billions (and the federal government, trillions), Corzine has zeroed in on cutting $250 thousand dollars from this universally popular and extremely fruitful program. (A year ago he wanted to shut down the state Agriculture Department completely, to save a measly few million, but was forced to back down.) This is clearly an extraordinary example of being penny wise, pound foolish.
Even more importantly, it’s a stark example of how, at one of history’s ultimate pivot points, where it is absolutely imperative that we tack hard and travel in an entirely new direction, and where all policy must be redirected, the system’s inertia is instead carrying it in exactly the wrong direction.
Jersey Fresh is perhaps a perfect microcosm of how at the policy level everything we should and must be doing is trounced by the effort to prop up a zombie system. What is the right direction? Where it comes to food, it means local farming for local markets, local and regional distribution, CSAs, community and victory gardens, seed banks, libraries, and exchanges, and land reform. More broadly the right direction is toward smallness, deconcentration, simplicity, resiliency, robustness. That means localized crafts, small banks, revitalized and decentralized manufacturing, shipping, and shopping. These, their encouragement and the programs to help organize them, are the kinds of things government should be focused on in these times of crisis.
But even as pennies for such programs are cut, the orgy of government-waged war on the public interest continues with rampageous spending and other effort toward propping up big agriculture, globalized trade, big banks, big military, big war, more suburbanization (in NJ we also have the Highlands Act , which could have served as a regionalization vehicle beyond its stated intent toward land use reform, but instead nobody seems to be taking even its original purpose seriously – just a week ago the state Department of Environmental Protection overrode the Highlands Council in granting a development permit which completely flouts the Act’s whole purpose, both in principle and in detail), most of all more cars and other luxury things with engines (even erstwhile environmentalists want the car civilization, they just want them to be electric or PHEVs; everybody of course wants not just repair of existing roads but above all ever more roads).
[This trend of propping up and bailing out giant decrepit structures while gutting worthy programs is not just inertia. There’s a conscious disaster capitalist agenda as well. Henry Paulson and others have publicly said that a fringe benefit of the huge sums being spent on the bailouts is that such numbers, where cited in political contexts demanding more budgetary responsibility, can help create the political environment for further cuts to social and productive spending.]
The basic collective attitude (among big government, big politics, big business, big media, big academia) was best (that is, most insanely) expressed in a recent NYT Bob Herbert column where he wrote that the best thing America can do is synthesize temporary makework jobs by continuing to build worthless monumental architecture while destroying what little wealth we have left.
In this case , they want to help prop up the zombie airline industry by building a giant mausoleum (AKA an airport expansion) south of Chicago. Where should it be built? Herbert reaches heights of superciliousness as he describes how the prospective site is currently just farmland. He actually writes, “You can get a glimpse of what’s wrong in this country” when you see how the area is growing crops or lying as pasturage. In his eyes, just wasted land doing nothing productive.
Yes, from reading this column we do indeed “get a glimpse of what’s wrong in this country”. (In skimming the comments, I was gratified to see that he was getting a lot of blowback on just this point. I don’t think he learned anything, though .)
So there we have complementary examples which crystallize the insanity of the system and the complete intellectual, moral, and spiritual bankruptcy of the leadership. Take pennies away from a real “green shoot” which, however small, was heading toward the sun. Instead throw those pennies into the glutton maw already sucking in endless trillions of dollars for all the now-zombie things which are big, worthless, ugly, and doomed. Vaporize that vestigial wealth, and while you’re at it keep destroying farmland.
That’s the “solution” being peddled and enacted by the current power structure. There’s only one system which can exist, which must exist, and which will exist if we simply keep on with business as usual. These propositions directly defy reality and instead inhabit an ever more scabrous delusion.
Only the people can redeem themselves and what used to be their civilization, and they can only do it from the grass roots up. But to keep following the existing leadership is simply to follow unto destruction.  

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