1,000 Words About Mozambique

We love the energy of Maputo.

It’s the good kind of energy where we never felt like people were trying to hustle us like in the tourist traps of Arusha and Zanzibar, Tanzania. We also felt safe to wander in the evenings unlike in Nairobi, Kenya or Johannesburg, South Africa where we would jump into cabs after evening meetings (or linger in the suburbs).

Maputo’s vibrant, entrepreneurial, positive, and alive. It reminded us of Kampala, Uganda where the youth are bursting with energy, from the buzzing music scene, to the street and informal economy, and small upstart businesses.  

Mozambique is not without its problems. Real poverty is everywhere, drug use rampant,  many schools are dilapidated and deteriorating, and there is lots of evidence of environmental destruction and deforestation. But Maputo is clearly on the move, transforming itself and melding some of the best parts of its rich and diverse cultures.

We arrived by an Intercape bus from J’burg on an all night ride that spent an extra five hours on the road due to a closed highway from a chemical spillage and accident. And after pulling an all-nighter we jumped right into a series of meetings for Dani’s research for Worldwatch Institute’s Nourishing the Planet.

We checked into Base Backpackers largely because it was in walking distance to the Intercape bus station and twenty dollar a night for a private room. We’d be lying if we told you it was a perfect situation: we were in the lower basement (it wreaked of mold), had to walk two flights of stairs and across a hallway to go to the bathroom (twenty people were sharing the one working toilet), cold water showers, and internet so bad that old school AOL dial-up would have felt like luxury. With that said, the hostel was in the heart of the city and across the street from vegetarian friendly Chinese and Indian food. The hotel staff was extremely friendly, and the “guard” — a mutt resembling a bijon frise named Spudd — made for a warm, tail wagging welcome when we came home.

We spent the day visiting a workshop organized by Prolinnova, the Spanish NGO Centro de Iniciativas para la Cooperación/Batá, and the National Farmers Union of Mozambique, UNAC, about different agricultural innovations. The workshop brought farmers together from across the country to share with each other different innovations each farmer was practicing in her or his community. What I loved about the workshop was that it wasn’t some NGO preaching about what should be done, the farmers led the meeting, they drove the discussion, they presented their own findings. It was really refreshing to hear from the people who know best what is working and what needs to be scaled-up across the country. Throughout the morning, farmers presented other innovations and practices-including how to prevent diseases that affect their crops and fruit trees and how to raise farmed fish. Batá/Prolinnova/UNAC plans to identify 12-14 innovations and practices identified at the workshops for a book which will be translated into three of Mozambique’s languages, allowing these different innovations to spread throughout the country.

The next day we spent an awe-opening couple of hours with Dr. Rosa Costa at International Rural Poultry Center of the Kyeema Foundation in Mozambique. We know all too well how avian influenza, H1N1 and serious diseases can ravage livestock and rural communities. Newcastle disease, which can wipe out entire flocks of chickens and can spread from farm to farm, is especially devastating for rural farmers in sub-Saharan Africa. Vaccines for Newcastle used to be hard to come by in Africa. They were imported and usually expensive, putting them out of reach of small farmers. And even when they were available, they required refrigeration, which is not common in many rural villages. Today, however, thanks to the work of the Kyeema foundation in Mozambique, villages have access not only to vaccines, but also to locally trained community vaccinators (or para-vets) who can help spot and treat Newcastle and other poultry diseases before they spread. With help from a grant from the Australian Government’s overseas aid program (AusAID), Kyeema developed a thermo-stable vaccine that doesn’t need to be refrigerated and is easier for rural farmers to administer to their birds.

Dr. Costa also talked at great length about the importance of nutrition when it comes to treating HIV/AIDS. Many retroviral and HIV/AIDS drugs don’t work if patients aren’t getting enough vitamins and nutrients in their diets or accumulating enough body fat. She noted that while many farmers are often too sick to grow crops, “chickens are easy.” Because women are often the primary caregivers for family members with HIV/AIDS, they need easy, low-cost sources of both food and income. Unlike many crops, raising free-range birds can require few outside inputs and very little maintenance from farmers. Birds can forage for insects and eat kitchen scraps, instead of expensive grains. They provide not only meat and eggs for household use and income, but also pest control and manure for fertilizer.

On our last day we visited with Madyo Couto who works under the Mozambique Ministry of Tourism to help manage the country’s Transfrontier Conservation Areas (TFCAs). These areas were initially established to help conserve and protect wildlife, but they’re now evolving to include other uses of land that aren’t specifically for conservation. Madyo explained that in addition to linking the communities that live near or in conservation areas to the private sector to build lodges and other services for tourists, they’re also helping farmers establish honey projects to generate income. In many of national parks and other conservation areas, farmers resort to poaching and hunting wildlife to earn money. He added that establishing alternative-and profitable-sources of income is vital to protecting both agriculture and biodiversity in the TFCAs.

Finally we met with Jessica Milgroom, an American graduate student working with farming communities living inside Limpopo National Park, in southern Mozambique. When the park was established in 2001, it was essentially “parked on top of 27,000 people,” says Jessica. Some 7,000 of the residents needed to be resettled to other areas, including within the park, which affected their access to food and farmland. Jessica’s job is to see what can be done to improve resettlement food security. But rather than simply recommending intensified agriculture in the park to make better use of less land, Jessica worked with the local community to collect and identify local seed varieties. One of the major problems in Mozambique, as well as other countries in sub-Saharan Africa, is the lack of seed. As a result, farmers are forced to buy low-quality seed because nothing else is available. In addition to identifying and collecting seeds, Jessica is working with a farmer’s association on seed trials, testing varieties to see what people like best.

After only five days in Maputo, we will definitely come back for another visit. Mozambique is so vast and incredible with loads of incredible projects to visit that our brief trip simply wasn’t enough time. But with meetings already scheduled in Durban, we boarded the 20 hour bus ride (had to go via J’Burg) back.

It’s Time to Return to the 50 State Strategy

Barack Obama campaigned for President on the message of Change.  Many changes were necessary amidst the failed policies of the Bush White House.  The country was going in the wrong direction and we were in a major economic collapse.  As President Barack Obama has made many changes, most for the good.  One, however, was bad.  He replaced Gov. Howard Dean as Chair of the DNC and appointed Tim Kaine who immediately dismissed the 183 DNC field organizers and terminated the 50 State Strategy.  That concept is failing and, as a consequence, Democrats are suddenly losing elections.  For four years under Howard Dean the Democratic National Committee funded a 50 state strategy which paid for DNC field organizers on the ground in every state.  These organizers built local and county organizations which assisted candidates at every level.  What happened and how do Democrats turn things around?

The program was officially called the State Partnership Project.  The various state parties hired field staff who were paid and trained by the DNC.  A high ranking party official with whom I spoke praised the program highly because it gave each state the independence to do what it needed:  “we knew what was best in our state.”  The result was exciting as true grassroots organizing improved the Democratic Party from the precinct level up.  This Blue Jersey story provides a glimpse.  A Democratic activist and labor leader tells me this about how the program worked in his state:

I loved the 50 State Strategy rhetorically, strategically, politically.  The SPP was a godsend — and electorally really effective (we retained a governorship, won a swing Congressional seat, and took over the majority in both houses of our legislative in the 4 years we had the SPP).  I raised about $120,000 for the DNC on my good word that the SPP and the 50SS were crucial.  

It is a goddam shame that Tim Kaine, David Axelrod, and Rahm Emmanuel, three guys who probably don’t agree upon much, were able to all but kill off the SPP and 50SS.

This is the sentiment I received from people all across the country as I researched this article.  What happened?

Sources tell me that almost all the money being taken in by the DNC is now being used completely by Organizing for America.  OFA and the DNC are now one.  When you go to Organizing For America and scroll to the bottom of the page you see a disclosure that OFA is a “project of the DNC.”  OFA is run completely from the DNC and your contributions to the DNC now go to OFA instead of the funding the highly effective SPP (State Partnership Program).  What OFA did was replace an electorally based structure which built the Party and helped candidates up and down the entire ticket with an agenda based advocacy operation solely for the President.

In Pennsylvania the DNC organizers were tasked in 2006 to recapture “dropoff Dems” voters who had voted Democratic before but weren’t turning out any longer.  Interestingly this is the biggest challenge this year for Democratic candidates:  get those Obama voters from 2008 back to the polls.  With three DNC organizers on the ground here in Pennsylvania the goal set was to get 10% of these dropoff voters to the polls.  They got 24.9% of them.  This was an extremely effective program and state bloggers across the country tell me they saw similar results.

Now without this Party structure Democrats are finding themselves in danger.  The effectiveness established through the former field organizers is being felt up and down the ballot at the same time the rank and file are disillusioned, angry and refusing to vote.  Someone must be on the ground to build Obama’s message, organize precinct leaders and do what was done so effectively for four years and resulted in Change in 2008.

The OFA organization is completely different in structure from the 50 state strategy.  It is a “top down” operation working through the former Obama volunteers, many of whom have become disenchanted with the President, to organize on their local levels.  I have also seen where these local volunteer leaders burned out running their local Obama organizations or have moved on to their own political goals.  Some key OFA organizers are leaving the program.  I attempted to email several OFA people at DNC headquarters for comments but the emails bounced back.  I also solicited a friend to make contact to have some questions answered.  Again, no response.

The result is a marked dropoff in success.  Instead of winning Democrats are now losing.  Expectations for this fall are dim and last November’s Democratic turnouts were abysmal.  The current strategy clearly is not working.

That same blogger and activist had this to say about the OFA:

More importantly, OFA is a joke.  What a waste.  I’ve advised donors I knew not to give to the DNC.  They’re throwing good money after bad.  Set aside for the moment the bullshit about the national party committee being nothing but a front-group for the White House — and how strategically inept the both of them have been in the last 13 months — I know it’s hard to do, but it’s worthwhile for this consideration: If there is a zero-sum between funding the SPP and OFA, we’re getting fucked out here in Real America (read: anywhere outside the Beltway).  

We don’t have enough capacity organizing on the ground to build local parties, develop activists and leaders, and wire shit up to be positive that we can at least engage and turn out the base (if the base will indeed be turned out) in 2010.  We’re going to lose every single gain we made in the last 4 years unless we get some miracles.  A few miracles that would help include a real full employment policy, real healthcare reform, EFCA and immigration reform (among others, but these are most important).  Not all of that is in the hands of the White House/DNC.  What is in their hands is something that is not miraculous: but the money into the state parties to spend on organizers.

The OFA kids are nothing but Obama acolytes who think they’re community organizers.  First of all, as someone who a) has been an actual community organizer (in Chicago, no less) and b) studies social movements and organizing as a graduate student, I can’t tell you what a load of shit this is.  What compounds it into an electoral problem is that they’re not building any kind of electoral capacity.  I’m a social movement guy (I care more about my labor movement than I do about the Democratic Party), but I know that social movements need electoral vehicles.  OFA aint building either of them.  Second, these OFA kids don’t know a goddam thing about local and state politics, where their organizing could be most important.  We are seeing the organizing that built my state into a (D) stronghold fall by the wayside and we’re going to lose state government (in a re-districting year — this is crucial in the disconnect between Democratic organizing through the SPP and Obama-fluffing through OFA).

But if the OFA organizer showed up at a county party meeting once in a blue moon, we might know better (note: I am a Congressional district chair with 7 counties in the most Democratic part of the state — I think one county party has mentioned seeing or hearing from OFA in the last 9 months or so).

I know at least one state party which has ceased even working with the OFA people.  I was approached by two Pennsylvania OFA field organizers after the President’s trip to Allentown.  I gave them my card and said I’d be more than happy to work with them.  Two months later I’ve yet to hear from them.  I work with the White House regularly, do conference calls with Cabinet Secretaries and other high ranking officials, publish press releases and write reports based on information they send and personally cover events when they come to Pennsylvania.  The White House Media Affairs Office has been great to work with but OFA has been invisible.

Barack Obama’s campaign for change has derailed and a major reason is the change in focus at the DNC.  Under Dean 183 field organizers were paid by the DNC to build the Party from the ground up.  They reported to their respective State Party organizations and were extremely effective.  Each state had at least one organizer.  Under Kaine the OFA organizers have been dispatched to twenty something swing states expected to be the battlegrounds in 2012.  Howard Dean had a vision of expanding the Democratic base and reach into every state, every Congressional District.  His field organizers aided County Parties in training precinct leaders, recruiting volunteers, doing canvassing, phone banks and outreach to voters and it was tremendously successful.  That effort has now disappeared and the current structure is completely in the hands of Organizing For America, the organization which succeeded the Obama For America campaign.  

Barack Obama, as a sitting President, is entitled to appoint his own DNC Chair to act as his re-election effort and he appointed Virginia Governor Tim Kaine to act in that capacity.  Kaine disbanded the 50 state strategy and all of the field organizers were dismissed and replaced with OFA organizers.  While this was his prerogative it is hurting the Party structure.  Without their leadership, training and experience Democrats are beginning to lose elections.

Elections are won or lost on each local level, each precinct informing its voters, mobilizing them to volunteer and getting them to the polls on election day.  The 50 state strategy was very effective building this activity.  Thus far the OFA organizers, at least here in Pennsylvania, have been invisible.  We’re witnessing the effects of these changes in the elections since November 2008.  Local, county and state level candidates aren’t receiving the benefits which the 50 state strategy excelled.  The President must awaken and realize he cannot enact change alone.  In a democracy such as ours the legislative branch remains a critical component.  

The national fever for change following eight years of Bush was enough for many Democrats to win.  While Barack Obama didn’t have coattails the atmosphere for change inspired many voters to push their buttons for change down the ticket.    The reverberations from the new Obama strategy is having serious deleterious effects on the President’s ability to govern.  He must realize he cannot implement change himself and down ticket Democrats must also be supported.  The fact the DNC has neglected these other candidates must also be a wake up call to Democrats that this strategy must be replaced with a restoration of what was so effective as to provide the Party with its current majorities.

The other benefits of the 50 state strategy were the way it began building a “farm system” of future Party leaders and candidates.  It forced Republicans to spend money all across the country and to defend every Congressional seat.  In the past Republicans in safe seats freely spread their excess campaign cash to their friends in contested Districts.  Abandoning this successful strategy will enable the GOP to, again, concentrate on the swing seats and battleground states.  Last week former Virginia Governor Doug Wilder came out and called for changes at the DNC.  Specifically he called for the replacement of Kaine as DNC Chair.  I’d rather see the President authorize Kaine to change back to the 50 State Strategy which was so successful.  This change would be good.

Will the loss of the old strategy result in more change this November and again in 2012?  Not all change is good and we saw a marked change in Democratic turnout last fall.  Let us hope we can turn this around.  It is time to let the President know he needs to reinstate the State Partnership Program.

Update: If any other bloggers wish to republish this you have my permission as long as you give proper credit and link back here.

Murtha Campaign Left $364,000 in Account

Joyce Murtha, widow of Congressman John Murtha, today announced she will not seek his seat.  This leaves the door open for Barbara Hafer and whoever else opts to run in this spring’s special election.  Questions have arisen about the remaining funds in the Murtha campaign account.  Those belong to the campaign and their options are several.  I checked and the 2009 end of year FEC report shows a cash on hand balance of $388,000 and debts of about $24,000 or about $364,000 available.

They have the option of refunding contributions to those who contributed, simply holding onto the funds and disbursing them as they fit if and when they are inclined, contribute these monies to other candidates and campaigns in accordance with FEC regulations (subject to limits, in other words) but they cannot turn all the funds over to any other candidate.  Barbara Hafer, for example, cannot assume the Murtha warchest.  The Murtha campaign can opt to give her the federal limit as they can for any other federal candidate or PAC.

One of the things Republicans have been exceptional at doing is spreading their money around.  This means a safe incumbent in a very red District continues raising money aggressively and then sends it to their compatriots in battleground Districts.  Democrats only began doing this on a limited basis recently at the urging of bloggers.  This is definitely something the Murtha campaign can do with their remaining funds.  We are seeing several hotly contested Congressional races in Pennsylvania this year along with a U. S. Senate race.  Candidates such as Chris Carney, Jason Altmire, Kathy Dahlkemper and Patrick Murphy face strong competitors seeking to retake those seats.  Veterans such as Paul Kanjorski and Tim Holden face primary challenges.  Seats such as the 6th (Gerlach) and Joe Sestak’s open seat (Bryan Lentz) could really use some support.  All of these are potential recipients of the Murtha campaign warchest.  Multiply this by the 435 Congressional Districts and $364,000 can disappear quickly.

What they cannot do is refund the money to contributors and instruct them to give to any particular candidate.  They cannot dictate to anyone what to do with any funds they disburse.  Once the money is released it is up to each recipient to decide what to do with the funds.  This would be akin to someone giving you $2400 in cash and telling you to give to such and such a candidate in your own name.  No strings can be attached and no “straw donors” created.  I hope that answers some questions.

Support Netroots Nation

Netroots Nation is gathering things it can auction to support the annual gathering of bloggers, candidates and supporters.  If you went to the recent Pennsylvania Progressive Summit you attended a smaller scale Netroots Nation.  In fact that event was designed as a state level NN and the idea was formed at Netroots Nation last summer when it was held in Pittsburgh.  I couldn’t attend that because it was going to cost me $1000 and I don’t have that kind of money.  These auctions raise funds so people can attend Netroots Nation who otherwise wouldn’t be able to go.  They also help defray the large costs which go along with planning, organizing and pulling off a national convention.

If you have any goods or services you would consider donating for auction to support this cause go to this website and respond.  This is a good cause.  Take the recent Summit and multiply it by 50 states and that is Netroots Nation.  This year it will be held in Las Vegas.

News & Notes February 23, 2010

I was dealing with an insurance adjustor this morning at my sister’s house and then had a Planned Parenthood PAC Board call so I’m a bit late getting to the blog today.  I’m working on a major story about the DNC/OFA too and that is expending a good deal of time.

Dick Cheney had his fifth heart attack.  I suppose this puts the lie to that old “three time’s a charm” cliche.  He didn’t have an actual heart attack, that requires having one.  It was actually a bleeding heart which attacked him for being a heartless bastard.

BonusGate continues in Harrisburg.  The poor souls having to cover this endless trial must feel as if they are trapped in purgatory.  Several interesting revelations:  two of Mike Veon’s staffers flew to Utah to drive his motorcycles to South Dakota (Sturgis is my guess) before flying on to Boston for the Democratic convention.  Also, when the news media broke the story of the bonuses and legislative staffers working on campaigns panic broke out in the House Democratic caucus.  Fear of criminal charges and trials somehow belies the notion these idiots didn’t know that what they were doing was illegal.  Also, testimony keeps revealing there wasn’t anywhere nearly enough work for as many staffers as were employed.  Many did nothing but campaign work.  Before we begin laying off more state workers perhaps we should eliminate some of the legislative staff first.

Joe Hoeffel has a new web ad today:

Five Republican Senators broke with their Party to vote to end debate (end the filibuster) on the jobs bill.  The bill is quite small, just $15 billion, because that is all Harry Reid feels he can get through, and even at that most GOP Senators decided jobs for Americans are a bad thing.  Talk about being tone deaf…

Commerce Secretary Gary Locke came to Pittsburgh last week to announce a grant for expanding broadband access.  Access to faster internet speeds is crucial for productivity, educational opportunities and the enormous information now available for those online.  Unfortunately I’m not sure Pennsylvania is the best place to invest for this as so many here won’t spend the extra $5/month to save tons of time.  Too many of our people are so tightfisted they won’t spend a dime more than they absolutely necessary.

State Sen. Anthony Williams formally announced he is a candidate for Governor and says he has raised $2 million already.  That would make him a serious contender.

U.S. Ambassador to Zimbabwe, Charles Ray, on Agricultural Development in Zimbabwe

This is the first in a series of blogs where we’ll be asking policy makers, politicians, non-profit and organizational leaders, journalists, celebrities, chefs, musicians, and farmers to share their thoughts-and hopes-for agricultural development in Africa. Cross posted from Nourishing the Planet.

Last week, I had the privilege of meeting with the new U.S. ambassador to Zimbabwe, Charles Ray. Ambassador Ray was gracious enough to take the time to answer my questions about agricultural development in a country facing political turmoil, high unemployment, and high food prices.

What do you think is needed in Zimbabwe to both improve food security and farmers incomes?

Over the past decade, Zimbabwean small holder farmers have endured a litany of economic, political, and social shocks as well as several droughts and floods resulting in the loss of their livelihoods and food security. Poverty for small holder farmers has greatly increased throughout the country.

In order to restore farmers’ livelihoods they need to be supported in a process of sustainable private sector-driven agricultural recovery to achieve tangible household-level impact in food security and generate more household income, as well to promote more rural employment.

The U.S. government through USAID is doing this by supporting programs that provide effective rural extension, trainings and demonstration farms in order to improve farm management by small holder producers. The programs also include support for inputs and market linkages between the farmers and agro-processers, exporters and buyers. These programs are broad-based and cover all communal small holder farmers throughout the country.

The result of this work is increased production, and productivity, lowered crop production costs and losses, improved product quality, and production mix and increasing on-farm value-adding. Together these programs are increasing food security and farmer’s incomes as well as generating more farmer income and rural employment of agro-business.

At present, the U.S. is the largest provider of direct food aid in Zimbabwe. We are working with our partners to move from food aid to food security assistance which will use more market oriented approaches and combine livelihoods programs as noted above, which will reduce the need for food distribution.

Do you think Zimbabwe needs more private sector investment? If so, what are ways the U.S. government and other donors can help encourage both domestic and foreign investment?

Zimbabwe certainly needs more foreign direct investment. There is little chance that the country can internally generate the investments required to promote the economic growth it needs without it. But it is the government of Zimbabwe that is responsible for creating the business enabling environment to attract investment including both foreign and national.

At present, much more needs to be done in policy and the legal and regulatory framework and in the rhetoric and actions by the government in order to create the environment conducive to attract investment. Without the clear will of the government to be FDI-friendly there is not much that the donors can do.

News & Notes February 22, 2010

A few days after an anti-government nutcase flew his small plane into IRS offices in Texas Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty went before a crowd at CPAC and urged people to “take a nine iron and smash the window out of big government.”  How is that different, in concept, from taking your Cessna and knocking out a few windows.  I’ve seen a lot of inexcusable, irresponsible hate talk from the right wing media but seldom from serious presidential candidates such as Pawlenty.  He has crossed over into Sarah Palin territory.  Maybe he could have waited for the body of the IRS employee to at least get cold before urging more anti-government violence.

Today our government did something good.  New rules for banks and credit card companies went into effect.  These paragons of virtue now are prohibited some from their more bloodsucking tendencies.  With all the recent fascination with vampires perhaps we should focus on the real leeches among us.

The President released his version of health insurance reform this morning.  If you like the Senate bill you’ll like this one.  Does anyone like the Senate bill?

We now know, via Newsweek that John Yoo told President Bush he had the legal authority as Commander in Chief to massacre an entire village of civilians if he so chose.  Of course the legal principle of a “Unitary Executive” provides the President, as CINC, full authoritarian powers according to Yoo who was head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel.  That office is charged with telling government officials what is legal or not in the conduct of their offices.  Last week the DOJ decided Yoo did nothing wrong in writing the infamous torture memos which would disbar him as an attorney.  Now we know nothing can actually reach the level of justification for disbarment if torture is OK.

What if that village happened to be, say, New Orleans?

CPAC is getting more and more extreme.  This year the John Birch Society was a sponsor of the event.  Normally sane people attempt to remain as far removed from this ultra fringe operation as possible.  My parents were Birchers and it embarrassed me to death.  I hated every time one of their mailings arrived because I knew our mailman knew my parents were conspiracy theorists.

So a new poll shows 86% of Americans think government is broken.  What are the other 14% thinking?  I suppose they aren’t paying attention.  I agree with Roland Martin who said today he blames the voters.  I agree. Government is us and our government reflects us.  Not enough people vote and last fall we saw horrendous turnout at the polls.  You get the government you deserve.  If you don’t like what’s going on in Washington you have the power to change things. Educate yourself and vote.

Ed Rendell said the obvious this weekend:  Obama, a great communicator, has failed as President to get his message across to the people.  If the Guv keeps saying things like this I fear my job may be at risk.  He could write this blog.

Lancaster Democrats and the United Steelworkers Local 10-1 have endorsed Joe Hoeffel for Governor.

Sestak Keeps After Specter on the Issues

Joe Sestak has run an aggressive campaign since Arlen Specter attempted to interrupt his closing statement at the Pennsylvania Progressive Summit last month.  He released an analysis of the Senator’s flat tax proposal which is devastating and this video asking the President why he is supporting Specter.  Interestingly Barack Obama has done but one event for Specter.

Meanwhile Congressman Sestak will debate Republican Pat Toomey in place of Specter who is ducking almost all such events.  I’m not sure why the Senator is afraid of these discussions of the issues since he so clearly wanted to engage Sestak in Harrisburg.  Unfortunately that was in violation of the rules he had demanded.  There is credible evidence that the Senator age is going to be an increasingly large factor in the race this year as his behavior becomes more and more erratic.

Erratic doesn’t even begin to describe his pursuit of a flat tax proposal in Washington.  This is one of Toomey’s issues and classic GOP policy:  tax working people and cut taxes for the rich.  Arlen was the deciding vote for George W. Bush’s tax cuts which precipitated this current round of massive budget deficits.  You don’t hear that from him on the campaign trail but I bet he dusts it off once he needs to court Republican votes should he win in May.

Here’s how the flat tax works:  instead of a graduated, or progressive income tax which increases along with your income the flat tax has but one bracket:  20%.  Everyone pays this percentage of their EARNED income.  If you have investment income, as most wealthy and rich people do, you pay nothing.  Most deductions are eliminated save but for mortgages and charitable contributions.  Working people will see substantial tax increases, likely $3,000/year while the 5% of the richest get huge tax cuts ($200,000/year).  This is an analysis done by a group called Citizens for Tax Justice:

   *  An average tax hike of almost $3,000 for 95 percent of workers

   * An average break of more than $200,000 for the the top 1 percent

   * If you work for a living, you’re taxed; if you just collect from investments and inheritance, you pay nothing

   * Specter would tax health care benefits, Social Security and Medicare

   * The Specter Tax isn’t about simplifying taxes — it’s about turning our system on its head and sending money from workers to the wealthy

Does this sound very Republican?  Tax cuts for the rich paid for by more taxes on working people.  Arlen Specter may have changed his voter registration to Democratic but he forgot to change his politics.

Oh What A Feeling!

The feeling of your steering wheel going through your chest, or the panic which sets in when your car suddenly goes out of control, or the feeling you get knowing that Toyota you bought is now, essentially, worthless on the used car market.  Oh what a feeling was a Toyota slogan back when it was building its brand instead of destroying it.  News that Toyota executives manipulated the Bush Administration to avoid doing a recall and then bragged last summer when they only replaced floor mats instead of actually fixing the cars has further eroded the bright sheen of the carmaker’s golden reputation.

Toyota dealerships are like ghost towns now, you can hear the echoes of the anguished customers who are with us no more, screams made when their once reliable automobiles suddenly went out of control and killed them.  Screams of “oh what a feeling” by customers when their brakes stopped working or their steering no longer operated.

The CEO makes an appearance before Congress this week and will have to justify the company’s priority of profits over lives.  I suppose it is simply a cost/benefit analysis, an explanation we get from greedy business people all the time.  Your life, limbs and well being are nothing compared with saving $100 million.  Now Toyota is facing a $2 billion cost and untold billions in lost business as its reputation has been shattered like origami caught in a shredder.

I got a feeling like that Saturday morning when I saw some jerk in a RAV4 tailgating me as I wondered whether his sudden acceleration problem had been repaired and whether that is actually solving the problem.  After all Toyota first told us it was just a floor mat issue.  Why are we to believe them now?  Oh what a feeling…

Wausau Daily Herald: Husband and his wife are helping an African nation farm its was out of poverty

Wausau Daily Herald: Husband and his wife are helping an African nation farm its was out of poverty

Husband and his wife are helping an African nation farm its was out of poverty


By Danielle Nierenberg

For the Wausau Daily Herald

Stacia and Kristof Nordin have an unusual backyard, and it looks a lot different from the Edgar yard in which Kristof grew up.

Rather than the typical bare dirt patch of land that most Malawians sweep “clean” every day, the Nordins have more than 200 varieties of mostly indigenous vegetables growing organically around their house. They came to Malawi in 1997 as Peace Corps volunteers, but now call Malawi home. Stacia is a technical adviser to the Malawi Ministry of Education, working to sensitize both policymakers and citizens about the importance of using indigenous foods and permaculture to improve livelihoods and nutrition. Kristof is a community educator who works to train people at all levels of Malawian society in low-input and sustainable agricultural practices.

The Nordins use their home as a demonstration plot for permaculture methods that incorporate composting, water harvesting, intercropping and other methods that help build organic matter in soils, conserve water, and protect agricultural diversity. Most Malawians think of traditional foods, such as amaranth and African eggplant, as poor-people foods grown by “bad” farmers. But these crops might hold the key for solving hunger, malnutrition and poverty in Malawi — as well as in other African countries.

Nowhere needs the help more than Malawi, a nation of 14 million in southeast Africa that is among the least developed and most densely populated on Earth.

The country might be best known for the so-called “Malawi Miracle.” Five years ago, the government decided to do something controversial and provide fertilizer subsidies to farmers to grow maize. Since then, maize production has tripled and Malawi has been touted as an agricultural success story.

But the way they are refining that corn, says Kristof, makes it “kind of like Wonder Bread,” leaving it with just two or three nutrients. Traditional varieties of corn, which aren’t usually so highly processed, are more nutritious and don’t require as much artificial fertilizer as do hybrid varieties.

“Forty-eight percent of the country’s children are still nutritionally stunted, even with the so-called miracle,” Kristof says.

Rather than focusing on just planting maize — a crop that is not native to Africa — the Nordins advise farmers with whom they work that there is “no miracle plant — just plant them all.” Research has shown that Malawi has more than 600 indigenous and naturalized food plants to choose from. Maize, ironically, is one of the least suited to this region because it’s highly susceptible to pests, disease and erratic rainfall patterns.

Unfortunately, the “fixation on just one crop,” says Kristof, means that traditional varieties of foods are going extinct — crops that already are adapted to drought and heat, traits that become especially important as agriculture copes with climate change.

“Design,” says Kristof, “is key in permaculture,” meaning that everything from garden beds to the edible fish pond to the composting toilet have an important role on their property. And although their neighbors have been skeptical, they’re impressed by the quantity — and diversity — of food grown by the family. More than 200 indigenous fruits and vegetables are grown on their small plot of land, providing a year-round supply of food to the Nordins and their neighbors.

In addition, they’re creating a “model village” by training several families who rent houses on the property,) to practice and teach others about the permaculture techniques that they use around their homes. They also have built an “edible playground,” where children can play, eat and learn about various indigenous fruits.

More important, the Nordins are showing that by not sweeping, burning and removing all organic matter, people can get more out of the land than just maize and reduce their dependence on high-cost agricultural inputs in the process.

And indigenous crops can be an important source of income for farmers. Rather than import amaranth, sorghum, spices, tamarinds and other products from India, South Africa and other countries, the Nordins are helping farmers find ways to market seeds, as well as value-added products, from local resources. These efforts not only provide income and nutrition, but fight the “stigma that anything Malawian isn’t good enough,” says Kristof. “The solutions,” he says, “are literally staring us in the face.”

And as a visitor walked around seeing and tasting the various crops at the Nordins’ home, it became obvious that maize is not Malawi’s only miracle.

Danielle Nierenberg is a senior researcher at the Worldwatch Institute, blogging daily from Africa

at: http://blogs.worldwatch.org/no… She can be reached at dnierenberg@worldwatch.org.