Friday, September 23, 2011

Working for Broadband Access

On the third and fourth of October, the National Grange has the opportunity to partner with the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association and other rural partners to sponsor a Fly-In in D.C. to advocate for broadband build out.

There is currently a lot going on in the broadband arena. Proposed mergers and changes to the Universal Service Fund are the major concerns today and both will expedite broadband in rural and non-contiguous areas, which have currently had little if any broadband choice or affordable service.

The Grange has a long history of advocating for rural infrastructure. First we worked for affordable access to railroads, then highway improvement, rural electrification, telephone access and today continue to demand high speed internet access.

The “America’s Broadband Connectivity Plan” presents a balanced approach to changing the focus from telephone to broadband in utilizing the Universal Service Fund without disrupting existing phone service. The Grange is supporting this change along with many of our partners.

Not having access to affordable broadband has dramatic impact to rural America. Small business, farms and ranches, and anyone wanting to be connected to real-time American society depends upon being able to use the internet and dial-up doesn’t meet the need.

The Grange has a history of not just advocating, but showing up and working within the system to make a difference. It is a pleasure to be working with the U.S. Cattlemen and our rural coalition on the broadband issue as our organizations share a deep love, concern, and dedication to a competitive rural America.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Constitution Day

This Friday is Constitution Day. In 1787 the delegates to the Constitutional Convention gathered and signed the document that they had created. That document was then sent to the states to be ratified.

The 17th of September is truly the birth of the American government. While our nation was born in 1776, the Revolutionary War and the struggles of creating a functioning government took 11more years.

I would suggest that every person take a moment on Friday to read over the Constitution and the 26 amendments that have been made to it. This document isn’t for the rich or powerful, it is for every American to read and understand. It lays out the principle that government must be controlled by the people, not the other way around.

A number of organizations give out copies free of charge and you can download your own electronic copy on your computer and/or your smartphone.

Organizations such as the Grange owe their existence to this document. Government power is specified and limited. Our communities are not controlled by a federal government; instead local citizens have the control.

Take a moment this Friday and take another look at the founding document of our American Republic. Our nation and our Constitution are truly unique and every citizen should understand our nation’s structure.

Friday, September 9, 2011

September 11

Sunday is the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C. The Pentagon has been repaired, the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center may be gone, but rebuilding proceeds at the site of the worst attack on American soil, and a permanent memorial to the passengers of flight 93 in Pennsylvania is already a reality.

Remembering what happened 10 years ago is important. Many of us vividly recall what we were doing when we heard of the attack. Others have vague recollections or have only seen pictures because of their age. We should remember and honor those who died, but also those who survived and have dealt with the loss of their Mom or Dad, a Son or Daughter, a Husband or Wife, or their friends.

September 11, 2001 was a day that changed the lives of many Americans. Some dealt with personal loss, others joined the military or became more involved in their community. We suddenly became aware that others in the world hated us and were willing to die in order to kill us.

For me on the West Coast, the day was a shock as we saw on TV the terror and destruction that New Yorkers experienced. I felt sadness for those there and anger toward those who had committed this atrocity. The days following 9/11 were ones that showed how badly our nation had been struck, and also the resiliency of the American people, as we dealt with the grounding of all air traffic and so much more. About the 20th of that month, I flew to Baltimore and took a shuttle into D.C. for a scheduled interview at the National Grange headquarters. As we entered the city after 11 p.m., the attacks become more personal and emotional than they had been. As we passed the White House and saw soldiers with their rifles at the ready, standing on every street corner, I felt the change our country had experienced in a much more emotional way.

This year on the 11th, I’ll be at an event that our Grange co-sponsors for the community of Boring, Ore. We will remember the importance of the day with several special activities, and celebrate the importance of community spirit in Boring.

I hope this Sunday, you will take a moment to reflect on what happened ten years ago, remember those who lost their lives or had their lives changed forever, and think about the strength it has given the people of our nation. September 11 was a horrible day for America, but is was also a moment that showed each of us the strength we have as Americans.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Labor Day

Labor Day was originally proposed by members of labor unions and was designed to remind people of the important role unions have played in benefiting workers in America. While parades and picnics are sponsored by unions across the country, for most the day is the conclusion of summer activities.

The achievements of labor union members are numerous and deserve both recognition and a day of rest for them. Yet, this weekend will be spent working hard by many and they will take little time to relax.

Farmers are in the midst of harvesting many different crops and caring for their livestock. Labor day is often a day where they break for a few extra minutes and join the family for a picnic before hurrying back to work. Those who produce the food that feeds us at this weekend’s picnics, the fiber that covers the tables and clothes us, and even the fuel that allows us to drive to the park are often ignored by society. Take a few minutes and consider the labor the farmer and rancher gives to allow each of us to take a relaxing three-day weekend.

Also hard at work this weekend are thousands of volunteers. Many fairs and festivals are going on this weekend and few remember the volunteers who give their time and energy to ensure that fair goers have a great time. The number of volunteers at each fair is staggering, with those volunteers making the difference between success and failure. Grange members are manning information booths and food booths, they are aiding the youth programs, and working behind the scenes at countless fairs and festivals.

As you celebrate Labor Day this year, take a moment and thank God that so many are willing to work for all!

Monday, August 8, 2011

Do They Think We’re Stupid?

This weekend Standard and Poor’s (S&P) downgraded the credit rating of our country from an AAA to an AA+. Then last night I read that a white house advisor blamed the tea party for the downgrade.

I’ve had it with politicians who are more focused on blaming the other guys than trying to fix the problems of our great nation! I have a hunch that I’m not alone.

From what I’ve observed, S&P warned us during the debt ceiling debate that we needed to reduce our deficit spending and start reducing the debt we have accumulated. The debt ceiling agreement did little immediately other than raise the debt ceiling, but did do two things later. We punted the issue from our elected officials to a “special” commission to figure things out later, and much of the advertised cuts are down the road where they may or may not actually happen.

After watching the NFL players and owners, with conflicting goals, find a workable solution that allowed the season to begin, I find the destructive antics being played by many politicians to be unbelievable.

Grange members in their personal lives and as members making decisions for their organization understand that we can’t spend more than we take in without risking our future. We understand that if you only have enough money to buy milk for your kids, you don’t buy pie instead. We understand that if you don’t have money to pay the credit card bill, you don’t use the card.

I don’t know what the repercussions of the downgrade will be, but I do know it is not going to make our situation better and it may make life harder for every American. Hearing the S&P is still warning that they may yet reduce our rating further and that other rating organizations are reviewing our status, should wake up the folks in Washington, D.C.

I wonder how many politicians are listening to us? Are we stupid to think that our elected officials should find ways to reduce spending and debt? No one thinks it will be easy, but these elected officials asked us for the opportunity to serve our country.

To each politician I say, the parties didn’t elect you, we did. If you think we’re stupid, we can fix that a year from November. At least we can balance a check book.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

E-Membership Can Lead to Regular Membership

I had a wonderful experience this week. I’m not going to name the individuals, but I want to share the experience.

On Thursday evening, we had our new, reorganized, and revitalized Grange discussion held via a teamspeak conference, which is sponsored by the National Grange. The topic of the evening was the “meaning of fraternal in the Grange.”

We had a good group of members ranging from Maine to California who participated, including a brand new E-Member from Texas.

We discussed the meaning of fraternal in the dictionary and found that the origin of the word comes from the Latin for brother. The discussion then began on what it means in the Grange.

Friendship and the social aspects of fraternalism were first discussed. Then the shared experiences of the Grange were shown as a source of fraternal bonding between members. Grange leaders who give opportunities in leadership development to the members are an important part of our fraternal structure. The trait of members coming together and providing support for those who go through sad or tough times is a positive element of Grange fraternalism. Finally how the members come together to celebrate members’ milestones during life was shown to be an important ingredient of fraternalism.

The evening discussion then turned to how we can build a stronger fraternal spirit in our Community Granges. The importance of each officer doing their best during the meetings and other activities such as installation of officers and the three methods of bring new members into regular membership.

We finalized the evening with a talk about what the Master/President, Chaplain, Lecturer/Program Director, and the Graces (Ceres, Pomona, and Flora) could do to strengthen the fraternal spirit in the Grange.

At the end of the hour discussion, the new E-Member stated that he was very impressed with what we had talked about. He had also found out where the Texas State Grange and said he was going to check it out if possible.

The E-Member sent me an email this morning which stated in part, “I attended the morning session of the Texas Grange in Blanco. It was wonderful! I wish I had known about it earlier so I could have planned to spend the entire weekend, but other obligations called me away.

“I was treated as a real welcome member. Everybody was just wonderful. Master Jack Smithers had me introduced to the meeting as the “first Emember in Texas”! You should be really proud of the Texas Grange for the way they embraced the emembership program.”

The result of an hour discussion on one aspect of Grange membership was an E-Member who now is seeing what the Grange potential for members really are. The members in Texas now also have a new friend.

If you want to hear what is going on in the Grange, go to our website and check out the events. There are two to three meetings using teamspeak each month on a wide variety of topics. There are highlights of a lot of different programs and all you have to do is join in to reap the benefits of Grange membership. You can even join online as an E-Member or find a local Grange to join.

I invite you to become a part of the Grange!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Post Office Closures Affects Rural America

I checked the list of Oregon post offices that are being “studied” to determine if they should be closed. It wasn’t a bit surprising to see mostly small rural post offices on the list, as it seems the postal service isn’t that concerned with service anymore.

The current proposal to close 3,700 post offices out of about 32,000 locations will once again disproportionally affect rural America. Last year’s proposal to discontinue Saturday service and this proposal adheres to the mind-set of a bean counter. Less business in rural America and greater distances which equals greater expenses and that means we eliminate service there, while focusing on the urban areas where we make more money.

The United States Postal Service (USPS) brags that they reach every address in America- shouldn’t they be serving every American rather than appearing to want to focus only on the populated centers of the country?

I realize that the real issue is money. When the Congress made the USPS a quasi-governmental agency with the goal of being self-sufficient, they also handed them a huge debt from the employee retirement program. It would appear that Congress set the USPS up for failure and then the USPS management was forced to choose a path of reducing service rather than innovating.

What will be the cost to continue service to these areas where the local post office is closed? What will be the cost to the citizens who need to drive to the next town to mail packages that are not standard flat rate size? Will there be a delay in mail delivery for affected rural citizens, especially when things like chicks (baby chickens not mail order brides) and critical medicine are involved? Will these factors and others actually be offset by the savings of closing these small offices?

Benjamin Franklin is credited with the concept of the postal service in America and while he may not have imagined the size and scope of our nation today, I have a hunch he would not be impressed with the attitude of reducing service that the USPS is displaying toward rural America.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

S&P Ratings and the Debt

Yesterday the Standard and Poor’s Rating agency (S&P) warned again that the credit rating of the US could be downgraded unless we resolve the credit ceiling issue and start reducing the debt. I then heard the President hold a press conference and blame the other guys for not having a fair and balanced plan.

The reality of a downgrade of the US credit rating would probably not be good. While I’m not sure what may or may not happen, common sense says that one big impact would be that borrowing money would cost more. The lower your rating, the bigger the risk to the people loaning you money and the more interest they want to assume that risk. If the government pays more, so will we the people.

In 2010, net interest outlays totaled $197 billion due to lower interest rates. The scary thing is the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projects (Dec, 2010) that, under current law, the combination of rising debt and rising interest rates will cause net interest payments to balloon to nearly $800 billion by 2020. If the current amount doesn’t worry you, nearing a trillion dollars in less than 10 years should. And when you consider that it seems the CBO always underestimates the cost of government over time, maybe we should be a little frightened?

Fair and balanced is a point of view. I remember a tax increase in the 1990’s where the President said we were only going to tax the rich. When my taxes went up that year, I realized that the President and I had a different view of what rich meant. While I thought I was rich in friends and family and yet had to struggle to pay my bills, the law increasing taxes on the rich caught me in the net as well.

I keep thinking that the current debt situation is because of the spending our government has been doing. All my life I’ve heard people point out stupid things that the government spends money on. When you think about the attitude of “if we don’t spend it, we won’t get it next year” it does make sense how it happens. However if we can’t find ways to cut the federal budget, oh yeah, that is another problem since Congress has not passed one in a while.

Political posturing is not the answer for the debt or economy. It only matters for elections and I'm not worried about elections next year when S&P ratings this year could harm our economy and future.

What I want is a growing economy so people can go back to work and pursue their version of the American dream. As I look around the world and back at history, I am having trouble finding a country, a company, or even a person who spent themselves into prosperity. The obvious first step to me is that our nation needs to reduce its debt. It seems only fair to me that we reduce spending first, and start now.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Dam Removal is Clean Energy Reduction

The Klamath River Basin (Oregon/California) has been news for over a decade. The ongoing issues include the removal of four dams on the Klamath River Watershed to aid in fish recovery. Those four dams produce about 155 megawatts of power. I found that each megawatt provides from 400 to 900 homes with power. Assuming 500 homes per megawatt, which means those four dams, keep 77,500 homes out of the Stone Age.

Being an Oregon native, I’ve seen the importance of dams for flood control, water management, and electrical power generation. Recreational uses of the reservoirs created have also benefited local economies. I have also seen the importance of providing passage for fish both upstream and downstream from the dams.

One argument that I haven’t seen much of is the fact that when we remove a dam, we remove pollution-free electrical generating capacity. Most environmental groups oppose coal and natural gas fueled electrical generation facilities. In addition, scientists are conducting research into the increase of CO2 in the atmosphere and its impact on climate change. The release of excessive amounts of CO2 is primarily through the burning of fossil fuels such as coal and natural gas. Regardless of your views or opinions on that issue, we need to be good stewards of the earth.

The energy consumption of our country isn’t going to be reduced - especially considering the huge energy conservation efforts we’ve made over the last couple of decades - unless of course we are willing to make major changes to our lives and eliminate things like refrigerators, air conditioners, TV’s, cell phones, and computers which all use electricity.

It seems a bit short-sighted to remove non-polluting energy sources on the chance it will help endangered fish. When nuclear, wind, solar, tidal and other non-polluting forms of energy generation are in use and providing the bulk of our energy, then let’s talk about dam removal.

I do believe that we should do our best to help endangered fish, but I’d much rather have a dam producing electricity than a coal fired plant producing power. Maybe it’s time to change the topic from dam removal to clean energy reduction.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Debt Ceiling and the Deficit

Listening to the news, it would seem that it is time for the President, our Senators, and our Representatives to actually find some solutions on the debt ceiling based on what we regular Americans already know.

First, we are spending far more than we take in. A trillion dollar deficit increases our national debt. Since 2008 we have added 4 trillion dollars to our national debt. The only way to stop growing the debt is to reduce the deficit spending to zero. It doesn’t seem that this concept is all that hard to figure out, at least for those of us who live out of the infamous beltway.

Will reducing the federal spending hurt? Of course it will. Some federal employees may lose their jobs, some people living off the flow of money from the federal government will lose their income, and some companies will need to find new clients. It will be similar to what many of us around the country have experienced over the past several years.

The upside is that without the federal government spending every available dollar, the economy may begin to grow which would provide new jobs and opportunity.

Second, the debt ceiling is about spending. Congress has demonstrated their ability, over the past decades, to spend whatever amount is collected in taxes and more. We must start the process to only spend what we collect in taxes and fees (revenue). To continue increasing the limit on the federal credit card without a plan to halt the growth of the debt is foolish at best. At worst, it is destructive to every American’s future.

In our lives, if we leave large debts, they are paid out of our estates when we die. That means our family has a smaller inheritance. For the federal government that means the following generations are left with more bills than opportunities.

Third, if we want to actually solve this problem, Congress needs to do their job and pass a balanced budget. Then we need to live within our means, just as families across our nation already do. Discussions on raising revenue (tax and fee increases) and eliminating tax credits should be a part of the budget discussion, not a negotiating tactic in dealing with the debt ceiling.

Americans know what happens when your personal or corporate debt grows too large, we go bankrupt. Watching Greece, Ireland and other countries that have failed to keep spending under control should serve as a warning to us. I’d suggest that the approach that regular Americans take toward debt be followed by our government.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Independence Day

Monday is Independence Day and it falls on the fourth of July. I hope you see a parade, display your American flag, and spend some time with your family.

This holiday weekend should include some moments of reflection for each and every American. In 1776 the Continental Congress made the decision that England didn’t care about their future and against all conventional wisdom declared independence. A group of loosely allied colonies deciding to take on the world’s superpower seemed a long-shot to most.

History tells a different story. One in which events didn’t go as expected, one where people rose to the occasion and the result was independence after 8 hard years of war. Every American should take the time to understand the conditions that led to the Declaration of Independence. We should familiarize ourselves with who our founding fathers really were and the risk they took.

Washington, Jefferson, Adams, and Franklin each impacted the effort to gain independence in dramatic ways and their names are scattered across our nation in their honor. But many of the signers of the Declaration of Independence are unknown to most Americans. These were real people who suffered real effects from their signing that unique document. Their courage, their dedication to the cause of freedom, and their sacrifice in that cause demands that we emulate them today. When they signed that document, they knew if they failed, it likely meant their life would be forfeit.

235 years of history will have passed since that historic day of July 4, 1776. Should not each American reflect on the legacy we’ve inherited and commit ourselves to ensuring that this grand experiment in freedom continues far into the future?

I will be celebrating our Independence Day this fourth of July, not the 4th day of July. The fourth is a holiday because of what happened in Philadelphia during that hot summer in 1776. Enjoy the weekend and the celebrations and family time, but don’t forget to take that moment and reflect on what we are celebrating.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Skepticism and Faith

This past week I had a member publicly express dismay and disappointment that I was skeptical of the point of view that they had. This was during the Oregon State Grange Session, where I had the opportunity to be a delegate from my Community Grange, and the body was debating a resolution.

I believe that being skeptical has its place in our lives as it forces us to evaluate information before we accept it. The ability to question allows us to look at new information and to balance it with what we already know before incorporating it into what we deem facts. It also allows us to change our mind when presented with new information.

I learned as a young person that science was the search for facts. Scientists create a theory of why something is the way it is, or what will happen and then try to prove or disprove it. I also learned that many times through history people agreed that something was fact only to learn later, when better data came along, that the fact was incorrect. The search for facts is always ongoing.

The other issue is faith. Faith is when you believe in something without absolute verifiable proof. I have faith in God, a God that gave us the ability to make choices and solve problems. I have faith or trust in the goodness of Americans, even though I know a few are not good people.

The future of our organization and even our country will require both skepticism and faith. We need to believe completely that we are doing worthwhile service to people and our community. We need to have faith that we can ride out the challenges and that we can find solutions to our problems. At the same time, we need to question every solution to find where it works and where it may fail. A healthy debate allows us to find the best solutions and should never be discouraged.

I believe that a healthy dose of skepticism on top of the foundation of faith makes for a person who can question and debate the issues. It doesn’t make us right all the time, but it will allow us to make good decisions most of the time.

Listening to others is required in being skeptical. If your position on an issue is an article of faith, then there is no discussion and there is no possibility of you learning something new.

I can’t apologize for being skeptical, but I will be doing more research this summer on the topic that was presented in that resolution.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Right To Repair

I have discovered a bill in Congress that I am in strong support of, the Motor Vehicle Owner’s Right to Repair Act of 2011 or H.R.1449. This bill has bi-partisan support and deserves to move through Congress in my view.

I’ll admit that many years ago I turned wrenches for a living and still like working on my older “classics”. The newer cars are a pain in the you know where, due to the computers and special tools needed to diagnose and repair almost any problem, but I do still work on them occasionally.

The reality is that not everyone maintains their own cars and pickups. However, many people have a shop that they trust to work on their cars when they need regular service or repairs done. These are places where you know the mechanic and often the owner has as much grease under their fingernails as any of the employees.

The challenges that small independent shops face in dealing with new cars are substantial. Having the tools available to diagnose today’s complex computer systems is essential and having access to up-to-date information in order to replace many components is critical. That is all that the House bill asks for and it makes a lot of sense to me.

The dealer-only parts will still be ordered from the dealers and the aftermarket parts will still be available to the independent shop or to the guy like me that likes to save a bit of money by fixing their own vehicle.

The big change will be that information and tools that are available to the auto dealerships will be required to be available to the public. I may still need to buy a tool, which will get my wife to sigh once again, but I will not need to take the car to the dealer to be fixed.

Especially in rural America, independent shops fill a need that dealerships often cannot fill due to distance. The Motor Vehicle Owner’s Right to Repair Act of 2011 makes good sense for rural America. If you have a shop you trust, let your Representative know what you think about this bill. If you’re one of those like me, who uses a grease rag now and then, contact your Representative… and then watch the knuckles with that wrench.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Why Not Pass It?

Yesterday I was listening to the news on the radio and heard an interview with a State Representative. The Representative was being question by a well-respected and experienced reporter about a bill that was stalled in the legislature. The bill was to ban a certain chemical in the production of items such as baby bottles.

The Representative explained that the reason she was opposing the bill was that she had gone to a number of different stores and bought many of the items covered by the bill and found that market forces had already dealt with the issue. It seems that moms still have power, since most, if not all, of the products were advertising that they are free of that chemical. She added that she had a barrel full of these products in her office to demonstrate her findings.

The reporter then asked her why if there wasn’t a problem, what would it hurt to pass the bill into law?

At that point my blood pressure went up! I don’t think we elect people to just pass bills. There are enough unintended consequences to laws that we need, and I can’t see the point in making new laws just to feel good about something.

I applaud the elected officials who vote against bills that are not needed and then stand up and explain their vote. I wish more of our elected officials would publicly explain their positions and not hide their position or blame the other guy.

Our American system of government is not supposed to be about passing a bill about every issue that someone thinks is important; it is about our elected representatives dealing with the issues that affect us at the local, state or federal level.

I am still fuming a bit at that particular reporter. I think it may be time for a refresher course in civics for someone.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

A Hero for this Memorial Day

This is Memorial Day weekend and I met a hero today. On my way to the Metro as I headed home, I met a young man in a wheelchair taking his dog for a walk. His wheelchair said combat wounded and had the seal of his branch of service. I paused and asked if I could shake his hand. He smiled and held out his hand. I thanked him for his service and asked where he had served. “Afghanistan” was his response. I wished him the very best and with my eyes misted up continued toward the Metro station.

That young man with no legs and a big smile is my hero. I don’t know his name, but I won’t forget him. I do hope and pray that he forgets me as but one of thousands of people thanking him for what he has done for our nation and for each of us as Americans. He and all those who have given of themselves deserve our ceaseless thanks.

This should be a weekend of remembering and honoring all of those who gave what Abraham Lincoln called the “last full measure of devotion”. We need to also remember and appreciate all those who have served our nation and sacrificed of themselves both physically and mentally. Lastly, those men and women who have served our country and came home safe and sound need to hear our heartfelt thanks.

This weekend isn’t just a three-day weekend, it is a time to remember the gift we have of freedom and those who earned it for us. It is a time to honor heroes and to remember the legacy of freedom they have entrusted to us.

Enjoy the barbeques and family gatherings and take a moment to thank God and all our veterans for the rights we have. It is fitting and proper to remember all who have passed to the next life, but never forget to thank those who quietly walk with us today.

To that young hero, my Dad, my Son, and every other veteran, thank you again and may God bless you and our wonderful nation.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Connecticut FFA Experience

I spent last Saturday at the State Association meeting of the Connecticut FFA. Wow! It has been a few years since I attended a FFA State Session and it was just as powerful as I remember.

When viewed through the eyes of young people like those FFA members, I have no fear for the future of our nation. They were respectful, courteous, enthusiastic, and so talented. Speakers and proficiency winners alike showed the training that these young people get and the commitment they make to excel in the areas they choose to compete in.

The leadership of Victor Salazar, the 2010-11 President and the State FFA officer team was evident throughout the day. I was especially proud as Victor is also one of our young Grange leaders in addition to his duties as an FFA leader.

I talked with at least six FFA members who came up to me and asked many questions about the Grange during the day. I saw the Connecticut State Grange table surrounded with FFA members asking questions and taking brochures and other materials. These young people were interested in our organization because we have things that they need and want.

It is great to see that the FFA has remained true to its principles of teaching young people skills critical to their future. While some of the contests are quite different from the ones I remember in the 70’s, the FFA members of today have the same drive and intensity as members did back when I was proudly wearing that blue jacket.

I’d urge every Grange to find a way to support their local FFA Chapter or to advocate for the creation of the program in their school district. These FFA members are the ones who will join your Grange and there refine the skills they’ve learned. In the process, they will improve your Grange and community!

Friday, May 20, 2011

Big Government Deciding What’s For Lunch

I read an article on the new U. S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) regulations on school lunches and breakfasts. USDA seems to be seeking final authority on what our children eat, or more accurately, what is put in front of them to eat.

USDA claims to want to match rules to the dietary guidelines that are recommended by the National Academies Institute of Medicine. I do support eating healthy, but I never liked being told what to eat. On top of my natural stubborn streak, I wonder if you double the servings of carrots does that translate to kids eating those servings.

I’ve seen a lot of kids eat only the things that they liked and throw away the rest. If we add more things that a lot of kids don’t eat, are we making things better or is it just waste mandated by the government?

Likely one result of these rules is that schools will receive a few extra pennies for each meal while spending dramatically more on fresh foods instead of canned or frozen foods or substituting high cost food for lower costing food.

While I wish everyone would eat healthier, I don’t believe it is my duty or that it is our government’s obligation to make sure that we take care of ourselves. Plus where is the parental responsibility or why, if this is such a critical issue, isn’t the local school board making this decision.

It seems to me that these USDA regulations are just one more case of unfunded mandates from the federal government. When you look at the financial condition of the federal and state governments, it doesn’t make sense. Plus it is one more responsibility taken from parents and local school boards and given to government bureaucrats who don’t live in our community. I think I want a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and an apple for lunch, wonder how that would fit in their regulations?

-Ed Luttrell
National Grange President

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Friendship and Life's Journey

I am in New England to say goodbye to Tom Severance, a fellow National Grange officer and friend. Tom passed away on Sunday and his funeral is tomorrow.

It seems every time I lose a friend or family member it is a moment to reflect on the journey we each are on. No matter what we accomplish or who we know, life ends for all at some point. To me there are two essential truths in life to consider. First, what comes next and second, who we touch during our life.

First, I do believe that what comes after this life is critical. I do have faith and believe that our journey doesn’t end in the grave. The spiritual choices we make in this life will affect us in the next life as death is but the doorway. The opportunity to be around people who believe similarly is important to each person. In the Grange, the way we as individuals choose to worship is our choice, but we acknowledge that there is a supreme being as a part of our basic principles.

The people we touch throughout our lives are what our lives are made up of. Bold or quiet, soft or a bit harsh, happy or sad, each person adds something to everyone they touch during life. Friendship is one of the true treasures of life and I have learned that friendship freely given is a powerful thing. Regardless of how often you see someone, the fact that you look forward to seeing them and miss them when they are absent is a sign of true friendship.

My Grange friends are a large part of my life. I’ve been blessed with friends like Tom, people who often live in places I might never have gone without the Grange. People who I never would have met and with whom I have discovered shared interests have become friends due to the fraternal bonds of the Grange.

My life is richer because of my friends, the friends I’ve had who have crossed over into the next life, the friends I have around me today, and the promise of friends to be made in the future. With each step down life’s pathway we need to remind ourselves to treasure all who walk with us, whether for a short while or for many long years, as our journey’s value is measured not in recognition or material goods, but in the friends we make along the way.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Food Costs and Fuel Costs

I am not pleased that food and fuel costs have been rising. Of course, I haven’t talked to anyone who seemed pleased to pay more for food or gas. This week we’ve seen a slight decrease in gas prices and I’ve heard from some that costs will decrease dramatically and from others that they will be heading up again if anything happens to disrupt supply. It seems everyone has an opinion and no one really knows what will happen with fuel prices. However, I haven’t heard anyone projecting food costs to decline.

Even as food prices continue to increase, USDA studies show that farmers share of revenue has been decreasing. In 2008 farmers received just 11.6 cents out of each food dollar spent which is down from 14 cents in 1993. Data has not been compiled yet for 2009 and 10, but farmers are still seeing only a small sliver of the food dollar.

Almost 90 percent of the food dollar is consumed by processing, packaging, transportation, marketing, and the profit markup taken at each point in the trip from farm to supermarket. If fuel costs go up I would assume that each point in our food’s trip would increase the costs of that food. However, history shows that the farmer gets the blame and sometimes even gets lower prices while being blamed.

Even when farmers benefit from strong market prices they are also subject to increases in fuel, fertilizer, and other costs of growing their crops or managing their livestock. Small and large farmers face the same problem of being blamed for higher food prices while receiving a small and shrinking percentage of each dollar the consumer spends.

The cost of nearly everything, including food is directly impacted by the cost of energy, especially fuel. From my point of view the policy of our nation on energy, specifically fuels, is incomprehensible.

Our nation wants energy independence, but the federal government is restricting off-shore drilling as well as prohibiting land drilling in areas of our nation. The government wants people to use alternative fuels, but there are none ready for immediate implementation. Energy independence is said to be our goal, but we also want to tax energy to discourage people from using it.

While I realize I’ve simplified things a bit, if we care about food prices, we need to stabilize fuel costs. I care about food prices because farmers are blamed unfairly for increases and the poor are affected disproportionately by food costs increases.

It is time that Congress takes a bit of responsibility and deals with the issues that prevent us from having true energy independence.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Fort Sumter was the Result

Today is the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the civil war. Fort Sumter was shelled and the war began. Since the war, our culture has both deified and demonized various generals, participants, and leaders. We know that the civil war is viewed differently within our country and many today view their ancestors as hero’s, regardless of which side they served on.

I believe that people need to understand what was happening that led to hostilities between Americans. Partisan politics had reached a point where listening to the opposition had ceased and compromise was unthinkable. The debate on state rights and the role of the Federal government was loud, shrill, and demonization of your opponents was commonplace. Expansion of slavery into the west was a complex issue which had been punted down-field by different administrations and Congresses time and time again.

From my point of view, many different issues,- each a powder keg on their own - were stacked up by the politicians of that day. Many of these issues where allowed to fester through inaction and thus become even more explosive. Then on this fateful day, the match was lit and our nation was consumed for the next four years by bloodshed and destruction.

Many lessons were learned by those who survived the battlefields of our Civil War. One was that the people need places to remember what binds us together. One of the many positive results of the lessons of war was the creation of the Grange in 1867, a local organization with national scope that teaches its members that listening to opposing viewpoints is a part of developing workable solutions to real problems was a great moment.

Take the time to remember what led our ancestors to take up arms against their brothers. The issues were many and all had a role in the firing upon Fort Sumter. One of the lessons for us is to ensure that we never again create the environment where great numbers of Americans feel that they have no voice or choice. Your local Grange still remains engaged in bringing people in your community together. From educational efforts in local Granges to the National Grange Legislative Fly-In, our organization remains committed to giving voice to every individual.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Budgeting is not a Partisan Blame Game

Watching our elected Representatives, Senators, and the President trying to shift partisan blame to each other while the budget clock ticks down is irritating. Is a 1.5 trillion dollar deficit not enough to get their attention?

I hear the media and many in Congress asking for compromise. What I don’t remember hearing is any of them talking compromise over the past few years of accelerated budget growth. The real compromise I want to hear is both sides sitting down and discussing what will be cut or reduced. Which is worse for our economy, unrestrained growth in our debt or tightening the belt and making due with what we have?

Greece and Ireland have both needed to be bailed out of their financial crisis. There are a number of other European countries that are close to following suit due to their government overspending. If we as a nation do not stop our out-of-control spending, who will bail us out?

The partisan shouting may be loud over the budget, but I’d rather that we take the credit card away from the children who can’t stop spending and let adults who pay the bills make choices, even if those choices are hard. I hope that our elected officials will demonstrate that they are responsible adults who deserve the opportunity to serve us.

I have a hunch that there are a lot of Americans who are more worried about our future than which party “wins”.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Is Congress having trouble finding the holes in the belt?

Congressional efforts to pass a budget that reduces the deficit for 2011 – the fiscal year which ends September 30 – would be humorous if you and I were not on the hook for the out-of-control spending. After watching the last Congress fail to pass a budget and the current Congress continuing to fund our nation through short-term spending bills, the big question is if anyone is willing to act like a grown up.

The original 2011 budget was estimated to have a $1.27 trillion deficit. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) now projects a deficit of close to 1,500,000,000,000 dollars. There are a whole lot of zeros in that number!

The House of Representatives is arguing to cut $61 billion and the president and Senate are proposing smaller cuts. It seems that our government doesn’t want to cut the budget too much, and every proposed cut or reduction has its vocal critics.

Using the CBO revised projection of a deficit of close of $1.5 trillion, we understand that every day since October 1 our national government spent a little over $4 billion more than we took in. That means the $61 billion in proposed cuts amounts to about 15 days of the deficit spending and that still leaves our government with the money we actually pay in taxes.

Few Americans haven’t tightened their own budgets in the past two years. Many of our families still have someone unemployed or only working part time. I think that this is a time to put partisan politics aside and make some hard and thoughtful choices. If we search for only programs that no one uses, we will never get the spending under control until it is far too late.

The 2008 budget had a deficit of $458.6 billion, which was a historic high. To argue that the current $1.5 trillion deficit – at about three times the 2008 high point – cannot be reduced by about 4 percent without devastating effects is absolutely ludicrous.

A growing national debt will have devastating effects on every American. I want every elected official to work to avoid the pending disaster that is not too far down the road. If you punt the issue down the field once again, I have a hunch that I will not be the only voter who remembers. I believe that the American voters will reward those who work to reduce the deficit with thoughtful choices, no matter how hard those choices are.

Just like millions of other Americans, I am working to reduce my personal debt and tightening my own belt, and we expect Congress to follow our example.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Attitude Lessons from Wyoming

This week I am traveling throughout Wyoming visiting with members about the future of their Grange. I am enjoying the time traveling with my wife, seeing some country I’ve never seen before, and meeting people who are dedicated Grangers.

Attitude is what I’m noticing. A few tell of the trials and tribulations of the Grange and some state to me why they can’t be successful. But others are excited to hear that the National Grange is concerned and wants to help their Grange be successful.

Some of the most positive ones that I’ve spoken with are the ones that others said were not interested in the Grange. Once again the lesson that we cannot assume what others think has been reinforced on my mind.

Wyoming Granges have a way to go, but from the people I’ve met I have no doubt that they will achieve success in the future. Whatever they accomplish will be due to a positive attitude that they share with others as they work together.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Grange Principles

In 1891, J. H. Brigham in his annual address made the following statement.

"We should not lose sight of the cardinal principles of our Order, viz., the absolute political and religious freedom of the individual. No official, not even our National body, can place restrictions upon this freedom. Officials may give expression to individual views. A majority of the members of the National Grange may endorse certain propositions involving question of political economy affecting the material interests of citizens, such as tariff or finance, but in no case is a member of our Order bound by such action or expression of opinion unless his own judgment shall approve.

"The membership of the Grange can be committed to no party, to no individual, to no religious creed, to no political theory or policy, by any act of any official, or by any resolution adopted by Subordinate, State, or National Grange. Any other position upon these propositions means disintegration and death.

"This need not hinder discussion nor expression of opinion by members acting individually or collectively. All measures which are of especial interest to farmers should be viewed from all points. Give the people the benefit of any phase of opinion and then they can draw intelligent conclusions.

"Absolute freedom of opinion, upon all public questions, is a right not restricted but rather guaranteed and protected by the fundamental law of our Order."

Brigham's statement is as true today as it was when he spoke those words to the delegates of the National Grange in Springfield, Ohio in November of 1891.

There is not a member who agrees with every policy that has been adopted by the National Grange nor with every statement made by any of the leaders of our organization. Just as in 1891, we expect each member to engage in debate on the issues of the day and through discussion find consensus for our organization while allowing each member to follow their own path.

Considering the name calling and uncivil behavior occurring in Congress and State Legislatures throughout our great nation, I'm glad the Grange has remained true to its fundamental principles and serves as a place where all good people can continue to gather and exchange their views.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Who Is Really On Your Side?

I saw in the paper that the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), not the folks running your local humane society, has begun efforts to put a ballot measure before the people of Washington to ensure the humane treatment of laying hens. You may wonder if this is good or bad news or is this just one of those things we hear about but don’t need to worry ourselves over?

I live in Oregon so this doesn’t impact me directly, but I am familiar with the ballot initiative process and believe that it is a great process that holds our legislatures feet to the fire occasionally. Once in a while it also gives well organized groups the chance to bring outside-the-mainstream ideas to the front of public debate.

The subject of humane treatment of laying hens does give me pause. I don’t know anyone who is opposed to treating hens, farm animals, pets, or wildlife in anything less than a humane way. However, I went on the HSUS website to see how they view this issue.

They mention factory farms, all the successful legislation they’ve supported, how they are out to protect animals, and how to donate your money to them. Now from what I’ve picked up it would appear that their idea of protecting animals includes being a vegan since in several places they promote that lifestyle. Now I have no problem with anyone who wants to live a vegan lifestyle, but most folks I know want a more traditional diet which includes some meat, dairy, and eggs.

HSUS offends me with their mention of factory farms. I grew up on a small cow calf operation where we fed out about 10 steers annually for our customers. Since that time, I’ve seen a wide variety of operations and I can’t recall every seeing a factory farm. I have seen concerned and caring people taking care of animals. That’s right, farmers taking care of livestock, not factory workers assembling widgets.

HSUS does seem to know how to raise immense amounts of money from their TV commercials and other fund-raising efforts. But from what I understand, they only spend a tiny fraction of their income on actually helping animals directly; the rest is spent on employees and efforts and causes such as the Washington ballot measure.

The HSUS representative is quoted in the Capital Press as wanting “to move to a cage-free system”. Eggs are one of the cheapest nutrient dense foods available to people in this country. What is the goal I wonder? Do we desire to reduce the amount of eggs available for purchase, thereby driving the price up? Do some want to end portions of production agriculture so that each person needs to provide for themselves or do without?

Like many small farms, the one I grew up on had a chicken house and caring for chickens for eggs and meat was part of our daily chores. Daily, I saw how many wild animals viewed those chickens as an easy meal. Would HSUS support hindering or harming the multitude of hungry predators in order to save the chickens? After viewing their website, I’d have to guess they would encourage us not to eat chicken while the coyotes were feasting on that same poultry.

We haven’t even seen the end result of California’s ballot measure 2 passed in 2008, due for implementation in 2015, and its impact on the farmers caring for the chickens laying the eggs and now HSUS wants to try it in the State of Washington?

The Grange is about giving people the facts and letting them make informed decisions. We don’t hide who we are. We support agriculture, from the smallest farmer with a few acres to the largest production farmer. We also represent the consumer who benefits from the fruits of the labor of the farmer. Maybe HSUS should consider following our example. Educate yourself on who HSUS is and do your own research on the Grange. Then decide who you want to trust more.

I don’t believe that HSUS is on our side. Definitely they are not on the side of those caring for chickens, and not on the side of the consumers of all those eggs. Our Washington friends should think twice before signing an initiative petition.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Unity and Agreement

This past weekend was the annual President's Meeting which is held for the benefit of the State Grange Presidents. This morning I have been looking at Facebook posts and emails as well as thinking about the comments and a few phone calls about the weekend. I've also been dealing with a few emails from other members who are unhappy about specific things.

The partisan nature of politics and the trends in our society are counter to what Grange membership is really supposed to mean. Our organization is about bringing folks together and dealing with the big problems. We are about finding the issues where we have unity, even when we don't have complete agreement.

I can't remember ever attending a Grange meeting where everyone was in agreement. Just as this past weekend, the participants at the President's Conference disagreed with each other over many issues and even proposed a variety of solutions. Yet in spite of their disagreements, they also found unity in the goals that were set. Each was given the opportunity to propose, question, and comment regardless of their personal opinion, and at the end I believe that we found a unity of purpose.

While many groups demand agreement among their members, the Grange remains faithful to its principles that we will search for and find unity on the big issues and encourage the exchange of differing points of view among our members. I have to admit, its a bit boring when everyone agrees.

Unity and agreement are not the same to my Grange influenced point of view. It is fine to disagree and debate the issue, but unity is the result when we as a group decide on the direction.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Legislators Who Fail Us

It has been frustrating reading the headlines and listening to the talking heads about the current situation in Wisconsin. Last time I checked, we elected people to represent us at different levels of government. We do not elect parties to represent us.

The actions of some legislators in Wisconsin in leaving the state to block legislation are not anything new, but it still reeks of partisanship shenanigans. Texas and Oregon have had this same situation in years past and in both cases, those politicians put their party before their duty.

I believe that we elect people to go to our state capitols and fight for their constituents and the State as a whole. Regardless of their party affiliation, we expect them to be there and be engaged in the debate and discussions on the issues of the day and then to cast a thoughtful and considered vote.

It would be a form of insanity to think that those elected officials will always agree, but to run and hide instead of participating in the democratic process is, at the least, dereliction of their duty. There is no crime in losing a vote, nor in failing to sway the opinion of the majority. The crime is in trying to win through absence. The reason for elections is to ensure the will of the people has a voice. When elected officials don’t show up for work, their constituencies are silenced.

The issues before the elected officials of Wisconsin deserve debate and discussion by all. The voters of Wisconsin do not deserve the spectacle that is currently being played out by those who are ducking their responsibilities by leaving their state.

I would suggest that any elected official who ducks their duty, no longer deserves the support of any voter. After all, if you don’t show up for work in any other job, you get fired.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Washington's Birthday

I occasionally get irritated with President's Day because it takes away from Lincoln's and Washington's birthdays. George Washington was one of America's two greatest presidents in my opinion.

The reasons for my view are simple. First he never lost sight of who he was and what he wanted. He viewed himself as a farmer, every moment he was home he was working to make his farm more productive, and no matter what else happened in his life he saw himself as a farmer. That is staying true to yourself!

The second reason is that he never quit. When you read biographies of the man, you see a tremendous strength of character. No matter how bad things were going, he did not quit, he gave others courage and hope. He had faith in what he was doing at all times.

The last reason is that when it was time, he stepped down. The two big times that he stepped down, were when he left the army after achieving victory in the revolutionary war and the other was stepping down after two terms as President. I believe that this shows his character in such a positive way. When he had accomplished the tasks before him, he chose to step down rather than try to hold onto power.

Don't forget the reason we celebrate Washington's birthday is due to what he gave a young nation and the examples he set. I think the reason we have President's Day is to have a three day weekend. I'm going with Washington. Happy Birthday George!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Cooperative Export Programs on the Chopping Block

I believe the next couple of years are going to see substantial efforts to reduce Federal programs. Many of these proposed cuts the Grange will support or not outwardly oppose. After all, we do understand the need to reduce spending and get our national finances under control.

However, there will be proposed cuts that we will fight against. The Market Access Program (MAP) and the Foreign Market Development (FMD) program are two of those programs on the block today. The reason we oppose cuts to these programs are that the programs are aimed at benefiting cooperative efforts from all corners of agriculture.

The Grange was the organization that introduced the Rochdale style of cooperative principles to the United States in a practical and lasting way. Our early members saw the need to band together in both buying and marketing cooperatives to benefit the farmer directly.

Today marketing cooperatives still benefit producers of many crops and MAP and FMD are Federal programs that allow these small co-ops to effectively market internationally, in competition with the giant corporate marketers and foreign governments.

The two primary reasons we oppose the elimination of these two programs are the loss of jobs and the loss of markets.

Thousands of jobs with American companies, both here and overseas are dependent upon our farmers being able to market their crops around the world. Programs like MAP and FMD are not give-a-ways, but allow cooperatives, trade associations, small business, and the USDA to share the costs of overseas marketing development. As an example, a study found that between 2000 and 2007, of every dollar invested in export promotion, generated $23 in net revenue to the farmer and returned $115 to the U.S. economy (U.S. Wheat Associates 2010).

Ending these two programs will also allow other countries to fill the vacuum that would be created and American farmers will most likely lose those markets. The cost and uncertainty of regaining those markets is a risk not worth the small savings. We should not repeat mistakes of the past by being penny wise and a pound foolish.

-Ed Luttrell
National Grange President

U.S. Wheat Associates. (2010). New Study Shows 23-to-One Return on Producer Wheat Export Promotion [Press release]. Retrieved from:

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Lincoln's Birthday

Yesterday was Lincoln's birthday. I took a bit of time to reflect on why Lincoln was one of our great presidents. To me, greatness for a president means that they made significant and lasting changes to America while dealing with the situation that existed in their world.

Most people think of Lincoln as the president who saved the union. I tend to think of two traits that set him apart and allowed him to save the union.

First he suffered more defeats than victories. From the time of his birth in Kentucky, Lincoln seldom had it easy. He lost more elections than he won, he even doubted his own presidential re-election in 1864 until the western army achieved a major victory. The word perseverance describes Lincolns actions perfectly.

It is the way he dealt with defeat that showed his strength. He would pray and then start over the next day. During the war he kept pushing and evaluating his generals until he found the combination of leadership that gave the North the victory. No matter how bad the defeat, Lincoln believed that tomorrow would give him success and he would then work hard to achieve it.

Second he never strayed from his view of what was right. Even during the darkest days of the Civil War, he never wavered from his view that the Union must be preserved. He never compromised his principles nor forgot to keep his eyes on his goals. Even while consumed with the Civil war, he found time to advocate for other issues that he saw as critical. While Grant drove the gold spike in the transcontinental railroad, Lincoln signed the enabling legislation.

I look at the Grange and see Lincoln's spirit every day. In spite of being declared dead, weak, and not relevant many times over the past 140 years, the Grange continues to grow and serve thousands of communities across the country. The principles and goals of our organization remain the same as when our early members wrote them into our declaration of purposes and rules. While many amendments have been made to our governing documents, we've never lost sight of why we exist as an organization and what we are to be doing.

Lincoln as a man and president should inspire every American. In my view, he and Washington stand together as our greatest presidents.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

ESA vs Mother Nature

In 1990 Northern Spotted owls were listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Since that time we have likely spent billions, and sacrificed jobs and communities to saving the Spotted owl. We now harvest only 5% of the amount of timber in Oregon that was harvested in 1988, yet the Spotted owl continues to decline in numbers by about 3% per year.

Now there is a proposal to shoot Barred owls as biologists have realized that the aggressive Barred owl not only drives out Spotted owls, but can interbreed with them. Science indicates that the two types of owl are cousins, probably descending from the same species from around the time of the last ice age.

While species such as eagles and wolves have recovered with the help of the ESA, the Spotted owl hasn't. The impact of regulations and restrictions to protect the Spotted owl have devastated many rural communities throughout the Pacific Northwest and northern California due to job losses as the timber industry has been forced into decline.

Invasive species can be dealt with to protect native species, but the owls are both native. Which owl is more worthy of protection? Can we change the rules that nature plays by?

Maybe the ESA should take into account the normal function of "Mother Nature." Some species eat whatever seems fit to eat and others are picky eaters. Some sub-species are a bit picky about their mates, while others are not. Those that are picky about eating or mating often find that they have one strike against them. Those that end up with several strikes will lose out against other species that don't share those disadvantages.

Will a ten to twenty percent reduction of the Barred owl population be enough? How much will it cost to kill that many Barred owls? I certainly don't advocate that we hurry the Spotted owl along, but maybe we ought to consider what nature is doing about them and why it is happening.

Discussions in Grange halls across the Pacific Northwest this year will include the topic of owls, the ESA, and Mother Nature. All of our efforts haven't helped the Spotted owl yet, I hope we don't think more of the same will give us different results.

The ESA vs Mother Nature, I'm betting on Mother Nature.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Small Steps to Fiscal Responsiblity

On Tuesday, the Senate Appropriations Committee announced a two year moratorium on earmarks. Last week, the House passed H.R.359 which if passed in the Senate and signed by the President would end the Presidential Campaign Fund.

Neither of these actions will make a huge difference in our Federal deficit, but they are both small steps toward the goal. Up until two years ago, we were increasing spending in small steps and if Congress starts making the small steps in the other direction regularly it will be a positive move.

I've already heard Senators and Representatives talking in opposition to these actions and they need to hear from every taxpayer. Reducing the deficit will take effort, hard choices, and discipline. If we make the question one of, "Does it do good" we will never reducing Federal spending. No matter what the spending is on, someone thinks it is important. We must remember that we cannot spend money we don't have.

I congratulate both the House and Senate for taking the first of many small steps in cutting runaway spending. I also urge every citizen to keep the pressure on Congress so that we can start taking bigger steps in the future.

The actions of thousands of Granges across the county should serve as a living example of living within your means.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Growth and Plans

These are exciting times. This week I've seen the plan for growth for the Alaska State Grange and the plans for the Wyoming and Florida State Granges are coming together rapidly.

I am a firm believer that growth comes to those that plan for it and then work to accomplish it. The three states that are building and implementing plans are demonstrating this principle.

This process of creating plans to create growth is critical to success. Every Grange should take some time to make plans to achieve growth. Goals need to be set and commitment to those goals must be made by members.

Goals do not need to be big or huge, but they can be. As an example, the Alaska State Grange currently has seven Community Granges and has adopted a motion to have 15 by 2015.

Those who plan for nothing generally find what they are looking for. Make plans and have goals to work for. You will be amazed at what you can accomplish when you have a plan to work on.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Agriculture Subsidies and the Farm Bill

I read an op-ed piece this week that showed off the lack of understanding that many people have about the Farm Bill. Are you aware that 67% of the money spent through the 2008 Farm Bill is spent for non-farm purposes?

It also appears that it is a common belief that a great deal of money is spent subsidizing non-farm companies or individuals who own farms. From the numbers that I’ve seen, only about 5% of farms are not owned and operated by farmers. In addition a little less than 15% of the money spent through the Farm Bill is used for farm commodity support.

Agriculture is important to our Nation! It provides jobs both directly and indirectly. While some work in the fields and barns, many people work for companies that use agricultural products to produce everything from medicines to prepared foods to biodegradable products.

Agricultural production requires tremendous investment in land, equipment, seed, and more and is then subject to weather fluctuations and volatile markets. Every farmer plants his crops and nurtures his livestock not knowing if his efforts will result in a product that he can sell nor what the price for that commodity will be.

In my Address to the Delegates last November I said the following.

“Due to the financial deficits of the federal government the Grange focus in the 2012 Farm Bill will be in the following areas. We must ensure that credit is available to farmers regardless of size. Rural development issues must continue to be a priority in order to provide necessary infrastructure to get our product from field to table. Research and funding of the Extension program must be continued if we wish to ensure innovative practices and new tools beneficial to agriculture and society are available. The creation, improvement, and implementation of both primary and secondary energy sources through agriculture must remain a priority to lessen our dependence on foreign oil. Crop insurance and disaster relief must be adequately funded in order to serve as the primary way of helping farmers deal with unforeseen weather and market fluctuations.”

The Grange does not insist on commodity subsidizes, but we must ensure that farms have the opportunity to remain profitable to the families living on them. If we abandon agriculture and reduce the less than 18% on non-subsidy agriculture support, our county’s citizens will pay a high price. The world’s safest, most abundant food source is the result of our agricultural base. We have fed ourselves and much of the world and there is no reason that should not continue.

If we truly support agriculture we cannot allow the media to show a few bad examples, or only share a bit of the information and then imply that their view is the total picture of agriculture. It is time for all who support their local farmers to take action and share the real picture of American agriculture.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Spending More Than You Make

I’m beginning to wonder about either the sanity or intelligence of some of our politicians, at least in regards to financial matters. Our Federal Government is drowning in debt, at least 10 states are aware that bankruptcy is a possible option and what the heck is going through the minds of many of our elected officials?

Illinois raised taxes this week, a number of states have raised their taxes over the past two years and seem to be avoiding reductions in spending. On the other hand, a number of states have either already slashed spending or are proposing serious reductions in spending now.

I’ll admit that I’ve read a couple of books dealing with economics, that I’ve been managing my families finances with my wife for 30 years, and that in working in business and with a variety of non-profit groups I have a bit of experience dealing with money and budgets. Even though I’ve never dealt with billions of dollars, much less trillions, I think that I’ve learned some simple fundamentals.

Rule number one, don’t spend more than you make. I understand that you sometimes borrow money in order to purchase big ticket items, but you don’t borrow more than what you can comfortably make the principal and interest payments on. If your income goes down, you reduce spending, even if you have to give up something you like. If your income goes up, you set aside a bit for a raining day in the future before increasing spending.

Governor Martin O’Malley, MD said “This year I think all of us will come to appreciate just how important the recovery and reinvestment dollars were.” He was referring to more than 350 million from the federal stimulus that was used by Maryland to pay off its pension promises for the past two years.

To top off Maryland’s situation, their legislature is discussing raising taxes to deal with their deficit.

I think someone doesn’t understand not spending more than you make or not borrowing more than you can afford, at least in Maryland and a number of other states. When do elected officials begin to act like most Americans do when their income drops? What spending is critical, what is important, what is nice, and what is simple extravagance? Our families have to live with the realities of rule number one and make hard decisions, why do some elected officials not understanding this simple concept?

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Arizona Shooting and Grief

The shooting of Representative Gabrielle Giffords and 13 others is a terrible crime which appears to have been the doing of one mentally unstable person. Knowing Grange members, I expect that all the victims and their families are being prayed for by our members in every state.

I am disgusted with a few politicians and some political commentators for their actions. Attempts to use this tragedy to attack political opponents or to further political agendas are despicable at best. These actions are great examples of either stupidity or of cold-hearted partisanship.

In 2008, we lost one of our National Grange officers to death suddenly. While it wasn’t a violent act, it was a shock to all. I saw members gather in Granges and remember John and his service to our organization, even when they had never met him personally. There was an outpouring of grief and prayers for his family. No one suggested that we use our time for anything other than remembering John and comforting his family. We were united in that moment. Every community organization that I am familiar with responds to death and crime in the same manner.

Maybe some of those in public life should look at all the positive examples of how Americans deal with tragedy and loss. I know that I have no intention of ever voting for someone or listening to anyone who uses moments of tragedy to further their own goals and agendas. Remember that life is about the people in our life not things or an agenda.

This terrible shooting in Arizona will undoubtedly create debate about dealing with mentally ill people, gun laws, and even free speech, but those debates should be starting next week, after many of the facts have been gathered, not while the shock of the crime is still fresh and the families have only begun to realize their loss.

My prayers go out to every person who has been touched by this horrible crime.

Friday, January 7, 2011

View into Isolation

Yesterday was one of those days where I spent it in airports and in the air. One of the treats of air travel is time to catch up on reading, since there is seldom room to use the computer.

The book that I read was one that I bought a few months ago and just hadn't had time to get to. The reason I bought it was that it is written by a distant cousin who I've never met.

"In the Wake of the Frontier" by Ruth Vincent is about her experiences in Alaska in the early 1950's. While I found the book fascinating due to both the mention of a few family members I knew and the reality of Alaska before statehood, the account of how she dealt with isolation was inspiring.

The experiences she outlined are a view into the past, more specifically the situation that was common in rural America following the civil war. Can you imagine going to town once or twice during the year? Can you imagine not seeing another person of your own gender for months?

The question that also crossed my mind was, is isolation still an issue today? Are people who spend the majority of their time on the internet, experiencing a new form of isolation? I believe that we are social by nature and I question if the internet can substitute for real person to person interaction. On the other hand are people who spurn the internet experiencing a different form of information isolation?

The role of organizations, like the Grange, that bring people together is still strong and necessary even though true isolation has become extremely rare.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

When Does Childhood End?

Today's society sends a lot of mixed messages to our young people. One that really confuses many is when does childhood end?

I don't believe that one day you are a child and the next you are an adult, even though legally that may be true. It seems to me that being a teenager is a time to transition from childhood into adulthood.

My teens were a time when my parents gave me steadily more responsibility and expected me to stand on my own. Picking berries, and other summer jobs gave way to a "real" job when I got my drivers license. By the time I was eighteen I considered myself independent although I did follow my parents rules at home.

I like the way the Grange treats teenagers. At age 14, we treat them as adults. If they are willing to accept responsibility, we give them authority. When they make mistakes, we help them learn and grow from them. Each individual grows and moves forward at their own speed and age doesn't matter. I know a number of young people who some might call children, but I call adults due to their maturity and actions.

As I observe people and listen to the reports of the media, I think that is is time to remember that if we treat teenagers as children, that is what most of them will act like. When we expect them to act like young adults, they will usually exceed our expectations.

Let's brag a bit and show society that treating teenagers like young adults benefits both them and us.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Planning for the New Year

I hope that every Grange has made plans for 2011. This is a new year and it should be treated as a clean slate. It doesn't matter what went wrong or if there were failures last year. We learn from our experiences and then we create the future we want.

Planning is critical for all Granges. There are several steps each should take. You should have plans for the activities, events, and fund-raisers for the year. Your Grange should also consider a plan to help each member grow in leadership ability.

First the Grange should adopt an idea. Second a team or committee should be appointed to formulate all the details of a plan. Third, either the Grange should adopt the complete plan, or the team should give a complete report to the Grange. This would depend upon how the Grange adopted the idea. Fourth, implement the plan.

The last part of planning is to ensure that evaluation is done during and after the policy. After all, we need to learn from each experience if we are go grow and do better next time.

The reason that planning is so important that without plans we seldom try new things, or even improve the things we usually do. In the Grange, planning is an essential part of each year. It is never too late to start making plans!