Texas Longhorns with newborn calf in Bluebonnets

Texas Longhorns with newborn calf in Bluebonnets

Please note I have a new phone number...


Alan Maki

Alan Maki
Doing research at the LBJ Library in Austin, Texas

It's time to claim our Peace Dividend

It's time to claim our Peace Dividend

We need to beat swords into plowshares.

We need to beat swords into plowshares.

A program for real change...


What we need is a "21st Century Full Employment Act for Peace and Prosperity" which would make it a mandatory requirement that the president and Congress attain and maintain full employment.

"Voting is easy and marginally useful, but it is a poor substitute for democracy, which requires direct action by concerned citizens"

- Ben Franklin

Let's talk...

Let's talk...

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Add your voice to putting an end to the inhumane U.S. Embargo against Cuba.

Here is some information about Obama's historic trip to Cuba you will find useful in your activity for ending the Embargo:




Use this information in contacting your members of the House and Senate and insist on knowing where all the candidates stand.

Since Sunday, President Obama has been in Cuba on an historic mission. Obama has called for the elimination of the five-decade-old economic blockade of the island and has taken some key steps to accomplish this. There are more steps he can take, and we must ask him to do so.

But to completely eliminate the blockade will require congressional action. The blockade is locked into place, especially, by the 1992 Torricelli Act and the 1996 Helms-Burton Act. To remove these acts will require the passage of legislation in the Senate and the House of Representatives.

Though the Republican majorities in both houses of Congress, together with many thoroughly reactionary Democrats, constitute a daunting obstacle, it is not impossible to overcome. Besides the fact that ordinary U.S. citizens are motivated by a desire to see justice for the Cuban people, there are business interests which are anxious to develop commercial relationships with Cuba, relationships now impeded by the blockade. This mixture of interests is able to influence Republican as well as Democratic members of Congress to follow Obama's step with legislative action.

IFCO/Pastors for Peace is a highly respected faith based organization which has organized solidarity actions with the people of Cuba for more than twenty years, including annual "Friendshipments" which defy the blockade by bringing needed supplies to ordinary Cuban people. Now IFCO/Pastors for Peace is requesting  that we all take advantage of the moment created by Obama's Cuba visit to contact our elected representatives, including the White House and members of Senate and House, to promote support for some specific bills in Congress, which will eliminate the blockade and also the onerous restrictions on U.S. citizens' right to travel to Cuba.

In the House, these are HR 3238, the Cuba Trade of 2015 and HR 664, the Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act of 2015. In the Senate, the bills to focus on are S 1543, the Cuba Trade Act of 2015, and S 299, the Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act of 2015.

All four bills have both Republican and Democratic cosponsors and are deemed to have an excellent chance of passing. But they need to get many more supporters in Congress, which means we have to work hard to lobby in their support.

IFCO/Pastors for Peace has provided a very handy script you can use for contacting the White House, the House of Representatives and the Senate. In the script are links to the contact information you will need. Or, you can find Congressional contact information here: 

Phone calls, emails, faxes and visits to your representatives' district or D.C. offices are all useful, but it is important that we act now while there is a focus on the Cuba issue.

More from the White House on the historic trip to Cuba: medium.com/an-historic-trip-to-cuba

Full statements published by Time magazine, here: http://time.com/4266772/barack-obama-raul-castro-press-conference-transcript/

Friday, March 11, 2016

If this is too much for you to read, then don't read it... just keep getting screwed.

We often wonder why unions with their huge staffs and millions upon millions of dollars led by millionaire labor leaders can't organize themselves out of a wet paper bag with a big hole in the bottom.

Well, the other day a pork-chopper from the United Steelworker's Union came posting on my FaceBook page "refuting" what I had written by saying "too much information; too much to read; I can't be bothered with this."

I never solicited his stupid comment in the first place. He came forward and posted that as a smear tactic as these pork-choppers routinely do thinking people would just ignore what I had to say after reading his "brilliant" brief remarks.

But workers are fed up with these pork-choppers being passed off as "union leaders." They can't even defend the pensions of their own members when these pensions are in writing and signed on to by the bosses. Nor can they negotiate any contract that isn't a concession and give-back to the employers.

Well; as it turns out, it seems people are fed up with politicians, too, just mouthing words like "Jobs, Jobs, Jobs" in order to get our votes or with saying they are for health care reform without serious bringing forward the solutions to this health care mess when we can actually create millions of jobs by solving our health care problems.

If this is too much for you to read; then don't read it; just continue getting screwed. Don't bother trying to free yourself from Wall Street's two-party trap. Be content to think the way the millionaire labor leaders tell you you must think... just like they do which pleases the Wall Street bosses.

People are always asking me: Who are you going to vote for?

Why don't you suggest solutions?

So I previously posted this:

"People do not realize what they are in for until they get sick in this country and require health care. Then the nightmare begins.

And this is why we need a National Public Health Care System free from the for-profit system; nothing else will work as the Canadians are finding out just as Tommy Douglas warned after the single-payer reform: "Keep fighting for socialized health care until you get it."

What we need is publicly funded health care that is publicly administered and publicly delivered.

We need a network of community health care centers across our country instead of over 800 military bases dotting the globe protecting Wall Street's profits and investments.

This is the socialist solution to this health care mess.

A united working class movement can win the struggle for real health care reform."

And then I posted this...

"I really think we need to get beyond advocating for single-payer universal health care. Let the liberals advocate for single-payer. We have as much chance winning a struggle for a socialized National Health Care System plus it gives us the added advantage of talking to people how socialists will solve problems.

As socialists, we have been far too timid in advocating socialist solutions to problems.

When Bernie pulls out of the race the Democrats are counting on that ending all talk about socialism. We can't let this happen.

Explaining to people how we socialists advocate solving this health care mess through socialized health care will make sense to lots of people."

And that still wasn't good enough so now I'm posting this...

Some people seem to think that we have to wait for some kind of certain time and just the right political atmosphere to talk about the socialist alternative to capitalism.

Other people think all we need to do is talk about socialism without talking about what it is that makes socialism a good alternative to capitalism.

Some of the biggest issues and most pressing problems being discussed should be what provides us with the platform to explain why we need socialism and what kind of solutions to the problems socialists have.

Ending the wars, health care, living wages with full employment are very prominent right now.

There are those who approach all of this as if these issues are not connected.

Many people are hung up in thinking we need to bring the full 99% into struggle if we are going to bring about change.

If we can bring 20% of the people into active participation in a movement for real health care reform this would be a huge, huge movement.

And health care is very closely associated with these other issues; in fact, so closely it is correct to say that solving all of these problems can not be separated one from the other.

We have to realize that most of the politicians in this country, from the president on down get elected to public office with fewer than twenty percent of the over 18 years of age population voting for them. How many are in the 1%? Can't 20% of the population united and struggling for what they want and need to live decent lives in dignity win with 20% and most other people supporting them?

We know from the polls; we know from talking to people where the majority sentiment lies in this country and it is with a truly progressive agenda for ending these wars and reordering the priorities of this country.

In fact, every single time the people are presented with all the alternatives to the present health care mess they choose a National Public Health Care Program.

The advocates of single-payer refuse to place the National Public Health Care System as an alternative before people.

Why? Because the strength of the single-payer movement is formed by doctors and other "professionals" who have for-profits motives in approaching health care reform--- they want the profits instead of the insurance companies.

I have had exchanges with the Physicians for a National Health Policy on this very question and they admit in private that a National Public Health Care System is far and away superior to single-payer universal health care; but, they also admit they fear advocating for this because they will lose the support of the doctors and other for-profit health care "professionals."

I would never suggest that the present health care system or single-payer be taken off the table for consideration--- what I am suggesting is that socialized health care, a National Public Health Care System, be placed on the table for the consideration of the American people, too. This is only fair. This is what democracy requires when discussing and debating these issues.

When I traveled all across Minnesota the majority of the people favored National Public Health Care once I explained all the options.

In fact, I had many Republicans say things to me like, "I hate socialism but I support socialized health care."

Plus, and this is a huge plus for a National Public Health Care System--- not are we only talking about free health care for all and its public delivery through neighborhood and community based health care centers, we are talking about creating some twelve-million good paying, real living wage jobs in the process. At best, single-payer creates only 2 million jobs.

Of course "how to pay" is always the question.

Let the people decide if they want to pay for health care or militarism and wars. Obviously the current crop of corrupt Wall Street bribed politicians are never going to tolerate or allow people to make this decision in a democratic manner.

The key to winning the struggle for any health care reform is what side of the issue the working class is on and how determined workers are to win the struggle.

The question is always:

Where do we begin?

What needs to be done?

The key to winning is always embodied in this very basic and fundamental formula:

Education + Organization + Unity in struggle = the key to Winning

And, we don't do one and then the other. They all need to take place simultaneously with each struggle building into more massive struggles.

It can start with a leaflet, a letter to the editor; a few people then getting together to table/door knock with leaflets and petitions; then a meeting with public officials and/or selecting someone to run for office committed to making this a main issue among voters and everyone; a picket-line here, a demonstration there. Forums and debates get organized.

Create a "To Do List."

Study up yourself and begin talking to people. The more you talk to people the greater chance you have of finding others willing to work with you.

Let's put the struggle for a National Public Health Care System front and center during this period of the 2016 election cycle... given the circus taking place in the electoral arena we will be talking the ones talking about seriously solving this problem and people will appreciate this.

As socialists, let's take our politics seriously and I think we will find millions of other people welcoming us into the national political discourse.

We need to create the kind of movement on this issue where ALL politicians are forced to respond to us and not the other way around even though at first we will be responding to them.

For those who don't like this approach let them go their own merry ways; but, we shouldn't give into their cheap political shenanigans as they attempt to "properly frame issues" without providing real solutions to our problems while evading connecting the dots as required just to trick people out of their votes.

When Hillary Clinton baits Bernie Sanders with her crap that Bernie doesn't explain where the money will come from for "free college" and "free health care" we need to make our voices heard when Bernie is afraid to open his mouth in rebuttal.

By all rights, we should have small groups of people following both Bernie and Hillary around distributing leaflets, circulating petitions, unfurling banners in front of them which articulate our real progressive socialist agenda.

Maybe we need to nationally circulate some kind of statement with all of our signatures on it like: "The Socialist Solution To This Health Care Mess--- A National Public Health Care System."

And then whenever these candidates come into our communities we get this statement out at their events.

This way these politicians know we are not buying into their phony shenanigans of "properly framing issues" devoid of real solutions while the people are finding out that socialists are bringing forward the real solutions that these politicians do not... thereby we create the foundation for a new working class based political party, too.

Is anyone willing to sign on with me to a National Statement concerning all of this that we can each circulate widely in our own communities in this country?

Oh, and if you got this far, you might want to read a little more... find out what Minnesota's former socialist governor, Elmer Benson had to say about the need to break free from the two-party trap.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

We need a National Public Health Care System

People do not realize what they are in for until they get sick in this country and require health care. Then the nightmare begins.

And this is why we need a National Public Health Care System free from the for-profit system; nothing else will work as the Canadians are finding out just as Tommy Douglas warned after the single-payer reform: "Keep fighting for socialized health care until you get it."

What we need is publicly funded health care that is publicly administered and publicly delivered.

We need a network of community health care centers across our country instead of over 800 military bases dotting the globe protecting Wall Street's profits and investments.

This is the socialist solution to this health care mess.

A united working class movement can win the struggle for real health care reform.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Bernie Sanders' "American Health Security Act;" one more scam.

How will Bernie Sanders pay for his proposed "American Health Security Act?"

I find it interesting neither Bernie nor his supporters ever mention where most of the funding will come from... and where most of the money will go.

First of all, in the act itself it states that most of the funding will come from a new income tax dedicated specifically to fund this program. Why is this never stated that we will have another new tax imposed on all of us?

Second is the problem of where all the money will go. Well, instead of the money going into the pockets of insurance companies, those raking in enormous profits will be doctors, hospitals, the pharmaceutical industry, the private research institutes and the medical equipment industry along with the hospitals and nursing homes.

But, why aren't Bernie Sanders and his supporters telling us about this new income tax Bernie has in mind?

And, why are these socialists so loathe to advocate for a National Public Health Care System which would be publicly funded, publicly administered and publicly delivered?

Oh, and Bernie's "American Health Security Act" would even be administered by the for-profit crowd! Albeit through a quasi-governmental agency in which all the profiteers would select the board members. As well as being privately delivered.

The only thing "public" about Bernie's "American Health Security Act" would be the way it is primarily going to be financed--- through a new income tax system dedicated just for this purpose which would have a "trust fund" to hold our money... in other words, what would be created is a fund like the Social Security Trust Fund that the politicians could rob to pay for more wars.

As it stands right now, Bernie's "American Health Security Act" does not have one single co-sponsor... and we should be happy it doesn't have any.

Like with Medicare, doctors would establish their own fees.

I knew there had to be a reason not one single supporter of Bernie Sanders introduced a resolution for Bernie's much ballyhooed "American Health Security Act" during the Precinct Caucuses here in Minnesota... someone might have asked how it was going to be paid for.

I am sure Bernie's most loyal fans will toss more insults my way claiming I have not told how other methods will be used to raise the funding for this "American Health Security Act;" but, every time I have asked them to explain how the plan would be funded they never mentioned that most of the funding would be derived from a new income tax imposed on all of us... and, as we all know, many corporations, millionaires and billionaires pay hardly no tax at all and many don't pay any tax while a few billionaires like Warren Buffett pay as much as their secretaries.

We need to put an end to all these phony health care schemes and just bring forward a plan for National Public Health Care System paid for by beating swords into plowshares. Will we get wars and more wars or health care?

Bernie Sanders must be a complete fool if he expects the American people to fund these dirty wars and health care.

Cut the profits out of health care and providing health care for free for everyone will cost a lot less than providing everyone with a free public education and a whole lot less than militarism and these dirty imperialist wars.

I have an idea. Let's do this the democratic way... let's put it to a national vote.

Make the question real simple:

Do you want a National Public Health Care System; or do you want more wars?

We need a national organization to educate for, advocate for and fight for a National Public Health Care System.

No more promises that aren't kept. No more schemes and scams. No more "baby steps." No more "incremental reforms."

We have to learn to establish a new public agenda for real change by talking about the politics and economics of livelihood.

Reject racism in all of its ugly forms.

Why it's Possible to Reject the Klan and Still Support Racism

By Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, II and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove

If Donald Trump is telling the truth, he only recently learned that David Duke, former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, is an avowed segregationist. Apparently, the KKK and its history have faded from many white Americans’ memory. Jeffrey Lord argued on national television this week that the Klan is an invention of “the left.” As native sons of the South, we could forgive these men their ignorance. (“Bless their hearts. They ain’t from around here,” is the polite way to say it.) But we can neither forgive nor ignore the way 400 years of white supremacy have been naively reduced to whether a candidate will disavow the support of a hate group leader. Racism lives on in policies that perpetuate racial disparities, with or without the KKK.

For those unfamiliar with Southern history, white supremacists in the South have a long history of disavowing the KKK. Strom Thurmond disavowed them in 1964, even as he filibustered the Civil Rights Bill in the US Senate. White Citizens Councils disavowed them while they fought desegregation in Mississippi. George Wallace publicly disavowed Klan violence in Alabama, but hired Klansman Al Lingo to oversee his state’s Highway Patrol.

No one wants to be associated with the KKK in polite company today. But almost no one wanted to be publicly associated with them fifty years ago either.

Nor sixty years before that. Here in North Carolina, Democrats waged a take-over of state government in 1898, seeding a propaganda campaign to incite racial fears and arming the vigilante Red Shirts. But no sooner than they had regained power, Democratic leaders disavowed all violence and called for civility and a restoration of order.

Racial disparities in America have not persisted since the end of the Civil War because people believe in the ideology or the tactics of the KKK. Inequality continues because we have never finished the work of Reconstruction.

“Forty acres and a mule” was the promise to formerly enslaved people during the First Reconstruction, recognizing that their success would require an economic base. But black representatives in Reconstruction legislatures were clear that more was needed; they demanded equal access to education, voting rights and equal protection under the law. The Klan’s violence didn’t end Reconstruction. While terror intimidated both black and white progressives, it took the denial of African-American voting rights and regressive legislative action to usher in the era of Jim Crow. While white Southerners have often been willing to resort to terror to maintain control, they disavow violence whenever power is securely in their hands.

We have learned that nothing challenges white supremacy more than the people joining hands across dividing lines to confront race-based policy. In the summer of 2013, over one thousand black, white and brown North Carolinians--rich and poor, Republican, Independent and Democrat—were arrested in the largest state government-focused civil disobedience campaign in US history. Our movement noted that the same Constitutional provision that prohibits KKK influence in state government also guarantees all citizens the right to instruct our legislators about matters affecting the general welfare. A Superior Court judge agreed, dismissing charges against us and affirming our right to publicly disavow race-based policies.

Some Republicans have suggested they cannot support Trump if he refuses to disavow the KKK. But the question we should ask of every politician is, Do you also disavow policies that perpetuate racial inequality and disparity. Because it is possible to reject the Klan and still support racism. We need more than trite disassociation; we need true political transformation.

We cannot reconstruct democracy in America without disavowing efforts to resegregate public schools through voucher programs, neighborhood schools, and attacks on public funding. In order to address disparities in our criminal justice system, we must also disavow the racially charged War on Drugs, mandatory minimum laws, and the death penalty. More black people died this year because of state governments refusing to expand Medicaid than at the hands of police officers. We must disavow policies that deny a living wage while 62 million Americans struggle to survive on less than 15 dollars an hour.  54% of African-Americans earn less than a living wage, and many Southern states do not have a minimum wage 150 years after the end of slavery. We must also disavow the inherent racism that fuels fear and hate mongering by politicians toward Latinos and Muslims.

Every aspect of institutional racism must be disavowed to complete the work of Reconstruction in America, but maybe none is more important than the current attack on voting rights. In the midst of the first Presidential campaign since the Supreme Court’s Shelbydecision gutted the Voting Rights Act, we must disavow the racially gerrymandered districts and voter suppression laws, many of which are in play for the first time during this primary season. Nothing could be more racist than the cynical attempt to maintain white control in a nation where whites are quickly becoming one among many minorities by suppressing people of color’s voting power.

These are not conservative or liberal issues; they are moral issues that deserve the same outrage that Americans on the left and the right have expressed about the KKK.

It’s past time for a grown up conversation about race in America. Let’s stop talking about whether Trump will, has or should disavow the KKK and start asking who will disavow the policies that perpetuate racial disparities and prevent us from achieving freedom and justice for all.

Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II is President of the NC NAACP and founder of Repairers of the Breach. Together with Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, he is author of the recently released The Third Reconstruction: Moral Mondays, Fusion Politics, and the Rise of a New Justice Movement.

Delmer Berg, Last Survivor of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, Dies at 100

Delmer Berg, Last Survivor of Abraham Lincoln Brigade, Dies at 100

Delmer Berg at his home in 2014. 
Delmer Berg, the last known living veteran of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, which vainly fought against Fascism’s advance into Spain in the late 1930s, died on Sunday at his home in Columbia, Calif. He was 100.
His death was confirmed by Marina Garde, the executive director of theAbraham Lincoln Brigade Archives in New York, who said Mr. Berg was believed to have been the only survivor left of the nearly 3,000 quixotic [sic] young Americans who volunteered for the Spanish Civil War in a bloody prelude toWorld War II. About 800 of those who volunteered were believed to have been killed.
Mr. Berg, an unreconstructed [sic]Communist, was a 21-year-old union-card-carrying hotel dishwasher in 1937 when he spotted a billboard for the brigade and, through the Young Communist League, enlisted. After cobbling together bus fare to New York, he boarded the French luxury liner Champlain for France.
“I was a worker,” Mr. Berg told The Modesto Bee, a California newspaper, in November. “I was a farmer. I was in support of the Spanish working people, and I wanted to go to Spain to help them.”
The war was an audition by proxies for World War II, with a democratically elected leftist government under siege from rebels led by Gen. Francisco Franco.
Through the Communist Party, the Soviet Union was supporting the Republicans, or Loyalists. Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy fortified Franco. Franco won the war in 1939 and installed a dictatorship that endured until his death in 1975. The United States was officially neutral during the war.
Mr. Berg slipped into Spain in January 1938, crossing the snow-capped French border. He went on to install communication lines for front-line antiaircraft artillery near Barcelona, defended the mountain town Teruel and fought at the Battle of the Ebro, the biggest battle of the Spanish Civil War.
He was wounded that August when Italian bombers missed a railroad station and instead struck a monastery where he and others were billeted. Shrapnel from the bomb remained in his liver for the rest of his life.
The Munich Pact, which appeased Nazi Germany by allowing Hitler to annex portions of Czechoslovakia, left many Loyalists demoralized. Mr. Berg left Spain and returned home early in 1939.
Unlike a number of other starry-eyed [sic] recruits to the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, Mr. Berg never outgrew his devotion to underdogs.
He joined the Communist Party USA in 1943, became a vice president of his local chapter of the N.A.A.C.P., organized farm workers and protested the war in Vietnam and nuclear weapons.

Delmer Berg, standing second from right wearing a beret, with the Abraham Lincoln Brigade in Spain around 1938.
“He was always attached to just causes,” a friend, Pat Cervelli, said in an interview.
Delmer Esley Daniel Berg was born in Anaheim, Calif., on Dec. 20, 1915, of Ukranian, Dutch and Bavarian ancestry. His father was a tenant farmer.
He left high school in Manteca, Calif., as a junior during the Depression (auspiciously, given his stint in Spain, after studying Latin and “Don Quixote”) to help support his family in Oregon. He later moved to Los Angeles, where, tempted by recruiters for the military and the circus, he joined the National Guard.
He legally bought his way out of the Guard for $120 and got a job washing dishes at the Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood, when he saw the billboard advertising for Lincoln Brigade recruits.
After returning from Spain, he was drafted into the Army in 1939 and assigned to an antiaircraft battery in New Guinea. He was discharged early in 1942 because of his shrapnel wound from the fighting in Spain.
After the war, he worked as a farm laborer and a landscaper, and started a cement and stonemasonry business with one of his sons.
He and his wife, June, lived in the Sierra Nevada foothills. She died last year. Survivors include his sons from an earlier marriage, Ernst and Tom, and two grandsons.
Asked in 2013 what his proudest moments had been since Spain, hetold the weekly Anderson Valley Advertiser in Mendocino County: “When I was elected vice president of the local N.A.A.C.P. and when one of my grandsons was valedictorian at his Oregon high school graduation and said in a newspaper interview, ‘My grandfather is my inspiration. He’s a Communist!’”
In 2014, according to the Archives, after the death of John Hovan of Rhode Island, Mr. Berg became the only known survivor of the Lincoln Brigade.
Nearly 80 years after the war, as the last torch bearer, he still considered his mission incomplete. “It bothers me a little that at 99 you’re going to die any minute,” he told The New York Times Magazine in 2015, “because I have a lot of other things I want to do.”

Poisoning the land; poisoning the water; Poisoning our food.

A tale of corporate capture in MN

Guest post by Lex Horan, Pesticide Action Network North America
Crossposted from Lex Horan's blog at PANNA
Editor's note: We've written about the pineland-to-potatoes battle in the past, as well as tracing political contributions from executive-level individuals working for R.D. Offutt to Minnesota politicians. Lex Horan tells the story of the corporation's regulatory capture and its discontents in this post.
What do you call it when the nation’s largest potato company, with strong ties to the pesticide industry, digs in its deep pockets to dodge accountability for its impacts on local communities? Here at PAN we call it “corporate capture” — the outsize influence that pesticide companies and other corporate powerholders in our food system have over the agencies that are meant to regulate them.
Recently in Minnesota I’ve been watching potato giant RD Offutt (RDO) resort to a number of the most common moves from the corporate capture playbook. But I'm happy to report that I've also seen a determined coalition of community members stand up to RDO and our state agencies, calling for stronger protections from chemical-intensive agriculture.

An agency, a corporation... 

I’ve written before about Toxic Taters, a grassroots organization led by rural and Native residents of north central Minnesota who are fed up with health-harming pesticide drift from nearby potato fields. PAN has worked closely with community members in the area since 2006. It’s a bold campaign taking on two giants of the food system: RD Offutt, the nation’s largest potato grower, and McDonald’s, who buys potatoes from RDO to make its “world famous fries.” Now RDO is aiming to expand its chemical-intensive potato fields — and local communities are fighting back.
Watching RDO’s attempted expansion unfold in the last year has been a little like watching a high-stakes tennis match. The back-and-forth has looked like this:
A few years back, RDO started buying up thousands of acres of pine forest, formerly owned by a timber company, to expand its potato fields. New land in hand, the company requested irrigation permits for the potato fields it intended to plant there.
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) gets to decide who receives irrigation permits and when — and usually gives them out when asked. But last winter, MDNR was looking at a stack of 54 irrigation permit requests from RDO, connected to a whopping 7,000 acres of forestland that would be cleared for potato production. At that time, MDNR did the right thing. The agency stepped up and called for RDO to do an environmental assessment on the impacts of its “pine-to-potatoes” project before proceeding.
The environmental assessment worksheet the agency called for is a small ask for a company poised to use a great deal of a public resource — our state’s groundwater — for its private gain. Any project that has “potential for significant environmental effects” merits an environmental assessment, according to state law. Aren't seven thousand acres of new potato fields, and the pesticide applications that go with them a significant envirnomental impact? And communities near existing potato fields are already spending $2.5 million in taxpayer dollars to clean up drinking water. That sounds like significant environmental impact, too.
But RDO disagreed. The company sued MDNR, and the many months of legal back-and-forth followed.
The resolution was a signed memorandum of understanding between the company and MDNR, the agency responsible for regulating them. RDO agreed to drop most of its irrigation permit requests, leaving only five on the table. (Though, no promises that the company wouldn’t slowly trickle in irrigation permit requests over the course of the next few years.) And MDNR would no longer require an environmental assessment. Together, the company and the agency would approach the Minnesota legislature to ask for taxpayer money to fund a study of the impacts of potato production.

...and the rest of us

If you’re keeping track, there’s one character who hasn’t shown up in this story yet: the rural residents whose communities, drinking water and air would be impacted by RDO’s new potato fields.
MDNR lost the backbone to require the corporation to do an environmental assessment, but PAN and local community groups didn’t. Toxic Taters took the lead on a petition to MDNR calling for an environmental assessment, with support from Land Stewardship Project, White Earth Land Recovery Project, and PAN. Local residents and other Minnesotans signed the petition in support.
Shortly before MDNR was due to decide on our petition, the agency invited us to sit down at the negotiating table with RDO and MDNR. The goal was to see if we could come to some agreement about the “special study” that MDNR and RDO had already agreed to.
We accepted the invitation and sat at the table with RDO and MDNR, sharing our concerns about the study as currently proposed — and offering suggestions for how it might be improved. We weren’t convinced that a “special study” could replace a full environmental review process, but we stayed in the conversation.
We stayed until last week, two meetings in, when RDO left the negotiating table. At that point, the ball was in MDNR’s court. The agency rejected our petition for an environmental assessment, after RDO pulled its requests for two more irrigation permits.
Where the potato giant had originally requested 54 permits, now they have only three irrigation well requests approved or pending. It’s a mixed victory: public pressure made sure that 51 well permits were withdrawn, but RDO has still managed to avoid a public review and full environmental assessment of its proposed expansion.

No small potatoes — big picture problems

How did PAN end up in a tussle with the largest potato grower in the country and a Minnesota regulatory agency? Why does this issue matter so much?
First, it’s high time to transition away from pesticide-intensive agriculture — and RD Offutt’s potato production is about as pesticide-heavy as it gets. If the company is sincere about working to cut pesticide use, we’re all for it. But sound public policy should aim to prevent the harms of pesticide contamination before they occur, and an environmental assessment is an important public tool to do that.
And when harm has already occurred — like on thousands of acres in Minnesota and on the White Earth Indian Reservation where RDO’s potato operations have already contaminated air, water and communities with hazardous pesticides — the company’s first responsibility should be remediating harms before planting new fields.
Second, public agencies should serve the public. Federal agencies like the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency  and U.S. Department of Agriculture, and state agencies like MDNR, work for us. Their responsibility is to protect public resources and public health. But unfortunately they’re under a tremendous amount of pressure from major corporations to set policy and enforce regulations to the benefit of corporate players in our food system. As we’ve said time and again, we need to remind public agencies loudly and clearly that they work for us, not the pesticide industry and other corporate actors.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the communities that are most affected by regulatory decisions and agricultural practices need to be at the center of decision-making. Without frontline communities at the table, the solutions that governments and corporations propose will always miss the mark.
Rural Minnesotans are calling on state agencies to protect their basic rights to clean air, clean drinking water, and decision-making in their communities. Regulatory agencies need to listen.  
Lex Horan is PAN's Midwest Organizer. He is based in PAN’s Minneapolis office, where he organizes alongside Midwest communities facing the harmful impacts of pesticides. He works on campaigns to protect bees from pesticides and to stop pesticide contamination in large-scale potato production.