The Government Shutdown, Food Rights, and the Death of the Handshake
One of the key witnesses at Wisconsin farmer Vernon Hershberger’s criminal trial in May over his private food sales was his father, Daniel Hershberger. The elder Hershberger testified about how he moved with his son from an area of Ohio, which was becoming more urbanized, to settle in rural Wisconsin.
During cross examination, prosecutor Eric Defort tried to get Daniel to admit that the private membership food club at his son's farm was mainly about making a lot of money.
Daniel resisted Defort’s effort. “Sometimes monetary valuation is not to be trusted,” he said. To truly measure success, “You have to ask the community. “
Then he added, “I come from a generation where a handshake meant something. And I seem to be in a generation where it doesn’t, and where everything is based on money. “
That last observation threw Defort off, and pretty much ended his questioning. But I find myself thinking about it during the wrangling over the government shutdown.
Daniel Hershberger was really bemoaning the loss of trust in our super-connected and super-polarized society. We have the most amazing communication tools in human history, and trust that erodes visibly nearly by the day.
How else do you explain the painful events that are making a mockery of our Constitutionally-mandated governing processes and the political leadership that is supposed to keep it all working? Now, there’s enough trash talk around the blogosphere and social media about the government shutdown and debt-limit threat that I would ordinarily shy away from adding to the piles of verbiage. But because there’s such a clear connection to what has evolved in the world of food rights, I can’t resist adding my two cents.
Taken at face value, the arguments being raised by the Tea Party Republicans who have created the government shutdown are glorified rationalizations….The House of Representatives controls spending….We just want to negotiate….We must prevent Obamacare to save the nation….
On Facebook, I’ve seen even more ridiculous rationalizations—shutting down the government is a way to oppose the federal income tax, the President proposed Obamacare and therefore illegally used his Constitutional authority, let’s wipe the slate clean and start over, etc., etc.
The fact of the matter is that Obamacare, whether you agree or disagree with it, was passed into law and has survived based on Constitutionally-mandated processes. It was passed by Congress, signed by the President, upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, and has withstood Congressional challenges to repeal it. Never before have opponents of one piece of legislation sought to use their opposition to bring down the whole house of cards as a means of protest--in an act of legislative sabotage and extortion.
Of course, that’s not the whole story. It’s essential to inquire further about what’s really going on here. Why would supposedly patriotic individuals take such extreme and possibly damaging actions over one piece of government policy?
The only thing I can figure is that the polarization we are now witnessing is the result of a massive erosion of trust. There can’t be meaningful negotiation if you are so suspicious of the other side you wouldn’t trust whatever might be negotiated to be implemented.
The Obama Administration’s counter kick-sand-in-their-face attitude is made clear by its shutdown of national parks, even to the extent that visitors to Mt. Rushmore have been prohibited from pulling over to the sides of a state road to take photos….The message: We’ll show you how they are making you suffer.
In the food world, where many of us spend a lot of time and energy, we have been witness to a steady erosion of trust as well, via lies and deceit. As just one very recent example, my previous post about the pullbacks by regulators in Illinois and South Dakota amount to lies. Regulators agreed to compromises, and then ignored their commitments. The prosecutors of Vernon Hershberger had the gall to tell the jury that all he had to do was pay $250 for a retail license and he would have avoided all the legal hassle he faced. That was deceitful—with a retail license he would have been prohibited from selling his most popular product, raw milk.
I’ve not even begun to get into the undercover investigations, examples of entrapment, and piling on of criminal charges against peaceful farmers.
You go to other arenas of life and you see the deception acted out again and again in big and small ways. The National Security Agency (NSA) is accessing our most private data—info about our telephone conversations and emails—and we’re told it’s not a violation of the U.S. Constitution’s Fourth Amendment prohibiting unreasonable searches and seizures. Assuming you can make an argument that there are national security gains to be obtained from doing the analyses of our communications, the real damage has occurred in the area of trust because the violations have occurred in secret. The federal government’s ongoing refusal to recognize state sanctioning of marijuana--even after suggesting changes in its approach-- is another example.
So, getting back to food…..While I support the Raw Milk Institute (RAWMI) and encourage dialog with long-time raw milk opponents like Michele Jay Russell of the University of California, Davis (who commented following my previous post)—I do believe there are legitimate issues that can be worked through—I worry, with Russ, Dave Milano, and others about whether the disagreements and different views of the world can be bridged the old-fashioned way, whether a handshake can actually be made to mean something once again.
The one example we have of accommodation in the food world occurred in Michigan, and that took six solid years of hard work to overcome the suspicion and mistrust.
I've done a few radio and podcast interviews over the last couple weeks on behalf of my book, Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Food Rights. One that I enjoyed immensely was by Ben Stone, aka The Bad Quaker. He has been following closely what's been happening in the food rights arena, and his questions were right on target. There was also a radio interview by Katherine Albrecht, for the Katherine Albrecht Show, who offered an interesting personal perspective to her questioning.