We Have Been Thrown Under the Money Bridge

The Emperor is always the last to learn that he is not wearing any clothes. America somehow thinks that September 11th, 2001 is Pearl Harbor II. America is worried that Lehman’s downfall on September 15th 2008 is the remake of the “Crash of ’29,” in 3D. Obama, the current emperor, thinks like FDR, that his government can save America with affordable health care, a free college education, and something called cap and trade. Unlike FDR, there are only merchants in Obama’s realm, all the farmers and manufacturers are living and working in China.

When Roosevelt said, “The nation that destroys its soil destroys itself,” in one of his famous “fireside chats” to share his solution for the 1937 dust bowl, he had a more balanced citizenry of farmers, merchants and manufacturers. The farmers had stopped making money after WWI (1914-1919), the merchant bankers had gone bust in 1929, the manufacturers had laid-off, 25% of their employees, and then in 1937 the topsoil of the Texas-Oklahoma Panhandle blew away, to once again reveal Coronado’s “Inland Desert.” FDR, like all the well intentioned emperors of America, tried to solve the problem but in the end only made it worse.

Obama, the merchant CEO, and Xi Jinping, the manufacturer-plantation overseer, are co-captaining the world’s largest super-tanker in uncharted waters. The co-captains are joined daily in the officers’ mess, by industry lobbyists, political party leaders and government technocrats, while the farmer crew cannibalizes the sea and soil, to keep the ship afloat. The earth is the iceberg and two-thirds of the problem lies below its surface. This is not a redo of ‘Titanic’ it’s the ‘Mutiny on the Bounty’ and Denzel Washington is under contract to play Obama. The evidence of impending disaster is everywhere, climate change, world hunger, US addiction to a corn obesity diet, desertification, over population, and the gaping disparity in rural-urban income.

Obama, the merchant CEO, has chosen to ignore the ‘Terrestrial Carbon Sequestration’ counsel of soil management experts and stick with the same merchant bankers who created the Lehman dance, while believing that this time, it will be different. The new FDR, thinks Roosevelt was using the “Farmer’s Almanac,” as a teleprompter when he delivered his “The nation that destroys its soil destroys itself,” quote. The tagline of the Obama administration is, “Yes, we won’t have inflation, even though we printed twice as much money, as we have in the bank.”

Xi Jinping, after his yearlong honeymoon with Obama, aboard the US-Sino Love boat, now thinks that the U.S. married China only for the dowry. After all China had sustained itself for 5,000 years, suffering only occasional bouts of indigestion, brought on by the unintended consequences of governmental actions. China and President Xi wouldn’t even be talking to President Obama, if ‘Tricky Dick’ hadn’t made that cold call on Chairman Mao. Can you blame Xi and the Chinese government for their skepticism when the U.S. never gave China the time of the day, until Wall Street collapsed? Then again Xi had no choice but to accept the co-captainship, because those no good Yankee merchant bankers had already sold China a bunch of ‘too big to fail’ banknotes.

Marco Polo, the first Yankee peddler who visited China, went back to Venice, bearing the technological advancements of printing, gun powder, and paper money, along with silk, the rude produce of the land. However, 600 years later, the Chinese emperors started losing faith in welcoming foreigners, after the British, under the banner of Yankee Imperialism, waged their “War to Sell Drugs.” China holed-up in her ‘mansion’ until those pesky Yankee traders, dangled the baubles of the Asian Tigers in front of Deng Xiaoping. As Professor Jiang has noted, from that day forward the Chinese farmer stopped making a living.

I think the boys up top need some help from down below. Yes, they are our leaders, our only hope of saving the world from itself. Yes, they are well intentioned, well educated, well respected and well thought of, and they still need our help. They could have used some pre-marital counseling, but as in most shotgun marriages there was no time for that. How do we tell the boss what he should do? How do we, in the ‘new top down world order’ speak up? How do we tell the co-emperors that they aren’t wearing any clothes?

Ever since Lincoln was shot, America’s farmers, manufacturers and merchants have tried to curry favor with the emperor and his entourage, by organizing themselves in associations. Alexis de Tocqueville, in 1835, came to the then 25 States, interviewed 200 business and political leaders, went back home and wrote his seminal work, “Democracy in America.” Tocqueville attributed America’s success in creating a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, to 1) associations of like-minded individuals, 2) a fresh start in the new world and 3) no interference from a powerful church. The United States and Mexico both were start-up constitutional democracies The Catholic Church divided the power with their colonial governments, whether they were democracies or dictatorships. Karl Rove’s Christian coalition is an example of the damage that can be done when religion is used to win an election. However, the power behind the Yankees, was their need to form associations of individuals united in a common cause. These networks of local citizens were then able to speak with one voice, on issues that were important to their members.

One such association, known as the Grange, after the end of the Civil War in 1867, helped the farmer get his fresh start after the two centuries of unintended consequences, caused by the slavery form of agricultural subsidies. The Grange actually was one of several adult education movements after the War and had contemporaries like the Knights of Labor and the Farmers’ Alliance. The National Grange of the Patrons of Husbandry, as it is officially known, was conceived by Oliver Hudson Kelley and several of his colleagues at the – believe it or not – U S. Department of Agriculture. The term “Grange” comes from England and means an old estate where a variety of agricultural activities were carried on. The mission of the Grange was meant to:

1) advance agriculture through education; 2) make farmers more aware of new farming methods and legislation that was affecting them; 3) improve the living and working conditions of farming families; 4) organize cooperative economic power; and 5) overcome their isolation. (Stubblefield, 1994)

The Grange had a rocky beginning, taking on and promising too much at once. They had their greatest gain during the depression of 1873, when farmers turned to politics to cure their political problems. By 1874, almost nine thousand Granges with a membership of 643,125 had been organized in twenty-four states (Woods, 1991). It declined thereafter, but picked up again in the late 1880s (Buck, 1913).

One of the Grange’s contribution as a movement was creating social and educational opportunities at the local, state and national level. They had some outside lecturers, but relied heavily on their own membership to interchange views, prepare papers, debates, and talks about issues of interest. It was less about getting knowledge from the “experts” than gathering information and forming opinions themselves, from the ground up through group involvement.

The Grange movement won several political battles for farmers. They strongly influenced the breakup of the power of railroads that set exorbitant prices for shipping crops and goods. This made it possible for farmers to actually make a living, instead of giving their earnings to the railroads to ship their produce. They conceived of and pushed for rural mail delivery, improved rural highways and greatly influenced the establishment and quality of rural schools. These are a few among many political accomplishments that the Grange was instrumental in bringing to the national, state and local debate.

Perhaps most unique as an organization of its time, the Grange was a forward-looking leader in the way that it handled membership and the participation of women. When the Grange was first in the minds of its creators, the men who were discussing it did not even consider membership of women to their organization. Caroline Hall, the niece of founder Oliver Hudson Kelley, told her uncle, “Your organization will never be permanent if you leave the women out!” (Gardner, 1949) The Grange went on to include women as full voting members, able to hold any of the sixteen offices in each local Grange hierarchy. Women became Grange masters, chaplains, secretaries, lecturers, gate keepers, etc. In fact, in order to begin a Grange, four of the necessary ten members had to be women. For many years’ women enjoyed many more rights and responsibilities within the Grange than in general American society.

Ask 10 people nowadays what the Grange is and they look puzzled. “Something to do with farms,” and “I’ve seen their halls,” is as close as they can come to defining the oldest agricultural organization in the country.

But in its heyday in the 1870s and in its strong community presence into the 1960s, the Grange was a force to be reckoned with. It was heralded for improving rural life even as some called it a cult. It was appreciated for providing halls and social gatherings that put the heart in some small communities.

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The farmers, after WWI, started abandoning the countryside for jobs in the cities, and formed associations of merchants and manufacturers, like Rotary, Lions, Kiwanis, and Toastmasters. The first three organizations were formed to help the individual business man succeed through the contacts and social relationships formed while performing community service projects. Toastmasters started out as a self-improvement (public speaking) offering of the Anaheim, CA, YMCA.

Zone Lion

At age fifty, following my mid-life crisis I joined Kiwanis, Lions, Toastmasters, and the late ‘30’s self-help group Alcoholics Anonymous. The Follett Lions Club was the Chamber of Commerce and the only non-denominational group in population 400, Follett, TX. ‘Vernie’ Schoenhals was the only farmer member and he was retired. We had the Texas A&M, PhD economist – I billed him as ‘the Alan Greenspan of the Prairie” – do an analysis on what the community could do to save itself from extinction. His well thought out answer was that we had a good transportation system – we could leave town by US 15 or hop a freight train. I could have called in a priest to give us ‘last rights’ but the Baptist majority wouldn’t have gone for it.

Barn Sugar Speakers

I joined Sugar Speaker Toastmasters when Shelby returned us back to Houston, to practice my, “why you should drive fifty miles out in the country for a $12 gallon of goat’s milk.” Maybe I should have joined the Optimist Club but as it turned out, talking out loud to your friends and fellow members has similar benefits to AA and group therapy that Kiwanis, Rotary, Lions and the Optimists can’t provide. Around midway in my stay at Sugar Speakers, Toastmasters International, began promoting itself as the world leader in both communications and leadership skills training.

I didn’t pay attention or immediately buy into that leadership stuff because after all I was a graduate (barely) from the nine month officers’ training course offered by U.S. Marine Corps, at Quantico, Virginia. However, eighteen months in Middle Kingdom Toastmasters Club, in Zhengzhou, Henan Province, China, had proven to me that I only learned the steps, the rules of leadership. Probably because my higher power and most assuredly the USMC didn’t want me to endanger the lives of others under my command, I never went to war. I was terrified of standing in front of the 127 enlisted in my artillery battery, and saying, “Men, follow me!” I’d rather try to tell 127 anybodies about my latest and greatest idea and cower at the first raised eyebrow of disbelief.

My Toastmasters experience in China is different, no raised eyebrows, just a “what did he say look,” no matter what topic I was pontificating on at the time. But real leadership training, I got because I was the only Yankee Toastmaster in the club. The Marine Corps only taught me the dance steps but Toastmasters China I got to practice dancing in front of a live audience.

In China, I was not self-conscious about my dancing, communication and leadership skills because nobody from my cultural group was watching. There are 300 million young adults (80 percent women, average age 24) who hunger and thirst for the Toastmasters oral English communications and leadership opportunity. Why? So they can get a good job, make money and see the world.

The Grange Society is dead, domestically Lions, Kiwanis and Rotary are, ‘on the ropes’ only AA (recovery of self) and Toastmasters (self realization) are growing at home and abroad. At Sugar Speakers, the membership is comprised of merchants of service (engineers, consultants, accountants, insurance, etc.), while the membership of Beijing Advanced, On The Way and Middle Kingdom is primarily merchants of educational services and manufacturers of technology hardware and software.

“All things considered,” my goal is to introduce Toastmasters to Henan and Zhenghou Universities as the most effective and efficient way to learn to speak English fluently and while learning the international language, develop their communication and leadership skills. The college crowd can then bring the farmer population on board with Mandarin Toastmaster clubs. Think of it as a Grange Society with Chinese characteristics.