Handmade Toy Alliance

Handmade toys may soon be illegal in the United States.

That's the bad news. The good news is that they would already be illegal, if toymakers and others hadn't gotten together and fought back. Now they need our help.

Illegal handmade toys?

Illegal handmade toys may sound like an embarrassing attempt at satire. Or the more embarrassing ravings of an unembarrassed consipracy theorist. But it's the sober fact. As the toymakers explain:

In 2007, large toy manufacturers who outsource their production to China and other developing countries violated the public's trust. They were selling toys with dangerously high lead content, toys with unsafe small part, toys with improperly secured and easily swallowed small magnets, and toys made from chemicals that made kids sick. Almost every problem toy in 2007 was made in China.

The United States Congress rightly recognized that the Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) lacked the authority and staffing to prevent dangerous toys from being imported into the US. So, they passed the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) in August, 2008. Among other things, the CPSIA bans lead and phthalates in toys, mandates third-party testing and certification for all toys and requires toy makers to permanently label each toy with a date and batch number.

All of these changes will be fairly easy for large, multinational toy manufacturers to comply with. Large manufacturers who make thousands of units of each toy have very little incremental cost to pay for testing and update their molds to include batch labels.

For small toymakers and manufacturers of children's products, however, the costs of mandatory testing will likely drive them out of business.

A toymaker, for example, who makes wooden cars in his garage in Maine to supplement his income cannot afford the $300 - $4,000 fee per toy that testing labs are charging to assure compliance with the CPSIA.

Precisely because the toys are handmade, the new law requires that they be tested individually. At $300 to $4,000 per toy.

This is beyond Kafkaesque. Because factories in China were churning out poisoned toys by the thousands, you can't make and sell a wooden car in your garage.

Get more details here: http://www.handmadetoyalliance.org

Yes, we need to make sure more kids don't get poisoned by their toys. But let's focus on the source of the problem -- toxic mass-produced junk from Chinese factories.

If we had any real national conscience about conditions for workers besides ourselves, we wouldn't be buying from most of these sweatshops anyway. Maybe all this can be a catalyst towards change on that front too.

Fighting back

Independent toymakers aren't the only ones who've resisted this new law. Garment makers and even the publishing industry are also threatened by the insanely expensive requirements.

Together, these people have gotten a stay of execution for one year. That's right -- the original deadline for mandatory testing got pushed back a year. Because people resisted.

So let's help keep pushing till we topple the guillotine. Here's how you can help:


This page includes a petition (watch your step after you sign it -- the third-party petition site asks for a donation). Also includes a sample letter to your Congressfolk, and a link to contact the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission about CPSIA.

It'll take maybe five or ten minutes. Thanks. :)

Creative Commons License
Content by Bill Powell in this work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License.


Conference Announcement: Religion and the Recession

For all of our readers in England, the following is an announcement of a conference at which your humble correspondent will be giving a speech on Distributism. Our Capitalist and Libertarian friends will no doubt find it amusing that a conference on this subject should be held in Robin Hood's hometown, but they are welcome to come as well.

Christian Social Teaching and the Politics of Money
An International Conference on Religion and the Recession

University of Nottingham, 9 and 10 July, 2009

In July, the Department of Theology and Religious Studies and the Centre of Theology and Philosophy, University of Nottingham, shall be hosting a conference on religion, the Church, and the global recession. Many prominent and international speakers shall be attending, including:

The Archbishop of Granada, Mons. Javier Martínez
The Bishop of Worcester, Rt. Rev. Dr. John Inge
Dr. Peter Selby
John Cruddas MP
Norman Wirza, Duke Divinity School
Stefano Zamagni, Università di Bologna
Michael Northcott, University of Edinburgh
John Milbank, University of Nottingham
John Médaille, University of Dallas

Over the past year, fundamental questions have arisen concerning the moral use of money and the potential for alternatives to the prevailing models.

For example, it has been suggested that the economic system commonly referred to as capitalism is secular because it redefines the sacred. Thinkers from Walter Benjamin to Karl Polanyi have argued that the capitalist market economy in general and global finance in particular subordinate the sanctity of life and land to a belief in idealised and abstract commodities.

Christians of different denominations claim that Christian social teaching can help provide answers to these questions, a position that is viewed with scepticism by secular economists, politicians and commentators.

However, a closer examination of these positions shows that each is moving in similar directions: long-term economic security, sustainability, localism, and accountability in the market today. There is thus a clear need for economists, theologians and Church leaders to debate new economic models and to discuss an ethical framework for markets. With this in mind, the conference aims to bring together some of the leading figures in economics and theology, as well as politicians and representatives from other religions.

The working hypothesis of the conference is that there is there is a ‘middle’ position between an exclusively religious and a strictly secular perspective: faith can lead to a strong notion of the common good and a belief that human behaviour, when disciplined and directed, can start to act more charitably. There can also be secular intimations of this: the more faith-inspired practices are successful even in secular terms (more equality, more consensus, more human happiness, a better ecology), the easier it will be for secular institutions to adopt such a regulatory framework without having fully to embrace its religious basis.

All are welcome. For further information, including costs, registration and the full list of speakers, please visit www.theologyphilosophycentre.co.uk/ or contact adrian.pabst@nottingham.ac.uk / james.noyes@nottingham.ac.uk


The Midas Touch

A friend of mine sent this to me. It is a modern morality play, if the term “modern morals” is not itself a contradiction in terms.

PBS - Gold Futures - Rosia Montana from Lee Wilkins on Vimeo.

It is 54 minutes long. But if you haven't time to watch the film, let me summarize it for you.

Very simply, there is a gold mine in Rosia Montana, a village in Romania. This is not news; there has always been a gold mine Rosia Montana, and one can still explore the tunnels dug by the Romans, from whom Romania is named. Gold is not Rosia Monana's only form of wealth. The mountain also gives silver and copper, but even that is not the end of it. It is a place of stunning beauty, as you may see in the film, but it also has fertile fields, verdant pastures, and rivers brimming with fish. There is no end of the natural wealth and there ought to be no end of natural prosperity and happiness.

But there is not. There is, in fact, poverty. None of this is news. What is new is that a Canadian company wants to mine in Rosia Montana. But “mine” is perhaps not the right word. Rather, they want to destroy the mountain, and in destroying the mountain they must destroy the village. They want to replace the village with a lake of cyanide to reduce a ton of rock to a grain of gold. In only 17 years, it is their plan to reduce the mountain of gold to a heap of slag. This is not to say that the Canadians are being unfair; they are more than willing to pay the villagers. Some have accepted, others are resisting. And they promise to turn the slag into a garden.

Now, it is not my place to tell the villagers what they should do. It is neither my village nor my country, and these are decisions which only the people of Rosia Montana and the government of Romania can make. But whether the villagers decide to stay or go, the decision they make is a sign and symbol of something much wider, and part of something much greater. To be specific, it is part of a great joke about capitalism. But it is a joke that no one seems to get. So here is the punchline: Rosia Montana is a place of great natural wealth, BUT THERE IS NO INCOME (as one of the villagers in the film put it). Now, here is a place that has received every gift that a loving God could bestow on any piece of ground: mountains full of minerals, valleys full of farms, pastures full of animals, rivers full of fish. It is a place that could—and has—supported tens of thousands in peace and prosperity, but under capitalism, it cannot provide work for a thousand. An area that should be prosperous and happy becomes an area of forced idleness. There is wealth, real wealth, but there are no jobs, and people, young people especially—that is, the future—feel they must leave. And if they leave with a few Euros provided by the Canadians, who can blame them?

But still there is the joke. The joke is that while the villagers have real wealth, the Canadians have financial wealth, and under capitalism, the latter is more important than the former. The bits of paper with the printed on them are heavier than gold; the sterile bankers notes more fecund than fertile fields. We may laugh at the joke; we may even laugh at the Romanians, but we are caught in the same joke. In this country, no less than in Romania, men who make naught but bits of paper (called “financial derivatives”) have brought a great country to its knees. These men contributed not so much as a grain of wheat to the commonwealth, but from our common wealth we have paid them 100's of billions of dollars, and will pay them more still as a reward for their failures. At least the Canadians will pay something for their destruction of the village; we must pay for the rope they will use to hang us, and pay a monopoly price at that.

Under capitalism, the natural order of things is reversed. The money that should serve as a convenience for the trade of real things becomes the master of real things—and real people. The natural connection between wealth and work is broken, and those who hold real wealth got with real work become the servants of those with financial wealth who do no work.

The situation is Rosia Montana is repeated all over the world, wherever there is wealth that can be exploited. The obvious example is oil. Oil also holds the promise of easy money, of wealth without work, but the usual result for a nation rich in oil is neither wealth nor work. Or rather, the wealth is confined to a few, usually foreigners and their local political servants, while the rest have no work and hence no wealth. A bit of a dole is all they can expect. It may be a generous dole, as it used to be in Saudi Arabia; sometimes it is a pittance; more often it is nothing. Only a few places, such as Norway, have treated such wealth as the common property of the nation and attempted to use it to expand the real wealth of the nation, as token against the day when the oil runs out.

Gold comes out of the ground very slowly. That is as it should be. It is a resource for the ages, and not just for one generation, and certainly not for a generation of foreigners. To each generation, the mountain gives a few flakes, so that they might make merry at the end of the day, or bring the wife and children some small gifts. And the children will grow up to bring a gift to their wives. But the Canadians want to compress 2,000 years of mining into 17 years, to take all the wealth of the red mountains in one fell swoop, and leave behind a desert. True, they say they will leave behind a garden, and they may actually mean that. But once all the battles are over, once the gold is gone, there will be little reason to fulfill the promises. Soon after the mine is opened and the mountain begins to shrink, the Canadian director will call the Romanian manager and tell him, “We made 100 million, last year; we need to make 120 this year. Cut the budget.” And the next year they will say 140, and then 200. What budget do you think they will cut?

They made the same promises in Baia Mare, in the North of Romania. But in the year 2000, the cyanide lake broke, and wound its way into the valley and the river Tisza and the Danube, rendering the valley sterile and dangerous and the fish poisoned. It was the biggest environmental disaster in Europe since Chernobyl. They cannot farm or fish the area for 20 years. Some garden. “Ah, but here it will be different. Our lake will never break; we will break the mountain, but it will not break our lake; we are stronger than nature.” Maybe, but the cyanide must go somewhere, some day.

This whole process is called “investment,” which means that nations like Romania with real wealth must go hat in hand to countries with financial wealth. They must beg in Bruxelles for permission to eat their own bread, for the bits of paper without which (apparently) wheat will not grow and fish will not bite. As it is, the farmers and factories cannot compete with the system of organized subsidies and exploitation known as “globalization,” a system meant to suck the life out of poor countries for the benefit of (financially) rich ones. If things proceed as the usually do in these cases, it will be impossible for the government of Romania to resist the pressure to sell the real wealth of Romania for the “investment” wealth of the Canadians. Yet there is something else that may stop the project: the death of a system that demands such projects.

There are people in Romania who are old enough to have witnessed the death of empires; they have see the passing of the kingdom, of the fascists, of the communists, and soon, I am convinced, the passing of the capitalists; that system, like the others, cannot survive its own “success”; the bits of paper aren't real wealth, and the people who have real wealth got with real work will tire of working for others and demand to work for themselves.

It should be a trivial matter to organize the wealth of Romania into a real economic system. It should not be much of problem to make fertile fields prosperous, to make good and useful things for their neighbors, to trade with the other cities of Romania and with the neighboring countries, all of whom need some of what Romania has, just as Romania can use something of their surplus. If bits of paper are all that stand in the way, then such paper can be printed in Bucharest, backed by the real wealth of the nation. It takes only the will to do so. If small nations can realize their own wealth, no one can stop them; if not, they must work for Canadians, for such work as can be found, and there won't be much of it. For the rest, they must go to Spain or Germany; they must enrich another country and forget their own language.

The other joke about such projects is that they are not good investments. They are too capital intensive, and depend on gold staying at or above a certain price. But ten years ago, the price was only $250/oz., and if the current troubles pass without incident, it may be that again, in which case the mine would be unprofitable. But if this really is the passing of an era, the fall of an empire, then the price might go to $5,000/oz. In that case, Romania will need its gold, and whoever rules Romania will will not let it out, whatever promises they have made to the Canadians. The Canadians have no army to enforce their claims, and the rest of Europe will have concerns of its own. The Canadians will lose their investment, just as the people of Rosia Montana lost their village.

I have called capitalism a great joke, but it is also a grand myth, namely the Myth of Midas, he whose touch turned everything to gold. Capitalism also turns all it touches into gold, but a strange gold that, as for the King, can not feed itself, and which turns every beloved thing, everything of real value, into something cold and heartless and still. Nobody knows what will happen, but it would be dangerous to think that what worked yesterday will work in the future. But it is a myth that these things ever worked for places like Romania, and a greater myth to think that Romania needs them to work. She has both the gold and the food to feed herself, and feed on a grand scale.


Solidarity Economy



Meek & Mild vs. Toughies

Where is President Barack Obama's economic Recovery team?
The simple answers
Summary of J.W. Smith's one hour presentation at the United Nations General Assembly Hall 03/05/2009, providing those answers
UNIS-UN International Students Conference
http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/1215100 Fast forward 70 minutes
Those Simple Answers are in 168 bold faced words below

Visualize a fertile valley 10,000 years ago with fruits, nuts and vegetables growing wild along with lush thatch for building shelters. The new settlers have only to pick their food, build their thatch homes, and, once that home is built, relax most the day.
A cunning cabal form and each lay claim to a part of the land. They make a pact with toughies that they will share the spoils if they protect their unequal and unjust “property rights.” The meek, mild, and law abiding now have to share the food they pick with those “owners,” have to build their houses, and provide any and all other services.
The primary cause of poverty among plenty is uncovered. Those cunning go on to claim their unearned wealth on through history and those are the property rights laws, as applied to nature’s resources and technologies, denying others their rightful share of what nature offers to all for free, that is in place today.
This exposes most current finance capital as unearned wealth. In the thesis below, note how, even as taxes disappear and honest capitalism is fully retained, those rental values paid to ourselves will fully fund all social services currently starved for funds.
The economic thesis to eliminate this unequal economic structure created by many many cabals over the centuries, and they claiming your and my wealth yet today, can be summarized in these 168 words:

By paying land (resource) rents to ourselves, meaning socially collected, a citizenry is quintuply repaid through those massive funds building roads, railroads, water systems, sewer systems, and electric grids (any natural monopoly) as well as fund governments, provide education, health care and retirement. Infrastructure and population, not capitalists, establish the use-value of land and resources and their rental values fund those same required infrastructures as well as essential social services (the community process). Restructure to the just described honest capitalism and taxes disappear as your employed working hours drop by half and all enjoy a quality, secure, life. This requires sharing the remaining “productive” jobs and equal pay for equally productive labor. Each region of the world, each nation, each region of a nation, each state, each county, each community, and each entrepreneur must have equal rights to their share of both created and saved finance capital (created money and savings). With those rights, entrepreneurs (private industry), will fill every niche within the production-distribution process.

You can follow those flows of money and commerce within this efficient economy in your head. Both the community process operating those natural monopolies and efficient private industry producing consumer products and services are fully visible.
Both taxes and poverty disappear even as our employed working hours drop by half and the pressures on our resources and the environment are alleviated roughly to the same degree. Over half our labors and resources are wasted within the superstructures operating those monopolies we are told do not exist.
The two books below that tell this story were started five years ago under the assumption this financial crash was coming. Both demonstrate how easy it would be to stop this crash in its tracks by pouring created money at the real economy, that is you and me if we are unemployed, and restructure the economy as outlined in this thesis.
Currently trillions are being poured at the very people who created this crisis while the real economy is left to fend for itself and that may fail. The answers are simple. Where is President Barack Obama’s economic recovery team?
Thank you. The Institute for Economic Democracy
Virtual tear sheet appreciated
Available for lectures and workshops

Economic Democracy: A Grand Strategy for World Peace and Prosperity ($35, 2009 edition) and Money: A Mirror Image of the Economy. ($32, 2009 edition) by J.W. Smith, can be ordered from any bookstore or Amazon.com. Signed copies, each 30% off (plus $5 S&H) if ordered from the address below. Thank you.

For Book Reviews, the manuscripts are at: Economic Democracy: A Grand Strategy for World Peace and Prosperity and Money: A Mirror Image of the Economy

The Institute for Economic Democracy
13851 N 103 Ave, Sun City, AZ 85351
623.583.2518 ied@ied.info www.ied.info
Please forward to others you think might be interested. Thank you
More IED books


More Worker/Owners



Buying American

There is presently some positioning by the Left, on another forum, in opposition to the "Buy American" idea and in partiuclar, to the Steelworkers Campaign for Buy American.

The Left says the Buy American campaigns are "chauvinistic" and only support the corporations that are killing us and stand in the way of "International Solidarity".

I say it may take some time yet to fix better ownership of the corps, that we need to work to support our families, that it is more principled to shop close to home and buy products that our neighbors make, that it is a good thing that many American home bodies are turning to E.F. Schumacher and the principles of Subsidiarity and Distributism.

It's kind of amazing to me how the Left in the auto industry clings to their anti-common sense.

What do you think?


Is this Socialism or Distributism?



What is Socialism?

Lately, there has been a lot of labeling government officials, and Obama in particular as socialists, and decrying government interventions as socialist per se. Now, I will not deny that Obama is probably a socialist of some sort at heart, and that he has many of the aberrant moral ideas as the socialists. However, the characterization of the government’s present behavior as “socialist” is a misnomer of the highest order, as we shall see later.

I myself have described Obama as a National Socialist (NAZI), but that is not because he is a true socialist, but because the Nazis were not true socialists. They agreed with many of Marx’s propositions, and were a movement of the left (something that is often forgotten), but in practice the Nazis did not create a socialist government, they created a tyrannical government which functioned on a capitalist system. Likewise, what we see today with the administration forcing the CEO of GM to step down in exchange for government aid, is not an expression of socialism. In my opinion it is not even an expression of tyranny since the government is entering into a free contract with GM, and GM is freely accepting it to get the funds. Moreover, even if the government would decide without loaning any money out, that certain CEOs needed to go this would not be an expression of socialism, but of raw state power which is called Statism. Statism is where the state is essentially all powerful and trusted to do the good. Such a system may indeed be or become tyrannical, but it is not Socialist in any sense.

Incidents where Libertarians claim Distributism is some kind of veiled socialism because of the predication of government intervention in the economy betrays the same failure to grasp what socialism is even all about. Socialism was never defined as government intervention into economic life or the running of businesses. If it was then virtually every government in history would have to be socialist, even the Bush administration. Every government has regulated trade to a greater or lesser extent. Rather, Socialism as predicated by its founder, Louis Blanc, and its most well known advocate (Marx) is when the government becomes the universal capitalist. In every system, for wealth to be created, capital must be expended to produce the wealth. This is something as simple as the food a man must eat and the tractors, plows, and livestock he must use in order to produce wheat, or as complex as the scientists that must be paid to develop a drug. The amount of goods consumed in creating new wealth is always capital. The person laboring on it brings the human labor and together with that capital creates wealth.

This is true whether we are talking about Distributism, Capitalism, slavery or Socialism. There must be capital, and there must be labor to produce wealth regardless of where it comes from. Now in Distributism a large portion or a majority of members of society both own the capital (which is not mere money but the means of production) and the labor, as in it is the same person. In Capitalism however these are often divided, so that some men somewhere own the capital, and some men somewhere else labor on it, and the former keep the wealth while the latter get very little of the wealth that is produced. This produces a whole host of social evils and insecurities which go from the top down. Socialism proposes to solve all the problems of capitalism by making the state a universal capitalist. This means that the state will own all the capital, that is, all the means of production available in society.

For instance Marx and Engles declared in the Communist Manifesto:

“When therefore, Capital is converted into common property, into the property of all members of society, personal property is not thereby transformed into social property. It is only the social character of the property that is changed. It loses its class character.” (Marx-Engles Reader, pg. 489)

Marx's thought is simply that capital will be socialized by the state, not that every man's piece of property will become that of the state per se, only if it is productive property. For Blanc, Marx and other socialists the state should not be concerned with my pipe or a picture of my family, or even a book. Rather, the state will own all the horses, tractors, plows, tools, food and housing which a farmer uses to produce wheat or corn or other crops. The state will own the factory equipment and belts, gears, cogs, etc. which laborers will use to produce machinery, assembly line products, or any other type of factory equipment, as well as the metal, wire, and all raw materials utilized in production. This is what is meant by Socialism. It is not that the state will tell a CEO to pack his things as a condition for government aid which he as asked for nor is it that the state will start behaving in a tyrannical way. The state may very well behave tyrannically without a hint of socialism.

Of course this is neither to say that tyranny is good nor that socialism is good. Ultimately, an attempt to implement socialism only leads us to the Servile State; that is back to slavery. It takes us there faster than Capitalism, which must at some point re-introduce slavery to bring stability to markets and keep the bottom classes consuming. Socialism soon discovers that the means of maintaining itself are impossible. To make the state the sole capitalist, two things are necessary. The state must be absolutely just and people must be content being told what to do in all things relating to business by the state (which is the owner). Hilaire Belloc describes it this way:
“Now the Socialist scheme requires both these very strong emotions, common to all mankind, to be suppressed. The people who run the State- that is the politicians-are to be absolutely just (although there is no one to force them to be just), they are to forget all personal wishes and to think of nothing but the good of those whose labour they direct and among whom they share out the wealth that is produced. We know by experience that politicians are not angels of this sort… You can not give this enormous power to men without their abusing it.

[Second], you will never get the run of men and women contented to live their whole lieves entirely under orders. In exceptional moments a large part of individual freedom will be given up to the necessity of the State-as during the Great War; for if the State did not survive the individual’s life and that of his children would not be worth living. The individual in abnormal crises goes trhough a great deal of suffering for a moment in order that he and his should have less pain in the long run. But even in such crises a large part of liberty remains to him. Under Socialism he would have none. He would have to do what he has told by his task-masters, much more than even the poorest labourers now have to do what they are told by task-masters. And there would be also this difference: that everyone would be in that situation and there would be no way out.” (Economics for Helen, pg. 109-110)

Certain Catholic libertarians try and act as though Socialism is entirely condemned and that Capitalism has been praised by the Church. This is simply not the case. It is a simple and ridiculous principle. If anything other than Capitalism is socialist, and the Church has condemned socialism, then it is possible to say that anything that is not capitalism is condemned. However, this overlooks both that the Church has condemned the grave separation between rich and poor as well as the control of the means of production by a few, present everywhere under capitalism (Rerum Novarum, Quadragesimo Anno and Centessimus Annus), and that the Church has described socialism only as the belief that all means of production should be transferred to the state (abolition of private property) and a belief in class warfare only solvable by the state owning capital. (Rerum Novarum no.9)

Hence, if any real progress is going to be made in solving economic woes, it is important to speak with the same terms. The debate as it is framed today often is useless since it does not clearly define the terms it uses, and often obfuscates meanings. It is one thing to identify the abuse of state power which began under Bush, and is being expanded under Obama with the same evils of fascists and communists, it is quite another to say that the US is becoming a socialist state. Ironically, by defining socialism as anything contrary to free market capitalism, as the right attempts to do today, is to say that the US has been a socialist country longer than there have even been socialists.


Cultivating a Local Food System

As the War Mercantilist Socialism economy continues its downward grind, one of the most important tasks for distributists is to ensure local food security. I see six important elements that work together to support local food security:

(1) preparing meals from basic ingredients,
(2) frugal supermarket shopping,
(3) gardening,
(4) food storage,
(5) home preservation of food.
(6) buying local foods,

My posts in this Distributist Review over the next couple months will look at each of these aspects in detail. Since it is hard to "order" these principles in terms of "most important", I have listed them in a "functional" order. In other words, if you are coming at this brand new, this is probably the order of development for most households.

So lets begin at the beginning: preparing meals from basic ingredients.

Processed and packaged foods add money to the grocery bill, support large centralized food industries, and beggar the farmers while enriching transnational agribidness* corporations. This is not a distributist activity. Instead of buying the ersatz convenience of packaged foods -- which are typically larded with extra fat, salt, sugar, and more chemicals than I am able to understand -- a better idea is to prepare meals from basic ingredients. If you want bread -- and who doesn't -- bake your own. Indeed, baking your own bread is one of the best places to start. Many people think that baking is some kind of a mysterious art that is complicated but that's a kitchen myth. Here's a link to the Better Times Almanac Bread page. And here's a link to the easiest bread method ever -- Artisan Bread Making in 5 Minutes, which is a no-knead method. Another excellent bread-learning site is Breadtopia , which also has short instructional videos on various bread recipes and focuses on no-knead recipes.

NB: If your family does not habitually eat whole wheat bread, then don't start your bread making experience with whole wheat bread. You can add that later as your skills develop. Start where your family is, and if that means white bread, by all means bake your own white flour breads and biscuits.

The next trick to add to your distributist "Slow Food" kitchen is making your own sauces, stocks, and gravies. Like bread-baking, this is considered much more mysterious than it really is. Here are links to the Better Times Almanac pages on sauces/gravies and making your own stock.

But doesn't this take a lot of time? Well, all things have a learning curve. The first time you bake a loaf of bread or a pan of biscuits, it will take longer than it will once you have made 100 loaves of bread. If your first attempt isn't the best, remember the advice of my grandmother Dovie Waldrop when I complained about the poor quality of my pie crusts. "Bobby Max, the reason you can't make a good pie crust is because you haven't made enough pies. When you have made 100 pies, I bet your pie crust is as good as mine." Having made more than 100 pies, I don't know that I would claim it was as good as hers, but they are good enough to serve to company.

I also use my freezer extensively to make my own convenience foods. If I am making bread, I don't make one loaf, I make a bunch, and freeze most of the dough for cooking later. The various no-knead recipes make extra dough which is kept in the refrigerator and can be used every day! I make my own breakfast and lunch "pockets" and freeze them for fast eating later. If I am making beans or chili, I make a lot and freeze some for later. If I make a casserole, I make two and freeze one. I fry hamburger and package it in smaller packages for quick eating later. Etc., etc., etc. OK, so if this is hard to do at first -- practice makes perfect! The more you practice, the better you will get, and your family will love the way your food develops.

Our War Mercantilist Socialist culture considers food merely as fuel. Any cultural or familial content has been emptied out and discarded as irrelevant to modern times. Food should be acquired as quickly and conveniently as possible, and taste and nutrition are in the back seat. And so it comes to pass that baking your own bread can become a truly revolutionary, as well as a culinary, delight.


More on Auto ESOP from WSJ

DETROIT -- A group of current and former Chrysler LLC workers who have long sought to have employees buy the auto maker are appealing to the Obama administration's auto task in a long-shot bit to win support for the idea.

The group was hoping to have a meeting with the task force on Wednesday but the session was canceled, said Michele Mauder, president of the American Auto Worker Ownership Committee, the group leading the effort.

The group led a similar bid to purchase the company in 2007 but were unsuccessful. Chrysler instead was acquired by Cerberus Capital Management LP from its previous owners, Daimler AG.

The 2007 effort was mainly led by members of the United Auto Workers union who opposed the acquisition by Cerberus, a private equity firm.

The current effort includes a broader band of Chrysler stakeholders, including former managers, small retiree groups and a number of suppliers, Ms. Mauder said.

The United Auto Workers has agreed to a deal with Chrysler that cuts labor costs and would leave a union-controlled health care trust owning 55% of the company, if its planned restructuring proceeds as hoped.

Mr. Mauder said she and others in her group oppose union ownership of the company. They see the tentative agreement with the UAW as handing the company over to UAW leadership rather than rank and file union members or non-UAW employees, she said.

"They're going to be the ones that have a vote, not the employees," said Ms. Mauder. "So it will be business as usual."

Mrs. Mauder, a former UAW member, from Toledo says those in favor of an employee purchase of Chrysler reorganized in recent months. The AAWOC has more than 200 active volunteers.

"We really want full ownership," she said. "We can have a new Detroit, not the same business as usual."

Ms. Mauder's effort is backed by civil rights icon Walter Fauntroy, a former congressman and advocate of employee stock ownership plans, or ESOPs.

Write to Alex P. Kellogg at alex.kellogg@wsj.com


Autoworkers Push for Big 3 Ownership

Retired Jeep Chrysler worker Michele Mauder knows hers is an uphill struggle, but it is one she is tackling with gusto. In quick visits to Washington, D.C., to lobby members of Congress, and in house meetings in Michigan and Ohio, Mauder is struggling to save the American autoworker.

“No one else is talking about saving jobs,” Mauder says. Pointing to Chrysler’s proposed deal with Fiat, “they’re talking about Fiat building small cars and shipping them here to sell through Chrysler’s dealer network. That doesn’t help taxpayers, workers or retirees,” she says.

While any number of corporate and government committees are discussing ways to save America’s “Big 3” auto companies — GM, Ford, and Chrysler — Mauder says the only way to do it that benefits workers, communities, and taxpayers, is to fundamentally restructure the way the companies do business and make the employees the owners. Together with about 200 active and retired autoworkers, including some former members of Chrysler’s senior management, she has formed the American Auto Workers Ownership Committee (AAWOC) to promote the idea of employee ownership. Mauder is president of the committee. Robert Mason, who says he formerly helped plan corporate strategy in the office of the CEO of Daimler/Chrysler, is the chairman of the group.

“I am hopeful, with a new administration, that they will look at some new alternatives,” Mauder says. The group’s efforts to meet with the administration’s auto task force have been unsuccessful so far.

Mauder’s basic idea is simple: the federal government should take over GM, Ford and Chrysler; finance retooling for smaller, greener cars, and sell companies to their workers. “Let’s cut out the big gas guzzlers that aren’t selling and replace them with fuel efficient cars,” she says. Instead of importing electric or fuel-efficient cars, “we want our people to build them,” she says.

Current plans being floated by GM and Chrysler call for the federal government and the United Auto Workers union (UAW) to own the majority of each company. The AAWOC opposes those plans. “We want all of the workers, from the lowest-paid line worker up through senior management, to own the companies, not the Union,” says Mauder, who was a union representative for four years while she worked at Jeep. “Right now, the International Union has negotiated nothing for the employees,” she says.

Mason points out that the federal government already controls GM and Chrysler and is restructuring their long-term debt. The question everyone is looking at is what happens after that. The AAWOC says: issue new equity and put it in a trust fund to distribute to employees under an employee stock ownership plan (ESOP). Employees then would buy the stock with the profits the companies make. Mauder and Mason recommend structuring concessions to assure a profit. They say base pay and benefit package should allow the companies to make “one dollar profit” at current sales levels.

“We all know employees have to give concessions, but we should get something in return so that when the companies become viable again we get something for our concessions,” Mauder says. And that “something” should be ownership. Mauder adds, however, that labor and labor-related costs account for only one-third of the auto companies’ fixed costs, and only 5 percent of their corporate budgets. Cutting management costs and trimming product lines also have to be part of the restructuring plan, she says.

According to the ESOP Association, approximately 11,500 U.S. companies have ESOPs, and they involve over 10 million employees. At 7,000 of those companies, the ESOPs are large enough to affect corporate strategy, and about 2,500 of those companies are 100 percent employee-owned through ESOPs.

Mauder argues that 100 percent employee ownership through an ESOP will reorient the corporate strategies of the domestic car companies away from short-term stock prices and towards their long-term viability. In part, that is because employees can’t cash out their stock until they leave the company or retire, at which time the company buys it back from them. As stockholders with limited cash out opportunities, employees would have an incentive to work for the company’s long-term health and to select directors, who do the same. She looks to employee ownership as model for growing auto and other manufacturing jobs in the U.S. and revitalizing communities that depend on them.

This is Mauder’s second ESOP proposal. When Daimler decided to sell Chrysler in 2007, Mauder put together a proposal for buying the company with a leveraged ESOP. She got help from experts at Kent State University and had the backing of her local union. The International Union, however, opposed the plan, she says, and supported the sale of the company to Cerebus, a private equity firm. “Jeep has had numerous owners. We made money for Chrysler, but we were just getting swallowed up in their mess,” she said in explaining her initial motivation for looking into employee ownership.

AAWOC is Mason’s second attempt to shop employee ownership, too. Independently of Mauder, he says he championed the idea of an ESOP in senior management when Daimler decided to sell the American automaker and even put together a model of how it could work. But, “the notion of 100 percent employee ownership wasn’t popular,” he says. Later, he learned about Mauder’s effort. In December 2008, he contacted her through work after the crisis at Chrysler had become public knowledge. “I told her this was the only thing that could work,” he says.

“This is the only solution with an upside potential for workers,” Mauder says, and by developing production and new technologies in the U.S., it is also the only solution with an “upside potential” for U.S. taxpayers and communities.

AAWOC’s model is for national auto companies that “right-size production” to the market instead of “super-sizing demand” with incentives, as Mauder and Mason explained in a recent pitch to Congressional leaders. “We believe in competition, but we also believe the Big 3 should cooperate more,” she said. “Instead of competing so drastically, they should complement each other. Each one should do what they do best. So, if Chrysler makes a good minivan and Ford and GM don’t, Ford and GM should stop making minivans,” she says, “and then let’s cooperate on research and development.”

Pointing to the $7 million that the Obama administration has allocated for a study by the Boston Consulting Group of the future of the auto industry, Mason says, “They are going to come up with the traditional recommendation to cut your way to prosperity. All we’re saying is let’s at least look at another way. Carve out some of that money for a minority report. If it is not viable, we’ll go home.”

“We want our people to be a part of the process and for them to get something in return for what they give up,” Mauder says. – Peter Downs (pdowns@speakeasy.net)

Peter Downs, a writer and editor based in St. Louis, is a former autoworker and former local UAW officer. In 1988, he authored a commentary, published by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, that called on General Motors to start production of hybrid gas/electric cars.


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