Birthday Greetings!

31 August 2016

ED Letter


Dear Friends and Colleagues:

Yes, it’s true what they say—Medicare is a wonderful thing! Truly, Medicare for all is the solution to the healthcare debacle. True, the losers in such a radical proposal are the insurance companies, who like the stock brokers and hedge fund managers and corporate CEOs, have driven the need for a radical solution by their unparalleled greed and incompetence. It doesn’t take a genius to see that the current economic system has all the markings of a pyramid or Ponzi scheme. It will crash, and that is not hysteria, it is just an honest appraisal of how we have allowed a class of white collar “business” people to determine what we value.

We used to address such juvenile behavior with rigorous indignation. In this country “usury” was a word and practice that kept interest rates at practical levels the result of which was that middle class, and even, sometimes the working poor were able to achieve some portion of the “American dream.” When I was a letter carrier for the US Postal Service we learned that the union negotiated a contract that raised salaries from $1.72 an hour to about $35,000 a year. On a par with what stock brokers were making at the time. How the times have changed.

And “arbitrage” used to be the word for unscrupulous financial gains throughout the 20th century in the U.S. that were also considered Ponzi schemes, and which were prosecuted as such. Today? Today, the financial sector would have us believe it is the most honest kind of making-a-living that our genteel and privileged class can pursue. This, they would have us believe. Well, there are several things problematic with that world view.

  1. First, run any financial projections and it is easy to see that such an economy is doomed to bust. Such is the nature of Ponzi schemes, which is really a variance on the old Three card Monte game. You know about that. The street peddler gets you to bet on which card is which, and somehow he always wins. Because there is no there, there. So it is with Ponzi schemes. As it was with the housing bubble. Do you ever lay awake at night wondering what happened to the $1 trillion in bad loans that we paid for, to bail out the “too big to fail” financial institutions? They still exist, and will likely be the frosting on the mud pie that will be the crash when an accounting comes due.
  1. Second, is that a critical piece of this perverted economic system is the young people that are sucked into it, to become inheritors of the $150,000 salaries in the new economy. Can you believe what a disservice we do to them? They actually believe they are worth a salary of $150,000. Here’s a news flash—they are not. We’ve seen it before, after the busts. I recall when I had coffee in a Starbucks in Brookline, Mass, the first spring day of a year in the mid-2000s. Because it was the first day of spring the Starbucks was packed with refugees from New York City and other wintry gloomy places. I shared my table with two young men, and we got to talking. It seems they lost their six figure positions during a bust. One man said he was grateful to have found a job for $35,000, and he looked happy. The other man said he wouldn’t work for “peanuts,” because he really believed he was a six-figure-a-year man.
  1. The third and final point that is so important for us to come to terms with is values. Why in the world did we ever allow our personal values to be high jacked by this lame economic world view that rewards the greediest among us, and tries to drag us down to their level at the same time? To be the workforce that allows the rich to get richer, and at this point, to receive inherited wealth to a new generation that like the young man at my Starbuck’s table in Brookline and others, who really really do believe they are worth the money they are paid, or which they inherited, and the business models they continue to perpetuate?

So what has this to do with food and agriculture, or even with Medicare and a single payer healthcare system? And why am I, as executive director at CFJC, wasting your time covering things you may already have thought of and discounted, or which you consider the ramblings of a man with too much time on his hands?

I am putting these thoughts out because they are all related. Despite the rancorous and ongoing debates about healthcare, it really boils down to who benefits from keeping the debate ongoing and premiums so high.

And despite what you hear on the television machine, Medicare is simple and quite wonderful. Just ask any 65 year old American covered by it. But it doesn’t make much money for the insurance industry, and maybe that’s why there is such an ongoing battle to dismantle it.

To be sure, we will have challenges to face with our aging population, and that is something you can thank my “baby boomer” generation for—because we plan on sticking around for as long as possible. And many of us, like me, plan to continue to be active, in my case, in my work on food and economic justice, among other things. The real questions should be how much money should we spend to prolong life? And not, how much money should insurance executives make?

It is a question of values. Is it making money that is the primary value? Or, is it human life?

And speaking of human life, can we just accept that police have a difficult job and pay them accordingly, and demand the highest standards of conduct. Rule number one, don’t shoot our children, no ifs, ands or buts.

These are difficult questions, but just because they are difficult does not mean we should shy away from them, and allow ourselves to be seduced by a class of people who value money and making money as much as people used to value their religious beliefs.

And as for food and the work of CFJC, that is exactly where we stand today.

Today, the Coalition is led by a 65 year old man, me, who wants to help guide the work into the next decade, and the next Farm Bill, and the new world that is being created around us, with our complacent acceptance. After all, we are the grown ups. It is our job to pay attention, and leave the world a little better than we found it. It is almost criminal that studies show our children will likely not live as long as us. There are many reasons, but surely we have to take responsibility for feeding healthy and nutritious food to every single child. I submit we should achieve that standard before a CEO receives a bonus for anything. Why not?

Which brings us back to food. And climate change. And justice—food justice and climate justice.

CFJC is spending the next six months in a vision and planning process to address these questions, in the context of our changing economy and world.

We have a theory of change, curricula and mentoring programs, an internship program and organizing model, and other methodologies and strategies that could be of benefit to other nonprofit organizations, and that were developed over the course of ten years of working in communities in California and other states, by the wonderful and talented staff and Coalition members from Heather and Shireen to Hai and Christina, Jessy, Erin, Lotta and Courtney, and truly amazing interns from all across the country and Canada. Surely, our communities should not have to re-invent programs every generation. Surely, what all of us have learned through sweat equity and experience must be passed down or passed along. That is the presenting and framing question that drives our exploration and planning approach.

Please contact me at if you want to be part of the planning process. Using the technologies that allowed CFJC staff and members to convene weekly meetings remotely, we will have regular video meetings as we conduct our process.

Yes, it is pretty wonderful to be alive in an era when you can recover from heart failure. I plan to make the most of it, and many many thanks to all of you who have lent your support, well wishes and prayers. I feel blessed.

And since it is my birthday, I have a request. I ask that you help me memorialize the event by making a small donation to CFJC, in honor of the work I am blessed to be able to do at CFJC. It doesn’t have to be much, as it truly is the thought that counts.

For my part, I pledge to continue to do my best to help guide us into the brave new world. And to take it back from small minded, greedy politicians and “business” people who would have us believe they have our best interests. We can and should support those politicians and businesses that are working in the public interest. As for the rest—we need to let them know our country is no longer for sale.

It is not enough, just to vote, although vote we must.

We have to be part of the great healing our communities need. Have the hard conversations we all need to have to understand how we have come to the current state of affairs, and how we can do better.

Please join with me. It is a wonderful thing of which to be part.


Armando Nieto
CFJC Executive Director



CFJC promotes the basic human right to healthy food while advancing social, agricultural, environmental and economic justice. Through advocacy, organizing and education, we collaborate with community-based efforts to create a sustainable food supply. We envision a food system in which all activities, from farm to table, are equitable, healthful, regenerative and community-driven.

If you believe in these principles JOIN CFJC NOW.

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