Russ Steele: “I have been fired as a Union columnist”

Local conservative blogger Russ Steele writes that his latest column for The Union – questioning whether farmers markets are really better for the environment – was turned down, and he will no longer be writing for the paper.

“This column would have appeared in The Union, but I have been notified by the Publisher that my columns will no longer be accepted by the paper. In other words, I have been fired as a Union columnist and my lapdog status has been revoked. I will now be writing for the CABPRO Newsletter. Stay tuned.”

The column, “Are Farmers Markets better for the environment?” is here.

“We wanted to help The Union survive,” Russ wrote at the time his column began running. “Our hope is that regular Union readers will find our views on local and California issues are of interest, and visit our blogs on a regular basis. It is a win-win for both The Union and local bloggers.” (Note the comment from “John S.” supporting the decision, too. Russ has identified “John S.” as being our county supervisor John Spencer on his blog).

Here’s what The Union wrote back then: “Steele and Rebane run separate blogs covering a range of issues, including local and regional politics as well as global warming. They were interesting in seeing how they can contribute to The Union. Ackerman, being the deal maker he is, broached the idea of the two writing monthly columns. You can expect to see both of them in The Union in the near future. They both jumped on the opportunity, seeing as we all did how their local content would be a win-win-win situation for The Union, their blogs and the community.”

Author: jeffpelline

Jeff Pelline is a veteran editor and award-winning journalist - in print and online. He is publisher of Sierra FoodWineArt magazine and its website Jeff covered business and technology for The San Francisco Chronicle for 12 years, and he was a founding editor and Editor of CNET News for eight years, among other positions. Jeff has a bachelor's degree from UC Berkeley and a master's from Northwestern University. His hobbies include sailing, swimming, and trout fishing in the Sierra.

21 thoughts on “Russ Steele: “I have been fired as a Union columnist””

  1. Russ calls Jeff P. the “FUE” all the time vs. using Jeff P’s name. Russ says it stands for “Former Union Editor”.

    So Russ getting scaked from the Union (Tea Party Gazette)means Russ is now the FUC… the “Former Union Columnist”

  2. Steve:

    Whew! That was close. I thought you were going to suggest Russ be referred to as a Former Union Columnist Kingpin.

    Steve Cottrell

  3. Steve, I’m just follow Russ’s own system for naming former Union folks.

    Russ named Jeff P. the FUE and using the same system Russ invented… Russ is the Former Union Columnist, or FUC for short.

    So we have the FUE and the FUC based on Russ’s own system.

  4. This is really kind of funny. There are so many inaccuracies and logical fallacies in Russ’s column that it should have been rejected for that, rather than his choice of local versus “national” issues.

    Ironically, I think Russ is right that climate change, CARB scoping plan implementation, and potential economic benefit or impact, is a local issue. The whole strategy behind adopting policies to mitigate or adapt to climate change is vertically integrating actions. From personal habits, to local policy, to state regulatory framework and incentives, to national policy, to international agreement: every step of the way needs to be aimed at aggregately reducing carbon emissions to the pre 1990 levels, and achieving a level of 350 parts per million or less in the atmosphere, along with reducing other greenhouse gasses.

    But lets take a look at Russ’s column and see why it is inaccurate.

    Russ assumes that calculating carbon impact is the only climate change effect of local agriculture. In that assumption he is fundamentally wrong.

    First, carbon dioxide is not the only greenhouse gas released in agricultural operations. Methane and Nitrous Oxide are also significant issues; as a matter of fact Methane is about 25 times more potent per pound as a greenhouse gas. Another associated issue is the addition of the 1 billion tones per year of nitrogen fertilizers we use to soils to promote growth, which leads to ocean acidification speeding global warming, additional methane emissions, and increase Nitrous Oxide in the atmosphere.

    Second, the fundamental change in land cover that comes from certain types of agriculture is an issue. Changing land cover changes the earth’s ability to absorb, or reflect heat. Commodity agricultural production requires large tracts of land managed the same way altered to grow crops, which absorbs more heat than diversified agricultural production where orchard, row crop, grazing and forest products may be done in close proximity to each other. Commodity agricultural production is also leading to deforestation and desertification in many parts of the world, which release addition carbon as forests are converted to agricultural land. Ironically, it is true that there is more forest cover in the US today than there was 100 years ago, which means that we have exported the environmental and social impact of deforestation to other countries, so we can buy cheap vegetables from Chile and Mexico.

    Third, soil sequesters greenhouse gasses in dead plant material. Mono-culture agricultural practices release more gasses more quickly from soils and sequester less gas than a diversified use of agricultural land. Monoculture is almost always necessary to reach the economy of scale necessary to bring commodity products to the market at a profit. To achieve the scale necessary requires large quantities of chemicals, and the cost of developing, manufacturing, delivering and applying pesticides, herbicides, fungicides and fertilizers must be calculated. Most of these chemicals are actually made from oil or other carbon based chemicals so the impact is exponential.
    Of course we could get into the health costs of ingesting these chemicals. The average american ingests about 4 lbs of chemicals a year related to food production. The average acre of land in the US uses 9.6 lbs of chemicals a year.

    Finally, Russ assumes that it is appropriate to base his carbon budget on “going to a farmers market” versus going to SPD. This is really a silly assumption. It assumes that the future will look like the past. The whole point is to change the products that are at SPD, the common cultural practice is to buy locally grown products, to the maximum extent practicable, in every local market, not just niche markets. If that could be done it would reduce trips as well.

    A great example of how the market is changing is the new initiative at no less than WALMART, designed to make local produce competitive with commodity produce, on a national scale. Walmart has made a commitment to purchasing locally grown produce, with a goal of converting half of all of their produce to local producers within the next 10 years. In addition they have committed to purchasing all of their seafood from certified sustainable sources, and reducing packaging in all of their products by 90%. Although I have some angst about Walmart from a variety of perspectives, including their labor and import practices for other goods, their commitment to change is a great example of how the power of the market place can transform activities and behavior. When Walmart creates the system to buy local SPD will follow suit. My point is not that we should be shopping at Walmart, my point is that Russ should take a hint from the #1 market leader in America. If they are shifting, he might want to stop for a moment and ask himself why?

    Of course we need agriculture, and feeding our population should be the top priority, so the issue is not eliminating commodity agriculture, it is about gradually converting our agricultural practices to more sustainable practices so we can feed our people and reduce environmental and social impacts at THE SAME TIME. It is not about global commodity versus local agriculture, that is a false choice.

    It is just not as simple as how much gas Russ and Ellen burn going to the farmers market.

    Russ is against the Think Local idea because it challenges his understanding of the marketplace. Russ believes that global free trade is the way to lift all boats. That may have been a valid idea at one time, but it is changing, and Russ needs to take a long hard look at the failures of the global marketplace and global trade as well as the benefit. The next generation of market systems is more likely to look like a more rational blend of the global and the local.

    The Think Local First movement is not about buying local. It is about consciously choosing local when you can in order to shift the marketplace to more environmentally and socially beneficial activities. Russ is right, that when people cannot afford to buy local they have a tough choice to make. Not everyone can always afford local, nor is everything we need available form a local producer or vendor. Sometimes we need to go international to get what we need. Try to buy an American made TV. But if we can start shifting our economic and manufacturing systems to value local production for all of its benefits, if we can place an economic value on health and well being, local employment and security, we can transform the marketplace to serve our people better. This is about the power of the consumer to change the marketplace. Think Local First is about making the choice of local easier by making local compete economically with commodity by making people aware of the social and economic impacts of their decisions.

    The reason the nascent Think Local effort in downtown Grass Valley has not been as effective as it could be is that the framing of the issue is all wrong. Grass Valley is framing the issue as a tactic to keep local business in business by encouraging “buying local”. When it comes down to it the people that care about that are the business owners and they are a pretty small segment of the population. The effort needs to framed as enriching peoples lives. The human motivation is what needs to be tapped in to. By thinking local we create a more vibrant community, we create jobs, we encourage agricultural activities that preserve the charm and culture of our historic landscapes, we improve our children’s health, we become more self sufficient, we have access to higher quality goods and services, we establish relationships with our merchants and that improves service and choice. All of these things create a more vibrant economy for local merchants to tap in to, and they prosper because their community prospers, not the other way around.

    The Foothills Think Local First effort understands that fundamental human motivation, and if Grass Valley wants to tap in to it, that is the place to tap in.

    Russ columns should be rejected because they selectively choose information, intentionally control “facts” delivered to his audience, and falsely simplify issues, in an attempt to convert people to his ideology. He tries to set up black and white choices that are not real, and by doing so forces people to chose between falsely constructed competing interests, instead of focusing his time on finding solutions that create simultaneous good. It is not always about the environment versus the economy. It is possible to find solutions that improve the economy and the environment at the same time.

    Russ intentionally creates false dichotomies in order to elicit and emotional response. I suspect that is the reason he is no longer a Union columnist. The public called him on his behavior.

    Don’t get me wrong, I believe we need and should encourage this competition of ideas. Russ has every right to state his case. I am actually kind of sorry that he did not encourage that in his columns by creating a format for in-depth discussion and real debate, rather than emotional responses. This coming from me is also a little bit of the pot calling the kettle black, because I must admit that one of my faults is that I fall prey to Russ’s attempt to get people to emote.

    But I think we could all learn a good lesson from the “Russ at The Union” experience; we could all benefit from trying to focus on a greater good rather than dividing people into ideological camps.

    Perhaps this blog is the place to do that.

    Of course Russ should only be able to participate if he stops calling Jeff the FUE.

    1. No worries, Steve, it was an excellent post. Sure – it could have been polished up a bit – but far more important are the salient points you make about Russ’s approach (such as the blatant inaccuracies, selective use of facts, encouraging emotional responses, and – if I may add – blind allegiance to a specific political POV).

      We humans desperately need to evolve at this critical turning point in human history – sociologically (technically we’re doing quite well) – ASAP if we’re going to solve the problems we need to solve to sustain a quality of life. And Russ’s approach, unfortunately, isn’t consistent with this (I say it’s unfortunate because I think he’s an intelligent man who could be helpful in moving us forward if it weren’t for the cognitive dissonance he suffers from).

  5. Boy I wish there was a way to go in re-edit after I post. I did this in word and still look like an idiot.

    1. For heaven’s sake, SteveF, get a blog!
      (you have great observations but I rarely check my twitter feed so I never see them)

      It’s really, really hard (not). Here’s what you do:
      Put the above comment (edited to yr satisfaction) in the body of an email, be sure & give the email a title, then send it to


  6. So sad. Steele and Ackerman were such a good fit. Maybe this move came from Ackerman’s new training wheels (Kostes, et. al.).

    But really? Steele was going to go after farmers markets? He really fell on his sword with his effective defense of the Monsantos of the world and their growth hormones and GMOs? (Mmm. Pesticides. Delish.) What’s next? Rebane denouncing clean water?

    Good luck with the expanded CABRO newsletter, FUC. More space for your zig-zaggy charts.

  7. You can’t make this stuuf up. Reality is soooo funny!

    It was Russ that coined the use of “FUE” to rename Jeff P. Russ calls Jeff P. the “FUE”, standing for “Former Union Editor”. It was Russ that set the standard. Just a way for Russ to insult someone that has a differing view.

    So it’s simple and funny. Russ is fired from The Union (Tea Part Gazette) and thus is the “Former Union Columnist” or to shorten it up under Russ’s own system… Jeff P. is the “FUE” and Russ is the “FUC”.

    So we have the FUE and the FUC based on Russ’s own system. Simple and consistent application of the system first established by Russ!

    Must admit… this is funny stuff!

    Exit question: Who wants to wager that George is the next FUC?

  8. “Steve Frisch

    no doubt i think the new blood is trying to re-establish a centrist position in the market”

    That was my first thought. Maybe Swift has heard the moniker “Tea Party Gazette” one time too many.

  9. Another footnote to the value of Farmers’ Markets:

    Industrial scale agriculture — like many large-scale industries — socializes costs while privatizing profits. Much of its success in reducing food costs comes from its economies of scale, but its very scale increases the social costs.

    I have in mind CAFOs — “confined (or concentrated) animal feeding operatrions” — which I’ve been reading about in Animal Factory.

    Most CAFOs, with their crap lagoons spewing aerosolized fecal matter into surrounding communities, are massive breeding centers for pathogens (including the superbug MRSA (multidrug resistant Staphylococcus Aureus), many of which find their way into local watersheds.

    Locally you can see this relationship by comparing the cost of the excellent rotisserie chicken at Raleys (about $6 because of the producer Tyson’s economies of scale), and the equally tasty rotisserie chicken from Briarpatch (about $13 because it is free-range organic).

    After watching the movie Food, Inc., we switched to Briarpatch’s rotisserie chicken for good.

    The Farmers’ Markets also offer a prime alternative to the system of industrial agriculture, a great choice for anyone wanting to eat in a manner consonant with her or his deepest values.

  10. The departure of unpaid volunteer columnist Russ Steele, who seemed to know a little bit about a lot of things and was not averse to putting this on paper and before the public, even when the bits he put out there defied experts in the field, and too often just plain common sense, can only improve the quality of The Union Newspaper, which badly needs improvement. Now if Rebane would just follow Russ and confine his efforts to CABRO, and Jeff Ackerman would stick to writing funny stuff about his dog, which he does well, and stay away from Tea Party politics, there would be hope for our local rag.

  11. One must be a real sad person if one spends time bashing local growers markets.

    Notice how you see little if anything positive on Russ’s and George’s blogs?

  12. Steve F, would love to see your comments on the think local movement and the farmer’s market written up for an other voices for the Union!

  13. Liz, you can contact Steve Frisch via the Sierra Business Council website. Steve is the Director of SBC.

  14. As a paid reader of The Union, I feel I must say thanks to SWIFT COMMUNICATIONS. Oh happy day! NOW if the would just hire JEFF as PUBLISHER/EDITOR.

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