Here’s How the GOP Farm Bill Is an Unapologetic Assault on Public Health

The boring-sounding bill is actually a massive testament to conservative corruption.

The words “farm bill” are unsexy on the best of days. That's especially true in an era when every time you turn on the news there's another political scandal involving Russians, sex workers or both. But the farm bill that Republicans passed out of the House Agriculture Committee on Wednesday, with no Democratic votes, is yet another sign that the GOP's moral corruption extends far beyond Donald Trump. To many observers, the bill trades the health of Americans and the safety of their food for the interests of wealthy corporate donors and lobbyists.

The provision that's getting the most media attention so far is the work requirements being added to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) — otherwise known as food stamps — which are expected to cut one million people off of this important source of food over the next 10 years. But that's just one part of the bill's assault on the health of Americans, and not just poor people who need food assistance. Everyone who eats food, drinks water, or ventures outside their house, activists say, should be worried about this bill.

To be clear, the undermining of food assistance is, in itself, a major threat to health, especially for children.

“As a family physician, there’s nothing more important than food,” Dr. Jenny Abrams, a Washington-based doctor and fellow with Physicians for Reproductive Health, told Salon. “No pill or drug that we have is going to override the effects of hunger and malnutrition.”

While children are exempt from the work requirements — even Republicans haven't descended to that Dickensian level just yet — the fact of the matter is that most children live in families, and cutting their parents or guardians adults off means in practice that children will go hungry. To make matters worse, the bill also modifies a program providing food to low-income kids in school, replacing the requirement that fresh fruit and vegetables be provided with one that allows for canned, dried or frozen food instead.

“When I’m talking to kids about what they’re eating, often the only fresh foods and vegetables they get are at school,” Abrams said, noting that parents often can't afford such foods themselves. “Taking away those fresh fruits and vegetables at school and substituting them with canned or dried foods is taking away those rich vitamins and minerals we all need on a daily basis, and especially kids when they’re growing and developing.”

What's has gotten less attention so far, but presents a major threat to the health of all Americans, is how the farm bill would drastically loosens current restrictions on the use of dangerous pesticides. That opens the door to an increase in toxic chemicals in food, water and the general environment.

“I’m not sure there’s anything the pesticide industry had on their wish list that didn’t make it into this Republican farm bill,” said Colin O'Neil, the legislative director of the Environmental Working Group

“The environmental and human health effects of pesticide exposure and pesticide use are extremely well-established,” O'Neil continued, noting that those include “increased cancer risk, damage to children’s brains and the nervous system of children and growing fetuses, lower sperm counts and fertility issues, as well as acute effects like nausea, diarrhea and vomiting,” particularly for farm workers and those who apply the pesticides.

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) has discovered at least six separate provisions in the farm bill meant to make it easier to use dangerous pesticides, even in cases where the neurological development of children could be under threat. The proposed legislation would lift restrictions on pesticides in drinking water and expedite the pesticide approval process, making it harder to ensure worker and community safety, for instance.

Erik Olson, director of the health program at NRDC explained that the bill loosens restrictions on the pesticide methyl bromide, which is so toxic that more than 1,000 injuries and deaths have been caused by its use. It would also ease limits on organophosphates, a class of chemicals derived from nerve gases used by the German army in World War II which are “extremely toxic to human nervous systems,” particularly to the developing systems of fetuses and small children. 

As is customary, the Republican bill also includes some dense legalese meant to create massive bureaucratic hurdles to any attempt to rein in the use of dangerous pesticides. For instance, before the Environmental Protection Agency is allowed to propose any new regulations on pesticide use, it would be required to contact regulatory agencies in all 50 states in advance, allowing those states to lobby the EPA in secret to shape the rules. Olson noted that many of these state agencies are in the pocket of the pesticide industry, so this rule would not only slow down EPA regulation but would effectively offer industry a chance to influence any changes well before any public comment.

The bill would also bar local governments from passing policies and laws that regulate pesticides more stringently than the federal government does.

“It’s rather ironic that folks who run around saying that local governments ought to be able to have more authority, and the federal government shouldn’t be meddling, are making pre-emption of local governments such a high priority,” Olson said.

“This is really a page out of the ALEC playbook,” O'Neil added, referring to the American Legislative Exchange Council, a Koch brothers-funded organization that lobbies for environmental deregulation, among other things. The provision, he added, would keep cities and states from “restricting pesticides from being sprayed around hospitals and schools.”

The farm bill also “creates a huge carve-out for pesticides from the Endangered Species Act,” said Rebecca Riley, an attorney for the NRDC. It would allow the EPA to sign off on the use of pesticides without researching the impact on endangered species. 

“Species like the bald eagle and the black-footed ferret were driven to near-extinction by pesticides,” Riley noted, adding that the Endangered Species Act protects farm communities' health as well, because the restrictions on pesticides that harm animals also prevent humans from exposure to their effects.

There is some good news: Like so many other bills written by House Republicans these days, this proposed law is incredibly unpopular and will be met with fierce resistance, particularly from Democrats. If the opposition in the House holds firm, there's a chance that Republicans will be unable to pass the bill, as members of the far-right Freedom Caucus are already floating the idea that they may withhold their support in search of God-only-knows-what concessions from GOP leadership. will,

But the critical issue right now, activists say, is public attention. Republicans want to slip this all-out assault on the public health under the radar while everyone is distracted by the Trump Show. Outcry from actual citizens could go a long way toward stopping them.



Related Stories Main RSS Feed

Melania Trump, Obamas and Clintons to attend funeral of Barbara Bush

  • Donald Trump will not attend service in Houston
  • Jeb Bush, former Florida governor, to deliver eulogy

Some 1,500 guests are expected to attend the largest Episcopal church in the US on Saturday, for the private funeral of Barbara Bush. The wife of the 41st president, George HW Bush, and mother of the 43rd, George W Bush, died on Tuesday at her Houston home. She was 92.

Related: Barbara Bush obituary

Continue reading…
US politics | The Guardian

Abbreviated Pundit Round-up: Chaos in the WH and an overdue focus on Mitch McConnell


McConnell aims to reshape courts in case Senate flips

The Kentucky Republican is prioritizing confirmation of conservative judges in what may be his final months as majority leader.

Mitch McConnell is making a last dash to stock the judiciary with conservatives this year as a hedge against the chance that Republicans lose the Senate in November.

The GOP may have only a few more months of unified control of Washington to repeal Obamacare or enact President Donald Trump’s infrastructure plan. But the Senate majority leader is taking a longer view — and confirming as many conservative judges as possible to lifetime appointments.

The move will show conservative voters that the Senate can still get things done even if Republicans lose the House and is part of McConnell’s years-long plan to reshape the courts after the presidency of Barack Obama shifted them to the left

Does Mitch know more than he’s letting on? Oh, and for those of you who don’t vote, this is what happens when you don’t. Don’t make that mistake in November.


BTW the best thing about the new GOP obsession with the FBI’s supposed strong liberal bias is it informs how seriously one should take the GOP obsession with the media’s supposed strong liberal bias.

— Jonathan Bernstein (@jbview) April 20, 2018
Daily Kos

Fox News’ Laura Ingraham Is Being Sued for Allegedly Discriminating Against a Former Employee

It's bad news for Ingraham, who recently faced an advertiser boycott.

A former employee of Fox News' Laura Ingraham is suing the host for workplace discrimination, saying she was treated unfairly and wrongly terminated because she was pregnant.

Karolina Wilson, who worked as Ingraham's personal assistant, told her story to the Washington Post.

She says that she loved her job at Fox News, but Ingraham's behavior toward changed when Wilson got pregnant. 

According to the account she gave to the post, Wilson felt Ingraham's attitude toward her became “hostile” after she was pregnant. And as soon as Wilson returned from maternity leave, she says she was fired. Wilson says she was given three more weeks at the company, but during that time, she wasn't given any private space to use her breast pump.

Wilson says the treatment violated Washington, D.C.'s Pregnant Workers Fairness Act and its Family and Medical Leave Act. An attorney for Ingraham denies Wilson's claims.

In recent weeks, Ingraham faced an advertiser boycott after she mocked Parkland shooting survivor David Hogg for getting rejected from a few colleges.



Related Stories Main RSS Feed

The anti-democratic thinker inspiring America’s Conservative elites | Hugo Drochon

In his new book, the Catholic writer Patrick Deneen launches an attack on pluralism – and the Conservative establishment is cheering

Since the election of Trump, writers of all stripes have been lining up to pen liberalism’s epitaph.

On the left, the pernicious effects of neo-liberal economics has been denounced, while on the right, liberalism’s cosmopolitanism, which has no apparent regard for nation, religion or family, has been decried.

Continue reading…
US politics | The Guardian

Quinnipiac: Texas voters overwhelmingly support citizenship for immigrant youth, oppose border wall

Donald Trump calls his wall that Mexico will never pay for “much wanted,” but according to new Quinnipiac polling of Texas voters, 53 percent of respondents oppose the stupid thing. Among Latino voters in the state, the opposition skyrockets:

Hispanic voters in Texas overwhelmingly oppose the wall, 72 percent to 25 percent, the poll found.

“Texas voters say 79—15 percent that undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children … should be allowed to stay and eventually apply for citizenship,” the poll also finds. You listening, Senators John Cornyn and Ted Cruz? 

Trump’s stunt deploying the National Guard to the border got a much better reception among Texans though, with 60 percent supporting the move. But among border communities, it’s people of color and those lacking documentation who are among the most affected by increased militarization. 

Just days ago, an undocumented Texas mother was detained when she had to pass through a checkpoint in order to rush her sick child to a hospital for surgery. She was eventually released. There is a crisis at the border, but it’s not Central American moms and kids seeking asylum, it’s out of control agents that could turn a hospital visit into deportation.

Daily Kos

The March for Science Is Being Transformed by Indigenous Knowledge

This year’s march may be smaller, but the movement of scientists who are advocating for scientific integrity is growing.

The March for Science this year is set for April 14. Last year’s march drew tens of thousands who marched to protest the Trump administration’s war on science. 

Since then, a corresponding March for Indigenous Science has grown into a burgeoning movement of its own, one aimed at increasing the visibility of indigenous science and traditional ecological knowledge as valid and valuable forms of scientific knowledge.

“Indigenous science holds a wealth of knowledge and is a powerful paradigm by which we understand our place in the living world. It is essential to the problems we face today and yet has been historically marginalized by the scientific community,” plant ecologist Robin Kimmerer (Potawatomi) said in a statement about last year's march.

Following the success of the March for Science, indigenous organizers began “working to transform the march to a movement,” ethnobotanist Rosalyn LaPier (Blackfeet/Métis), and chairperson of the National March for Science, said.

LaPier, Kimmerer, scholar-activist Kyle Powys Whyte (Potawatomi), and ecologist Melissa Nelson (Anishinaabe) co-authored a declaration to endorse the March for Science while at the same time celebrating indigenous science as crucial to answering scientific questions.

It is a powerful document, and well over 1,800 Native American and indigenous scientists, scholars, and their allies added their endorsements to the declaration. The document declares that original peoples have long memories, centuries-old wisdom, and deep knowledge of this land, and their knowledge is an important form of empirical scientific inquiry that’s fundamental to the well-being of people and planet.

“I would like to see the March for Indigenous Science serve as a national scale movement that recognizes Native people's efforts over decades to reform U.S. sciences and empower Indigenous sciences,” said Whyte. “The movement can articulate a national scale agenda that includes many different needed efforts for increasing diversity in the sciences, from creating safe places to practice Indigenous sciences to energizing young Indigenous persons to work in science fields.”  

The declaration joined other indigenous science organizations that have endorsed and officially partnered with the March for Science, including the American Indian Science and Engineering Society, the National Coalition of Native American Language Schools and Programs, and SACNAS (Society Advancing Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science).

These organizations, and the Canadian-based Evidence for Democracy, have gone on to mobilize indigenous participation in the march across North America.

Ecologist Corey Welch (Northern Cheyenne), a SACNAS board member, is speaking at the national march in Washington, D.C.

“Indigenous peoples were always scientists,” Welch said. “Their lives depended on it. They knew what plants to eat, how to harvest game, and other practices that continue on today.”

Welch said that although some tribes have lost these practices, “they continue on in memories and in stories.”

There are many cases in which traditional practices, informed by millennium of traditional ecological knowledge, have contributed to modern scientific knowledge, said Welch.

The deadly hantavirus outbreak in 1993 in the Four Corners region of the Southwestern United States provides one example of this, Welch said. That outbreak had perplexed the scientists searching for the origin of the virus. Their answer finally came from Navajo elders who had predicted the outbreak based on weather patterns.

The elders explained that similar outbreaks in 1913 and 1933-34 had followed a period of heavy rains and then bumper crops of pinyon pine nuts. The community stored the pinyons in their homes and hogans, which attracted deer mice infected with the virus. The elders and traditional medicine people warned people to isolate their food supplies, and to burn any clothing exposed to mouse feces and urine.

Welch also described a tradition of tribes in the Puget Sound region of Washington state returning salmon bones to their streams. When scientists learned about the practice, they discovered that salmon carcasses release nitrogen, needed to improve salmon habitat.

“The carcass of one salmon infuses a creek with nitrogen 100 meters in both directions,” Welch said.

Today, biologists return salmon bones to streams they are preparing for the reintroduction of salmon.

Tribal nations in western Washington have also pinpointed for scientists areas that have experienced earthquakes and landslides in the distant past, conveyed to them through the oral traditions of their ancestors, passed down for generations.

And these are just a few examples.

SACNAS has arranged for a number of Native and indigenous speakers at satellite marches across the country, all committed to engaging the power of both Western and indigenous science.

Astrophysicist Ximena Cid (Yaqui) will speak in Los Angeles. Environmental scientist Marco Hatch (Samish) is speaking in Seattle. Neuroscientist Micah Jasey Savin (Lakota) will give a talk in San Diego. Molecular geneticist Matt Anderson (Tsalagi or Cherokee) is yet another speaker.

More than a million scientists and supporters around the world joined the March for Science in 2017. It was a celebration of science, but its genesis began with concerns raised by scientists—many of whom were scrambling to archive scientific data before the Trump administration could scrub it from government websites—about the change in public policies to discredit scientific consensus and restrict scientific discovery.

This year’s march may be smaller, but the movement of scientists who are advocating for scientific integrity is growing.

The success of last year’s march has laid the groundwork for scientists to mobilize voter registration, raise awareness through their Vote for Science initiative, fund grassroots science advocates with a community grants program, and organize a summit for science advocates, organizers, and communicators, LaPier said.

Editor's note: A previous version of this article stated that Rosalyn LaPier is speaking at the national march in Washington, D.C. This is incorrect. 


Related Stories Main RSS Feed

Cheers and Jeers: Rum and Resistance FRIDAY!


Late Night Snark: Just Another Week on Planet Dampnut

“President Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen—known for paying hush money to his clients—revealed that he has another client: Sean Hannity. Today Hannity said, ‘I know you’re all stunned.’ Then everyone was like, ‘Not really.’” —Jimmy Fallon

Clip of James Comey delivering what the media called a “bombshell” during his ABC interview: I don’t think [Trump] is medically unfit to be president. I think he’s morally unfit to be president.

Samantha Bee: “Morally unfit to be president?” That’s not a bombshell. That’s how they answer the phone at the White House now.

—Full Frontal

“President Trump responded to the claims in Comey’s new memoir, calling him ‘a leaker and a liar.’  Which coincidentally is also the name of the video the Russians have.”

—Colin Jost, SNL


New on 23 and Me: a feature that tells you if you were fathered by Donald Trump.

— Conan O’Brien (@ConanOBrien) April 15, 2018

“Today is tax day. Some great news for Donald Trump: between the constant firings in the White House, the porn star scandal, and the Russia investigation, he was able to write off the entire year as a total loss.” —James Corden

“My mother used to say she ‘grew up in World War II with a father named Adolf, and lived through the 70s with a husband named Nixon.’ So I am aware of the dubious nature of my last name. But if I was given the choice, I’d rather be the good Nixon than the bad Cuomo.”

—Cynthia Nixon, who is challenging Andrew Cuomo in the New York governor’s race, on The Late Show

And a quick reminder that the world is ending Monday, so be sure to take some time this weekend to finish up the leftovers in your fridge. You’re welcome.

Your west coast-friendly edition of Cheers and Jeers starts below the fold… [Swoosh!!] RIGHTNOW! [Gong!!]

Daily Kos

Earth Day Is a Reminder That Humans Have the Power to Change Our Planet

We're entering a new epoch.

For nearly 50 years, Earth Day has provided an opportunity for people across the globe to come together and rally in support of the natural world. While the specific challenges have varied, the goal has remained more or less the same: to protect the rich, biological world that the current generation has inherited from being overwhelmed by the influences of humanity.

While there have been many notable successes since this day of celebration began in 1970, the overall trajectory has not been uplifting.

Today you can travel to the furthest part of the Arctic Ocean, to the highest point of the Caucasus Mountains, to the remotest spot in the Australian outback and find the unmistakable signs of human activity. Chemical and industrial traces are now present in every pinch of soil and every drop of water. Transported by high-altitude atmospheric winds, millennia-old patterns of precipitation, and the tire treads of fossil-fuel-powered vehicles, the imprints of humanity reach all corners of Earth.

These kinds of global impacts demand a fundamental shift in the relationship between humans and the surrounding world. Despite the efforts of those who have marched passionately and religiously on Earth Day, we live in the age when “pristine nature” has permanently blinked out of existence.

Awesome powers

Many are suggesting that humanity should mark this moment by declaring that the planet has entered the new epoch of the Anthropocene. The fact that our species has left its mark in every remote bay, on every mountaintop, and across every continent is certainly a cause for reflection. But it might also be seen as a dubious form of branding to celebrate the mess our species has created by naming the next epoch in our honor.

More urgent than getting the name right, however, is the need to think very carefully about where to head from here. For the most noteworthy aspect of the emerging epoch is not the fact that human influence has reached every corner of the entire planet. It is the fact that, as Earth Day approaches 50, technologies are coming online with unprecedented capacity to remake the natural world.

Nanotechnology, synthetic biology and climate engineering have the potential to transform an already tainted planet into an increasingly synthetic whole. Such powerful technologies do not just mark a new period in Earth’s ongoing history. They create the real possibility of what I call a “Synthetic Age.” From the atom to the atmosphere, key planetary processes have the potential to be reconfigured by Earth’s most audacious species.

By shrinking common materials down to the scale of billionths of a meter, nanotechnologists can make available new forms of matter with highly unusual and extremely valuable properties. Using new techniques for editing and assembling DNA, synthetic biologists can fabricate whole genomes, which they can insert into bacterial hosts to hijack their operation. Ecosystem engineers are on the point of redesigning targeted species by sending genetic traits through wild populations, using tools known as gene drives. Climate engineers are preparing to field test technologies that can reduce the amount of short-wave solar radiation entering the atmosphere to cool global temperatures.

What makes these sorts of technologies and practices different from anything that has come before is not how far they reach geographically, but how deeply they go “metabolically.” They mark the beginning of a new period of Earth’s history in which humanity starts to take control of the processes responsible for giving the planet its shape. The biological, geological and atmospheric forces that have sculpted the world over countless epochs start to become the products of human endeavor. Responsibility for some of the formative processes of the biosphere falls increasingly into human hands.

De-extinction and out-designing evolution

Take the prospect of recreating the genomes of extinct species as an example.

The gene-reading techniques developed during the Human Genome Project, the gene-synthesis methods being refined at places like the J. Craig Venter Institute, and the genome-editing practices now available through CRISPR-Cas9 are together on the cusp of making it possible to recreate close proxies of the genomes of species long ago extinguished from the Earth.

In mammals, it may not be long before a rebuilt genome can be inserted into the evacuated nucleus of an egg cell from a related species and implanted into the womb of a surrogate parent. A primitive version of such a technology was used for the (extinct) Pyrenean ibex in 2003 leading to the mildly disconcerting occurrence of the birth of the world’s first extinct mammal.

In the event, the celebration of the resurrected ibex was cut short by lung deformities, which led to its death within minutes. It is not yet clear whether these types of genetic imperfections can be avoided in future. Some are optimistic that they can. If the technical obstacles are overcome, a genetically manipulated Pyrenean ibex or even a whole new ibex – call it Synthetic Ibex Version 2.0 – could be fashioned from the genes of the extinct animal to occupy the niche that had been left behind.

If de-extinction becomes possible, phenomena once uniquely responsible for shaping the biological world would move out of the natural realm and into the human domain. There would be a genuine alternative to the processes of inheritance, mutation, genetic drift, reproductive isolation and natural selection that were the grist for Darwin’s evolutionary mill. As Harvard chemist George Whitesides said, it would be “a marvelous challenge to see if we can out-design evolution.”

Important choices

Earth Day’s annual celebration of the natural world provides a perfect opportunity to reflect on such practices and to note how they put the whole idea of “nature” into question. It is not just that no part of the natural world will be untouched anymore. The natural world – and the processes that have formed it – might increasingly be replaced by synthetic substitutes.

The exact contours of this Synthetic Age are far from determined. There is still the opportunity to pause and to decide that certain physical, biological and atmospheric processes should remain free of human design. Some species might be deliberately left to continue their evolutionary odyssey unmolested. Some landscapes might be selected to remain entirely in the hands of ecological and entropic forces.

So let’s not miss a unique opportunity. On this Earth Day, recognition of the dawning of a new epoch is appropriate. But it is important not because the planet’s fate has already been sealed. It is important precisely because it provides an opportunity for a more conscious and self-reflective decision about the world humanity will choose to create.

The Conversation  

Related Stories Main RSS Feed

As Trump gains confidence in his own exquisite judgment, the nation hangs on his every whim

Wow—are we ever in an A-plus pickle as a nation. Donald Trump has now lost all the aides who were apparently capable of tempering his ideas and even steering him in the opposite direction on merciful occasions. That means we should all get a lot more used to shoot-from-the-hip military pronouncements like with the Syria ‘withdrawal,’ spontaneous international commerce decisions à la the steel tariffs, and 180-degree foreign policy walk-backs on declarations by unfortunate administration officials like Nikki Haley. Politico writes:

While people close to the president say Trump has always been mercurial, some of the president’s allies attribute the recent spate of public disconnects to the departure of loyal aides who were skilled at translating his impulses into legible stances on key issues — and, perhaps more importantly, at keeping all the relevant White House and agency staffers in the loop on big decisions.

“There’s nobody there that can say to him, ‘Mr. President, you can’t do that,’” said one former White House official. […]

“Part of it is he’s gaining confidence in terms of how he makes decisions,” said a former administration official. “He’s now been thinking about a lot of these issues for more than a year and he doesn’t feel it’s necessary to deliberate.”

In other bad news, Trump has reportedly been “personally invigorated” by the West Wing additions of Larry Kudlow and John Bolton—two of the last people we want making consequential decisions about the economy and foreign policy, respectively.

Two of the last because Trump himself is the very last, as has been exceedingly evident in the last several weeks if it wasn’t already before.

Daily Kos