Republicans created HUGE deficit to slash OUR Social Security and Medicare

Occupy Democrats

Reagan budget chief: Republicans created HUGE deficit to slash OUR Social Security and Medicare

Reagan budget chief: Republicans created HUGE deficit to slash OUR Social Security and Medicare

This is 🔥 Kudos to Reagan budget chief Bruce Bartlett for calling out Republicans!

Posted by Occupy Democrats on Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Why the Midwest’s Food System is Failing

Civil Eats

Why the Midwest’s Food System is Failing

The heavily agricultural states in the middle of the country aren’t actually feeding their people. But the 2018 Farm Bill offers an opportunity to change that.

By Karen Perry Stillerman, Commentary, Food Policy      August, 2018

If you’ve perused the new 50-State Food System Scorecard from the Union of Concerned Scientists, you’ve probably noticed a seeming contradiction. As shown on the map below, the heavily agricultural states in the middle of the country aren’t exactly knocking it out of the park when it comes to the overall health and sustainability of their food and farming systems. On the contrary, most of the leading farm states of the Midwest reside in the basement of our overall ranking.


Map: Overall State Food System RankingsSo what’s that about? A couple of reasons stand out to me.

First, much of what the Midwest grows today isn’t really food (much less healthy food).

Greeting card: greetings from corn corn corn USA

Funny/not funny

It’s true. While we often hear that the region’s farmers are feeding America and the world, in fact much of the Midwest’s farm output today is comprised of just two crops: corn and soybeans. There are various reasons for that, including some problematic food and farm polices, but that’s the reality.

Take the state of Indiana, for example. When I arrived there in 1992 for graduate school (go Hoosiers!), I bought the postcard at right. That year, Indiana farmers had planted 6.1 million acres of corn, followed by 4.55 million acres of soybeans. Together, the two crops covered more than two-thirds of the state’s total farm acres that year.

The situation remains much the same today, except that the crops have switched places: this year, Indiana farmers planted 6.2 million acres of soybeans and “just” 5.1 million acres of corn. Nationwide, soybean acreage will top corn in 2018 for the first time in 35 years.

Regardless of whether corn or soy reigns supreme, the fact is that most of it isn’t destined for our plates. Today, much of the corn goes into our gas tanks. The chart below shows how total U.S. corn production tracked the commodity’s use for ethanol from 1986 to 2016:

US Total Corn Production and Corn Used for Fuel Ethanol Production

Reprinted from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Alternative Fuels Data Center.

The two dominant Midwest crops also feed livestock to produce meat in industrial feedlots, and they become ingredients for heavily processed foods. A 2013 Scientific American essay summarized the problem with corn:

Although U.S. corn is a highly productive crop, with typical yields between 140 and 160 bushels per acre, the resulting delivery of food by the corn system is far lower. Today’s corn crop is mainly used for biofuels (roughly 40 percent of U.S. corn is used for ethanol) and as animal feed (roughly 36 percent of U.S. corn, plus distillers grains left over from ethanol production, is fed to cattle, pigs and chickens). Much of the rest is exported.  Only a tiny fraction of the national corn crop is directly used for food for Americans, much of that for high-fructose corn syrup.

All this is a big part of why, when UCS assessed the extent to which each U.S. state is producing food that can contribute to healthy diets—using measures including percentage of cropland in fruits and vegetables, percentage of cropland in the top three crops (where a higher number means lower diversity), percentage of principal crop acres used for major animal feed and fuel crops, and meat production and large feeding operations per farm acres—we arrived at this map:


Map: Rankings by food producedAs you can see, the bottom of our scorecard’s “food produced” ranking is dominated by Midwestern states. This includes the nation’s top corn-producing states—Iowa (#50) and Illinois (#48), which together account for about one-third of the entire U.S. crop. It also includes my one-time home, Indiana (#49), where just 0.2 percent of the state’s 14.7 million farm acres was dedicated to vegetablesfruits/nuts, and berries in 2012.

Now let’s switch gears to look at another reason the Midwest performs so poorly overall in our scorecard.

Today’s Midwest agriculture tends to work against nature, not with it.

In addition to the fact that the Midwest currently produces primarily non-food and processed food crops, there’s also a big problem with the way it typically produces those commodities. Again, for a number of reasons—including the shape of federal farm subsidies—the agricultural landscape in states such as Iowa, Illinois, and Indiana is dominated by monoculture (a single crop planted year after year) or a slightly better two-crop rotation (you guessed it, corn and soybeans).

These oversimplified farm ecosystems, combined with the common practice of plowing (AKA tilling) the soil before each planting, degrade the soil and require large applications of fertilizer, much of which runs off farm fields to pollute lakes and streams. Lack of crop diversity also leads to more insect pests, increasing the need for pesticides. Moreover, as corn is increasingly grown in dry pockets of the Midwest such as Kansas and Nebraska, it requires ever-larger quantities of irrigation water. Finally, the whole system relies heavily on fossil fuels to run tilling, planting, spraying, and harvesting equipment.

No wonder that whether we look at resource reliance (including use of commercial fertilizers and chemical pesticides, irrigation, and fuel use) or, conversely, implementation of more sustainable practices (reduced tillage, cover crops, and organic practices, among others), most Midwest states once again lag.


Map: Rankings by resource reliance


Map: Rankings by use of conservation practices

But Midwestern farmers want to change the map.

To sum up: In general, the Midwest is using up a variety of limited resources and farming in ways that degrade its soil and water, while falling far short of producing the variety of foods we need for healthy diets. Not a great system. But there are hopeful signs that the region may be starting to change course.

For example, in Iowa, more and more farmers are expanding their crop rotations to add oats or other small grains, which research has shown aids in regenerating soils, improving soil health, and delivering clean water, while also increasing productivity and maintaining profits. Diversifying crops in the field can also help to diversify our food supply and improve nutrition.

Back in my alma mater state of Indiana, farmers planted 970,000 acres of cover crops in 2017—making these soil protectors the third-most planted crop in the state. And in a surprising turn of events just last week, Ohio’s Republican governor signed an executive order that will require farmers in eight Northwest Ohio watersheds to take steps to curb runoff that contributes to a recurring problem of toxic algae in Lake Erie that hurts recreation and poisons Toledo’s drinking water.

A recent UCS poll provides additional evidence that farmers across the region are looking for change. Earlier this year, we asked more than 2,800 farmers across the partisan divide in seven states (Iowa, Illinois, Kansas, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin) about federal farm policies that today incentivize the Midwest agricultural status quo. Nearly three-quarters of respondents indicated they are looking for a farm bill that prioritizes soil and water conservation, while 69 percent supported policies (like farm-to-school supports) that help farmers grow more real food for local consumption. More than 70 percent even said they’d be more likely to back a candidate for public office who favors such priorities.

Speaking of the farm bill, things are coming to a head in Congress this summer over that $1 trillion legislative package that affects all aspects of our food system. As the clock ticks toward a September 30 deadline, the shape of the next farm bill is in question, with drastically different proposals passed by the House and the Senate. Critically important programs—including investments that could help farmers in the Midwest and elsewhere produce more healthy food and farm more sustainably—are at risk.

This article originally appeared on the Union of Concerned Scientists blog, and is reprinted with permission.

Iowa farm photo CC-licensed by Don Graham

How the Navajo Nation Is Reclaiming Food Sovereignty

Civil Eats

How the Navajo Nation Is Reclaiming Food Sovereignty

Through cooking classes, outreach, and social media, a new generation of Native Americans are reconnecting to Indigenous foodways.

By Andi Murphy, Food Deserts, Food Justice     October 17, 2018

Chef Felicia Cocotzin Ruiz driving “the mutton,” or the Mobile Unit for Training and Nutrition (MUTN). (Photo courtesy of Felicia Cocotzin Ruiz.)
In the middle of the Arizona desert, within the 27,000-square-mile Navajo Nation, sits a half-acre garden oasis, bustling with fresh-grown veggies and flowers. Planted in 2016 as part of Coffee Pot Farms in partnership with the local Teesto Chapter, the garden now sprouts a plethora of greens as well as broccoli, peppers, tomatoes, and amaranth. The bushy rows of chilies, potatoes, corn, and garlic stand defiant in the dry desert landscape.

At Coffee Pot Farms, master gardener Artie Yazzie and others host gardening classes and tastings in an effort to teach locals about the varieties of fruits and vegetables that grow in the desert and how they can use them in the kitchen. It’s a response to the lack of cooking skills within the Navajo Nation, a result of the hardships Navajo people have long faced, including forced assimilation and poverty.

Collecting potatoes at Coffee Pot Farms in Dilkon, Arizona. Photo courtesy of Cherilyn Yazzie, co-owner of Coffee Pot Farms.

Collecting potatoes at Coffee Pot Farms in Dilkon, Arizona. Photo courtesy of Cherilyn Yazzie, co-owner of Coffee Pot Farms.

Native chefs and farmer all across the country have been working for years to take control of traditional and contemporary foodways in order to alleviate the ongoing problem of food insecurity in their communities. But growing food isn’t enough if people on the reservation don’t have the time or experience needed to prepare it.

“It was sad, here were some people trying to make a difference by growing the food,” says Felicia Cocotzin Ruiz, a chef and holistic healer who has spent time at Coffee Pot Farms. “But [broccoli] was literally going to waste because no one knew how to cook it.”

Ruiz is part of a multitude of Native-led attempts to address the health, nutrition, and access to healthy food in the Navajo Nation. She leads cooking lessons in rural, Native Southwest communities out of a food truck known as “the mutton” or the Mobile Unit for Training and Nutrition (MUTN). In addition to the more traditional gardening-and-cooking programs, video bloggers and Instagram celebrities are spearheading digital-first efforts to bring Native foodways—including culture and traditions associated with indigenous foods—to Native people by way of their smartphones and tablets.

Changes like these are urgently needed in the Navajo Nation—and many other poor Native communities. The Navajo Nation is the biggest and most populous reservation in the country, and is largely considered a food desert. There are just 10 grocery stores serving the 150,000 Navajo people living there—one grocery store for every 15,000 people. There are many more convenience stores that stock cheap foods high in calories and fat, such as shelf-stable pastries, chips, soda, bread, and sweets; and plenty of places to get fried, fatty foods like frybread and Spam-and-potato breakfast burritos.

Chef Felicia Cocotzin Ruiz demonstrates how to properly hold a knife on the Mobil Unit for Training and Nutrition (MUTN). Photo courtesy of Felicia Cocotzin Ruiz.

Chef Felicia Cocotzin Ruiz demonstrates how to properly hold a knife on the Mobil Unit for Training and Nutrition (MUTN). Photo courtesy of Felicia Cocotzin Ruiz.

This lack of access to fresh, whole foods has predictable consequences: Native Americans have the highest rate of diabetes in the country, according to the Indian Health Services and National Health Interview Survey. To try to address these crises, funds from the Navajo “junk food tax”are distributed to 110 chapters on the reservation for health initiatives, nutrition classes, and community gardens.

At the STAR School near Flagstaff, Navajo students learn about growing food and cooking as part of their curriculum. The Navajo involved in the Fruit and Vegetable Prescription Program are prescribed fresh produce as part of the Community Outreach and Patient Empowerment (COPE) program. And at the political level, a Diné Food Policy, currently under consideration by the Nation’s president and vice president, focuses on food sovereignty—or taking control of food in the Nation to promote health, economics, and self-sufficiency. With a food policy in place, the Nation would have more control over the foods that make their way into grocery stores and make it easier for local farmers to sell their crops.

Not only is Ruiz part of this effort to eat healthier, she’s helping Navajo people reconnect with indigenous foods that grow in the desert—such as wild parsnips, cholla buds, wild spinach, and more.

For some, eating these foods has been an eye-opening experience. “So many people didn’t think about food access as [involving] the food available on the landscape,” Ruiz says.

‘Survival’ Foods

In her classes, Ruiz focuses on what the community already has, and doesn’t have. So in addition to using wild, native ingredients, she also incorporates ingredients that are affordable and available in Navajo grocery stores, such as broccoli and sweet potatoes. She says what she doesn’t do is come into a Native community and start teaching people how to make complicated sauces using expensive ingredients. In fact, Ruiz doesn’t even usually describe herself as a chef; she calls herself a cook when she’s out and about in the MUTN.

On the Navajo Nation, lack of access to kitchen equipment and resources can also make cooking difficult. Appliances like food processors and mixers can cost hundreds of dollars, money that is simply not available to the 43 percent of Navajo people who live in poverty.

Ruiz says that some students in her classes had never before used a large knife or had any sort of cooking lessons, like those offered in some public high-school home economics classes. And that, along with the lack of access to fresh food, speaks to the larger challenge ahead of Ruiz and others: Navajo food culture has coalesced around “poor man’s foods” or “survival foods.”

Miss Tse’ii’ahi 2018-2019, Kaylee Mitchell, sports a new BlueBird Flour dress. Photo courtesy of Jerrica Mitchell.

Miss Tse’ii’ahi 2018-2019, Kaylee Mitchell, sports a new BlueBird Flour dress. Photo courtesy of Jerrica Mitchell.

DIY signs advertising frybread, Navajo tacos, Navajo burgers, tortilla burgers, and Spam-and-potato breakfast burritos take up more space than street signs in small Navajo towns. On the reservation, these foods are a favorite. The 11,000 members of the “Navajo and Pueblo Cooking” Facebook group post a steady photo-stream of potatoes, tortillas, and frybread.

And Bluebird Flour, a brand of bleached white flour sold in a white cotton sack, has become nearly symbolic of Navajo culture. The bluebird logo is made into aprons, earrings, entire two-piece dresses, and incorporated into all facets of contemporary Navajo culture.

“Everything we eat today is processed food, and that’s what is killing us,” says Lena Guerito, nutritionist with the Navajo Nation Special Diabetes Project, a program that includes lessons on food nutrition for Navajos with diabetes. The main foods on a lot of Navajo people’s plates are potatoes and bread, she said. And that’s hard to change.

The “survival foods” so common in the Navajo Nation were born in a time of need. In the late 1800’s, the Navajo were forced by the U.S. government from their homelands in New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah to a prison camp in Fort Sumner, New Mexico.

“People returned [to Navajo lands] to find themselves with new foods that were provided by the U.S. government,” including flour, coffee, and lard, says Denisa Livingston, community advocate and community organizer for Diné Community Advocacy Alliance. “We have become accustomed to thinking that’s what food is.”

In her work as an advocate for food sovereignty—Livingston is the first woman to be elected as the Slow Food International Indigenous councilor of the Global North—she spearheaded the Navajo Nation’s junk food tax initiative. She also started focusing on where cooking habits are formed: mom’s cooking.

“When we look back at what our moms cooked and what our grandmas cooked, I think we have the opportunity to question if [what we’re eating now] really is authentic mom’s cooking or if it’s survival food; and also question if we’re ready to change,” says Livingston.

To her, changing the definition of mom’s cooking is part of the larger, Indigenous movement for food sovereignty. On a small scale, this work can take place at kitchen tables, where people teach their children to cook and value food, she says.

“Increasing the biodiversity on our palate,” is key to spicing things up, Livingston says. “When we experience new foods, new tastes, and new food adventures, it lifts up our spirit and it makes our hearts and minds full. I really believe that our people deserve those kinds of opportunities.”

‘The Fancy Navajo’

Experiencing diverse flavors, ingredients, and restaurants also contributes to personal culinary education. But those things can be added to a long list of things many Navajo people don’t have access to, Livingston says.

Alana Yazzie. (Photo credit: Chelsea Toyi)

Alana Yazzie. (Photo credit: Chelsea Toyi)

And that doesn’t mean the passion for food and adventure is not growing on the reservation. For Alana Yazzie (no relation to Artie Yazzie), culinary adventure meant leaving her parent’s kitchen and setting up one of her own.

“When I got to college and I was exposed to more people, I was out there running with it and learning and trying as much as I could,” Yazzie said of her food adventures. For so long “I was on this restricted diet, and then I was no longer under parental control. I had the power and resources to buy things on my own.”

While in college at Marquette University in Wisconsin, Yazzie broadened her food horizons: Not only did she try colorful, sugared cereals like Lucky Charms for the first time, she also learned about other cultures’ cuisines from her new Indonesian and Filipino friends. She found a love and appreciation for fresh vegetables, backyard gardening, and cooking.

Today, Yazzie is a lifestyle and food blogger in Phoenix who goes by the online name, “The Fancy Navajo,” and has 5,700 followers on Instagram. She has posts recipes such as blue corn quiche, blue corn muffins and pumpkin pancakes, and Navajo boba almond milk tea.

She didn’t always eat this way, though. Yazzie grew up on survival foods, including Hamburger Helper and other foods that came with powdered just-add-water sauces, she says. Her family made ends meet and, as a result, there wasn’t much extra money for eating out, so a lot of cooking happened in her house. From her mother, she learned how to cook dinner, and from her older brother, she learned how to bake.

“[Since] a young age, I’ve always been fascinated with cooking,” Yazzie says. “I’ve always thought of cooking as a family, community-type gathering.”

This summer, Yazzie harvested more kale than she needed from her backyard garden and ran out of ideas for how to use it. She asked her followers and fans on social media for suggestions and they responded with dozens of healthy recipes, she says. It surprised her, a little bit, to see so many suggestions coming from the reservation.

“People are eating kale there,” she says. “It made me happy. Whatever is happening, it needs to continue.”

This paradigm shift is about more than just shared knowledge, says Ruiz. Learning to feed yourself well is also about self worth. “People need to feel like they’re in power, which is hard from a colonized view. We’ve been taught that we’re not important,” she says.

Chef Felicia Cocotzin Ruiz keeps an eye on progress on the Mobile Unit for Training and Nutrition. Photo courtesy of Felicia Cocotzin Ruiz.

Chef Felicia Cocotzin Ruiz keeps an eye on progress on the Mobile Unit for Training and Nutrition. Photo courtesy of Felicia Cocotzin Ruiz.

That’s why Ruiz has positioned herself in a role that allows her to speak to other Native people in a way that shows them she  understands where they’re coming from. They’re not being talked at by an outsider who’s telling them to stop eating everything familiar to them. That, she notes, obviously hasn’t worked in the past. Instead, Ruiz believes that Native-led programs that meet people where they are and use a mix of traditional foodways and 21st-century tools can help chart a new course for food and health in Navajo Nation and beyond.

This article was produced in partnership with Dame Magazine as part of their new podcast, The Fifty One, which explores what national issues look like for women at the local level, starting with a first season focused on food access in their communities. The full episode is embedded below; read more about The Fifty One in Dame Magazine, and subscribe to the podcast on iTunes.

The Genuine Lunacy Is Spreading from the House to the Senate


The Genuine Lunacy Is Spreading from the House to the Senate

Charles P. Pierce, Esquire                      October 15, 2018 

Sears Didn’t ‘Die.’ Vulture Capitalists Killed It.


Robert Kuttner, HuffPost       October 15, 2018

Is This America?

NowThis Politics

October 16, 2018

Stephen Miller’s own uncle can no longer stay silent and is now publicly denouncing him

Stephen Miller's Own Uncle Calls BS On Him

Stephen Miller's own uncle can no longer stay silent and is now publicly denouncing him

Posted by NowThis Politics on Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Randy Rainbow: Be Your Best!

Randy Rainbow

October 15, 2018

Relax and take several seats, Melania, as I proudly present…your slogan. Listen up boys and gurrrrls. #BeBest

Just BE BEST! – A Randy Rainbow Song Parody

Relax and take several seats, Melania, as I proudly present…your slogan. Listen up boys and gurrrrls. #BeBest🎶💕🌈🐅📚

Posted by Randy Rainbow on Monday, October 15, 2018

White Women: Stop Waiting For Black Women To Save You


White Women: Stop Waiting For Black Women To Save You

Tamika D. Mallory, HuffPost Opinion       October 11, 2018

GOP plays blame game while fighting to save House majority

Associated Press

GOP plays blame game while fighting to save House majority

Steve Peoples, Associated Press     October 15, 2018