‘There’s just no reason for assault rifles to be in the hands of ordinary citizens’

Yahoo News

One of America’s best marksmen on gun control: ‘There’s just no reason for assault rifles to be in the hands of ordinary citizens’

Eric Adelson, Yahoo Sports        February 21, 2018 

American biathlete Lowell Bailey has no interest in owning a weapon that is “designed to kill another human being.” (Getty)

PYEONGCHANG, South Korea – Lowell Bailey is one of the best marksmen in America. The North Carolina native is so proficient with a gun that he has made a living off it. He is an Olympian biathlete. So his opinion on the roiling gun debate in his country is worth hearing.

On Tuesday night, after he had finished competing, he gave it.

“We’re a sport that uses a .22-caliber rifle,” Bailey said. “A .22-caliber rifle that shoots a single round is a much different thing than an AR-15. In my opinion, there’s just no reason for assault rifles to be in the hands of ordinary citizens.”

Bailey said he does not own an AR-15 and has no desire to get one.

“I have no interest in owning a weapon that can kill another human being – that’s designed to kill another human being,” he said. “And to do it in an expeditious way. Why is that allowed? It’s maddening.”

It’s especially maddening in the wake of yet another deadly school shooting back in the States. Since Bailey and his teammates have arrived here to live their Olympic dreams, America has mourned the deaths of 17 innocent people who lost their lives in a high school in Parkland, Florida. These athletes have mourned, too.

“Every time something like that happens, it makes me sick to my stomach, to think about,” said another member of the U.S. mixed relay team, Susan Dunklee. “This is so far removed from that kind of shooting. This is precision shooting. We’re using a .22. But there is that association of being a firearm, and it takes a lot of the joy I have out of pursuing a sport like this.”

Biathlon requires incredible physical fitness and mental strength. It also requires daily training and responsibility when using a firearm. The shadow of gun violence is beyond distressing to them.

“All of us are very saddened by it,” said Joanne Firesteel Reid. “We have to take it in our own way. As a target shooter you don’t even associate what you’re doing with something like that.”

Bailey says he supports the assault weapons ban that was in place in the U.S. for 10 years and then allowed to expire in 2004. He added that his nation’s gun laws come up in conversations he has with competitors from other countries.

“They’re absolutely baffled,” he said. “They’re baffled at the political landscape of the United States, and how we can continue to put an assault rifle into the hands of anyone who wants to walk into a gun store and buy one.”

Gun laws in South Korea are quite strict. So strict, in fact, that it affects this sport. While in most competitions, biathletes are allowed to store their rifles in their rooms, that practice is forbidden here. Competitors must keep their guns at the venue, locked away at all times unless they are using them for practice.

“They’re under lock and key,” Dunklee said. “We each have our own key. We ski around with them, then we bring them right back. Very controlled. Russia does that too.”

It is inconvenient to an extent. “It would be like if you’re a runner and someone locked up your running shoes,” said Reid. But it’s something the biathletes understand. Rules are rules, and they’re there for safety.

It’s somewhat telling that in this country, some of the most responsible and careful gun owners on the planet, the Olympic biathletes, are kept from having their own rifles in their rooms.

“Sometimes it’s even nice not to have a gun staring you in the face all day,” said the fourth member of Team USA, Tim Burke.

American Tim Burke, an avid hunter, says: “If locking up all of my sports rifles, my hunting rifles, meant saving one life, I would do it.”

Burke also spoke up on Tuesday after the team’s race, in which it finished 15th. He was not as expressive as Bailey and Dunklee, but it was clear he was upset by what happened in Florida.

“Not only am I a biathlete, I’m also an avid hunter,” he said. “If locking up all of my sports rifles, my hunting rifles, meant saving one life, I would do it.”

The fear among many American gun owners is that the government will confiscate their weapons and infringe upon their Constitutional right to bear arms. The reasons for that concern go back to the founding of the country, and a wariness of a too-powerful government that lasts to this day.

But there’s a way to preserve the sanctity of the Second Amendment and make a change for safety’s sake. There is a path to preserve our history, protect our kids and defend our way of life.

“There was a time in our country when the means to defend yourself against an oppressive government was an appropriate justification,” Bailey said. “That time has passed.”

He paused for a second before continuing: “That’s a debate. But I think there needs to be a respectful dialogue, an open dialogue without special interests involved. It’s time our politicians sat down and made some tough choices. What’s more important? Owning an AR-15 or having innocent school children get killed?”

Bailey, who is not a member of the National Rifle Association, has a daughter and another child on the way. His heart breaks for the families affected by this tragedy and all the others. This matters to him as a citizen and as a parent.

“I compete against all these World Cup nations,” he said. “Germany, Norway. How good are they on the range? They’re great at rifle marksmanship. Do you know how strict their gun control laws are? It’s a travesty that America hasn’t changed and continues to go down this path.

“It makes me want to cry.”

Billionaire Bill Gates says his taxes are too low.

February 18, 2018

Bill Gates says he’s paid more than $10 billion in taxes but that the government should make wealthy people like him “pay significantly higher taxes” http://cnn.it/2Cuj7th

Billionaire Bill Gates says his taxes are too low

Bill Gates says he's paid more than $10 billion in taxes but that the government should make wealthy people like him "pay significantly higher taxes" http://cnn.it/2Cuj7th

Posted by CNN on Sunday, February 18, 2018

Teen invents device to protect students from shooters.

February 20, 2018

When this teen noticed a major flaw in his school’s active-shooter emergency plan, he devised a solution in his metal shop class http://cnn.it/2ooXqWK

Teen invents device to protect students from shooters

When this teen noticed a major flaw in his school’s active-shooter emergency plan, he devised a solution in his metal shop class http://cnn.it/2ooXqWK

Posted by CNN on Tuesday, February 20, 2018

New Pennsylvania congressional map could impact balance of power in the US House

ABC News

New Pennsylvania congressional map could impact balance of power in the US House

By John Verhovek, Adam Kelsey          February 20, 2018

PHOTO: Voters cast their ballots in a polling location inside Mikes TV and Appliance on Nov. 8, 2016, in State College, Pa. Jeff Swensen/Getty Images FILE. Pennsylvania district’s special election could be bellwether for 2018 midterm elections


The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has issued a new congressional map for the state — a decision that could have major ramifications for the balance of power in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The court issued the map after Governor Tom Wolf, a Democrat, and the Republican-controlled state legislature, were unable to submit a map satisfying both parties by the court-ordered Thursday night deadline.

PHOTO: A new congressional map issued by The Pennsylvania Supreme Court.The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania. A new congressional map issued by The Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Republicans in the state are expected to challenge the new map in court.


“Implementation of this map would create a constitutional crisis where the Pennsylvania Supreme Court is usurping the authority of the Legislative and Executive branches. We anticipate further action in federal court,” Pennsylvania House Speaker and State Senate President Pro Tempore Joseph Scarnati wrote in a statement Monday.

The new map significantly redraws the districts that encompass the Philadelphia suburbs, a key purple part of a purple state where Democrats are poised to pick up seats, and it creates another competitive district in northeast Pennsylvania near the Allentown area.

Hillary Clinton defeated Donald Trump in both the suburban Philadelphia districts currently represented by Rep. Pat Meehan and Ryan Costello in the 2016 presidential election.

Thirteen of the districts in the previous map went to Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election, while just five went to Hillary Clinton. Ten of the districts in the new map were won by Trump, while eight went to Clinton, according to an analysis by redistricting expert Dave Wasserman of the Cook Political Report.

Republicans currently hold 12 of the state’s 18 congressional districts, while Democrats control just five. One seat is currently vacant but will be filled following the March 13 special election to replace former Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Penn., who resigned over a sex scandal last year.

Under the newly issued map, both candidates in the March special election, Conor Lamb and Rick Saccone, would find themselves living outside of the 18th congressional district for which they are currently running to represent.

Democrat Conor Lamb, who lives in Mt. Lebanon, would find himself in the new 17th district, parts of which are currently represented by Republican Rep. Keith Rothfus. It’s an area that would receive an influx of suburban Pittsburgh Democratic voters and a race that could become more competitive than it has been in the past.

PHOTO: Conor Lamb, the Democratic candidate for the special election in Pennsylvanias 18th Congressional District, talks about his campaign at his headquarters in Mount Lebanon, Pa. on Feb. 7, 2018.Keith Srakocic/AP. Conor Lamb, the Democratic candidate for the special election in Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional District, talks about his campaign at his headquarters in Mount Lebanon, Pa. on Feb. 7, 2018.


Republican Rick Saccone, who lives in Elizabeth, moves into the new 18th district encompassing much of the current 14th district which is presently represented by Democratic Rep. Mike Doyle. Democrats would continue to have a distinct advantage given the district’s inclusion of Pittsburgh’s urban core.

Prior to the court’s decision, both candidates have signaled that they are interested in running again in November, win or lose. In a statement provided to ABC News, Saccone called the new map “partisan,” but said he was “going to run and win in whatever district I compete in because it’s not about the lines that are drawn, but about the values I represent.” Lamb’s campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Despite the uncertainty ahead, outside groups remain focused on a potentially momentum-shifting victory in the district next month.

American Bridge, a Democratic Super PAC, is releasing a new digital ad this week bashing Saccone for “out of touch” comments on the region’s opioid crisis. But by happenstance, the ad will run on Facebook for users across Pennsylvania, not just in the 18th district, according to a PAC official, a move that could pay dividends should Saccone run elsewhere come November.

Numerous map submissions from both sides of the aisle were presented to the state Supreme Court, which ordered the state’s congressional boundaries redrawn late last month. But after Wolf vetoed a map submitted Republican leaders in the statehouse last Tuesday, it became clear both sides were not going to reach an agreement by the February 16 deadline.

Republicans in the state harshly criticized Wolf for rejecting the map they submitted, saying his decision “sets forth a nonsensical approach to governance.”

“This entire exercise, while cloaked in ‘litigation,’ is and has been nothing more than the ultimate partisan gerrymander – one brought about by the Democrat Chief Executive of the Commonwealth acting in concert with politically-connected litigants in order to divest the General Assembly of its Constitutional authority to enact Congressional districts,” Pennsylvania House Speaker Mike Turzai and State Senate President Pro Tempore Joseph Scarnati wrote in a statement last Tuesday.


Wolf submitted his own map last week that he claimed “combined features of legislative submissions” and was “statistically more fair than the Republican leaders’ submission.”

“From the outset, I have made clear I wanted a map that was fair and removed the partisanship that Pennsylvanians have been forced to live under since the 2012 elections,” Governor Wolf said in a statement Thursday. “This map takes features from Republican and Democratic submissions, while still meeting the court’s orders and opinion, to provide Pennsylvanians with a fair map.”


“If the Pennsylvania map changes, it’s hard to imagine how the Republicans hold control of the House so maybe that’s why we’re seeing the desperation we’re seeing,” Michael Li, a redistricting expert at the Brennan Center for Justice, a non-partisan public policy institute, told ABC News.

PHOTO: A map from the National Atlas shows Pennsylvanias congressional districts for the 113th Congress.nationalatlas.gov. A map from the National Atlas shows Pennsylvania’s congressional districts for the 113th Congress.

ABC News’ Emily Goodin contributed to this report.

Trump Administration Takes Another Step To Roll Back Obamacare


Trump Administration Takes Another Step To Roll Back Obamacare

Jonathan Cohn, HuffPost          February 20, 2018 

Republican efforts to roll back the Affordable Care Act’s insurance reforms continued Tuesday, when the Trump administration proposed regulations that would make it easier for health insurers to sell cheap, short-term policies that leave out key benefits and are available only to people in good health.

Announcement of the proposal, which has been in the works for several months, came two months after President Donald Trump signed Republican legislation eliminating the individual mandate, which makes people pay a financial penalty if they don’t have insurance.

Taken together, the two steps ― getting rid of the mandate and then changing the rules on short-term plans ― could accelerate an evolution already underway for people buying insurance on their own, rather than through an employer.

In many states, premiums have risen substantially in the past few years, as plans have struggled to attract customers in relatively good health. Federal tax credits, which the Affordable Care Act also created, insulate low- and many middle-income people from these increases ― allowing them to get comprehensive coverage, regardless of medical status, at low prices.

But people at higher incomes receive no such assistance and, in some cases, the premiums make it difficult or even impossible for them to get traditional insurance. This is particularly true in more rural parts of the country, and especially for older consumers, thanks to a combination of factors ― some related to the design of the ACA, and some related to the way hostile Republican officials at the state and national level have implemented it.

The regulation that the administration proposed on Tuesday would make it easier for some of these people to get short-term plans, which are generally cheaper because they do not have to follow all of Obamacare’s rules. They do not have to cover mental health and other “essential benefits,” for example, and they can have annual or lifetime limits on the bills they will pay.

But short-term plans are generally not available to people with pre-existing conditions and wouldn’t cover the expenses of people with some serious illnesses anyway. If short-term plans were to draw off a substantial number of relatively healthy customers, they would drive up the price of traditional, fully regulated insurance plans even more.

In the end, the new regulation could allow some people ― especially those who find current coverage unaffordable ― to buy ultra-cheap, relatively skimpy plans.

“It’s time to offer more affordable coverage options,” Seema Verma, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said during a conference call Tuesday. “It’s about allowing individuals, not the government, to make decisions about what works for them and their families.”

But the new regulations would also render the law’s insurance reforms less effective, making it more difficult for people who need or want more comprehensive coverage to get it.

“This is the Trump administration’s end run around Congress,” Sabrina Corlette, research professor at Georgetown University’s Center on Health Insurance Reforms, told HuffPost. “The end result will be higher premiums and fewer plan choices for people with health care needs, as well as for healthy people who want the kind of benefits and financial protection that real insurance is supposed to provide.”

A key variable in all of this is the states, which have authority to regulate such plans on their own. Several already have strong rules on the book, as a recent survey of state policies from the Commonwealth Fund noted. More states could take similar action.

The Kind Of Insurance Obamacare Was Supposed To Eliminate

Short-term plans are a vestige of the old health care system, the one that existed before the ACA took effect and made comprehensive coverage more widely available. At least in theory, these plans are primarily for people with temporary gaps in coverage ― because they are in between jobs, or perhaps about to have a change in their life circumstance like getting married.

Obamacare allowed insurers to keep selling such plans, but it also gave the federal government authority to regulate them tightly.

The Obama administration did just that. When it wrote the rules for the individual mandate, the administration said that short-term plans would not count as qualifying coverage, which meant that people who had these plans would still have to pay the penalty. The administration also limited these short-term policies to durations of just three months — although that regulation just took effect this year, and some insurers have found ways to sell a year’s worth of coverage even with that regulation in force. (Basically, they allow customers to buy four plans, each for a duration of three months, at one time.)

The Obama administration made these decisions because the whole point of the ACA’s private insurance reforms was to transform the market for people buying coverage on their own, so that everybody ― healthy and sick, young and old ― was paying into one pool and was part of the same system. That way, insurers would have enough money to cover the bills of people with serious medical conditions.

But the Obama administration wasn’t simply out to ensure the newly reformed insurance markets could work. Regulations on short-term plans were also meant to protect consumers.

Frequently, people who bought short-term plans ended up facing crushing medical bills, because agents or insurers hadn’t made limits on these plans clear ― or because insurers had found reasons not to cover bills after the fact. In one case that’s currently the subject of a lawsuit in federal court, a heart attack victim who had a short-term policy is on the hook for $900,000, according to a story on short-term plans by Reed Abelson of The New York Times.

Now, Republicans are undoing these reforms. The regulations that the Trump administration just proposed would rescind the Obama administration’s limit on short-term plans, so that insurers could sell policies that last a full year. Starting in 2019, people buying such plans wouldn’t have to worry about paying the individual mandate penalty, since the GOP’s new tax legislation reduces that penalty to zero.

These steps could help split insurance markets into two ― one with relatively cheap, skimpy short-term plans that would be available to people who are in good health, and one with highly expensive comprehensive insurance that would be available to anybody, regardless of pre-existing conditions.

People who bought the short-term plans would frequently save money, as long as they didn’t get sick and find themselves on the hook for bills the short-term plans don’t cover. But premiums for those comprehensive policies could get even higher than they are now.

The majority of people buying coverage on their own are eligible for tax credits that offset premiums, which get bigger as premiums go higher. In general, they won’t have to pay more for coverage, even as it gets more expensive. But people who earn too much to qualify for the tax credits ― anybody with income above four times the poverty line, or $98,400 for a family of four ― would bear the full brunt of those higher premiums.

It’s a problem that already exists in some states, like Iowa and Tennessee, but it could get worse and affect even more Americans if the Trump administration regulations go into effect, especially if the new measures cause more insurers to abandon markets altogether.

Just how big a difference this regulation would ultimately make is difficult to say. In a fact sheet accompanying the proposed regulations, HHS said that for 2019 it expects 100,000 to 200,000 people to drop traditional coverage and buy short-term policies instead. That is not a huge number.

But over time, the plans could draw even more people, especially if insurers and the independent brokers who sell plans push them aggressively. And some experts think that rough estimate, of just 100,000 to 200,000 people shifting plans initially, is too low.

The Regulation Isn’t Final Yet ― And States Will Have Their Say

The regulations must go through a formal, 60-day comment period before they become final. During that period, the three departments issuing the regulation ― Health and Human Services, Labor, and Treasury ― are likely to hear from a variety of experts, advocates, and industry groups wary of the changes.

One of them is America’s Health Insurance Plans, the largest trade organization representing insurers. “While we are reviewing the proposed rule to understand its impact on the people we serve, we remain concerned that expanded use of short-term policies could further fragment the individual market, which would lead to higher premiums for many consumers, particularly those with pre-existing conditions,” Kristine Grow, group’s senior vice president for communications, said on Tuesday.

But not all insurers will be unhappy if these new regulations are finalized. UnitedHealth, which dropped out of AHIP a few years ago, already sells such policies. In an earnings call in October, the company’s chief executive said the opportunity to sell more of them ― along with so-called “association health plans,” which allow small businesses to buy policies that are also exempt from some of the Affordable Care Act’s regulations ― would be a profit opportunity.

The proposed regulation also seeks comment on the question of whether, somehow, these short-term plans should be “renewable” ― that is, whether insurers should allow people to stay on the same plans, year after year. Of course, doing so would seem to mean they aren’t really short-term plans at all, but rather an alternative form of long-term insurance that simply isn’t subject to regulations protecting people with pre-existing conditions. In theory, that is not legal under the Affordable Care Act.

If and when the regulation becomes final, as seems likely, attention will shift quickly to state officials, who can regulate insurance plans on their own. States could decide to keep the three-month limit in place, for example. Or they could go as far as New Jersey did, and prohibit short-term plans altogether.

They could also decide, separately, to introduce their own form of the individual mandate, as officials in at least some states are already talking about doing.

This article has been updated to include comment from an America’s Health Insurance Plans representative.

Watch police chief comments on Wisconsin gun law written by the NRA

NowThis Politics

February 18, 2018

Watch this police chief completely dismantle a horrifying gun law that’s backed by the NRA

Milwaukee Police Chief Tears Apart NRA-Backed Concealed Carry Law

Watch this police chief completely dismantle a horrifying gun law that's backed by the NRA

Posted by NowThis Politics on Sunday, February 18, 2018

This woman decided to cut her gun in half

February 20, 2018

“I really like this gun. But you know what I like more? Is when people don’t get killed.” After the Florida school shooting that left 17 dead, this woman decided to cut her gun in half. http://cnn.it/2C9QS7u

Gun owner destroys gun after school shooting

"I really like this gun. But you know what I like more? Is when people don't get killed." After the Florida school shooting that left 17 dead, this woman decided to cut her gun in half. http://cnn.it/2C9QS7u

Posted by CNN on Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Whatever Trump Is Hiding Is Hurting All of Us Now

New York Times – Opinion

Whatever Trump Is Hiding Is Hurting All of Us Now

Thomas L. Friedman, Op-Ed Columnist            February 19, 2018

President Trump in Washington on Friday. CreditTom Brenner/The New York Times

Our democracy is in serious danger.

President Trump is either totally compromised by the Russians or is a towering fool, or both, but either way he has shown himself unwilling or unable to defend America against a Russian campaign to divide and undermine our democracy.

That is, either Trump’s real estate empire has taken large amounts of money from shady oligarchs linked to the Kremlin — so much that they literally own him; or rumors are true that he engaged in sexual misbehavior while he was in Moscow running the Miss Universe contest, which Russian intelligence has on tape and he doesn’t want released; or Trump actually believes Russian President Vladimir Putin when he says he is innocent of intervening in our elections — over the explicit findings of Trump’s own C.I.A., N.S.A. and F.B.I. chiefs.

In sum, Trump is either hiding something so threatening to himself, or he’s criminally incompetent to be commander in chief. It is impossible yet to say which explanation for his behavior is true, but it seems highly likely that one of these scenarios explains Trump’s refusal to respond to Russia’s direct attack on our system — a quiescence that is simply unprecedented for any U.S. president in history. Russia is not our friend. It has acted in a hostile manner. And Trump keeps ignoring it all.

Up to now, Trump has been flouting the norms of the presidency. Now Trump’s behavior amounts to a refusal to carry out his oath of office — to protect and defend the Constitution. Here’s an imperfect but close analogy: It’s as if George W. Bush had said after 9/11: “No big deal. I am going golfing over the weekend in Florida and blogging about how it’s all the Democrats’ fault — no need to hold a National Security Council meeting.”

At a time when the special prosecutor Robert Mueller — leveraging several years of intelligence gathering by the F.B.I., C.I.A. and N.S.A. — has brought indictments against 13 Russian nationals and three Russian groups — all linked in some way to the Kremlin — for interfering with the 2016 U.S. elections, America needs a president who will lead our nation’s defense against this attack on the integrity of our electoral democracy.

What would that look like? He would educate the public on the scale of the problem; he would bring together all the stakeholders — state and local election authorities, the federal government, both parties and all the owners of social networks that the Russians used to carry out their interference — to mount an effective defense; and he would bring together our intelligence and military experts to mount an effective offense against Putin — the best defense of all.

What we have instead is a president vulgarly tweeting that the Russians are “laughing their asses off in Moscow” for how we’ve been investigating their interventions — and exploiting the terrible school shooting in Florida — and the failure of the F.B.I. to properly forward to its Miami field office a tip on the killer — to throw the entire F.B.I. under the bus and create a new excuse to shut down the Mueller investigation.

Think for a moment how demented was Trump’s Saturday night tweet: “Very sad that the FBI missed all of the many signals sent out by the Florida school shooter. This is not acceptable. They are spending too much time trying to prove Russian collusion with the Trump campaign — there is no collusion. Get back to the basics and make us all proud!”

To the contrary. Our F.B.I., C.I.A. and N.S.A., working with the special counsel, have done us amazingly proud. They’ve uncovered a Russian program to divide Americans and tilt our last election toward Trump — i.e., to undermine the very core of our democracy — and Trump is telling them to get back to important things like tracking would-be school shooters. Yes, the F.B.I. made a mistake in Florida. But it acted heroically on Russia. What is more basic than protecting American democracy?

It is so obvious what Trump is up to: Again, he is either a total sucker for Putin or, more likely, he is hiding something that he knows the Russians have on him, and he knows that the longer Mueller’s investigation goes on, the more likely he will be to find and expose it.

Donald, if you are so innocent, why do you go to such extraordinary lengths to try to shut Mueller down? And if you are really the president — not still head of the Trump Organization, who moonlights as president, which is how you so often behave — why don’t you actually lead — lead not only a proper cyberdefense of our elections, but also an offense against Putin.

Putin used cyberwarfare to poison American politics, to spread fake news, to help elect a chaos candidate, all in order to weaken our democracy. We should be using our cyber-capabilities to spread the truth about Putin —just how much money he has stolen, just how many lies he has spread, just how many rivals he has jailed or made disappear — all to weaken his autocracy. That is what a real president would be doing right now.

My guess is what Trump is hiding has to do with money. It’s something about his financial ties to business elites tied to the Kremlin. They may own a big stake in him. Who can forget that quote from his son Donald Trump Jr. from back in 2008: “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross section of a lot of our assets.” They may own our president.

But whatever it is, Trump is either trying so hard to hide it or is so naïve about Russia that he is ready to not only resist mounting a proper defense of our democracy, he’s actually ready to undermine some of our most important institutions, the F.B.I. and Justice Department, to keep his compromised status hidden.

That must not be tolerated. This is code red. The biggest threat to the integrity of our democracy today is in the Oval Office.

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What can we learn from the universal health care systems of Canada and Norway?

U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders — US Senator for Vermont

February 19, 2018

What can we learn from the universal health care systems of Canada and Norway?

Canada vs. Norway On Health Care

What can we learn from the universal health care systems of Canada and Norway?

Posted by U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders on Monday, February 19, 2018

8 Presidents Who Most Shaped the U.S. Food System

Civil Eats

8 Presidents Who Most Shaped the U.S. Food System

Every president has played a role in making the food system what it is today, but these eight stand out, for better and for worse.

Nathaniel Currier lithograph, 1852.

By Karen Perry Stillerman – Commentary, Food Justice, Food Policy

February 19, 2018

As we prepare to observe Presidents Day, I’m thinking about a president’s role in shaping the way we grow food in the United States, and how we eat. Quite a few of our past presidents were farmers or ranchers at some point in their lives, and some had infamous relationships with certain foods, whether cheeseburgers or jelly beans or broccoli.

But a small number of presidents spanning the history of the republic have had particular influence on our food supply and culture, and its impact on the health and well-being of all Americans, including farmers. And notably, as we’re also observing Black History Month, the interventions of those past presidents in our food system have often particularly affected African Americans.

1. George Washington: First farmer, innovator, and slaveholder

Whether or not young George chopped down that famous fruit free, the post-presidency Washington grew cherries, along with apples, pears, other tree fruits, and a whole lot of other food at his Mount Vernon estate, which comprised five neighboring farms on 8,000 acres. An innovative farmer who kept meticulous records, Washington was an early proponent of composting for soil health, and eventually phased out tobacco (the plantation crop of his day in Virginia) in favor of a diversified seven-crop rotation system including wheat for sale, corn for domestic consumption, and fertility-enhancing legume crops. (Sounds like a good idea.)

The grim reality behind Washington’s farming success, though, is that his farms were worked by slaves. A slaveowner since age 11, when he inherited ten slaves from his father, Washington bought and sold Black people throughout his life (reportedly treating them severely and separating family members through sale), and 317 slaves worked on his estate at the time of his death.

The devastating legacy of racial injustice and inequality at Mount Vernon is still with us, but it is being gradually undone. The 126-acre historic Woodlawn estate—originally part of Washington’s farm network—was purchased by northern Quakers prior to the Civil War, expressly to prove that you could farm profitably without slavery. Today, the site is occupied by the Arcadia Center for Sustainable Agriculture, whose work includes a mobile market delivering fresh, healthy, affordable food to food-insecure neighborhoods like this one in the Washington DC area.

2. Thomas Jefferson: Experimentation, failure, and a legacy of slave-centered agriculture

The third president has been called America’s “first foodie” for his love of the table, and of French cuisine in particular. He ate a lot of vegetables, and introduced many new ones to the United States. On his Monticello estate, Jefferson introduced and experimented with a vast variety of food crops, including 330 varieties of eighty-nine species of vegetables and herbs and 170 varieties of the fruits. An avid experimenter, Jefferson’s trials often resulted in failure, leading neighbors to call him “the worst farmer in Virginia.” But in truth he promoted techniques to build soil health through adding organic matter, and by sharing seeds and techniques widely, he promoted commercial market gardening and spread new crops that expanded the young nation’s food traditions and palate.

Perhaps even more than Washington, Jefferson’s legacy is marred by the stain of his complicity in slavery, and his racial views. He embodied the inherent social contradictions at the birth of this nation that we have yet to resolve, by denouncing the institution of slavery while simultaneously profiting from it—he owned some 600 slaves who worked on his Monticello farm and other holdings, employed brutal overseers, and fathered children with his slave Sally Hemings through a relationship that, by definition, could not have been consensual. His goal of “improving” slavery as a step towards ending was misguided, as it was used during his time as an argument for its perpetuation.

3. Abraham Lincoln: The USDA and the land-grant college system

Born in that legendary log cabin on his father’s farm in Kentucky, Lincoln was, as he put it, “raised to farm work.” His father farmed frontier land in southern Indiana before moving the family to Illinois, where Abe later got his political start in the state legislature. A believer in technological progress in agriculture, Lincoln advocated for horse-drawn machines and steam plows to take the place of hand labor. As president, he advocated for and signed legislation creating the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), which he later called “The People’s Department,” since about half of all Americans at the time lived on farms. And Lincoln’s early belief in the value of educating farmers came to fruition in 1862 when he signed the Morrill Land Grant College Act, which facilitated the transfer of public land to each of the states to establish colleges of agriculture and the mechanical arts.

Lincoln fought a war over slavery (perhaps we’re finally coming to agreement on that point?), issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, and submitted the 13th Amendment prohibiting slavery to the states for ratification just a few month before his violent death in 1865. But it would be another quarter century before freed slaves in the former Confederate states would get the benefit of a land-grant education Lincoln envisioned. A second Morrill Act in 1890 required each state to show that race was not an admissions criterion for its land-grant colleges, or else to designate a separate institution for students of color. (See some of the achievements of some of the institutions known as 1890 schools here.)

4. Theodore Roosevelt: Cattle ranching and conservation

Teddy Roosevelt’s is known as one of the nation’s great conservationists, but that legacy was born out of a series of calamities. On a hunting trip in the Dakota Territory in 1883, the passionate outdoorsman discovered that native bison herds had been decimated by commercial hunters. Cattle ranching on the region’s vast grasslands was booming in bison’s wake, and he became interested in the cattle business, investing $14,000 (a huge sum at the time) in a ranch. Returning to politics in New York, Roosevelt was struck by tragedy with the death of both his mother and his wifeon the same day in 1884, and he turned to the West and the ranching life to forget. But cattle in the Badlands at the time was itself a looming disaster: a boom with no regulation quickly led to massive overgrazing, and a scorching summer followed by a harsh winter in 1886-87 proved deadly. Tens of thousands of cattle, about 80 percent of the region’s herds, froze and starved to death in a blizzard. Roosevelt himself lost over half his herd, and soon got out of the business.

But his experience with agricultural disaster helped shape the future president’s views on the importance of conservation and led to an inspiring conservation legacy. Using his presidential authority, Roosevelt gave federal protection to more than 230 million acres of public land, creating the National Forest Service (now part of the USDA) and five national parks, and setting aside 51 federal bird reservations, 18 national monuments, and four national game preserves. In his words in 1908: “We have become great because of the lavish use of our resources and we have just reason to be proud of our growth. But the time has come to inquire seriously what will happen when our forests are gone, when the coal, the iron, the oil and the gas are exhausted, when the soils have been still further impoverished and washed into the streams, polluting the rivers, denuding the fields, and obstructing navigation.” (Nah, that couldn’t happen, could it?)

5. Franklin Delano Roosevelt: Dust Bowl and soil conservation

In the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, FDR inherited economic and ecological catastrophes that hit farmers particularly hard. The Dust Bowl was caused by massive-scale plowing up of grasslands (the Great Plow-Up of the 1910s and ’20s) followed by four distinct drought eventsin the 1930s. It scorched the Plains and literally blew away its soil, leaving millions of acres of farmland useless, driving farmers into bankruptcy and off the land, and worsening the banking and unemployment crises.

An amateur forester, Roosevelt understood the importance of soil conservation, and soon after taking office he established the Civilian Conservation Corps and the Soil Erosion Service. The latter (now the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service) was the first major federal conservation effort to focus on privately owned natural resources. FDR also launched the Plains Shelterbelt Project effort that planted millions of trees, creating windbreaks (now at risk) on farms from the Canadian border to Texas. And he initiated farm policies to help farmers manage future boom-and-bust cycles by preventing overproduction. The Agricultural Adjustment Act enacted on his watch would grow into today’s wide-ranging farm bill, which still struggles with how to deal with overproduction while providing livelihood for the nation’s farmers and conserving soil and water.

6. Richard Nixon: Turning farming into big business

Nixon was a contradiction. Scholars continue to dissect his deep character flaws and divisiveness, but also his achievements. Among the latter, he created the EPA and signed the National Environmental Policy Act (both of which, one hopes, will survive the current administration’s manyassaults), and he made dozens of other environmental proposals.

But his lasting legacy in agriculture continues to haunt us. That’s because Nixon gave his blessing to his agriculture secretary, Earl Butz, to essentially undo decades of FDR’s supply management policy. The Nixon years would be all about maximizing and consolidating farm production. “Get big or get out,” Butz told farmers in 1973, and boy, did they. His policies encouraged farmers to plant as much corn and other commodities as they could, on every possible bit of land. Today, one might argue, we have Nixon and Butz to thank for persistent fertilizer pollution in our nation’s waterways, for high-fructose corn syrup and the power and deception of the food industry, and for our enduring crisis of obesity and diet-related disease. (Read the full story of Secretary Butz, entertainingly told by Tom Philpott back in 2008.) Buzz’s obit recounts how a nasty racist comment ended his political career.

7. George W. Bush: Justice for Black farmers denied

While George W. Bush spent a lot of his presidency clearing brush on his Texas ranch, he wasn’t particularly known for his agriculture policy. But during his administration, a long-simmering dispute between the USDA and Black farmers came to a head. The background: in 1997 a group of Black farmers sued the USDA, citing years of racial discrimination by the department, which denied Black producers loans and other assistance and failed to act on their claims for years. The farmers prevailed in 1999, winning a $2.3 billion settlement from the government, the biggest in civil rights history. But there were limitations on who could collect under the Pigford settlement (named for lead plaintiff Timothy Pigford, a Black corn and soybean farmer from North Carolina), and what kinds of documentation they would need to provide.

Under W’s watch, many of the 22,000 farmers who had joined the Pigford suit were denied payment; by one estimate, nine out of 10 farmers who sought damages were denied. And the Bush Department of Justice, representing the USDA, reportedly spent 56,000 office hours and $12 millioncontesting farmers’ claims. Many farmers believed their claims were rejected on technicalities.

8. Barack Obama: Justice and healthy food, served

Much of the Obama food and farming legacy (which is hers as much as his) is well known: the now permanent White House kitchen garden (which, incidentally, includes a section honoring Thomas Jefferson with favorite varieties from his own garden at Monticello) along with the (possibly less permanent) improvements to school meals that resulted from the bipartisan Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act they championed, and the Let’s Move! campaign. The USDA under the Obama administration also made other efforts to improve our nation’s food system by promoting local and regional farm economies, increasing agricultural research, and strengthening federal dietary guidelines.

He also fixed a lingering problem with the Pigford discrimination settlement described above. Failure to effectively notify and communicate with Black farmers eligible for payout under the 1999 settlement meant that many farmers were left out. Obama’s Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and Attorney General Eric Holder advocated for a fix, and in 2010, the administration announced a $1.25 billion settlement of the so-called “Pigford II” claims.

And now what?

These eight former presidents have made their mark on U.S. agriculture and food, delivering both progress and setbacks. Bottom line this Presidents Day? We still have a lot of work to do to achieve a healthy, sustainable, and just food system in this country.

Next time I’ll look at what happens when the occupant of the White House is not only not a farmer, but seems puzzlingly (if not cynically) indifferent to farmers’ concern. And when, instead of a healthy food advocate, he’s an unabashed proponent of the same processed and fast foods that are damaging the health—and even shortening the lives—of our nation’s children.

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