This New Healthcare Bill Wrecks Lives in Exchange for, What, Exactly?


This New Healthcare Bill Wrecks Lives in Exchange for, What, Exactly?

A few thoughts, and questions, about the Cassidy-Graham plan.;0,0&resize=768:*Getty

By Charles P. Pierce     September 19, 2017

Let us stipulate right at the beginning that, if you put the menu for Chinese takeout in front of the president* and wrote “Obamacare Repeal” across the top, he’d sign it. So let’s take him out of the whole equation. The tragedy is that, once you do that, you are left with the inescapable conclusion that, on the matter of the Affordable Care Act, the Republican Party is little more than a cult centered around human suffering.

The latest evidence comes to us as The Cassidy-Graham Plan, named for its co-sponsors, Bill Cassidy, Republican of Louisiana, and our old pal, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. The difference between this proposal and the rest of the Walking Dead plans that have wandered through Congress this year is that this one is at least nominally detailed. And that’s the problem, and the cruelty, of it.

As Sarah Kliff explains at Vox, this plan comes closer to absolute de facto repeal of the ACA as any of the other plans did.

The proposal would eliminate the health care law’s subsidies for private insurance and end the Medicaid expansion. States could allow for waivers that let insurers charge sick patients higher premiums and stop covering certain benefits required under the Affordable Care Act, like maternity care or prescription drugs. The health insurance marketplaces would no longer exist as they are envisioned to continue under other Republican proposals. The federal government would convert some (but not all) of that spending into a lump-sum payment to states. States could choose to spend this money on providing insurance — or they could use it to fund high-risk pools, or do other activities to pay the bills of patients with high medical needs. States wouldn’t get this money for free: They’d be required to kick in a small percentage themselves. The plan hasn’t been scored by the Congressional Budget Office yet, but analysts who have studied Cassidy-Graham estimate it would cut deeply into federal funding for the health law programs, likely resulting in millions losing coverage. Cassidy-Graham would arguably be more disruptive, not less, to the current health care system than the plans that came before it. It would let money currently spent on health insurance go toward other programs, providing no guarantee that the Affordable Care Act programs individuals rely on today would continue into the future.

The individual details of this plan have been exposed as scams, time and time again. (For a party that doesn’t want “government” controlling healthcare, these people seem remarkably enthusiastic of handing it over to governors like Scott Walker and Sam Brownback.) It’s demonstrably worse for people than the plan that famously was sunk by a single vote. And yet it’s just as close to passing right now as that one was. Maybe closer. It’s likely going to be voted on without a score from the Congressional Budget Office, which likely would be as grotesque as the CBO scores its predecessors rang up. It likely once again will garner no Democratic votes. (Joe Manchin on Tuesday said he was against it.) But it is the fundamental anti-politics of the thing that clearly shows that the entire Republican Party is lashed to the side of the whale at this point. The party opposes any attempt to reform the healthcare system in this country—and, certainly, any attempt to improve the ACA—in a fashion that is damned near evangelical in its blind and reckless fervor.

Consider: Dean Heller, Republican of Nevada, voted for the previous bill and likely will vote for this one, despite the fact that his state’s Republican governor, Brian Sandoval, is practically screaming at him not to do so.;center,top&resize=768:*Getty

Consider: John McCain, who cast a crucial vote the last time around, has been all over the lot this time around, probably because he’s Damon and Graham is Pythias. This time, McCain has tried to hide behind Arizona Governor Doug Ducey and nobody has any idea what he’s finally going to do.

Consider: state governors in general seem to be reluctant to embrace the freedom that comes with this latest bag of rocks, at least if you listen to its sponsors. From USA Today:

“Among the list of governors was Alaska’s Bill Walker, an independent, who had been lobbied by the Trump administration to support the bill because Alaska GOP Sen. Lisa Murkowski is undecided and is a critical vote to get the legislation through. “As you continue to consider changes to the American health care system, we ask you not to consider the Graham-Cassidy-Heller-Johnson amendment and renew support for bipartisan efforts to make health care more available and affordable for all Americans,” the 10 governors urged in a letter addressed to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.”

It’s still anyone’s guess if this dog’s breakfast even will get to a floor vote in the Senate. But the insistence on trying marks the Republican congressional majorities pretty lousy. They know the country doesn’t want this. They know that an effective majority of their members don’t want it. They know that governors of their own party don’t want it. And they know that the president* of their own party has moved on to threatening nuclear annihilation, among other hobbies. Why this fanatical pursuit of this one legislative goal? It can’t all be about money; none of the senators in question seems to be in danger of a serious primary challenge or of having the golden spigot turned off.

The only conclusion would seem to be that there is something in their political makeup that believes that the people who benefit from the ACA, and the people who would benefit if it were repaired and not destroyed, are unworthy of those benefits and that it is not the proper function of government to question this fundamental truth. (This, at least, is what Rand Paul is honest enough to say out loud.)

They will wreck lives to prove a point that isn’t even true to begin with, and on which they are such monumental hypocrites that even the elite political press is beginning to notice. (Much as has been the case with immigration, the people seeking to “hand power back to the states” are more willing to take power away from the states if the states dare do on their own that which the senators are trying desperately to head off nationally.) Listen to Lindsey Graham go all mad-preacher about the subject on Monday, Per the Washington Examiner:

“This is Bernie Sanders’ worst nightmare,” Graham said in an interview on Breitbart News Saturday on SiriusXM, speaking about his healthcare proposal. “It’s either this or we’re going to Obamacare and Berniecare. Now, Berniecare is full-blown single-payer socialism. It is his dream and that’s where Democrats are going.”

Don’t tease me, bro.

Update (6:04 p.m.): OK, so it’s a little bit about money. (Koch network ‘piggy banks’ closed until Republicans pass health and tax reform, The Guardian)

Respond to this post on the Esquire Politics Facebook page.

GOP senators are rushing to pass Graham-Cassidy. We asked 9 to explain what it does.


GOP senators are rushing to pass Graham-Cassidy. We asked 9 to explain what it does.

by Jeff Stein        September 20, 2017“You have to have a car to get into, and this is the only car there is,” Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS) said. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Republican senators are struggling to articulate why they are rushing to pass their last-ditch effort to repeal and replace Obamacare over the next 10 days before running into their September 30 deadline.

In interviews with Vox on Tuesday, nine Republican senators primarily argued that their “Hail Mary” bill — spearheaded by Sens. Lindsey Graham (SC) and Bill Cassidy (LA) — would return federal power to the states, giving them greater flexibility to improve their health systems locally. “The heart of the legislation takes the policymaking role of Washington and sends it to the states,” Texas Sen. Ted Cruz said.

Far less clear is exactly how Graham-Cassidy would pull off this feat without resulting in millions of Americans losing their insurance — and the number of millions is still unknown, since any vote would likely have to come before the Congressional Budget Office completes its analysis of the bill. The GOP senators insisted that the tens of billions in cuts to federal health spending proposed in the bill would not result in coverage losses because, they said, the states would have more flexibility.

“They can do it with less money,” said Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK), who was unable to explain how or why.

Other Republican senators, meanwhile, fell back on political explanations for a bill that experts warn could result in millions losing their insurance. “If we do nothing, it has a tremendous impact on the 2018 elections,” said Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS). “And whether or not Republicans still maintain control and we have the gavel.”

And then some members of the upper chamber acknowledged that the spending changes might have a big impact, but argued their home states would not be negatively impacted. “Four of our states are getting a disproportionate amount of money from health care now,” Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) said. The bill, he added, “wouldn’t cut Alabama.” (Numbers from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities suggest Alabama would receive more than $1 billion in additional funding under the bill, but most states would see big cuts.)

The stakes of the Republican rush to repeal and replace Obamacare could hardly be higher. The GOP has less than two weeks to pass a repeal-and-replace plan before their budget reconciliation instructions expire, and the insurance of tens of millions of Americans hangs in the balance.

Vox conducted the interviews with nine Republican senators throughout the Capitol and Russell Senate Office Building on Tuesday.

Transcripts of those conversations follow.

Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS): “If we do nothing, it has a tremendous impact on the 2018 elections” Roberts, right, of Kansas. Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

Jeff Stein

Senator, I wanted to ask you for a policy-based explanation for why you’re moving forward with the Graham-Cassidy proposal. What problems will this solve in the health care system?

Pat Roberts

That — that is the last stage out of Dodge City.

Jeff Stein

I’m just trying to explain to our readers what the policy —

Pat Roberts

What readers? Who do you represent?

Jeff Stein

It’s a website called Vox.

Pat Roberts

… [Graham-Cassidy] is the last stage out of Dodge City. I’m from Dodge City. So it’s the last stage out to do anything. Restoring decision-making back to the states is always a good idea, but this is not the best possible bill — this is the best bill possible under the circumstances.

If we do nothing, I think it has a tremendous impact on the 2018 elections. And whether or not Republicans still maintain control and we have the gavel.

Jeff Stein

But why does this bill make things better for Americans? How does it help?

Pat Roberts

Pardon me?

Jeff Stein

Why does this make things better? What is this doing?

Pat Roberts

Look, we’re in the back seat of a convertible being driven by Thelma and Louise, and we’re headed toward the canyon. That’s a movie that you’ve probably never seen —

Jeff Stein

I do know Thelma & Louise, sir.

Pat Roberts

So we have to get out of the car, and you have to have a car to get into, and this is the only car there is.

Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK): “Efficiencies” from federal-state transfer “can very well make up the difference” Inhofe. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Jeff Stein

What’s the policy explanation for the Graham-Cassidy bill? What substantive problems does this solve?

Jim Inhofe

Well, first of all, as a general rule the states do things better than the federal government does [things]. And that is essentially what the bill is. We actually had a bill that passed, except at the last minute — as you know — we had one deciding vote against it that was unforeseen. And I think what we’re looking at right now is essentially the same thing.

It’s a stronger position for the states to be in, and generally, Republicans agree with that.

Jeff Stein

I understand what you’re saying with the states having the ability to make these decisions, but the bill doesn’t just “give states more freedom” — it also cuts federal funding to the states. So it’s not just about giving the states more control; it’s also about cutting federal expenditures, right?

Jim Inhofe

Well, yes, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to be — I think the efficiencies that come with transferring the funding to the states can very well make up the difference between what the federal thing would be.

A philosophical difference — you know?

Jeff Stein

No, what do you mean?

Jim Inhofe

I mean it’s more efficient when it’s done from the states, and so they can do it with less money.

Jeff Stein

Are you confident, and how do you know those savings will be close to enough to protect everyone?

Jim Inhofe

Well, nothing protects everyone.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX): “It lets states innovate and adopt creative solutions” by Alex Wong/Getty Images

Jeff Stein

I’m looking for a broad policy explanation for what Graham-Cassidy will do — how does it improve the American health care system?

Ted Cruz

Well, the details of it are still being negotiated, but the heart of the legislation takes the policymaking role of Washington and sends it to the states. It lets states innovate and adopt creative solutions to local problems, which vary state by state.

Jeff Stein

But it’s not just devolving power from the federal government to the state. It also involves a 16 percent cut in federal spending [upfront] and a 34 percent cut over the next 10 years.

If you’re saying, “Let’s just devolve power to the states,” why also cut federal spending so dramatically?

Ted Cruz

My central focus from the beginning has been on lowering health insurance premiums.

The biggest reason so many millions of people are hurting under Obamacare is that it has made premiums skyrocket. And what I think is critical for Obamacare repeal is that we expand consumer freedom so that you, the consumer, can be in charge of what health insurance you want to buy, and we lower premiums so that health insurance is more affordable.

Jeff Stein

Why not wait until the CBO says what you’re saying about premiums? Why not confirm with them? Over the first few votes, the CBO suggested that premiums would go up and that tens of millions of people would lose health insurance.

Ted Cruz

CBO’s analysis throughout this process has been ridiculously slow, unreliable, and based on policy assumptions that are demonstrably false.

Jeff Stein

You really believe that cutting federal spending by 34 percent will not result in any other people losing their insurance?

Ted Cruz

What federal spending is cut?

Jeff Stein

Well, the Medicaid expansion would be sunset, for one, is my understanding.

Ted Cruz

The decrease in future rates of growth is not a cut. And it is only in the bizarre world of Washington that billions more money is characterized in the press as a cut rather than an increase, which is in fact what it is.

Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA): “Read the bill and you’ll understand” Kennedy. Jonathan Bachman / Stringer / Getty Images

Jeff Stein

What are the policy explanations for the bill?

John Kennedy

I think it’s an improvement over Obamacare, but I have sent four amendments to Lindsey [Graham] and Bill [Cassidy] that I think will strengthen the bill. The one I feel most strongly about is that I want the Medicaid work requirement — I don’t want it to be optional; I want it to be a requirement. Just like we did with welfare reform.

And number two, I want to get us to give guardrails to the states to say, “You cannot use these moneys to set up a state-run single-payer system.” I don’t believe in it. I think it’s a mistake.

I’ve lived under a single-payer system, and I think the bill would be stronger with that prohibition. [That’s an apparent reference to England, where Kennedy received a law degree in the 1970s and which has the National Health Service.]

[Guardian reporter] Lauren Gambino

Do you think that kind of goes against the idea of states’ rights and being able to use this money [as the states want to]?

John Kennedy

No, no. We have plenty of federal rules that apply to every state, but we still agree with states’ rights.

Jeff Stein

What are the main policy explanations for getting behind this bill? What does this bill do right, policy-wise?

John Kennedy

I think it’s an improvement over Obamacare.

Jeff Stein


John Kennedy

My position has always been that, number one, I think Obamacare has been a failure.

Number two: First chance I get to vote for repeal it, I’ll do it.

And number three: If it’s replacement, if replacement is better than Obamacare, I will vote for it.

Jeff Stein

What are the policies that make you think that?

John Kennedy

I think it spends scarce resources in a more rational manner. It will control costs. I like the idea that it encourages states to innovate.

Jeff Stein

How does it do that? Any of those things?

John Kennedy

Well, you need to read the bill.

Jeff Stein

Well, you’re voting for it, right? So what is the explanation for how it does those things?

John Kennedy

I am. Because it gives states added flexibility. Read the bill and you’ll understand.

Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL): “It wouldn’t cut Alabama, though” Shelby, right Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

Jeff Stein

In broad strokes, what do you think this bill is going to accomplish?

Richard Shelby

This is what a lot of us ran on — we’ve been advocating it for years. Let the states run it. They know more about it. They run the Medicaid program. They run our highway programs. We send 80 percent of money to various transit and highway stations — there, where the rubber hits the road.

Jeff Stein

But it’s not just that it devolves power to the states — it also involves a 16 percent cut in federal health spending.

Richard Shelby

But I’ll tell you what: Our states — our 50 states — are very flexible, very innovative. Much more so than we are here. I think it will work, and it will be a big step toward federalism.

Jeff Stein

The bill would cut federal funding to states by 34 percent over the next —

Richard Shelby

But it wouldn’t cut Alabama, though.

Jeff Stein

Well, do you think the other states should deal with —

Richard Shelby

Well, you see some of our states, four of our states, are getting a disproportionate amount of money from health care now. You know which ones.

Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA): “I don’t know what the numbers are going to end up looking like” Isakson, right. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Jeff Stein

What is the policy explanation for the Graham-Cassidy health care bill?

Johnny Isakson

Policy explanation? I’m not into policy, so I don’t really know. I’m into facts.

Jeff Stein

[In a follow-up interview hours later on Tuesday] You were joking earlier, but what is the health policy in the Graham-Cassidy proposal that you like?

Johnny Isakson

More state innovation. More input from the states.

Jeff Stein

What does that mean, exactly?

Johnny Isakson

The governors — I’m from a state that didn’t expand Medicaid, and the way we were going in health care looked like those states would actually be hurt worse than other states.

By going to block grants, back to the states, the control of money stays with the states, and you have less [un]predictability and external deviation in terms of funding.

Jeff Stein

So just a follow-up on that. It’s one thing to say the bill gives the states power — that’s one thing.

But it doesn’t just do that. It also cuts the money they have — some estimates say around 16 percent of federal funding.

Johnny Isakson

I’m not going to confirm that statement one way or another. I don’t know what the numbers are going to end up looking like.

Jeff Stein

Right, but if it does cut federal spending overall, would you support it?

Johnny Isakson

You know, those are dangerous questions. I’m waiting until I see the totality of the legislation to say whether I support the whole thing or not, anyway.

I’m not a no, but I’m not a yes either — and I’m waiting for my governor to respond to me with their input as well. It’s really key what they’re doing.

Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY): “The governors who decided to expand [Medicaid] knew that they were going to lose federal funding” Barrasso. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Jeff Stein

I want to ask, in a big-picture way: What is the policy explanation for how this bill makes people’s lives better?

John Barrasso

It gets the money out of Washington, lets people at home make the decision, and gets state legislatures involved, and governors involved. It moves money out of Washington. It’s away from socialism.

Jeff Stein

CBPP says it will also reduce federal health spending on Medicaid and the exchanges by about [20] percent.

John Barrasso

I’d love to reduce federal spending on health insurance.

Jeff Stein

Right, but so it’s not just about moving power to the states — it’s also about cutting funding.

John Barrasso

It’s about moving power to the states, where money can be spent much more effectively.

Jeff Stein

How does it do that?

John Barrasso

Well, you have to read the formula and read the bill, and it will tell you how it moves money to the states and how much they get and how much they don’t get. …

Jeff Stein

There’s a concern from Republican governors who have come out and said, “This is too dramatic a cut in spending; we won’t have enough money to insure everyone.”

John Barrasso

You have to interview them on that.

Jeff Stein

Do you think they’re wrong?

John Barrasso

Well, it depends on if they’re states that expanded Medicaid or not. …

Jeff Stein

In the Medicaid expansion states, they still have a lot of people who rely on Medicaid expansion for health insurance.

John Barrasso

I opposed Medicaid expansion. I think the Supreme Court got it wrong [when it ruled in 2012 that Congress did have the constitutional authority to implement most of Obamacare].

The governors who decided to expand [Medicaid] knew that they were going to lose federal funding over time, and they’re objecting to that — but they knew it. You could say, “Some of them didn’t understand it, and so-and-so wasn’t there, and he wasn’t governor yet,” but they understood that this would be part of the process. So if they used the money poorly —

And my concern with Medicaid is that the people who Medicaid was designed for originally have been cut out of the process, because they’re still on the waiting list to get on Medicaid. I don’t know how much you understand about Medicaid, but this whole expansion of Medicaid went for healthy, working-age individuals — it did not go for the people who [Medicaid] was designed for, which was low-income women, children, and the disabled.

Sen. Luther Strange (R-AL): “I like the idea of sending money back to the states and letting the states experiment” Strange. Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

Jeff Stein

I had a quick question on the Graham-Cassidy bill — could you explain what the policy purpose of the bill is? What is this bill going to achieve, policy-wise?

Luther Strange

Honestly, I have a meeting to talk about that shortly — so let me get back to you on that shortly. I have to talk to my staff.

Jeff Stein

[In a follow-up conversation with Strange about eight hours later]

So what do you think?

Luther Strange

We’re still looking at the details on how it affects Alabama, so we haven’t taken a position on it yet.

I like the idea of sending money back to the states and letting each state experiment with what’s best for their citizens. But I haven’t seen enough detail to know how it affects Alabama to have taken a position on it.

Jeff Stein

Do you worry about the billions in cuts in federal health care expenditures?

Luther Strange

That’s the kind of detail I haven’t seen on how it would affect our state.

Jeff Stein

Anything in particular you’ll be looking for?

Luther Strange

How it affects the state of Alabama, and how we are treated as a non-expansion state.

Jeff Stein

Will you be looking for protections for those with pre-existing conditions? What else matters?

Luther Strange

All of the above.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA): “This is the last attempt to do what we promised in the election” by Alex Wong/Getty Images

Jeff Stein

I was hoping you could explain, in broad detail, what the point of Graham-Cassidy is.

Chuck Grassley

Let me give you a political answer, and then I’ll give you a substance answer.

The political answer is that Republicans have promised for seven years that we were going to correct all the things that were wrong with Obamacare, and we failed the first eight months. This is the last attempt to do what we promised in the election.

The substance answer is that Obamacare starts with the principle that all knowledge about health care, and all decisions on health care, ought to rest in Washington, DC. The complete opposite of that is Graham-Cassidy, that Washington doesn’t know best and we’ll let each of the 50 states [decide what’s best].

Towards a Regenerative Food System


Towards a Regenerative Food System

Gunnar Rundgren, orig. published by Garden Earth,  September 7, 2017


Almost 40 years ago, in our small farm we were packing bags of vegetables to consumers

Almost 40 years ago, in our small farm we were packing bags of vegetables to consumers

Almost 40 years ago, in our small farm we were packing bags of vegetables to consumers that wanted good food. After a having spent thirty years with development of the organic sector, the entry of supermarkets and multinational food companies in the organic sector, development of certification systems and international trade – I am now back in a small farm packing bags of vegetables to consumers who want good food.

Industrial food and farming have been very successful in producing more food, and cheaper food. But it has come at a very high price as you all know. The practices have disturbed and destroyed important biological systems, in particular bio-diversity and the nitrogen and carbon cycles.

While food is abundant, the distribution system, the market, fails to reach almost 1 billion people which are hungry. Even in the rich EU every tenth person can’t afford a proper meal every second day.

More than anything else the global market fueled by oil and coal and shaped by merciless competition has been the factor that has determined the whole food system, from the prairies to the supermarket shelf, from the production of grain fed chicken to the emergence of fast food chains. The effects on biodiversity, landscape, rural development, and the quality and culture of food of this transformation is immense.

Agricultural policy in the EU as well as in most other countries has by and large supported this trend by a one-sided focus on competitiveness. The result is that 1 out of 4 farms have disappeared in the EU between 2003 and 2013, and almost 5 million full time jobs were lost, one third of all jobs in the agriculture sector. With current trends we will have 2 farms with 150 000 dairy cows each in Sweden at the end of the century.

Productivity in farming has increased quicker than in most other sectors. Farming has become a very capital intensive business where it often cost 1 million euros to create a full time job. The average Danish farm represent a capital investment of 2.5 million Euros, Dutch farms almost as much.

The combination of high capital costs, constant reduction of number of farms and farm workers and low profitability together explains well why so few young people enter the farm sector. As a matter of fact, in the modern economies many more people work in restaurants and cafés than in farming and food industries.

As a reaction to the development, organic farming, local foods, slow food, fair trade and alike has developed. And they play a very important role, both as agents of innovation and for their actual results.

We have come a long way and should be proud of the accomplishment.

However, these systems are, by and large, still subject to the same market imperatives of competition, profit and constant labor productivity increase. And increasingly so the more successful they are.

This limits their transformational power. Both Thomas Fertl and Nic Lampkin said that organic is more, more than regulations and more than markets, and I think most of you agree. But we have spent most of the sector’s energy in government regulations and conventional markets the last decades. Both are institutions we need to relate to if we want to be relevant and live in the real world. But they don’t carry the soul of organic and they are not fostering innovation. They are reflections of the past and not the image of the future.

A truly regenerative food and farm system will close loops of energy, nutrients and most importantly meaning and culture. It must reconnect people to the land and to farming.

We need to think carefully which are the best paths to reach there.

Let me take an example: The value of the ecosystem services and the external costs of a product can be higher than the commercial value of the product itself. FAO calculated external costs for the four most important crops and found that they were 1.8 times the farm gate prices for the same crops. Full and fair payment to farmers for ecosystem services and inclusion of costs for environmental damage sounds like a good idea. Who could object to that?

I could. For many reasons.

To calculate the real cost of production is not at all simple, and the calculated cost of using one method, say a kg of synthetic fertilizer, will differ enormously in different parts of the world, even within the same country. All valuation of nature is subjective. In a hugely unequal world it will be the priorities of the wealthy that determines the values. It would also require an administrative system and controls which would make the current CAP, and organic regulations, look like a kindergarten.

But the major objection to true cost accounting is that it puts even bigger pieces of nature under the rule of the market, a trend that I believe is contrary to the desired development.

So while the ambition is a good one – to reward good stewardship and discourage harmful practices – we need to think carefully about what we are asking for and how it can be realized.  The organic regulation is another example of how a good intention easily can become an obstacle.

Technology and natural science are great and there is still a lot to do there. We need to understand better the whole micro cosmos of the soil, as well as the linkages between the soil and the health of our bodies.

But, is it lack of knowledge that is the main limitation for farmers to produce sustainably? I believe most farmers do know how to farm sustainably. But there are economic and sometimes regulatory hurdles to the best behaviors. Examples are specialization and dropping rotations.

Some of the major challenges as well as the possible innovations are found in the political, social and economic arenas. It is encouraging to see that there is a lot of such innovation going on, even if many of them are taking place outside of the “certified organic” straight-jacket.

And perhaps we should not be so bothered about that. After all, certification and regulations are tools for the conventional market and they will not be the relevant tools when we seek to develop new relationships.

Organic, regenerative farming is a very important counter narrative to the eco-modernist narrative of GMOs, lab meats and vertical hydroponic farms, where the ideal is a food production that is land-less, sweat-less and dirt-less. In the end it is also soul-less, culture-less and human-less.

IFOAM EU propagates for organic on every table and Fair Play – fair pay and it wants to improve, inspire and deliver. And it promotes the transformation of the food system. Cornerstones for such new food systems need to be:

  •       Food as a human right rather than a commodity
  •       Food as culture rather than the intake of prescribed nutrients
  •       Food producing resources – land, water, seeds and breeds – should be seen as common goods rather than assets which can be traded and speculated in
  •     New relationships in agriculture and food built on cooperation rather than competition
  •    Food and agriculture based on local resources and linkages rather than on international trade and global supply chains
  •    Farming is not only seen as production of food but as much as planetary stewardship

Let us apply the organic principles of health, fairness, ecology and care on the whole food system and not only on the farms. 

(Speech at the European Organic Conference in Talinn 6 September 2017)


The Victory Speech Hillary Clinton Never Gave Is Devastating


The Victory Speech Hillary Clinton Never Gave Is Devastating

Rebecca Shapiro, HuffPost      September 20, 2017

About halfway through Hillary Clinton’s election memoir, What Happened, the former Democratic presidential candidate quotes 19th century poet John Greenleaf Whittier:

“For all sad words of tongue and pen, the saddest are these: ‘It might have been.’”

Throughout the book, Clinton discusses the ins-and-outs of her stunning loss to Donald Trump, but arguably no detail captures the above sentiment more than a passage from the victory speech she planned to give on election night.

Clinton shared the ending with readers, noting that she never had the chance.

She planned to conclude her remarks by saying if she could go back in time and tell anyone in history about becoming president, she would pick her mom, Dorothy Howell Rodham, who died in 2011. Rodham was abandoned by her parents at the age of 8 and sent on a train to relatives halfway across the country, who would end up mistreating her.

Clinton writes of this imaginary visit:

“Sometimes I think about her on that train. I wish I could walk down the aisle and find the little wooden seats where she sat, holding tight to her even younger sister, alone, terrified. She doesn’t yet know how much she will suffer … I dream of going up to her, and sitting down next to her … and saying, ‘Look at me. Listen to me. You will survive. You will have a good family of your own, and three children. And as hard as it might be to imagine, your daughter will grow up and become the President of the United States.’”

Soon after Clinton conceded the election to Trump, The Washington Post published photographs of what Clinton’s history-making victory speech was supposed to look like at New York City’s Jacob K. Javits Convention Center. Clinton’s campaign had planned for her to stand in the center of the United States outline, which was invisible to those in the room.

“It was meant to be revealed when Clinton spoke upon being declared president-elect,” the Post reported.

New report details just how toxic Trump’s environmental agenda has been thus far


New report details just how toxic Trump’s environmental agenda has been thus far

The Trump administration is increasing the environmental burden on low-income communities of color, a new report finds.

Natasha Geiling     September 19, 2017 oil refinery plant in Pasadena, Texas. (CREDIT: AP Photo/Frank Bajak)

From fast-tracking the Dakota Access pipeline to failing to ban a potentially brain-damaging pesticide, the Trump administration’s environmental policies have already negatively impacted the country’s most vulnerable communities, according to a newly-released report from the Environmental Data and Governance Initiative.

During EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s confirmation process, he told senators that he was “familiar with the concept of environmental justice” and that “all Americans be treated equally under the law, including the environmental laws.” Despite those assurances, however, the report, titled “Pursuing A Toxic Agenda,” tracks a slew of policy and budget choices made by the Trump administration in its first seven months and concludes that “the Trump administration poses the most serious threat the EPA has faced in the agency’s 47-year existence.”

Mustafa Santiago Ali, former head of the environmental justice program at the Environmental Protection Agency and current senior vice president of climate, environmental justice and community revitalization for the Hip Hop Caucus, agrees with the report’s conclusions.

“This is one of the most challenging times for the agency,” Ali told ThinkProgress. “There seems to be a direct assault on communities of color, low income communities, and indigenous communities based on the policies that [the Trump administration] have proposed and tried to move forward on.”

Ali, who left the EPA in March after seeing the agency begin to pursue “values and priorities” different than his own, said that he has yet to see the administration propose a policy that would directly benefit vulnerable communities. Instead, Ali noted Pruitt’s stated goal of wanting to “dismantle” the EPA in its traditional form and turn it into an agency that works more for industry stakeholders than the American public.

“There’s this huge disconnect between what is needed, and what is being asked for from anyone except the fossil fuel industry,” Ali said.

Still, as the report notes, there are opportunities for the environmental justice movement to make progress under the Trump administration — just so long as they don’t involve the federal government. At least for the duration of the Trump administration, the report suggests that the EPA and the federal government will not be the appropriate avenues for pursuing progress in environmental justice. Instead, the report suggests that civil society as well as local governments need to take a more active role in ensuring that the tenets of environmental justice are incorporated into policy planning.

“The federal government does not get a pass. They have a distinct responsibility for addressing these issues inside of our most vulnerable communities,” Ali said. But, he added, groups like faith-based organizations, academic institutions, and philanthropic foundations also have an important role to play in furthering environmental justice during the Trump administration.

“All of these folks have got to come together and work in authentic, collaborative partnerships,” Ali said. “That is the way we will move our most vulnerable communities to surviving to thriving.

Even with help from civil society and local government, however, several Trump-era environmental policies are already placing vulnerable communities in danger. Specifically, the report cites rollbacks in environmental justice policies within the EPA which are already placing farm workers and communities living near industrial facilities at risk. The report notes EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s decision not to ban chlorpyrifos — a widely-used pesticide that EPA scientists had linked to brain damage in children — as a policy that will have an outsized impact on the health of farm workers and farming communities. Just over a month after declining to ban chlorpyrifos, the chemical was implicated in the poisoning of at least twelve farm workers in California, all of whom reported symptoms of vomiting and nausea after exposure.

The report also highlights Trump’s executive order to fast-track completion of the Dakota Access pipeline as an example of the administration’s preference for industry over vulnerable communities. In December, after months of protest by indigenous communities as well as social justice and environmental groups, the Obama administration temporarily halted construction on the controversial pipeline and ordered the Army Corps of Engineers to conduct a full study of the pipeline’s potential environmental impacts. A month later, President Trump issued an executive order directing the Army Corps to approve the pipeline in an “expedited” manner, effectively canceling the previous administration’s request for further environmental review,

Indigenous groups won a victory in mid-June, however, when a court found that the administration had failed to fully consider the environmental impacts of the project, especially on the drinking water of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe. The court ordered the Army Corps of Engineers to more fully consider the project’s potential impacts, though it’s unclear whether the pipeline will remain operational during the review. It became operational in June and has already suffered three minor leaks.

The report also cites the Trump administration’s decision to delay an Obama-era update to the rules that govern how industrial facilities — particularly those that store hazardous chemicals — plan for and respond to potential disasters. Known as the Risk Management Plan rule, the Obama administration’s updates would have required facilities to contract with third-party auditors following accidents and would have forced companies to create enhanced emergency response plans in the event of a toxic discharge. In March, Pruitt announced that the EPA was delaying implementation of these RMP updates until 2019, citing requests from industry.

Just months later, in the wake of devastating flooding from Hurricane Harvey that left parts of Houston under feet of water, the Arkema chemical plant in Crosby, Texas suffered a series of explosions and fires. More than 300 residents were evacuated from a 1.5-mile radius around the plant to avoid any toxic health impacts. The facility would have been covered by the updated RMP plan, but the company was part of the industry coalition that lobbied for its delay.

Facilities that handle hazardous chemicals and waste tend to be disproportionately concentrated in low-income communities of color, meaning that facilities impacted by the delay of the RMP rule are more likely to be near vulnerable communities.

The report also looks at suggested cuts to the EPA’s environmental justice programs, as presented in the Trump administration’s proposed budget. The administration has proposed eliminating eliminate the Lead Risk Reduction Program, for instance, which is charged with reducing childhood exposure to lead-based paint. The Trump administration has also proposed eliminating the Department of Justice’s budget to help EPA prosecute Superfund cases to ensure that industry actors actually work to remediate the areas they have polluted.

Conflicting decisions on pipelines frustrate industry, landowners


A reporting project of NPR Member Stations- Pennsylvania

Conflicting decisions on pipelines frustrate industry, landowners

By Marie Cusick       September 18, 2017 Cusick / StateImpact Pennsylvania

Hundreds of Cathy Holleran’s maple trees were cut down, through the use of eminent domain, for an interstate natural gas pipeline that’s now stalled.

In March 2016, workers for one of the nation’s largest natural gas pipeline companies cut down a large swath of maple trees in Susquehanna County–a rural patch of northeastern Pennsylvania. A video shot by an activist shows the trees crashing down as chainsaws buzz.

Cathy Holleran was powerless to stop it. At the time, she was tapping the trees for her family’s maple syrup business, but the pipeline company condemned her land using the power of eminent domain.

Armed U.S. Marshals

Driving around a year-and-a half later, she’s still in disbelief. A court order had prevented her from interfering, and law enforcement officers came to protect the pipeline workers.

“We had to stay completely away. They brought armed U.S. Marshals with assault rifles and Pennsylvania State Police, and had guys walking all over property in bullet proof vests,” Holleran recalls. “I mean, really! We’re making syrup. What are we going to do? Are we going to go attack these guys?”

Walking through her property on a recent soggy September afternoon, Holleran finds tree stumps hidden beneath shoulder-high weeds.

“This used to all be woods– as thick as that,” she says, gesturing to a cluster of remaining trees.

By her count, she lost more than 550 maples, “I went through with my camera and took pictures from every angle and counted them by hand to make sure I was accurate.”

She says her family’s maple syrup business has been cut in half. But the real shame of it all, Holleran adds, is this may all have been for nothing.

The Constitution Pipeline was supposed to emanate from northeastern Pennsylvania, and run 121 miles through New York State. Federal regulators gave their blessing to the project. So did Pennsylvania regulators. But New York State (whose border is about 20 miles from Holleran’s land) refused to grant a necessary water permit.

The pipeline company, Williams, sued, but a federal court recently sided with New York. Holleran says she’d warned the company of this possibility.

“All along we kept saying, ‘You might not get through New York. You might not get your permits. You’re gonna come through here and cut our land?’”

Williams spokesman, Chris Stockton, says at the time the company was working with New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation, and the permit was advancing.

“We were addressing their concerns as they came up,” he says. “We had no reason to think we would not receive that permit. We were playing by the rules and doing everything we needed to do.”

‘The rules of the game have changed’

“What happened with the Constitution was a surprise,” says Fred Lowther, a partner with the law firm Blank Rome, who’s represented major oil and gas pipeline companies.

It reminds him of another ruling, about a decade ago, when the industry ran into a similar problem: a state killed a federally-approved pipeline. The Islander East project was supposed to run from Connecticut, under Long Island Sound. But Connecticut wouldn’t give it a water quality certificate, claiming it would damage nearly 600 acres of clam beds. And when the pipeline companies sued, a federal court sided with the state.

“It caused quite a stir in the industry,” Lowther says of the ruling. “Because the intention was not to give states the veto power over a federally-approved project, but to give them a say in how the project was shaped.”

History appears to be repeating itself with the Constitution Pipeline. Lowther says pipeline companies will likely be more cautious.

“I think going forward, people will be very careful before they authorize either the taking of land or the clearing of right of way,” he says.

It has long been assumed by the pipeline industry that once their projects get approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) the state permits fall into place.

“Historically, that has not been a problem,” says Mark Robinson, a gas industry consultant who used to work at FERC. ”We’re kinda in a new arena now. The rules of the game have changed a little bit.”

In a surprise move earlier this month, West Virginia environmental regulators rescinded a water certificate for another federally-authorized natural gas pipeline. Robinson warns states shouldn’t be able to unilaterally reject important, interstate projects.

“I imagine you’ll see significant pushback from the pipeline industry,” he says.

Last week FERC overruled New York environmental regulators in their denial of a water permit to another pipeline, saying the state had taken too long with its review and thus “waived” its authority.

Landowners often find themselves with few options. Angela McGowan is an attorney for the Harrisburg for the firm, Pillar Aught. She’s represented property owners dealing with other new pipelines in Pennsylvania, and says the industry generally has the upper hand—they just have to pay the people whose land their taking.

Eminent domain occurs in a sort of vacuum, she explains. The law doesn’t consider whether a pipeline company has all its permits in hand–  the i’s dotted and the t’s crossed.

“The eminent domain code basically just says you’ve got to prove you have the power,” says McGowan. “Once you do that, it’s just about what the ‘just compensation’ is.”

But Cathy Holleran is waiting for answers. She and the company are still in court and haven’t agreed on how much she should be paid.

“I can’t even tell you the amount of stress, personally, this has put us through,” she says.

The conflicting decisions from the state of New York and the federal government have left her with heaps of rotting maple trees strewn across her property.

Florida Barrier Islands Devastated by Storms


Hurricanes need open water to survive. When these storms hit Florida, barrier islands and mangrove forests provide natural protection. But sea level rise is inundating both, making Floridians more vulnerable.

Now, Hurricane Maria causes ‘mind boggling’ damage to Dominica, and is on path to Puerto Rico:

Hurricanes need open water to survive. When these storms hit Florida, barrier islands and mangrove forests provide natural protection. But sea level rise is inundating both, making Floridians more vulnerable. Now, Hurricane Maria causes 'mind boggling' damage to Dominica, and is on path to Puerto Rico: Years of Living Dangerously #YEARSproject

Posted by EcoWatch on Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Category 5 Hurricane Maria Causes ‘Mind Boggling’ Damage to Dominica, on Path to Puerto Rico


Category 5 Hurricane Maria Causes ‘Mind Boggling’ Damage to Dominica, on Path to Puerto Rico eye of Category 5 Hurricane Maria moving over Dominica. NWS San Juan‏ Twitter

Lorraine Chow    September 19, 2017

Hurricane Maria made landfall as a Category 5 storm in Dominica on Monday night and left “mind boggling” damage to the island nation, according to the country’s prime minister.

While no deaths or injuries were immediately reported, Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerritt wrote in a Facebook post that the hurricane caused “widespread devastation” and residents “have lost all what money can buy and replace.”

Winds up to 160 miles per hour ripped the roofs off of buildings, including Skerritt’s own home.

He noted, “I am honestly not preoccupied with physical damage at this time, because it is devastating … indeed, mind boggling. My focus now is in rescuing the trapped and securing medical assistance for the injured.”

“We will need help, my friend, we will need help of all kinds.”

Maria started as a tropical storm over a day ago but wind speeds rapidly ramped up another 90 miles per hour within 27 hours, National Weather Service said.

BBC meteorologist Steve Cleaton explained that Maria gathered strength due to the area’s elevated sea surface temperatures, which are “anomalously high by a margin of around one to two degrees,” as well as other favorable atmospheric conditions such as low wind shear.

The “potentially catastrophic” storm now heads northwest towards the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, National Hurricane Center (NHC) senior hurricane specialist Mike Brennan warned in a video update Tuesday morning.

Brennan said he was “very concerned” of the potentially Category 4 or 5 winds moving through the area, as well as storm surges and extreme rainfall.

According to the NHC, a storm surge accompanied by large and destructive waves could raise water levels by as much as 7 to 11 feet above normal tide levels in portions of the Leeward Islands and the British Virgin Islands, and 6 to 9 feet in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

As for extreme rainfall, the central and southern Leeward Islands can expect 10 to 15 inches, and isolated areas of up to 20 inches. U.S. and British Virgin Islands can expect 10 to 15 inches, and isolated areas of up to 20 inches. Puerto Rico might see 12 to 18 inches, and isolated areas of up to 25 inches.

“Everybody in those islands should have their preparations rushed to completion very, very soon as conditions will begin to deteriorate today,” Brennan urged.

Maria is the third major hurricane to tear through the already devastated Caribbean islands in recent weeks.

President Donald Trump has declared a federal emergency in the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, authorizing the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate all disaster relief efforts.

Greenland actually caught fire — and that’s bad news for our planet.

Verge Science

Greenland actually caught fire — and that’s bad news for our planet.

Greenland caught fire

Greenland actually caught fire — and that's bad news for our planet.

Posted by Verge Science on Saturday, September 16, 2017

The U.S. Political System Has Been ‘Hijacked’

The Intellectualist

Harvard Business School: The U.S. Political System Has Been ‘Hijacked’

by Yossarian Johnson      September 14, 2017 

A new case study by Harvard Business School asserts that U.S. politicians have rigged the system to such a degree that the U.S. is on its way to becoming a failed democracy.

A new case study by Harvard Business School asserts that U.S. politicians have rigged the system to such a degree that the U.S. is becoming a failed democracy. The authors of the case-study use the word ‘hijacked’ to describe what the political parties have done to governance in the United States.

Some tidbits:

“America’s political system was long the envy of the world. It advanced the public interest and gave rise to a grand history of policy innovations that fostered both economic and social progress. Today, however, our political system has become the major barrier to solving nearly every important challenge our nation needs to address. This was the unexpected conclusion of the multiyear Project on U.S. Competitiveness at Harvard Business School, established in 2011 to understand the causes of America’s weak economic performance and rising inequality that predated the Great Recession.”

The authors point to a number of American pathologies that do not plague other advanced nations.

“A similar failure to progress has also afflicted the nation’s social agenda. In areas such as public education, health and wellness, personal safety, water and sanitation, environmental quality, and tolerance and inclusion, among others, U.S. progress has stalled or gone in reverse. In these areas, where America was often a pioneer and leader, the U.S. has fallen well down the list compared to other advanced countries. Tolerance, inclusion, and personal freedom are registering troubling declines, a sign of growing divisions in our society.”

A poorly educated population

“In public education, of particular significance for citizen opportunity, in math the U.S. was ranked 31st out of 35 OECD countries (the other advanced economies using the respected PISA process) in 2015, down from 25 in 2009, 20th in reading (down from 14) and 19th in science (down from 17). Instead of progress, then, our government is mired in gridlock and inaction. Increasingly over the decades, Congress has been unable to get things done, especially on important issues.”

The authors of the piece note how the Founders of the United States would find the rules that govern the country unrecognizable today.

“The result: America’s political system today would be unrecognizable to our founders. In fact, certain of our founders warned against political parties. John Adams, our second President, said, “There is nothing which I dread so much as a division of the republic into two great parties, each arranged under its leader, and concerting measures in opposition to each other.” Our founders— and most Americans today—would be shocked by the extent to which our democracy has been hijacked by the private and largely unaccountable organizations that constitute today’s political industrial complex.”



 Highball326:      When only one person can throw a wrench into the works in the senate and the speaker can block any vote on the house floor – yes, the democracy is broken


pritch1961:       I am, by nature, an optimistic person, and my little quite voice is asking, is the damage being done to our democracy permanent? Or will it only last as long as the trump disease is in the White House? Yes, there will need to be a clean up, but as soon as the next political leader gets the keys, starts the clean up, and puts his/her agenda forward, things will begin to get perceptibly better.


Hoobuck:        As someone who is doing what he can as a voter to correct the issues in this study, I must say pritch 1961, you are part of the problem mentioned in the study. The study talks about not enough moderates, me, and too many people way out to one side or the other, pritch 1961. I have not voted for a GOP or Dem. candidate for a national office, be it President, Senator or Congressman for over a decade. For our problems to be corrected, we need 2 things to happen immediately. 1. Vote every Senator and Congressman out of office in, at least, the next 2 elections. Maybe by then they would realize that they work for us and not the lobbyists trying to buy their vote. 2. The establishment of a viable and strong 3rd party. Maybe I should add a third. A Constitutional amendment forcing politicians to live under the same laws that they pass for us. No exceptions for retirement, health insurance for anything else.


Dragonqueen:       Say what? Did they need Harvard to do a case study to figure this out? All I had to do was watch the media stories, listen to a few political speeches, and watch things happen. No, pritch1961, the damage will not last only as long as ‘the trump disease’ is in the White House. Things have been going downhill for DECADES, and a change in presidents will not change that. The Congress is full of self-serving leeches who have been in there running the show for decades, and it is their lack of concern for the people they claim to represent, who have been stupid enough to continue voting them back into office in the deluded belief that the candidates’ abuse of power will somehow profit them, when in reality none of them have any interest whatsoever in the citizens paying their inflated salaries, outrageous health care, and obscene retirement benefits. As long as those parasites are allowed to remain in office, they will convince the public over and over that everything wrong with this nation is the fault of somebody who has never been one of them and will soon be gone. Even a double term of eight years is nothing to the politicians in office for their lifetimes. I agree with Hoobuck except that I believe all political parties should be outlawed. Every candidate should be forced to stand for his/her own beliefs, ideas, and should be forced to fill out an application in essay form before being allowed to run for any office. I’m sick and tired of “I’m following the party platform.” It’s time they learn to work together for the common good instead of whoever gives them the most money.


Plantiful:       Our government has failed to work for us since the Carter administration…. remember our “going metric” in the 1970s, with corporations terrorizing everyone with threats of not knowing how much deli meat mom should order… what clothes to wear if it’s 15°C, or how tall someone is…. it takes a week to figure things out. The real issue is that corporations did not want the one-time expense of re-tooling for metric, and that was it. We are still one of three countries in the modern world who use this antiquated American system…. with the other two being the economic super-powers Liberia and Burma.

As far as our “two” parties who serve the same corporate masters, they are both corrupt and completely opposite to our quality of life. Billy Clinton changed the Democrats into the New Democrats, chasing corporate donations. They, like the Republicans, will fight any function of government that threatens corporate profits (and their “donations”). The Democrats of California passed Universal healthcare through their Senate. Their Assembly pulled it from the floor so it will not pass and no one needs to be singled out for voting against it. This is pure, simple corruption.

The fix?

We must get rid of both Parties from the government. The Electoral College only allows two, major parties and they have rigged it so that other parties cannot gain traction. Ideally, there would be no need for political parties, but they will exist as a collective force working under similar ideology. If we encourage Republicans to register as Independent or Libertarian and Democrats to register as Independent of Green, the two parties will disappear and go away.

From there, publicly funded elections, where every candidate running for an office will get the same budget for his/her campaign. Only that money can be spent on a campaign. What would we get for a politician? Someone who was the most effective candidate in getting his/her message to us, and under a budget. Effective, efficient, and accountable only to us.

Then, and only then, could we have any discussion on universal healthcare, a respectable public education, strong infrastructure, a responsible banking sector (imagine), a meaningful sustainable energy policy (we like to have our society sustained into the future… Right?)…

This has to be done collectively and quickly.

TrulyAwoken:     I agree with Plantiful. Our two party system is not what this country needs. But speaking from outside the government the people have been brainwashed to believe ideals such as Socialism is the same as Communism. People have been brainwashed to believe that others ideas are no good. Now with someone like Trump in the white house he is using the fact that there is a two party system to divide and conquer. You see within both parties they are beginning to split because of extremists. Until we either add other parties into the mix or get rid of parties all together will things change.

The other issue is big corporations as well as Christianity has to much of a grip on our government. They shouldn’t have a say in what happens in our government. We were originally set up so the American citizen could have a say essentially to what happens in our country. The line “for the people” no longer holds true, it’s now “for the business”. Capitalism sounds wonderful but it’s not.

It is quite possible that we need to become a Socialist country and end being a democracy. We are not a democracy as it stands. We are an Oligarchy and a Plutocracy, but we are not a democracy.

It is time for change or change won’t happen.