Fighting Hunger with Community in the Era of Coronavirus
The founder of D.C. Central Kitchen offers a list of ways to feed and care for our neighbors in this time of uncertainty.
By Robert Egger, Food Access, Health, Nutrition March 13, 2020
Coronavirus is producing a wave of need that will likely overwhelm most local food distribution charities and meal programs. But that doesn’t mean people have to go hungry.
Even before this virus hit, food banks and pantries were struggling to meet the needs of an estimated 37 million Americans who routinely struggle with hunger. Similarly, in many communities there’s a waiting list for Meals on Wheels, the main vehicle through which many home-bound elders access meals. Now, these and other networks are facing an unprecedented trifecta of difficulty.
Charitable donations of food and money—the lifeblood of all nonprofits—will likely be impacted by the economic tailspin caused by the virus. Volunteerism will also decrease, as companies, religious groups, schools, and individuals pull back out of concern for their members’ safety. (In addition, many volunteers are seniors, and they will need to step back from the work for their own safety.) Finally, demand for free and low-cost food will soar, as Americans of all ages, who are impacted by lay-offs, canceled events, and retirement plan losses will turn to charities for help.
We have to admit, as we have with our healthcare system, that our charitable systems aren’t prepared to meet an emergency of this level. So, we need to innovate—and we need to do it fast.
While the federal government weighs its response, and national groups including Feeding America, Meals on Wheels, and others work overtime to keep their networks sourced with food, we should also look at how to support our own communities in this unprecedented movement of anxiety, fear, and need. Here are my suggestions:
Launch an elder grocery support network. Many communities have Facebook or Nextdoor pages dedicated to sharing news. These can be activated to enlist healthy, willing, and able-bodied volunteers to shop and run errands for frightened, health-compromised elders. Physical contact must be limited, but volunteers can leave groceries outside people’s homes and funds can be transferred electronically before or after the supplies are bought. Volunteers can shop later at night to avoid crowds. Volunteers can also make stops at pharmacies or drug stores and elders should be reminded to buy things they might need if they become ill. For example, Gatorade or other forms of electrolytes could be vital. Also ask about pets’ needs.
Start a shared meal program. As you shop for your own supplies, consider buying extra food to prepare meals for neighbors. Rice and beans, soup, chili, and baked pasta are all easy, affordable options. Cost-conscious recipes are easy to find online. Food safety must be a priority. Cook food to a proper temperature, and deliver anything you make within two hours, to avoid contamination. Use disposable bowls and plates if you can, to avoid the need to return containers. If possible, try to use microwave-friendly packaging (avoid tinfoil and styrofoam). Write a note of comfort, and include the time the meal was cooked and any reheating directions.
Fight isolation. For many elders, the pain of loneliness often exceeds that of hunger. Organize your community to check in with people. Walk your neighbors’ dogs, help tend their gardens, or cut some spring flowers to brighten their worlds. You can chat, or drink a glass of wine together by phone or over video, which gives you the ability to communicate eye-to-eye with people. Either way, if you can help lessen the impact of this period of social isolation, it will go a long way.
As my friend Chef José Andrés of World Central Kitchen said recently, “Sometimes the bigger problems we face in humanity have simple solutions. But they don’t happen when we’re in continuous meetings about how to solve them.… Stop talking, stop planning, and start cooking.” I couldn’t agree more.
We’re in the midst of an unprecedented disaster, and we can’t expect charity, or the government to meet the rising need. Nor can we let fear overcome us. Now is the time to fight hunger with community. You can be a local hero who stands up and says, “Let’s do this.” All it takes is determination, compassion, and a working kitchen.
Congress Races to Address Food Insecurity in Its Legislative Response to COVID-19
Seeking to support vulnerable populations impacted by coronavirus, the two bills are facing resistance from the White House and some Republicans.
By Lisa Held, Food Access and Policy, Health March 13, 2020
Editor’s note: This is a developing story; Civil Eats will update as the news evolves.
March 16, 2020 update: Early on Saturday, March 14, the House passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act with strong bipartisan support, and with many of the provisions described in the original article below included.
The final text includes language that gives USDA the ability to waive various requirements that are preventing districts from feeding hungry children while schools are shuttered. As of March 15, at least 64,000 schools have closed, affecting more than 32.5 million students.
On SNAP, the final bill prevents eligibility restrictions during a public health emergency and gives states some flexibility to ask for emergency allotments, but does not directly increase benefits. It also provides an additional $500 million in funding for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program and an additional $250 million for food programs for low-income seniors, through September 2021.
The Senate is expected to take up the bill today. While some Republicans and President Trump have signaled support, its fate is still uncertain.
March 13, 2020, 3pm ET update:In a press conference at 2:00pm ET, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the House will be “passing a bill” today. “Our bill takes aggressive action to strengthen food security initiatives including student meals as well as SNAP, senior meals, and food banks,” she said. However, Civil Eats has yet to see a final version of the legislative package, called the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. So it remains unclear which of the provisions on school meals and SNAP benefits (described below, as provisions of separate marker bills) will make it into the final legislation.
March 13, 2020, 11am ET update: As of early Friday, House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-California) and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin continue to negotiate the package of legislation; a vote in the House of Representatives is expected today. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell adjourned for the weekend on Thursday, but canceled the Senate’s scheduled recess next week, so a vote on the legislative package could happen next week if the House passes the bill.
At least 10,600 schools have closed across the U.S., affecting at least 4.9 million students. Five states have closed their schools entirely: Ohio, Maryland, New Mexico, Michigan, and Washington.
The original news story begins below.
On Wednesday, House lawmakers introduced an emergency legislative package to address the impacts of the coronavirus outbreak. In addition to testing and sick-leave provisions, the bill attempts to tackle food insecurity by increasing access to federal food assistance and ensuring that low-income students still receive meals when schools close.
“As the coronavirus continues to spread, we must make sure everyone, especially low-income families, have access to nutrition assistance benefits,” said Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-California), a co-sponsor of the Ensuring Emergency Food Security Now Act, in a press release. “As a former food stamps recipient, I know how important programs like SNAP are during troubled times, and now is the time to expand access, not restrict it. This bill will ensure that our communities’ needs are still being met in a robust way.”
The same day, the World Health Organization (WHO) officially labeled the coronavirus outbreak a global pandemic. And although the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, is currently at 938 (with 29 deaths), those numbers are expected to rise quickly.
As schools, workplaces, and other public places have been shutting down—for prevention as well as quarantine—many families are packing their pantries. But families living paycheck to paycheck and using Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits to get dinner on the table each night don’t have the resources to stock up.
“I think what this [crisis] does is it illuminates the most vulnerable populations. That’s kids, hungry people, veterans, seniors, and the working families who rely on the emergency food system every single day, [even] without a crisis,” said Noreen Springstead, the executive director of nonprofit hunger-relief organization WhyHunger. “Losing 20 percent of your stock portfolio feels horrible, but when you can’t feed your child and you’re in survival mode, that feels so threatening.”
The sweeping package of legislation covers a wide range of issues, including guaranteeing paid sick leave for workers and waiving the costs of coronavirus tests. It also addresses food security in two parts, written as marker bills that will be incorporated into the larger, comprehensive legislation.
The Ensuring Emergency Food Security Now Act increases the value of SNAP benefits for recipients through September 2020 and provides the funding needed for states to make those increases. Springstead said the simple approach is “the most effective way” to quickly address the issue, as it will put “money for food and nourishment into the hands of the most vulnerable, who will then use those federal dollars in local stores to generate economic activity.”
The bill also designates extra funding for federal food distribution on Native American reservations and blocks any new SNAP eligibility requirements from going into effect. That provision is meant to prevent the Trump administration’s new SNAP eligibility rules—which are scheduled to go into effect on April 1—from removing an estimated 700,000 people from the program.
Meanwhile, there is growing attention to how students who rely on federal meal programs will continue to eat if more school districts close. Close to 22 million children across the country receive free or reduced-price lunches in public schools. According to Education Week, which is tracking closures, as of March 12, 2,100 schools serving more than 1.3 million students have already closed or are set to do so.
The USDA has begun granting waivers to states to allow them to activate the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) to feed children and waive the requirement that meals be served communally. However, SFSP only allows meal service in places where at least 50 percent of the student population is eligible for free or reduced lunch, meaning low-income students in wealthier districts would not have access to meals. At a House hearing on Tuesday, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Sonny Perdue said the agency would like to offer meals in other areas, but “we don’t believe we have the legal and statutory authority” to do so.
The COVID–19 Child Nutrition Response Act intends to resolve that issue. Sponsored by Representatives James Comer (R-Kentucky) and Suzanne Bonamici (D-Oregon), the bipartisan bill “will create a nationwide waiver authority, allow school officials to distribute food in any number of settings across all nutrition programs, and allow for flexibility on meal components if food supply or procurement is disrupted.”
Maintaining access to “federally funded school meals is going to be critical,” as the situation progresses, Springstead said, and how schools will manage implementing changes to meal service remains to be seen. (At least one district in Seattle that has moved to online classes is using an online ordering and distributed pickup option to get meals to students and their parents.)
Both bills are part of a package that House speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California) is pushing toward a vote on Thursday. Pelosi has been working on negotiating components of the package with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, but President Trump said he does not support the legislation, signaling likely Republican resistance in the Senate.
If the legislation does make it through both chambers of Congress and is signed into law, it’s also unclear how quickly the changes will be able to go into effect.
When it comes to something as pressing as vulnerable populations having access to food, representatives like Rosa DeLauro (D-Connecticut) are stressing the urgency. “Too often, people who are living paycheck-to-paycheck are forgotten,” she said in a press release, “and it is exactly at times like these that we must be thinking about them and doing everything we can to help them.”
House wins access to Mueller grand jury details, appeals court rules
By Katelyn Polantz, CNN March 10, 2020
(CNN)The House of Representatives has won access to secret grand jury material gathered in former special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation and cited in The Mueller Report, the DC Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on Tuesday.
The ruling may breathe new life into a House Judiciary Committee investigation into President Donald Trump for obstruction of justice, which failed to gain steam since Mueller issued his report on Trump and testified last summer and since the White House has blocked administration witnesses from appearing before Congress.
The appeals panel sided with an earlier ruling from the chief judge of the DC District Court, who had roundly criticized the Justice Department’s legal theories to keep the Mueller materials under seal and who had endorsed the House’s investigation into President Trump. The appeals court agreed that the House Judiciary Committee has a “compelling need” to view the secretive details prosecutors had collected from witnesses and about the President.
Read: Court ruling granting House access to Mueller grand jury material
The decision, which was split 2-1, highlights how the judicial branch typically stays away from interfering with other government branches’ activities but in this case asserted control over grand jury material. The Justice Department could appeal the Mueller grand jury decision to the Supreme Court or again to the DC-based appeals court. A Justice Department spokeswoman said the department is reviewing the court’s decision.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler applauded the court’s ruling on Tuesday, and the committee pledged it would plan to work with the House Intelligence Committee to review the secret material.
“The Justice Department has consistently provided grand jury material to the Committee in past investigations involving Presidential misconduct — but Attorney General (William) Barr chose to break from that long-standing practice, and DOJ radically altered its position in an attempt to withhold this information,” Nadler said in a statement following the decision. “The court today correctly rejected DOJ’s arguments and held that the Committee is entitled to these materials.
“The Committee remains committed to holding the President accountable to the rule of law and preventing improper interference in law enforcement investigations,” Nadler added.
Mueller found Trump attempted to obstruct the Russia investigation on several occasions, but declined to make a decision whether to prosecute him. Mueller had cited, among other things, Justice Department policy not to indict a sitting president, and Justice Department leadership decided not to bring any charge against Trump. Mueller also didn’t charge any Americans with conspiracy with the Russians, though the former special counsel’s report noted many communications between Russian officials and the 2016 Trump campaign. Six former Trump associates and top campaign leaders were convicted of obstructing justice for lying to investigators or Congress.
The House had told the courts it wants the still-confidential Mueller findings and grand jury material so it can investigate the President for potential obstruction of justice during the Russia investigation. The House especially raised questions about what campaign witnesses told Mueller versus what Trump said to Mueller in written answers — saying he didn’t recall conversations about attempts to reach WikiLeaks in 2016. The House has said at the time of the Ukraine impeachment proceedings it could still consider impeaching Trump again because of his actions during the Mueller investigation.
Even if the grand jury material ultimately goes to the House, it is likely to be kept confidential, at least initially, because the House has set up protocols to keep it secret until the Judiciary Committee votes otherwise.
“Special Counsel Mueller prepared his report with the expectation that Congress would review it,” the opinion said. “The Committee’s particularized need for the grand jury materials remains unchanged. The Committee has repeatedly state that if the grand jury materials reveal new evidence of impeachable offenses, the Committee may recommend new articles of impeachment.”
In the court’s 26-page opinion, written by appellate Judge Judith Rogers, the court reminded the Justice Department it doesn’t have complete control over grand jury information. The court underlined how it could control the information.
“In short, it is the district court, not the Executive or the Department [of Justice], that controls access to the grand jury materials at issue here,” held Rogers, who was appointed by former President Bill Clinton.
Judge Thomas Griffith sided with Rogers, while Judge Neomi Rao dissented.
The decision stands in contrast to another major and recent House lawsuit regarding potential obstruction of justice by the President. In that case, the appeals court ruled two weeks ago that judges have no ability to resolve standoffs over subpoenas between the House and the executive branch.
Rogers was in the minority in that decision, disagreeing with the appeals court’s ruling. Griffith, a George W. Bush appointee, wrote that opinion.
Rao, who was appointed by Trump to the court last year after serving in the White House, wrote in her dissent on Tuesday that the appeals court should have no role to play in the grand jury material fight, just as the court decided regarding the White House refusing to allow former White House counsel Don McGahn to testify about Trump under congressional subpoena.
The House is already appealing the McGahn decision, saying it undermines its constitutional power and could chill committees’ work for years to come.
But Griffith wrote on Tuesday how the McGahn and grand jury cases differed for the appeals court. “As gatekeepers of grand jury information, we cannot sit this one out. The House isn’t seeking our help in eliciting executive-branch testimony or documents,” Griffith wrote. “Instead, it’s seeking access to grand jury records whose disclosure the district court, by both tradition and law, controls.”
The Mueller grand jury decision on Tuesday falls in line with several past court decisions.
“The courts cannot tell the House how to conduct its impeachment investigation or what lines of inquiry to pursue, or how to prosecute its case before the Senate, much less dictate how the Senate conducts an impeachment trial,” the opinion said on Tuesday. “The Mueller report made clear why the grand jury materials in Volume I [outlining Russian interference in the election] were necessary for the Committee to review and evaluate in exercise of its constitutional duties”
This story has been updated to include additional details from the decision.
These tiny, plastic-munching caterpillars can clean up our world – but there’s a catch
Joshua Bote, USA TODAY
A species of caterpillar may provide answers on how to best eradicate plastic waste, a 300 million ton per year problem.
The waxworm, researchers discovered in 2017, is seemingly able to eat through common types of plastic – including polyethylene, a nonbiodegradable type of plastic that is the most commonly used worldwide.
“They are voracious feeders during these larval stages,” Bryan Cassone, an associate professor of biology at Brandon University, told USA TODAY.
Researchers at Brandon University in Manitoba, Canada, found that waxworms are able to “ingest and metabolize polyethylene at unprecedented rates” thanks to the microorganisms in their intestines.
“The caterpillar’s gut microbiota seem to play a key role in the polyethylene biodegradation process,” the researchers wrote.
Researchers found a greater amount of “microbial abundance” in the caterpillars’ guts when they were ingesting plastic than when they ate a traditional diet of honeycomb.
In waxworms, polyethylene metabolizes into a glycol, which is biodegradable.
Waxworms are not an end-all solution to plastic waste, however. Wax larvae are pests for bees, naturally feeding off honeycomb and running the risk of reducing their populations – and those of plants and crops.
Further, it remains unclear how the plastic breakdown process works in the waxworm, and how its health is affected by its consumption.
The hope, Cassone said, is that if researchers can harness what in the gut bacteria helps caterpillars so easily break down plastic, it can be used to design better ways to eliminate plastic from the environment.
“We envision harnessing the waxworm and its microbiome to develop approaches that do not require whole organisms – rather the products or by-products produced from their interactions that make their ability to breakdown plastic so efficient,” Cassone said.
‘The Truth Still Matters,’ Said Judge Amy Berman Jackson. Are We Sure About That?
Jack Holmes February 21, 2020
“The truth still exists,” U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson said on Thursday. “The truth still matters.” She spoke at the sentencing hearing for Roger Stone, career ratfucker and longtime confidante of one Donald Trump. Stone had already been convicted on charges of lying to Congress and witness tampering related to his attempted coverup of his ratfucking activities on Trump’s behalf in 2016. “Roger Stone’s insistence that it doesn’t,” Jackson continued, still referring to the truth, “his belligerence, his pride in his own lies are a threat to our most fundamental institutions, to the foundations of our democracy. If it goes unpunished, it will not be a victory for one party or another. Everyone loses.”
It’s unclear from the court reporting what tone Jackson adopted for that first part. Was she assured? Confident? Defiant? Hopeful, even? Because the argument that the truth still exists and that it still matters in the Year of Our Lord 2020 is no done deal. The jury is very much out. We have strayed very far from our school days, when the world was split into truth and fiction and things like “checks and balances” were almost self-evident. The war on the concept of truth waged for three years now by Donald Trump, American president is beginning to pay real dividends. The president does not subscribe to the concept of objective reality, where there are observable features of the world around us and facts we can consequently all agree on. He believes the truth is whatever you can get enough people to believe, and you’re never guilty if you never admit it. In a polarized political environment and a balkanized media ecosystem, he might just be right.
One thing Jackson gets right is that all this is a threat to democracy. We cannot function as a society—we cannot make rules and policies around how we live, we cannot forge a way forward together—if we cannot agree on basic facts about the world around us. The Enlightenment gave us the tools to discover and verify and spread the truth regardless of what powerful people thought of it, but we have lost our grip on those tools and allowed ourselves to slide back into a tribalist dark age. In this environment, where the powerful say what’s real and their followers believe them, those in power can avoid the kind of accountability for their actions that undergirds a democratic republic. Without checks on their power, they can easily grow it. You need not serve your constituents if they will believe you’re serving them simply because you tell them you are.
And it’s here where Jackson’s statement surely moved towards hope or defiance. If Stone’s villainous lying goes unpunished, she said, “it will not be a victory for one party or another.” Really? Because it seems like one party is winning. The president has declared all negative information about him to be “fake,” and all positive information to be “real.” This is the only basis on which he evaluates information. It’s the attitude of a toddler—perhaps even your three-year-old can more easily process shame and disappointment—but this man has a very good chance of being re-elected to the most powerful office in the world. His Republican Party will very likely retain control of the Senate and all its antidemocratic capabilities. They now believe they have a shot to regain the House of Representatives. Along the way these three years, they’ve stuffed the courts full of judges who will entrench their minority rule for decades.
The president’s attitude towards information—is it good for me, or is it bad for me?—made yet another appearance this week in the matter concerning the United States Director of National Intelligence. We’ve got a new acting director, you see, and it’s a former internet pest whom Trump first saw fit to make ambassador to Germany, and who now will serve as (part-time!) acting head of our intelligence community. Richard Grenell surely got the gig because he will massage the information that comes across his desk until it is sufficiently palatable for The Boss. His predecessor, who also served in an “acting” capacity because the Constitution’s mandate that the Senate advise and consent on major appointments doesn’t matter if you just ignore it, lost the job because he did not adhere to the essential Trumpian mantra: Real News is whatever’s good for Trump.
At least, that’s what The New York Timesreported Thursday and what NBC News backed up Friday. Joseph Maguire, the ex-acting chief, made the grave mistake of observing protocol by having his subordinates brief congressional leaders on the evidence that Russia is once again interfering in our elections heading into 2020, and that they once again want Trump to win. This is an exceedingly believable notion, considering Trump has a habit of siding with the Russians on any issue that comes up. He’s fought sanctions against them and slowed their implementation. He opened the door for them to seize control of northern Syria. All this culminated in his extortion of Ukraine, with which Russia is currently at war via proxy forces. Trump has torn up notes of his meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin and the White House has failed to report their phone calls, leaving the American public to learn of them when the Russians make it public.
But none of this is of interest to the public, in the president’s calculus, including the fact that a geopolitical adversary is set to attack our democracy again this year. The Director of National Intelligence had no business telling the people’s representatives in Congress about it. And why? It “angered Mr. Trump,” the Timesreported, “who complained that Democrats would use it against him.” It is entirely irrelevant to him whether the 2020 elections will be free and fair, and whether Americans will be allowed to choose their own leaders without interference. What matters is that he wins, at any cost. This, of course, reflects the larger Republican attitude towards elections, where the ends always justify the means. Voter suppression, voter purges, closing polling stations in Certain Neighborhoods, extreme gerrymandering, foreign interference—anything goes if it keeps you in power. And if you lose, you can just strip the office you lost of it’s powers before a Democrat can get in there and, uh, do the job the public elected them to do.
It’s really no wonder, then, that Trump would rise to control a party that long ago chose to slide towards authoritarianism rather than appeal to any slice of the public outside The Base of white ultraconservative Evangelicals and those who’ve made common cause. But the efficiency with which the president has used weaponized falsehood to erode the pillars of a democratic republic is staggering. The principles of consensus and persuasion that define democratic politics are beginning to falter. The president and his movement do not use words to persuade, but as a rhetorical bludgeon to beat down The Enemies. What they are offering is force.
On The Apprentice, producers would often find themselves scrambling to put an episode together after Trump inexplicably fired someone who’d performed well, because he hadn’t been paying attention before the boardroom. They’d have to reverse-engineer the episode until Trump’s conclusion made sense. Now, one of America’s two major political parties, a large swathe of its media outlets, and increasingly, the actual federal government are all devoted to the same task. Except now, they’re reverse-engineering reality itself to meet the president’s preferences. This will have consequences from a governing standpoint, of course: if you make policy in defiance of the real world, it will eventually catch up to you. But perhaps the more immediate concern is that it may finish off our ability to govern ourselves, to compare our leaders’ words and actions to what we can see and verify around us and hold them to account on that basis. The threat is that we will once again slide into darkness, where all that matters is power and force.
Colorado River flow shrinks from climate crisis, risking ‘severe water shortages’
Oliver Milman, The Guardian February 20, 2020
The flow of the Colorado River is dwindling due to the impacts of global heating, risking “severe water shortages” for the millions of people who rely upon one of America’s most storied waterways, researchers have found.
Increasing periods of drought and rising temperatures have been shrinking the flow of the Colorado in recent years and scientists have now developed a model to better understand how the climate crisis is fundamentally changing the 1,450-mile waterway.
The loss of snow in the Colorado River basin due to human-induced global heating has resulted in the river absorbing more of sun’s energy, thereby increasing the amount of water lost in evaporation, the US Geological Survey scientists found.
This is because snow and ice reflect sunlight back away from the Earth’s surface, a phenomenon known as the albedo effect. The loss of albedo as snow and ice melt away is reducing the flow of the Colorado by 9.5% for each 1C of warming, according to the research published in Science.
The world has heated up by about 1C since the pre-industrial era and is on course for an increase of more than 3C by the end of the century unless planet-warming emissions are drastically cut. For the Colorado this scenario means an “increasing risk of severe water shortages”, the study states, with any increase in rainfall not likely to offset the loss in reflective snow.
The magnitude of the Colorado’s decline as outlined in the Science paper is “eye popping”, according to Brad Udall, a senior scientist at Colorado State University and an expert on water supplies in the west who was not involved in the research.
“This has important implications for water users and managers alike,” Udall said. “More broadly, these results tell us that we need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as soon as we possible can.
“We’ve wasted nearly 30 years bickering over the science. The science is crystal clear – we must reduce greenhouse gas emissions immediately.”
The Colorado rises in the Rocky Mountains and slices through ranch lands and canyons, including the Grand Canyon, as it winds through the American west. It previously emptied into the Gulf of California in Mexico but now ends several miles shy of this due to the amount of water extraction for US agriculture and cities ranging from Denver to Tijuana.
The river’s upper basin supplies water to about 40 million people and supports 16m jobs. It feeds the two largest water reserves in the US, Lake Powell and Lake Mead, with the latter supplying Las Vegas with almost all of its water.
Snowpacks that last into late spring have historically fed streams that have nourished the Colorado River, as well as reducing the likelihood of major fires. As the climate heats up, the river is evaporating away and the risk of damaging wildfires is increasing.
The climate crisis is compounding existing threats to the river, which include intensive water pumping for agriculture, water use by urban areas and the threat of pollution from uranium mining. Lake Mead, the vast reservoir formed by the Hoover dam, has dropped to levels not seen since the 1960s.
A 19-year drought that racked stretches of the river almost provoked the US government to impose mandatory cuts in water use from the river last year, only for seven western states to agree to voluntary reductions. The problems are set to become more severe, however, as the climate becomes hotter and drier at a time when demand for water from expanding cities in the American west increases.
Trump Gives Defense Department Power To Abolish Bargaining For Civilian Unions
Mary Papenfuss, HuffPost February 21, 2020
President Donald Trump has officially granted the Department of Defense the legal authority to abolish the collective bargaining rights of its civilian labor unions representing some 750,000 workers.
Gutting the unions would provide “maximum flexibility,” Trump wrote in a memo published Thursday in the Federal Register, which was first reported by Government Executive.
Trump signed the memo three weeks ago, invoking “national security” to justify granting the Defense Department an exemption from the law giving all federal workers the right to unionize.
“When new missions emerge or existing ones evolve, the Department of Defense requires maximum flexibility to respond to threats to carry out its mission of protecting the American people,” Trump wrote in the memo. “Where collective bargaining is incompatible with these organizations’ missions, the Department of Defense should not be forced to sacrifice its national security mission.”
The 1978 Civil Service Reform Act contains a provision that allows a president to exclude agencies from engaging in collective bargaining with workers via written order in some circumstances, including “an emergency situation.”
Trump’s assault on unions contradicts his frequent claims to his base of supporting voters that he is a champion of the working class. A 2017 White House memo encouraged “eliminating employee unions” as part of a wide-ranging effort to weaken organized labor. Trump’s budget for fiscal 2021 would require federal workers to pay more for a cut in retirement benefits.
It’s not yet clear what Defense Secretary Mark Esper will do.
Labor leaders, workers and politicians have railed against the declaration.
“Denying … Defense Department workers the collective bargaining rights guaranteed to them by law since 1962 would be a travesty — and doing it under the guise of ‘national security’ would be a disgrace,” Everett Kelley, national secretary-treasurer of the American Federation of Government Employees, said at a legislative conference earlier this month, according to The Washington Post. “This administration will not stop until it takes away all workers’ rights to form and join a union — and we will not stop doing everything we can to prevent that from happening.”
Thousands Of People Are Growing ‘Climate Victory Gardens’ To Save The Planet
Kyla Mandel February 6, 2020
Right across from Atholton High School in Columbia, Maryland, sits a garden roughly a third of an acre with rows of vegetable beds and a newly added pond to encourage wildlife. The garden, located along the road so it’s the first thing people see when they drive past, is being managed mostly by students who planted their first perennial seeds to support pollinators last fall and are now eagerly waiting to see what springs up.
It is part of a 6.4-acre plot of farmland bought last June by the Community Ecology Institute, a nonprofit that seeks to reunite people with nature, from a retiring organic farmer who had managed it since the 1980’s and didn’t want it to be lost to development. Fifty years ago, the entire area was agricultural land. Today, this plot is the only farm left. And one of the first things the Community Ecology Institute did when it took over the farm was to plant this “climate victory garden.”
The nonprofit is one of over 2,000 organizations and individuals across the country growing food in climate victory gardens ― be it on a balcony or in a backyard, a community garden or larger urban farm project ― in a bid to mitigate the climate crisis.
Climate change is “a tremendous crisis, but it’s also a really amazing opportunity to shift the way that we’ve been doing things that no longer work,” said Chiara D’Amore, the Community Ecology Institute’s executive director. “We want to use the entire farm as a way to teach about climate action … and we see land-based climate action as one of the more tangible, gratifying ways to help people feel like there’s some hope, feel like there’s something they can do.”
The climate victory garden movement was launched by nonprofit Green America two years ago. It is inspired by the estimated 20 million victory gardens planted across the U.S. by the end of World War II, responsible for producing 40% of all vegetables consumed in the country at the time. The environmental nonprofit is calling on people to use whatever outdoor space they have to grow fruits and vegetables, using “regenerative” methods to help tackle agriculture’s carbon footprint.
About a third of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions come from food production ― that includes emissions related to storing, transporting and selling food. However, the main climate contribution comes from growing crops and livestock and the effect of deforestation to create more cropland. In the U.S., the agriculture sector accounts for roughly 9% of the country’s annual greenhouse gas emissions. Industrial agriculture can also contribute to water pollution from fertilizer runoff and a loss in biodiversity.
Individual gardening efforts alone aren’t enough to address these issues, but it’s a start. “Certainly the victory garden didn’t solve the problem, it didn’t win the war, but it was something people could be called on to do to feel like they were a part of the solution and doing something that was a benefit,” reflected D’Amore, who said the same goes for the climate crisis today.
Many of the goals of the victory garden in the 20th century are echoed in the modern environmental movement.
Herbert Hoover, head of the U.S. Food Administration during World War I, encouraged Americans to live simply, grow their own food and consume less. The Federal Bureau of Education also launched the U.S. School Garden Army, which enrolled 2.5 million children in 1919. Those school gardens are credited with helping produce food worth $48 million at the time. Thanks to efforts like these, the U.S. successfully avoided having to ration during that war.
During World War II, citizens were once again encouraged to grow everything from potatoes to peach trees, and many women, as part of the Women’s Land Army, stepped in to manage urban victory gardens and rural farms. In 1943, first lady Eleanore Roosevelt planted a victory garden on the front lawn of the White House in an effort to show that anyone could successfully grow food.
Soy was promoted as an alternative protein to meat ― although more because meat was being rationed to feed the military than over environmental concerns. Soybeans were marketed as “wonder” or “miracle” beans that were easier to grow and store than meat. Canning, drying and preserving were also encouraged to help foods last longer.
“For us, the inspiration grew from knowing how many people were involved [in these victory gardens], how many people wanted to make a difference, and how many people really wanted to be involved in this food culture,” said Jillian Semaan, food campaigns director for Green America. “Knowing those numbers and what victory gardens did at that time, we felt we had a great opportunity.”
The difference now, though, is that Green America hopes to harness this same spirit through the potential of what’s known as “regenerative agriculture” ― a way of farming that’s dedicated to enriching the soil while also producing healthful food, with the added benefit of storing carbon in the ground. As the government’s 2018 National Climate Assessment, along with many other scientists, acknowledges, “agriculture is one of the few sectors with the potential for significant increases in carbon sequestration to offset [greenhouse gas] emissions.”
The challenge, however, will be to scale it up. There’s a long way to go before reaching wartime levels, but Green America hopes to more than double the number of climate victory gardens this year to 5,000.
The term “regenerative agriculture” was coined in the 1980’s by Robert Rodale, son of the man who applied the term “organic” to food. The most important idea behind regenerative farming (or “carbon farming”) is soil health. This means relying far less on fertilizers and chemicals and focusing more on methods like planting cover crops, applying compost to build up nutrients in the soil and make it more fertile, and not tilling.
Tilling ― breaking up the soil’s surface ― is used to fight weeds and prepare soil for growing. But it reduces the soil’s structural integrity, meaning it won’t hold as much water and will erode more easily ― two qualities of increasing importance as climate change brings extreme weather, such as the devastating floods the Midwest experienced last year.
Tilling also releases carbon that has been locked into the earth throughout the plant’s life cycle. The more carbon-rich the soil becomes, the better plants grow.
Prioritizing soil health is what differentiates climate victory gardens from organic or wildlife gardens, D’Amore said. “Starting from that literally ground-up perspective, we need to make sure that the soil is really healthy to be mindful of what we’re growing,” she said, describing roots as a “whole underground infrastructure” that helps sequester carbon. In practice, this means finding some edible perennial plants with deep roots, such as currant bushes, which her farm will be growing along with other berries.
Meanwhile, cover crops ― like clover, turnips, barley and spinach ― help keep the soil in place and act as a protective blanket in winter.
“If a farmer is practicing regenerative agriculture on his or her land, the soil is getting improved over time. It’s going to get healthier,” said Jeff Tkach, chief impact officer at the Rodale Institute, an educational nonprofit that researches and promotes regenerative organic farming. “If the soil is improving, well, then the food that the farmer is producing is going to become more nutrient-dense over time. And if those consuming that food are eating more nutrient-dense food, then they’re going to get healthier over time … and the community’s going to thrive.”
A healthy community is at the heart of BLISS Meadows, a climate victory garden that launched last March in Baltimore. The urban farm is run by Backyard Basecamp, an organization that seeks to connect communities of color with nature.
Its founder and executive director, Atiya Wells, is a pediatric nurse by trade, and her approach is to promote the health benefits of having a local green space and of growing your own food. The community garden is in the process of renovating a vacant home next door to the farm and plans to transform it into a community kitchen that will host cooking classes and tastings, Wells said, “to show people we can eat healthier and it can be delicious.”
But it’s also about community resilience. “When we all think about climate change and what’s going to happen, we know that people who have means can just pick up and go, and the rest of us are going to be here,” Wells said. The BLISS Meadows garden is in a predominantly black and brown neighborhood.
“So this is kind of us really starting things so that when that time comes, we already have a self-sustaining neighborhood where we’re growing food for our neighbors,” she explained, “[and] we’re able to continue to survive.”
Many who support the regenerative agriculture movement see it as a clear, easy climate win with enormous potential. Some, including Green America, go so far as to claim we can “reverse” climate change by simply changing how we farm.
According to a 40-year trial conducted by the Rodale Institute of growing conventional and regenerative crops side-by-side, adopting regenerative methods brought 40% higher crop yields during drought times, used 45% less energy and produced 40% fewer emissions compared to conventional farming.
However, as David Montgomery, a geologist at the University of Washington and author of two books on dirt and soil, told Civil Eats last October, regenerative agriculture should be seen as a “good down-payment on reducing atmospheric carbon dioxide” as opposed to a panacea. Claims that it can reverse climate change, he said, are a stretch.
The hope is that climate victory gardens will nudge us toward climate action. But how can something as seemingly small as one person growing tomatoes in their backyard help tackle a problem as immense as agriculture’s effect on climate?
“Everything starts with incremental change,” Semaan said. It begins with reconnecting people to their food and how it got to their plates.
Working with high school students in the Maryland area, the Community Ecology Institute plans to help set up a youth-led program to encourage others to start climate victory gardens throughout the community. “I think our youth get it in a way that many of our leaders and older generations, in general, don’t,” D’Amore said. “They see climate change as the crisis it is. It’s going to impact all our lives, and they want to feel like they can do something that matters.”
Every item grown at home also means one less thing purchased from the store, cutting down on transportation. Even if it’s just a patch of chives, Semaan said, each gardener knows the resources, from water to gas money, that are saved with those plants. “It’s all incremental change,” she said, “and the more people who do it, even if it’s just herbs on a windowsill, the better the planet is for it.”
Tkach agreed. He views the climate victory gardens as a way to “shift people’s consciousness by getting people to just take some kind of action in their own backyards.”
By growing your own food, you have a better understanding of what goes into it, he echoed. “I think as consumers become more attuned to that, it’s going to influence their own decisions,” so people might pay closer attention to food labels that tell you how and where something was grown. “When they go to the grocery store, they’re going to be more adept at [knowing] what to look for.”
Eventually, if enough people are doing this, they can help shift society toward a tipping point, where consumer demand for regenerative farming disrupts the conventional system, Tkach explained.
“I feel like it’s our moment in history. If we could just continue to change the way people eat, it changes everything.”
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Taxpayers Get $3.4 Million Tab So Trump Can Host Super Bowl Party For His Club Members
S.V. Date February 2, 2020
Taxpayers shelled out another $3.4 million to send President Donald Trump to Florida this weekend so he could host a Super Bowl party for paying guests at his for-profit golf course.
The president’s official schedule shows him spending two and a half hours Sunday evening at a “Super Bowl LIV watch party” at Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach. Tickets sold for $75 each, but were only available to members of the club — the initiation fee for which reportedly runs about $450,000, with annual dues costing several thousands of dollars more.
“Well, obviously there are no TVs in the White House, so what alternative did he have?” quipped Robert Weissman, president of the liberal group Public Citizen. “He could have saved money by chartering a plane and flying club members to watch the game at the White House.”
In response to a query, White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham defended Trump’s trip and attacked HuffPost: “The premise of your story is ridiculous and false, and just more left-wing media bias on display. The president never stops working, and that includes when he is at the Winter White House.”
Her phrase “Winter White House” refers to Mar-a-Lago, the for-profit resort in Palm Beach that is several miles east of the golf course and that doubled its initiation fee from $100,000 to $200,000 after Trump was elected in 2016. Trump frequently mingles with guests at social events there.
On Saturday, for example, Trump appeared at a dinner at Mar-a-Lago arranged by the “trumpettes,” a group of his female supporters. The dinner did not appear on the president’s publicly released schedule, and in any case was a campaign event, not an “official” one.
When a pool reporter asked the White House on Saturday what work Trump did over the weekend, the reply was that he had calls and “meetings with staff.” The president did not attend a rally on Saturday for Venezuelan leader Juan Guaido, whom the United States and other governments have recognized as the legitimate president of that country. That rally began while Trump was still at his golf course, and attending it could have made him late for the start of the Trumpettes’ dinner.
Trump promised during his presidential campaign that he would separate himself from his businesses if he won. However, he reneged on that vow, as well as on his promise to release his tax returns.
On his most recent financial disclosure form, which was filed last May, Trump claimed he had received $12,325,355 in income from the West Palm Beach golf course over the previous year. It’s unclear how accurate that is, given Trump’s tendency to file widely varying figures to different government authorities.
He told the U.S. Office of Government Ethics in his 2018 financial disclosure, for example, that his Scotland golf courses are worth more than $50 million each, even as he told authorities in the United Kingdom that they had a combined net debt of $65 million.
In any event, money spent at Trump hotels and golf courses flows directly to the president, as he is the sole beneficiary of a trust that now owns his family business. U.S. taxpayers have been the source of at least a few million dollars that have gone to the Trump Organization in the form of hotel rooms, meals and other expenses for Secret Service agents and other government employees who have stayed on-site with Trump in Florida, New Jersey, Scotland and Ireland.
“When Donald Trump announced that he would break decades of precedent and hold onto his business, many were afraid it was to find ways to keep making money on the side of his work as president,” said Jordan Libowitz with the group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. “Turns out the presidency is more like a thing he does on the side to help make money for his business.”
This weekend’s trip to Mar-a-Lago was Trump’s 28th to the property since becoming president. Saturday’s and Sunday’s golf outings at the West Palm Beach club brings his total to 79 days there since taking office and 244 total golf days at properties that he owns.
Taxpayers’ total tab for his golf hobby, meanwhile, climbed to $130.4 million.
That figure and the $3.4 million for each Mar-a-Lago trip are based on a HuffPost analysis that included the costs of Air Force transportation, Coast Guard patrols, Secret Service security and other expenses, as detailed in a January 2019 report from the Government Accountability Office of Trump’s first four visits to Mar-a-Lago in early 2017.
Trump frequently criticized former President Barack Obama for golfing too much and promised during his campaign that he would be too busy to take any vacations at all, let alone play golf. Instead, he is on pace to play more than twice as much golf as Obama did ― at a cost three times that of Obama’s, because he insists on playing so many rounds at his courses in Florida and New Jersey, which require expensive flights on Air Force One. Obama mostly played golf at military bases within a short drive of the White House.
“Trump is and always has been a con man. In 2016, he said that, unlike Obama, he’d never golf and he’d never take personal trips outside the White House,” said former Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Ill.), who is challenging Trump for the 2020 Republican nomination. “In addition, Trump is using taxpayer money to personally enrich himself because virtually all of his travel is to Trump properties. That is the swamp Trump pledged to drain. Trump is the swamp.”