Produce is less healthy than it was 70 years ago. These farmers are trying to change that

USA Today

Produce is less healthy than it was 70 years ago. These farmers are trying to change that

Eco friendly cover crops saving soil and nutrients on the K.L. Donaldson Farm Michelle Pemberton,

There it sits – in all its green glory – in the produce section of your local grocery store.

Broccoli. One of the most nutritious vegetables on the planet.

But 70 years ago, it contained twice the calcium, on average, and more than five times the amount of Vitamin A.

The same could be said for a lot of our fruits and vegetables.

Why? How?

The answers lie in the soil and how Americans farm it.

Over the last two centuries, U.S. population growth and food production methods have stressed and degraded our dirt.

Our soil is not as alive as it once was, and experts say that’s a problem.

It’s a complex issue, and there are various factors at play, but studies through the years draw a direct line back to American farms.

More and more farmers are recognizing they are part of the problem – one that extends beyond their farms, impacting the water quality in our lakes, rivers and oceans downstream.

Slowly, a soil health movement is spreading across the Midwest and other parts of America. Farmers are changing the way they farm, adding something called cover crops and changing up crop rotations. They’re finding ways to use less fertilizer, which is linked to decreased soil health and water degradation.

“This has an impact on everybody who eats,” says Eileen J. Kladivko, a professor of agronomy at Purdue University.

As states like Indiana emerge as leaders, experts say the movement is on the cusp of mainstream adoption –  though much still stands in the way.

A troubled agricultural past

In the 1930’s, dirt was a high priority in America. Much of the country was experiencing a crushing series of droughts that lasted eight years. Poor land management and farming practices gave rise to the Dust Bowl.

In those days, it was typical to plow a field to a pulverized, fine dirt before planting. So, when the extended dry spell hit, soil became loose and was swept away by intense dust storms that blotted out the sun.

Farmers couldn’t grow food. Millions were forced to leave their homes to find work.

The ordeal resulted in the adoption of the uniform soil laws and the creation of the U.S. Soil Conservation Service – and was the birth of the modern-day soil health movement.

At the time, the effort focused on erosion or, simply, how to keep the dirt in place.  Still, we continued to harm the soil — unintentionally, said Harold van Es, a professor of soil and water management at Cornell University.

In the 1950s, farmers began using synthetic fertilizers. The fertilizers weren’t bad in and of themselves, said van Es, but they allowed for a new way of farming in America that would often further degrade the soil.

So, many farmers stopped raising livestock for the manure and focused only on cash crops, like corn and soybeans, which go into many products.

Farmers began producing one or two crops, planted year after year. Over time, the combination of these things lowered the biodiversity of the soil.

Healthy soil should be teeming with microbes and worms and rich with decomposed organic matter (think: compost).

Today, the government budgets billions of dollars — $6.7 billion in 2017 alone — for conservation through the Farm Bill. That funding goes towards agencies like the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the predecessor of the Soil Conservation Service that offers financial and technical assistance to farmers to adopt practices like cover crops.

“I think we’ve reached a tipping point in terms of awareness and experimentation,” van Es said. “In terms of adoption, we simply need more farmers to start doing it.”

Changing how we farm to focus on the soil

Richard Stewart manages Carriage House Farm in southwestern Ohio and he’ll tell you what’s happening on the 163-year-old farm, owned by his family now for five generations.

His goal one day is to stop conventional farming – growing corn and soybeans for animal feed and export – and instead only grow and raise things people eat. His family converted about 60 acres from its 300-acre farm to produce fruits, vegetables, honey and, recently, a line of vinegar.

Stewart is paying close attention to the soil.  And he’s learned, for example, to plant a cover crop of mustard before he grows a crop of potatoes. The mustard keeps away the Colorado potato beetles, which, you probably guessed, love potatoes but not mustard.

He makes sure there is a good strip of trees and native plants between his fields and the Great Miami River, because he wants to keep his soils in place and avoid any runoff that might hurt water quality.

“I’ve got kids. My child may be the seventh generation that farms this property, but that is not even a blink in the eye of the history of this planet,” Stewart said. “The Shawnee were people who farmed and hunted this land 3,000 years prior to us and we’ve taken more nutrients out of the soil than human beings did the last 3,000 years.”

Across the country, other farmers are compelled to improve their soils.

Take Indiana, for example, where the number of farm acres sowed with cover crops more than quintupled in just five years.

Cover crops involve planting something on the field during the offseason, so there’s always something growing.

Keeping something growing holds the soil in place, and when the cover crops grow and die they add organic matter, attracting microorganisms, adding nutrients  –  and creating healthier soils.

But Indiana still has a long way to go. Just over 90 percent of cropland in the state still goes without cover crops.

It’s hard to blame farmers who don’t participate.

Rising seed prices, whacky weather patterns and new talk of tariffs create financial challenges and uncertainty.

Shannon Zezula, state resource conservationist for the Indiana Natural Resource Conservation Service, sees this as part of the reason that last year, for the second year in a row,  the percentage of cover crops fell slightly in Indiana.

“Here in Indiana we estimate we’ve lost about 50 percent of our soil’s organic matter,” largely in the last 70 years,  Zezula said. “How much longer can we continue to farm this way? We have to reverse that trend.”

On the cusp of breaking into the mainstream

Nick Goeser is not discouraged.  As director of the Soil Health Partnership, a program launched by the National Corn Growers Association in 2014, he sees the soil health movement catching on because more farmers are getting results.

The organization helps farmers do economic assessments to understand where the farmer is making or losing money. Together, they consider today’s technology, weather and markets to decide on methods that will improve the soil, help the environment and also make the farm more profitable.

“We ask: How do we do this today? Not 20 years ago; not 20 years from now,” Goeser said. ”More often than not, (farmers) are breaking even or making money in one to three years.”

That’s a faster turnaround than, say, five years ago, Goeser said.

A soil conservationist demonstrates why tilling may be weakening our farm soil and crops. Stephen J. Beard and Jenna Watson, Indianapolis Star

He thinks cover crop adoption is accelerating. When the partnership formed in 2014, its goal was to sign up 100 farmers in the first five years. It reached that in half the time.

Something else is at play, adding urgency for farmers to consider their soils, Goeser said.

“Climate change is 100 percent real and our farmers are experiencing this year to year,” he said. “It’s absolutely worth seeing the hard data.”

Farmers are dealing with more frequent, and unpredictable, bouts of drought and flooding.

Climate change is also messing with our food.

Take corn.  Over the past few decades, the number of suitable days to plant corn has dropped, Goeser said. Heavy rains are partially to blame. But what’s even more damaging is the heat.

Warmer nights – and we have more of them now – keep the corn from resting, which can affect its ability to pollinate.

The result? Kernels have difficulty growing on the cob.

Humans have a long history of manipulating crops; cultivating strains to withstand certain conditions. We’ve been able to figure out how to keep growing more, even with the heat.

But that tinkering can have unintended consequences – like making our food less nutritious.

Healthier soils can help alleviate the stresses of climate change, Goeser said, because they retain more moisture which can lower the temperature on the fields. And healthier soils recycle more carbon and release less carbon dioxide – the world’s leading greenhouse gas.

Farmers are living proof that our soils make a difference

Mike Starkey shows what’s possible on this farm in Brownsburg, Indiana.

He raises corn and soybeans on 2,500 acres northwest of Indianapolis, and for the past 13 years, he’s worked to improve his soils, including sowing cover crops between seasons.

Starkey said he immediately saved money that he would have spent on equipment, labor and fuel by not tilling his fields. With cash in hand from selling his tilling equipment, and help from the state’s NRCS, Starkey invested in his soil with cover crops.

Over time, cover crops built up organic matter in his soil, reducing the need to purchase as much commercial fertilizer.

The benefits are not just to the farmer, conservationists say, and that’s why there’s a big push for cover crops across the nation.

Farm runoff is considered a major cause of harmful algal blooms in our lakes and rivers. It also contributes to the hypoxic dead zones in our coastal waters.

That’s because nitrogen and phosphorus, which are in the fertilizers, are food for toxic algae. Nutrients like that and others also clog up the water, taking the place of oxygen and creating dead zones in places like the Gulf of Mexico.

Reports of harmful algal blooms grow year after year, wreaking havoc on fishing and tourism seasons in Lake Erie, killing dogs and causing nausea and rashes for the unsuspecting swimmer.

The low-oxygen zone in the gulf spread a record distance last year: an area the size of New Jersey. In hypoxic conditions such as these, living things struggle. This affects our fishing industry and the price we pay for different foods.

That’s why Starkey is part of a unique study to test whether the practices on his farm are improving surrounding water quality.

Fields sown with cover crops typically have lower nutrient runoff, but some don’t think it’s enough to curb the water quality issues facing the nation.

Even with every farmer doing this, states will struggle to come close to meeting nutrient overload reductions, said Trevor Russell, water policy director for Friends of the Mississippi.

“There is a false narrative in the water quality community. It’s not (about) doing a better job at what we grow – it’s quite literally what we grow,” Russell said.

“Until what we grow can achieve water quality standards and be economically viable, we’re not going to address those problems.”

There’s pretty much widespread agreement that cover crops control erosion and keep the soil resilient.  And for some farmers, like Starkey, that’s reason enough.

In 2012, when the rest of the country was struggling through the driest drought since the Dust Bowl, he made it out okay. His corn yields that year was nearly double that of the rest of his county.

Mary Jo Forbord feels as if she’s doing her part to farm responsibly.

She and her husband run an organic beef, fruit and vegetable farm on the slopes of a glacial moraine in Minnesota. They plant cover crops, don’t use any chemicals and have reconstructed 380 acres of prairie, replacing what farmers before had wiped out.

But Forbord says the cards are stacked against farmers like her and America’s food system in general.

She’s looking at the big picture. From 1800 to 2017, the U.S. population grew from 5 million to 325.7 million people.

And today, 25 million — 8 percent of Americans – are food insecure, meaning they are unable to consistently access or afford adequate food.

Yet, over a quarter of U.S. cropland is used to grow corn, a crop we barely eat. Most of the corn we grow goes to feeding livestock or our gas tanks. And of the small portion we do eat, most of that goes into making sweeteners like high fructose corn syrup.

It’s a disparity that shows up in our waistlines, as the United States continues to lead the world in obesity rates. In the early sixties, about 14 percent of the country was obese. That description now fits one in every three Americans.

“It can be overwhelming to see how much this touches,” Forbord said.

One farmer at a time, the movement grows

You’ll find a type like Jon Reese in every county in America. The guy who’s always ready to share his knowledge, to bring just about anyone to his farm to show you results.

He does that by hosting “field days” on his farm in rural Miami County, Indiana. They’re like open houses that showcase soil health initiatives such as cover crops.

He works the holdouts, offering at a recent event to throw cover crop seed into one farmer’s truck right then and there, even let him borrow his special equipment.

“I almost begged him,” he said.

But the farmer never took him up on the offer.

How could cover crops spread faster?

Well, there’s talk about soil health labels on our food – to help consumers know whether they’re buying foods that respect the soil. And sustainability groups and corporations are creating agricultural sustainability metrics to provide individual farms with a stamp of approval.

These are steps forward but need to be closely vetted, said Kladivko, the agronomy professor at Purdue University.

But the common consumer can also play a role, observers and soil health supporters say.

The masses can do that by paying more attention to where their food comes from, shopping local, asking the farmers who grow food what they are doing and know where their politicians stand.

“Indirectly, you can support conservation programs at the federal and state level,” researcher van Es said. “You can also trust that organic food is soil friendly.”

Meanwhile, said Kladivko, the soil health movement will continue to spread as it does today, from farmer to farmer.

In his corner of the world, Reese’s influence is spreading.

Kameron Donaldson, the son of one of Reese’s high school classmates, now does cover crops and is improving the soil on his 3,000-acre farm, where he also raises 18,000 hogs every year.

Donaldson’s seen decreased erosion and improved yields of corn and soy.

But he’s also glad he’s going to leave the land better than he found it.

“It’s better to just take care of the land and it’ll take care of you,” he said. “But there is a cost to getting that land where you want it to be.”

The article was made possible in part by the generous support of the nonprofit Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust, and by the Institute for Journalism & Natural Resources.

Americans Already Living EPA Rollbacks Under Pruitt

U.S. News and World Report

Americans Already Living EPA Rollbacks Under Pruitt

Ordinary people across America already living the results of environmental changes under Pruitt.

By Ellen Kickmeyer, Associated Press     July 5, 2018

Seen in this 2017 photo, Drew Wynne who quit his job in 2016 to pursue a career manufacturing cold-brew coffee died in October 2017 after using a paint stripper at the business in Charleston, S.C. EPA administrator Scott Pruitt had put on hold the Obama administration’s attempt to ban consumer sales of paint strippers containing the compound methylene chloride. But he reversed course in May after meeting with families of men who died after using paint stripper. Brian Wynne, brother of Drew, believes, methylene chloride may already have been out of stores by fall 2017, when his brother was found dead at the business, killed by methylene chloride, according to coroners. (Brad Nettles/The Post and Courier via AP) The Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — For 37 mostly female farm-workers in California‘s Central Valley, U.S. policy under Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt became personal not long after sunup one day in May 2017.

Picking cabbage that morning, the workers noticed a tarry smell drifting from a nearby orchard. Mouths and lips tingled or went numb. Throats went dry. Soon some workers were vomiting and collapsing.

Officials in California’s farm-rich Kern County, where the workers fell ill, concluded that the harvesters were reacting to a pesticide, chlorpyrifos, misapplied at the neighboring orchard.

Five weeks before, in one of his first acts at EPA, Pruitt had reversed an Obama-era initiative to ban all food crop uses of the pesticide, which damages the brain and nervous system of fetuses and young children and has been prohibited as a household bug-killer since 2001.

While the new ban would not have gone into effect by the time of the Central Valley incident, Pruitt’s action postponed any further consideration of barring the popular bug-killer on food crops at least through 2022. Chlorpyrifos is crucial to agriculture, and the farms using it need “regulatory certainty,” Pruitt’s EPA said in announcing his March 2017 decision, using a phrase that would become a watchword for his business-friendly environmental rulings.

In all, the Trump administration has targeted at least 45 environmental rules, including 25 at EPA, according to a rollback tracker by Harvard Law School’s energy and environment program. The EPA rule changes would affect regulation of air, water and climate change, and transform how the EPA makes its regulatory decisions.

Pruitt, who resigned Thursday after months of ethics scandals, announced many of the policy changes quickly, and former EPA officials and environmental group predict that his proposed rollbacks will be vulnerable to court challenges.

“The world is focusing on Pruitt and his indiscretions, but they’re minuscule when you look at the impact of that change” on decision-making, said Chris Zarba, who quit this year as coordinator of two of the agency’s science advisory panels.

He was referring to allegations, now the subject of several federal investigations, about Pruitt’s lavish spending on travel and security, including a $43,000 soundproof telephone booth, and claims that he misused his office for personal gain, including seeking a fast-food franchise for his wife.

“This is not phone booths and Chick-fil-A issues,” Zarba said. “This is Americans’ lives.”

EPA spokesman Lincoln Ferguson defended the agency’s work under Pruitt, although some achievements Ferguson noted were largely completed in previous administrations.

“The science is clear, under President Trump greenhouse gas emissions are down, Superfund sites are being cleaned up at a higher rate than under President Obama, and the federal government is investing more money to improve water infrastructure than ever before,” the EPA spokesman said in a statement. The EPA declined to make an official available to speak directly on Pruitt’s policy initiatives.

Among Pruitt’s actions and proposals:


President Donald Trump, who famously called manmade climate-change an “expensive hoax” before his election, declared last summer that the United States would pull out of the Paris global accord on cutting climate-changing emissions from coal plants and other sources.

Pruitt, for his part, said he doesn’t believe humans are one of the main causes of climate changes.

Pruitt in October formally proposed the repeal of an Obama-era rule targeting climate-changing emissions from electricity plants powered by coal and other fossil fuels, part of his pro-coal and gas policies. “The war against coal is over,” Pruitt told Kentucky coal miners then.

The Obama rule would have cut power plant emissions by one-third. The Obama administration projected that it would prevent up to 6,600 premature deaths a year from air pollution.


Pruitt’s other proposals affecting clean air include allowing truck-builders to retrofit new tractor-trailer bodies with old diesel engines that were built before tougher pollution standards. He called the Obama administration’s ban on the dirtier truck engines an example of regulatory overreach that “threatened to put an entire industry of specialized truck manufacturers out of business.”

Though just a tiny niche in overall truck sales, the Obama administration said the retrofitted trucks would account for up to 1,600 early deaths each year from the soot alone.


Pruitt suspended an Obama-era version of a rule that ultimately governs what farmers, ranchers and businesspeople must do to protect water flowing through their property on its way to lakes, oceans and bays.

The so-called Waters of the United States rule impacts the water supply for people and wildlife. Pruitt, who had not yet publicly released his rewritten version of the rule when he resigned, told Nebraska farmers that his version would provide clarity and regulatory reform. “That’s how you save the economy $1 billion dollars,” he added.

Americans already are living with results of slowdowns and rollbacks in environmental regulation, said Elizabeth Southerland, who resigned last year as director of science and technology of the EPA’s Office of Water.

“Everybody in the country is now exposed to ongoing pollution, future environmental crises, because so many of these are being repealed,” Southerland said.


Pruitt boosted industrial and business representation on panels that advise the EPA. Other Pruitt changes called for more consideration of the costs of environmental rules. And a major Pruitt change would allow EPA decision-makers to consider only studies for which all the underlying data is available.

Supporters say those changes are broadening the EPA’s decision-making and making it more transparent.

Opponents said that change could throw out the kind of decades-long public-health studies, using confidential patient information, that drove landmark regulation of air pollutants and other threats.


Pruitt also paused or slowed action on some other regulations that were started but not completed during the Obama administration, as with chlorpyrifos.

Chlorpyrifos used as directed offers “wide margins of protection for human health and safety,” said Gregg M. Schmidt, spokesman for DowDupont Inc., maker of the pesticide.

Industries said Pruitt’s EPA is giving business and economic impacts the consideration and input that past administrations long denied them.

“This is about how you find the appropriate balance here, where we can continue to make significant progress in environmental and health protection while continuing to benefit the economy,” said Mike Walls, vice president of regulatory and technical affairs at the American Chemistry Council trade group.

“The fact that industry no longer has an adversary in its government, and specifically at the EPA, is a huge step forward in common sense regulation,” said Ashley Burke of the National Mining Association. The mining group’s members include coal companies, which stand to benefit from proposed Pruitt rollbacks of Obama-era initiatives on fossil-fuel power plants and disposal of toxic coal ash.


Pruitt had put on hold the Obama administration’s attempt to ban consumer sales of paint strippers containing the compound methylene chloride. But he reversed course in May after meeting with families of men who died after using paint stripper.

Brian Wynne, brother of 31-year-old Drew, is grateful. But if Pruitt’s EPA had never stayed the rule in the first place, Brian Wynne believes, methylene chloride may already have been out of stores by fall 2017, when his brother went to a South Carolina home-goods store to buy paint stripper to use on the floor of his cold-brew coffee company. Drew Wynne was found dead at the business last October, killed by methylene chloride, according to coroners.

I left the Republican Party. Now I want Democrats to take over.

The Washington Post

I left the Republican Party. Now I want Democrats to take over.

By Max Boot Columnist      July 4, 2018 

High profile GOP strategist Steve Schmidt left the Republican Party on June 20 in protest to the Trump administration’s controversial “zero tolerance” policy. (Elyse Samuels/The Washington Post)

“Should I stay or should I go now?” That question, posed by the eminent political philosophers known as the Clash, is one that confronts any Republican with a glimmer of conscience. You used to belong to a conservative party with a white-nationalist fringe. Now it’s a white-nationalist party with a conservative fringe. If you’re part of that fringe, what should you do?

Veteran strategist Steve Schmidt, who ran John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign, is the latest Republican to say “no more.” Recently he issued an anguished Twitter post: “29 years and nine months ago I registered to vote and became a member of the Republican Party which was founded in 1854 to oppose slavery and stand for the dignity of human life,” he wrote. “Today I renounce my membership in the Republican Party. It is fully the party of Trump.”

Schmidt follows in the illustrious footsteps of Post columnist George F. Will, former senator Gordon Humphrey, former representative (and Post columnist) Joe Scarborough, Reagan and Bush (both) aide Peter Wehner, and other Republicans who have left the party. I’m with them. After a lifetime as a Republican, I re-registered as an independent on the day after Donald Trump’s election.

Explaining my decision, I noted that Trumpkins “want to transform the GOP into a European-style nationalist party that opposes cuts in entitlement programs, believes in deportation of undocumented immigrants, white identity politics, protectionism and isolationism backed by hyper-macho threats to bomb the living daylights out of anyone who messes with us.” I still hoped then that traditional conservatives might eventually prevail, but, I wrote, “I can no longer support a party that doesn’t know what it stands for — and that in fact may stand for positions that I find repugnant.”

I am more convinced than ever that I made the right decision. The transformation I feared has taken place. Just look at the reaction to President Trump’s barbarous policy of taking children away from their parents as punishment for the misdemeanor offense of illegally entering the country. While two-thirds of Americans disapproved of this state-sanctioned child abuse, forcing the president to back down, a majority of Republicans approved. If Trump announced he were going to spit-roast immigrant kids and eat them on national TV (apologies to Jonathan Swift), most Republicans probably would approve of that, too. The entire Republican platform can now be reduced to three words: whatever Trump says.

And yet there are still principled #NeverTrump conservatives such as Tom Nichols and Bill Kristol who are staying in the party. And they have a good case to make. Kristol, for one, balks “at giving up the Republican party to the forces of nativism, vulgar populism, and authoritarianism.” As he notes, “It would be bad for the country if one of our two major parties went in this direction.”

Editorial page editor Fred Hiatt and opinion writer Molly Roberts debate whether Trump officials should be publicly shamed. (Kate Woodsome , Adriana Usero/The Washington Post)

No one anticipated Trump’s takeover. It’s possible, these Republicans argue, that we might be equally surprised by his downfall. Imagine what would happen if special counsel Robert S. Mueller III found clear evidence of criminality or if Trump’s trade wars tanked the economy. I’m not saying that’s likely to happen, but if it does, it might — just might — shake the 88 percent GOP support that Trump currently enjoys. That, in turn, could open the way for a credible primary challenge that wouldn’t deny him the nomination but that — like Gene McCarthy in 1968, Ronald Reagan in 1976 and Pat Buchanan in 1992 — could help to defeat him in the general election and wrest the party from his grasp.

Personally, I’ve thrown up my hands in despair at the debased state of the GOP. I don’t want to be identified with the party of the child-snatchers. But I respect principled conservatives who are willing to stay and fight to reclaim a once-great party that freed the slaves and helped to win the Cold War. What I can’t respect are head-in-the-sand conservatives who continue to support the GOP by pretending that nothing has changed.

They act, these political ostriches, as if this were still the party of Ronald Reagan and John McCain rather than of Stephen K. Bannon and Stephen Miller — and therefore they cling to the illusion that supporting Republican candidates will advance their avowed views. Wrong. The current GOP still has a few resemblances to the party of old — it still cuts taxes and supports conservative judges. But a vote for the GOP in November is also a vote for egregious obstruction of justice, rampant conflicts of interest, the demonization of minorities, the debasement of political discourse, the alienation of America’s allies, the end of free trade and the appeasement of dictators.

That is why I join Will and other principled conservatives, both current and former Republicans, in rooting for a Democratic takeover of both houses in November. Like postwar Germany and Japan, the Republican Party must be destroyed before it can be rebuilt.

Read more:

George F. Will: Vote against the GOP this November

Joe Scarborough: Trump is killing the Republican Party

Michael Gerson: Trumpism, a whites-only ideology

Eugene Robinson: The GOP plunges toward its own special place in hell

Mark Sanford: I lost because I wasn’t Trump enough. All Republicans should worry.

Jennifer Rubin: Republicans are justifying the unjustifiable

Trump repeatedly suggested Venezuela invasion, stunning top aides – report

The Guardian

Trump repeatedly suggested Venezuela invasion, stunning top aides – report

Julian Borger in Washington DC, The Guardian       July 5, 2018 

The administration officials are said to have taken turns in trying to talk the president out of the idea in August of last year

Donald Trump speaking to the press with the secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, left, UN ambassador, Nikki Haley and national security adviser, HR McMaster, on 11 August 2017, at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey. Photograph: Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

Donald Trump repeatedly raised the possibility of invading Venezuela in talks with his top aides at the White House, according to a new report.

Trump brought up the subject of an invasion in public in August last year, saying: “We have many options for Venezuela, including a possible military option, if necessary.” But the president’s musings about the possibility of a US invasion were more extensive and persistent than that public declaration, according to the Associated Press.

The previous day Trump reportedly took his top officials by surprise in an Oval Office meeting, asking why the US could not intervene to remove the government of Nicolás Maduro on the grounds that Venezuela’s political and economic unraveling represented a threat to the region.

Quoting an unnamed senior administration official, the AP report said the suggestion stunned those present at the meeting, which included the then national security adviser, HR McMaster, and secretary of state, Rex Tillerson. Both have since left the administration.

The administration officials are said to have taken turns in trying to talk him out of the idea, pointing out that any such military action would alienate Latin American allies who had supported the US policy of punitive sanctions on the Maduro regime.

Their arguments do not seem to have dissuaded the president.

A grim-faced Tillerson stood alongside Trump the next day at his New Jersey golf course at Bedminster as the president warmed to his theme.

“We have many options for Venezuela, this is our neighbor,” Trump said.

“We’re all over the world and we have troops all over the world in places that are very, very far away, Venezuela is not very far away and the people are suffering and dying. We have many options for Venezuela including a possible military option if necessary.”

The White House announced later it had refused to take a call from Maduro. The Venezuelan defense minister, Vladimir Padrino, described Trump’s threat as an “act of craziness” and “supreme extremism”.

In the weeks that followed, Trump remained preoccupied with the idea of an invasion, according to AP. Shortly after the Bedminister remarks, he raised the issue with the Colombian president, Juan Manuel Santos, and then brought it up again at that year’s UN general assembly in September, at a private dinner with allied Latin American states.

At that dinner, Trump made clear he was ignoring the advice of his aides.

“My staff told me not to say this,” Trump said and then asked the other leaders at the table in turn, if they were sure they didn’t want a military solution.

McMaster finally succeeding in persuading Trump of the dangers of an invasion, the report said, and the president’s interest in the notion subsided.

Trump’s approach to military intervention has been erratic. He has been insistent on bringing troops back from Syria, and his administration is pushing to draw down troops in Europe. But Venezuela is not the only country he has threatened directly. Last year, he warned North Korea of impending “fire and fury” and total destruction if the country threatened the US with its nuclear weapons and missiles. After his summit with Kim Jong-un last month in Singapore, however, Trump presented military conflict as unthinkable, pointing out it would cost millions of lives.

Dara Cooper Is Reclaiming Black Foodways

Civil Eats

Dara Cooper Is Reclaiming Black Foodways

The co-founder of the National Black Food and Justice Alliance seeks community-based solutions to address racial equity, food sovereignty, and land injustice.

By Korsha Wilson, Food Justice, Health, Nutrition    July 3, 2018

“Definitions are important because whoever gets to define a problem gets to define its solution,” says Dara Cooper, activist, organizer, writer, and co-founder of the National Black Food and Justice Alliance (NBFJA). “Black communities are often beholden to white communities and their definitions, so they’re also beholden to their solutions,” she adds.

Cooper is redefining problems in food systems across the country and looking at ways that communities of color can reclaim, redesign, and reimagine their own foodways.

Dara Cooper. (Photo © Nicole Harrison)

Dara Cooper. (Photo © Nicole Harrison)

In a recent report titled “Reframing Food Hubs: Food Hubs, Racial Equity, and Self-Determination in the South,” Cooper writes: “If we want a truly transformed system—a truly just system—we must commit to divesting from our current system, naming race, and ultimately destroying what we know as a system of white supremacy that does not benefit the majority of the population.”

The report is the result of four months that Cooper spent traveling across the South, interviewing farmers, food hub leaders, and community organizers to identify the most pressing solutions to transform food hubs—popular models for distributing local food more effectively—for greater racial equity.

“In my mind’s eye, the report is aimed at the practitioners of this work, people of color who never get to see themselves in the mainstream narrative, who felt invisible,” she says. But she also wants the larger food justice community to see the report, too, in hopes that it convinces people to see new solutions to old problems.

Earlier this year, Cooper was named a James Beard Foundation Leadership Award honoree for her work, which she describes as “rooted in resistance, self-determination, and, quite frankly, survival.” She sees herself as a conduit for organizations and communities that are working to find community-based solutions to problems.

Cooper started working in food justice 15 years ago, after noticing children on their way to school stopping at a gas station in Chicago for breakfast. “They were eating Cheetos with five-day old hamburger meat and plastic-looking cheese and that was what they had access to. That didn’t seem right to me,” she remembers. At the time she was working to help low-income residents in Chicago do tax preparation focusing on earned income tax credits. But after seeing the lack of food options many families faced, she decided to shift her focus to food justice.

Civil Eats recently spoke with Cooper about the NBJFA, what inspires her food justice work, and her hopes for the future.

What are some of the guiding principles of your work?

All the work I do is about liberation. I focus on food sovereignty, land rights, and land injustice in my role with NBJFA. I work with three other organizers and a larger network of food organizations focusing on food justice, youth leadership, elders in our communities, working towards creating self-determining food economies, and land justice. We mobilize to protect Black people from losing their land, and we work to promote indigenous sovereignty.

What does land injustice look like?

There are historical and contemporary laws that have separated Black people from land, and my work is about how we can reclaim the system and move to a more collective system. We look at using co-op grocery stores and land trusts to deepen our agency and our means to create and design food systems that give us full dignity and agency. Native peoples and Black communities have always had to think about community-based ways of protecting one another and we have to think cooperatively when facing the system. In a group you have more power.

You’ve talked about your work to end “food apartheid,” instead of using the better-known term “food deserts.” Can you explain your choice of language?

One of the things that I’m aware of is all of the ways that Black people experience violence in our country. [Lack of healthy] food is a deep-rooted form of violence. Junk food is concentrated in Black communities, and fast food industries are concentrated there, too. We have research saying kids need nutrition to develop proper brain functions, and when they don’t have access to food with nutrients, that’s violence. We see high heart disease in our communities, and that’s by design. We use the term “food apartheid” instead of “food deserts” because it’s violence that has created this system.

The musician Moby recently wrote an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal about how the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) shouldn’t be allowed to pay for junk food. What are your thoughts on that?

I’ve been in arguments with people about this for many years. This conversation is so layered, and it’s absurd to point the finger at individual choice. When you do that, it can be classist, racist, and paternalistic. When you do that and you don’t mention legislation that makes junk food cheap, you don’t challenge the industries that profit off of this.

I went to South Africa and I saw “crisps,” or what we call chips, were really expensive, and a bag of spinach was really cheap. It made me think about our system in America and how it’s the opposite here. When I went to Jamaica, I saw fruit trees everywhere, and they belong to everyone; they’re in service of the island. Being out of the country has really allowed me to see our capitalist-driven food system and its consequences more clearly.

I’d say to Moby he needs to check himself, his research, and his privilege. We need to point the finger at our systems.

What are you seeing change as part of your work?

I have the great privilege of knowing people that are doing [food justice] work, and we bring these people together to design national strategy. We’ve been focusing on Black co-op work and [helping] Black communities be able to organize themselves.

Solutions tend to focus only on [adding more] grocery stores, but that’s too narrow—we need to look at all of the different ways retail can meet community needs like community gardens, dinner swaps, I’ve even heard of senior centers coming together to carpool to local farms and grocery stores. We want to have a more expansive definition of what that can look like.

Even though Fresh Moves [a mobile grocery store for underserved Chicago communities, where Cooper worked as project manager in 2011] was bringing fresh food to the community, we really want strong land reform advocacy that prioritizes creating ancestral connection to the land instead of ownership. Capitalism creates an extractive relationship with the land and makes it about what we can get instead of how we can sustain ourselves and the land at the same time.

I think about our work on a continuum. We have emergency situations where we have to help a farmer keep their land, and we have to think more collectively [over longer time frames] about how we make sure we’re not repeating the same exploitative system. How can we make sure future generations have the land as well?

There are many people thinking about how to create land trusts. We also want to see this in urban areas, since urban farmers are losing their land too. Black Dirt Farm Collective is doing amazing things in that space and urban farmers are organizing.

What does a completely reimagined food system look like to you? What do you dream of seeing in the future?

It’s a system that’s much more creative, not capitalism-centered, with more tax dollars redistributed so communities can benefit from land owned by communities. I also want to see communities organizing at a larger scale, training more farmers, and creating a culture of good food. All of the junk food advertising would shift to okra, collard greens, all of the beautiful things we enjoy when we’re connected to the land. I want to see a shift to thinking about the sustainability of the planet. I want to see the people who grow, pick, and package our foods be able to support their families.

I hope to see that we can really make the connections between [the many ways] capitalism is failing us. We need to center joy and fairness if we care about our children’s children. Quick judgments about SNAP recipients are deviations from conversations that actually create change. Our food system is a direct reflection of how we show love for one another, and there’s always an opportunity to show that you care about people.

Top photo courtesy of Race Forward / Dara Cooper.

Barack Obama Needs to Get His Hands Dirty


Barack Obama Needs to Get His Hands Dirty

The former president will have to engage in serious political combat to defend his vision of America from Donald Trump.

By Charles P. Pierce      July 3, 2018

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There was a story in The Washington Post: that caught The Cynic’s eye this week. It was about the latest scam with which the rich manage further to immiserate the poor. It was the headline that grabbed The Cynic’s attention. It contained the phrase “monetizing poor people,” which was a little too Soylent Green for The Cynic’s comfort.

“A week later, though, his 2005 Chevy pickup was in the shop, and he didn’t have enough to pay for the repairs. He needed the truck to get to work, to get the kids to school. So Huggins, a 56-year-old heavy equipment operator in Nashville, fished the check out that day in April 2017 and cashed it. Within a year, the company, Mariner Finance, sued Huggins for $3,221.27. That included the original $1,200, plus an additional $800 a company representative later persuaded him to take, plus hundreds of dollars in processing fees, insurance and other items, plus interest. It didn’t matter that he’d made a few payments already. “It would have been cheaper for me to go out and borrow money from the mob,” Huggins said before his first court hearing in April.”

This is, in fact, true. The Mob is more straight-ahead honest with its collection procedures.

“Mass-mailing checks to strangers might seem like risky business, but Mariner Finance occupies a fertile niche in the U.S. economy. The company enables some of the nation’s wealthiest investors and investment funds to make money offering high-interest loans to cash-strapped Americans. Dozens of… investment firms bought Mariner bonds last year, allowing the company to raise an additional $550 million. That allowed the lender to make more loans to people like Huggins. “It’s basically a way of monetizing poor people,” said John Lafferty, who was a manager trainee at a Mariner Finance branch for four months in 2015 in Nashville. His misgivings about the business echoed those of other former employees contacted by The Washington Post. “Maybe at the beginning, people thought these loans could help people pay their electric bill. But it has become a cash cow.””

Moo, thought The Cynic. Moo, moo, moo. These guys are payday lenders in a $5,000 suit.

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“Among its rivals, Mariner stands out for the frequent use of mass-mailed checks, which allows customers to accept a high-interest loan on an impulse — just sign the check. It has become a key marketing method. The company’s other tactics include borrowing money for as little as 4 or 5 percent — thanks to the bond market — and lending at rates as high as 36 percent, a rate that some states consider usurious; making millions of dollars by charging borrowers for insurance policies of questionable value; operating an insurance company in the Turks and Caicos, where regulations are notably lax, to profit further from the insurance policies; and aggressive collection practices that include calling delinquent customers once a day and embarrassing them by calling their friends and relatives, customers said.”

The Cynic believes—or, rather, knows in the deepest and most cynical part of his cynical heart—that the modern American corporate business model is fraud, that the primary purpose of the American financial system is to make money on money. He believed this before the crash of 2008 and he believes it today. He has believed it under at least the last five previous presidents of the United States. He believes that they believe it as well, and that all five of them, in one way or another, accepted the new business model as being as implacable a force as the wind and tides. This acceptance, the Cynic concludes, was what led directly to the election as president* of a pure product of modern American business fraud.

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This latest bit of shameless brigandage, thought The Cynic, was the perfect illustration of how the current president* got rich and famous enough to become president*. The guy with the truck is all those subcontractors, the painters and landscapers and glaziers, who trusted his word that they’d get paid and ended up wearing a barrel because the president* had turned reneging on debts into a fine art. The vultures of Mariner Finance were the administration* he put together—chockfull of crooks and sharpers who get fat on broken promises and human misery.

Then The Cynic read further along, and he came to this passage, and he thought about the administration before this one:

“Mariner Finance is owned and managed by a $11.2 billion private equity fund controlled by Warburg Pincus, a storied New York firm. The president of Warburg Pincus is Timothy F. Geithner, who, as treasury secretary in the Obama administration, condemned predatory lenders. The firm’s co-chief executives, Charles R. Kaye and Joseph P. Landy, are established figures in New York’s financial world. The minimum investment in the fund is $20 million.”

Why? The Cynic never has stopped asking this of President Barack Obama. Why Geithner, of all people, when the country was hungry for answers about who had wrecked the world economy and then cashed in the rubble? Why look forward and not back—on torture, and on massive, catastrophic fraud? At the end of the eight years, The Cynic was willing to give Obama a reluctant ‘B.’ He managed to get a national health-insurance bill passed, and damned if it hasn’t been surprisingly durable. He also signed the most sweeping financial reform bill of the previous half-century—although, as The Cynic sadly realized, that wasn’t saying much. He put two very tough liberal women on the Supreme Court. And people did look to him for honest leadership the way they hadn’t looked at politicians in a long time.

Tim Geithner. Getty Images

But the grade never got above ‘B,’ because, essentially, The Cynic believed that Obama never really understood the American people the way they are. He understood them the way he wanted them to be. The constant appeals to the country’s better angels rang hollow through history; even Lincoln couldn’t really summon them, because he got shot in the head, and then Andrew Johnson found political advantage in stirring up the race hatred that still burned throughout the country. The Cynic still believes, as he wrote the first time that he considered the phenomenon of Barack Obama:

“Why would anyone have faith in America, which is not tough but fearful, not smart but stupid, and not shrewd but willing to fall for almost anything as long it comes wrapped in a flag? Why would anyone have faith in Americans? Barack Obama says that he has that faith because of his own life, because he was able to rise to the point where he can be thought of as president of the United States. He is the country’s walking absolution. That’s his reason, the cynic thinks, but it’s not mine. There has to be confession. There has to be penance. Being Barack Obama is not enough. Not damn close to enough.

And it wasn’t. Virulent racism and crazy conspiracy theories attended his every move for eight years. One of the craziest was pushed by the guy who became his successor. This was not an accident.

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Unless things change drastically in the next two years, Barack Obama and Donald Trump are going to be history’s fraternal twins, their administrations seen as part of the same whole in the period when the survival of the American republic was in greater peril than any time since Lincoln got shot in the head. If he is not careful, The Cynic thought, Barack Obama may well be remembered through history as the president whose glorious vision of the country and considerable personal magnetism made the idea of a President* Donald Trump plausible, if only as an alternative, and as a vehicle for all those parts of the American character that Obama believed the American people could overcome.

All of the forces that produced the current president* were on vivid display during Obama’s eight years in office—the racism, the xenophobia, the lust for “taking our country back.” Guys with guns used to stalk the parking lots of arenas in which Obama was speaking. For eight years, Obama was presented with prima facie evidence that everything he said in that famous speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention was sadly wrong, that his optimism was misplaced, and that the better angels of our nature were, as they are from time to time, off-duty or rolling sevens in Vegas.


That he managed to stay sane through that, let alone get as much done as he did, while still maintaining his essential humanity, is eternal testimony to the iron in his spine and to the granite in his character. However, it will not be hard for historians to conclude that his confidence in the American people and his caution in certain policy areas left a huge opening for the dark forces that Obama’s Boston speech had dismissed as phantoms conjured up by pollsters and political consultants. Certainly, Trump’s election has to be seen as a thorough rejection of that speech, just as the administration*’s campaign to roll back Obama’s achievements is a rejection of his policies.

This is what The Cynic thinks when he sees that Tim Geithner is still operating on the modern American business model after a stint as Secretary of the Treasury. Was he completely untouched by the damage done by his lunch pals? Was he deaf to the message that his president brought to the country? Barack Obama left just enough of an opening in just enough places to make the idea of a Donald Trump’s presidency* something more than a punchline. Something like it might have happened anyway, given the raw energy of the naked racial animus that attended every move Obama made.

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Another Problem with Larry Kudlow’s Deficit Whopper

Fiscal Times – Politics

Another Problem with Larry Kudlow’s Deficit Whopper

Yuval Rosenberg, The Fiscal Times      July 2, 2018 

White House chief economic adviser Larry Kudlow attends U.S. President Donald Trump’s remarks at an event marking the 6-month anniversary of the package of changes to the tax code he signed into law, at the White House in Washington, U.S. June 29, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Larry Kudlow, director of President Trump’s National Economic Council, set off a wave of incredulous head-scratching on Friday by claiming in an interview with Fox Business Network that the federal deficit “is coming down. And it’s coming down rapidly.”

The deficit is most certainly not coming down, let alone doing so rapidly. Kudlow clarified his statement later in the day, explaining that he meant that the deficit will come down rapidly as the GOP’s tax cuts and the White House’s economic plan boost growth far beyond what most analysts outside the Trump administration expect.

Here’s how Kudlow laid it out for Politico’s Ben White:

My case for lower deficits is that economic growth, both real and nominal, is going to be significantly faster than any of these forecasters expect, especially the CBO. And I mean significantly. I think it could run 3.5 percent in 2018 and still over 3 percent in 2019. That’s going to lift nominal growth and that’s where the revenues come from.

What I’m saying is that the deficit estimates are wrong and economic growth is going to prove it wrong. That’s my case and it’s a supply side case. We are in an investment boom. The numbers are rolling in very rapidly and I don’t think this is new news from Kudlow.

That explanation is slightly more defensible than claiming that the deficit is falling — which, again, it is not — but only slightly. The Washington Post Editorial Board explained why in a Sunday piece headlines “The White House is living in an alternate economic universe”:

We’re glad to learn that Kudlow’s claim was a fantasy too far even for the Trump White House. But his new version isn’t much of an improvement reality-wise. The fact is that the estimated $1.2 trillion reduction in federal revenues over the next 10 years that the Republican-majority Congress enacted six months ago has widened what was already a large hole in federal finances. The cash hemorrhage has already begun. As The Post’s Aaron Blake reports, for the first seven months of fiscal 2018 (October through April), the deficit stood at $385 billion, 12 percent more than for the same period last year. Even if Mr. Kudlow’s vaunted supply-side-effect produces enough revenue to make up that gap — a generous assumption — the most he could say is that the deficit remained flat, not that it came down, much less ‘rapidly.’ … If Mr. Kudlow’s comments are any indication, this White House intends not only to put off action on the nation’s fiscal predicament but to pretend it doesn’t exist.

And New York Magazine’s Jonathan Chait offered a damning defense of Kudlow’s clarification:

I do think Kudlow is being completely honest, though, in his conflation of the present and future tenses. In the mind of supply-siders, it is simply an iron law of the universe that higher taxes on the rich reduce revenues, and lower taxes on the rich raise them. The fact that the opposite has happened over and over, and is happening again right now, is completely immaterial to him. He is so certainly certain of his theory he can boast of its success as though it is happening already.

Fish Fraud is Real. What Should we Eat?

Civil Eats

Fish Fraud is Real. What Should we Eat?

After a recent investigation into fish seller Sea to Table revealed some questionable practices, author Paul Greenberg asks what the hell do we do now if we want to eat local fish?

By Paul Greenberg, Labeling, Seafood,     June 29, 2018

There was a time in my life, not too long ago, when the only fish I ate were the fish I caught myself. Sportfishing was my passion. Back then, I’d have sooner driven a Hummer than bought a slab of commercially caught tuna. I ended up writing a book that encapsulated much of my thinking on the subject called Four Fish. It was then that I first met Sean Dimin.

At a reading of the book at a now-defunct bookstore in Brooklyn, Dimin introduced himself and told me he had come to hear me talk because he and his father had recently founded a small seafood company whose mission was to help save the sea, oddly enough, by fishing. The business was called Sea to Table, and their plan was to buy fish from actual fishermen and sell it directly to actual fish eaters. Simplicity incarnate.

If they could make it work, they would offer an alternative to a seafood distribution system in which a fish usually changes hands at least seven times between leaving the water and hitting the frying pan. I liked the idea. I believed then and still believe that shortening the seafood supply chain could help people who really want to know where their seafood comes from as much as it could help people who really wanted to catch fish sustainably and earn a decent living in the process.

Earlier this month, eight years after my first encounter with Dimin, the Associated Press published a months-long investigation that links Sea to Table to seafood fraud stretching from Brooklyn to Micronesia. In the worst examples of the exposé, AP exhaustively documented a switcheroo in which foreign tuna of dubious origin was mislabeled and passed off to consumers as locally and sustainably caught. If the evidence is as rock-solid as it appears, it could mean the end of the Dimins’ business and a black mark on the quest to relocalize our seafood supply.

A little global context on the crazy, mixed-up world of the American fish market is in order before I continue.

Sea to Table was launched as part of a reaction against much larger economic forces. In the postwar years, America became increasingly enmeshed in the murky global seafood market. From the 1980s to the present, fish markets and individual fishmongers went from controlling 65 percent of the seafood trade to holding on to just 11 percent. Supermarkets, meanwhile, went from selling 16 percent of our seafood to selling 86 percent. Today, even though the United States controls more ocean than any country on earth, as much as 90 percent of the fish we eat is imported.

It gets worse.

The Rise of “Local” Seafood

Because of the endless trans-shipping of fish flesh from small vessels to freezer ships to processing plants, back and forth across huge swaths of water, it is common for an American fish to be caught in the U.S,, frozen whole, and sent to China, where it is defrosted, boned, refrozen, and sent back to the states double frozen. Triple and quadruple freezing also occurs. It gets even worse from a moral standpoint. A large portion of the fish that we import, often tuna, is caught illegally, sometimes using the labor of slaves.

All this prompted me to write a second seafood book called American Catch: The Fight for Our Local Seafood. As that book went to press, a new kind of business called a “community-supported fishery” started emerging. Many of these new entrepreneurs wanted to tell me their stories. There was Real Good Fish out in Monterey, California, offering salmon and rockfish. There was Walking Fish in North Carolina, selling black drum and sheepshead. Port Clyde Fresh Catch in Maine had pollock and haddock. Dock to Dish in Montauk had porgy and butterfish.

By the time American Catch went to paperback, there were dozens of these fledgling endeavors. Each of them was trying to do the same very difficult thing: chart a course around the foreign seafood pouring into the country and resist the lowballing from seafood-buying middlemen that left fishermen with dockside prices, often below $1 per pound.

I was won over by these stories. I started regularly buying seafood instead of catching it.

The struggle caught the public’s attention, too. Increasingly I found myself writing about the plight of community-supported fisheries and organizing events on their behalf. And all along the way, Sea to Table kept showing up. The company bought dozens of copies of American Catch and distributed them to its customers.

When I wanted to help Manhattan’s New Amsterdam Market stage a pop-up festival of locally caught New York fish on the grounds of the old Fulton Fish Market, the Dimins showed up with plenty of every kind of seafood you could hope to eat. When Yale, Ohio State, and the University of Massachusetts wanted to relocalize their cafeterias, Sea to Table was there to help. When the Monterey Bay Aquarium, the nation’s leader in rating sustainable seafood, needed Alaska salmon for an event, the Dimins had pounds and pounds of it.

It was a self-reinforcing loop: Ocean nonprofits needed a case study to prove that fish could be local and sustainable. Sea to Table wanted to be that case study — and to be that case study at scale. It was even the subject of an actual case study written by the nonprofit Oceana.

But at a certain point, small-scale fishermen, the kind of fishermen Sea to Table was encouraging, started grumbling that the company was not operating as it appeared. Why were “Montauk tuna” on Sea to Table’s list of products in the dead of winter, when Montauk Harbor was frozen and nary a tuna boat was heading out to fish? Why were Maryland blue crabs on the company’s docket in January, when the Maryland blue crab season had ended? These questions bugged me. And the complaints continued. By the time the Associated Press interviewed me for its investigation, it started to seem that the Sea to Table case study was not always holding water.

Now, after having read the full AP story, I have many questions. If what is reported turns out to be true, at what point did Sea to Table’s apparent reality veer away from its story? Did the company start out with an intent to defraud its customers, or was the intermingling of foreign tuna with locally caught fish just plain sloppy? Did it falsify the names of fishing vessels that caught supposedly local fish, as AP documented, or was it a repeated clerical error? Are the Dimins at heart good people who got confused, or did they become what they beheld because they realized that what they beheld might be the only way to make money in the fish business today?

Where Do We Go from Here?

Perhaps the most important question is the question everyone has been asking me for decades — and especially now that the AP story has dropped: What the hell do we do now if we want to eat fish?

Sea to Table has chosen to blame its tuna supplier, Gosman’s of Montauk. In a statement posted to the company’s site, Dimin asserts, “If the reporter’s allegations are accurate, the third party supplier singled out, Gosman’s, would be in clear breach of the spirit and contractual agreement that we have with them. As we further investigate, we have discontinued our working relationship with Gosman’s. The idea that we could be associated — even very loosely — with an organization that engages in poor labor practices is outright horrifying to us.

For the rest of us, the path forward is to learn more and try harder. It’s important to remember that Sea to Table was not a community-supported fishery, a fisherman’s co-op, or any other kind of fisherman-owned business. It was a fish seller that often worked with other fish sellers, like Gosman’s. But there are and there continue to be genuine community-supported fisheries. These organizations do sell directly to consumers, and they do focus exclusively on locally caught seafood. You can find most of them at

In addition, there are supermarket chains that take seafood traceability very seriously. They are rated regularly on their traceability and sustainability systems, and you can see how they compare here.

We should also keep in mind that Sea to Table’s weaknesses are in part based on our weaknesses. The largest source of mislabeling in the Sea to Table portfolio appears to have been tuna. Do we really need to eat tuna as much as we do? In most years, tuna is the most-consumed family of fish in America. Tuna is also the largest source of mercury in the American diet, and much of it is coming from countries that have serious issues with forced labor and food safety. Couldn’t we get to know some other fish instead?

And in league with that question are many others we ought to ask ourselves.

Couldn’t we all become a little more acquainted with our own shores and come to their defense? Couldn’t we offer a word of protest when we hear that yet another commercial fishing port is being converted into a luxury harborside yacht club? Couldn’t we hold our towns and cities accountable when they don’t adequately budget for sewer systems that drain into our fishing grounds? Couldn’t we stand up for local oyster growers when they are boxed out of their home coasts by landowners who don’t want to be bothered by honest people making food?

And failing all that, couldn’t we read up on the regulations, visit a local tackle shop, and maybe one day this summer go out and catch a fish all by ourselves?

That’s my plan anyway. I’ll see you on the water.

Emails reveal close rapport between top EPA officials, those they regulate

Washington Post

Emails reveal close rapport between top EPA officials, those they regulate

By Juliet Eilperin      July 1, 2018

 Does Scott Pruitt have an ethics problem?

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt faces rising scrutiny over several ethics issues, including his use of taxpayer money.(Video: Bastien Inzaurralde/Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

 On the morning of April 1, 2017, Environmental Protection Agency appointee Mandy Gunasekara welcomed to her office a team of lobbyists representing the makers of portable generators.

For months, the Portable Generators Manufacturers’ Association had been trying to block federal regulations aimed at making its product less dangerous. The machines — used by many Americans during power outages after severe storms — emit more carbon monoxide than cars and cause about 70 accidental deaths a year.

Just before President Barack Obama left office, the Consumer Product Safety Commission had approved a proposal that would require generators to emit lower levels of the poisonous gas. Now industry lobbyists were warning Gunasekara of “a potential turf battle . . . brewing” between the commission and the EPA, which traditionally regulates air emissions from engines.

Less than six weeks later, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt sent a letter informing Ann Marie Buerkle, the commission’s acting chair, that his agency had primary jurisdiction over the issue. Just over three months later, Buerkle signaled she might reassess mandatory regulations and described the industry’s work toward voluntary standards as “very promising.”

The communication between the lobbyists and one of Pruitt’s top policy aides — detailed in emails the agency provided to Democratic Sens. Bill Nelson (Fla.) and Thomas R. Carper (Del.) — open a window on the often close relationship between the EPA’s political appointees and those they regulate. Littered among tens of thousands of emails that have surfaced in recent weeks, largely through a public records lawsuit filed by the Sierra Club, are dozens of requests for regulatory relief by industry players. Many have been granted.

In March 2017, for example, a lobbyist for Waste Management, one of the nation’s largest trash companies, wrote to two top EPA appointees seeking reconsideration of “two climate-related rules” affecting business. (Another lobbyist “sings your praises,” she told the pair.) The EPA subsequently delayed a rule targeting methane emissions from landfills until at least 2020.

 Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt intervened as the Consumer Product Safety Commission was considering mandatory emissions limits for portable generators, saying the issue was instead the EPA’s domain. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)

Less than six weeks later, a representative of the golf industry wrote Samantha Dravis, then-associate EPA administrator for the Office of Policy, that “our guys” had been “amazed at the marked difference between our meeting today and the reception at EPA in years” past. The chief executive of the World Golf Association later sent his own email reminding Dravis of “our specific interest in repeal of the Clean Water Rule” — a rule the agency is now reviewing.

And in June 2017, Michael Formica, a lawyer for the National Pork Producers Council, sent a note “from my SwinePhone” thanking Gunasekara and other senior Pruitt aides “for your efforts to help address the recent air emission reporting issues facing livestock agriculture.” The EPA later revamped its guidelines so that pork, poultry and dairy operations do not have to report on potentially hazardous air pollutants arising from animal waste.

EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox said many of these groups “were dealing with the costly consequences of President Obama’s policies that expanded federal overreach while doing little for the environment.”

Any rule changes underway, he added in an email, received “robust public comment” and have been developed “consistent with administrative law and the rulemaking process” with the goal of improving the environment.

Others are far less enthusiastic about the EPA’s performance under Pruitt — including what appears to be an “open-door policy towards the industries they are supposed to be regulating,” said Brendan Fischer, director of federal reform at the Campaign Legal Centera nonpartisan public watchdog group. “As these emails show, when lobbyists ask top EPA officials to jump, the answer is often ‘how high.’ ”

On some occasions, top EPA officials pushed back on the idea that they would automatically grant industry’s requests: In a sharply worded Aug. 21 email, Dravis told a lobbyist from ConocoPhillips that “no one committed” to relaxing a rule on small incinerators at the oil and gas company’s request. Career staff, she added, had raised concerns about the move.

Although the vast majority of the emails focused on industry concerns, Pruitt aides also tried to reach out to environmentalists, including Natural Resources Defense Council attorney John Walke and Environmental Defense Fund President Fred Krupp.

Walke, however, was unimpressed. “Scott Pruitt is at EPA only to serve the interests of polluting industries,” he said when asked about the overture. “A few token meetings with environmental groups cannot hide his destructive agenda.’’

EPA’s shifting stand on portable generators has proven particularly consequential. The Consumer Product Safety Commission had spent years examining whether to impose mandatory emissions requirements, concluding in late 2016 that the industry could not be trusted to lower emissions on its own. After Pruitt intervened, Buerkle announced last August that the commission would explore the voluntary standards being developed by the industry trade association even as rulemaking on the other front technically continued.

“Staff is obligated to proceed,” a spokeswoman for the commission said Sunday.

It is now working with the National Institute of Standards and Technology to evaluate two voluntary standards that would require a generator’s engine to shut off when carbon monoxide levels get too high.

“I don’t think anyone can deny that safer generators will now be produced,” Bracewell senior principal Edward Krenik, who represents the industry, said in an email Sunday. He noted that the shift is happening “voluntarily and without protracted litigation, which would have delayed any change.”

The safety consulting and certification company UL has proposed a more restrictive limit that would require the generators to emit lower levels of carbon monoxide overall — and shut off much sooner.

In May, Buerkle wrote Nelson and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) to stress how, “thanks to many years of effort by the CPSC staff and generator manufacturers, safer portable generators are coming to market soon.” However, given that older machines remain in use, she wrote, “it is crucial to keep emphasizing the message that portable generators must be kept outdoors and as far from open windows and doors as possible.”

Despite aggressive public-information campaigns by federal and local officials on that point, carbon monoxide poisoning incidents remain a serious problem. The Florida Poison Information Center Network recorded 509 patients last year, compared with 327 in 2016 and 276 in 2015.

After Hurricane Irma, Nelson said in a statement, “at least 12 people died and many more were injured by carbon monoxide poisoning from portable generators in Florida.”

Nelson went on to accuse Buerkle and Pruitt of colluding “with industry and outside lobbyists to actually kill mandatory safety standards. It’s one of the worst examples of the fox guarding the henhouse I have seen, and it’s just shameful.”

Brady Dennis and Andrew Ba Tran contributed to this report.

Read more:

Amid ethics scrutiny, Pruitt finds his regulatory rollbacks hitting bumps

For Pruitt, gaining Trump’s favor came through fierce allegiance

American hunter’s images of her black giraffe ‘trophy kill’ spark outrage

Fox News

American hunter’s images of her black giraffe ‘trophy kill’ spark outrage

By Holly McKay, Fox News    July 1, 2018

Hunter Tess Thompson Talley ignited a firestorm over her 2017 “dream hunt.”  (Photo: Tess Thompson Talley)

Photos of a female hunter from Kentucky proudly showing off the results of her “dream hunt” – a dead black giraffe in South Africa – have ignited a firestorm across social media after being picked up by a local African media outlet.

“White American savage who is partly a Neanderthal comes to Africa and shoot down a very rare black giraffe courtesy of South Africa stupidity,” read the June 2018 tweet, posted by Africa Digest. “Her name is Tess Thompson Talley. Please share.”

AfricaDigest: White american savage who is partly a neanderthal comes to Africa and shoot down a very rare black giraffe courtesy of South Africa stupidity. Her name is Tess Thompson Talley. Please share

The controversial images, which were posted by a Kentucky woman identified as Tess Thompson Talley a year ago, show her standing proudly beside a dead giraffe bull along with the caption: “Prayers for my once in a lifetime dream hunt came true today! Spotted this rare black giraffe bull and stalked him for quite a while. I knew it was the one. He was over 18 years old, 4000 lbs. and was blessed to be able to get 2000 lbs. of meat from him.”

Trophy hunting is a legal practice in a number of African countries, including South Africa, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

“The giraffe I hunted was the South African sub-species of giraffe. The numbers of this sub-species is actually increasing due, in part, to hunters and conservation efforts paid for in large part by big game hunting. The breed is not rare in any way other than it was very old. Giraffes get darker with age,” said Talley, in an email to Fox News.

She points out that the giraffe she killed was 18, too old to breed, and had killed three younger bulls who were able to breed, causing the herd’s population to decrease. Now, with the older giraffe dead, the younger bulls are able to continue to breed and can increase the population.

“This is called conservation through game management,” says Talley, who insists hers was not a “canned” hunt.

Terry Skovronek: Killing animals for fun is a sign of serious mental illness.

Prominent activist and Hollywood actor Ricky Gervais, on the same day Talley’s images went viral, tweeted that “Giraffes are now on the ‘red list’ of endangerment due to a 40% decline over the last 25 years. They could become extinct. Gone forever. And still, we allow spoilt c–ts to pay money to shoot them with a bow and arrow for fun.”

ArtbyAn: an amoebe has more brains than you! Yuk!
Shame on you to think your life is more worth than any other living creature and gives you the right to end its life! Who are you to place yourself above any other living creature. I hope nature takes revenge at you!

However, there is some debate of the “rarity” of the giraffe on Talley’s hit list.

Debra Messing: Tess Thompson Talley from Nippa, Kentucky is a disgusting, vile, amoral, heartless, selfish murderer. With joy in her black heart and a beaming smile she lies next to the dead carcass of…

“The giraffe in the photo is of the South African species Giraffa giraffe, which are not rare – they are increasing in the wild,” Julian Fennessy, Ph.D., co-founder of the Giraffe Conservation Foundation told Yahoo Lifestyle. “Legal hunting of giraffe is not a reason for their decline, despite the moral and ethical side of it which is a different story.”

Nonetheless, the images have spurred deep emotions among those opposed to the controversial practice.

“Shame on you to think your life is more than any other living creature and gives you the right to end its life! Who are you to place yourself above any other living creature,” one person tweeted. “I hope nature takes revenge on you!”

Others have vowed that “killing animals for fun is a sign of serious mental illness,” while others have referred to Talley as a “disgusting excuse for a human being” and a “spoiled wealthy brat with no conscience.” She was also referred to as a “disgusting, vile, amoral, heartless, selfish murderer” by actress Debra Messing.

However, the self-described passionate hunter is hardly the first American to come under intense Internet fire in recent times for overseas trophy kills.

Nikki Tate, a 27-year-old lawyer and “ethical hunter” from Texas sparked outcry – and death threats – late last year after she posted pictures with her kills. But she also attested to receiving scores of messages of support too, being referred to as a “role model and inspiration” in the conservation arena.

And in 2015, Minnesota dentist Walter Palmer was internationally scorned after killing the famous “Cecile the Lion” near a national park in Zimbabwe.

“I get that hunting is not for everyone; that’s what makes this world great is the differences. But to make threats to anyone because they don’t believe the way you do is completely unacceptable. If it was any other belief that was different, threats and insults would be deemed hideous. However, for some reason it is OK to act this way because it’s hunting,” Talley wrote in her email.

Meanwhile, in the United States, the issue of trophy hunting abroad remains a controversial one legislatively as conservation and welfare groups are banding together to encourage the Trump administration to reject import permits for South African lions.

Donald Trump: Big-game trophy decision will be announced next week but will be very hard pressed to change my mind that this horror show in any way helps conservation of Elephants or any other animal.

Under a new process instituted in March this year, trophy hunters are able to provide the U.S government with information confidentially rather than giving public notice in their quest to obtain an import permit, raising questions over the legalities how the kill was carried out, and whether or not mostly illicit practices such as “baiting” were used, violating the ethics of “fair chase.”

Big-game hunters appointed by the Trump team to assist in the re-writing of federal rules pertaining to the importing of heads from African elephants and lions last week defended the trophy hunting practice, contending that threatened and endangered species would go extinct without the anti-poaching programs financed in large part by the hefty fees wealthy Americans pay to carry out the souvenir slaughters.

Where the president himself now stands on the matter, however, remains unclear.

“Big-game trophy decision will be announced next week but will be very hard pressed to change my mind that this horror show in any way helps conservation of Elephants or any other animal,” he tweeted in November.

Hollie McKay has been a staff reporter since 2007. She has reported extensively from the Middle East on the rise and fall of terrorist groups such as ISIS in Iraq.