I’m finding myself perplexed this morning by a bill that was introduced to the U.S. House of Representatives this week by Congressman Rodney Davis, a Republican from Illinois. The legislation would amend the Richard B. Russell National School Lunch Act in two ways: It would outlaw reductions in sodium levels in school kids’ lunches and would reinstate a requirement that lunches be “grain-rich”.
Why would any member of Congress seek to have a law passed requiring a high salt and high grain diet? There is no known health problem of salt deficiency among America’s children. On the contrary, most kids have a diet that is too high in salt, because it’s stuffed into heavily processed foods common in the American diet in order to improve the foods’ taste.
Neither are American children suffering nutritionally from grain-deficient diets. They’re eating too many grain-packed foods, made with white flour that has been stripped of its nutrition in order to make lightly-textured treats. The vast majority of grain flours that are eaten in the United States have little nutrition, and strongly contribute to high rates of obesity and diabetes.
It could be argued that American children would benefit from eating more whole grains, which are nutritious when properly prepared, but the bill introduced by Rodney Davis wouldn’t promote whole grains in particular. Instead, it promotes grains as a broad category, and almost all of the grain-based foods available in the United States are not whole grain. Even bread that is sold as “whole grain” is almost always not really based on whole grain.
So, why is Rodney Davis introducing legislation that would prevent more healthy sodium levels in children’s diets, and actually make their diets worse by requiring schools to feed students large amounts of grains?
Part of the answer to this mystery may come from the fact that Rodney Davis practically grew up at McDonalds fast food restaurants. His parents operated a McDonalds franchise, at which he worked when he was a teenager. McDonalds foods are notorious for being high in sodium, and the McDonalds hamburger buns are made from 100 percent white flour with all the nutrition of whole grains stripped out.
Another explanation may come from the nature of the congressional district that Rodney Davis represents. Though parts of it include suburbs of Saint Louis, Missouri, the 13th district of Illinois has large agricultural areas where a great deal of grain is grown. The 13th congressional district is also home to salt mines.
Would Rodney Davis really write a law that would worsen the health of American children, just to bring some people in his congressional district financial profit?
The record shows that Rodney Davis has, over the course of just two elections, taken $464,183 from agribusiness and $127,012 from mining interests. So, it’s not just a few people in the 13th district who have profited from salt and grain. Rodney Davis himself has a financial connection.
Considering this information, I find that my confusion is waning.
“Launching rockets into space is inherently dangerous,” observes U.S. Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson. The Armagh Planetarium lists things such as space debris, cosmic rays, flaws in spacesuits, accidents during launch and re-entry, breathing in needle sharp moon dust, and being sent off hurtling through the vacuum of space as a consequence of letting go of a spaceship for even a moment. The thing about space, though, is that it’s very, very big, and largely unexplored, so the unknown dangers of space travel are almost certainly much greater in number than the dangers we know about.
In the face of this risk, you can probably guess what the U.S. House of Representatives did yesterday. They voted to remove commercial space operations from all liability for harm that comes to passengers on their spaceships – even if the harm comes from negligence of sensible safeguards for predictable risks to life and limb.
The legislation was the SPACE Act of 2015, H.R. 2262, which will, if signed into law, make it a legal requirement for travelers on commercial space flights to sign legal waivers of all rights to compensation for themselves or their families in case of an accident.
Despite our best efforts, and over 50 years of technology development, accidents still occur. Just last year the U.S. commercial launch industry suffered two serious accidents, one of which resulted in a very unfortunate death. I cannot support a commercial space bill that minimizes the issue of safety, like H.R. 2262 does, said Eddie Bernice Johnson, explaining her opposition to the bill.
Unfortunately, most of her colleagues weren’t bothered by the legislation’s encouragement of death trap spaceships. The SPACE Act of 2015 passed by a vote of 284 to 133.
At a time when most of America is politically quiescent, Moral Mondays are a regular feature of the progressive protest calendar in North Carolina. As the summer looms, the North Carolina NAACP has a queue of themed protests to be staged at the complex of the NC General Assembly in Raleigh:
May 27 theme: Healthcare & Environmental Justice
June 10 theme: Women’s Rights Moral Monday
June 17 theme: Voting Rights
June 24 theme: Equal Protection Under the Law
If you’re there, do you plan to join in the action?
The American Research and Competitiveness Act of 2015 was originally meant to reauthorize the law of the same name that was passed in 2007. That law provided funding to support scientific research in the United States. What the American Research and Competitiveness Act of 2015 (H.R. 880) became before it passed the U.S. House of Representatives yesterday was quite different.
The American Research and Competitiveness Act of 2015 actually cuts spending on science, and dictates what kind of scientific research will be performed using public money. The legislation prohibits certain kinds of research on climate change, and restricts the use of science to inform public policy.
The reason for this change is that Republicans and conservative Democrats don’t like much of what scientific research has to say. Information provided through scientific research is often inconvenient for the big corporations that pay for their campaigns – especially for corporations in the fossil fuels industry. They find it troubling when scientists keep reporting about the way that consumption of fossil fuels harms human health and degrades the ecological integrity of life on Earth as a whole.
So, only one Republican, Walter Jones of North Carolina, voted against the American Research and Competitiveness Act.
37 Democrats caved in to corporate pressure and joined the Republicans to vote for the anti-science bill. They were:
Peter Aguilar, Brad Ashford, Sanford Bishop, Julia Brownley, Cheri Bustos, Michael Capuano, Andre Carson, Katherine Clark, Gerald Connolly, Joe Courtney, Henry Cuellar, John Delaney, Suzan DelBene, Elizabeth Esty, Gwen Graham, Joe Heck, Bill Keating, Joseph Kennedy, Derek Kilmer, Ann Kuster, John Larson, Dave Loebsack, Michelle Lujan Grisham, Steve Lynch, Sean Maloney, Jim McDermott, Patrick Murphy, Richard Neal, Rick Nolan, Scott Peters, Collin Peterson, Raul Ruiz, Dutch Ruppersberger, Kyrsten Sinema, Dina Titus, Paul Tonko, and Timothy Walz.
My first reaction upon seeing this hands-on exhibit was digust: shouldn’t some exhibitions be hands-off? My second reaction was a different kind of disgust: who wants to eat refreshments next to an 8-foot-high section of bowel? My third reaction turned to the inevitable jokes about “passing” through.
My final emotional destination was admiration: it takes gumption to design a giant inflatable poo chute, and maybe the exhibit is designed to get people through disgust, with good humor, to learn just a few facts that could save a life. I’ll be honest and admit that I’ll never forget this colon, not ever. Does that mean the bizarre spectacle worked? I think it does.
An oil pipeline in California ruptured yesterday, spilling over two thousand barrels of crude oil into the Pacific Ocean through a storm drain. Beaches in two state parks, Refugio and El Capitan, are heavily coated in oil, and large numbers of animals are washing up on the shore dead.
When you hear politicians in the U.S. Congress say that they are for an All Of The Above Energy policy, keep in mind that all of the above includes this:
Yesterday, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to approve an amendment by Congressman John Ratcliffe, a Republican from Texas, with the purpose of eliminating the $5.7 million dollar budget of the Open World Leadership Center, an exchange program run by the U.S. Congress, bringing legislative leaders from former Soviet republics to observe our democratic system, and sending American legislative leaders to former Soviet republics to learn about political events there. The Open World Leadership Center is a program that was set up at the end of the Cold War in an effort to replace animosity with understanding.
John Ratcliffe said that the Open World Leadership Center must be eliminated because it’s just too expensive. “In this fiscal environment, we have to be better stewards of taxpayer dollars and we have to scrutinize every program that we allocate money towards,” Ratcliffe said.
Less than a week before this vote, John Ratcliffe voted in favor of increasing the immense military budget by $24.9 billion over the previous year’s spending. That’s just the amount of the increase Ratcliffe approved. The total budget for America’s war machine was $585.2 billion.
When John Ratcliffe says that there needs to be scrutiny for every program that Congress allocates money toward, he’s really only talking about targeting tiny investments. Ratcliffe doesn’t support scrutiny of the military’s wasteful spending, such as the Osprey MV-22, a military aircraft that doesn’t function properly, causing it to crash into the ground with alarming frequency. John Ratcliffe voted in favor of purchasing many more Osprey MV-22 aircraft – which cost American taxpayers $126 million dollars each.
For the money that Ratcliffe wants to spend on just one malfunctioning Osprey MV-22, the Open World Leadership Center could operate for over 22 years.
Imagine what could happen if the kind of money that John Ratcliffe throws at wasteful and destructive military programs was spent instead on programs to promote international peace and understanding. The deficit of such imagination on the part of politicians like John Ratcliffe is what we really need to scrutinize.
“Five Things You Need to Know,” reads the headline from this morning’s USA Today newspaper. What are those five things?
1. Waco police are investigating an incident in which rival biker gangs shot at each other.
2. The American Council of Sports Medicine has released its ranking in which it declares the fittest city in the United States to be Washington DC.
3. A fugitive has returned to Ohio to face charges 56 years after escaping a prison there.
4. The expensive Osprey MV-22 military aircraft has crashed again after a slew of cost overruns and equipment malfunctions.
5. The NBA draft of new basketball players is proceeding today.
Now, when I hear the words “things you need to know,” I imagine that the news I’m about to hear will fit one of two criteria, and hopefully both. First, it should be something that affects my life, the lives of people I care about, or the lives of a whole lot of people I don’t know. Second, it should be something I can do something to control. At best, the news “I need to know” provides me the information I need in order to make a decision about how to act individually or politically to change my circumstances or the world.
Four out of the five USA Today “Things You Need to Know” utterly fail the test of needfulness. Hardly anybody is affected by the Waco biker gang shootings. Nobody is going to move to DC because of the ACSM ranking. The fugitive and NBA draft stories are dramatic and boring as dirt, respectively, but they won’t change the lives of more than a handful of Americans and there’s nothing that anyone can do about them. They aren’t news, and so no, USA Today, I don’t “need to know” them.
The story about the expensive, crash-prone, cost-overrun Osprey MV-22, on the other hand, fits both criteria. It affects Americans to have these Ospreys in action — just ten of them soak up a billion dollars from the budget. We can do something about this, too. It’s too late for this year — at the beginning of May 2015 the House and Senate approved a military budget that featured $126 million for the Osprey MV-22 program. But if enough news stories spread about the expensively botched Osprey program, we can try to stop it next year.
Heads up, journalists. That’s the kind of story we Americans actually need to know. Everything else is a waste of space.
This week, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy has announced a new federal initiative to confront the worsening problem of collapse in pollinator populations in North America. As part of this initiative, the office has released a Pollinator Research Action Plan.
This plan identifies a series of research goals. Among them is the goal to “Identify resilient, self-sustaining native plant species mixtures for public lands and plant species mixtures appropriate for private lands important pollinator-appropriate native plants, and determine appropriate seed transfer guidelines.”
It’s fantastic that the federal government is committing resources to organize more research on the importance of native plants as food sources for pollinator populations, rather than just focusing on more industrial solutions for the maintenance of disease-ridden honeybee hives. Making more native plants available for pollinators to feed from is a holistic response to the current crisis, re-establishing ecosystems that can maintain themselves.
A shortcoming for this particular research goal: The Office of Science and Technology Policy estimates that it will take 10 years to complete. Actual implementation of native plant restoration to federal lands can only take place after that.
In the meantime, the rest of us can take action. There are a number of concrete things we can do to improve habitat for pollinators where we live right away.
1. Drastically reduce pesticide use. If there are aggressive yellowjackets chasing and stinging your children, that’s one thing. Spraying liberally to create vast insect-free zones around our homes is another.
2. Plant more garden variety flowering plants. Forget the big showy hybrids. Many of them don’t deliver very well for pollinators. Try native and heirloom varieties instead.
3. Stop cutting back the flowers that are already growing. Maybe you don’t need to mow your lawn every 5 days just to keep it a monoculture of grass. If there’s a stand of goldenrod, you can let it grow instead of hacking it back – it won’t give you an allergic reaction.
4. In general, let more natural spaces be. Leave dead trees standing. Don’t clear away every pile of fallen stone. Pave not. Pollinators need places to nest, lay eggs, and pupate.
5. Create varied environments. Have a bit of standing water here, and a patch of tall grass over there, next to some trees, an herb garden, and some flowering native bushes in the corner. A mosaic environment is more likely to make resources available to pollinators in a steady way, rather than in just a few short bursts.
Do your bit, or at least don’t make it worse where you live, and there may be a larger pool of surviving pollinators by the time the federal government gets around to implementing its own plans for pollinator preservation.
Today, Senator Bernard Sanders will offer legislation that will, if passed, make all public colleges and universities in the United States tuition free. This position stands in stark contrast to that of the Republican presidential candidates, who support policies to make a college education more expensive. Lindsey Graham, for example, has voted for legislation to double student loan interest rates.
Student loans would go away for many college students under the Sanders plan. If his bill is passed, public colleges and universities would have their budgets provided for by the federal government.
Where would we find the money? The U.S. military could stop building aircraft carriers at the price of $15 to $20 billion dollars a piece, plus a huge annual cost for their ongoing operation. If our government can pay huge amounts of money for immense floating cities designed to make it easy to bomb foreign countries, can’t we afford a little education?
Do the natives not smell the pollution? They may not be able to see it from the ground, but Chicago is thick with smog. The skies are brown here.
Put the issue of climate change aside for a second. This pollution is deadly serious – literally. People die from this.
How can Congress continue to coddle fossil fuels companies when the skies of our cities are in this condition?