Sep. 26, 2018 State of the Union

Son of farmer in Dust Bowl area. Cimarron County, Oklahoma


We’re a little light this week, folks. A lot of news is apparently being overshadowed by that red-faced goose machine trying to get onto the Supreme Court.

The Wasteland

For 40,000 homeless students, it’s back-to-school season in Washington [The Seattle Times] “Bethel is one of 34 districts in Washington — particularly in the suburban and rural parts of Pierce, Spokane and Yakima counties — where the homeless student population more than doubled between 2012 and 2017, according to a Seattle Times analysis of state education data. Statewide, the raw count of homeless students climbed nearly 34 percent over the past five years.”

More Idaho students are experiencing homelessness [AP] “The number of Idaho public school students experiencing homelessness has grown by 64 percent over seven years, according to a report by the Idaho Asset Building Network.”

You’re Probably Not Getting that Loan Forgiveness You’re Counting On [Vice] “In 2007, President George W. Bush signed a program into law that was intended to encourage Americans to go into public service. The idea was that if you worked at a civic-minded job and made 120 on-time student loan payments—or what amounts to ten years worth—the rest of your debt would be wiped. In 2013, the recently-formed Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) estimatedthat up to a quarter of the American workforce could qualify for some form of forgiveness. And while the first group of borrowers were technically eligible for forgiveness under the 2007 law last year, CNBC reports the program so far looks like something between a bureaucratic shit-show and an abysmal failure. Out of the nearly 30,000 people who applied, just 96 had their debt erased.”

Number of babies born with syphilis in US hits 20-year high, report finds [The Guardian] “[executive director of the National Coalition of STD Directors David] Harvey said the increase reflects a failure to make sure women are tested for the disease at the correct times in their pregnancies, and a lack of access to prenatal care overall. The opioid epidemic has also contributed to the uptick, with women who use drugs more likely to engage in risky sex and less likely to get proper treatment.”

“As aid checks go out, farmers worry bailout won’t be enough” [AP] “Farmers across the United States will soon begin receiving government checks as part of a billion-dollar bailout to buoy growers experiencing financial strain from President Donald Trump’s trade disputes with China.”

Ag Bank Mergers Exacerbate the New Farm Crisis [Food & Power] “Last year, the Nebraska Rural Response Hotline, which connects farmers and ranchers with legal, financial, and mental health services, set four monthly records for the number of new callers in financial distress. This spike reflects the broader hardship facing rural Americans in the midst of what some are calling the new farm crisis. The crisis has many causes, including falling commodity prices and the rising cost of farm inputs like seed and fertilizer. But another contributing factor that is already making the consequences of these deteriorating fundamentals far more severe is the massive consolidation of ag lenders that has occurred since the last farm crisis in the 1980s.”

Is the Second Farm Crisis Upon Us? [Civil Eats] “Farming is inherently a risky business, but it hasn’t always been this precarious. For more than 60 years, federal farm policy controlled commodity production and stabilized prices for both farmers and consumers in a system known as supply management. The arrangement ensured a floor price for farmers—essentially a safety net—and kept them from overproduction that would cause their prices to drop. But moves toward a more free-market approach, exemplified by former Secretary of Agriculture Earl Butz’ call for planting “fencerow to fencerow,” encouraged farmers to produce as much as possible, relying on direct payments and other government subsidies to make up for the low prices that followed….With the focus on production and no safety net, smaller farms have sold out and relatively few big farms have expanded.”

‘Monster’ Turns Our Farmers into Serfs and Sharecroppers: The Grapes of Wrath and its vision of enslavement to big agribusiness isn’t just our past—it is our present too. [American Conservative] “These stories are important, because they highlight the debilitating “bigness” of our agricultural market—along with the desperation and emptiness that bigness often creates. These farmers feel trapped in a system of growing and harvesting that is killing their land, animals, and way of life. Yet changing the way they farm, or the trajectory of their towns, seems impossible. The margin for error is far too small, the potential cost far too big. Industrialized agriculture prioritizes efficiency and quantity over human and ecological flourishing: it pushes farmers to plant more commodities over greater swaths of land, or to cram even more chickens into putrid and disease-ridden chicken houses, despite the animals’ suffering and discomfort. This is the only way to turn a profit. Yet when farms industrialize, it does not just impact them—the towns around them also suffer.”

In Rural America, Violent Crime Reaches Highest Level in a Decade [Governing] “many [areas] have lost jobs as factories have closed and farming has become increasingly consolidated. Lack of employment has naturally led to increases in poverty, which is closely associated with crime. The opioid epidemic has hit rural America particularly hard, and methamphetamine remains a major problem in many small towns.”

“Why are America’s farmers killing themselves in record numbers?” [The Guardian]



Trump’s “Opposition” Supports All His Evil Agendas While Attacking Fake Nonsense [Caitlin Johnstone] “The US Senate has just passed Trump’s mammoth military spending increase by a landslide 92-8 vote. The eight senators who voted “nay”? Seven Republicans, and Independent Bernie Sanders. Every single Democrat supported the most bloated war budget since the height of the Iraq war. Rather than doing everything they can to weaken the potential damage that can be done by a president they’ve been assuring us is a dangerous hybrid of equal parts Benedict Arnold and Adolf Hitler, they’ve been actively increasing his power as Commander-in-Chief of the most powerful military force the world has ever seen.”

“Pro-Immigrant” Liberalism and Capitalist Exploitation: Why Corporate Democrats Do Not Support Immigrant Justice [Truthout] A concrete analysis of the explosive contradictions of contemporary capitalist globalization demonstrates that neither Trump’s explicitly racist vitriol nor the paternalistic “pro-immigrant” discourse of corporate liberals and the multicultural elite challenges the structures allowing for the exploitation and oppression of immigrants and migrant workers.

Silicon Valley Plutocrats

“Uber sees legal win in appeal of case over drivers’ status” [San Francisco Chronicle] “The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco on Tuesday ruled that drivers pursuing a class-action lawsuit against Uber alleging the company incorrectly classified them as contractors instead of employees cannot proceed because such matters must be resolved through individual arbitration claims.”

Living the American Dream

These Are the Economies With the Most (and Least) Efficient Health Care [Bloomberg] “The U.S. will cost you the most for treatment, both in absolute terms and relative to average incomes, while life expectancy of Americans — about 79 years — was exceeded by more than 25 countries and territories, according to an annual Bloomberg analysis in almost 200 economies.” ♣ A solid 54th place finish for the US of A, behind the likes of Azerbaijan, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Venezuela, Algeria, and (gasp!) Russia.

Workers Overdose On The Job, And Employers Struggle To Respond [Kaiser Health News] “As the opioid epidemic continues to rage across the country, with a record 72,000 drug overdose deaths estimated in 2017, the fallout is increasingly manifesting itself at construction sites, factories, warehouses, offices and other workplaces. A stunning 70 percent of employers reported that their businesses had been affected by prescription drug abuse, including absenteeism, positive drug tests, injuries, accidents and overdoses, according to a 2017 survey by the National Safety Council, a research and advocacy organization.”

Why We Hyperparent, Helicopter and Heavily Manage Our Children [American Conservative] “Family and community structures have eroded, even as the demands of adult life have become extraordinarily complex. We currently have no way of addressing this reality that doesn’t involve massive investments of parental time, money, and attention. High-intensive parenting, for all its pitfalls, seems to have much better outcomes than lower-investment alternatives. And realistically, the world has become quite perilous, albeit not in the ways people sometimes imagine. Your child probably won’t be kidnapped, but he might easily fall prey to any number of other problems: mental illness, substance abuse, obesity, unemployment, criminality, and general despair.” ♣ The rat race begins at conception


“US military document reveals how the West opposed a democratic Syria” [Le Monde Diplomatique] “The anti-democratic nature of the strategy was clear. Regardless of the democratic aspirations driving the Syrian uprising, US military officials were content with the idea of encouraging foreign powers to nurture Islamist forces in Syria who would operate under the ‘umbrella’ of those foreign powers: all to try and weaken Iran’s foothold.” ♣ Haven’t we seen this movie before?

On the Bright Side

With Supreme Court Decision on Dark Money “We’re About to Know a Lot More About Who Is Funding Our Elections” [Common Dreams] “In a win for increased transparency and those demanding an end to the so-called “dark money” eating away at U.S. democracy, the Supreme Court on Tuesday lifted a previous stay on a lower court ruling by rejecting the argument by right-wing advocacy groups who said they should not have to reveal the identity of big-dollar donors who fund their issue-based campaign ads.”

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