Later On

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Rudy Giuliani, Explained

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Kevin Drum has an interesting take:

So: Rudy Giuliani. He’s been busy over the past few days doing interviews about Donald Trump’s involvement in building a Trump Tower in Moscow. After each interview he then “clarified” what he meant, ultimately ending with a statement today that nothing he said was based on talking to Trump anyway.

Many people are asking what the deal is with this. Is Giuliani nuts? Senile? Totally out of control? Or what?

He may be all or none of the above. But it’s obvious what Giuliani has been doing ever since he started representing Trump last year: tossing out chaff so vigorously that nobody can tell from day to day what the current story is supposed to be. The point of this—and this is the important part—is not just to confuse everyone. It’s to make Giuliani the bearer of bad news so that eventually, when Trump is forced to admit something damaging, it’s “old news” that he’s been “saying all along.” The complete explanation for Giuliani looks something like this:

  • Giuliani is chosen as Trump’s “lawyer” because TV networks love him and will always give him airtime.
  • In times of crisis, Giuliani starts tossing out story after story, creating confusion and making Giuliani, not Trump, the center of attention.
  • All of these stories are deniable by the White House since they come from someone whose actual position is kind of vague. Eventually, though, one of them sticks.
  • Later—which could be days or weeks depending on how long Trump lies low—Trump publicly acknowledges the final story and says it’s already been litigated to death and is old news.
  • By then, (a) everyone really is confused, (b) they don’t remember all the details from a few weeks ago, and (c) there’s some new scandal that’s seized everyone’s attention. So Trump’s confession slides under the radar.

This isn’t a foolproof hack of the media, but . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 January 2019 at 1:42 pm

A Betrayal: A teen who helped police against MS-13 is hung out to die

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Hannah Dreier reports in ProPublica:

IF HENRY IS KILLED, his death can be traced to a quiet moment in the fall of 2016, when he sat slouched in his usual seat by the door in 11th-grade English class. A skinny kid with a shaggy haircut, he had been thinking a lot about his life and about how it might end. His notebook was open, its pages blank. So he pulled his hoodie over his earphones, cranked up a Spanish ballad and started to write.

He began with how he was feeling: anxious, pressured, not good enough. It would have read like a journal entry by any 17-year-old, except this one detailed murders, committed with machetes, in the suburbs of Long Island. The gang Henry belonged to, MS-13, had already killed five students from Brentwood High School. The killers were his friends. And now they were demanding that he join in the rampage.

Classmates craned their necks to see what he was working on so furiously. But with an arm shielding his notebook, Henry was lost in what was turning out to be an autobiography. He was transported back to a sprawling coconut grove near his grandfather’s home in El Salvador. In front of him was a blindfolded man, strung up between two trees, arms and legs splayed in the shape of an X. All around him were members of MS-13, urging him on. Then the gang’s leader, El Destroyer, stepped forward. He was in his 60s, with the letters MStattooed on his face, chest and back. A double-edged machete glinted in his hand. He wanted Henry to kill the blindfolded man.

For years, the gang had paid for Henry’s school uniforms, protected him from rival gangs and given his grandmother meat for the family. In exchange, Henry had delivered messages and served as a lookout. Then the gang started asking him to come to shootouts, to help show strength in numbers. They also beat him for 13 seconds — an initiation ritual — and asked him to choose a gang name. He eventually settled on Triste, the Spanish word for “sad.” What you become when your parents abandon you as a toddler and go to America and leave you behind in a slum.

Henry hunched over his notebook, oblivious to the kids around him. Now he was 12, standing in the coconut grove, and it was time to complete the final initiation rite. He took the machete. It was sharper, with more teeth, than the one he used for chores at home. El Destroyer traced his index finger on the trembling man to show Henry where to cut: first the throat, then across the stomach.

“Your first killing will be hard,” El Destroyer told him. “It will hurt. But I’ve killed 34 people. I’m too tired to do this one.” He said the devil was there in the grove and needed fresh blood. And if Henry didn’t kill the man, the gang would kill them both.

So, to live a little longer, I had to do it.

But now, Henry wrote, he wanted to escape the life that had followed him from El Salvador. If he stayed in the gang, he knew he would die. He needed help.

He tore out the pages and hid them inside another assignment, like a message in a bottle. Then he walked up to his teacher’s desk and turned them in.

A week later, Henry was called to the principal’s office to speak with the police officer assigned to the school. In El Salvador, Henry had learned to distrust the police, who often worked for rival gangs or paramilitary death squads. But the officer assured Henry that the Suffolk County police were not like the cops he had known before he sought asylum in the United States. They could connect him to the FBI, which could protect him and move him far from Long Island.

So after a childhood spent in fear, Henry made the first choice he considered truly his own. He decided to help the FBI arrest his fellow gang members.

Henry’s cooperation was a coup for law enforcement. MS-13 was in the midst of a convulsion of violence that claimed 25 lives in Long Island over the past two years.

President Trump had seized on MS-13 as a symbol of the dangers of immigration, referring to parts of Long Island as “bloodstained killing fields.” Police were desperately looking for informants who could help them crack how the gang worked and make arrests. Henry gave them a way in.

Under normal circumstances, Henry’s choice would have been his salvation. By working with the police, he could have escaped the gang and started fresh. But not in the dawning of the Trump era, when every immigrant has become a target and local police in towns like Brentwood have become willing agents in a nationwide campaign of detention and deportation. Without knowing it, Henry had picked the wrong moment to help the authorities.

HENRY HAD TRIED to escape MS-13 before.

From the day he joined the gang, he was part of an operation that trafficked in a single product: violence. Other criminal enterprises attract members who want to get rich and who sell drugs or women or stolen goods to achieve that aim. Violence is a tool for carving out territory and regulating the marketplace. MS-13, by contrast, was established by Salvadoran refugees in Los Angeles who were seeking community after fleeing civil war. The gang offers a sense of security and belonging to its members, who kill to strengthen the group and move up the ranks. Members sometimes sell marijuana and cocaine, but major cartels have been uninterested in partnering with the gang, because purposeless violence is bad for business. MS-13 kills in large groups to minimize betrayal, and it uses machetes, a weapon even the poorest can afford.

In his first few years running with the gang in El Salvador, Henry witnessed more than a dozen murders. He learned how soft skin feels when you slice into it and how bodies, when they are sprayed with bullets, look like they are dancing. Then, in 2013, a shaky truce between MS-13 and the rival gang Barrio 18 broke down. The country’s slums became as dangerous as any war zone. One afternoon, when he was 15, Henry was playing cards in an abandoned lot when he got a call from a stranger. The voice on the phone told him that if he did not leave the country within 24 hours, he would be disappeared — along with his grandparents. To protect his family, Henry set out that night to join his mother and father on Long Island. Before he left, his grandfather made him promise he would use the new start to break with the gang.

Henry made the journey north through Mexico stowed away in the back of a livestock truck. Some 200,000 unaccompanied children from Central America have shown up at the U.S. border since 2013, and nearly 8,000 continued on to Long Island, most to join parents who had settled there years earlier. The suburbs have proved an ideal landing spot — close to low-wage work around New York City and filled with illegal basement apartments. By the time Henry arrived, so many Salvadorans were living in Suffolk County that El Salvador had opened a consulate in the town of Brentwood, the only foreign government with an office on Long Island.

Henry entered the U.S. legally, turning himself over at the border and pleading for asylum. He was granted release pending a final hearing that could be years away, and sent to join his mother. He didn’t recognize her when she ran up to him at JFK Airport, clutching welcome balloons; in all the time she’d been gone, she had never sent him a photo. As they headed to her apartment, he learned that she had long ago separated from his father. He soon became acquainted with her abusive boyfriend, who one day threw hot cooking oil at her head, landing her in the hospital with third-degree burns. His father helped Henry lie about his immigration status and age to get a job in a factory, where he worked 12-hour shifts punching perforations in toilet paper for $9 an hour. On payday, he handed over almost all his earnings to his mother, who expected him to pay for rent and groceries. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

The US has become a hostile, unreasoning place for its most vulnerable. Take a look at these additional reports:

Former MS-13 Member Who Secretly Helped Police Is Deported – Also by Hannah Dreier, and a follow-up to the story above.

What It Was Like Reporting on a Teenager Marked for Death by the Gang MS-13 – Dreier comments on the emotional and psychological impact of reporting the story

He Drew His School Mascot — and ICE Labeled Him a Gang Member – Dreier reports on another injustice by the US.

Long Island Schools Move to Curb Police Role in Detaining Immigrant Students – A step in the right direction

The Hunted: What happens when you say no to MS-13 – A grim report.

The Disappeared: Police on Long Island wrote off missing immigrant teens as runaways. One mother knew better

Written by LeisureGuy

22 January 2019 at 12:36 pm

This reminds me of how Detroit approached innovation (with similar results): The decline and death of Eastman Kodak

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Written by LeisureGuy

21 January 2019 at 10:42 am

Google doesn’t want to reveal employee compensation to the government

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This is intriguing. I wonder what they’re trying to hide—and the fact that Google did not know that such information was required reeks of incompetence.

Kristin Wong writes in the NY Times:

Here’s what we know about salary transparency: Workers are more motivated when salaries are transparent. They work harder, they’re more productive, and they’re better at collaborating with colleagues. Across the board, pay transparency seems to be a good thing.

Transparency isn’t just about business bottom line, however. Researchers say transparency is important because keeping salaries secret reinforces discrimination.

“From a worker’s perspective, without accurate information about peer compensation, they may not know when they’re being underpaid,” said Emiliano Huet-Vaughn, an economist at U.C.L.A. who ran a study in 2013 that found workers are more productive when salary is transparent. Without knowing what other workers’ salaries look like, “it naturally becomes harder to make the case that one is suffering a form of pay discrimination,” Dr. Huet-Vaughn said.

For example, in 2017, the Department of Labor filed a lawsuit and investigation against Google. Their regional director Janette Wipper told the Guardian, “discrimination against women in Google is quite extreme, even in this industry.” The suit claimed that Google refused to disclose data on employee salary history, as required by equal opportunity laws.

Which brings us to the wage gap. Rather than a deliberate, methodical attempt to sabotage women’s earnings, often the wage gap takes on more subtle, but no less detrimental forms. For example, women are viewed as less likable when they negotiate. They’re also less likely than men to get what they want when they ask for a raise, according to Harvard Business Review.

“By keeping compensation secret, we might obscure structural inequalities and enable inequalities to persist,” said Morela Hernandez, a researcher and Associate Professor of Business Administration at the Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia. In the big picture, it’s easy to see how these biases might contribute to a wage gap, but it’s harder to prove wage discrimination on an individual level. Employers can hide “structural inequalities” (even from themselves) with a myriad explanations. When wages are transparent, it’s harder to hide.

It’s not just women. Pay secrecy reinforces racial biases as well, and the pay gap is wider for black and Hispanic men and women, according to a recent report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In a study with her colleague Derek R. Avery of the Wake Forest University School of Business, Dr. Hernandez found that when black job applicants negotiated their starting salaries, evaluators viewed them as more pushy than white job applicants who also negotiated. Evaluators also mistakenly thought black job applicants negotiated more than white applicants, even when they negotiated the same amount. Worse still, the black job applicants received lower starting salaries as a result of this.

Dr. Hernandez said that because evaluators expected black job seekers to ask for less, they perceived the black applicants as pushy when they negotiated and penalized them accordingly. In the real world, employers probably aren’t even aware of this dynamic; that’s how unconscious biases work. When numbers are out in the open, however, it’s easier to see potential blind spots.

“In my opinion, transparency in pay can be one way to help us calibrate our own views of fairness and appropriate compensation,” Dr. Hernandez said.

Katharine Bolin, a marketing professional in Minneapolis, said she once discovered a male colleague earned more than her by accident.

“In my mid-twenties, I was a D.J. at a downtown bar in Minneapolis,” she said. “I was asked to let a new male D.J. shadow me in the booth for part of his interview. Everything was going great until he said, ‘This is a pretty good gig for $15 an hour.’ I was livid.”

Earlier that week, Ms. Bolin had asked for a raise for that same amount, but she was offered less. She confronted her manager about the situation.

“I said that I was very upset as a woman and a longtime employee to hear that a potential new male hire was getting offered more than me,” she said. Her manager relented, offering her the same amount. “It’s one of my proudest moments standing up for myself.” Ms. Bolin closed her own gap, but it wouldn’t have happened without transparency.

If you find yourself in a similar situation, . . .

Continue reading.

UPDATE: See also “Women won’t ask a man for more pay – but they will ask a woman.” That article begins:

The figure of 78 cents to a man’s dollar is familiar to many of us. It’s how the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics has quantified the gender gap among full-time workers: for each dollar that men earn, women earn 78 cents. This data from the US is not an exception but the norm: in Australia, the gap is 15 cents; in the European Union, the gap is about 16 cents; and so all over the world. When trying to make sense of this wage gap, a long list of characteristics – such as gender differences in academic training, and in choice of industry or occupation – are able to explain a substantial fraction. But not all of it. There is no doubt that discrimination plays a role, but there are other factors that deserve attention. Here, we’ll focus on how gender affects salary negotiations, and how the prevalent structure in the workplace (in which the empowered party is usually a man) can negatively affect women’s negotiation outcomes and salaries.

With high-paying, high-skill jobs in particular, which demand highly qualified staff, a substantial amount of the salary is the result of one-on-one negotiations with the firm’s representative. Interestingly, the data show that the gender pay gap is higher in these high-skilled positions. It is also worth mentioning that negotiations are not a one-off experience, but rather present throughout a professional’s life, in the form of pay increases, bonuses and promotions. So, if highly skilled men and women negotiate differently and reach different outcomes, this would explain part of the gender gap that we still cannot account for. This explanation is supported by the economist Linda Babcock and her co-author Sara Laschever in their book Women Don’t Ask: Negotiation and the Gender Divide (2009). The authors show that among graduates of Carnegie Mellon University in Pennsylvania, 57 per cent of men negotiated their starting salary, while only 8 per cent of women did so. Such a disparity would certainly contribute to a gender pay gap among this otherwise identical population. But there is more to the story.

Even when men and women both negotiate, their final outcomes can differ. Men tend to be more competitive and less prosocial, which allows them to get higher salaries than women through the negotiation process. But, in our recent research, we found that gender differences in negotiation are not so general but rather depend crucially on the gender composition of the bargaining table. Put simply, women negotiating their salaries ask for lower compensation when the firm’s representative is a man than when that representative is a woman. And, given that, most of the time, a firm’s bosses are men, this dynamic plays a role in salary outcomes.

We reached this conclusion by using data from a TV show. In that TV show, a contestant was endowed with a certain amount of money. He or she was asked a simple question. Then the contestant had to find someone in the street to answer the question on his/her behalf. This is where the negotiation took place: the contestant had to buy the answer from a responder on the street, negotiating the price by a process of bargaining, in which the contestants made offers and the responders made demands. As in most real-life situations, the TV show offered a setting in which there is a strong bargaining party (the contestant) and a weak one (the responder). The contestant is able to drop the negotiation at any time to look for another responder, and the contestant also knows the amount of money available to pay. Thus, the setting replicated a typical job-negotiation situation, in which the firm’s representative knows the maximum that the firm is willing to pay the worker. And if negotiations get too hard, the firm’s representative can use the threat of breaking off altogether to hire another worker.

We used this setting to look at the final outcomes of the negotiation, based on the gender composition of the ‘negotiation table’ (male contestants with female responders, female contestants with male responders, and so on). We found that the likelihood of reaching a deal, as well as the number of offers and counteroffers (which proxies the degree of conflict during the negotiation), was the same, independent of the gender combination. However, male responders negotiating against female contestants captured more of the pie than any others, getting around 2 per cent more than responders in any other matching. Meanwhile, female responders to male contestants got around 16 per cent less than responders in any other matching – the penalty faced by women for negotiating against men. More importantly, when coming to explain this penalty, we found clear evidence that there wasn’t discrimination from men towards women through lower offers, but rather women who self-discriminated by asking for less. But, crucially, this was the case only among those women who negotiated with a man. When comparing women negotiating against other women, they behaved in exactly the same way as men did.

One critical aspect of our findings is that gender differences arise only in negotiations between a man and a woman where the woman is in the weak position, but not when the woman is the empowered party. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 January 2019 at 9:32 am

More local spirits from the Odd Society

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The Odd Society makes interesting spirits. I’m having a Prospector Manhattan and it’s quite good. Their Wallflower Gin and Bittersweet Vermouth are superb.

I made chicken shawarma for dinner and for the toppings I use: broken up sheep-and-goat-milk feta, slicked San Marzano cherry tomatoes (very elongated so I cut across twice), endive (terrific because of the slight bitterness), halved Kalamata olives, and diced Persian cucumbers. Served atop steamed cauliflower “rice.”

Pretty damn tasty, If I say it myself. (The chicken shawarma, but also the Prospector Manhattan.)

The Wife is sitting across from me, laughing out loud as she watches The Big Fat Quiz of Everything 2019 on YouTube. (Earlier years available if you search.)

Written by LeisureGuy

20 January 2019 at 5:51 pm

What happens when your doctor blames you for your own cancer?

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Monica Bhargava, a pulmonary/critical care physician in Oakland, California, writes in the Washington Post:

Not long ago, I was working in a busy teaching hospital’s intensive-care unit, poring over EKGs, examining X-rays and reviewing medication orders, when I received a phone call. Results were in for the lung biopsy of one of my patients, Ms. X. She had cancer.

The news shook me. Ms. X hugged us at the end of every visit. She had worked for decades as a seamstress and hoped to retire soon. A resident overheard my conversation. “Did your patient smoke?” she asked. “No,” I said. The trainee sighed and shook her head. “When a person who doesn’t smoke gets lung cancer — that’s just unacceptable.”

I was stunned by the implication — that a cancer diagnosis in a patient who used tobacco was acceptable. It is a tragedy when any patient develops lung cancer. They will undergo surgeries, toxic infusions and lonely nights in the hospital. Many will face crushing financial pressures and be forced to confront their mortality in unimaginable ways. Why would we mute our sympathy at this moment?

As a pulmonologist practicing in a disadvantaged community in Oakland, Calif., I screen patients for lung cancer every day. About half a million Americans alive today have been diagnosed with this disease at some point in their lives. Though treatments evolve, there’s an old standby that the medical establishment keeps dishing out to these patients: shame and blame.

The hard-working resident was just echoing what she had been taught in medical school. Her conclusion was drawn from American medicine’s hidden curriculum: the assumption that individual will is destiny and that patients who behave imperfectly can be blamed for their illness. At hospitals across the country, I’ve seen health-care providers use language that separates “deserving” from “undeserving” patients.

As a trainee at an academic medical center, I observed weekly conferences where the care plans of new cancer patients were determined by a large team of expert physicians. The words “lung cancer” — followed by “nonsmoker” — often elicited murmurs of sympathy. I wondered whether this sympathy would lead to longer and more meaningful clinic visits with the patient in question, and whether the opposite would be true for the Vietnam veteran who had smoked for 40 years. The tight link between tobacco and lung cancer has hardened into stigma, and the potential for care disparities is real.

There is little research measuring how physicians’ biased attitudes affect outcomes for smoking lung cancer patients, but a number of studies point to its likely negative impact. One questionnaire-based study revealed that physicians were less likely to offer advanced lung cancer treatments to patients who were smokers as compared with similar nonsmokers. Scientific reviews have shown that physicians who harbor biased attitudes toward their patients often ask fewer questions during visits, order fewer tests and offer suboptimal therapies. Over the past decade, I’ve seen hundreds of tobacco-using patients who were treated this way at some point in their care journey — their coughs ignored, their symptoms minimized, their stories unprobed.

The stigma goes far beyond the medical community. Lung cancer accounts for 25 percent of our nation’s cancer deaths but receives only 10 percent of cancer research dollars. Some in the field believe that donors give less to lung cancer research because of the perception that the disease is self-inflicted.Research and anecdotal data show that lung cancer patients receive less support from their friends and neighbors than those with other cancers, making their disease more difficult to bear. A 2004 study from the BMJ notes that some patients hid the illness because of stigma, at times resulting in worrisome financial consequences and increased emotional distress.

Smokers, in particular, are shamed more vocally than other patients who develop diseases with a strong behavioral correlate. When a well-known person dies of a heart attack, the obituary seldom notes their sedentary lifestyle or dietary choices. But when a brilliant former colleague, the late physician and writer Paul Kalanithi, was being treated for lung cancer, newspaper articles made it a point to mention that he didn’t smoke . He wasn’t one of those who had brought cancer on himself, the stories implied.

Stigma isn’t limited to lung cancer patients, of course. Our culture’s tendency to frame certain illnesses as character defects, as opposed to complex phenomena with genetic and psychosocial components, is widespread and carries serious consequences. The group that suffers most is the obese, a classification that applies to nearly 40 percent of American adults. Research shows that obese patients are more likely to be considered lazy or undisciplined by health-care providers; they are also viewed as more likely to disregard treatment recommendations and insufficiently committed to their health. These attitudes erode patient-doctor communication, and physicians tend to spend less time with patients who are obese. This means these patients have more limited interactions with the health-care system and miss many opportunities. For instance, data shows that morbidly obese women are often under-screened for cervical and colorectal cancer.

Those dealing with addiction and hepatitis C, a blood-borne virus often transmitted through sharing needles or other equipment to inject drugs, face a similar stigma. A high percentage of health-care professionals exhibit negative attitudes toward patients with substance use disorders, perceiving them as morally deficient or lacking self-control, and leading to reduced access to care. Some hepatitis C patients, fearing biased providers, avoid medical care altogether, leaving the latest curative treatments on the table. When I worked in a primary-care setting, a patient asked me to remove his hepatitis C diagnosis from my clinic note. “If someone sees that, they’re going to treat me differently,” he said. “You all can’t help it.”

Why are doctors and nurses so judgy? In part, our culture of blame is an extension of American culture, which tends to hold the sick and impoverished personally responsible for their situations. We don’t feel comfortable invoking social structures, environments or even luck as powerful drivers of our fates. Physicians are also expected to be high-performing and deeply self-critical. This can easily spill over into our interactions with patients.

In my practice, I see how the culture of blame has altered the care that pulmonary patients receive. One lung cancer patient asked me if I felt less invested in his trajectory “because I smoked my way into this.” His fears were understandable. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 January 2019 at 2:27 pm

How oat milk can help farmland

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Tom Philpott writes in Mother Jones:

Move over, almond and soy milk: An oat milk boom, as I argued in a piece last year, could help the Midwest solve some of its most dire agricultural issues. And now there’s new research out this month to help support the case for covering the region with oats.

In states like Iowa, fertilizer runoff from corn and soybean farms pollutes drinking water and feeds algae blooms, fouling water from local lakes and rivers down to the Gulf of Mexico. These farms also lose soil to erosion at an alarming rate, compromising the region’s future as a crucial hub of the US food system.

Back in 2013, I reported on “one weird trick” that could go a long way toward solving these problems: biodiversity. When farmers add more crops to their dominant corn-soybean rotation, it disrupts weed and pest patterns and means they can use fewer pesticides. It also frees up space for planting legumes, which capture nitrogen from the air and reduce the need for synthetic fertilizer. One great contender for this third crop is oats.

Earlier this month, researchers from Iowa State University and the University of Minnesota came out with a paper that adds more weight to the case for diversification. The paper reports on results from trial plots established in 2002 by Iowa State at a farm outside Ames. In one swath, the ground was planted in a two-year rotation of corn and soybeans, the standard recipe in the Midwest. In another, a three-year rotation held sway: corn, soybeans, and oats inter-planted with red clover, a legume. In the final one, the rotation was extended to four years, adding a round of alfalfa, another legume, and a forage crop for cattle.

The paper found that the longer rotations—the ones with the added crops—bring the following benefits:

Water pollution drops dramatically

Nitrogen fertilizer is a key crop nutrient, and when it’s washed away into the Midwest’s rivers and streams, it also supercharges algae growth, especially in salt water. That’s bad news for the Gulf of Mexico, where these waterways ultimately drain. Since Midwestern agriculture intensified in the 1970s, annual dead zones have been appearing in the Gulf, sucking oxygen out of the water and turning huge swaths of it into fetid dead zones. The annual Gulf dead zone fluctuates in size based on weather patterns. Last year’s turned out to be below average in area covered—but it was still the size of Delaware. In 2017, the dead zone set an all-time record, clocking in at a size four times larger than the federal target for a healthy Gulf ecosystem.

In the Iowa State farm study, the plots managed with three- and four-year rotations lost 39 percent less nitrogen to runoff than the corn-soybean control plots, partially because the presence of more nitrogen-fixing legumes in the mix reduces the need to apply synthetic nitrogen fertilizer.

And on these plots, 30 percent less phosphorus leaked away as runoff.  Phosphorus is another key crop nutrient applied to farm fields, and it’s the main driver for blue-green algae blooms in freshwater bodies like lakes. These blooms produce toxins called microcystins, which, when ingested, cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, severe headaches, fever, and liver damage. Lakes downstream from farms throughout the Midwest have been increasingly saddled with these “harmful algae blooms” in recent years. Toledo struggles annually to keep microcystins out of its city water, which is drawn from algae-plagued Lake Erie. Freshwater blooms also generate massive amounts of methane, a greenhouse gas with 30 times the heat-trapping power of carbon dioxide.

Soil stays in place

According to Iowa State agronomist Richard Cruse, Iowa farms lose topsoil at an average rate of 5.7 tons per acre annually, versus the natural rate of regeneration of 0.5 acres per year. As soil washes away, farmland doesn’t sponge up or hold water as well, making it more vulnerable to droughts. Erosion is already reducing crop yields in Iowa, Cruse’s research has found—an effect that will accelerate if the trend continues. On the Iowa State plots planted with oats, clover, and alfalfa, erosion rates decreased by 60 percent.

Crop yields improve—and so could the bottom line

The diverse plots in the study delivered higher yields of corn and soybeans (in the years when those crops are grown), and also required drastically lower amounts of off-farm inputs like fertilizers and herbicides. (A 2012 paper on the same group of test plots found that the diverse fields require 88 percent less herbicides because the addition of another crop disrupts weed patterns.) As a result, the authors found that the more diverse plots were slightly more profitable than the control ones.

Natalie Hunt, a University of Minnesota researcher and a co-author on the study, told me that the economic analysis assumed that the oats and alfalfa generated by the biodiverse plots would find a profitable use by being fed to cattle and hogs “on-farm or on neighboring farms.” That setup works best for diversified operations that include crops as well as livestock. A farm that planted alfalfa during its fourth year of rotation, for example, could “harvest” it by simply turning cattle loose on it for munching; and the resulting beef provides an income stream.

But such farms are increasingly rare in states like Iowa, which are made up mainly of huge corn and soybean farms, and separately, an ever-growing number of massive confined hog farms, highly geared toward consuming that corn and soy.

Another obstacle, Hunt says, are the “heavily taxpayer-subsidized crop insurance programs that keep farmers locked into a corn- and soybean-producing system year after year, even when market prices are poor,” as they have been for the past several years.

She adds, though, that if consumers demanded food from the Midwest that didn’t pollute water and damage soil, the “market would respond pretty quickly”—that is, if farmers could get a premium price for crops, meat, and milk “grown with biodiversity” or some such label, farmers would have incentive to add them to their rotations. And that was precisely the thesis of my oat milk piece. I calculated that turning grain into a beverage doesn’t require nearly enough product to create a demand surge sufficient to bring oats to millions of acres of Midwestern farmland; however, it could be a lever to raise consumer awareness of the ecological damage endemic in the Midwest. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 January 2019 at 2:06 pm

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