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Doris writes a weekly column for LaGaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper, which has pages in English, Spanish, and Italian.  Begun in 1922 for Tampa's immigrant community, it continues to thrive more than a century later.  Her column is titled "In Context," as it aims to put contemporary issues in the context of the past.

Did You Notice?

·      The Times seems to be printing fewer of its Politifact analyses, a measurement of the truthfulness of politicians' claims.  If my impression is correct, I think the reduction must be because so many statements from the White House are plainly lies that they feared using the world's supply of red ink for "Pants on Fire."

·      Did you see the report that our obesity crisis is not so much based in fats as in the excessive sugar that manufacturers put in processed foods?  And another story that said 100% fruit juice correlates with cancer at the same rate as sodas, no matter if the soda is naturally or artificially sweetened? 

·      I think the obesity crisis began when they stopped teaching home economics.  Not that I would go back to the days when all girls took home ec and all boys took "shop," but I value the nutritional knowledge that I got in high-school home ec – and was shocked when I realized as a bride that Hubby knew nothing of vitamins, proteins, etc.  I think they now are teaching more of this in elementary school, but I suspect that we skipped a generation or two and thus got adults with no idea of what to eat – or what to feed their kids.

·      And did you see that support for abortion rights is at its highest level in decades?  Thank you, hypocritical lawmakers, mostly Republicans in the Old South, for forcing people to think more deeply about complex issues.

·      In last week's rant, I used "invalid" in the sense of getting kicked out of websites because of an "invalid entry."  I wish the children-in-charge these days had come up with a different term because it is so easily confused with "invalid" in the sense of a sick person.  Yes, I know I lot of words have more than one meaning, but do you want to be an invalid who is considered invalid?


Acting and Acting – And Praise for the Deep State


Like "invalid" and "invalid," "acting" has more than one meaning – and in the case of the Trump administration, I think, it has at least two meanings that apply simultaneously.  We have a lot of acting secretaries heading federal agencies these days, and I believe they are indeed acting, as in pretending they know what they are doing.  It's a long list.


At the Pentagon, Defense Secretary James Mattis resigned in protest of Trump policies last December.  Trump replaced him with Patrick Shanahan, but never asked the Senate to confirm Shanahan – doubtless because the administration knew of his domestic violence record, which forced his recent resignation.  A Boeing executive is next up to the plate, and this vital post will have had three chiefs in six months.


In April, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kristen Nielsen was forced to fall on her sword over Trump's policy of family separation at the border.  I'm not going to bother to look up who is pretending to do this job now, but I know it's not a woman.  Similarly, Jonathan Cohen (ever heard of him?) has been acting as ambassador to the UN since Nikki Haley became too embarrassed to represent Trump last October.  I'm not going to detail the rest of the temps who are running our government, but those agencies include the Department of Labor, the Small Business Administration, and ICE – as well as two that can directly affect your personal safety, the FAA and FEMA.


This is not accidental.  Indeed, the president has said that he likes acting status because it gives him "flexibility."  The flexibility to be a despot, that is, because the Constitution clearly assigns the Senate the responsibility of confirming such high-level authorities.  Senate President Mitch McConnell doesn't care:  he doesn't want confirmation hearings that might well reveal flaws in these characters.  He will continue to twiddle his thumbs, and we can expect our government to be run by actors for at least another year.  But that isn't necessarily a bad thing.


To end on a happy note, this situation makes me very grateful for the mythical "deep state" that Republicans love to use as a bogeyman.  Our daughter is one of them.  She just continues to do the job she was hired to do at the Department of Justice, while the actors above her pay grade bounce up and down.  She wasn't in the difficult position of DOJ lawyers who were unwilling to dream up a new legal theory to justify the census' citizenship question, and I'm glad of that.  Washington is full of similarly dedicated people who are genuine civil servants.  Indeed, such federal employees are all over the nation, and they will quietly take care of business until our national nightmare is over.



More Short Stuff


·      In a recent "Pickles" cartoon, one gray-haired lady tells another about Amazon, and she responds:  "Oh, I'd love to get one of their catalogs and see what they have.  Do they take checks?"  How the world has changed!  Yet is your mailbox like mine, flooded with catalogs from specialty companies?  At least one a day, regardless of season.  Maybe a dozen a day as Christmas nears.

·      Especially the plant and seed companies always have depended on catalog sales.  Even if I end up ordering online, which I usually do, half of my brain really enjoys leafing through the pretty pictures of plants, while the other half goes to the TV or something.  Even in other catalogs, I find a lot of unique things that I never would know about if an online search were the only option, simply because I wouldn't know to search.

·      So our gray-haired lady also asked if Amazon took checks.  This is another area in which I've dated myself.  I use credit cards and debit cards routinely, especially at gas stations, restaurants, and of course, for online purchases -- but ever since our local store opened in 1986, I've never questioned my habit of writing checks to Publix.  Recently, I didn't have a pen and when I asked for one, I could see this wasn't routine for the check-out clerk.  Because the woman who took my groceries to the car had been giving instructions to him, I figured she was middle management and talked to her about this.  See below.


The Fundamental of Food, And How Things Change


I asked how many people still wrote checks, and she replied "about three or four a day."  I was astonished and asked how that compared with food-stamp usage.  "Oh," she replied, "at least a hundred a day."  Again, I was astonished.  This is a middle-class Publix with flowers, wine, fresh seafood, deli, pharmacy, etc, and the level of food-stamp use there surprised me.  If you are a regular reader, you know that I'm a bleeding-heart liberal who never would begrudge poor people the help they need, but the number of needy is – at least to me -- very revealing.  Two takes on this:


First, I remember when Florida law forbade the use of credit cards at grocery stores.  I don't remember where Publix or Winn-Dixie or any of the other lobbying powerhouses in Tallahassee stood on this, but I do remember social workers, labor unions, and feminists organizing on the issue.  Hubby and I lived in Tallahassee during legislative sessions back then, and we did a bit to get the law repealed.  We knew that there were families short of cash as payday neared, and if any purchase merited a few days of credit, it should be food. 


I think the supermarkets came to the same conclusion, although probably not so much from empathy as from the efficiency that credit cards offered.  The grocery bill then would go to another corporation, and they would no longer have to keep records on whose checks bounced.  Debit cards made transactions even easier, and today few people remember a time when you couldn't use plastic at the store.


Second, food stamps.  Almost everyone has forgotten – or never knew – that this federal innovation came into existence much more for the benefit of farmers than for needy families.  American farmers invested heavily to be able to reap the harvests that were crucial to feeding the world during and after World War II, but when other nations recovered, our farmers kept producing at the same level.  Thus, through the 1950s and 1960s, the Agriculture Department bought up "surplus" crops, as well as meat and dairy products, to keep prices high enough for farmers to stay in business.  Surplus items were called "commodities," and where I lived in Arkansas, people lined up to get their weekly ration of commodities that otherwise would be trashed.


School lunch programs especially depended on commodities.  Because big farmers in the delta country of Arkansas grew lots of rice, we had rice in some form or another almost every day -- rice and gravy, rice salads, rice muffins, rice desserts.  For decades after high school, I refused to eat rice.  Ditto with peanut butter.  Unlike today's school cafeterias, we almost never had fresh fruits or vegetables, or any other choice of menu.  This changed in large part because of Congresswoman Leonar K. Sullivan, a Democrat who represented St. Louis. 


She had been employed in various Washington agencies prior to marrying the congressman from St. Louis in 1941.  He died in office in 1951, and in 1953, she defeated the male incumbent who had been appointed to the seat.  She went on to win twelve reelections, serving until her 1977 retirement.  Even though her constituency was urban, Representative Sullivan noticed how the Agriculture Department paid farmers to prioritize the growing of grains, even though everyone knew that this created surpluses.


She spent years figuring out a plan to end this waste, and she finally persuaded her colleagues to stop throwing planned leftovers to families who couldn't necessarily use the particular commodity.  Instead, she argued, the Agriculture Department should allow purchasers – largely women – to make their own decisions.  Thus the food stamp program began under President Lyndon Johnson in 1964.  Names have changed, but the basic idea remains the same – and it benefits farmers, food processors, and grocery stores as well as recipients. 


Remember that the next time you see someone using this method of payment, which I guess also is plastic these days.  Let's nonetheless remember how to write checks, too, in case you need to some time.  The thirty-something woman I talked with recalled writing perhaps two or three in her entire life.  Wow.



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