Category: Past Activites (page 1 of 10)

Current Affairs Discussion – GMO’s – February 15, 2018

Discussion Leader: Gary Banks

The IQ2 Debate is an excellent introduction to the subject. (One debater is Rob Fraley from Monsanto – I used to work with him)  Spoiler alert – the Pro GMO side won by 28%.

Genetically modified (GM) foods have been around for decades. Created by modifying the DNA of one organism through the introduction of genes from another, they are developed for a number of different reasons—to fight disease, enhance flavor, resist pests, improve nutrition, survive drought—and are mainly found in our food supply in processed foods using corn, soybeans, and sugar beets, and as feed for farm animals. Across the country and around the world, communities are fighting the cultivation of genetically engineered crops. Are they safe? How do they impact the environment? Can they improve food security? Is the world better off with or without GM food?

For The Motion
  • GM crops have been safely in our food system for nearly 20 years. There are currently no known harms or risks to human health.
  • GM crops benefit farmers and the environment by increasing crop yields, reducing the use of pesticides, and reducing the need for tillage.
  • Food security will be improved through the development of crops that can fight disease, resist pests, improve nutrition, and survive drought.
Against The Motion
  • The current regulatory system does not adequately assess the safety of GM crops and we cannot be sure of what the long-term effects of consumption will be.
  • The environmental threats include the possibility of cross-breeding with other plants, harm to non-target organisms, and decreased biodiversity.
  • The world already grows enough food to feed everyone, but it doesn’t get to the people that are hungry. Genetic engineering moves focus away from public policy solutions.

https://www.intelligencesquaredus.org/debates/genetically-modify-food

 

Set of Short Articles from Harvard University These are terrific.
Introduction:Words from the editors:
We all have strong opinions about what we eat and how it affects our health, and with such a large portion of land dedicated to growing our food, many are also concerned about the environmental impacts of feeding billions of people. For this reason, the discussion about genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in our food is a highly politicized topic. When we started this project, we had heard a lot about GMO foods, but much of it seemed to come from people with a mission: the agrotech companies and food safety advocates. As scientists, we believe that the best way to really understand an issue is to go back to the primary sources. So we started with a list of questions we had about GMOs, and we asked members of our scientific community to do just that. This Special Edition is a presentation of what we found.

The articles here start from the basics: what foods are genetically modified, and how long have we been doing this? We next look at the GMO foods available now: how does eating GMOs affect organ toxicity and allergies? And what’s the health impact of the pesticides that we use on GMO crops? We also asked about the environmental effects of growing Roundup Ready and Bt crops, and the potential for GMOs to have an unintentional effect on genetic diversity. We looked at legal and policy issues—how does the patenting process affect companies and farmers? How are GMOs regulated in the US and in Europe? How have GMOs changed farming culture? And finally, we took a look at the future of GMOs: How can GMOs help us to fight world hunger and nutritional deficits in the developing world? And what technologies will we see in the next wave of genetically engineered crops?

So, did we find that GMOs are good or bad? The answer is complicated. The overwhelming majority of scientific evidence suggests that eating food with genetically modified DNA has no effect on human health, but there is also ample evidence that some GMOs have negative environmental impacts, such as the creation of superweeds. And while GMOs have not yet been wildly successful in providing solutions to an ever-growing global population and changing climate, there are certainly promising technologies in the works. It seems to us that GMOs have the potential to do great good, but in order for this to happen, research must proceed conscientiously, with consideration of the environmental risks of introducing engineered plants into our farms. But that’s just our opinion—we encourage you to put aside what you think you know about GMOs and read on to develop your own.

August 10, 2015.

GMO’s and our Food – Table of Contents

How to Make a GMO

The Long History of GMO Technology

Challenging Evolution: How GMOs Can Influence Genetic Diversity

Insecticidal Plants

Why Round-Up Ready Crops Have Lost Their Allure

Nothing to Sneeze at: the Allergenicity of GMOs

GMOs and Pesticides: Helpful or Harmful?

Will GMOs Hurt My Body? The Public’s Concerns and How Scientists Have Addressed Them

The Patent Landscape of Genetically Modified Organisms

GMOS IN MY LIFETIME: HOW GENETICALLY MODIFIED CROPS HAVE TRANSFORMED RURAL AMERICA

Same Science, Different Policies: Regulating Genetically Modified Foods in the U.S. and Europe

Not Your Grandfather’s GMOs: An Interview with Dr. Dan Voytas

Epigenetics in Plant Breeding: Hard Science, Soft Tool

Feeding the World One Genetically Modified Tomato at a Time: A Scientific Perspective

Good as Gold: Can Golden Rice and Other Biofortified Crops Prevent Malnutrition?

Glyphosate,
aka Roundup,  Wikipedia article about its history and chemistry.  Key point – It has low toxicity because glyphosate inhibits the EPSPS enzymes of different species of plants and microbes at different rates.  EPSPS is produced only by plants and microbes; the gene coding for it is not in the mammalian genome.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glyphosate

Bacillus thuringiensis, aka Bt. A naturally occurring soil bacterium used in organic farming. Some GMO’s, specifically corn, have been engineered to contain specific Bt proteins. Hence, they have built-in insect resistance. It was news to me that only certain strains of Bt have insecticidal properties. Further, that specific proteins can target specific insects. The article describes how they contain a crystalline protein that destroys the digestive tract of the insect.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bacillus_thuringiensis

We aren’t as genetically pure human as we’d like to think. Genes move between species both naturally (e.g. virus’s and bacteria to animals) and by targeted genetic engineering. The reason genes can be moved is, at the genetic level, all life has a lot in common.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transgene

No-Till Farming and Herbicide Resistant Crops
Widely practiced by farmers and highly recommended by the USDA, no till farming is enabled by GMO’s.
In the spring, weeds will begin to grow on any field. The farmer plows to turn the weeds under –
not to loosen the soil for seeds.  There is an undeserved romance about plowing.  In fact, it is really bad thing to do to land.  Plowing:

  • disturbs the remaining roots of last year’s crop holding soil which leads to wind and water erosion.
  • destroys the habitat provided by the stubble from last year’s crop.
  • disturbs the biome essential to healthy soil.
  • takes capital (specifically a powerful tractor), fuel and labor.
  • the heavy tractor compacts the soil.
  • releases stored carbon into the atmosphere

The farmer then plants the crop.  But

  • weeds will immediately start to regrow.  Some from natural distribution, others from last year’s seeds turned up by the plowing.
  • weeds are more aggressive and will choke out the crop.
  • at least once, and maybe more, the farmer uses another set of equipment for inter-row harrowing.   this works best for fields with deep seeded crops and shallow seeded weeds.

Once the crop is established it will choke out the weeds.

Practicing no-till:

  • in the spring, at precisely (remember that word) the right time and in precisely the right quantity the farmer sprays the field with a herbicide – usually glyphosate.  Weeds are killed, not just turned under.
  • the equipment is much less expensive than that required for plowing.
  • stubble residue, stubble roots, and biome are not disturbed.
  • the crop is planted using a seed drill.  The Indians at Plymouth had it right – a seed drill punches a hole in the ground and drops in the seeds.

But as with a plowed field, weeds will regrow and eventually choke out the crop.  The framer can’t use glyphosate again as it will kill both the weeds and the crop.  However, if the crop is genetically engineered to tolerate glyphosate the field can be sprayed with glyphosate and only the weeds will be killed.   Like with inter-row plowing, once the crop is established, it will choke out the weeds.

https://www.usda.gov/media/blog/2017/11/30/saving-money-time-and-soil-economics-no-till-farming

 

Regulation

It is important that government regulators thoughtfully oversee GMO’s.  They must be scientifically capable as the technology is complex and ever changing.   One hopes they are data driven and not pro or con GMO zealots.  That isn’t always the case as the European laws were written without the input of their scientists.

FDA
https://www.fda.gov/Food/IngredientsPackagingLabeling/GEPlants/default.htm

USDA
https://www.usda.gov/topics/biotechnology/biotechnology-frequently-asked-questions-faqs

EPA
https://www.epa.gov/regulation-biotechnology-under-tsca-and-fifra/epas-regulation-biotechnology-use-pest-management

WHO
http://www.who.int/foodsafety/areas_work/food-technology/faq-genetically-modified-food/en/

National Academy of Sciences
New technologies in genetic engineering and conventional breeding
are blurring the once clear distinctions between these two cropimprovement
approaches. While recognizing the inherent difficulty
of detecting subtle or long-term effects in health or the environment, the
study committee found no substantiated evidence of a difference in risks
to human health between currently commercialized genetically engineered
(GE) crops and conventionally bred crops, nor did it find conclusive
cause-and-effect evidence of environmental problems from the GE crops.
GE crops have generally had favorable economic outcomes for producers
in early years of adoption, but enduring and widespread gains will depend
on institutional support and access to profitable local and global markets,
especially for resource-poor farmers.
https://www.nap.edu/resource/23395/GE-crops-report-brief.pdf

Cornell Alliance for Science – the GMO debate is over
https://allianceforscience.cornell.edu/blog/mark-lynas/gmo-safety-debate-over

 

GMO’s Globally

https://www.loc.gov/law/help/restrictions-on-gmos/eu.php

https://gmo.geneticliteracyproject.org/FAQ/where-are-gmos-grown-and-banned/

Also see article in the Harvard series above: Same Science, Different Policies: Regulating Genetically Modified Foods in the U.S. and Europe

Some African countries have barred GMO food aid based, I think, on the notion that if it’s too dangerous for Europeans it must be too dangerous for Africans and African lives are just as valuable as European ones. Set against that is malnutrition in many of these countries and the availability not only of US-raised food aid but also better harvests in Africa. It’s a lively debate:
GMO’s in Africa

 

Retail

Here’s a report from the buyer at Whole Foods, which is committed to labeling but discusses how difficult it is to ensure transparency. Clearly their Millennial customer base wants to avoid GMO products as noted below.
https://www.aphis.usda.gov/stakeholders/downloads/2015/coexistence/Errol-Schweizer.pdf

Why I don’t buy organic – Forbes
https://www.forbes.com/sites/stevensavage/2016/03/19/why-i-dont-buy-organic-and-why-you-might-want-to-either/#50ac5c5969c3

Why organic food costs more:
https://www.thebalance.com/reasons-organic-food-costs-more-2538165

Organic does not mean healthy:

So Ben & Jerry’s ice cream is good but not necessarily good for you. It non-GMO and uses eggs from cage free chickens. But a half cup contains 160 calories, 45 from fat, and not much else.
https://www.benjerry.com/flavors/pb-dough-moophoria

Retained Identity 

Retained Identity (RI) is a system where an agricultural product is tracked from field to the consumer at a detailed level.  It supersedes labelling. Already, food must state the country of origin may say “Organic”, “Non-GMO” and “Free Range” though those terms can be fuzzy.  Food must state its ingredients but not where those ingredients came from. (Think of the scandals in China.) Food must also state nutritional information. Better than nothing but still superficial.

Already, organic farming requires detailed record keeping of all inputs (fertilizers, pesticides), land maps, and supply chain records.

Food does not have to specify the seed variety or the pesticides that were used to grow it.

Many restaurants, markets and groceries promote “know your local farmer” with pictures of kindly farmers you want to grow your food. At the Stone Barn you can meet the pig or lamb you are about to eat (no thanks). All good.

But some food processing is better done at industrial sites where sanitation, testing and handling is controlled. Even organic farms cannot slaughter their own animals and I worry about local food trucks. And of course not all food can be sourced locally.

Block Chain (Jim – note I finally worked block chain into Current Affairs) is a promising technology to implement Retained Identity – essentially a rigorous lot control system.

Food Security in the Supply Chain

 

 

Organic vs. GMO

From the USDA:

https://www.ers.usda.gov/topics/natural-resources-environment/organic-agriculture/organic-market-overview.aspx

https://www.ers.usda.gov/topics/natural-resources-environment/organic-agriculture/

NPR Story – Organic Pesticides: Not An Oxymoron
https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2011/06/18/137249264/organic-pesticides-not-an-oxymoron

From Scientific American:
https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/science-sushi/httpblogsscientificamericancomscience-sushi20110718mythbusting-101-organic-farming-conventional-agriculture/

From Genetic Literacy:

GMO’s Globally https://gmo.geneticliteracyproject.org/FAQ/where-are-gmos-grown-and-banned/ 

 

Using GMO’s to produce drugs and other products

From the FDA:

What is a biological product?

Biological products include a wide range of products such as vaccines, blood and blood components, allergenics, somatic cells, gene therapy, tissues, and recombinant therapeutic proteins. Biologics can be composed of sugars, proteins, or nucleic acids or complex combinations of these substances, or may be living entities such as cells and tissues. Biologics are isolated from a variety of natural sources – human, animal, or microorganism – and may be produced by biotechnology methods and other cutting-edge technologies. Gene-based and cellular biologics, for example, often are at the forefront of biomedical research, and may be used to treat a variety of medical conditions for which no other treatments are available.

How do biological products differ from conventional drugs?

In contrast to most drugs that are chemically synthesized and their structure is known, most biologics are complex mixtures that are not easily identified or characterized. Biological products, including those manufactured by biotechnology, tend to be heat sensitive and susceptible to microbial contamination. Therefore, it is necessary to use aseptic principles from initial manufacturing steps, which is also in contrast to most conventional drugs.

Biological products often represent the cutting-edge of biomedical research and, in time, may offer the most effective means to treat a variety of medical illnesses and conditions that presently have no other treatments available.

Below is an article from the NYT’s 1/2/18. A Danish company Novozymes, has discovered enzymes that clean clothes in cold water, in less water, using less chemicals and removes stains better. All good.

To make commercial quantities of the enzyme economically researchers started with an enzyme from soil bacteria in Turkey, and modified it through genetic engineering to make it more closely resemble a substance found in cool seawater.

Next, they found a way to mass produce the enzyme. Novozymes implanted the newly developed product’s DNA into a batch of microbial hosts used to cultivate large volumes of enzymes quickly and at low cost. The enzymes were then “brewed” in large, closely monitored tanks before being sold.

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/01/business/energy-environment/climate-change-enzymes-laundry.html?rref=collection%2Fsectioncollection%2Fbusiness&action=click&contentCollection=business&region=rank&module=package&version=highlights&contentPlacement=1&pgtype=sectionfront&_r=0

 

Politics, Fake News, Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt

A question from the audience in the IQ2 debate referenced above was wicked.  She asked the Con team ” If the the scientific consensus and the regulators say GMO’s are safe, what would it take to change your mind?”  Implied answer is they will nver change their mind.  The irony is, many of the anti GMO people are exasperated by people who deny human caused climate change in the face of equally strong scientific consensus.

Why People Oppose GMOs Even Though Science Says They Are Safe

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/why-people-oppose-gmos-even-though-science-says-they-are-safe/

With G.M.O. Policies, Europe Turns Against Science
With G.M.O. Policies, Europe Turns Against Science
General article on agriculture:
https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/3-big-myths-about-modern-agriculture1/

 

Precision Agriculture – It might be the best way forward

Precision Ag is farming every square meter optimally.

  • First the farm is digitally mapped.  The soil is tested for nutrients and composition.  Streams and lakes are  noted.
  • When planting season nears weather, temperature, moisture and weeds are monitored.
  • On precisely the right day, the farmer begins field management.  A Terragator Sprayer has on-board GPS and the capability to distribute 8 channels of product continuously over a field.  Digital instructions are downloaded.  The mix of pesticides and nutrient can vary so each square meter of land get just what it needs – no more, no less.  This helps  prevent overuse and pesticide resistance.
  • Some products may be restricted to avoid lakes and streams.  The sprayer will automatically turn off near those areas and keep a digital record to prove compliance.
  • For corn, a Deere seed drill can continuously vary the number and spacing of seed plantings based on digital maps.
  • As the crop grows, specific treatments are applied.
  • At harvest, a GPS enabled Deere Harvester can continuously measure yield and quality of the harvest.  Of course, the results are digitally recorded and added to the farmer’s field database.

Organic farming requires this already though records are not available to consumers.

Precision Agriculture

 

The genetic genie isn’t going back in the bottle.

  • Since life began 3 billion years ago it has depended on natural mutations and selection of the fittest to evolve.
  • About 30,000 years ago there were still only natural mutations but man started to influence selection by selecting that goat or barley plant that seemed more desirable.
  • For the last 150 years man has found ways to increase the number of mutations through x-Rays, chemicals, and the like.  These were random mutations.
  • In the last few decades scientists have used more direct techniques to add genes to a cell.   These include a shotgun blast of DNA coated gold dust and using viruses to a carry a gene into a cell.
  • Very recently CRISPR technology allows the direct editing of DNA without introducing material from other organisms.
  • It appears inevitable that genetic engineering will eventually lead to creating  new or highly altered life from base molecules.    It’s “just” chemistry.

Knowing precise genetic vulnerabilities of disease, weeds and insects enable highly targeted solution with less collateral damage.

Meanwhile natural mutations and selection continues.  Bacterial and viruses are evolving rapidly.  They aren’t malevolent but the results can be an existential threat to human survival.  Consider the Spanish flu, small pox,  HIV, bubonic plague, …  Since antibiotics were discovered in the 1930’s many bacteria have become resistant.  We don’t have good drugs for viruses.  It’s an arms race and genetic engineering is a powerful weapon.

Specific to agriculture, there are threats to our food supply.  Population growth is straining the agricultural system to produce more and better food.  Arable land is limited – and possibly declining due to erosion, climate change and mismanagement.   Creating more farm land by clearing forests creates major problems.  Disease and pests are an evolving threat.

We would hope that the universities and companies doing genetic engineering will be responsible.  In case they aren’t we need even smarter regulators to help them be responsible.   The public has an obligation to understand genetic engineering to make informed choices and set thoughtful policy.  This is a global issue.

 

Agriculture – An Integrated Solution

Agriculture is an industry that is ripe for big data. In fact, some companies and organizations are already big data repositories. With onboard GPS and sensors, satellites and sampling data from every square meter of farm land, every day can be captured.

  • Soil type, nutrients, and microbiome
  • Weed and insect insect problems
  • Seed varieties and planting method
  • Fertilizer, herbicide and insecticides applied – rate and date
  • Plowing, mowing, harrowing and other mechanical treatments
  • Irrigation
  • Weather – moisture and temperature
  • Harvest date(s)
  • Yield and attributes of the crop

Collect this data over time to show the effects of crop rotation.

Applying analytics this data will optimize the output of the farm with the least amount of treatment.  The data would show certain seed varieties are recommended for this year for this land.  The may or may not be genetic engineered.

We recently heard from a speaker that it makes no sense to take drugs for a problem until diet and lifestyle solutions have been fully implemented.  Farmers can first attempt to farm using minimally intrusive pest control.

These data sharing programs have all been voluntary to date.  However, a case can be made to treat pesticides as pharmaceuticals.  That is, even though it is your body you can’t go the drug store and buy an antibiotic.  Most wouldn’t know what to buy or the dose.  Do-it-yourself medicine is unthinkable.   Why is it any different for farm land – even if you own it?

For agriculture a farmer who had a problem would call a crop consultant (doctor) and they would prescribe a certain treatment (drug) and application (dosage).  The farmer would take the prescription to the ag supplier (drug store) for fulfillment.    There might be a followup to make sure the problem has been solved.

The crop consultant would also police abuse.  Pest resistance is caused by overuse.  Wrong treatment, wrong rate, wrong timing is wasteful economically and damaging to the environment.

As a homeowner most of us are a county mile from scientific management of our yards.  We wouldn’t dream of polluting the Sound but yard run off is a problem.  Have you had your soil tested?  Exactly what type of fertilizer does your yard need?  When you put down crab grass preventer or broadleaf weedkiller do you really need it?  Was it done at the right time?  Is setting the dial on your spreader at “4” for the whole yard correct?    Or was it because Scott’s Turf Builder Plus 2 was on sale at Home Depot and it is “recommended” to apply in early spring?  So you have brown spots.  Might be grubs so you buy Grub Ex.   Despite the label it only works at a certain time and there are many reasons for brow spots.

An article by Robert Fraley whom you saw in the IQ2 debate.
https://monsanto.com/innovations/research-development/articles/farm-innovations/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I read this last year.  Great book.   You’ll need that college biology course to fully understand it.  But to truly be informed about GMO’s you need to understand genetics.  Gary

From the Pulitzer Prize-winning, bestselling author of The Emperor of All Maladies–a magnificent history of the gene and a response to the defining question of the future: What becomes of being human when we learn to “read” and “write” our own genetic information?The extraordinary Siddhartha Mukherjee has a written a biography of the gene as deft, brilliant, and illuminating as his extraordinarily successful biography of cancer. Weaving science, social history, and personal narrative to tell us the story of one of the most important conceptual breakthroughs of modern times, Mukherjee animates the quest to understand human heredity and its surprising influence on our lives, personalities, identities, fates, and choices. Throughout the narrative, the story of Mukherjee’s own family–with its tragic and bewildering history of mental illness–cuts like a bright, red line, reminding us of the many questions that hang over our ability to translate the science of genetics from the laboratory to the real world. In superb prose and with an instinct for the dramatic scene, he describes the centuries of research and experimentation–from Aristotle and Pythagoras to Mendel and Darwin, from Boveri and Thomas Morgan to Crick, Watson and Rosa Franklin, all the way through the revolutionary twenty-first century innovators who mapped the human genome. As The New Yorker said of The Emperor of All Maladies, “It’s hard to think of many books for a general audience that have rendered any area of modern science and technology with such intelligence, accessibility, and compassion…An extraordinary achievement.” Riveting, revelatory, and magisterial history of a scientific idea coming to life, and an essential preparation for the moral complexity introduced by our ability to create or “write” the human genome, The Gene is a must-read for everyone concerned about the definition and future of humanity. This is the most crucial science of our time, intimately explained by a master.

 

 

 

 

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Current Affairs Discussion – Affordable Housing – January 18, 2018

Discussion Leader: Bob Baker

Factors in developing initiatives for affordable housing- DMA discussion Thursday are:

1. Economics
2. Politics
3. Welfare
4. Efficiency
5. Legal Issues
6. Fairness

Darien

Application to the Heights in Darien:
http://theheightsdarien.com/apply/

National

HUD Rental Assistance:
https://www.hud.gov/topics/rental_assistance

National Affordable Housing:
https://nationalaffordablehousing.com/apply-section-8-housing-state/?utm_source=EE-1&utm_campaign=NationalAffordableHousing

https://nationalaffordablehousing.com/?utm_source=BB-Desktop&utm_campaign=NationalAffordableHousing&utm_medium=All&utm_content=Ad-4&utm_term=Text-12

Typical Percentages for Household Budgets – Budgeting Money
https://budgeting.thenest.com/typical-percentages-household-budgets-3299.html

Connecticut
Our own Evonne Klein is CT Commissioner of Housing:
http://www.ct.gov/doh/site/default.asp

Section 8-30g has been used in town to override local zoning rules to add affordable housing.

https://www.cga.ct.gov/2017/rpt/pdf/2017-R-0013.pdf

https://www.hud.gov/topics/rental_assistance/phprog

Section 8 Housing In Connecticut And HUD Low Income House Rentals
https://section-8-apartments.org/states/connecticut-state.html?utm_source=bing&utm_medium=cpc&utm_campaign=Search_CT_Geo_Section%208%20Apartments&utm_term=%2Bsection%20%2B8%20%2Bincome%20%2Blimits&utm_content=Income%20Limits%20-%20BM

NY Times Magazine, Jan 27, page 53
“New York is facing an affordable-housing crisis.”
“Of the roughly 2300 apartments in…the project, about 700 will be reserved for lower-income tenants. The first 105 affordable units were recently made available at monthly rents ranging from$590 to $964: 87,000 people entered the lottery for them.

NY Times Jan. 8. Business section. “Homeowners want a Say Past Their Lot Lines” [ zoning regulations raise home prices]
https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/03/upshot/zoning-housing-property-rights-nimby-us.html?_r=0

Denver Has a Plan for Its Many Luxury Apartments: Housing Subsidies – WSJ

https://www.wsj.com/articles/denver-has-a-plan-for-its-many-luxury-apartments-housing-subsidies-1515412800

Affordable Housing Resources | Texas Health and Human Services
https://hhs.texas.gov/doing-business-hhs/provider-portals/resources/promoting-independence/affordable-housing-resources

This posting on “food stamps” in CT. is in contrast to how assistance for housing is administered.
http://portal.ct.gov/DSS/SNAP/Supplemental-Nutrition-Assistance-Program—SNAP/Eligibility

National Affordable Housing – Section 8 Help and Resources
https://nationalaffordablehousing.com/?utm_source=BB-Desktop-Spy&utm_campaign=NationalAffordableHousing&utm_medium=All&utm_content=Ad-1&utm_term=Text-1

How to Apply for Section 8 Housing in Connecticut
https://nationalaffordablehousing.com/apply-section-8-housing-state/how-to-apply-for-section-8-housing-in-connecticut/

Connecticut Section 8 Housing | Section-8-Housing.org
https://section-8-housing.org/Connecticut?utm_source=bing&utm_medium=cpc&utm_campaign=Search_CT_Kwd_Section%208&utm_term=section%208%20housing%20connecticut&utm_content=Housing%20-%20EX

Learn about Homeownership Vouchers (Section 8 Homeownership Vouchers)
https://nationalaffordablehousing.com/homeownership/

Web Notes – HUD.gov / U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)
https://www.hud.gov/topics/housing_choice_voucher_program_section_8

http://www.aei.org/publication/americas-affordable-housing-crisis-challenges-and-solutions/

http://theweek.com/articles/733689/how-fix-affordable-housing-crisis-big-governmentstyle

Gary here. I just read this in preparation for our discussion. Gates and Obama have it on their suggested reading list. It is about people at the very bottom. Depressing – extremely difficult to find solutions.

From Harvard sociologist and MacArthur “genius” Matthew Desmond, a landmark work of scholarship and reportage that will forever change the way we look at poverty in America In this brilliant, heartbreaking book, Matthew Desmond takes us into the poorest neighborhoods of Milwaukee to tell the story of eight families on the edge. Arleen is a single mother trying to raise her two sons on the $20 a month she has left after paying for their rundown apartment. Scott is a gentle nurse consumed by a heroin addiction. Lamar, a man with no legs and a neighborhood full of boys to look after, tries to work his way out of debt. Vanetta participates in a botched stickup after her hours are cut. All are spending almost everything they have on rent, and all have fallen behind. The fates of these families are in the hands of two landlords: Sherrena Tarver, a former schoolteacher turned inner-city entrepreneur, and Tobin Charney, who runs one of the worst trailer parks in Milwaukee. They loathe some of their tenants and are fond of others, but as Sherrena puts it, “Love don’t pay the bills.” She moves to evict Arleen and her boys a few days before Christmas. Even in the most desolate areas of American cities, evictions used to be rare. But today, most poor renting families are spending more than half of their income on housing, and eviction has become ordinary, especially for single mothers. In vivid, intimate prose, Desmond provides a ground-level view of one of the most urgent issues facing America today. As we see families forced into shelters, squalid apartments, or more dangerous neighborhoods, we bear witness to the human cost of America’s vast inequality–and to people’s determination and intelligence in the face of hardship. Based on years of embedded fieldwork and painstakingly gathered data, this masterful book transforms our understanding of extreme poverty and economic exploitation while providing fresh ideas for solving a devastating, uniquely American problem. Its unforgettable scenes of hope and loss remind us of the centrality of home, without which nothing else is possible.

NYC Christmas Light Walking Tour, Dec 12, 2017

Christmas Lights Walking Tour New York City
Taylor Strubinger will lead a walking tour of New York City’s world-famous Christmas trees and department store windows,  Tuesday, December 12, 2017.

“We will take the 8:36 a.m. train from Darien and the 8:39 a.m.train from Noroton Heights,” said Taylor. “We usually try to sit in the forward railroad cars.

“At Grand Central Station, we will gather at the information desk underneath the clock before starting out,” he said. “No reservations are necessary. If the weather is inclement, we will not go.”

Contact: Taylor Strubinger at tstrubinger@snet.net or phone (203) 952-6423.
The Christmas trees include Rockefeller Center and Bryant Park.

Cattle Kingdom: The Hidden History of the Cowboy West by Christopher Knowlton, February 14, 2018

A revolutionary new appraisal of the Old West and the America it made

The open range cattle era lasted barely a quarter-century, but it left America irrevocably changed. These few decades following the Civil War brought America its greatest boom-and-bust cycle until the Depression, the invention of the assembly line, and the dawn of the conservation movement. It inspired legends, such as that icon of rugged individualism, the cowboy. Yet this extraordinary time and its import have remained unexamined for decades.

Cattle Kingdom reveals the truth of how the West rose and fell, and how its legacy defines us today. The tale takes us from dust-choked cattle drives to the unlikely splendors of boomtowns like Abilene, Kansas, and Cheyenne, Wyoming. We venture from the Texas Panhandle to the Dakota Badlands to the Chicago stockyards. We meet a diverse array of players—from the expert cowboy Teddy Blue to the failed rancher and future president Teddy Roosevelt. Knowlton shows us how they and others like them could achieve so many outsized feats: killing millions of bison in a decade, building the first opera house on the open range, driving cattle by the thousand, and much more. Cattle Kingdom is a revelatory new view of the Old West.

 

From Delancy Place:

THE BIRTH OF THE AMERICAN COWBOY — 1/08/18

Today’s selection — from Cattle Kingdom by Christopher Knowlton. In the mid-to-late 1800s, some 10 million cattle would be driven north out of Texas, the largest forced migration of animals in human history. It was the birth of the American cowboy:

“Cattle had been trailed from Texas to Missouri as early as 1842 and to California as early as 1854. … Although the maps depicting these routes suggest an orderly branch network of roads, on the ground the paths taken were often circuitous, as the drovers needed to provide water and grass for the cattle along the way. This meant following rivers and creeks and tracing the routes of old Indian and buffalo trails. The earliest endpoints were the railheads of the Union Pacific and the Missouri Pacific railroads, which were gradually extending their tentacles of track westward, now that the Civil War was over and capital was available for their expansion.

“But nothing about this trail-driving scheme turned out to be quite as easy as it looked on paper. The first challenge: a cattle drive required horses, but the freely roaming mustangs needed to be roped, corralled, and broken by a skilled broncobuster. It typically took five to six days to properly break a wild mustang. And to trail cattle north, a journey that could take three to six months, drovers needed four or five horses per cowboy.

“The second challenge: the behavior and temperament of the wild Texas Longhorn itself. … It was a challenge for cowboys to round up these wild cattle. Texas Longhorns hid in the brush during the day and did most of their foraging at night. Only briefly in the summer, when the tor­menting mosquitoes were out in force, did they spend the daylight hours in open areas, where they hoped to find a breeze. Most of the time the cowboys were compelled to ride into the thorny brush to flush the cattle out. But a cow with a young calf was prepared to gore a horse to defend her offspring, and the longhorn bull was no­toriously ornery: ‘sullen, morose, solitary, and pugnacious;’ as one cattleman put it. ‘The longer he lived, the meaner he became.’ …

“Once a herd was assembled, the profit-seeking Texan faced his most grueling challenge: the trail drive itself, since railroads throughout the South had been badly damaged during the Civil War and had never ventured far into Texas. … It required a minimum of eight men to drive a thousand head of cattle. The trail boss usually rode a few miles ahead, scouting out water holes and good places to graze the herd. The cook followed on the mess, or chuck, wagon. …

“Two cowboys were positioned at the point of the herd and two along each swing, or flank. The two most junior cowboys brought up the rear and were known as drag riders. Their job was to keep the slow and lame cattle moving along. They were constantly sub­jected to dust and spatterings of the herd’s manure; they took the full brunt of its noxious odors. … [One] staple of the diet was ‘son-of-a­-bitch stew,’ concocted from leftover cattle parts such as the heart, testicles, and tongue.

“On a good day, a trail drive could cover fourteen or fifteen miles, usually with a break at midday for lunch. The greatest threat facing the drovers was a stampede. It didn’t take much to spook the jumpy longhorns: lightning, the appearance of a wolf, the snap of a towel. …

“In the spring of 1867, some 35,000 head of cattle headed up the trails; the next year, 75,000; the year after that 350,000; and in 1871, some 600,000. The great migration of Texas Longhorns, the largest forced migration of animals in human history, had begun in earnest. In all, some ten million cattle would be driven north out of Texas, accompanied by half a million horses and some 50,000 cowboys.”

“Hiking” Greenwich Point Park, Friday, December 8, 2017 at 10.30am

We will be walking Greenwich Point Park on Friday December 8 at 10.30 am. Note that this is half an hour later than our usual start time of 10.00 am.

Greenwich Point is a beautiful peninsula surrounded on three sides by Long Island Sound. The walking trail is completely flat and does not require any special skills other than a desire to walk amid some pretty spectacular scenery. We will be doing the full circuit of about 3 miles in about 1 1⁄2 hours.

Following the walk we will have lunch at the Italian Restaurant Applausi Osteria Toscana( 199
Sound Beach Road). Last year this restaurant was a hit with our group.

Directions: Google Greenwich Point for the best directions.
Take Exit 5 off the South bound I-95. At the end of the exit ramp make a sharp right onto Rt 1 and then at the first traffic light make another right onto Sound Beach Road. Continue on Sound Beach for 1.8 miles, then at the T junction make a right on Shore Road which becomes Tods Driftway after 1.3 miles. You enter Greenwich Point Park through a somewhat obscure stone gateway and park in the first parking lot on the right where we will meet.

This park is open only for Greenwich Residents during the season, but this being off-season anyone can enter. Leashed dogs are allowed after Dec 1.

Clothing: It is usually quite windy at Greenwich Point and will probably be chilly
as well. Be appropriately clad. Walking will warm you up and it should be
invigorating and fun. All are welcome. ( Last year our group numbered 18 ).

Contact: Sunil Saksena 203-561-8601 ; ssaksena44@gmail.com

Saxon Woods Hike Friday, Nov 17, 2017 10.00am

We will be hiking at Saxon Woods Park in Scarsdale, NY on Friday Nov 17 at 10 am. This is a 700 acre county park and contains an 18 hole golf course, tennis courts, a huge swimming pool, soccer fields and several miles of hiking trails in the woods. We will be hiking the part of the
park that is south of the Hutchinson Parkway off exit 22. The trails here are wide, well maintained and well marked and largely devoid of treacherous roots and rocks. We will hike a loop of about 3.5 miles which will take us 2-2.5 hours. This promises to be a most enjoyable
hike and we welcome our regular hikers as well as newcomers. Spouses and significant others will find this hike fun.

After the hike, at around 12.30pm we will have lunch(optional) at the nearby Red Plum Restaurant, a highly regarded and popular place serving mouth-watering Asian dishes at reasonable luncheon prices. ( Located at 251 Mamaroneck Ave, Mamaroneck).

Directions
Head South on the Merritt Parkway into Westchester. Take Exit 22 off the Hutch and make a left turn at the top of exit ramp onto Mamaroneck Road. Proceed about 200 yards and then make a left into the parking lot of the Weinberg Nature Center, marked by an easy to miss sign.

Address: 455 Mamaroneck Road, Scarsdale.
Meeting Time at parking lot: 10.00am
Contact: Sunil Saksena, 203-561- 8601, ssaksena44@gmail.com

Happy Wanderers: Central Park, Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Taylor Strubinger reports that the Happy Wanderers will explore Central Park on Tuesday, October 17, 2017.

We will be taking the 8:36 a.m. train from Darien and the same train from Noroton Heights at 8:39 a.m. We usually board at the front end of the train.

Everyone will gather briefly at the Information Booth underneath the clock in Grand Central Station before starting off.

The wandering will begin at West 72nd Street and Central Park West. Entering the park, we will pass the Strawberry Fields and the Sheep Meadow.

We also will see the Bethesda Fountain and the Bow Bridge. Other stops will include the puppet theater, the Shakespeare garden and the Great Lawn.

Lunch will be at a chosen location on Amsterdam Avenue or Columbus Avenue.

For questions, text, phone or email Taylor Strubinger (203) 952-6423, tstrubinger@snet.net.

Hiking Devil’s Den Preserve Friday, Oct 13, 2017 10:00am

Devil’s Den Hike Postponed to Friday, October 13, at 10 a.m.
Rain is expected tonight.
Even though tomorrow may be a clear day, the trails at Devil’s Den will still be wet and slippery.
Therefore, the hike is postponed to Friday, October 13, which will be beautiful and sunny. A perfect fall day for hiking.
For questions, contact Sunil Saksena (293) 561-8601, ssaksena44@gmail.com

We will be hiking the trails at Devil’s Den Preserve in Weston on Thursday, October 12, with a 10 am start. This is the largest nature preserve in SW Connecticut and extremely popular with hikers. Owned by the Nature Conservancy, its has 1700 acres of woodlands, wetlands, ponds and streams, and 20 miles of picturesque trails. It is home to 145 species of birds, 20 species of mammals, and over 400 varieties of trees and wildflowers.

We will be hiking a loop of about 3.5 miles.This trail has a moderate level of difficulty in that there are places of gradual uphill, but these are usually followed by long stretches of flat trail.  You do need sturdy shoes as the trail is rocky in places.

The hike will last about 2-2 ½ hours and will give us ample opportunity to bathe in the forest air.  I mention this because the Japanese believe hiking is good for one’s health, not just because of the exercise involved, but also because it gives one the opportunity to breathe the forest air which is swirling with healthful compounds released by the trees.

After the hike, at about 12.30pm,we will have lunch at a nearby restaurant, Wiremill Saloon and Barbeque, which is a local favorite and a short drive away.  It is located at 12 Old Mill Road,
Redding.

A usual, we welcome spouses and significant others on our hikes.

Directions
Take Exit 42 off the Merritt Parkway and at the bottom of exit ramp make a right turn onto Route 57 North towards Weston. After 3.8 miles, at the flashing light bear right to follow CT-53 for 1.7 miles. Turn left on Godfrey Road West and drive half a mile. Make right on to Pent Road which ends in the parking lot for Devil’s Den.

On Google Maps use this destination address : 33 Pent Road, Weston

Contact : Sunil Saksena 203-561-8601 (cell) ssaksena44@gmail.com

December 14, 2017
Current Affairs Discussion
Drug Prices

Leader: Sunil Saksena
Drug Pricing–Tentative Discussion Outline for Dec 14, 2017

1.What is the evidence that drug prices in the US are too high?
2.Why are they high and how are prices set ?  ( a brief case study to be presented by Charles Goodyear)
3.Pharmaceutical companies justify their prices as necessary to fund their high R and D expenses.—-the case for and against this argument.
4.what can be done to lower prices?  What do other countries do? What can the US do?
5. What is an appropriate price for a drug? Is value based pricing appropriate and who decides?

The Problem Document that drug prices are higher in the US than anywhere else
Why are they higher and how are prices set ? Compare US with foreign countries
Pharmaceutical Cos justify high prices needed to support high R&D expenditure- the case for and against
What can be done to lower them? What do other countries do? In the US it seems a combination of modifying patent law, FDA approval process,some regulatory changes, allowing certain imports, and allowing Govt negotiated Medicare drug prices, could hel lower prices.
What is an “appropriate “ price for a drug? A value based approach. Who decides?

The High Cost of Prescription Drugs in the United States
Origins and Prospects for Reform
http://sma.darien.org/wp-content/uploads/Drug-Prices.pdf

https://www.bloomberg.com/graphics/2015-drug-prices/

https://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/21/business/a-huge-overnight-increase-in-a-drugs-price-raises-protests.html?_r=0

http://www.reuters.com/article/us-pharmaceuticals-usa-comparison/exclusive-transatlantic-divide-how-u-s-pays-three-times-more-for-drugs-idUSKCN0S61KU20151012

https://www.economist.com/blogs/economist-explains/2016/09/economist-explains-2

https://www.ftc.gov/sites/default/files/documents/reports/pay-delay-how-drug-company-pay-offs-cost-consumers-billions-federal-trade-commission-staff-study/100112payfordelayrpt.pdf

https://www.fda.gov/AboutFDA/CentersOffices/OfficeofMedicalProductsandTobacco/CDER/ucm129385.htm

https://www.ftc.gov/sites/default/files/documents/reports/agreements-filed-federal-trade-commission-under-medicare-prescription-drug-improvement-and/130117mmareport.pdf

http://www.newsweek.com/prescription-drug-pricing-569444

IQ2US: Health care costs in the U.S. are some 18 percent of GNP, nearly double what other rich countries spend. We read of drug therapies that cost $100,000 a year or more, and of drug price increases that are 6 times the rate of inflation, on average, and often much more when mergers reduce competition in the industry. Is this a major driver of excessive health care costs? Or is it a by-product of the huge costs of getting new drugs approved? Has big pharma delivered drugs that reduce the need for costly surgeries, which extend life and improve its quality? Or do they deserve the blame that has been leveled against them?

https://www.intelligencesquaredus.org/debates/blame-big-pharma-out-control-health-care-costs

https://www.marketwatch.com/story/six-tips-for-fighting-rising-prescription-drug-costs-2015-09-15

http://www.healthaffairs.org/doi/pdf/10.1377/hlthaff.2012.1252

http://annals.org/aim/fullarticle/2506848/stemming-escalating-cost-prescription-drugs-position-paper-american-college-physicians

http://www.csrxp.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/CSRxP-Policy-Platform-Summary.pdf

https://www.aarp.org/content/dam/aarp/health/healthy-living/2017/04/drug-prices-download-final.pdf

https://www.healthaffairs.org/do/10.1377/hblog20140214.037238/full/

https://www.fda.gov/AboutFDA/Transparency/Basics/ucm194904.htm

An article about how and why some drugs are less expensive paying cash vs through insurance:
https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/09/health/drug-prices-generics-insurance.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&clickSource=story-heading&module=second-column-region&region=top-news&WT.nav=top-news&_r=0

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2017-12-20/the-loopholes-drug-companies-use-to-keep-prices-high

November 16, 2017
Current Affairs Discussion
Corporate Tax Reform Policy

Leader: Harvey Mogenson

 

Discussion outline:

Part I – Brief example/ discussion of the current corporate tax system as a basis to compare the Tax Reform Proposals.  This would include the concepts of a) tax rules applicable to a US corporation vs a foreign corporation/subsidiary; b) what does “effective tax rate” mean; c) the historical trend away from corporations to pass-throughs.  (We only need this last item if we want to touch upon why there are proposals for special business rates for individuals.)
Part II – Discuss the proposals for a lower corporate tax rate and the major “offsets”.  (We could even compare the “offsets” with the current list of tax expenditures to see where the offsets came from.)
Part III – Discuss the proposals for a “territorial system” applicable to dividends from foreign subsidiaries.  This would focus on “deferral” vs “exemption” and probably some discussion of global competition.

ESTIMATES OF FEDERAL TAX EXPENDITURES FOR FISCAL YEARS 2016-2020
http://sma.darien.org/wp-content/uploads/Tax-1.pdf

Tax Cuts and Jobs Act H.R. 1 Section-by-Section Summary
http://sma.darien.org/wp-content/uploads/Tax-2.pdf

Corporate Income Tax Rates around the World, 2017
http://sma.darien.org/wp-content/uploads/Tax-3.pdf

Labor Bears Much of the Cost of the Corporate Tax
http://sma.darien.org/wp-content/uploads/Tax-4.pdf

An Overview of Pass-through Businesses in the United States
http://sma.darien.org/wp-content/uploads/Tax-5.pdf

International Comparision of Effective Corporate Tax Rates
http://sma.darien.org/wp-content/uploads/Tax-6.pdf

Policy Perspectives
Ernst & Young LLP’s rapid response to the House Ways and Means Committee’s tax reform
draft bill, “The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act”
http://sma.darien.org/wp-content/uploads/Tax-7.pdf

A Turnabout on Corporate Taxes
https://www.wsj.com/article_email/a-turnabout-on-corporate-taxes-1508883600-lMyQjAxMTE3MzA1NjgwNTY4Wj/

Republican Plan: Tax People, Not Companies
https://www.wsj.com/article_email/gop-goes-with-the-global-flow-tax-people-not-companies-1509554364-lMyQjAxMTI3MzA2NjIwNjY0Wj/

Historical background and European VAT taxes.
https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2017-11-09/how-to-break-out-of-our-long-national-tax-nightmare

Senate Tax Reform Bill
http://sma.darien.org/wp-content/uploads/11.9.17-Chairmans-Mark.pdf

Happy Wanderers — Walkway Over the Hudson River – 21 September, 2017

Happy Wanderers — Walkway Over the Hudson River – 21 September, 2017

This will be the first Wandering of our fall semester.

The Walkway, now a New York State Park, was opened by the New Haven Railroad in 1889 as a rail bridge from Poughkeepsie to Highland, NY, where it connected New England with other rail lines to the West and South. In 1974 a fire made the bridge unusable; and, until it was reconfigured in 2009 as the world’s longest pedestrian walkway, it went unused.

 

As you can see from the pictures, the views are spectacular.

We will carpool from the DCA to the Walkway parking area in Poughkeepsie, on Tuesday, September 19, departing at 8:45 a.m. Please gather in the back parking area, near the Greenhouse. We will set up the car pooling there, and the remaining cars will be parked there.

Driving directions will be provided for each car. For GPS users, the address of the parking area for the Walkway is 61 Parker Avenue, Poughkeepsie, NY, 12601.

We expect that the driving time to the Parking Area in Poughkeepsie will be about an hour and a half. Our walk itself, including pit stops and a pause for a libation should take about two to three hours.

We then plan to go to lunch at the nearby Culinary Institute, at one of the dining places on its campus that does not require reservations. After lunch, we shall go directly home, and expect to be back at the DCA at about 4:30.

The weather is expected to be sunny, so bring a hat and some sun-block.

For questions, please call Joe Spain – 203-655-1264 or jhspain@sbcglobal.net.

Group picture of the Wandering:

Hiking in New Canaan
Friday, September 15, 2017
10:00 am  

We will be hiking two properties in New Canaan on Septembr 15. Both are easily accessible and are a short drive from Darien. Both are rated C+ on the level of difficulty scale used to grade hikes (for a fuller description of this rating click on the Hiking tab   on the DMA website). This means that the terrain is relatively flat, but the trails may occasionally be strewn with rocks and roots. So one  has to exercise some care in traversing these trails, but other than that, they are relatively easy and should appeal even to the novice hiker.

The first property we will be hiking is the Hicks Kelley Audubon property owned by the New Canaan Land Trust. This T-shaped property is approximately 40 acres with just under two miles of interesting trails.

Following this hike we will take a short drive to the second property,the 80 acre Waveney Park, which is owned by the Town of New Canaan. Here the trail loop is about 1.5 miles and serenely beautiful.

 

 

 

 
After completing both trails we will head downtown for lunch at Restaurant  Chef Luis (129 Elm St., New Canaan)

We meet at 10 am on Friday, Septemeber 15 at the Hicks Kelley property, the entrance to which is adjacent to mailbox of house no. 161 on  Cedar Lane.

Driving instructions: Off the north-bound Merritt Parkway take exit 38. At bottom of the exit ramp make a right turn and after 0.3 miles( that is, at the second light) turn right onto Carter Road. Proceed 1.3 miles on Carter, then make a right turn on to Dabney Road ( this turn is at 409 Carter Rd).  Bear left at the fork and Dabney becomes Cedar Lane . Park along the road near 161 Cedar. It shouldnt take more than 5-6 minutes once you get off the Merritt.

Direction from Hicks Kelley to Waveney Park (which is off Exit 37) will be handed out on site.

These two hikes are relatively easy and have have been selected to encourage maximum particpation and to provide a warm up to the more challenging hikes to come. In addition to our regulars, we are hoping to entice some newcomers to give hiking a try.

Contact: Sunil Saksena, 203-561-8601, ssaksena44@gmail.com

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