It’s time for edible wild plants

This is a good time to be getting outdoors, not only because of the mostly warming weather, but because it takes our minds off the cares of the world.

This is also a good time to study up on edible wild plants, which offer us free green vegetables without having to go far afield. Do shepherd’s purse, common orange day lilies, dandelion, broadleaf plantain, and ostrich ferns appeal to you? I can vouch for them all.

Wherever you gather plants, be sure herbicides and pesticides have not been used.

Before you try any, check the Edible Weeds site for details to be sure you have the right plant and whether to consume roots, stems, buds, or flowers. And don’t miss the recipes there for Spicy Pickled Day Lilies and Daisies or mushrooms stuffed with fern fiddleheads!

The first spontaneous edible plant (I’m trying to avoid “weed”) in spring here is shepherd’s purse, an annual that begins growing in February and starts flowering already in mid-March. It is so named because the petite and very productive seed pods were thought, in earlier times, to resemble the purses carried by shepherds in the field (or, in an alternate name, a lady’s purse). (Photo: shepherd’s purse before sending up its flower stalks).

You could take it for a nuisance, except that within a few weeks it disappears, leaving lots of seeds behind it for next year. It shows up as a small dense rosette, often only an inch or so in diameter. Then it sends up a stalk 2 to 4 inches, with tiny white flowers.

As with many wild edibles, the smaller the shepherd’s purse plant leaves are, the tenderer… but the more time it takes to harvest a serving of it. It is still good after the flowers come out, but if you wait too long, as the leaves grow bigger, they grow bitter.

Rinse a bunch of rosettes and attached flowers several times, then soak them a while, then snip off the very bottom of the stem where the roots attach. then treat them like lettuce in a sandwich, a salad with other greens. They are also good spread around on any cooked dish, wherever you might use parsley or similar.

Day lilies are also good for eating right now. We are talking about the standard orange day lilies (do NOT eat other fancier lilies, like Easter Lilies!). If you have some that you don’t mind losing–and probably every gardener does, as they multiply and spread aggressively–just dig them up when the stalks are about 6 inches out of the ground. Now you see why day lilies are so successful in gardens or the wild: they store up food and drink for themselves, so they have the energy to endure in dry weather and come up fast in the spring. (Photo: 3 day lily plants after a first rinse outdoors, with a little bunch of shepherd’s purse to the left.)

Then snip off the tubers and the few rootlets attached to each one. Soak and wash them assiduously (rattle them around in several changes of warm water for a while), boil them a few minutes till they are soft (or cook them in a microwave with a little water in a covered bowl), and enjoy. They look and taste like extremely small potatoes.

Also, the core of the stalks is quite tasty; just cut off the tops and peel of any tougher green leaves till you get down to the white centers (think of leeks). Saute or boil them a little and combine with other vegetables.

Actually, you can eat the tubers at any time of year, and if you don’t mind sacrificing some flowers (they don’t last long anyhow, right?), the fried buds are quite tasty. Just put them in a little water and a bowl, and put them in the microwave for no more than a minute. Flowers are also edible.

For more on eating day lilies, see HonestFood.net.

Those two plants are edible right now; others will come soon. Sure, this is all sort of time-consuming; but it gets us outside and we don’t have to go to the store to get our green veggies and salad greens!

Happy Spring!

Photo below: shepherd’s purse with flowers

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Covid-19 brings out underlying weaknesses in US society

Crises bring out strengths and weaknesses in a society; and coronavirus certainly proves the rule. China’s obsessive centralization made doctors and local government officials afraid to reveal the truth, leading to dangerous delays in diagnosis and countermeasures. Italy’s famed fragmentation has made concerted national action difficult.

In the US, the virus, if it had its own mind, could be seen as exploiting some homegrown weaknesses:

• Many workers, especially those in service industries which entail the most human contact, such as fast food and health care delivery, lack health insurance and sick pay, and feel they can’t afford to stay off the job, even if they have symptoms.

• Fear of arrest and deportation, whether for themselves or family members, causes many immigrants, both legal or undocumented, to avoid official contacts, even for the sake of their own health; and our health care workers are disproportionately immigrants.

• Extreme economic equality makes the most disadvantaged segment of society less able to resist the disease and more likely to carry it to others.

• Insufficiency of affordable day care poses a real quandary, if schools are closed, when the parents of even healthy well children must work.

• Social media run amok spread the virus of fear and misinformation.

• Many Americans run to conspiracy theories that lead them to refuse medical treatment or potentially life-saving vaccinations (think of flu and measles), so even if a covid-19 vaccine becomes available, we must fear that many will refuse it.

• The current national trend to blame, polarization, and reductions of funding for human services (even for CDC) makes it harder for government to achieve what should be its main goal: the welfare of its people.

• Inequality in medical treatment between states and regions; southeastern PA is one of the most prepared for emergencies; but many rural hospitals have been shutting down for lack of resources if they are public and insufficient profits if they are private.

• The high cost of drugs, and prohibition against consumers buying them in other countries, adds to the inadequacy of treatment or prevention of some serious conditions, like diabetes and anaphylactic shock. For cobid-19, we’ll see, though any vaccine won’t be available for many months, it seems.

• The US taboo against government producing any consumer products means that development and production of test kits and vaccines depends on private industry deciding it can make a good profit (and, of course, use government research and collect any government subsidies).

• Our society’s geographical mobility means that more seniors than elsewhere live not with children but in retirement facilities, and that more children than elsewhere do not have extended families to care for them in case of illness or school closure.

Whatever the ultimate course of the virus, these structural weaknesses need to be repaired, both because they are unacceptable in themselves and because they lay us open to societal dysfunction in present and future times of crisis.

Covid-19 photo from CDC

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What we need to know about true health care costs

Health care, along with environment and the economy, is at the top of the list of voters’ concerns. I’d like to see the candidates speak about such issues more holistically. It’s hard to put a value, whether monetary or societal, on such issues, but I think a mature discussion would start with: “What does health care cost us now?”

I don’t mean: “What do people pay every month or when they get sick?” I mean: “What does our society really pay, now and over time?” It’s like buying a cotton T-shirt. It’s not just the few dollars we pay at the store; the true cost is measured in environmental damage from growing and processing cotton, in the dyes that run off and degrade waterways, in workers poisoned by toxins in fields and factories, in the planet-warming exhaust from the ships that bring the product from South Asia to our shores….

I’d like to know the true lifelong health care cost for everyone. Where do health expenses go for one American who lives, say, 100 years?

• Hospitals, laboratories, retirement homes.

• Doctors, nurses and other professionals.

• Medicines, drugs, therapies.

• Lost work by family caregivers.

Various sources are tapped for such expenses. First, how do these costs show up monetarily in our centenarian’s own finances?

• Payments over his lifetime by parents, himself, and other family members.

• Withdrawals from salary to pay for future Medicare.

• Lessened salary to compensate for employer-based insurance.

• Individual payments for medical insurance under ACA and other plans.

• Co-pays, deductibles, and costs over allowed lifetime maximums.

• Long-term medical insurance, if any.

And what is the impact on individuals whom the system fails to support adequately?

• Medical debt, overdue charges, interest, collection agency actions.

• Possible loss of homes for non-payment of medical expenses.

• Untreated diseases, potentially preventable debilitation and death.

• Work time unnecessarily lost.

• Sacrifices to help or care for a family member.

And for our society as a whole:

• Diseases spread by people who can’t afford treatment and/or time off work (think flu, coronavirus…).

• Unsustainable costs from unnecessary Emergency Room visits and hospital closures.

• Unnecessarily unhealthy children, especially the 18% under age 18 living in poverty.

• Unnecessarily unproductive or dependent adults.

• Inadequate mental care, possibly endangering others as well as the individual.

• Enormous costs for insurance administration, billing specialists, disputes, lawsuits…

I can see why the candidates don’t want to talk about all of this; it could get overwhelming, to them and to a sound-bite-addicted public. But, in my view, until people fully understand that the cost of medical care is not just the money they see going out of their bank accounts, we’ll remain at a health care impasse, to the detriment of society, employers, families, and individuals.

But if people could understand the whole picture, they would appreciate a candidate who can explain: Here’s what health care really costs us now, and here’s why my plan is cheaper and better for individuals, families, and society.

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Impeachments past and present

Even though “all politics is local,” we do have impeachment hearings going on.

The US Constitution says that “The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors” (II.4).

What does this mean? “High crimes and misdemeanors” are somewhat in the eye of the beholder; and Nancy Pelosi has shown the way to using the term “bribery” rather than “quid pro quo,” while the term “collusion,” which Donald Trump favored in replying to the Mueller report, is not a constitutional or legal term at all.

Easier to grasp is the President’s duty to “take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed” (II.3). And Congress’s job is to make the laws.

Let’s look historically at presidential impeachments, because precedent (except to a few US Supreme Court justices) is the major guide to applying the Constitution.

In 1868, Andrew Johnson was impeached for violating a law that forbade the president from dismissing without the Senate’s approval an office-holder who had been appointed with the Senate’s advice and consent. That Tenure of Office Act would make things very different in the Trump administration, with its constant turnover, but the law was in effect only from 1867-87. The eleventh of the eleven articles of impeachment brought against Johnson has a quaint but suddenly relevant resonance today: “Bringing disgrace and ridicule to the presidency by his aforementioned words and actions.” The full background was 3 years of increasing hostility (coincidentally or not, just like today) between the US House and the President, largely over Johnson’s attempts to sabotage reconstruction of the South along Republican principles (that was back when Republicans opposed discrimination and favored votes by black citizens). The House impeached Johnson but the Senate fell one vote short of conviction.

In 1974, Richard Nixon resigned before the House could impeach him, as he finally understood that it was certain to do. The triggering event, the Watergate break-in and coverup, can be compared to Russia and WikiLeaks illegally obtaining and releasing files belonging to the Democratic National Committee. In addition, the charge that the President failed to produce documents required by the House Judiciary Committee is highly relevant today, since Trump is doing the same by trying to prevent US officials from cooperating with the investigation.

For context, in 1981 the Reagan administration began surreptitiously selling arms, via Israel, to Iran in violation of a Congressional embargo. This arrangement morphed into a plan to supply arms to the right-wing Nicaraguan Contras, also in violation of Congressional action. Reagan was not impeached for violating the express will of Congress, even though his administration, like Nixon’s and Trump’s, withheld documents requested by Congress. As has been the Trump pattern, several individuals associated with the actions were indicted and convicted, though George Bush I later pardoned them (another concept to keep our sights on today). Reagan, like Trump then in his 70s, was skilled at sounding vague, and in fact does seem to have been in early stages of Alzheimer’s, although unlike Trump he remained quite popular with the public generally.

Finally, in 1998-99 Bill Clinton was impeached, but nowhere near the required 2/3 of Senators voted to convict him. The charges, lying under oath and obstruction of justice regarding one matter, his relationship with Monica Lewinsky, seem rather quaint in the Age of Trump. The usual allegations, that a president ignored and thwarted the will of Congress or exhibited a pattern of corruptness, did not seem to apply.

Takeaways for today, I think, are

• Political climate matters; congress would hesitate to impeach a popular president.

• To be effective, individual charges need to be couched in a context of abuse of office, such as “bringing disgrace and ridicule to the presidency by his aforementioned words and actions,” a phrase that seems nicely attuned to daily news for the past three. years.

• Although it is true that the government routinely engages in quid pro quo (AKA treaties, agreements, diplomatic understandings) with foreign countries, quid pro quo for personal gain is a different matter. Even Nixon was not accused of seeking financial gain, only personal political gain in the measure that the Watergate break-in was aimed at finding insider information about what Democrats knew and were planning.

In the case of Trump, the intended gain was to defeat a prospective political opponent with help from Ukraine in 2019, and (as investigated in the Mueller Report) from Russia and WikiLeaks in 2016. Trump has also been accused of seeking personal financial gain, for himself directly and through his family, from violating the emoluments clause that “…no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust… shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince or foreign State” (I.9).

In addition, it would not be surprising to learn that actual or hoped-for Trump enterprises in Turkey, Russia, or elsewhere stood to gain financially from his presidency. Two possibly relevant projects from over ten years ago have already surfaced: “Trump’s company considered at least two developments in Ukraine — a hotel and golf course in Kyiv and a hotel and yacht club in the seaside city of Yalta, which is now part of the Russian-annexed area of Crimea” (from Anita Kumar, “Before his claims of corruption, Trump tried to build a resort in Ukraine,” Politico, 11/4/19. If any secret negotiations involving US foreign policy have gone on, similar to the current Ukraine imbroglio, that will give a whole new impetus to impeachment proceedings.

Divided though Americans may be since 2016, I think it is safe to say that using taxpayer funds and US foreign policy for personal gain are not concepts that, in the abstract, the public will ever approve of.

Photo by Marcin Konsek / Wikimedia Commons: Lenin embankment, Yalta, Crimea. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

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First they came for the…

A reference to this famed quotation with “children” in the blank came to me today, a reference to the Trump administration’s announced intent to confine undocumented immigrant families indefinitely, thus reneging on the prior agreement that, in a 2015 court judgment, set a 20 days maximum confining migrant children.

Whom did “they” really come for, in the Nazi context? Wikipedia gives the background: German pastor Martin Niemöller embedded the idea in a much more verbose confessional (since he was once a Nazi sympathizer himself) passage in 1946. He mentioned only Communists, the incurably sick, and Jews.

Then people started making the statement more succinct and modifying the victim classes. Here is one version I find very expressive, in Wikipedia from the UK Holocaust Memorial Day Trust:

First they came for the Communists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Communist

Then they came for the Socialists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Socialist

Then they came for the trade unionists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a trade unionist

Then they came for the Jews
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Jew

Then they came for me
And there was no one left
To speak out for me

Sad to say, scanning history, we could keep adding groups. Some particular Nazi targets for concentration camps don’t show up in standard versions of the list, such as Roma (“gypsies”), homosexuals, Social Democrats, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Soviet prisoners of war, “asocials,” intellectuals, and pastors (including Niemöller himself).

Recently, versions have been circulated–and appeared on signs at rallies–starting off with Muslims, journalists, and others.

The reference to children came in an email from the news organization Truthout. I didn’t find that reference on their web site but I did find “Billionaires… First They Came for the Economy” and “Climate Change: First They Came For…” (including, in the blank, Arctic sea ice, mountain glaciers, permafrost… you get the idea).

The formulation “First they came for the…” is obviously powerful, and all the more so because everyone reading it must know to fill in the blanks and end with themselves. The moral is clear. As another famous Martin, MLK Jr., said:

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

Above photo of Dr. Martin Niemöller in 1952 by J.D. Noske / Anefo [CC0] from Dutch National Archives in Wikimedia Commons

Posted in Civil rights, History | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Freedom from Fear… of guns

Is America’s “romance with guns” finally over? Who could feel romantic about an instrument of mass destruction?

Democrats want to pass new laws; and Republicans, for the most part, don’t. Follow the money, as they say. The career totals chart “Top 20 recipients of funds from gun rights interests among members of Congress, 1989-2018” from Open Secrets shows that all 20 (including PA Senator Pat Toomey and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell) were Republicans.

It’s important that people talk about safety: gun safety, gun violence prevention, public safety, saving the depressed from turning a fatal instrument against their own lives, saving children from traumas they should not have to bear.

Two valiant Chesco legislators, among others, have recently made strong statements.

Rep. Melissa Shusterman (D-157):

“My colleagues and I have over 25 pieces of legislation that have not been passed out of committee that could put Pennsylvanians’ safety before an industry’s profits. The time is now to put an end to these hateful acts of violence. I urge our leaders to call the legislature to Harrisburg and not stand idly by.”

Rep. Kristine Howard (D-167):

“…we need to immediately pass laws requiring universal background checks and implementing a “Red Flag” law giving family members and others the power to ask the courts to remove guns from people who may be a danger to themselves and others.”

A Red Flag law might even have prevented the mass shooting in El Paso, since the accused shooter’s mother called police several weeks earlier. It isn’t clear what she told them, but a Red Flag law might have enabled her to tell police she thought her son should not own an assault rifle, and might have empowered police to take it away pending investigation.

For background, see “What Are ‘Red Flag’ Gun Laws, and How Do They Work?” by Timothy Williams in the New York Times, 8/6/19. Such laws, as just one needed measure to reduce gun deaths and injuries, appear to be helping in 17 states. It’s time for Pennsylvania to join our neighbors New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, and as this month New York.

Rep. Howard reminds us that “Public records inform us that 600 women annually in America are shot to death by their partner.” Obviously a Red Flag law would help prevent such tragedies.

Similarly for suicides, which rose to 60% of all deaths by shooting in 2017. Chester County alone had 35 suicides by firearms in 2018, according to the Coroner’s office (download 2018 report).

Most of these killings and deaths could be prevented if our society made it a priority to do so, through measures like Red Flag laws, universal background checks, keeping military style weapons out of civilian hands, readily available mental health treatment, and gun locks especially in households with small children.

Like the US Senate, the PA Senate and House are controlled by Republicans. Will they let any pro-safety legislation through their road block? As some commentators have pointed out, even people who feel positively about guns can feel negatively about domestic terrorism. It is also hard to defend the role of guns in shooting partners and in killing oneself.

FDR’s famed Four Freedoms included Freedom from Fear. He was thinking of the armaments of nations; but today, we need to fear the armaments of individuals as well. Will the federal and state governments help solve the problem or just stand by as it worsens?


AK47, the type of assault weapon used by the accused El Paso shooter, from Wikimedia Commons (by gnokii at openclipart.org)

from Wikimedia Commons. 4 of PA’s 6 adjoining states have Red Flag laws.

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Which sort of Republican are they?

The current extreme-right Republican party owes its origins to the Tea Party movement that first manifested itself ten years ago in actions against taxes and government spending. In Chester County it grew out of earlier groups opposing the peace movement and Barack Obama. Its ethos was basically anti-government and in some ways even anarchist à la Steve Bannon, in the sense of wishing to demolish government institutions without knowing or caring what might take their place.

Of politicians associated with the Tea Party and still officially representing part or all of Chester County, Pat Toomey is the prominent survivor, and unfortunately his term in the US Senate is not up for 3 more years. If we voted for Supreme Court, we could add to the list those of the “immortals” who seem determined to take down the traditional national standards of democratic governance.

The bizarre contradiction is that those anti-government and supposedly freedom-loving elements have thrown their support behind an administration that embraces big government, favors corporate interests over actual people, engages in international adventuring in league with foreign dictators, cracks down against free speech and journalists, suppresses voter rights, promotes sexuality-related behavior codes, violates internal law regarding refugee rights, discriminates against racial and religious minorities, puts children in cages, and wanted tanks to rumble through the national capital for our independence celebration.

Those one-time ostensible admirers of freedom now seem inspired by the people-opposing power-centralizing ethos of Czarist Russia, Communist China, and North Korea’s Supreme Leader.

Republican candidates for office at all levels should have to explain which sort of Republican they are: opponents of orderly government or power centralizers. Unfortunately, Republicans who publicly stand up for “government of the people, by the people, for the people” seem to have perished from the earth.

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