Wisdom should come with age

In May 1543, Nicolaus Copernicus, a Pole living in Prussia, published On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres.  The book used mathematics and astronomy to postulate how the earth and the then-known planets rotated on their own axes as they orbited a stationary sun. Within days of its printing, however, Copernicus died.

His theory of “heliocentrism,” the first scientific

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The long, sustainable view…

Who knew that the best view of 21st century agriculture would be from Darrin Qualman’s farm office near Dundurn, Saskatchewan? And yet, there it is, charted by Qualman, a data bloodhound, who thinks graphically but writes plainly. The long-time researcher for Canada’s National Farmers Union appeared on my radar in February 2017 with a blog post titled “Agribusiness takes all: 90

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Plowshares into swords…

Texan Mike Conaway, the Republican chairman of the House Ag Committee, went full cowboy on committee Democrats after he learned all 20 of them would vote NO on his 2018 Farm Bill if he presented it with what they said were 20% cuts in SNAP, the nation’s $68-billion-a-year Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Conaway’s reaction was like a country-western song; it

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Seventy crops…

Shortly after he turns 86 on April 10, Eugene “Gene” Glock will begin planting his 70th corn crop on the Butler County, NE, farm he operates with his son. “My son runs the place,” explains Gene by telephone, “and I’m the hired hand. I plant all the corn, though.” And, the Lord willing, he adds, he will harvest it all, too.

If

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The terrible what ifs…

Spring arrived slowly this year. Then, late last week, its welcome warmth and longer light slipped in, and winter’s bony fingers finally lost their grip.

In farm and ranch country, however, spring brings tough questions and even tougher choices. Both could have been softened if our farm and political leaders sought compromise, not confrontation. Alas, they didn’t, and now solutions are

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Willdlife…

The otter, too small to be a wily adult and too unschooled to be fearful of people, was sunning itself on the ice of a small, city park lake when the lovely Catherine and I, also enjoying the sunshine, spotted it on a late-winter walk. Our surprised voices surprised the juvenile, and it made a slinky dash for a hole

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Faking it…

While we watch the cat-juggling carnival that is Washington D.C. these days, real fake news experts—yes, there are experts in real fake news—are artfully mixing fact with myth to influence how Big Biotech’s mergers and buyouts play out in American agriculture. The biggest merger, Dow and DuPont’s $150-billion hook-up, was completed last August. Another big one, Bayer and Monsanto’s $66-billion marriage, remains

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Slouching toward 2014…

In this space on February 2, 2014, I offered a blunt assessment of the just-passed (and still current) Farm Bill and its key handler, Frank Lucas, an Oklahoma Republican, who was chairman of the House Ag Committee. In particular, I criticized Lucas’ description of the legislation that he and his Senate counterpart, Michigan Democrat Debbie Stabenow, had pieced together after

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A time to choose…

It’s difficult to improve on Mark Shields’ apt description of today’s Trump White House: “It’s like East Berlin,” observed Shields, a long-time political operative and pundit, during a recent interview. “There’s more people wanting out than wanting in.”

That was true February 12 after the White House released its 2019 budget titled “An American Budget: Efficient, Effective, Accountable.” Within hours, however,

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Productive purpose

It was an inarguable fact on the southern Illinois dairy farm of my youth that there was no earthly reason my grandfather, one of the farm’s principal owners, would ever borrow money from any bank, person, or company. It wasn’t because he feared debt; he didn’t. As a St. Louis-based bond broker for almost 40 years, Grandpa used debt of

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America alone

This morning’s softly falling snow and below freezing temperature make it evident that winter’s early end—suggested by two muddy, 50-degree days last week—was just a rumor. The season’s hard evidence—frozen ground, frozen lake, frozen me—is back and will remain so, predicts the National Weather Service, well into February.

Frozen, also, are federal budget fights, the immigration standoff, NAFTA talks, infrastructure plans,

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Fifth Avenue cowboys…

Maybe it’s a sign of our fast-changing times, but paradox and irony seem as common today as lunch and supper. For example, the world’s largest taxi company, Uber, owns no taxis, and the world’s second largest air force is the U.S. Navy.

The same is true of the American beef sector. As of mid-January, the owner of the world’s largest cattle

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This is crazy, right?

You’re pretty sharp; tell me if this makes sense.

Right now, the cotton and dairy lobbies are pushing Congress to pass an additional $1 billion of federal farm spending by attaching not-yet-agreed-upon language to a must-pass $81 billion disaster relief bill that promises aid to long-suffering Americans overrun and overwhelmed by rain, wind, fire, and mud. And, sure, attaching a $1-billion-plus

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Mojo working

The knuckle-cracking cold that accompanied most of the country out of 2017 also followed most of us into 2018… Worse, it didn’t come alone. Much of last year’s bad mojo—the crazy weather, its bitter politics, policy gridlock—also crossed December’s ice bridge into the new year. For example, President Donald Trump’s closed-fist trade negotiating style reappeared January 8 in a much-anticipated

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The anti-science of ‘sound science’

By Alan Guebert

 

For more than 20 years, farm and ranch groups, Congress, and Big Agbiz have used the phrase “sound science” like a sharp shovel to undermine ag policy they want to alter or bury. Ask them to define “sound science,” however, and you’ll get no clear explanation. That’s because “sound science” is a political weapon, NOT a

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Howard’s Priceless Gift of Simple Giving

This Christmas column, first published in 1994, remains the most-requested column I’ve ever written. Maybe that’s because its lesson is both timely and timeless, or perhaps it’s just a warm tale well told. Whatever the reason, I hope you, too, receive Howard’s Priceless Gift of Simple Giving. Merry Christmas.  AG

 The Christmas tree was a scrub cedar hacked from

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Grandmother’s quilt, Grandfather’s ghost

A slightly frayed, white and peach-trimmed quilt now lays unfolded on one of our spare beds—29 of its 30 squares each feature the carefully stitched name of one member of the Ladies Aid of Immanuel Lutheran Church in rural Rising City, NE. The stitching on the quilt’s 30th and final block, also in peach and positioned in the bottom right corner,

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Capitol Hill’s Christmas cookie bake-off

Business leaders like Warren Buffett and the late Steve Jobs often credited their enormous success to simplicity. Buffett repeatedly explains that his best stock market secret is no secret at all: Buy quality and hold it. Similarly, Jobs made complex machines—computers, music recordings, cellular telephones—so simple and intuitive that even aging Oliver tractor drivers can operate them.

The simplicity they advocate

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Rising woe in rural America

By Alan Guebert

The gap between America’s rural poor and non-poor, like in urban America, continues to widen. The difference in rural America, however, is that the gap is widening faster than in any of the nation’s grittiest cities or suburban counties.

That’s the conclusion of two recent reports by the USDA and the University of New Hampshire’s Carsey School

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‘Screaming and yelling in public’

Wilbur Ross, the U.S. Secretary of Commerce, is not happy with you, me, and—based on comments he made at a gathering of Big Biz executives November 16—our republic’s representative government. When asked about the slow-and-getting-slower NAFTA trade talks at an invitation-only Wall Street Journal “CEO Council” meeting that day in Washington D.C., Ross, identified by Politico as “one of President Donald Trump’s closest advisors

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Those not around the table…

The scarlet and gold promise of mid-harvest has slipped into the gray, damp reality of early winter. Last month we smiled at sun-kissed crops; this month we smile when we finally see the sun.

On the southern Illinois dairy farm of my youth, November was a month more endured than enjoyed. Its most memorable features were muddy cows, muddy machinery, and

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Willful ignorance

Michael Lewis is a serious writer with a list of serious bona fides: Princeton bachelor’s degree, master’s from the London School of Economics, a brief career on Wall Street, and author of best-selling, non-fiction books like Money Ball, The Big Short, and The Blind Side. All were Hollywood box office hits. He also writes for the New York Times Magazine, The New Yorker, and

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Lazy dogs

A joke bouncing around the ag grapevine shines more light on where rural America’s politics are than where its funny bone actually is. The abridged version goes like this:

My dog sleeps 20 hours out of 24, eats free food prepared for him every day, gets free medical care and housing, and never cleans up any mess he makes. Thinking about

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A plan or an obit?

Five hundred years ago this week, a German theologian nailed a sheet of 95 statements, or theses, to a church door in Saxony in hopes of starting a debate to reform the church he loved. But Martin Luther’s hammer didn’t spur debate; it sparked a wildfire that changed the world.

That’s the thing about reformers: once they get events rolling, events

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That’s you

If you wanted to renegotiate an aging but working trade treaty with two of your biggest, best customers, you’d think sweet talk and calm persuasion might work better than boorish bombast and shrill demands. Well, think again… because the Trump administration is now in charge, and bombast and demands are standing protocols, whether you’re dealing with a nuclear-fanged North Korean

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Predictably irrational…

When it comes to the artful science of economics, most American farmers and ranchers are classic Ricardians, or followers of David Ricardo, an 18th century English stock trader whose influential book, “On the Principles of Political Economy and Taxation,” explained what he saw as the market’s guiding lights. Any ag econ student from the last 150 years can spot a Ricardian principle

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Taking a knee

If the USDA’s current forecasts are even close to being right and the nation’s politicians continue their year-long blood feud, football players won’t be the only ones on their knees in protest. Indeed, almost every piece of news out of USDA these days arrives wrapped in black crepe. For example:

–U.S. cotton production is up 23% over a year ago, and

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Regular order

For Congressional Republicans, a late winter and early spring of small hiccups turned into a summer of bigger roadblocks. Now, just days into fall, spectacular failure looms. At the center of all this stumbling is the impossible-to-undo Obamacare, or the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Senate and House Republicans have tried mightily to deliver on their ACA “repeal and replace” promise

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Picking up the tab

Picking up the tab

In good years and in bad, there’s a lot of money in American food. Regardless of the year, however, less of it flows back to the folks who actually grow the food, American farmers and ranchers.

For example, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimates that cash paid to American farmers and ranchers this year—for everything from cattle

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Cat’s feet

The early morning fog, like poet Carl Sandburg once noted, arrived on cat’s feet and remains, napping, on the lake until a warming sun causes it to slip away the way it came, in silence.

Fifty years ago I watched the September fog while waiting for the morning school bus on the southern Illinois dairy farm of my youth. Back then,

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Demanding more

After Hurricane Harvey plowed through east Texas with roof-peeling winds and never-before-seen rain, millions of Americans were left not knowing what to do or where to turn. President Trump made two trips to the flattened, flooded region. In his first drop-in, most observers noted, the President failed to cry with any bereaved, comfort any afflicted, or even hug one displaced

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Groundhog Day

The calendar may show Labor Day, but with another enormous American harvest and its resulting low prices just around the corner, it feels more like Groundhog Day… the movie, I mean, not the shadowy holiday. The reason why, as Bill Murray’s boorish character learns, is because we’ve been here before… and before and before and before. In agriculture, old-timers see

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Commodity agriculture’s dark ‘green’ future

A generation ago, GMO sounded like the name of an American muscle car, a text was what the preacher based his Sunday sermon on, and Facebook was two words that meant face and book. Now, 25 short years later, genetically-modified seeds dominate American agriculture, texting has replaced baseball as our national pastime, and Facebook’s market value is more than two

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Men in black

Play, watch, or listen to any baseball game, and sooner than later, what you thought was a strike will be called a ball, or vice versa, by the home plate umpire. Most times, it’s not a big deal. There are, after all, hundreds of pitches in any game, and the balls and strikes called by the men in black almost

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Let me translate…

Let me translate…

No one you know says “grain” when they mean “soybeans” or “John Deere” when they mean “tractor.” Of course, you might get away with these vague and misleading substitutes when talking to the non-farming public because most people don’t know soybeans are an oilseed, not a grain, and that Deere & Co. makes a lot more than just

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We need to talk…

It’s August, and that means that much of Congress is, literally, either out of session, out of the country, or out to lunch. That doesn’t mean, however, that some of its more diligent members aren’t somehow serving the public.

Take the House Ag Committee. A handful of its 46 members will attend three Farm Bill “Conversations in the Field” this month

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Rules for fools

Rules for fools

During my first days of Lutheran grade school, I was surprised to learn that the world had only ten rules. Sure, eight of them ordered what I “shalt not” do and just two told me what I must do. Still, no Lutheran worth his catechism ever had a problem with a negative four-to-one ratio. But then Mrs. Kuring,

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Dew point…

The sun’s steady rise slowly spreads its gathering light on the morning dew until the lawn dances with sparkles and the day with possibilities. The July dew, soaking wet and glistening bright, almost always promised a day of sunshine, heat, and humidity on the southern Illinois dairy farm of my youth. Jackie, the farm’s main field hand, explained the dew-heavy

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Too many cooks

Toques — the starched, stovepipe hats worn by chefs — are crowned with 100 tiny pleats that, explain the French, represent the 100 ways to prepare an egg that every cook must master before earning the title “Chef” and a much-prized toque. Recent action by President Donald J. Trump and his administration suggest there must also be 100 ways to

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If it’s not broken…

Farmers and ranchers are a resourceful lot. Their widespread reputation for fixing almost anything anywhere – often with little more than baling wire and spit – is well-earned and greatly admired. One thing these masters of the mechanical don’t do, however, is fix what isn’t broken. No farmer or rancher wastes either sweat or bubble gum on tires that aren’t

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You’re getting warmer…

In a White House Rose Garden ceremony June 1, President Donald Trump announced he would pull the U.S. from the Paris treaty on global climate change. It was a matter of national sovereignty, explained Trump. Or, as he colorfully noted, “I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris.”
True, but he was elected to represent Paris, IL; Paris,

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Meat and money always cooks up corruption

Political scandals in Brazil — like much in the fast-growing, global food giant — are so bold and so far out bounds that calling them “outrageous” slanders their perpetrators. Moreover, the scandals occur so frequently that it seems Brazil requires political chicanery and bribery to even function. The latest evidence involves JBS SA, the Brazilian meatpacker that dominates global poultry

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Trump’s butcher shop

Donald Trump may want to “Make America Great Again,” but his just-proposed 2018 budget contains no plans to make rural America or the nation’s less fortunate great again. In fact, according to the Trump administration’s budget blueprint, American farmers, ranchers, and down-on-their-luck citizens must achieve greatness with trillions less in government support so it and Congress can bestow a trillion-dollar

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The artlessness of the deal…

What Trump administration appointees lack in reticence they make up for in certitude. Take Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue. Just two weeks after being shown his stately office at the USDA South Building, Perdue announced a major makeover of it: he invoked a 2014 Farm Bill directive to create a new USDA post, undersecretary of trade, by eliminating an existing

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Ag's greatest innovation

In my youth, May brought two noticeable changes to the big Lutheran church my family faithfully attended. The first was heat. No building on earth better held daytime heat from Mother’s Day through Reformation Day than that century-old house of worship. The second was the season’s short-sleeved parade of lost limbs, a brutal testament to the unforgiving and unshielded farm

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Pass the biscuits… and the buck…

Leave it to the language experts at England’s Oxford Dictionaries to come up with a two-word “Word of the Year” for 2016.
That (those) word(s) is (are) “post-truth.”
Post-truth, explain the Oxford experts, is “defined as ‘relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.’”
A food example might

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The numbers aren't adding up… By Alan Guebert According to numbers compiled and published by Agri-Pulse, the Washington D.C.-based ag news service, the top bosses at ag-centered commodity groups and federally-chartered checkoff agencies had far b

The numbers aren\’t adding up…

By Alan Guebert

According to numbers compiled and published by Agri-Pulse, the Washington D.C.-based ag news service, the top bosses at ag-centered commodity groups and federally-chartered checkoff agencies had far better recent years than the farmers and ranchers they claim to serve. For example, Agri-Pulse\’s annual compensation report published last September noted that Steve Censky, CEO

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Courting courage…

On April 10, Art Cullen of the Storm Lake (IA) Times was awarded the 2017 Pulitzer Prize in Editorial Writing. His work, explained the Pulitzer board, “fueled by tenacious reporting, impressive expertise, and engaging writing… successfully challenged the powerful corporate agricultural interests in Iowa.”

Challenged, yes; beat ’em, no.

Cullen — who co-owns the tiny, twice-weekly Times (circulation: 3,000) with his brother

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Courting courage…

Courting courage…

On April 10, Art Cullen of the Storm Lake (IA) Times was awarded the 2017 Pulitzer Prize in Editorial Writing. His work, explained the Pulitzer board, “fueled by tenacious reporting, impressive expertise, and engaging writing… successfully challenged the powerful corporate agricultural interests in Iowa.”

Challenged, yes; beat \’em, no.

Cullen — who co-owns the tiny, twice-weekly Times (circulation: 3,000) with his

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There goes the neighborhood…

There goes the neighborhood…

By Alan Guebert

Farmers and ranchers pride themselves on neighborliness… and rightly so. Rare is the season, after all, when the local newspaper or radio station doesn\’t carry a lump-in-the-throat story explaining how neighbors of an ill or injured member of a farm or ranch family gathered for a day or two to do a month or

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The auctioneer’s song…

The auctioneer’s song…

For someone who rarely attended auctions, my father somehow managed to host or co-host four different auctions in the last 20 or so years of his long life. Is that a record of some kind?

The first, held in the mid-1990s, was a dispersal sale for the 100 or so Holstein cows, heifers, and calves that had remained on

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March madness

March madness

 

If only Julius Caesar had listened to the soothsayer who, in plain Latin, warned him, “Beware of the Ides of March.” Instead, the powerful, arrogant Roman tweeted, er, complained, “He is a Dreamer, let us leave him.” And leave he did – forever – on the Ides of March, March 15, 44 B.C.

 

Someone should have given American farmers, ranchers,

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Big salaries, big loans, big questions

Big salaries, big loans, big questions

If you want to get the attention of the $240-billion Farm Credit System (FCS), just mention the $725-million loan that CoBank, a System lender, made to Verizon in 2013 to help finance Verizon’s $130-billion buyout of Vodafone, a European telecommunications giant. The far-from-the-farm loan incensed commercial bankers, the System’s largest competitors, who howled to Congress

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By the numbers…

By the numbers…

By Alan Guebert

Before spring arrives and our attention turns to blue sky, dancing daffodils, and why the corn planter’s GPS isn’t working, let’s take a few minutes to lock in key numbers that will dominate the still-young farm and ranch year. For example, as of March 8, Congress has 66 legislative days remaining until its lengthy August break.

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As ag swoons, Farm Credit System booms

As ag swoons, Farm Credit System booms 

 

On February 28, the ag subcommittee of the U.S. House of Representatives Appropriations Committee held a “Farm Credit Administration [FCA] Oversight Hearing.” Remarkably, it was the first public questioning of FCA leaders – and how they regulate the nation\’s biggest ag lender, the $240-billion Farm Credit System (FCS) – by the subcommittee in 19

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New boss, same brawls

New boss, same brawls

 

The Trump administration’s turtle-slow start with the Republican-led Congress bodes ill for what it and Republicans said would be a busy legislative year. Tax reform, replacing Obamacare, raising the debt ceiling, and a 2018 budget all await initial action.

 

The GOP chairmen of the House and Senate ag committees, however, aren’t waiting on any White House signal to

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Obamacare, rural health, and you

Obamacare, rural health, and youAfter years of angry opposition, fiery speeches, and showy, going-nowhere votes, Congressional Republicans finally clenched their angry, shaking hands on the throat of the Affordable Care Act – Obamacare – as the Senate and then the House voted to repeal the 2010 law one week before Donald J. Trump was sworn in as president.Well, that\’s the

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Winter's work

Winter\’s workJanuary started gray, stayed gray, and ended gray. Worse, it wasn\’t a shining silver gray or an inviting blue gray. It was the flat, disengaging gray of used dishwater that seemed to whisper, “Don\’t bother.” The one-colored weather wasn\’t cold weather, though. Early in the month, a few days of Arctic temperatures did thicken the lake ice for safe

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Promises made, promises kept…

Promises made, promises kept…

Of all the words used to describe President Donald J. Trump during his first days in office – bold, boastful, alternative facts – here are two that almost no person or pundit uttered: promise keeper.

Love him or loathe him, Trump took no time in checking off key items from his unconventional campaign\’s list of unconventional promises.

Toss out

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Sunny and chair…

Sunny and chair… The chairman gaveled the Ag Committee to order. “We\’re here today,” he announced in his best radio voice, “to rapidly confirm our President\’s nominee for Secretary of Agriculture. He is, like most us, self-made, rich, manly…””Mr. Chairman!” interrupted a female voice from the far side of the horseshoe-shaped dais. “What are you talking…”The sharp rap of the chairman\’s

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