Category Archives: Causes

Skull & Bones

August 19, 2017
I love my journal.  It’s the best therapist imaginable, free, doesn’t interrupt, argue, talk back, gossip, nag, or second-guess.  If more people kept journals, the world would be a saner place.

Ten years ago this month, when George W. Bush was still president, I purchased a “Collectors’ Edition” of the US News and World Report on “Secret Societies.”  The following journal entry was my take on “Skull & Bones,” the Yale club that claims the Georges Bush as members, among other famous power-brokers

secsoc0807

Sunday, August 26, 2007
katharineotto.wordpress.com
writerbeat.com

I bought a “Collector’s Edition” of the US News and World Report.  “Mysteries of History–Secret Societies.”  It has articles on the Masons, Rosicrucians, Skull & Bones, and numerous others.

Skull & Bones, the secret society at Yale that boasts multiple notable members– including George W. Bush and his father, George H. W. Bush–interests me only because it is an excellent example of a Good Ole Boy clique.  The article gives fuzzy details but for this:  Skull & Bones “puts its members through some strange activities and centers its program around ideas of death, power, and devotion to a goddess.  The influence of Skull & Bones is particularly noticeable in the area of public service, although it does no community service.”

I figure the public service is all done with other people’s money.  This is the plutocracy.  I wonder which goddess, or did they invent their own?  Is this some kind of Satanic cult American taxpayers have elected?  Is this the anti-Christ we’ve been waiting for?  Bush does walk around with a dazed look, as if he is figuring out he’s being perceived as the anti-Christ and doesn’t quite know how to play the role.

A skull and bones is the symbol for poison, so why would anyone choose to associate with a group that brags about being poisonous?  The flag that pirates carried?  I embrace life, not death.

Also, “Bones has each candidate recite his or her [?] sexual history right off the bat (September of his senior year).  By forcing them to share their most intimate confidences with each other, Skull & Bones binds its members together.”  Sounds like a cult of perverts, as well.  How does anyone know if they’re telling the truth?  Anybody ever refuse to join?

But America elected Bush, as well as others of this cult’s members.

What amazes me most is that anyone takes them seriously.  If this is what they’re learning at Yale, I withdraw my taxpayer contribution to education.

Secrecy is shame and shame secrecy.

The concept of Skull & Bones representing poison bears closer scrutiny.  My issues with public policy are strongly domestic:  The mis-management on the home turf, with poisons being pushed on people’s bodies and into the planetary ecosystem in massive quantities . . .

A more interesting article was about the Illuminati, an organization that may or may not exist, kept alive by belief that it does and that Jews are behind it.  Whether it exists is irrelevant to me.  The world is dominated by people who think they are smarter than everyone else, including each other, as current events show.  If they want to reassure each other that they are illuminated, just because they want it to be true, fine with me.  Just don’t expect me to pay for it.

Now Skull & Bones makes a big deal of public service with other people’s money, in true Plutonian style.

I would really like to know which goddess they pray to.  No wonder public policy feels like a gangbang.  Not enough women to go around.

I suspect they are all homosexuals and pedophiles, anyway.  Maybe the goddess they pray to is the one who can give them erections.  Someone more exciting than little boys.

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Their symbolism is interesting.  They adapt several masonic symbols having to do with building.   There are three “5”s in a triangle on their shield, which is a coffin.

They have west facing up – sunset – a 90-degree counter-clockwise shift of the south pole in a horoscope.

So that’s what we’re seeing on the world stage:  a group of self-proclaimed world leaders intentionally leading the world into self-destruction.  It makes no sense to me.

These people think they are smart?

 

 

 

 

Funding Deforestation

palmeijsum17

Earth Island Journal  is a recent find in the world of periodicals.  It provides “News of the World Environment” and reports on a variety of assaults on the environment, from human intervention to natural disasters.  (www.earthislandjournal.org)

The Summer, 2017 issue’s cover story is about the “Toxic Footprint of America’s Prisons,” but the article that grabbed my interest, and my $5.00, was “Crisis Among the Palms,” by Jeff Conant.  The subtitle, “How Your Retirement Fund May be Fueling Rainforest Destruction,” supports my longstanding belief that people who have retirement accounts—especially accounts managed by large fund managers—often don’t know where their money is invested or how they are contributing to eco-rape and human rights abuses.

It stands to reason that fund managers, who control large pots of money, look for the most profitable investments.  They may not know or care how the individual companies or governments generate those profits, but even a superficial overview suggests that maximum profits come from squeezing labor and compromising the environment where the companies operate.  Compound this with the fiercely competitive market for the almighty dollar, and the fact that multi-national corporations have many levels of protective shells, as well as local government collusion, and it’s a set-up for disaster.  Foreign investment is notorious for bankrupting and/or corrupting third-world governments and devastating local environments.  (Rosaliene Bacchus’ most recent blog post,   “Guyana ties the knot with ExxonMobil” (https://rosalienebacchus.blog) reports on such a possibility with the June, 2017 deal between ExxonMobil and the government of Guyana.)

“Crisis Among the Palms” shows how this strategy works in the palm oil industry, but the same strategy is used in every commodity industry I’ve encountered.  The article gives specific examples in Liberia, Guatemala, and Indonesia, three tropical countries where the palm oil industry has grown up and thrived, consuming millions of acres a year over the past several decades.  Palm oil is now the most widely traded vegetable oil on the planet.

In May, 2015, in Butaw, Liberia, villagers who complained to the CEO of Golden Veroleum (subsidiary of Malaysian multinational Golden Agri Resources) about theft of family lands, grinding poverty, and bare subsistence level wages were brutally beaten and arrested by local police.  Homes were ransacked and looted.

A month later, in northern Guatemala, effluent from ponds on the property of a local palm oil company, REPSA, overflowed into the Pasion River, spilling enough malathion—an organophosphate pesticide–to kill hundreds of thousands of fish, an incident local courts would later call an “ecocide.”  The river has provided the lifeblood of the region that was until recently one of the world’s largest rainforests, now given over to plantations and cattle pasture.

Later that summer, Indonesia’s forests and peatlands burned out of control, forcing hundreds of thousands of people to evacuate to medical centers.  The fires were linked to the country’s expanding palm oil and pulpwood plantations.

Author Conant says “. . .the palm oil industry is a leading cause of rainforest destruction—and a source of both economic dispossession and wage labor for countless people—from the Congo basin to Malaysia to Peru . . .the industry has quickly grown to rely on global financing to fuel its expansion.”  Thus the companies that profit from the exploitation appear more and more on the world’s stock exchanges.

The financing of some of the world’s largest and most notorious palm oil companies comes from well known financial management companies, like Vanguard, Teachers Insurance and Annuity Associate (TIAA), BlackRock, CitiGroup, and California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS).  “What this means is that IRAs, pension funds, and 401Ks . . . are increasingly investing in an industry that is destroying the world’s last rain forests and impoverishing the people who live there.”

With the exception of Cargill, Archer Daniels Midland, and Unilever, the large palm oil juggernauts are mostly southeast Asian, says Conant.  He notes that the industry—almost unknown in the West ten years ago, is projected to be worth $88 billion by the year 2022.  Its growth was spurred in part by the US FDA ban on trans-fats, with 71 percent of production now going to the food industry, everything from Krispy Kreme donuts to Nestle’s chocolate to PepsiCo’s Frito-Lay snacks.  Sixteen percent of palm oil production goes to biofuels, and 12 percent to the chemicals industry.

Conant says the industry’s growth has coincided with two global trends in finance.  First is the massively increased investment in “emerging economies,” which grew by 30 percent just between 2011 and 2015.  Concurrently, there was a huge increase in “index funds” in which multiple companies are bundled into a fund that spreads risk and follows the fluctuations of the market as a whole. They are sold as low-risk funds. Between 2000 and 2014, money invested in index funds more than quintupled.

The article points out that deforestation causes up to 18 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, and industrial agriculture drives an additional 13 percent.  A rather typical scenario is that “landowners who sold or otherwise gave up their land to agribusiness companies could be driven deeply into poverty.  In this sense, the palm oil boom has come to replace less environmentally damaging, subsistence livelihoods.  It has brought debt, wealth inequality, and, of course, ecological destruction on a vast scale.  In Indonesia, villagers frequently concede to relinquishing land to corporations because the plantation companies promise them roads, schools, and clinics.  But companies have by and large failed to fulfill the terms of community agreements  . . . .  Farmers often don’t know what they are getting into.  Lack of information and transparency are big problems.  ‘A company often collects the farmers’ land certificates, after which they become laborers on their own land.’”

 

 

Freedom, Democracy, and Capitalism

kcofeather031617

Tuesday, March 21, 2017—I’m a proponent of free market capitalism, in that I believe in free things, especially if they can be exchanged for money that helps pay the bills.  Chicken feathers are free, sort of, if you don’t count the cost of feeding and housing the chickens.  Chickens molt on a regular basis, and if their feathers are clean, they can be used in a variety of ways.

I wore this hat, with a Speckles feather, on a “bad hair day” last week, getting smiles and compliments everywhere I went.  At first, I didn’t understand why these strangers were smiling.  Once I caught on, I bragged about how Speckles is alive and well, clean and healthy, and produced this feather of his own free will.

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Pictured here is the same hat with a Squire feather, while the producer stands on his soapbox.  The mason jar contains yellow roses brought by dinner guests and wisteria blooms from the vine I’m training to block summer sun through the window (also free).  The other jar holds saved feathers from previous molts.

My little enterprise, which will never go public, has already produced two sales, the first to my banker, who bought feathers scattered in a plastic sleeve protector.  The second was a trade of a small bag of Squire feathers for a large carafe of saki.  A few more feathers are on sale at a local consignment shop.

Squire tolerates, if he doesn’t necessarily like, going visiting in the cat carrier.  My banker and bank staff fell in love with him.  Speckles might like visiting, too, but so far hasn’t had the opportunity.

My version of capitalism makes use of the wealth between my ears to create value from things other people take for granted.  Those who buy their chickens plucked and cut into pieces can’t be expected to appreciate the beauty of the feathers—individually and collectively—until they see them in different contexts.

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Those who disparage capitalism seem to refer to “corporate capitalism,” which exploits human capital to form a “corporate body” amalgam in economic slavery to the bottom line.  Here we have such monsters as “corporate welfare,” “supercapitalism,” the “global economy,” and eco-rape.  Corporate capitalism has a long history of emphasizing short-term profits over long-term costs.  Local, and now world-wide, environmental pollution, general vitality-depletion on the planet, and a world at war (or perpetually on the verge of it) are only a few of the long term costs generated by an industrial age gone bananas

And, by the way, the bananas, especially the popular Cavendish banana, are at risk, too.  I grow another variety of banana and had a bumper crop last year, despite two major hurricanes.  Another free market capitalist product, courtesy of freedom, democracy, and capitalism.

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The following comments come from my journal, ten years ago this month:

POWER ABUSE
Friday, March 2, 2007 – People who are raised or trained by power abusers don’t learn how to use power wisely.  Entrenched power abuse, as in the military or medicine, is considered normal for those in the systems.  The greatest ambition of the low man on the totem pole is to go from masochist to sadist, where he imagines he will respect himself more than he respects his bosses.

FREEDOM  AND RESPONSIBILITY
Saturday, March 3, 2007 – Right makes might.  It isn’t the other way around.    Self-sufficiency breeds freedom.  Taking responsibility for one’s own choices requires the willingness to accept and deal with consequences.  Criminals are soon entrapped in their own crimes, even if others never see.  A guilty man lives with his guilt and must face it, eventually.  His guilt lurks in the shadows, waiting for opportunities to right the wrong.  He can choose to restore balance consciously before he re-establishes it unconsciously through fear.
Thus did Adam learn the hard way that he couldn’t hide from God or his own guilty conscience.

HUMAN CAPITAL
Saturday, March 3, 2007 – Human capital is the most undervalued capital of all.  The social engineering messages—through laws, conventions, politics, media, entertainment and advertising–exploit this presumed advantage to everyone’s detriment.  Productivity increases when people enjoy their work enough to create a pleasant work environment.  This should be leadership’s top priority.  Pressure to perform, to grind an endless supply of boring and more boring, saps creativity, initiative, and ultimately, the economy.
When people wake up and realize we all bleed the same red blood, and the best way to live is to let live, we will begin to recognize the value of using our minds to work for instead of against us.  There is no mystique to psychiatry except self-knowledge.  My  life is my creation and no one can live it but me.  The best way to live it is to love it, in its many-faceted faces.
There is plenty of work to be done.  We have too many unproductive people, who want nothing more than to be fitted to the right job for them, and to earn enough money to support basic necessities and a few amenities.  More important, people need to be appreciated as human beings with human dignity and allowed the time and space to enjoy the fruits of their labors.
Everyone has a role to play.  A society that appreciates its human capital appreciates in value.  By fitting the job to the individual, rather than the other way around, everyone wins at relatively little cost to others.
Human capital is the only viable capital.  All other capital is derived from human desire and effort.  Once we place our values where they truly belong, with each individual, we can have a truly free, capitalistic, democracy.

KACKLES TACKLES at&t WITH A VENGEANCE

attfront1115A Year ago this month:

KACKLES TACKLES  at&t WITH A VENGEANCE
Tuesday, December 1, 2015

KACKLES THE WITCH is an alter ego of katharineotto.wordpress.com.

 

 

at&t’s bick and mortar store on Mall Blvd. in Savannah, where employees spend all their time on wireless phones to Corporate.  Do they even have a land line?  Yes, two of them, but it’s a big secret.  at&t’s website doesn’t even list land lines.

 

In this installment, Kackles the Witch tackles the artificially human TechnoMonsters of at&t, the FCC, Concast, and Wall Street, challenging their collective monopoly on telephone land lines.

Kackles is a New Age Witch, because she was born yesterday, when the telephone bill came, two months into a new contract.  At least corporate sent the bill to the right address, this time, and at least it came before the due date.

Kackles opened the bill and gasped.  Her blood started boiling.  Lightning bolts flashed from her eyes, almost setting fire to the bill.  The radioactive, penetrating power o her vision saw the obvious in a flash of blinding patented wireless technology.  The bill was almost twice the price of the official quote.

“How did this happen,” bemoaned the nascent witch.  “I did everything according to the rules, and they did everything wrong, but I’m the one paying for it.

“Gotcha again!” screech the at&t TechnoMonsters, backed by Wall Street, the Federal Government, Southern Company, and the Fed.

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New at&t telephone, with design so stupid it has to be patented.  Alternatively, a second-hand Uniden phone cost $2.50 at Goodwill.

 

“There, there,” whispers Dr. Kathorkian, another katharineotto.wordpress.com alter ego.  Dr. Kathorkian is Chief Medical Executioner under Obamacare.  “They call it ‘global warming,’” says Dr. K.  “That means we’re all headed straight to hell if we don’t shape up.”

Dr. K is a woman, of course, with the sixth sense, common sense, encoded on the half of X men didn’t get.  That makes men “Y”’s, thus lacking in the genetically endowed department.  Dr. Kathorkian reminds us that no matter how many ways they splice genes, women will always have more of them than men, but less than some fungi.

“That quarter-chromosome worth of extra gene power exists in every cell, so that’s a popper scoop of extra genes in them jeans, if you know what I mean,” quoth Dr. K, when she’s feeling lyrical.

Kackles was less interested in Dr. K’s scientific research.  She wanted collective vengeance on the creators of this excessive overhead, to wit, at&t’s copyrighted and patented services that she pays for without benefiting from.  She studied the bill and noted excise taxes, paid to the federal government monthly for access to air rights.  These are taxes on domestic goods and services.  Tariffs are taxes on imported goods.  All raise the price for purchasers, re-spun as “consumers” in 21st century PolCor speech.

“Huh?” anyone with common sense (usually women) might ask.  “How does that work for me, the taxpayer, if I’m paying both sides to protect me from people offering better deals?  Let Pfizer protect its own market share.”

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Another katharineotto.wordpress.com alterego cheers.  KO! Economic Hit Woman whistles, calls “Attagirl!” and throws up a High Five and Victory (Peace) salute.

“Bye, bye, Pfizer, and good riddance,” she gloats.  “Let Ireland protect your patents, if it can.  Let Ireland protect your stocks, too, and your VA contracts.  Oh, and while we’re at it, I recommend that US taxpayers confiscate your $270 million global research facility in New London, Connecticut, and donate it to Susette Kelo and her former neighbors.

For once, katharineotto.wordpress.com’s alter agos begin to agree with each other.  Even Kaka Big Chicken is helping to plot strategy.  She offers to walk into the brick-and-mortar store with chicken poop on her shoes and flies buzzing around her head.

Libby Belle is only thinking about how much her feet hurt, standing on that pedestal, holding that torch all day and night in New Yuck harbor.  She wants to escape new Yuck and wiggle her toes in the sand at Tybee.

Finally, nagged into compliance by her amalgamated alters, katharineotto.wordpress.com marches bravely into at&t’s lair with bill and agenda in hand, carrying notebook, sketchpad, camera, and a secret weapon known as primal screaming, a Kaka Big Chicken specialty.

katharineotto.wordpress.com takes a number and sits in front of the Direct TV, which at&t has just acquired, and watches Donald Trump perform.  Kackles casually doodles caricatures of all the employees holding cell phones to their ears, because they don’t deal with land line services or that class of customers.  The Real Yellow Pages has been contracted out.

But Kackles doesn’t sweat the small stuff.  Born out of ashes, to ashes she will return, when she’s good and ready, but not yet.  She still has spells to cast on TechnoBabble Nation’s networks and stranglehold by patented, unreliable technology.

Meanwhile, she sweeps up the ashes of frizzle-frazzle with the New Age broom.  The broom, Hilda, sweeps as god as she flies, so Kackles is a satisfied tourist from the Cosmic Commune, where everything is free and money doesn’t exist.

“Cackle, cackle,” cackles Kackles.  “I have nothing better to do.”

attpolwsj111716At Left:  The Wall Street Journal, Thursday, November 17, 2016

Twelve years ago:

November 29, 2004

David Dorman
Chairman and Chief Executive Officer
AT&T Corporation
One AT&T Way
Bedminster, NJ  07921

Duane Ackerman
Chairman, President and
Chief Executive Officer
Bell South
1155 Peachtree Street, NE
Room 15G03
Atlanta, GA  30309

Michael K. Powell
Chairman, Federal Communications Commission
445 12th Street, SW
Washington, DC  20554

Boys:

I am writing this letter to all three of you because each of your organizations is blaming the others for the problems I am having with basic telephone and internet services.

It really doesn’t have to be this hard.  As a “consumer” small business owner (read “customer-voter-taxpayer”) I decided at the end of August to look into internet services by Bell South and AT&T, with the intent of signing up for one or the other.  After going through telephone menu maze after telephone menu maze, and listening to raucous music while on hold, I finally got a human being at AT&T who gave me bad information, convincing me to change all telephone service to AT&T and sign up for their internet services, too.  But oops, my telephone number has been hijacked by a DSL company, Georgia Business Net, which service I’d ordered and cancelled a month prior, without ever having had the service installed.  It took several hours over several days to straighten that one out, with everyone blaming everyone else and no one able to unlock the hold on my telephone number until I made a big stink with Georgia Business Net’s local representative, Brewton Computer Services, who wanted to play games, but who finally pulled some backroom maneuver to release me from their greedy jaws.

Then I call Bell South to find I can’t change telephone services without paying a huge penalty, because I had forgotten I signed a three-year contract for lower rates two years ago.  I didn’t know the rates were so low, since AT&T’s cost was supposedly about half what Bell South was charging.  So I changed back to Bell South, to avoid paying that penalty, and have July, 2005 on my calendar as the date when I am free of that contract and can reconsider my phone service options.

Meanwhile, I sign up for internet services with Bell South, or so I think, but the software for the service never arrives.  I continue to use the local library to get on the net, and I begin to wonder if I need home internet services at all, since the library is so convenient and I don’t use the internet that much (less and less).

Next thing I know, I get a bill from AT&T for forty-seven cents, which I dutifully pay on October 16, 2004 with my Sun Trust check #576.  This week, I get a bill from a collection service, GC Services Unlimited Partnership, claiming I owe AT&T $26.68 for long distance services.  Excuse me, but I thought I’d changed my long distance service back to Bell South, in accordance with my contract, and I never got a bill for any long distance service from AT&T.  Now it’s in collection?  How did this happen?  At this point I am so confused about who is supplying what to whom that I don’t know whom I owe, how much I owe or why I owe it.  Maybe you can figure it out, because frankly, I can’t abide your telephone menus, underinformed and misleading “customer service representatives,” and the maze of regulations, special deals, packages, contracts and other garbage you confuse people with under the guise of progress.  I’m including this GC Services Limited Partnership bill with my letter to Mr. Dorman of AT&T, and sending this letter to GC Services Limited Partnership, to let everyone know that I am happy to pay any money I really owe, and I’ll pay it directly to the CEO of AT&T if he can prove I owe it.

Meanwhile, Bell South is no better.  My latest bill from Bell South shows I’m being charged $8.44 plus $14.90 per month for internet service, when I was told the service was $10.95.  This is for a service I never received software for, have never used, and now no longer want, because it is much more expensive than I bargained for.  So, I will pay my Bell South bill, minus the bogus internet service, and will send a copy of this letter with my payment for the telephone service I actually have received.  This way, the folks in Bell South’s accounts receivable department will know to contact their CEO if they have a problem with it.  The Bell South telephone menu maze includes raucous advertising while its victims are on hold, and I can’t count on getting good information or services if I do get in touch with a so-called human being at the “Reach Out and Touch Someone” hall of fame.

As for Mr. Powell of the Federal Confusion Commission, I contend that governmental policies obstruct rather than assist communication, and communications would be much more efficient if government would get out of the way. The people who suffer most are the small fry customer-voter-taxpayers like me who get caught in these hopeless mires of entangled over-regulation, while the corporate giants slip through the control measures with hefty campaign contributions and a few token fines. All I need is a clean and simple list of services and prices, a la carte, from all the communications players, so I can make wise business decisions based on what I need. Spare me the one-size-fits-nobody packages and the long-term contracts. I am a loyal customer if I get good value for my time and dollar.  So, Mr. Powell, if you could get these corporations to simplify their price structures, and publicize them, I can make my decisions accordingly.  Then I can get back to doing my job to earn the income to pay the taxes that pay your salary.

By this letter I want everyone to know I will honor my contract with Bell South until it expires.  I believe this includes long distance service, as it was before the fated month of August, 2004.  Cancel the so-called internet service, which only exists on Bell South’s bill.

I believe I want AT&T for the internet, but let’s see the price in writing first, and I want AT&T to send its bills directly to me instead of to a collection agency. If you don’t want me as a customer, I will understand and will look somewhere else or do without.

Finally, I’d like to remind all of you that the telephone and internet will never surpass the old fashioned letter for clear communication.

Sincerely,

Katharine C. Otto

cc:        Nick Gillespie, Editor-in Chief, reason magazine;  Paul Gigot, Editor of the Editorial Page, The Wall Street Journal;  Donald E. Graham, Chairman, The Washington Post;  Cynthia Tucker, Editorial Page Editor, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

 

 

 

 

 

IS THE DEMISE OF THE RFS IN EISA 2007 AT HAND? — Stop Mandatory Ethanol Blog

Anyone else notice anything strange about Trump’s cabinet appointment process? There is only one secretary level cabinet appointment left: Secretary Of Agriculture. Why is SOA the last appointment? Is there some controversy within the new administration already? Remember, Trump campaigned in the heartland, pandering to the corn state voters, promising he would not repeal the […]

via IS THE DEMISE OF THE RFS IN EISA 2007 AT HAND? — Stop Mandatory Ethanol Blog

This blogger gives detailed and valuable information about the ethanol mandate passed by Congress in 2007.  I stand firmly for absolute repeal of this mandate by the 2017 Congress and hope others see the wisdom of getting this law off the books.

 

On War and Prisons

chatcthsnew0706

November 20, 2016

The following is from my files, originally written in 2006, updated in 2016:

Wars have historically accounted for the largest overhead and subsequent debt in this nation’s history.  Each war renders us less free, and the taxation that results is like a whip across the backs of already burdened taxpayers.

Long, protracted wars that look more and more like witch hunts, drain the economy, individual initiative, and forward momentum.  From 2001 to 2010, combined wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan cost taxpayers $4.4 trillion. (Source:  Congressional Research Service, from filipspagnoli.wordpress.com blog site.)

Economists are busy predicting the future they want, but they can’t hide the reality of street-wise individuals whose disposable income is their bottom line.  The bite of excise taxes on the basics–like certain foods, energy, telephone, gasoline–is disproportionately higher on those whose incomes are lowest, so they are first to feel the pinch.  This is the population that becomes desperate enough to deal drugs, work under the table, break into homes, and take other crisis-mode measures to survive.  Drug laws make the black market profitable, without the bother of background checks, drug screens, employer references, and other rules that limit legitimate employment options.  While there may be exceptions, those who now crowd our prisons consist largely of people whose lives are chronically dysfunctional rather than evil.

Society has let them down by not equipping them for survival in a civilized context.  Beginning with elementary school, they are not encouraged to try.  They are allowed to slide by on substandard work until they fall farther and farther behind.  As the distance grows, the child gravitates more towards others like him, those who have no appropriate role models at home or at school.

They often become the casualties of another war, the “War on Drugs.”  The International Centre for Prison Studies (also on filipspagnoli.wordpress.com) blames the War on Drugs and the “Three strikes you’re out” federal policies for the fact that incarcerations have quintupled in the US since the early 1970s.  The United States, with 0.07 percent of its population in jail or prisons, incarcerates more citizens than the top 35 European countries combined.  Forty percent of inmates are black, and 25% are non-violent drug offenders.

Once in prison, these kids, now adolescents and adults, still get no basic skills training.  Nothing is expected of them in prison, either.  Any meaningful activity, education, or work is withheld from them, except in the most token format, so there is no opportunity in prison to re-tool their lives to live differently on release.

Society does itself a disservice by allowing this to happen.  The oversight costs much more than money.  From the prisoner’s perspective, housing and food—two of his biggest expenses on the outside—are covered by his confinement, so theoretically, he might be able to focus on education or training . . . perhaps for the first time in his life.  If society made basic skills, useful work (within reason), or other productivity a part of prison life, it would make more effective use of its taxpayer dollar both in terms of paying current incarceration costs and preventing crime on the streets.

The push to build more prisons is based on this lose-lose scenario that prioritizes punishment over rehabilitation.  That’s why crime escalates to fill the available space, but recidivism accounts for a significant percentage of the prison population.

Our jails and prisons have become substitute housing for the homeless.  As “blighted neighborhoods” are replaced by “revitalized areas,” more displaced indigents will find their way to prison, down one path or another, because they have nowhere else to go.

Revive Passenger Rail

traintraincommi20896November 11, 2016

Now that we have a Republican president-elect, one who some say will support infrastructure re-building, I’d like to put in my bid for passenger rail.  This is not a new issue for me.  In fact, I wrote President George Bush a letter about it in December, 2005, posted it on my now-defunct website, and sent copies by snail-mail to multiple players on House and Senate committees.

As I see it, the primary reason passenger rail has given way to the private automobile is that the roads and highways are under the public domain and maintained by various Departments of Transportation, but the rail lines are owned by private corporations, like CSX, Norfolk-Southern, and Western Pacific.

President-elect Trump has indicated he wants to expand eminent domain, but no one has suggested eminent domain should be used to acquire corporate land, especially land that holds such a nationally valuable asset such as rail infrastructure.

For a little background on this particular subject, I’m posting below the un-edited letter I wrote to President Bush in 2005.  I have not followed Amtrak since but still believe the passenger rail system deserves careful consideration in light of the energy crisis, global warming, oil pipelines, fracking, automobile congestion, traffic fatalities and and other unhealthy and energy inefficient practices that we have inherited.

 

December, 2005

All Aboard for
DAVID GUNN
 former CEO of Amtrak

A Voter-Citizen-Taxpayer  Apology  For the way he was treated by
the United States Government

George W. Bush
Chief Executive Officer, USA Corporation
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C. 20500

Dear George:

The jig is up, Prez.  The plutocracy can no longer hide the garbage it has dumped in our laps, and the “oil crisis” is the pivot point. This latest ploy to churn public assets into private friends’ hands is the last straw.  Let’s compute taxpayer costs of the artificially created markets, fake wars, price supports, subsidies, duties, tariffs, and taxes, at every step of the exploration-to-drilling-to-gas pump vampirism.  Let’s add up the costs to voter-taxpayer-citizens of US government spending to assist US corporations engaged in domestic and foreign oil exploitation, and all the political “friends” who are selling war machines to every country with the money to pay for them . . . and then explain why you want to starve the US public transportation system.

Yes, I am talking about Amtrak. I last traveled Amtrak in May, 2004.  When was the last time you did?  Even though the House last week has tentatively approved $1.315 billion for Amtrak, your original budget provided no money for passenger rail service.  Meanwhile, Amtrak ridership has grown for three straight years, reaching 25,374,998 in FY 2005.

I learned a lot on my Amtrak trip.  Bureaucratic red tape delayed my Silver Star five hours.  I know, because I spent that time shooting the breeze with off-duty conductors and engineers.  They told me how much they respected David Gunn.  They said he’d made a monumental effort to locate un-catalogued warehouses full of parts, supplies, tools, and other equipment that had been lost for decades.  By indexing these supplies, he made it easier for Amtrak employees to find the items necessary to fix problems quickly, efficiently, and inexpensively.  They said Amtrak employees at all levels of the system respected and liked him.  Their attitudes showed it.

You might understand why I was horrified to learn the Amtrak Board Chairman David Laney, Esquire fired Mr. Gunn November 9.  It doesn’t make sense to this aging Boomer, who believes I’m more competent to provide for my future than you are. How, in this “oil crisis” can you justify disabling the most efficient and time-tested use of transportation energy ever devised?

Are you crazy?  I must be crazy to subsidize this incompetence.  So I work and spend as little as possible, to reduce my taxes legally.  The best things in life really are free, so far. Meanwhile, this is how I vote my tax dollars:

DEFENSE – 0%
AMTRAK- 100% of my tax dollars for the rest of your term
(except for 2005, which I’ve already promised to West Central Psychiatric Hospital in Columbus, GA)

One citizen = one vote

Here’s what we need to do.  Eminent domain all the intercity train tracks back.  Passengers have priority over freight, because the passengers pay the taxes and buy the freight.  If the United States Supreme Court can take Susette Kelo’s neighborhood for Pfizer Corporation, the US government can nationalize the rail lines and maintain them as part of the transportation grid.  Link them to the interstate highway system under the Department of Transportation’s maintenance budget, and voila, Amtrak begins to look a lot more attractive.

This cost-saving move will liberate Amtrak to run a user-friendly railroad passenger and freight service. First, we fire the idiots who are quibbling about food cars.  Can’t the US government make a profit on a food monopoly in a hungry, captive, market, with money to spend, on a long distance trip?  Lease me a franchise food car on any Amtrak train, and I’ll show you how.

Better still, lease me a franchise cyber café car with a liquor license.  Think you could pull some strings and get me one of those?  Solar panels on the roof, and an outdoor smoking patio at the back of the car?  Did you know the government gets $3.50 for every legal fifth of liquor sold?  And the tax on cigarettes was 76 cents a pack, last time I checked.  It stimulates the economy to encourage these vices.  Why fight it?  If you want to privatize government, let’s do it in style.

As for Express Trak Freight . . . Do UPS and FedEx pay you to lose money?  They’re getting good value for their shareholders.  I wish the CEO of the USA Corporation could claim as much.

I believe the USA has the worst public transportation system in the world, but I haven’t been everywhere you’ve been.  Tell me, does anybody have worse public transportation than us? Not counting Iraq?  I’d love to see some pictures.  Remember, I pay your travel expenses, but you don’t pay mine.  I stay home, monitor the domestic front, and write letters.  Lots of them, as you probably know.

So George, ask DOT Secretary Mineta to look into that fancy Japanese railroad technology, but make sure he understands we don’t want the equipment unless they teach us how to install and service it.  The technology is worthless if you don’t have local skilled labor to keep it running right.  Besides, if China blows Japan out of the water, we lose if we can’t maintain our own stuff.

This way, we could bring soldiers home and put them to work on the transportation infrastructure. Same salary and benefits.  Help local communities upgrade local systems, so people who can’t afford cars can still work.  I’d support that taxpayer expense.  Help them help themselves, and all that.  Teach a man to fish.

Speaking of the Department of Transportation, what is that $1.1 billion federal grant to Georgia’s DOT for?  Our local legislators plead ignorance.  Is it to promote this Interstate 3 idea between Savannah, Augusta, and Knoxville, Tennessee?   I hear you want to cut a wide swath with barricades at eye level along the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, some of the most beautiful scenery in the country.   I can understand why you’ve kept this funding bonanza quiet.  It appears you don’t want Americans to know how you’re spending our money here.  We live here, George.  We have a right to know.

Now, if you want to allocate that $1.1 billion to reviving the Nancy Hanks passenger train between Savannah, Macon, and Atlanta, I’ll be happy to help, if you’ll  re-hire David Gunn.  I would eagerly support that taxpayer expense.  Mention it to Governor Sonny Perdue, if you think it’s a good idea.  I write letters to him, too.

You and I begin to speak the same language if you talk about an environmentally friendly passenger trains through our lovely country.  Train travel takes us beyond media hype, to the America that exists in three dimensions.

Next question.  I’ve been doing research on the National Rail Passenger Corporation (Amtrak) Board of Directors.  Let’s see if I have this straight.  The board is supposed to have seven members, but it only has four.  As a member of your Cabinet, DOT Secretary Norman Y. Mineta holds one seat.  Of the three remaining members, all are Bush appointees, but only one of them has been confirmed by the Senate.  This gentleman is David M. Laney, Esq., Chairman of the National Rail Passenger Corporation Board of Directors and the man who fired Amtrak CEO David Gunn on November 9, 2005. The other two members, Enrique Sosa (announced April, 2004), and Floyd Hall (announced August, 2004), were recess appointments and were never confirmed by the Senate.  Not only that, but their terms are due to expire this month.

Of course everyone questions whether Mr. Gunn’s firing was legal, a point raised by Transportation & Infrastructure RR Subcommittee Chair Steven LaTourette (R-OH) and echoed by others.  What, exactly do the NRPC’s by-laws say about this?  We need to clarify them so this doesn’t happen again.  In fact, I believe the NRPC should be scrapped, and the Department of Transportation should embrace Amtrak under its protective funding umbrella.  This would elevate passenger rail to the same status as the private automobile and dramatically reduce our perceived dependence on foreign oil.

In any case, George, which member of the current board represents any opinion but yours?  And who gave David Laney that $100,000 for your election campaign?  What do these mysterious benefactors say about Amtrak?

I longer feel obligated to put up with this.  As government costs more and more to do less and less, I begin to wonder what I need government for. Not just you, George, but the entire federal government, including the Legislature and the Supreme Court.  Especially the Supreme Court, after the Kelo decision, but I can deal with only one problem at a time, since don’t get paid for this and have to make my time count.

You made a big mistake firing Mr. Gunn.  He came out of retirement to work for you in May, 2002, so what changed?  Makes you look awfully wishy-washy. I vote for you to offer him an apology and a raise, and beg him to come back.

That he had to fight the US government to protect the US public transportation system was a pathetic waste of his talent.  Government isn’t supposed to make a profit.  That’s why it extorts taxes to support inherently unprofitable services.  Like the presidency, for instance.

This taxpayer wants someone who can get the job done right, on time, with a minimum of hassle. How much does he need?  Give it to him, Prez, then get out of the way. That’s my vote.

Government has a public obligation to insure good value for our taxpayer money.  Its primary responsibility is to pay for the infrastructure that ensures a smoothly functioning society.  By doing this, it shifts larger costs to the larger group, which maintains the balance by using the services.  This makes it easier for individuals and businesses to profit from genuine free-market capitalism in a social context.

Sincerely,
Katharine C. Otto, MD
President, Chair, and CEO
Psychiatrists for Sanity
(and so far, the only member)

cc:

David Gunn
Former CEO of Amtrak
Wherever You Are

National Association of Railroad Passengers
(NARP) www.narprail.org
Another great source

David H. Laney, Esq.
Chairman of the Board
National Railroad Passenger Corporation
60 Massachusetts Avenue NE
Washington DC  20002

Secretary Norman Y. Mineta
US Dept of Transportation
400 7th Street, SW
Washington DC  20590

US Rep Don Young (R-AK), Chairman
Transportation & Infrastructure
2111 Rayburn HOB
Washington DC  20515
Phone:  202-225-5765
Fax:  202-225-0425

US Rep Steven LaTourette (R-OH)
Transportation & Infrastructure
RR Subcommittee Chair
2453 Rayburn HOB
Washington DC  20515
Phone:  202-225-5731

US Sen Saxby Chambliss (R-GA)
416 Russell Senate Bldg
Washington DC  20510
202-224-3521

US Sen Johnny Isakson (R-GA)
120 Russell Senate Bldg
Washington DC  20510
202-224-3643

US Sen John McCain (R-AZ)
Commerce, Science & Transportation
241 Russell Senate Bldg
Washington DC  20510
Phone:  202-224-2235

US Rep Jack Kingston (R-GA)
2242 Rayburn HOB
Washington DC  20515
Phone:  202-225-5831
Fax:  202-226-2269
Savannah office:
1 Diamond Causeway, Ste 7, 31406
Phone:  912-352-0101

US Rep John Barrow (R-GA)
226 Cannon HOB
Washington, DC  20515
Phone:  202-225-2823
Savannah office:
400 Mall Blvd, Ste G, 31406
912-354-7282

US Rep Charlie Norwood (R-GA)
2452 Rayburn HOB
Washington, DC  20515
202-225-4101

 

Friends of Amtrak  www.trainweb.org/crocon
A great resource for Amtrak information

US Rep Corrine Brown (D-FL-JAX)*
Transportation & Infrastructure
Ranking Member of RR Subcommittee
2444 Rayburn HOB
Washington DC  20515
202-255-0123
Fax:  202-225-2256

US Rep Joe Schwartz, MD (D-MI)
128 Cannon HOB
Washington, DC  20515
202-225-6276
Fax:  202-225-2681

US Sen Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ)
Commerce, Science & Transportation
324 Hart Senate Bldg
Washington DC  20510
Phone:  202-224-3224
Fax:  202-228-4054

US Sen Trent Lott (R-MS), Member
Commerce, Science & Transportation
487 Russell Senate Bldg
Washington, DC  20510
Phone:  202-224-6253
Fax:  202-224-2262

US Sen Conrad Burns (R-MT)
187 Dirksen Senate Office Bldg
Washington DC  20510
202-224-2644

US Rep Mike Castle (R-DE)
1233 Longworth HOB
Washington DC  20515
202-225-4165

US Rep James Oberstar (D-MN)
2365 Rayburn HOB
Washington DC  20515
202-225-6211

US Rep Lynn A. Westmoreland (R-GA)
Transportation & Infrastructure
1118 Longworth HOB
Washington DC  20515
Phone:  202-225-5901
Fax:  202-225-2515

Justice Clarence Thomas
Supreme Court of the United States
One First Street NE
Washington DC  20543
202-479-3211

Justice John Paul Stevens
Supreme Court of the United States
One First Street NE
Washington DC  20543
202-479-3211

Harold Linnenkohl, Commissioner
GA Dept of Transportation (GDOT)
2 Capitol Square SW, Room 102
Atlanta, GA  30334
404-656-5206
Fax:  404-657-8389

*Our sister to the south, US Representative Corrine Brown (D-FL-JAX), is the ranking Democratic member of the Railroad Subcommittee of Transportation & Infrastructure.  She is also a strong Amtrak advocate and supporter of re-hiring David Gunn.  See her press release at http://www.house.gov/corrinebrown/press109/pr051109.htm.

On November 9, 27 members of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure sent a letter to Mr. Laney, expressing their “outrage” at David Gunn’s  dismissal.

Voter-citizen-taxpayers who support apologizing to Mr. Gunn, offering him a raise, and guaranteeing him as much money as he needs to get the job done right, please send a train to the Prez.  I don’t believe he’s ever had one.

President George W. Bush

United States of America
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C. 20500
Phone:  202-456-1414
FAX: 202-456-2461
e-mail:  comments@whitehouse.gov
Congressional switchboard:  1-202-224-3121
Senators:  www.senate.gov
Representatives:  www.house.gov
A public service initiative courtesy of  www.mhconnections.com

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