Category Archives: Current Events

Who Owns the Land?

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I’m so glad authors like Fred Pearce are paying attention.  I’d never heard of Pearce until his book, The Land Grabbers:  The New Fight Over Who Owns the Earth, jumped from the library shelf into my hands.  Published in 2014, the book reads like a world-wide travelogue, except the sights are disheartening.  Until the end, it made me wonder if every plot of arable soil on the planet has been razed, plowed under, polluted, and subjected to rampant, monolithic, mechanized agriculture for export.

The Land Grabbers premise is that “soaring grain prices and fears about future food supplies are triggering a global land grab.”  The super-rich, would-be rich, and governments are scouring the world looking for productive investments; and land—especially arable land—reigns supreme.

In chapter after chapter, the reader learns of how formerly communal land has been privatized, with drastic changes in ecosystems and eviction or undermining of subsistence-level, indigenous people.  In the first chapter, we learn about government “villagization” in Ethiopia, the collecting of dispersed populations like the farmer/fisher Anuaks and the livestock herding Nuer into state-designated villages, ostensibly to provide better services, like schools, hospitals, and water wells. But locals claim the government is stealing their traditional lands to turn over to foreign agribusiness.

The second chapter takes the reader to the Chicago Board of Trade, the home of commodity trading.  We learn commodity speculation in 2008 may have contributed to the sharp spike in worldwide food prices that year.  The food price bubble was first noticed in early 2007 in Mexico, where the cost of tortillas quadrupled in two months.  Subsequent months brought food riots across North and West Africa.  In Egypt, the world’s largest food importer, bread prices tripled.

Pearce says grain shortages could not be blamed, since grain production was up five percent that year.  However, at least one-third of the world’s grain goes to feeding livestock.  Also, 2007 saw a boom in the biofuels industry, and was the year the ethanol mandate was passed in the United States.  The US earmarked half of its corn for ethanol, diverting surpluses from export markets.

In Saudi Arabia, fear of dependency on food imports prompted billionaires to pump water from a mile beneath the desert to irrigate wheat and grazing grasses for dairy cattle.  Within a few years it had depleted four-fifths of its underground water reservoir–formerly the size of Lake Erie–and realized this tactic was unsustainable.  It turned to acquiring large tracts of land in foreign countries, especially impoverished Muslim countries in Asia and Africa.  Qatar and other Persian Gulf countries are also acquiring foreign farmland or concessions to produce food for their people.

The book repeats the story of dispossession in South Sudan and Kenya. In South Sudan the new government has promised vast tracts to Arab interests, with land rights signed over by questionable spokesmen for the people, without surveys or other demarcations showing where the properties begin and end.  Tradition has it that whole communities must participate in communal land decisions, but purchasers find ways around this.  In several cases, the land has been leased out with great promises of agricultural development, but nothing has been done on the ground.

There’s the story of the American Christian evangelist who made his money running private prisons in the US.  He has leased 17,050 acres in the Yala swamp in Kenya.  It drains into Lake Victoria.  Calvin Burgess claims he has permission to drain the swamp, clear the papyrus and cultivate, primarily, rice for export.  He sees his huge agribusiness as a means to bring Christianity to the poor, as well as drag them out of poverty.  His farm is named “Dominion.”

Locals tell a different story.  Before Burgess, everyone had cattle and used the swamp, taking papyrus as needed to make mats, baskets, roof thatch, and other useful items.  Now, because Burgess has raised a weir several feet, the swamp overflows and floods regularly, destroying locals’ crops and bringing crocodiles and hippos to their front doors.

Pearce describes the general political scenes in several African counties, including Liberia.  Liberia had recently emerged from a 14-year civil war.  I read about the Firestone rubber “fiefdom” in Liberia since 1926.   “International law” favors the investors; and investor claims supersede individuals, communities, and countries.  I have to wonder who is the arbitrator of “international law.”  UN “peace keepers” dominate in Liberia.

Pearce writes a lot about the palm oil industry, which has grown exponentially over the years.  It started back in the early 1900s, with the tyrannical King of Belgium in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, but later came under the control of the Lever Brothers, and then Unilever.

Also in Africa, the grabbers have claimed large concessions to create hunting reserves, “eco-tourism,” including safaris, and conservation areas that have squeezed indigenous Massai tribes and run them off traditional lands.  This in Tanzania, primarily, but also in Kenya.  I guess they have had domestic cattle for centuries, in concert with wildlife, yet moderns believe the two are incompatible and want to remove the people and their cattle from their traditional lands.

We learn about the Inner Niger Delta, in Mali, which is being dried out by irrigation rights upstream.  Here four foreign concessions have been given enormous prior claims on Niger water, complete with canals.  Two are for sugar cane—British and Chinese—which is a huge water hog; one is a US concession for rice; and the fourth, possibly the largest, is for food for Libya.

In the Ukraine, the story is similar to the others.  Individuals form companies, get investors, buy or lease large tracts of land with grand plans to grow this or that.  In the Ukraine or Russia, a number of formerly collective farms have been abandoned.  There are many household farms, but the people don’t have the money to grow for more than their own needs.

The cerrado in Brazil, and the chaco in Paraguay both hosted indigenous tribes.  Now the tribes have been squeezed, killed, compromised, or absorbed, and the foreign investor mono-agriculturalists are encroaching ever closer, destroying biodiversity, rendering many species extinct, obliterating and polluting habitat.

The conservationists are either weak, compromised, or circumvented.  In South America, the main industries are cattle ranching, sugar for ethanol, and soy, but also other grains like corn and wheat.  Rubber.

In Sumatra and Papua, New Guinea thousands of acres of rain forest and peat bogs have been destroyed, for two Chinese-owned paper mills.  Once again, locals who depended on the forest for rattan and rubber, as well as fishing and shrimping have been displaced, in some cases violently, and their water polluted.  Their government has favored foreign investors over them, despite presumed legal protections. The IMF was happy to advise the Sumatra government to give away even more forestry concessions to bail out the Chinese paper mills when there was a recession in Asia.

Overall, the book gives an impression of the sheer size of the earth, and its many and varied lands.  But the land grabber strategy seems similar the world over.  The international concerns are deeply intermingled, with lots of names, re-names, countries, and corporations, hedge funds, pension funds, and university endowments involved.  Tax havens.  Companies awash in subsidiaries, controlled by individuals and families, with holdings in multiple countries, and assisted by weak or corrupt governments, rape the land, displace subsistence locals–who generally have depended on communal sharing of resources, like forests and rivers–turn them against each other and the police/government against them.  They bring in bulldozers and chain saws to replace rotation farming and biodiversity with mono-agriculture for export.

It’s enough to make me a Communist, if it would mean a return to communal land holdings.  Reading The Land Grabbers reveals the de facto pervasiveness of communism, in the shared, or communal land sense.   It is the undercurrent that modern property-owning society is built on.   That land grabs are happening all over the world to so many indigenous and until now isolated people shows how the perpetrators have depended on the isolation to pull the same stunt over and over.

I liked the way The Land Grabbers ended.  Pearce claims most of the world’s food is still produced by smallholderrs.  Most land is still held and used in common.  In Africa a half-billion smallholders produce 90 percent of the food.  Pearce writes that in India large dairy cooperatives have propelled the country from 78th to first in the world in milk production.  The coop provides for daily milk pickups from the members.

Bottom line is all is not lost.  Pearce says that despite myth, smallholders take better care of their ecosystems than large mechanized industry.  They farm every corner of their small spaces, use crop rotation, animal manure for fertilizer, expand and contract grazing and growing spaces depending on need.  They grow diverse crops and have animals, like cows, goats, and chickens.  The idea of “tragedy of the commons” doesn’t hold.  Without written rules, communal holders manage to work out among themselves fair balances so that land does not become over-grazed or reduced to desert.

After reading The Land Grabbers:  The New Fight Over Who Owns the Earth, I believe more strongly than ever that no one owns the earth.  The earth owns us.

 

 

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Oil Glut

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By Katharine Otto, January 20, 2018

Tracking history through personal time shows how my interests evolve.  In January, 2008, I was reading Oil! by Upton Sinclair, the 1926 novel he wrote about the oil industry.

In January, 2018, ten years later, I have read the biography of John D. Rockefeller, Sr., Titan, by Ron Chernow, published in 1998.  This book goes into detail about Rockefeller’s childhood, personal life, his creation of Standard Oil and business methods, retirement, and philanthropies.  It gives short character sketches of most of the people associated with Rockefeller.  It makes an attempt to reconcile the strange mixture of rapacious greed and Baptist charity that coexisted in the man.

I didn’t know it then, but the novel Oil! was probably based on the true story of Standard Oil and the way it destroyed, compromised, or bought out its competitors.  The monopoly was dissolved in 1911 when the US Supreme Court found Standard Oil in violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act.  Chief Justice Edward White gave the company six months to spin off its 33 subsidiaries.

If the purpose of breaking up Standard Oil was to destroy the monopoly and allow for competition, the plan backfired.  The same insiders controlled stock in all the subsidiaries, Chernow notes, and in the decade after the decision, the total value of the assets quintupled.  Rockefeller, who had a quarter of the stock in the parent company, and received the same amount of stock in all the subsidiaries, went from being a mere millionaire to a having net worth of  $900 million, and thus became the richest man on the planet.bkschertitan1998

In 2018, the largest oil companies in the world are Standard Oil descendants.  Standard Oil of New Jersey became Exxon; Standard Oil of New York evolved into Mobil; Standard Oil of Indiana became Amoco; Standard Oil of California was renamed Chevron;  Atlantic Refining morphed into ARCO and eventually Sun; and Continental Oil became Conoco, now a unit of Dupont and Cheeseborough-Ponds, according to Chernow.  British Petroleum later took over Standard Oil of Ohio.

Also in the past year, I have been reading about the divestiture of fossil fuel stocks from a number of pension plans in various countries, including the US and UK.  The Norwegian central bank has recommended similar divestiture from its sovereign wealth fund to avoid too much dependence on oil in its portfolio.

wsjoslooil111717This leads me to believe the industrial age, with its over-reliance on fossil fuels, specifically oil, has peaked, and we are on the path to some new paradigms regarding energy and its use.  I’ve speculated about what sells oil and realized war, international shipping, airplanes, plastics, trucks and automobiles provide some of the largest markets.  In other words, the “global economy” depends heavily on oil and will for the foreseeable future.

To reduce dependence on fossil fuels requires a longer and broader perspective than we have considered so far.   The drum beat for “growth” and “progress,” and for the “global economy,” American dominance, and “jobs,” presumes a continuation along the paths we have taken so far, yet they have led to world-wide malaise, toxicity, and conflict.  Will more of the same be better?

The US dollar lost 95% of its value between 1913, when the Federal Reserve Act was passed, and 2010.  More money isn’t necessarily better, and it leads me to wonder if the frenzy over money, from individual to international levels, misses the crucial issues.  They say money doesn’t buy happiness, but worry over money buys only pain.  They also say money is a symbol for energy, but energy blocked or misdirected, like money, festers and ultimately damages the host. Is more energy better, if it causes destruction?

Oil is the new gold, in today’s economy.  Oil may be more useful than gold, but the way it is used leads me to question whether we are wasting or misspending our energy and resources to acquire only excess, pollution, and trouble.

Oil has become so integral to our 21st century lives that it’s hard to imagine life without it. It’s also hard to imagine the pristine conditions the planet enjoyed before humanity started extracting that gooey black stuff from under the ground and spewing its spent components in the air, dumping it in the water, and spreading it over the land.

Does “the economy” really need to grow, or does it need to retract a little and engage in some self-reflection, to appreciate and make better use of what we have?  Will the “growth jobs” of the future concern themselves with cleaning up the ocean gyres, planting trees, and making re-usable shopping bags?  Are American citizens and taxpayers under any real obligation to support wasteful government mis-spending of empty money that rightfully belongs to the unborn?

Anyone who supports return to a healthy planet should consider how our national policies create artificial markets for fossil fuels, global warming, and planetary suicide.

Urban Gardening

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S. Squire Rooster and Lady Brownie Hen, standing around and on concrete block herb garden. Chickens don’t bother herbs, but they love worms, grubs, termites, roaches, lizards, and fiddlers. I keep my yard as free of artificial chemicals and traps as possible, but I can’t stop the county from dumping malathion on our heads.

August 18, 2017

As people starve in Venezuela and other places, I remind myself Americans don’t know what starvation feels like.  We suffer from the opposite problem, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, life-style-related diseases resulting from consuming too much of the wrong things.

 

My herbs begged for pruning the other day.  It took several hours to cut, sort, wash, chop, and store, but I got a half-gallon of mint-stevia tea and almost a pint of basil-chive pesto.  My mind is free when I’m doing finger-trained things like chopping herbs.  I thought about how easily herbs grow on my deck, and how even urbanites with window sills, balconies, or patios could grow food.

I thought about my “green footprint” and how all greenery—even so-called weeds—contribute to cooling the earth and re-claiming oxygen from CO2.  So even growing an herb or a potted tomato on the patio adds to your oxygen green print.  Citrus grows well in patio pots, too, depending on where you live.

When the government controls the food supply, it’s a set-up for famine.  Julius Caesar used that to advantage, and so have rulers the world over.  That’s what makes centralized power so fragile.  We’re seeing that now, with President Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela.   He has the military guarding the food.  I’ll bet lots of folks now regret leaving the farms to work in factories and oil refineries.  At home, they could grow their own food.

We have the same situation brewing in the USA, but here the strategy is more insidious. We can see it being played out in all the mergers and acquisitions in the food, drug, and poison industries.  Most notable is the planned purchase of Monsanto by Bayer, based in Germany.  So Monsanto will go underground, should these two poison giants (depending on your point of view) merge.  Second, a little different but no less significant, is the merger of Dow and DuPont, two chemical giants.  Dow has the trademark on Styrofoam and has its own versions of genetically modified (GM) corn and other patented plant products.

Finally, we have the impending merger of Swiss Syngenta, the world’s largest crop chemical producer, and China National Chemical Corp., a state-owned outfit.  More than half of Syngenta’s sales come from “emerging markets.”  At a $42 billion price, Wikipedia reports the purchase of Syngenta to be the largest for a foreign firm in Chinese history.

The farming industry (which is often distinct from and at cross-purposes with “farmers”) is supposedly opposed to the Montsanto/Bayer merger.  The opposition claims it will increase prices and reduce innovation.  The poison companies say they will increase research and development.  (That’s what scares me most.)

In the US, the ethanol mandate represents the biggest government power grab of the food supply to date.  GM corn manufacturers are now making “ethanol-grade” corn.  Well, folks, what does that mean to you?  It means to me that Monsanto, Dow, Syngenta, and other GM manufacturers are busy downgrading everyone’s food supply to generate electronic profits on Wall Street.  Of course Archer Daniels Midland, ConAgra, Cargill, and other Big Food are all for burning perfectly good corn whiskey in cars.  Cars consume it faster than alcoholics do, and the government gets more in taxes, so of course the FDA, CDC, and EPA are complicit.

So with the mergers of the world’s six largest seed, agrochemical, and biotech corporations, which are in the business of poisoning us from the ground up, it behooves all of us to start producing our own food, individual by individual, as space and sunshine allow.

 

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Deck herbs, some in concrete blocks, others in clay pots.  Cat litter boxes do a good job of catching water.  Can water and/or fertilize from the base.

Herbs are probably the easiest plants to grow, and many are perennial.  My chickens don’t like them, the deer don’t like them, and they are amazingly bug-resistant.  Stevia, chives, mint, oregano, and rosemary are all perennial.  The rosemary bush is taller than I am.  Since stevia was approved by the FDA as a natural sugar substitute a few years back, corporate marketing has improved its image. Less well known is that it’s a perennial extra easy to grow in a small clay pot.

So I harvested overgrown stevia, mint, chives and basil.  I made stevia-mint iced tea and basil-chive pesto.

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Set-up for making mint-stevia tea.  Mint is on the chopping board.  kco081717

I use a one-half gallon container for the tea, fill with cold water, let the water come to a boil, and turn the burner off.  I stir in the chopped mint and stevia, replace the lid on the pot, and let it steep all night.  In the morning I strain the tea and transfer it to the refrigerator container.

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Set-up for making basil-chive pesto.  Curved knife blade with rocking motion works best for fast and safe herb and veggie chopping.   kco081717

Making pesto is a breeze with a mini-food processor.  Pesto keeps weeks in the refrigerator and infinitely in the freezer.  I freeze fresh pesto and gouge chunks out of the mix as needed.  I use it in salad dressings, spreads, sauces, marinades, and Italian dishes of all kinds.

I use a standard blend of ingredients with whatever herbs I have.  Two to three cloves of crushed or chopped garlic, a couple of handfuls of chopped herbs, a handful of grated parmesan cheese, a handful of chopped nuts, and enough olive oil to make the processor work right.  I use soy sauce or olive brine instead of salt.  I like red pepper, too.  If you overdo the red pepper, extra olive oil helps a lot.

More traditional pesto recipes call for pine nuts, but they are expensive, somewhat hard to find, and not worth the price.  I prefer walnuts or almonds, but any nut will do.  Put them in the processor early, as they take time to grind up right.

Cheese is also variable.  Hard cheeses, like grated parmesan or romano, tend to last longer in storage, but I’ve used jack and cheddar, too.  Pestos are as versatile as your imagination.

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My version of pesto pizza.  Rye toast smeared with basil-chive pesto, topped with parmesan cheese and salad olives.  Broiled in toaster oven 3-5 minutes. kco081717

Opiates: Crisis du Jour

Opiate abuse is the crisis du jour in the medical and psychiatric world.  I’ve seen reference to it in the psychiatric journals, in the New York Times, and in the Summer, 2017 issue of Utne magazine.  There are Continuing Medical Education credits available for it.

Do I believe opiate abuse is a new problem, or that it has suddenly grown into the gigantic epidemic the “authorities” claim?  I know there is a push for funding for substance abuse treatment.  Other than that, I believe the “crisis” is fueled by enablers who need to be needed.

First, the literature I read makes no distinction between heroin, which is an absolutely illegal drug in the US, and the other opiates.  There’s a vague claim that the heroin is coming in from Mexico, but I wonder if it’s coming home with troops from Afghanistan, too.  No one has asked that question.

The legal-with-a-prescription opiates are presumed to be used for pain, and apparently there is a growing trend to abuse prescription opiates.  Doctors who prescribe too many of them fall under the DEA’s watchful eye, so I wonder how many doctors are willing to risk their licenses to support an abuse habit.  There are pain clinics sprouting up around the country, specialty clinics in which opiate use is standard.  These are carefully monitored by the DEA, as are pharmacy records that show which docs are prescribing controlled substances.

A large number and variety of substance abuse treatment methods and facilities exist, but effectiveness over the long term is poor.  Most studies into substance abuse treatment only follow patients for a year.  Long term studies are rare.  Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and its spin-offs, like Narcotics Anonymous and Cocaine Anonymous—with their reliance on the 12-Step Program—have remained the standard since 1935.  These are free programs, peer supported, in which names and paperwork are not required.

My questions about this new “crisis” stems from my cynicism about our current drug-centered world.  The difference between “good” drugs and “bad” drugs is only a matter of legality, according to me.  Drug laws confuse the issue and create problems that needn’t exist.  Even the Psychiatric Times is beginning to take a fresh look at substances such as marijuana, looking to explore its potentially therapeutic effects.  There was a recent article suggesting hallucinogens like LSD and psilocybin might deserve more attention as therapeutic agents, under controlled conditions.

Unintentional injury from accidents and drug overdoses, according to one Continuing Medical Education (CME) course I took, is now in the top five causes of death.  The course didn’t distinguish how the overdoses occurred, but my experience tells me a surprisingly large number of people take ten or more medications, don’t know what they are taking, how to take them, or what they are for.  They don’t know about side effects, and their doctors don’t explain.  They take them “when I feel like I need them.”  or don’t take them at all if they can’t afford the cost.

Direct-to-consumer advertising by pharmaceutical companies has grown exponentially since it was approved by the FDA in 1997.  Pharma spent less than $800 million/year on advertising in 1996, but by 2000, that sum grew to $2.5 billion.  Of that, 20 percent was for psychiatric medications, and these constituted 10 percent of the top 100 selling drugs.

Obviously, there is a great demand for “feel-good” drugs, either over the counter or under the counter, and I have to wonder why.  From what I’ve seen, none of these drugs satisfies the long-term cravings of those who have lost their way.  The psychiatric drugs, like antidepressants, are not proving themselves over time, so there is a constant turnover of medications used to treat depression.  Yet advertising, the “health care industry,” and the world at large seems to believe there is a quick fix to problems, lifestyle problems, relationship problems, financial problems, employment problems, health problems, loneliness problems, and all the problems people’s fantasies tell them should respond to drugs.

As long as people put faith in solutions outside themselves, they will be disappointed, I believe.  Maybe a pill can help, temporarily, but there is no pill for financial problems, unless you’re selling it on the street.

That, in summary, may be the underlying impetus behind the “opiate crisis.”

Involuntary Manslaughter?

Twenty-year-old Michelle Carter was convicted last week of “involuntary manslaughter” for encouraging the suicide of her friend Conrad Roy III, in July, 2014. While I’m not surprised by the outcome, I’ve always wondered if anyone should be held responsible for another person’s actions, up to and including suicide and murder.

The law says they should.  Psychiatrists, in particular, can be held liable if their patients–present or past–kill themselves or anyone else.  A mere hint of “suicidal ideation” in an emergency room is enough to get someone committed to psychiatric hospitalization, at least for an observation period of up to 72 hours.

That homeless people, alcoholics, drug addicts, and those escaping the law or outside enemies use this ploy to obtain “three hots and a cot” on cold or stormy winter nights is common knowledge in the medical world.  There are also the drug seekers, who hope to receive controlled substances to alleviate their pain.  While others want to blame the patients, I look to the crazy-making system itself. Those who learn to “work the system” are only doing what they believe is necessary for survival.

The professional’s challenge and dilemma is always to determine intent to act. Psychiatric evaluation is meant to assess the seriousness and immediacy of the threat.  It includes questions about access to weapons, past attempts, serious stressors (like medical diagnoses, relationship breakups, financial crises, for instance), level of intoxication (if any), mental stability (such as psychosis) and other possible contributing factors to the person’s distress.

In most cases, a 24-hour hospitalization is enough to alleviate the symptoms and allow a person to be discharged safely.  By morning, most people have changed their minds, at least until the next time.  Those who are truly suicidal can remain in the hospital for weeks, months, or even years, although this is becoming rarer. Psychiatric hospitals are so crowded that there’s constant pressure to discharge as soon as possible, or at least as soon as insurance coverage ends.

Bottom line is potential suicidality is taken very seriously in the medical and psychiatric world, and each case is different.  Although it is an ethical no-no for psychiatrists to diagnose or analyze people they have not personally examined, I deduce from news reports that there were a number of factors playing into the Carter case, including the un-examined belief that anyone can prevent anyone from doing what they intend to do.

News sources say Mr. Roy had attempted suicide four times in the past.  Ms. Carter met him in 2012, had emotional and mental problems of her own, and needed to be needed.  She fancied herself a helper, and up until the last two weeks of his life, she tried to convince him not to kill himself.  Then she suddenly changed tack and began encouraging him to act on his threats.  She even ordered him back into the carbon-monoxide filled vehicle when he became scared and got out.  Most of this was done long-distance, say the reports.

Witnesses for the prosecution claimed her motive was attention, as she was communicating various moves in this two-year dance to a variety of other people. It’s not clear whether anyone intervened or tried to break up this dangerously destructive dynamic.  Was this so-called need for attention a desperate cry for help by Ms. Carter herself?  Apparently Ms. Carter at one point encouraged Mr. Roy to seek professional help, but did she consult anyone herself about this problem? Chronically suicidal people can be exhausting, even for professionals, when they begin to manipulate for sympathy, attention, or to control the relationship.  At what point does the helper give up and say (or think), “Quit talking about it and just do it.”?

I don’t mean to excuse Ms. Carter for her actions.  She apparently gave a lot of bad advice over a long period of time, and she was way out of her depth.  Who can ascribe motive? For all anyone knows, Mr. Roy may have killed himself sooner if not for Ms. Carter’s friendship.  I happen to believe suicide is a personal choice.  I don’t recommend it, but I also believe we all choose our time to die, on some level.  We only differ in how we do it.

The “Health Care Industry” is Sick

THOUGHTS ON THE HEALTH SCARE-SNARE RACKET

Saturday, March 25, 2017—Trumpcare, the Republicans’ answer to Obamacare, failed this week.  Predictions abound about what the government will do next.  It appears Obamacare is imploding, and the media expects it to be saved or replaced.  My right-wing conservative friends declare government control of health care is unconstitutional.  My left-wing friends believe Obamacare needs to be fixed, not replaced.

I’ve been opposed to government and insurance-controlled medicine since graduating from medical school and psychiatry residency.  Back then, it was Hillarycare, which was trounced initially.  During Bill Clinton’s presidency, Hillarycare began being implemented piecemeal through bureaucracy.

For me, the issue then and now was freedom, including freedom of choice about everything from practitioners to types of treatment.  Government-controlled health care translates into a guaranteed captive market for insurance companies, in which the healthy subsidize everyone else, especially the “industry” itself.  Doctors and patients must kowtow to government and insurance rules.  Out the window go confidentiality, honesty, and compassion, since symptoms must fit a diagnosis code to insure payment for treatment.  In psychiatry, this means the psychiatrist must come up with a diagnosis which goes forever on the patient’s record and can interfere with everything from self-esteem to employment.

AND, SEVEN YEARS AGO THIS MONTH . . .

CURRENT EVENTS:  OBAMACARE

Wednesday, March 24, 2010—Everyone is talking about Obamacare, which passed over the weekend.  Everyone knew it would, but nobody knows what it means except more taxes.  The boat is sinking, but we’re afraid to rock it.

VIGNETTE:  OBAMACARE

Friday, March 26, 2010—I met a 35ish guy in line at Starbucks yesterday.  I was standing at the cash register when Sean mentioned something about Obamacare.  I said Dr.Obama needs to write his own prescriptions.  The guy behind me, a big, burly fella with motorcycle helmet and a completely tattooed right arm but untouched left arm, thick dark hair two-three inches long, eyes brown and intense, said something about economics, bankers, the Fed, or a related subject that tipped me off.

I realized he is an awakened soul, sees things as I do, and so we stood there agreeing with each other until both got coffee and moved out of the way.

Tee hee.  I had told the boyfriends the other day there is no gold in Fort Knox, and the levels of security exist to protect the void.  My new friend, whose name I didn’t ask, agrees there’s no gold in Fort Knox, but for fools’ gold, hahaha.  I told him his generation is much smarter than my generation and got a laugh out of someone behind me in line.

On the way out, my new friend mentioned the book, Creature from Jekyll Island, and said he learned on the net that the US has been selling gold-plated tungsten bars to China and I think France as if they were gold, and the deception has recently been discovered.  Apparently it began during the Clinton years, and the cost was something like $50,000 per bar to produce.

Later, Sean said we were two peas in a pod, an unlikely pair, the two of us, but what the hey.  These younger folks are expected to cater to all these old coots who were gullible enough to trust the Woodrow Wilsons, FDRs, Lyndon Johnsons, and other paternalistic exploiters, and I don’t blame the younger set if they believe Boomers are dispensable.  Why should they support us?  I told my friend he is under no obligation to make good on the government’s promises.

TEN YEARS AGO THIS MONTH:

MEDICAL SCHOOL ATTITUDES

Monday, March 26, 2007 – I’ve been thinking about my medical career.  Starting in medical school, I was appalled by the attitudes, and they got worse in the hospital in our third year.  M. was a good study companion the first two years, but his old girlfriend and the vicious, cut-throat, warfare in the hospital in our third year edged me out.  He played the politics and kissed up to the residents, but he also loved doing the procedures, and was like the rest of them, eager to compete for opportunities to do lumbar punctures, draw blood, drain fluid from lungs and peritoneal cavities, deliver babies, run codes.  While I wanted the experience, too, I wasn’t willing to elbow my way into the situations that offered them, and the rush-rush mentality rattled my confidence and made me afraid to touch the patients.

I was horrified at the frenzy of my classmates when it came to procedures, and the careless disregard for the patients they were so eager to practice on.  I wasn’t willing to follow residents around, hoping for chances to draw blood or run errands or otherwise do their bidding.  They perceived my attitude as insolence, and the OB-gyn boys took it more personally than the others. No one ever told me directly, so I was flabbergasted when Dr. S said they complained and almost failed me for the OB rotation.  I only remembered they wouldn’t let us do much, because they wanted to do it, and they kept medical students in a room together entire afternoons while they saw the patients alone.  I spent my time studying, so made the highest grade in the class on the written test.  I thought the OB-gyn material was the easiest.  Everyone else was bragging about how many babies they were “catching,” as if it were a disease.  I only “caught” one baby, that the chief OB resident helped me with, but he was the first baby with congenital syphilis the attending physicians had seen in ten years.

THE MD ROLE

Monday, March 26, 2007 – My no-frills trappings and simple, ascetic life – which it is – runs counter to the doctor stereotype, into which other doctors pour money and pride.  I’ve never felt comfortable in the doctor role.  It belongs to someone else, a non-being, a stereotype formed by others’ expectations, divorced from my self-perceived style.

But I’m good at it, among the best I know, which makes it all the stranger, because it comes so easily.  That I don’t put much faith in the pills I prescribe, the system I represent, the beliefs believed “normal” by today’s standards, ekes out in passing references.

No, I don’t believe in war, competition, health care insurance, the federal government, marriage, or that churches should be property tax-exempt, unless everyone is property tax-exempt.  If I pray directly to god, without need for a priest or rabbi to intercede, why should I pay property taxes when they don’t?  Who’s to say god listens more to them than me, and why should that give them a material advantage?

DRUG AND ALCOHOL LAWS

Saturday, March 3, 2007 – Drug and alcohol laws represent a major human rights violation–as the 1794 Whiskey Rebellion foretold–and should be abolished.  No one has the right to restrict another’s access to her own body.  The key to better health is better education and a free range of choices.  No one feels my pain like I do.

I believe drug laws set the frame for the sadomasochistic power struggles we call addiction. Drug laws are a means by which government seeks control over taxpayers.  Laws put government in a moralistic, paternalistic, top-dog position over the taxpayers who pay its way.

Laws and other social engineering tactics restrict the productivity of the very individuals who support them, and the entire society loses.

CHILD AND ADOLESCENT PRESCRIPTIONS

Monday, March 12, 2007 – Doing child and adolescent psychiatry means prescribing drugs I don’t approve of, because the teachers dictate medical care for unruly kids.

No, we won’t give them physical education, home economics, shop, or any incentive to behave, nothing that will interest them during the long hours they must sit, while some harried, bored, and boring teacher parrots an agenda designed to stifle curiosity and make children hate education.

No, we will diagnose them as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), and put them on amphetamines to control their behavior, because what we’re really doing is cultivating the next generation of slave labor for the imperialists who formerly were industrialists but no longer even produce meaningful industry.  They produce paperwork, insurance, stocks, cash, and debt, using their forebears’ reputations as collateral, generating paper profits on Wall Street, while product quality and workplace safety plummet.

 

Eminent Domain: That Itchy Spot Below the Belt

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By Katharine C. Otto
February 1, 2017

 On January 25, The Wall Street Journal ran a front page article claiming “Trump Revives Pipeline Projects.” The article states that President Trump gave a thumbs up to the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines, both stalled by former President Obama.

The WSJ is all for this, as noted in its editorial “No More Keystone Capers” the same day, which asserted the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines are good for “the economy.”

The WSJ says those in the industry are divided about whether the pipelines are needed.  Some say they are not needed yet. Other sources indicate energy use is declining worldwide, there is a glut of oil, and prices are down.

The WSJ’s slant is well known.  It supports Wall Street, assuming that what’s good for big business is good for the country.  It glosses over the long term costs of large-scale industrialization, manufacturing and exporting of natural resources.  The cost effectiveness of pipelines (and other large projects that benefit big business at the expense of residents) rides on the use of “eminent domain,” the government’s self-proclaimed right to confiscate private land for public purposes.

The Dakota Access pipeline is at the hub of the Standing Rock Sioux’s protest against the US government.  The Sioux claim the pipeline, slated to run under the Missouri River, endangers sacred ancestral and hunting grounds, as well as their drinking water supply (and that of others downstream).  Their resistance has drawn support from other Native American tribes, numerous environmental, other land-friendly and taxpayer-friendly groups.  The group is staking out its territory through the winter, justifiably worried that bulldozers will move in as soon as protesters look the other way.

While eminent domain has been in use over a century, it got a jump start forward in June, 2005, with the infamous “Kelo decision,” in which the Supreme Court voted 5-4 to allow the New London, Connecticut City Council to eminent domain Susette Kelo’s neighborhood to build a convention center.  Pfizer, the massive pharmaceutical company, was a heavy hitter behind the move, as it had promised to build a $270 million research facility next door.

It was a bitter fight, as several of the neighbors had lived in their homes in the Fort Trumbull area for close to 60 years, paying property taxes all that time.  After the Supreme Court decision, Kelo’s neighborhood was razed.  Four years later, when Pfizer’s tax credits expired, it announced that it was abandoning the project, not to return.

Meanwhile, the precedent-setting decision by the Supreme Court has had devastating consequences, including using eminent domain to condemn property for oil pipeline construction.  It reaches deep into the pockets of all property owners and taxpayers and raises questions about what, exactly, is guaranteed by land ownership.

Shortly after the Kelo decision, there was a stampede by municipalities and other government entities across the nation to confiscate private land on the flimsiest of pretexts.  It got so bad in Georgia (and over 40 other states) that the state legislature put brakes on it, much to the dismay of our city and county governments.

In Savannah, title searches were being conducted by city officials to determine which properties the city might claim.  It was irrelevant to them that property taxes were being paid.  Now municipalities are lobbying the state legislature to remove the limits and maybe expand them, too.

Worse, eminent domain is rearing its ugly head in ever more ominous guises.  President Trump has said he would like to expand the its use.

This power of the state to confiscate private land for corporate cartels has run amok.  In Georgia, the latest assault on private property comes from corporate giant Kinder Morgan (of Enron heritage), which is lobbying the Georgia government for direct eminent domain rights.  There is a newly formed legislative committee studying how to slip this egregious theft past taxpayers and still get re-elected.

Meanwhile, multiply-subsidized Southern Company (a Fortune 500 company), has recently paid $1.5 billion cash for a stake in Kinder Morgan’s future.  Never mind that Georgia taxpayers, energy users, and captive SoCo market customers are already paying for two unneeded nuclear power plants upriver from Savannah.

I contend the industrial age has peaked.  Long term costs, like widespread contamination of shared resources, are becoming increasingly apparent, yet these are not factored into the government or corporate prognostications.  The “global economy” works when you’re talking about electronic money.  It’s a different matter when you’re exporting valuable natural resources and leaving the waste behind.

Eminent domain cuts both ways.  The impact of the Kelo decision has been for government to determine what is in the interests of “the public good,” to the great indignation of “the public.”  Remember that property owners pay property taxes every year to secure their protection from land confiscation, among other things. Guarantees such as water quality come with property tax payments.

By comparison, in the mid 1800s, much of the US rail system was built on government granted land, acquired by the government by “treaty” with natives, ”purchased,” as in the Louisiana Purchase, or presumed US territory because no one contested it.  Abraham Lincoln and his successors, such as Andrew Johnson and Ulysses Grant, gave 10-mile wide swaths to private rail companies.  During the War Between the States and during Reconstruction, the North was desperate to insure a food supply for the cities, since it had eviscerated the South’s agricultural economy.  Let’s not forget that Abraham Lincoln was a corporate railroad lawyer before he was president.

So the race to link the continent’s coasts as quickly as possible gave rise to government bonds and favors, and railroad stock speculation, with the so-called “Robber Barons” like John D. Rockefeller, J.P. Morgan, and Andrew Carnegie playing both ends against the middle and profiting on all sides.   They skillfully manipulated the government and stock markets to do their bidding, at maximum public cost.

Immigrants from China, Ireland, and other places were tricked into leaving their homes to come to the “land of the free” to do the grunt and dangerous work, like laying the tracks.  They were now destitute, unable to return home, and forced to do maximum labor for minimum wages and the worst possible living conditions.

Back to the 21st century, the most outrageous difference between the rail and the highway systems now is that the highways are owned by the public, and the rail lines are owned by corporate rail giants, like Norfolk-Southern, CSX, and Western Pacific.

To allow the rail infrastructure—an invaluable public resource–to languish in corporate hands distorts US perceptions so badly that we lose track of the obvious.  Rail is the most efficient, enjoyable, and effective land transporter of goods and people ever devised.  Rail has versatility, accessibility, and practicality that pipelines can never provide.  It’s out in the open, so people can see what’s broke and fix it easily.  Best of all, the infrastructure is already in place, just needs a little of The Donald’s magic wand in terms of claiming it for the public good and using some of that infrastructure funding to spiff it up and make it safe for all.

If the new President wants to use eminent domain for the public good, he would do well to look at the rail system, but don’t expect him to think of this on his own.  It is in every citizen/taxpayer’s best interest to look at who benefits from eminent domain as it is currently wielded.  Once again, it favors large institutions over individual taxpayers, while taxpayers suffer the costs.

And now the world knows my solution to the pipeline problem.

Coming soon . . . my solution to the health care problem.