Now It’s Drone Bees

I recently read a news report that Walmart is investigating the use of drones in pollinating agricultural crops.[1] That just about knocked me out of my chair, but then, on reflection, I saw the Walmart dream: total control of our food supply.

Granted, the bee die-offs are a serious problem for farmers, a result—according to most experts—of our love affair with poisoning our food. You see, spraying herbicides, fungicides, and pesticides on our crops to kill off pests like, well, anything that hurts the crop, also kills off the bees. Without pollination that bees perform so expertly, we’ll have no food.

How clever of Walmart to attempt some redress of this terrible problem! Their concept is to enlist drones with “sticky material or bristles” to spread pollen as they move from plant to plant.  Of course the elephant in the room is the obvious question: if poisons used in agriculture are killing the bees, what are they doing to us?

Already we’ve heard—and mostly ignored—reports that frogs and other amphibians are experiencing reproductive deformities[2] due to environmental pollutants like Round-up’s glyphosate, now banned in Europe, and atrazine which is applied to tens of millions of acres of corn grown in the United States, making it one of the world’s most widely used agricultural chemicals. A powerful, low-cost herbicide, atrazine is also the subject of persistent controversy.[3]

“Atrazine demasculinizes male gonads producing testicular lesions associated with reduced germ cell numbers in teleost fish, amphibians, reptiles, and mammals, and induces partial and/or complete feminization in fish, amphibians, and reptiles,” according to years of study by scientist Tyrone Hayes whose reports on his research are the target of relentless attacks by atrazine’s primary manufacturer, Syngenta.[4]

Atrazine is just one of many chemicals in wide use across the United States known as endocrine disrupters, “shown to disrupt reproductive and sexual development, and these effects seem to depend on several factors, including gender, age, diet, and occupation… Human fetuses, infants and children show greater susceptibility than adults… in diseases such as cancer, allergies, neurological disorders and reproductive disorders.”[5]

Then there are the hundreds of other chemical cocktails we are forced to routinely ingest not only in our food but also in our drinking water. Tens of thousands of chemicals are released into the environment in products ranging from shampoo to toilet bowl cleaner, few if any of which have been tested for potential harmful effects on human health and which, at last count, only a handful are tested for or removed from drinking water supplies. Not that anyone has any idea how to remove them from the water. This is part of the don’t ask, don’t tell philosophy of the chemical industry which is not required by law to test human health effects unless and until some harm is proven.

Europe, more intelligently, requires testing to prove no harm before new chemicals can be used. What a concept.

It’s such a downer to the chemical and agricultural corporations that someone might want to avoid cancer, allergies, neurological disorders and reproductive disorders. What a hero Walmart will be for its clever solution to the bee die-off, allowing for continuing and possibly increasing chemical poisoning of our food supply through the use of drones! According to the report, its grocery business will be “aided by farm-related drones, which could be used to pollinate crops, monitor fields for pests, and spray pesticides.”

If we could believe for one second that Walmart’s concern is the nourishment of Americans, we might also be sold a bridge somewhere in Manhattan. We already know from years of experience with this corporation that its objective, at least since ole Sam Walton died and left the biz to his greedy kids, is only the bottom line. Squeeze producers to make the cheapest possible product. Eliminate warehousers and trucking firms. Pay employees wages so low they qualify for food stamps. Pocket the difference, a method that propels these money grubbers to the top of the wealth lists and gives them extra spending money to proclaim their ‘generosity’ with projects like Crystal Bridges.

They care nothing about American jobs. Sam was eager to advertise that his products were made in American. His body had hardly cooled when the kids were over there making deals in China. It’s hard to find any product in Walmart today that’s made in America.

Or customer service. They can’t work fast enough to eliminate those damn middle management jobs like department supervisors. If the computer models show that a particular inventory item isn’t the very best selling product, the motto is to shit-can the damn thing. It doesn’t matter if people have been purchasing that product at Walmart for the last twenty years. Thus was the case last week when I rushed in to purchase a battery for my camera, already late for a photo-shoot appointment for a book I’m working on, only to discover that Walmart has eliminated its camera department.

Then there’s the Williams seasoning mixes we’ve relied on for chili, tacos, and spaghetti, now swept from the shelves because Walmart is rolling out its store brand seasoning mixes. Okay, now if you really want to set my hair on fire, this is the right topic. How many times have you or I visited Walmart for a particular brand-name product that we especially enjoy only to discover its shelf area filled with Walmart’s Great Value brand. I wrote the corporate CEO: “First, let me say that I’d rather live the rest of my life without chili than to buy a brand I’m being coerced to buy.”

Do I have to tell you there was no response? Oh, and by the way, there’s no online email complaint method and in order to get the snail-mail address for the CEO, you have to spend an hour dodging through multiple departments who are trained, probably on threat of death, to take your complaint and “deliver the message.” Or to direct you to the store where you encountered your problem…

Then there’s the total incompetence of Walmart’s grocery buyers who don’t know the difference between a sliced almond and a slivered almond. Since last October, Walmart stores have had only sliced almonds. Big fat bags of sliced almonds. Great Value brand, of course.

The point is, if Walmart has no idea what it’s doing with almond inventory and no sense of patriotism about supporting American industry and no honor or reliability in customer service, then what will they do to our food supply? Already we can see a hint of how that will go with their careful bait and switch methods in supplanting traditional brands with their store brands. Once they’ve got their thumb in the pie from crops on up to the shelves, we’ll be completely at their mercy.

Yes, I’ve shopped other stores. But so many of us haven’t that the other stores have one by one folded up shop and drifted into shadow. There’s no local stationery store, unless you want to call Office Depot by that name. Which they’re not. They’re as bad or worse than Walmart. No nice little note cards on thick vellum paper. Now even the standard four-squares per inch graph pads have been supplanted by the smaller five per inch, no doubt some efficiency expert’s idea of customer service. Where is McRoy-McNair with their dusty basement of old colored paper and clasp envelopes in every conceivable size?

For years I’ve made it a point to buy everything I can from anyone but Walmart. This year I’ll be especially interested in farmers’ markets in the area where I live in order to support local farmers doing things the old fashioned way. I’ll be growing my own tomatoes, peppers, squash, and niceties like dill, thyme, sage, and basil. I live in the woods where there’s still a modest bee population, and I’m planting more bee-friendly flowers like lavender, rhododendron, California Lilac, and for my cats and the bees late into autumn, catnip.[6]

It’s dangerously late in this game when they start using drones to replace bees.

~~~

[1] “Walmart imagines drone-aided farming,” Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Sunday Mar 25, 2018. 1G

[2] http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2002/12/pesticide-cocktail-amplifies-frog-deformities

[3] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4137807/

[4] https://www.sott.net/article/317851-Biologist-targeted-for-exposing-the-gender-bending-pesticide-Atrazine-poisoning-America

[5] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3138025/

[6] Big list at http://beefriendly.ca/25-plants-for-bees-in-your-garden/

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Another War With The Indians

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This past weekend I attended my 50-year class reunion. I blogged about that last time around. While I was there, I visited the fabulous Coleman Theater, a restored 1930s opera house that graces the main street of Miami Oklahoma. The guided tour through its opulent staircases and gilded facades included a narrative about George Coleman himself.[1]

coleman_theater_interiorWhat lingered in my mind afterwards and grows ever more prominent in my thoughts even now is about how Mr. Coleman made his money. You see, in 1904 that area of Northeast Oklahoma was found to harbor vast deposits of lead and zinc. During the years of production, Oklahoma mines produced 1.3 million tons of recoverable lead and 5.2 million tons of recoverable zinc.[2] The discovery of such potential wealth undoubtedly helped drive the state’s push for statehood in 1907.

George and initially his brother Albert made such a success of this mining operation that they earned a million dollars a week. No wonder George could import African mahogany and commission a massive chandelier of Venetian glass, sparing no expense for a theater that would remind him of his summer home near Versailles. After Albert’s poor health forced his relocation to Colorado, George expanded his empire to build cattle ranches and finance local businesses.chandelier

This fabulous exploitation of natural resources supplied industrial processes which, for example, galvanized steel against corrosion. Zinc is also used to make die-cast alloys, brass and zinc oxides and chemicals. Prior to the early 1900s, lead was used in the United States primarily in ammunition, burial vault liners, ceramic glazes, leaded glass and crystal, paints or other protective coatings, pewter, and water lines and pipes. The first and second world wars placed such demand on the mines that crews worked around the clock. Automobiles boosted demand for lead not only for batteries but also as a fuel additive.

Safely buried underground by Mother Nature, lead never goes away once mined and brought to the surface.[3]

Once the tour ended, I was like, wait a minute.  I asked a question of my friend who lives there. “How is it that George Coleman made all this money? What about the Native Americans who supposedly owned these lands?”

He laughed. “They got five percent. There were a few rich Quapaws.”

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Picher, Oklahoma

I’m still grappling with this. While the Colemans and a few connected business associates raked in millions, the local landowners made a few thousand. Worse, one hundred years later we see the real costs of this enterprise. Consider, for example, the nearby town of Picher, a ghost town now, formerly a major national center of lead and zinc mining at the heart of the Tri-State Mining District.

Wikipedia: “More than a century of unrestricted subsurface excavation dangerously undermined most of Picher’s town buildings and left giant piles of toxic metal-contaminated mine tailings (known as chat) heaped throughout the area. The discovery of the cave-in risks, groundwater contamination, and health effects associated with the chat piles and subsurface shafts resulted in the site being included in 1980 in the Tar Creek Superfund Site by the US Environmental Protection Agency. The state collaborated on mitigation and remediation measures, but a 1996 study found that 34% of the children in Picher suffered from lead poisoning due to these environmental effects, which could result in lifelong neurological problems. Eventually the EPA and the state of Oklahoma agreed to a mandatory evacuation and buyout of the entire township.”

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Collapsed mining pit near Picher

Naturally it was the Quapaw and other Native American tribes who suffered permanent damage from this exposure as well as the loss of lands. Even as recently as my school years in that region, it was a regular entertainment to hang out at the chat piles where guys would show off their skill with cars and motorcycles, stirring up clouds of dust as they scaled the steep inclines.

So it’s not enough that the original inhabitants of this continent were forced away from their homes and hunting grounds as white settlers took over. The insult and injury only deepened as we first gave them new lands with the promise they could be assured of controlling it for the rest of time. Less than eighty years later, Boomers, Sooners, and other massive in-migrations of white ownership swept in. And, as a bonus, left the tribes with irreversible damage to the land.

As a side note, this is similar to the standard practice of industry to locate their waste heaps and polluting processes in low-income and minority neighborhoods, both in the United States as well as Third World nations.

Which brings even more into focus the current stand-off in North Dakota over an oil pipeline. According to an Associated Press report, “the $3.8 billion, 1,172-mile project would carry nearly a half-million barrels of crude oil daily from North Dakota’s oil fields through South Dakota and Iowa to an existing pipeline in Patoka, Illinois, where shippers can access Midwest and Gulf Coast markets. Announced in 2014, supporters said the pipeline would create more markets and reduce truck and oil train traffic — the latter of which has been a growing concern after a spate of fiery derailments of trains carrying North Dakota crude.

“The Standing Rock Sioux’s lawsuit challenges the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ decision to grant permits at more than 200 water crossings. Filed on behalf of the tribe by environmental group Earthjustice, the suit says the project violates several federal laws, including the National Historic Preservation Act, and will disturb sacred sites outside of the 2.3-million acre reservation. A separate lawsuit filed Thursday by the Yankton Sioux tribe in South Dakota challenges the same thing.” The lawsuit alleges that the pipeline, which would be placed less than a mile upstream of the tribe’s reservation, could impact drinking water for more than 8,000 tribal members and millions who rely on it downstream.[4]

Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners, the owners of the project, says the pipeline includes safeguards such as leak detection equipment, and workers monitoring the pipeline remotely in Texas could close block valves on it within three minutes if a breach is detected. Sounds good. Let’s ask the Quapaw how well those kinds of promises work out.

In a last ditch effort to stop the bulldozers, other Native American tribes and other supporters of the resistance have joined the Sioux in forming a human barrier to future work. Tribal leaders identified several sacred ceremonial sites and burial grounds which lie on private land in the path of the pipeline, citing these locations as even more reason to halt the project. The day after tribal officials identified these sites and added them to their lawsuit, pipeline crews bulldozed through them, an allegation which Energy Transfer Partners denies. This led to last Saturday’s clash between protesters and private security guards; law enforcement officials said four security guards and two guard dogs were injured, while a tribal spokesman said six people were bitten by the dogs and at least 30 people were pepper-sprayed.

animas_river_spill_2015-08-06There’s no end to the examples of white exploitation of resources discovered in supposedly guaranteed Indian lands. It’s an oft told tale of grab the money and run. The 2014 spill of a gold mine tailings pond in Colorado provided colorful images of a golden-colored stream as the pollution entered the Animas River. Workers accidentally destroyed the plug holding water trapped inside the mine, overflowing the pond and spilling three million gallons of mine waste water and tailings, including heavy metals such as cadmium and lead, and other toxic elements including arsenic, beryllium, zinc, iron and copper.[5] Downstream, the impact continues to be felt in three states most particularly in the Navaho Nation where they suffered damage to their crops, home gardens, and cattle herds. Arizona Senator John McCain has estimated that the tribe’s damages could exceed $335 million. So far, they’ve received $150,000.

Absurd that this kind of arrogance would occur time and time again. There is no excuse, no possible gain, that justifies more of the same. While this oil pipeline in North Dakota is not planned to cross Sioux land, any leak will compromise their water supply. There is no such thing as a foolproof technology. Sooner or later, the pipeline will fail.

It’s not just the Sioux who are fighting this pipeline. White landowners have gone to court and mounted protests as well. Conveniently and not surprisingly, laws of eminent domain may apply, forcing landowners to accept the pipeline’s passage whether they want it or not. As explained by attorneys, “existing South Dakota law allows for pipelines holding themselves out as ‘common carriers’ engaged in the sale of commodities, like crude oil, to utilize public condemnation when necessary.”[6]

At least when George Coleman set about raping Northeast Oklahoma, the residents got a nice vaudeville theater out of the deal. There is nothing anyone in the Dakotas or anywhere else in this pipeline’s route will gain other than a one-time payment for the easement rights. Somewhere down the line, the oil will out.

Want to help? Visit the resistance website for more information. http://sacredstonecamp.org/

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[1] http://www.colemantheatre.org/opening-weekend

[2] https://www.ok.gov/mines/Minerals_Program/Mineral_Information_by_Type/Lead_and_Zinc/

[3] https://www.thenation.com/article/secret-history-lead/

[4] http://bigstory.ap.org/article/c0db8074f3464835ab90b0400afaee71/ap-explains-whats-dakota-access-oil-pipeline

[5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2015_Gold_King_Mine_waste_water_spill

[6] http://www.lexenergy.net/pipeline-easements-a-fair-deal/

Money in Socks

socksMoney doesn’t just appear of out thin air. Somebody has to build something, repair something, grow and harvest something. Value begins with some real thing that people need: food, shelter, clothing.

So where does wealth come from?

I don’t pretend to be an economist or any other form of expert on financial matters. I get that there’s a need for advertisers, wholesalers and distributors, transporters, and retailers. I agree that those who work hard should gain appropriate reward. I agree that for each phase of ‘handling,’ additional value is added so that the end product costs more than the producer’s price.

My issue is with people whose wealth exceeds imagination and derives from the honest labor of other people. There’s no value added. The only ‘work’ of the rich is to shuffle their money around.

Before the mega rich got mega, local producers of socks made a dollar for every pair the wholesaler purchased. The wholesaler made 25¢ for every pair he sold to the stores in his distribution circles. The store made 25¢ for every pair they sold to consumers. Consumers paid $1.50.

Lots of producers, lots of wholesalers, lots of stores meant lots of employed people making a modest income. They spent their money at the local stores and restaurants and invested in their kids’ schools and city parks. Newcomers could hang up a shingle for their own sock business and get in the game.

Enter the big shots. Sam Walton, for example. His clever idea was to cut out the wholesalers and buy directly from the producers. He sold the socks for $1.25. What cheap socks! Huge success.

Here’s the story. A few years passed and Walton expanded. Pretty soon the producers had no one to sell to except Walton. All the little wholesalers and retailers had been left in the dust as shoppers flocked to the discount store. Then Walton said, hey, sell me your socks for 75¢ a pair or I’ll buy from another producer.

Producers had no option but to seek ways to produce a cheaper sock—lower quality raw materials like synthetics instead of cotton, less expensive sources of raw materials like foreign markets instead of American, compromised design like shorter cuffs and thinner thread. Less expensive labor to produce the socks—foreign laborers who would work for a dollar per week.

Walton was still selling the socks for $1.25. The squeeze on producers tightened—ever lower prices = lower quality. The change was subtle. Yes, consumers noticed the socks were thinner and the cuffs shorter. They noticed the lack of cotton and higher synthetic content. They didn’t like knowing that Walton was sending sock production to China, but hey, the socks were cheaper.

We all went along. Oh, gee, look at these low prices! A big store with everything. Now I don’t have to go to a pharmacy, a grocery, a hardware store, a toy store, a fabric shop, and a clothing store. There isn’t as big an assortment here, and they may not have the same product two years in a row, but it’s cheap!

Meanwhile, income had become stagnant. Where is the money?

Walton started hiring executives to push his money around. Find cheaper sources for socks. All synthetic. All made in Bangladesh.

Walton set up his own trucking company to carry his goods. Truck drivers and other transportation workers came to the corporate loading dock hat in hand.

Walton created an in-store brand that monopolized his shelf space at prices still lower than any previous suppliers. He didn’t have to advertise so his price didn’t reflect the advertising costs sustained by other suppliers. Store brand socks were shelved next to name brands at a significantly lower price.

The sock now costs Walton 25¢. He sells it at $1.25. All the profit flows to the top. To the richest people in the world, the Walton heirs.

It’s a business model that makes grown men weep. They weep not for the loss of mom and pop stores, of local distributors and truckers, not for lower quality goods and the flood of American jobs rushing overseas. The men weep in jealousy.

Why didn’t I think of that? I could be rich.

The model has been emulated many times now in the forty years since the Walton model was set in motion. Corporate is the way to go. Big is best. Everything flows up. It’s a matter of time (and not much of it is left) until all production, distribution, and retailing is controlled by a handful of superrich entities like the Walton family.

Want a pair of nice, well-made cotton socks? Guess what? There aren’t any other stores. Nobody makes socks anymore. Now you’ll pay $2.50 a pair for cheap uncomfortable socks made of synthetics in a fire-hazard factory employing children in Bangladesh.

The horses are out of the barn.

And running fast. Need a house or a car? Need a new roof or a new transmission? Despite “Always Lower Prices,” we can hardly afford the basics of daily life. Our earning power has steadily declined while the mega rich get richer. That giant sucking sound is all the money going to the top.

The solution to your lousy cash flow? Charge it!

The obscenely rich get rich not only by monopolizing the production, distribution, and sale of consumer goods but also by making their money available for your credit. How nice of them! Take your time paying them back—they’ll only charge 15-25% interest. Never mind that you’ll never emerge from debt. This is the new form of slavery.

The superrich have wrangled their way into our political process, our daily lives, and the infrastructure upon which we depend for everything from roads to medical care. Our brightest, most ambitious kids leave college to enter life as indentured servants. They’ll spend ten, twenty, or thirty years trying to pay off student loans—more of the financial empire of the superrich.

In a world where every decision is about profits, there is little hope for the average man. We live our lives in debt, ensuring that we never have time to foment rebellion or even learn enough to question the status quo. The moguls fold their arms and smile down, teasing us along with bits and pieces, at least enough to feed the myth of capitalism’s promise. The great American dream—we wouldn’t want to stand in the way of the little man who thinks he’ll strike it rich.

I can hear the naysayers now. Apologists for greed, for the corporate regime. Look at all the products we have now—all kinds of socks we never had before. But do we need to pay $6 for pink and purple socks? How do we know local producers wouldn’t have offered the same socks for $3?

We knew it wasn’t magic. We knew that the wealth had to come from somewhere. We just didn’t reckon on it coming from us.

Are we hardwired to grovel at the king’s feet, no matter the current incarnation?

Never mind the rebels who try to ‘buy local’ and think outside the box. They’re throwing rocks across the moat.

We wouldn’t want to allow workers to organize for better pay and better working conditions. That might limit profits and you know how all that trickles down.

We wouldn’t want to bust open Wall Street or cap pay for corporate executives—after all, they’re the geniuses who make the world go round.

Without them, we wouldn’t have socks!