The Scenic Route

Between Winslow and Mt. Gayler, across from Grandma’s Cafe

With the opening of Interstate 49, old Highway 71 through northwest Arkansas has lost most of its traffic. Formerly thriving businesses like the Smokehouse Restaurant near Mt. Gayler have folded up and slipped away in the night. Towns along this formerly packed thoroughfare have suffered losses as well, especially enterprises that depended on highway traffic as much as local customers to keep the black ink on their bottom lines.

Soon after the new four-lane highway opened with its easier grades, straighter curves, and swooping (terrifying) bridges high above the mere mortals below, state and regional officials began marketing the old highway as the “scenic” route. And it is, without doubt, scenic. Crossing the Boston Mountains with their sheer drop-offs and stunning vistas never fails to inspire.

Main Street, Winslow

Yet now more than ever, the underbelly of the Ozarks blossoms into view. Not so scenic are places where the property owners have lost the fight with their ‘stuff.’ Mounds of trash, some of it looking as though it was simply tossed out the door, litter their places of habitation. Old vehicles and various implements once used in the pursuit of livelihood sit haphazardly around the place. Cobbled-together homes make creative use of plastic sheeting and various and sundry bits of construction material.

Winslow across from new Dollar Store

These places have become a regular irritant to some locals, one of whom took these photos and sent them to me after I said I’d write a blog post about it. Locals like us have long since accepted the fact that some folks either can’t or won’t make the effort to present a respectable front to the world. There’s no shortage of such scenarios along just about any dirt road you might care to drive. But along the highway, a highway advertised as “scenic,” these places paint the entire region with a dismal color of decay and poverty.

Maybe the world expects to see evidence of destitution and apathy in the Ozarks. After all, ever since the publication of the “Arkansas Traveler” song in 1840, this region has suffered the disdain of many for its slovenly ways. Even now the more ‘civilized’ regions on either coast consider all of the hill states to suffer similar inability to come up to snuff–not that they don’t have their own ghettos.

Across from Silver Leaf campgrounds, Winslow

Unfortunately, time and again those stereotypes are borne out in real life. Homeowners barely scrape by, making do with what they’ve got, saving every scrap in case it might be needed. Or they’re renters unwilling and/or unable to improve on a place they’ll never own and whose owner can’t be bothered to make needed repairs. Or people whose lives have run over them with injuries or job loss or a litany of emotional defeats that leave them incapable of trying to make things better.

Brentwood

There are no zoning laws in Washington County that require people to clean up junk piles or dead vehicles or really much of anything. It wasn’t until the last couple of decades that an ordinance was passed requiring that electrical wiring standards be met in rural housing and that came about only after children died in a fire caused by poor wiring. Laws forbidding the surface disposal of sewage passed only a short time before that, and even now a properly-built outhouse remains legal despite the karst geology that allows pollutants to rush right through fractured layers of rock and loose soil to percolate into groundwater that surfaces as springs and streams. All of it, including discharge from septic tanks, ends up in Beaver Lake which supplies drinking water for the entire region.

It wasn’t until the late 1980s that landfills were required to monitor discharge and place liners under the trash. Some efforts have resulted in the cleanup of junkyards where vehicles in various stages of decay leak oil, gasoline, and various other noxious fluids into the waterways. Other efforts attempt to stop residents from openly burning trash, a practice that releases toxic chemicals like dioxin, furans, and dangerous particulate into the air we all breathe.

But there’s a mindset lurking in the minds of our people, that this is their place and they can damn well do what they please.

And so they do.

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Today’s Big Lie

Topping today’s fake news is the Republican mantra that Obamacare is failing and whatever faults their replacement plan may have, nothing can save Obamacare. Cited as evidence is a decrease in the number of insurance companies serving certain states. Aside from the obvious option of the federal government providing coverage as it does in Medicare, which no one mentions, is the quiet Republican sabotage that brought about this situation.

For the last seven years since the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) came into law, Republicans have not only claimed they had a better plan (when they obviously didn’t),  they have worked behind the scenes to gut key elements of the ACA. Now, disingenuously, they act as though they had nothing to do with the problems they cite as evidence of its failure.

If these were decent people, they wouldn’t be able to face themselves in the mirror. But extremists have never let a little basic human decency get in the way of their agenda.

Back in 2015, as the ACA took effect and more people were for the first time able to gain desperately needed medical care, Republicans saw that they would never be able to tear this coverage out of the hands of sick and dying people without suffering political blow-back. So with their midterm election wins giving them legislative authority, they eagerly set about gutting key elements of the ACA in a strategy meant to guarantee its failure.

The law had made provisions for early insurance company losses described in the bill as a ‘risk corridor.’ Expected to decreasingly occur as the bill’s mandatory enrollment requirements gradually built up the number of healthy insured persons, the risk corridor would eventually die off. In the interim, companies were guaranteed government reimbursement to cover such losses.

So in 2015, Senator Marco Rubio led an effort to gut the risk corridor provision. Slipped into a massive spending law late that year, their meddling cut the payments to insurance companies from $2.9 billion to around $400 million. This left insurance companies no choice but to begin withdrawing from low income/high illness states.

Now we hear Rubio, Ryan, et al crowing about how the ACA failed as if they had no hand in that failure.

It’s not that these men want to really hurt their less fortunate brothers. It’s that they worship only two gods—money and so-called conservative values.

As noted in an excellent discussion of the Republican conundrum about health care, “Republicans will not increase the role of government [in health care] for political and ideological reasons” which is why they cannot now or ever develop a plan that is better and cheaper than the ACA.

The conservative agenda is clearly stated as limited government, a healthy culture, and a strong defense. I’ll refrain from ranting about their idea of a healthy culture, code words for “White” and “Christian.”  Sticking to the topic of this post, I’ll point out that “limited government” does not include mandating health care or providing for health care in any way. Worshiping at the feet of so-called ‘free markets,’ conservatives want the sick left to die. If relatives, neighbors or churches don’t help them and they haven’t managed to make enough money to help themselves, then it’s their fault and God’s will that they suffer.

Limited government is a loosely applied term, however. If it comes to invading private homes to rout out pot smokers, conservative lawmakers are all about it. Yet if it comes to corporate polluters lying about profitable chemicals that cause birth defects and cancer, it’s hands off. This means government is limited only when it comes to policing entities that are too big for any citizen or group of citizens to fight alone and unlimited when it comes to bringing the full police powers of the state against individuals who violate conservative cultural norms.

In one tiny example of the absurdity of the health care debate currently underway is the fact that over half of Medicaid recipients are children under the age of six who have developmental disabilities. I blogged about this last week. While seeking to reduce or eliminate Medicaid that serves such children, the Republicans simultaneously are eliminating government oversight of chemical pollution from which many such disabled children arise.

If legislators had the real interests of the American people at heart, they would throw out their replacement plan and the Affordable Care Act and expand Medicare to the entire population. They would remove profiteering insurance companies from the mix. They would instill cost controls on drug companies and medical providers.

After all, if utilities are such a vital need that they deserve government price controls, surely health care is an even greater vital need.

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that without insurance companies taking a healthy slice of every health care dollar, costs would go down. Or that there’s a screaming need for cost controls when pharmaceutical industry profits routinely equal the profits of banks at nearly 20%, some as high as 40%.

Drug companies are quick to cry how much they need all that money so they can develop new drugs. But reality is that despite investment in new drugs and abusive advertising campaigns, their profits exceed most other industries. With that kind of loose change, it’s no wonder that one of the heaviest contributors to political candidates are drug companies, coming in right after big banks and weapons manufacturers.

World’s largest pharmaceutical firms
Company Total revenue ($bn) R&D spend ($bn) Sales and marketing spend($bn) Profit ($bn) Profit margin (%)
Johnson & Johnson (US) 71.3 8.2 17.5 13.8 19
Novartis (Swiss) 58.8 9.9 14.6 9.2 16
Pfizer (US) 51.6 6.6 11.4 22.0 43
Hoffmann-La Roche (Swiss) 50.3 9.3 9.0 12.0 24
Sanofi (France) 44.4 6.3 9.1 8.5 11
Merck (US) 44.0 7.5 9.5 4.4 10
GSK (UK) 41.4 5.3 9.9 8.5 21
AstraZeneca (UK) 25.7 4.3 7.3 2.6 10
Eli Lilly (US) 23.1 5.5 5.7 4.7 20
AbbVie (US) 18.8 2.9 4.3 4.1 22
Source: GlobalData

In fact, if you take a look at the list of corporate donors to the 2016 campaign, you can pretty much determine the current legislative agenda: more military spending, Wall-Street friendly cabinet members, and no serious effort to provide for the health and well-being of the American people.

 

 

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/

What’s New with Gender?

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Is LGBT new? Is it the craven abandon of our modern godless age that foments such perversion, as social conservatives believe?

Briefly, no.

The Greek island of Lesbos, currently under pressure in the route of refugees seeking safe harbor from war in Syria and Iraq, gave its name to the practice of female-female sexuality. That was 2500 years ago.

Male-male relations aren’t new nor is bisexuality. Greek and Roman men routinely married and produced children with their wives while finding pleasure with other males.

Among the indigenous peoples of the Americas prior to European colonization, a number of nations had respected roles for homosexual, bisexual, and gender-nonconforming individuals; in many Indigenous communities, these roles still exist.[1]

So what’s really new?

Consider this:

“If you ask experts at medical centers how often a child is born so noticeably atypical in terms of genitalia that a specialist in sex differentiation is called in, the number comes out to about 1 in 1500 to 1 in 2000 births. But a lot more people than that are born with subtler forms of sex anatomy variations, some of which won’t show up until later in life.”[2]

Even at the lesser rate of one in two thousand, this is an astonishing number of newborns with ‘ambiguous’ genitalia.

“For 50 years, the medical response to such external abnormalities has been the same: operate quickly to make the genitals as “normal” as possible, then hide the child’s medical history even from parents in the hope of reinforcing the new gender. Convinced they were doing the best for their patients, doctors in the past labeled ambiguous children boys or girls according to the alteration that seemed most feasible and performed highly invasive, irreversible surgeries accordingly. Thus a boy with a tiny penis might be castrated, given a rudimentary vagina, and designated a girl. Even more commonly, in cases in which a girl’s clitoris looked larger than the norm, her clitoris would be cut away entirely.”[3]

Now consider this:

“Over the past decades, an increasing trend in male external genital malformations such as cryptorchidism and hypospadias has led to the suspicion that environmental chemicals are detrimental to male fetal sexual development. Several environmental pollutants, including organochlorine pesticides, polychlorinated biphenyls, bisphenol A, phthalates, dioxins and furans have estrogenic and anti-androgenic activity and are thus considered as endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs). Since male sex differentiation is critically dependent on the normal production and action of androgens during fetal life, EDCs may be able to alter normal male sex differentiation.”[4]

Elementary arithmetic is hardly required to connect these dots.

Not surprisingly, most of the research on the effect of environmental pollutants on gender/sexuality has focused on males rather than females. Male sexuality is easier to “measure” and of urgent interest to males who dominate arenas of research and funding. That doesn’t negate the high likelihood that environmental contaminants produce hormonal effects in females.

Since there has never been a ‘norm’ determined for an average number of LGBTs in any population, there’s no way to determine whether the current LGBT ‘movement’ is a result of increasing numbers or simply the result of a freer society. Conversely, we can hardly deny the gender effects resulting from increasing pollution.

Data is data.

Given that data proving climate change seems beyond comprehension for social conservatives, there’s little hope these medievalists would be capable of understanding data showing that any ‘increase’ in the number of LGBTs could be a direct result of fetal exposure to contaminants.

Separate from the effects of increasingly pervasive chemicals and considering that so-called sexual deviance has been a standard throughout human history, maybe it’s safe to conclude that deviance is the norm.

 

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_homosexuality

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intersex or http://www.isna.org/faq/frequency

[3] http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/medical_examiner/2004/06/the_cutting_edge.html

[4] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21868402