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by brasch

Lettuce Look at Some Prices

8:44 am in Uncategorized by brasch

Lettuce growing during the winter in Yuma, Arizona

I was resting at home when Marshbaum called to ask if I wanted to go with him to look at the lettuce.

“The supermarket’s got lettuce for less than two bucks a head,” he said enthusiastically.

“What’s so unusual about that?”

“Because it’s going to be extinct in a few weeks.”

“You’re buying up lettuce and selling it on eBay as antiques?” I sarcastically asked.

“Don’t be ridiculous! I’m buying the best heads, storing them, and selling them for four bucks in a couple of months.”

“What makes you think anyone would pay four bucks a head when they can get them now for less than two bucks?”

“Weren’t you listening, Ink Breath? I said, I’ll be selling them in two months. I’m buying futures. You know, like pork belly futures.”

“Your future looks like Chapter 11,” I said.

“California and the Southwest are in the worst drought in decades. Wiped out much of the agricultural land. Drought’s almost as good as winning the PowerBall. Prices have to rise.”

“But California and the Southwest got heavy doses of rain a couple of weeks ago,” I replied.

“I’m being patient with you since you are a city boy,” said Marshbaum, “Drought left the land barren. Rain wasn’t enough to solve the problem, and what there was of the rain destroyed what was left. Picking season is almost here, and there’s not a lot to pick.”

“Even if farmers have to raise their prices to four bucks a head to survive, they should be able to break even.”

“You think farmers get even a third of that? Wholesalers mark it up, then distributors, and then the supermarkets.”

“I hope the farmers survive,” I said.

“With the drought and heavy rains, the farmers are having trouble making their mortgages, and are selling what’s left of their crops at a loss.” Marshbaum thought a moment, and then brightly said, “They can always get food stamps.”

“Congress sliced and diced the food stamp program,” I reminded Marshbaum.

“There’s always welfare.”

“Governors have been cutting that to show they care about expenses—and because they don’t think people on welfare vote.”

“At least the farmers will make some money after the banks and corporations buy them out at a fair market value.”

“Banks? Corporations? Fair market? You must have been smoking some of that lettuce. Besides, what’s a bank going to do with a farm?”

“Turn it into a shopping mall. Better yet, they sell it to the some fancy-suited gold-chained MBA dudes who sneak in, undercut the family farmers, and in a year or so, they’re growing 15,000 acres of lettuce in Oklahoma.”

“Suits with business degrees aren’t going to pick lettuce. They have the farm workers to exploit,” I said. “If the banks and corporations take over, the bosses will sit back, order high quantities of everything from seed to tractors at bargain basement discounts, buy mountains of cheap pesticide to dump on the land, hire out a few dozen 18-wheelers to deliver the crop, and get an overpriced ad agency to promote new-and-improved lettuce.”

“You finally have it right,” said Marshbaum. Lettuce goes up. My profits increase. Corporate America will rule.”

“They’ll be ruling from a skyscraper in New York,” I said. “There will be board meetings, corporate expense accounts, bottom lines, cash-flow, liquidity, and stock options, with MBAs and lawyers worried more about puts and calls than fertilizer and seed. They’ll plan annual conferences on Bermuda beaches, eat salads with spiny lobster, and write off everything as business expenses. When they have taken over all the family farms, they’ll raise prices when there isn’t any drought or flood. They’ll charge whatever they want, whenever they want. Just like the oil companies.”

“And what’s so wrong with that?” asked Marshbaum. “God bless the U-S-of-A!”

“When do you think all this will happen?” I asked.

“It already has.”

Sadly, I asked Marshbaum if we could immediately go to the supermarket. “I think I’d just like to stand there and look at our future.” Read the rest of this entry →

by brasch

No Honor in Killing God’s Dog

1:28 pm in Uncategorized by brasch

by Walter Brasch

A week before the opening of the Olympics, 759 Pennsylvanians paid $25 each to participate in a sport that would never be a part of any international competition.

These Pennsylvanians carried shotguns, whistles, and electronic calls; most also used dogs to search out their prey.

The prey was coyotes. A “reward” of $100 was paid for each coyote killed; whoever killed the biggest coyote in each of the three-day hunt received $250. Most of the coyotes killed weighed 30–40 pounds, about the size of a Brittany Spaniel; the largest weighed 51 pounds.

This hunt was organized by District 9 Pennsylvania Trappers Association, which covers seven counties in the north-central part of the state. Other hunts are organized by community organizations and volunteer fire companies in several states. January and February, the months when most organized hunts take place, is when the coyotes breed; gestation period is about two months.

Decades ago, hunters killed off the wolf population. Ever resourceful, coyotes filled the void. In Pennsylvania, as in most states that have coyotes, every day is open season. Last year, more than 40,000 coyotes were killed in Pennsylvania, about half of all coyotes killed throughout the country. However, eliminating coyotes is impossible. When threatened by predators, including humans, coyotes will breed and overproduce. When not threatened, they maintain the size of their packs.

In literature, the coyote is the trickster, not unlike Br’er Rabbit who could out-think (and scam) any other animal. Among Native Americans in the southwest, the coyote was revered as “God’s Dog.”

Those who trap rather than shoot coyotes use leg-hold traps and neck snares, which causes severe injuries, pain, and suffering,” according to the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). Another problem with traps is they often capture domestic animals. But there is even a greater problem than the traps.

“Because coyotes are nocturnal animals, and look like dogs at night, people hunting coyotes will kill domestic pets,” says Sarah Speed of the HSUS. She says there are “thousands of cases” of what is dismissed as “mistaken identity.”

Coyotes pose no threat to humans, and will avoid human contact when possible.  Contrary to hunter claims, coyotes usually avoid killing deer and elk, except in extreme winter when food is scarce. To the coyotes, size does matter, and scoring dinner of mice and berries is far easier than taking down an eight-point buck.

Those who kill coyotes claim coyotes, one of the most intelligent and resourceful of all animals, kill fawns, causing severe stress to the deer families. So, like the true humanitarians they are, these citizens of a state founded by a man opposed to killing, spin the fiction they are not only preventing an overpopulation of coyotes, but are also saving fawns, cottontails, mice and, apparently, fruits and berries, coyote favorites in the summer, from the coyote population. The Pennsylvania Game Commission says there is no evidence coyotes have any significant impact upon the deer population.

Farmers say they don’t like coyotes because they kill hens, which produce eggs and then are slaughtered. Coyotes deprive not only Colonel Sanders from income but also sports fans from the thrill of slobbering barbecue sauce over their hands and mouths during “Wing Nite Mondays.”

Most hunters who kill deer say they do so to provide their families with meat; they say the skin provides for warmth. They don’t say why they have a testosterone-fueled need to stuff a buck’s head, complete with antlers, and display it like a trophy. Nevertheless, coyotes have no meat value. Although their fur can yield a maximum of $40 a pelt, women aren’t salivating for a Valentine’s Day gift of a coyote stole.

Hunters whose intelligence and ability to survive in the woods aren’t as good as a coyote’s can still kill them. Several game farms offer special hunts. For $399 a day, pretend-hunters can sign up with Kansas Predator Hunts for “guided and all-inclusive” hunts that includes lodging, food, and a guide to do everything except to take the actual shot.

Many hunters refuse to kill coyotes. Mark Giesen of Northumberland, Pa., a hunter for 40 years, refuses to hunt coyotes or anything that does not have meat value. He says he believes incentivized killing, where people are paid to kill animals, “whether it’s coyotes or pigeons, is wrong and very unsportsmanlike.”

The Pennsylvania House of Representatives, composed of part-timers who earn a minimum of $82,026 a year plus as much as $159 a day when they are actually in Harrisburg, passed a bill, 111-78 in December, which would pay a $25 bounty for every coyote killed. The Senate has not yet voted on the legislation. Because there is open season on coyotes, more than 40,000 a year are killed, and numerous wildlife officers are on record as saying that bounties are not effective in controlling the coyote population, the bill appears to be little more than a special welfare program to benefit hunters and trappers. The cost to the state, which is already in financial distress, will be up to $700,000 a year for the bounties, plus additional administrative costs to process a program that adds another layer of bureaucracy and still not solve a problem that doesn’t exist.

Camilla Fox of Project Coyote told The Wildlife News that “Killing coyotes and wolves for fun and prizes is ethically repugnant, morally bankrupt, and ecologically indefensible. Such contests demean the immense ecological and economic value of predators, perpetuating a culture of violence and sending a message to children that life has little value.”

For whatever reason people say they kill coyotes, it has nothing to do with sport or ecological necessity, and everything to do with the sheer joy of killing.

[Dr. Brasch has been an award-winning journalist for four decades. His latest book is Fracking Pennsylvania, an in-depth investigation into the effects of the shale gas industry upon economics, health, and environment.]

Photo by Jim Nix, used under Creative Commons license

by brasch

Practicing Un-Medicine

7:18 am in Uncategorized by brasch

 

  by Walter Brasch

 

Clutching a sheaf of newspaper clippings in one hand and a medical bag in the other, Dr. Franklin Peterson Comstock III, knocking down pregnant ladies, students, the elderly, and even two burly construction workers who were waiting for a bus, rushed past me, leaving me in a close and personal encounter with the concrete. Since he had given up medicine to invest in a string of service stations and an oil distributorship, I assumed what was in his medical bag was the morning’s take from obscene profits.

“Medical emergency!” Comstock cried out. “Gang way!”

“You’ve returned to medicine?” I shouted after him.

“I’m going into un-medicine!” he shouted back. “I’m getting the big bucks not to operate!” This was a story too good to let by, so I gave up any hope of the 7:11 “D”-line bus arriving by 7:30, and chased after him.

“Slow down!” I panted. “You’ll kill yourself!”

“No time to slow down,” he said widening the distance, leaving a trail of broken bodies. “There’s money to be gotten!”

“If you kill yourself before you get there—” I didn’t know where, I just knew it was somewhere—“you’ll never see a cent of it!” That stopped him, giving me time to catch up, catch my breath, and catch Comstock’s latest scam. “Now, Comstock,” I said, the air returning to my lungs, “if you’re not going to operate, why the medical bag?”

“That’s so I can get money from the Department of Agriculture,” he replied.

“You’re going to hold up an Ag Stabilization office?”

“In a way,” he said, shoving a sheaf  of the newspaper clippings at me. Some said that when doctors didn’t operate, the death rate dropped.”

“O.K., so surgeons kill patients. Tell me how that’ll help you make a mint.”

“Don’t be so impatient,” said Comstock. “Here! Read this!” This was a newspaper article that reported a study by the Centers for Disease Control showed that of 35 million people hospitalized last year, almost two million got worse because of exposure to unsanitary hospital procedures. “See! Even if we get them through surgery,” said Comstock, “They’ll die in the hospitals anyhow! Isn’t that wonderful!” Wonderful wasn’t exactly the word I had in mind.

“Aren’t doctors supposed to make people healthier?” I brazenly asked.

“I guess we can do that too while we’re making money,” said Comstock, thoughtfully stringing out his scheme. “But making people healthy isn’t as financially productive as not growing crops.” He thrust yet another newspaper article at me. During the past decade, the Department of Agriculture paid more than $200 billion in subsidies to farmers, about three-fourths of them agricorporations; about $2 billion of that was for subsidies to individuals and corporations not to do any farming. Farmers and agricorporations merely had to prove they once farmed the land. They could even sell 40 acres to a sub-developer to build houses, and entice future homeowners with seemingly eternal payments for not having race paddies in their basements. Comstock even showed me governmental data that revealed that dozens of members of Congress were getting annual six-figure subsidies. Rep. Stephen Fincher, a Tea Party Republican from Tennessee, even took more than $3.3 million in farm subsidies, while calling for a significant decrease in the food stamp program for the poor.

“So, that’s the scam,” I said. “You’re not going to grow rice so you can make more money?”

“You fall off the turnip truck?” he asked. “I’m not doing surgery!”

“That’s good news,” I sighed.

“Darn right!” he patriotically exclaimed. “With every doctor wanting to get the big bucks from surgery, there’s a glut of surgeons. Because of competition, us surgeons can’t make as much from one surgery as before, so we have to do more surgeries just to stay even. That’s more work for us. More time in hospitals. More deaths from surgery. More deaths from hospital care. Higher insurance rates. That forces us to do even more surgeries to keep up. That’s definitely not in the nation’s interest.” I agreed.

“But the government can fix it!” said a beaming Comstock, former surgeon-turned-oil-entrepreneur. “All the government has to do is pay us not to perform surgery, and you’ll see happier doctors. There might even be a few lives that are saved in the process.”

A noble thought, I agreed. A very noble thought.

[Dr. Brasch isn’t a physician or a farmer, but he has asked his editor to pay him for not writing his weekly column. He claims there are already too many people who think they’re columnists, and overproduction diminishes his value—so a subsidy is the best solution. His latest book is Fracking Pennsylvania, available at local bookstores, amazon.com, and barnesandnoble.com]

by brasch

Fracking America’s Food Supply

8:13 am in Uncategorized by brasch

By Walter Brasch

 

Fracking—the process the oil and gas industry uses to extract fossil fuel as much as two miles below the ground—may directly impact the nation’s water supply, reduce water-based recreational and sports activity, and lead to an increase in the cost of food.

The cocktail soup required for each well requires about two million pounds of silica sand, as much as 100,000 gallons of toxic chemicals, and three to nine million gallons of fresh water. There are more than 500,000 active wells in the country.
Dec 04  Occupy
In 2011, the last year for which data is available, Texas energy companies used about 26.5 billion gallons of water.  Energy companies drilling Pennsylvania used the second greatest amount of water, followed by Colorado and Arkansas. Nuclear plants, which use more water, can recycle most of it. Because frack wastewater is toxic, oil and gas companies can’t recycle the contaminated water.

The water is provided by companies that draw up to three million gallons a day from rivers and lakes, by individuals who sell water from their ponds, and by municipalities. Steubenville, Ohio, is tapping one of its reservoirs to sell up to 700,000 gallons of water every day for five years to Chesapeake Energy, one of the largest players in the fracking industry.
However, fresh water is not unlimited.

Beginning about five years ago, the water in the nation’s aquifers has been decreasing significantly. The depletion since 2008, according to Leonard Konikow, a research hydrologist at the U.S. Geological Survey. is about three times the rate as between 1900 through 2008.

Significant reductions in water availability are now common for the 1,450 mile long Colorado River, which provides water to about 40 million people in California and the southwest, including the agriculture-rich Imperial Desert of southeastern California. Lake Mead, a part of the Colorado system, provides water to Las Vegas and the Nevada desert communities; its water level is close to the point where the Department of the Interior will declare a water shortage and impose strict water-use regulation.

The depletion of the rivers, lakes, and aquifers is because of population growth, higher usage, climate change, and a severe drought that has spread throughout the Midwest and southwest for the past three years.

The Coalition for Environmentally Responsible Economies (CERES), basing its analysis upon more than 25,000 wells, reports almost 47 percent of wells that use fracking were developed in areas with high or extremely high water stress levels; 92 percent of all gas wells in Colorado are in extremely high-stressed regions; In Texas, 51 percent are in high or extremely high stress water regions.
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