Corporations Are Killing Us

submitted by Joe Detelj

I am of the firm conviction that proper and sufficient health care is a citizen’s absolute right in a civilized society. The notion that every man, woman, and child should provide the means or else be denied access to what is essentially life is as primitive as human sacrifice. Life in the twenty-first century, or more precisely, in the ten thousandth year of settled civilization, is not possible without the collective responsibility, cooperation, and contribution of the society at large. Consider that every physician, nurse, and medical technician was born into a household, constructed by others, provided with clean water and sanitation. The children were protected in a home with safe streets and public utilities. The vast majority attended public schools, instructed by teachers with an identical foundation. At every point they were nurtured and protected, directly or indirectly by an institution funded or subsidized with taxes supplied by various levels of government. And ultimately, all the useful knowledge and experience accumulated within their profession was supplied by the contributions of untold numbers of our predecessors over the past one hundred or so centuries.

The arguments offered in opposition to universal health care are essentially a defense of a corporate world-view that is a phantasm. The corporation, an idea, a mental construct, a Frankenstein monster out of control on a rampage through the countryside, devoid of any human compassion, designed with the singular purpose of gorging ever vaster sums of money with no capacity for satisfaction has been relegated as the instrument for decision making for this most vital of human requirement. The defense is couched in terms of libertarian rhetoric and individual sovereignty by modern sophists in corporate employment. We are assured this is the best of all possible worlds.

This flat earth mentality does not correspond to the reality of the physical realm. Self-sufficiency is not of this world. A human being alone and adrift from society has no meaning, has no relationships, has no way to come into being or to pass on any trace of his being. Physicists, since Albert Einstein recognize relativity as the order of the universe. The relationship of event A to event B determines the material reality we experience. This is not an extraneous thought. When we drill down to the smallest particles of matter, we find the essential organizing principle of relativity to govern. An electron can vary in size and weight but exists in time and space as an event relative to another event termed a proton thus forming the atom. Atoms join to form elements and on and on until, in greater complexity, we find ourselves literally integral to and very much in communion with the universe, a communion more profound than what is commonly understood.

That noted, as fundamental as health care is to life, liberty, and happiness, and as grounded as it is in our physical connection to each other, it ultimately diverts our attention from focusing on the more basic issue which is the present state of our collective health. It is appropriate to ask with some sense of urgency why our need for medical intervention is growing at alarming rates.  Why are we getting sicker as a community and not healthier? The rising trend is shocking when we examine childhood diabetes, immune deficiencies, allergies, cancer, obesity, and the entire range of degenerative diseases. The CDC has projected shorter life spans for this generation relative to their parents, reversing the positive trend that we had previously enjoyed. That portion of our lives when we are the most productive – “the picture of health” and vitality – appears to be contracting for many. As each year passes life support in the form of drugs, surgeries, implants, and properly prescribed mood altering stimulants are the fabric that binds us over until ultimately we are set aside in isolated confinement left to fade away in a nursing home.

Exploring the margins of the available literature, one can find some reasonable explanation for this situation that finds fault rooted in our industrial food system. Again, the same corporate structure that dominates the health industry, dominates the food industry. The pastoral image of the family farmer tending the back forty is a memory for most and Madison Avenue trickery for all. The close alignment of the food and health industries has perpetuated a self-serving endless loop that enhances GDP to the detriment of the general welfare. Profits rise for the undertakers of these institutions and we the less fortunate receive the garbage, toxins, poisoned air, water and soil to assimilate, consume, and mitigate to the best of our abilities. A reckless abandon is at the core of industrial agriculture with its emphasis on factory farms, concentrated animal facilities, massive pesticide and herbicide use, genetic engineering, and a monopolized, vertically integrated distribution network.

There is a wealth of independent data to support the contention that wholesome, nutrient rich, toxin free food is essential to good health. Healthy soils tended by mindful farmers produce healthy food – food that in turn produces healthy eaters. A fundamentally different view of the state of things in sync with the harmony expressed in physical and natural law is the ultimate solution that will allow remediation for the intolerable situation we find ourselves in at this time. We have at our disposal all the tools we need to commence a journey toward a healthier and sustainable climate in which we can express our potential to the fullest. The symptoms of insufficient health care, a malnourished population, and a polluted environment are the fantastic imposition of social structures whose foundation is set on medieval folk-law.

Advertisements

Labor Day

submitted by Joe Detelj

Cancer is a metabolic process of undifferentiated cell division. Ultimately, growth of the tumor is limited by the death of the host organism. Growth of GDP as an index of undifferentiated economic growth is widely held to be a measure of social  health and well being. We are more fully served by the biological insight and are at a minimum, misguided by the creation of the orthodox economist whose self serving conclusions are the necessary product of  unreal assumptions.

But, faulty algorithms aside, growth, the gospel of entrenched public policy has collided with the real world of six billion humans; finite resources, in particular cheap and easily extracted fossil fuels; climate change; and the metastasized social inequality embedded in the DNA of capitalism. Clearly, we are at a profound point in our history. Species extinction, in particular our own, has  to be considered a  possibility. Issues of equity, justice, and a  sustainable mode of production  compel a need for a more democratic, decentralized, and biologically based economy.  This will not be easily accomplished. The dominant political climate is characterized by fear and denial, paradoxically, based on a recognition of the current state of affairs and a general inability to imagine a solution. There is nothing more urgent than the need to seriously begin a conversation relative to what fundamental changes need to be implemented and what will a more appropriate social order be like.

The choices being offered by the usual suspects are not exactly comforting. One wing of the Party is seeking an acceleration of deregulation and the continued privatization of all public goods. . The other wing is seeking to moderate the mechanisms of destruction that precipitated the crisis and is only willing to make changes on the margin, all the while the rants and raves of the lunatic fringe decry a drift toward socialism. While it must be admitted that risk and costs have indeed been socialized for finance capital and transnational corporations, too-big-to-fail, profits have clearly remained in private and limited pockets, and that is the root cause of the problem.

If there ever was a fable for our time it is Humpty Dumpty, for all the king’s men and women are unable to put Humpty together again limited as they are by imagination, vested self interest and the courage to redistribute even a modicum of the obscene concentration of wealth the is the dominant feature of our gilded age. A recent AP story in our local newspaper featured a Labor Day(which is May1 in most of the world, pardon the digression) article that presented a bleak future for American workers .It was, incidentally, the catalyst for this response. It presented the continued demise of the middle class, that is, those workers paid a wage above subsistence, and the establishment of a two tiered work force consisting of highly skilled more richly compensated workers supported by an army of low paid service workers. The options we are to accept seems to be computer science or Wal-Mart, McDonald’s, or Pizza Hut with no room for a skill set in between. This is the service economy that was promoted by the usual suspects as the envy of the world.

We are truly living a paper economy with any real substance being off-shored as fast as the masters of the universe on Wall Street can click their mouse. It is however, entirely within our power to initiate a more viable alternative. While it is unlikely that we have a complete blueprint for the  democratic and sustainable social order that we will need to create amid the ruins, there are concrete policies that can be implemented as transitional steps that will facilitate the process. Historically, the period from the end of the second World War until the early 1970’s  was received as a golden age of sorts. It clearly was the economic highlight for the vast majority of Americans. Admittedly, the period suffered serious imperfections, but it was for most a prosperous time. Workers wages and corporate profits were simultaneously rising. The Treasury enjoyed trade and domestic surpluses. Union membership was approximately 40% of the workforce.  The tax code pre Reagan consisted of a marginal rate of 91% and wealth was more equitably distributed than at any other time in our history. It was accepted morality that a progressive income tax and high inheritance taxes was not just fair, but actually sound public policy. A necessary starting point for popular demand that offers a concrete and specific solution  to our present malaise must be the reinstallation of a progressive income tax and the prosecution of off-shore tax havens whose existence has allowed the wealthiest corporations to pay little or no taxes. Presently, half of all international trade transactions are processed through these sheltered accounts whose sole purpose is to evade any contribution to the public welfare. The real, not imagined cause of the current deficit lies in the tax code.

If we are to ever provide the infrastructure repair and replacement for our bridges, roads, water and sewer treatment plants, and schools, to illustrate a few options, we need to abandon WTO and return to a trade policy that nurtures domestic industries and ultimately self-sufficiency to the degree that is practical and equitable. Free trade is not fair trade. If a decentralized, environmentally sound infrastructure, the green revolution, is to replace the toxic petroleum based, centralized economy, then selective tariffs and tax policies whose benefits have been promoted by such distinguished radicals such as Hamilton, Jefferson, and Adams need to be reintroduced.

And lastly, in light of the most perverse Supreme Court decision since Dred Scott, the Citizen United case, advocacy and action must be directed at enforcement of the anti-trust laws currently on the books and not enforced. Ultimately, at the core of the political corruption, the disenfranchisement of our citizenry, the environmental degradation, and the endless wars to ensure the peace, lies the insatiable need for finance capital and transnational corporations to squeeze blood from a rock, to in effect, get bigger and bigger until eventually only a few merged, mega-entities, and a desolate planet with a ravaged populace remains. Numerous small firms, a more competitive landscape, scale appropriate to community influence, and cooperative ventures are all desirable alternatives that can fill the void left in the wake of Wal-Mart like concentrations.

A reconstruction is over due. If we, the vast majority, are reasonable to seek a better tomorrow and a legacy worth leaving then the modest, concrete, and achievable modest proposals suggested here, which are by no means novel, but rather a rediscovery of proven past practice are real possibilities for a popular movement of change. We have no need for change that requires belief as its only ingredient, but change that embraces caring, commitment, and a challenge to the status quo.

Bach, Butterflies and a Rooster

Submitted by Joe Detelj

This past winter was not particularly severe, yet I could see it take its toll on our old rooster. Incredibly the old geezer has been with us for well over a decade which is really ancient for a chicken. He happened to be one of our many fortunate accidents. Ordinarily I buy replacement chicks that are sexed. Females, or pullets, lay eggs after approximately twenty weeks from hatching which was my intended purpose. Males, or cockerels, do not lay eggs at maturity, they fertilize them, a better deal it seems to me from a biased perspective. Chickens do not form bonded pairs. If there are several adult males they will fight relentlessly until a dominant rooster prevails and reigns over his hareem. The lesser males lead a beleaguered existence . Nature is generous  but not kind,  unless we humans are included in the mix and that can be an iffy proposition.                                                                                                                                 

As there is no functional purpose for squabbling male redundancy, few cockerels can look forward to a leisurely life as the cock of the walk. Sunday diner is the more likely destiny for most. So, as this relates to our flock, it happened that I purchased a late bloomer, or the sexer had an off day as this is apparently not a zero defect process though remarkably accurate most of the time based on my  past experiences. After several weeks there was no mistaking the fact that there was an odd fellow in the flock. Intention  went out the window because I was now faced with reality and not perceived purpose. We kept this guy even though our Rhode Island Reds were not good setters and we would not be hatching their eggs. Bacon, sausage, and pancakes were to be the eggs future mates.                                                                                                                        

Clearly, our boy had won the chicken lottery big time. He kept the hens content and maintained order in the court yard. He was vigilant and warned of any passing change. A sound remarkably like ours for hawk, though extremely drawn out would upon an aerial inspection reveal a circling red tail. A comical Chinese fire drill followed with mad dashes for the safety of the coop, and akin to the lore of the captain and his ship, the rooster was always last critter in, and with a strut that oozed defiance for the hawk.                                                                                           

 Over time the rooster gained squatter’s rights and just belonged . He took his place along with the other creatures who have found a haven at Dreamcatcher Farm.  Not unexpectedly, I found him hunched over in the corner of the coop at the beginning of our crazy summer-fall-spring. His job was finished, he was now going to be placed under a bush, undisturbed where no hawk was going to chase him again. This passing poses a question in regard to his replacement. Conventional Ag economic thought as advocated in the Ag colleges and through their extension agents holds that if the animal does not return an income above its cost of production then it should not be on the farm. If the return is a penny or two, then add thousands. .To my mind this is a calloused calculus that favors maximized commodity production above any other consideration. It is the rationale behind the removal of tree lines and the consequent pheasant habitat destruction and a host of equally mindless economic enhancements.                                                                                                                                                       

This all brought to mind a feature I had recently seen about a biologist who was heroically working to preserve the Mexican forests that serve as the migratory home for the Monarch butterfly. The cash calculus is operative there also as logging is threatening these miraculous creatures existence. When questioned about the superior human requirement for the timber resources, the biologist gave a provocative response.. He said, in effect, we could survive without Monarchs, and we could survive without Bach, Beethoven, or Shakespear, but we would be much less human without them. I also believe we could exist without Smokey Robinson, Bob Dylan, or Patsy Cline . We could maximize production without any need for e.e. cummings, John Steinbach or Barbara Kingsolver. You could easily name your own choices to make my point and change it frequently. Our capacity for choice is guided by many considerations and that quality that moderates economic maximization is what separates us from bees, locusts, and a pack of jackals.                                                                                                                                                   

So in the end, the choice is no choice at all. I could enable the production of more stuff, future land fill if you will, or get a replacement rooster whose contribution to the farm has no economic value, and is therefore priceless.

Simple Poem

Sometimes the unbelievable happens.

As when a butterfly (Monarch, I think)

Lit on the back of my right hand,

Remained there for five minutes.

I looked directly into his eyes,

Down the furry thorax, watched

His inch-long tongue, a soft wire, work

Away on my skin, felt it. I saw how

His wings are in two parts, larger

And smaller, moving back and forth

Regularly, as if he were breathing

With them.  He showed no fear of me,

Even when I spoke to him.  Slowly

He grazed my hand, a cow chomping about

A pasture.  Leaving, he flew crazily.

Drunk? From me? And now the what

You will not believe: he came back,

Licking away again, but for longer. I

Was transfixed – that royal butterfly

Thralled my hand into a rock, twice,

Made the whole mountain move.

                                                (7/11/95)

Karl Patten

from Touch: Poems

Breakfast and Bulldozers

As I spread –lustrous, smooth –

The oil on the pan I recall

Strolling through pathless groves

Surrounded by silver leaves,

Beatitude of ancient growth.

“Arthritic,” “colorless,” “warped,”

“Dull,” “stunted” – casting words

Like these at olive trees ignores

A long shaping of wind and sun,

Decades of gripping hard earth,

That make any olive grove

An integument of the planet.

Now bulldozers cross boundaries

To flatten olive trees.  What of

The olive branch of peace, hope

Offered over no-man’s-land?

Or of the leaf in the dove’s

Mouth?  Is the past only

The past, green and unseen?

My breakfast eggs are browning

Now, not those of the farmer in

Gaza where blind Samsons level.

Karl Patten

From Spaces and Lines

 Commentary

 I was almost physically shocked several years ago when I read that Israeli troops with bulldozers had wantonly destroyed many acres of olive groves in Gaza. (This was before the wall and the siege.)  I had spent enough time in Italy and Greece to know olive groves intimately, to know how many years it took in growing for one to bear, and to know how vitally important olive groves were for a rural economy.  I also had come to believe that on olive tree was in itself beautiful.

 I cook my breakfast eggs in olive oil, and so it was only the next morning that this poem began to shape itself.  It seemed necessary to have a passage on how some (Americans?) think of the trees as ugly and to counter that.  Then, of course, the Bible leapt forward and the symbol of peace.

 It was always going to be a short poem, and my eggs were just about done, but here I identified with the Gazan farmer, whose breakfast may not have existed, so I returned to the Bible, remembering the super-muscular Samson “eyeless in Gaza” (Milton’s phrase), the Israeli who could destroy.

Winter Is Nature’s Gift to Farmers

Winter is Natures Gift to Farmers

By Joe Detelj

Winter is Nature’s gift to farmers: it requires the steward, the soil and its near limitless subterranean inhabitants, as well as the terrestrial trees, shrubs, and grasses to rest and recuperate in anticipation of their soon to be Spring solar reunion. All too quickly we will engage the dusk to dawn effort that combines sun, soil, seed, sweat, and water, with air and mystery to produce the sustenance and surplus necessary for our replication and reproduction. All that we see and dream proceeds from this alchemy.

While more often than not farming is a labor of love, the winter interlude is a welcome relief and affords an opportunity to refresh old knowledge, catch up on what is new, and expand upon complimentary topics of interest. .We have had an extended snow cover this season which has favored an expanded menu of reading matter. Old favorites, Wendell Berry, Thomas Berry, Edward Abbey, Bill McKibben , Will Durant, and the pioneers featured in Acres USA have provided invaluable insight and inspiration. Most are familiar names to environmentally like minded souls, but it is a book with a title not likely to attract tree huggers (I love that term; hugs ought to be nurtured) that lingers and conditions my thoughts at this time as I struggle to shape my life and labor in a more benign and harmonious  pattern.

Herman Daly is an economist, a practitioner of the dismal science whose experience at the World Bank has provoked, at least in part, a valuable critique of the official,  current orthodoxy which is  employed in  defense of the mindless destruction of the natural world that has characterized the era of   ” free market” economics. Beyond Growth: The Economics of Sustainable Development, is an accessible technical presentation that turns classical economics on its head. It argues for a zero growth economy and elaborates what that means and how it may begin. Clearly, it is a heretical piece contrary to the body of accepted thought and mythology, however this is not the arcane stuff that would repel as would grandma’s cod liver oil, and  it would be good for you.

The main point, or pre-analytical vision, is the experiential recognition that the environment is not a sub-set of the economy, but rather the environment contains finite resources and climatic regulation that ultimately dictates the scale of a functional economy .The limits are imposed by Nature. Undifferentiated growth does not proceed forever, it is called cancer, and it results in death if not checked .  Daly puts  forth an elaboration based on  the notion that the abstract world of economics is subject to the same physical laws as the real world. Elaborate mathematical models whose assumptions invalidate those laws are no more scientifically sound than the medieval models that demonstrated the sun revolving around the earth .Scientific dressing  can not substitute for substance.   Daly explores  theory and practice from this corrected plane of vision.

One sub-text of this argument that is of particular interest to my agricultural bent is his treatment of free trade. That free trade is a good thing is not open to question by any institutional authority. The textile mills in Central Pennsylvania, the steel mills and fabrication plants of the Mid West, and the major appliance makers that populated  the more Western regions of the Nation might have former workers shaking their heads in disbelief but forgive them for they have not had the benefit of formal training in the subject.  Farm Bureau extolls the virtue of free trade having received the proper instruction. We come by this bit of scripture via the writings of a 19th century philosopher David Ricardo. His theory of comparative advantage is illustrated by a model of two countries. He gives as an example England and Spain. Simply ,  he says that if both countries manufactured wine and cloth and one was more efficient at the production of one item over the other, and the reverse were true in the other country then a comparative advantage existed.  It would benefit both countries to specialize and trade. In his example England would concentrate on cloth, and Spain on wine, even though Spain may have possessed an absolute advantage in both. Ricardo goes into great detail as to why this is so and makes a plausible argument that holds merit to this day. What does not hold true to this day is his fundamental assumption that capital was not mobile.

In those times of yore a manufacturer would never consider an investment in a foreign nation . Nationalism, the threat of war, competition for colonial exploitation, as well as a host of cultural barriers would completely inhibit that course of action. Obviously, that golden age of harmonic equilibrium no longer exists. In fact, today there is nothing more mobile than capital. Multinational capital owns no limits or restrictions. If our time is marked by any distinction it is the rush of capital to those places where the most pronounced absolute advantage exists. Labor being a vital and major factor of production has influenced the exodus of capital to those nations with the cheapest labor. This action has not resulted in a tide that raises all boats but rather one that has left most high and dry. For those service economy workers who were thought to be exempt, their tide had also gone out to distant shores.

The reality of our time forces us to confront the dual problem of climate change and a failed free market economy. Local, sustainable agriculture properly scaled , dispersed and diverse,  networked into a larger universe where fair trade integrates us into a greater whole is, in my opinion,  a major component of the solution we need to incorporate. A cooperative human effort, not a legal exemption is the sought after organizational form. Comparative advantage is a reductionist concept, not at all suitable for a complex biological process as is farming, and Daly has surely shown that comparative advantage is not a brief for free trade. Can we be happy if it is at the cost of child labor, conscripts and a chain gang? What is of value if purchased with the sweat of  14 hour, six day, weeks of displaced peasants? Are we better off with melamine in our infant formula, and lead in children’s toys?  The answer to all the above according to the tried and true is yes. But, I know in every fiber of our being the answer is no.

In this winter interlude, as I said earlier,  I get to catch up on this good  stuff. In this winter of discontent it appears there are more and more of us who see the need for major change in the way we think about the world as well as the way we live in it. .The  barn chores wait and the seedlings that will feed this seasons CSA shares need water and Remay covering for the chill that seeps into the greenhouse at night. Soon it will be Spring and we will rejoice in life. I welcome the change that will surely come about with the passage of time and tide.