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Friday, February 19, 2010

HEALTH PROBLEMS? NATIVE AMERICANS DON’T NEED NO STINKIN’ HEALTH CARE!

I swear, folks, the more that I learn about the horrid plight of the Native Americans, the more angry I become. It’s not enough that most of the tribal populations live in abject poverty, or that their populations are in the 88% unemployed category. It’s not enough that the water and sewerage systems are completely antiquated and just about completely unable to provide clean water or decent removal of human wastes. It’s not enough that most of them starve most of the time because their soil is too worn-out to grow anything worth eating. Oh, no. Now, their Medicaid coverage is going to be cut to the bone and beyond – because, it seems, nobody cares enough to try and stop it.

Native Americans are currently treated as second class citizens, and this is very painfully evident in the type and quality (HAH!) of health care they receive. Although the federal government provides limited funding to Indian Health Service (IHS), it isn’t enough to even begin to provide any sort of appropriate types of health care to this particular segment of our American population. It's important to note that IHS is a residual payer, which means that all other payment sources for which a Native American patient is eligible (i.e. Medicaid) must be exhausted before IHS will pay for services – any services of any sort.

There are many problems with IHS, such as accessibility and funding, that can't be rectified without efforts from state and federal governments - which most of the state governments can't be bothered to make, and, after all, the FedGov has the BIA to do its dirty work of denial FOR it. On top of this, Medicaid reform has added to the enormous amount of problems, instead of improving the Native American health care delivery system. Although Native Americans compose a small percentage of the Medicaid population, even that small percentage could be reduced if the Indian Health Care Service (IHCS) providers were included in the networks of Managed Care Organizations. If a successful health care system for Native Americans could be created, then there is a really excellent possibility of utilizing the IHCS for dealing with the nation’s Native AmericansMedicaid population.

Here’s a paper that I found, from the Kaiser Institute, circa 2001, which I am quoting from (http://www.kff.org/medicaid/2101-polbren3.cfm#policy):

“The Medicaid program's historic shift from fee-for-service to managed care presents critical policy issues for the IHS, for tribes and their health programs, and for urban Indian health programs. Because state Medicaid programs differ from one another, and because local circumstances vary considerably, these issues will take different forms in different communities. The Balanced Budget Act of 1997 overrides the right to freedom of choice of provider for most Medicaid beneficiaries by giving the states express authority to require Medicaid beneficiaries to enroll in MCOs or PCCMs. However, states under this authority may only force eligible American Indians and Alaska Natives to enroll in MCOs or PCCMs if these managed care entities are operated by the IHS, by a "638" tribe, or by an urban Indian organization(see? So, since most of the population that would be served by Medicaid is RURAL, where’s the equity?).

“The purpose of this limitation on state flexibility is not so much to assure that Native American Medicaid beneficiaries have choice of providers; they will generally have a choice because IHS and tribal providers cannot refuse to treat Indians who are eligible for their services. Instead, the purpose of this provision is to assure that, when these beneficiaries obtain care from IHS or tribal providers, the providers, rather than MCOs or PCCMs unaffiliated with the IHS or the tribes, receive Medicaid reimbursement for the covered services they deliver. The provision does not bar Medicaid-eligible Indians from voluntarily enrolling in an MCO or PCCM that is not affiliated with the IHS or a tribe.

“For many Native American Medicaid beneficiaries, the issue of choice of provider is more theoretical than practical, especially in sparsely-populated rural areas with few physicians or clinics or hospitals. Medicaid coverage that allows beneficiaries to choose from among all participating providers means little in underserved areas that have few providers of any kind, much less providers that participate in Medicaid.”

There’s a lot more in this white paper, which I’d recommend that everybody that has a VERY strong stomach read. It’s pretty sickening; if you’re a Native American, the IHS is, basically, the only way that you’re going to get any sort of health care – and it’s a pretty weak reed to lean on, since, apparently, the IHS doesn’t seem to either care, or have the clout to do anything about, the health care problems on the reservations. As I said earlier, t was written in 2001 and since then, things HAVE changed quite a bit. For, I’ll add, the worse.

There are an estimated 2.3 million Native Americans (American Indians and Alaska Natives) in the U.S. About half of the Native American population lives (if you want to call below-subsistence existence “living”, and I don’t) on or near reservations; the other half lives (again, IF you want to call it that, and I don’t) in other rural areas and in urban areas. VERY poor urban areas, truth be told. The Native American population includes 554 tribes recognized by the federal government as well as other tribes, largely in California, that for various reasons do not have federal recognition. The federally recognized tribes vary in size from less than 100 to more than 100,000 members. The economic status of these tribes varies substantially; some are wealthy, but most of the rest face conditions of high unemployment and high rates of poverty. Indians in urban areas, who are frequently not enrolled members of federally-recognized tribes, are often unemployed, and, like their counterparts on the reservations, starving. Some choice, eh? Stay on the rez and starve, or go to the big city and at least have access to "free clinics" and food pantries. Wow. What terrific choices.

The driving force for almost all of the health status and health coverage problems facing Native Americans as a whole is poverty. DUH, ya think? Not all Indians are poor, but a very large proportion of them are. U.S. Census data indicate that in 1996, 30.9% of Native Americans as a whole had family incomes below the poverty line, in comparison with 13.8% for the U.S. population as a whole. In 2010, more than 70% - that’s SEVENTY, seven zero per cent – have incomes below the poverty line. 88% - that’s eighty-eight, eight eight percent – are unemployed. So, if there’s no Medicaid available, the nearest clinic is a 4 hour ONE WAY drive from their homes, and they have to decide whether or not to feed their families or buy meds for ONE person, what sort of help are they getting? Answer: NONE. If you can’t afford the premiums, then you don’t get the insurance – and if there’s no IHS or Medicaid available, what do you do?

The IHS is, without a doubt, the bastard child of health care. Take a look at these facts: one doctor for 28 THOUSAND patients, very few ambulances, very few hospitals, and most of those in urban areas or on tribal lands, no real medical care other than a slap-dash system that requires at least a 2 and at most a 4 hour one-way ride for a minimum 2 – 4 hour wait to see that one doctor, and the Native American populations are told that IHS provides "quality medical care”. HOW is this quality anything? The Federal Government claims that IHS medical care is "quality medical care". How is this different from the rest of the uninsured population? It’s different because it’s worse. MUCH worse. This is an abomination that other minority groups are already screaming about, and have been for a long time. So, why isn’t something being done about the Native Americans? Here’s some statistics that WILL make your stomach churn:

LIFE EXPECTANCY: Almost 6 years LESS any other race or ethnic group in America. Life expectancy on the Pine Ridge reservation is 56 years.
DIABETES:
Highest prevalence of Type 2 diabetes, which is rising 2.6 times the national average, and the death rate is 36.3 per 100,000.
FETAL ALCOHOL SYNDROME (FAS):
1.5 TO 2.5 children per 1,000 live births are afflicted, compared to 0.2 –1.0 per 1,000 live births to the general population.
MENTAL HEALTH:
30% have had a serious psychological distress, compared to 11% of the general population.
HEART DISEASE:
The leading cause of death, with 133.5 per 100,000 – higher than the general population.
SUICIDE:
15-34 year olds make up 40% of all suicides
Example:
In the past 12 months there have been 213 suicide attempts on the Rosebud Sioux Reservation which makes at least 1 attempt every other day.

So, is there a solution? Yes, there is but nobody wants to tackle it. It’s really a simple one: Update and modernize the Indian Health Care Improvement Act. If it needs more funding, then make that funding available through the slush funds that every state already has. Make Medicaid and Medicare available to everybody on the reservations. Set up free clinics ON the reservations, along with low or no-cost medications to be dispensed through the clinics, and make sure that there are dentists as an integral part of the clinics. Make sure that there’s a doctor living within 10 miles of the reservation if not actually living ON the reservation – and make sure that the clinic is fully funded through health-care initiatives that are already in place. Get some of the foundations that aren't already working on the problems to get involved. Publicize the problems, and keep on publicizing them until something is done.

Used to be that doctors and dentists could work off their indebtedness through working on a reservation. They got paid, too, but they worked off their debts year-for-year by working with these poorest of the poor. Why isn’t something like that being done NOW? It could be offered through AmeriCorps, as it was through VISTA.

There are going to be billions and billions of dollars sent to Haiti, to rebuild their country. Why can’t we do the same thing here? Well, gangers, because Haiti is – in the judgment of most of the foundations and other funding sources, more in need of this. While I am not saying that Haiti doesn’t need the help, there are people here in this country, right her and right NOW, that would benefit even more from a billion dollars – and it would go a long way to showing the rest of the world that we take our responsibilities seriously when it comes to helping our own.

Nice dream. Won’t happen. Native Americans aren’t a priority here. That’s a true obscenity.

Monday, February 15, 2010

WONDERWIFE AND THE COOKIES

My wife, who is normally a rational and intelligent woman, decided the other night that she wanted to make some chocolate chip cookies for herself. I need to explain to you all that she is a wonderful engineer, a terrific electrician, a designer and constructor of structures par excellance – and a not-so-great cook. Not that she’s afraid of the kitchen, oh, no – but, by mutual decision, we split up the household chores a long time ago, and cooking is not something that she normally does (although, I must say, she makes the best chicken-fried steak in the world - but I digress). I do all of the easy and mundane stuff, like housework, cooking, balancing the checkbook, formulating plans for world peace – y'all know, the inconsequential stuff – and she does all the hard stuff, like designing and building machines that are 50% more energy-efficient and 40% less polluting, holding down an engineering job in a male-dominated profession, starting and successfully running an engineering consultancythat builds factories all over the world, plus she invents things and takes out patents on them - and she changes light bulbs. However, she does not do windows!

So, on this eventful evening, we went into the kitchen, took down 60 or so cookbooks (out of the 3 bajillion or so that I've collected over the years), and set out to find the best chocolate chip cookie recipe that we could find. She finally decided on the one that’s on the back of the chocolate chip package (what a surprize), and we got the ingredients all gathered together, and I left her to her own devices. I went into the living room for some quiet, philosophical time alone (read serious Nintendo playing), and, about 20 minutes later, she came into the living room in tears. Something wasn’t working right and her cookie dough was not turning into cookie “dough”, and she wanted my help.

I went into the kitchen, and looked at the gooey, sticky mess in the bowl, and said ECH, YUCK, and various other wifely sounds of absolute disgust, and asked her how on earth she had managed to concoct such a mess (and a very gooey, slick, oily, nasty-looking mess it was, too). She told me then that she had used cooking oil, like the recipe said to do, and that this was the result. I just looked at her, completely dumbfounded, and asked her if she’d read the recipe. She said that, yes, she had, and since she couldn’t find the solid shortening (or the butter, which was sitting smugly in the butter compartment of the 'fridge), she’d used what she could find, which was the liquid cooking oil, and that she did not understand why it had turned out so badly. I didn’t laugh in her face – which, believe me, took a lot of doing – and pointed out that solid shortening or butter was required, found the solid shortening for her, and beat a very hasty retreat from the kitchen while she was dealing with the mess and starting over.

So, I can hear you asking, what on earth was the problem? After all, don’t all little girls learn how to cook when they’re very small? Well, yes, under normal circumstances, they do – but there’s a joker in this deck that y’all aren’t aware of. Let me explain:

My wonderful, feminine wife, you see, didn’t start life out as a girl. She is a male-to-female transsexual and started life out as a male – and everyone “knows” that “boys don’t cook”, unless, of course, they’re one of those fags on the Food Channel.

Oh, and the cookies? The second batch? Best darned cookies I ever ate!

Cat on a warm wood fence...and other places! THE ADVENTURES OF (KAT)RINA THE (SOMEWHAT) FEARLESS

Hi, all:

Thought I'd post something fun for the President's Day weekend. Hope y'all enjoy it. Oh, and a Happy (belated) Valentine's Day as well!

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I don't know if I've ever said anything about some of the other activities that WonderWife and I get up to, but one of the things that we've been very involved with over the course of our marriage has been animal fostering and rescue. At the moment, we've got 18 cats, former ferals, that we're socializing for an organization that we belong to, and feeding approximately 25 - 30 more that we're trying to TNR (trap/neuter/return) to the ginormous Southern Baptist university across the street from where we live in WhiteRepublicanLand.

I don't know what possesses those kids, sometimes. I really don't. Of course, I don't understand any sort of animal cruelty, either, whether it's done by children, young folks OR supposed adults (I also don't understand spousal abuse, or elder abuse, or child abuse either). When you take on the responsibility of any sort of pet, even if it's nothing more than a bowl of goldfish, you obligate yourself to taking the responsibility of caring for that animal - and by this, I mean feeding it, nurturing it, taking it to the vet, and, most of all, finding that pet a good home when you either don't want it anymore or can't take care of it any more - and not just taking the easy way out of your responsibilities by dumping it out by the side of the road to fend for itself in an uncaring and dangerous world.

This is how we acquired (Kat)Rina. Her adopter moved out of Texas, and couldn't take her with her when she left, so she left her with us to take care of. She was going to come back and get her, of couse, and if we'd just take care of her for a year until she could afford to get into a house, she'd come and get her. I think if we'd known just how wild and unsocialized this particular cat was, we'd have said thank you, but NO THANKS. Hindsight is almost always 20/20, right? (just as an aside here, we've had her for 11 years now - and she's a wonderful cat)

Her owner dropped her off to us on her way OUT of Houston (we were both at work at the time, so the carrier was left in the shade on the front porch), and left as quickly as she could before we found out that the cute little kitten that we had been told we were getting was actually an abused 3 year-old adult that had never been out of the house in the two years that the former owner had had her. In point of fact, she had spent the last year or so living in a cage in one of the bathrooms. No socialization, no manners, basically no human contact whatsoever.

GAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHH

We kept the snarling beast in her carrier for a couple of days, which is standard procedure when you're introducing a new cat to a household that already has several. We tried to talk to her, and each of us tried - ONCE - to take her out of the carrier and pet her. WonderWife got 15 stitches, and I got 30, basically because I didn't let go fast enough. Once we let her out, she hid under the couch and under the bed, and behind the freezer, and behind the ice box . . . . basically, anywhere that she could hide from the bunch of us. We had to feed her up on the shelf on top of the washing machine in the garage because she beat up on all the other cats, when they weren't ganging up on her.

GAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHH

She finally got comfortable enough to venture out of hiding long enough for the other cats to get used to her, for her to get used to them and for there to be at least a truce of sorts between the bunch of them and herself. It took about a year for detente, and that's when the fun started. She had never been outside, you see, and she didn't know what was out there, except that it probably had fangs bigger than hers, and was going to eat her. I happened to see her the first time she went through the cat door onto the back porch, and it was hilarious. I have never seen an animal more hesitant in stepping out, and, the minute that she heard a bird, she hit the door so hard that she knocked herself unconscious. I am a truly heartless person; I sat on the floor beside her, after I made sure she was just knocked silly, and I laughed until I fell over. I mean, I wish I'd had a video camera to record it, because it was priceless.

Just for future reference, cats have no sense of humour. Neither did WonderWife, when she got home from work, and found out what had happened.

She recovered, of course, and the next day, she ventured out into the yard, sort of. She managed to get at least 10 inches from the door. Nothing bad happened, so on the following days (it actually took about 2 weeks), she finally ventured all the way out into the middle of the yard, where she was immediately pounced on by a squirrel, and ignominiously chased back into the house, with the squirrel in hot pursuit. It was about a month before she ventured out again, and I believe that she only went out because both of us were out there, and she felt safe, sort of.

She got bolder and bolder, of course . . . and, unfortunately, so did the squirrel. I used to watch this bastard hide where he could see the door, and wait for her to get far enough from the door that he could jump on her, bite her, and run her back inside the house. Since I couldn't shoot it, all I could do was try to be outside when he was chasing her - and, one day, SHE got upset enough and mad enough to chase him back. Back and forth and back and forth and back and forth they went, until the squirrel ran up the side of the 10 foot wooden fence on one side of the yard - and Rina didn't stop. She slammed into the fence so hard that it shook, and she knocked herself silly AGAIN.

Mr. Squirrel thought this was hilarious, of course (who says that squirrels don't have a sense of humour?) - and he added a new way to torment her, by running her all over the yard, and then jumping on the fence and running away. So, one day, Rinagot up on the catwalkway on the 6 foot side of the fence, and chased him. Unfortunately, he ran up the 10 foot side, and jumped from there to the next-door neighbor's roof. She tried to do that, and fell with a mighty splash into their hot tub. That in and of itself would have been bad enough, but unfortunately, both of them were in it at the time. My next-door neighbor's wife came shrieking over to our house dressed in nothing but scratches and outrage, demanding that I come and get that damned cat out of their hot tub. Which I did, of course.

Poor thing was wailing mightily and trying her best to get out, my next-door neighbor's husband was standing there dressed only in a smile and scratches (much more of him than I EVER wanted to see, believe me!), and was laughing himself silly at the spectacle. I managed to retrieve her without damaging the tub lining; I, unfortunately, wasn't quite so lucky. 65 stitches that time . . . and of course, I paid for their scratches. Fortunately, they are cat-lovers, and they finally were persuaded that, since most of the damage was to their dignities, they wouldn't sue. Thank goodness!

Rina DID get her revenge, however, but that's a tale for another time!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

IT’S ALREADY HAPPENED HERE – AND WE ARE DOING. . . NOTHING

Earlier this week, after viewing the absolute, cataclysmic disaster that happened to the Cheyenne River Sioux reservation in the wake of SnowPocalypse on television, and its sequel, Snowmageddon, I wrote an opinion piece called "IT CAN’T HAPPEN HERE”. I thought that I knew something about the Native Americans and what was going on with their lives in what, basically, is a prison camp. Boy, was I wrong. I knew nothing about the subject. Nothing.

I’m not going to go into the long history of abuses that the Native Americans have suffered through in this country. All of that is historical fact. What I didn’t know and have found out is pretty simple: The Native American populations in this country are far worse off than the Haitians have been in the past and are now in the present. There’s lots of money for relief efforts in Haiti; there’s none to speak of here in this country for our own poorer-than–is-believeable poor - and that is an obscenity.

We’ve all heard about the homeless, and the problems that food pantries are having feeding the hungry in the big cities. We are daily bombarded with images of people here IN THIS COUNTRY that are starving and freezing in the cities. Shoot, even here in WhiteRepublicanLand, we’ve got homeless living under the IH 59 overpasses. It’s a nasty problem, and one that’s not going to go away. And at that, they are still better off than the great majority of the Native American population. Picture, if you will, a world where the nearest general purpose store is at least an hour away by car, and you have to walk to get there. No matter what the weather is, you have to walk to get there, and mostly, you’re walking, not in shoes, but in rags tied to your feet because you can’t buy shoes.

Imagine further that your house is built out of somebody else’s trash heap. Go a step further and imagine that you also have no running water, no electricity, no telephone, no gas (propane or otherwise). Imagine that you dress in rags – not artistically torn designer jeans, but actual rags. Finding this hard to believe? Take a look at any Native American reservation that doesn’t have a casino or a lot of tourism. G’WAN, I dare you. Trust me that you won’t like what you see.

Many Native American families still have no electricity, no telephone services, and no indoor plumbing. They live in isolated, rural communities, where they have no immediate access to grocery stores, gas stations, or forms of entertainment. Discouragement and discontent are both the facts of, and a way of, life. Many young mothers are forced into using newspapers or old rags to substitute for diapers. The elderly have great difficulty getting to stores that are at least an hour away. The isolation, insufficient income, and lack of transportation lead elders into depression and poor health.

Hunger is a constant reality for families living on Native American Reservations. Not just “OOOOO, I’m HONGRY”, either – hungry as in “I haven’t eaten in three days.” In most of these isolated areas, food is scarce and expensive. OK, I can hear y’all now: “So? Let them plant gardens and feed themselves that way.” WOW, what a wonderful idea. There’s just one TINY problem with that: the land that most Native Americans are forced to live on is so worn-out and so used up that it’s next to impossible to grow anything. Most families are so poor that even if they could afford to buy a cow for milk or a calf for fattening, they’d starve to death trying to feed THEM. Kinda defeats the entire purpose, doesn’t it? There are lots of time that Native American children don’t get to start school on time, if at all, simply because they don’t have a pair of shoes, suitable clothing or school supplies.

In this country. RIGHT now, in THIS country. Sickening, isn’t it?

Most Native Americans can’t provide even what we would consider to be just the basics of life for themselves and their families: a bed to sleep in, enough food to eat, light to see by, warmth in the winter, cool in the summer, clean and available drinking water, decent housing, decent schooling, clothing - even blankets and pillows, to say nothing of sheets. And shoes. Imagine having to choose between buying Christmas presents or going without food for a week. Could any of you do that? And yet, that’s the choice that most Native American families live with – and not just at the holiday season.

I found this organization online: National Relief Charities (http://www.nrcprograms.org) while I was researching this article, and I would urge any of you out there that are interested in learning more of *our* collective shame regarding the treatment of Native Americans to do so as well. Here are some statistics regarding life on the reservation (courtesy of the Native American Aid website (www.naaprograms.org), which can be also be reached through the National Relief Charities website.

“Approximately half of the nation’s 2,500,000 Native Americans live on reservations throughout the United States, and are living in conditions that are four to five decades behind the majority of Americans” (Sept. 12, 2002, Rocky Mountain News). “More than 40% of families on the reservations live below the 1999 federal poverty line” (May 25, 2002, Arizona Daily Star). The scarce number of jobs available on reservations and lack of economic opportunity fuel unemployment rates that often exceed 85%. Typically, Tribal and Federal jobs are the largest employers which leave the majority of the population dependant on welfare and other subsistence programs. For example, in South Dakota on the Pine Ridge Reservation, “residents will walk or hitch rides about 40 miles into Rapid City to work at jobs that pay as little as $56 per day” (Sept. 1, 2002, Washington Times).

Yes, you read that right. $56/day. 40 miles away. And that’s usually a 4 day a week job. With NO benefits whatsoever. Which usually is supporting a minimum of 10 people.

“In many cases, the heads of the household are forced to leave the reservation to seek work. As a result, grandparents must often take on the job of raising their grandchildren so that the more able bodied can leave the reservation to find work. In order to survive, extended families pool their meager resources together to try and provide for their basic needs. The reservation’s (Pine Ridge) 1,185 square miles include the two poorest counties in the U.S. More than 46% of the reservation’s children, and more than 36% of the adults, live below the poverty line,” (Aug. 18, 2003, Denver Post).

Not yet convinced? Ok, how about this: “The average age for Native Americans as a whole is 55, which is younger than for residents of Bangladesh,” (June 2, 2002 Miami News-Record). “The federal government spends half as much on health programs per tribal member as it does on health programs for other Americans,” (June 23, 2002, Great Falls Tribune). In addition, the types of health concerns facing Native Americans have changed over time from primarily infectious diseases to chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. These chronic conditions are taking a terrible toll on Native American lives. “Indian Elders are 48.7% more likely to suffer from heart failure, 173% more likely to suffer from diabetes, and 44.3% more likely to suffer from asthma than the general population,” (July 11, 2002, Everett Herald).

STILL not convinced? How about this, then:
The remoteness and limited resources in many communities, lack of suitable land, and the severity of the climate are all contributing factors to the difficulty in providing adequate housing on the reservations. Subsequently, homelessness, as well as overcrowding of homes is a chronic problem because many families will not turn away any family member who needs a place to stay. It is not uncommon for as many as 25 people to live in a two-bedroom home (Just in case you missed that – that’s TWENTY-FIVE PEOPLE living in about 1500 sq. ft.) This horrific situation is exacerbated by the fact that much of the existing housing is substandard (by anybody’s standards – the cardboard boxes that most homeless people live in look like McMansions compared to most Native American housing), and in desperate need of repair. Despite the Indian Housing Authorities’(IHA) efforts over the past few years, the need for adequate housing on reservations is acute. “Just 68%of American Indian households have telephones, compared to 95% for the nation as a whole. The legislature deplored the fact that there are 90,000 homeless or under housed Indian families, and that 30% of Indian housing is overcrowded and less than 50% of it is connected to a public sewer” (March 10, 2004, Indian Country Today).

So, what can be done about this? What can we do about this? After all, isn’t the Federal Government looking out for these folks to start off with? In one word: NO.

Billions of dollars in aid has been promised and donated for Haitian earthquake relief. Know what it would cost to build a wind farm on the Cheyenne River Sioux reservation? 1.5 million dollars. That would not only power every home on the reservation, it would also bring in badly-needed cash since the surplus would be a cash drop that could be sold to the power company. Y’know what else that money would do? It would create JOBS. Decent paying jobs in a variety of skills.

So, once again, why aren’t we doing this NOW?

Well, basically, because Native Americans aren’t suffering from a new disaster, other than the snowstorms this year. They’re just coping with the disasters that were handed them by the lies of the BIA. They’re coping with being no-class citizens, and it’s killing them. Of course, that’s always been the real object, hasn’t it? After all, nobody wants to remember the conquered peoples of this country.

And that’s the real shame.

We conquered them. We destroyed their culture. And then, we turned our backs.

What an obscenity.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

“BUT IT CAN’T HAPPEN HERE . . .”

I’ve been working with a couple of very fine groups on the social network, LinkedIn, that are concerned with getting set up to get aid, education, technology and so on to that poor, battered, beleaguered country. This is what we do, and what we excel at, isn’t it? We go places, we help people, we give help, foster hope, and eventually, hopefully, we manage to get the folks that we’re helping to learn enough to help themselves. This is a very worthy cause, and I’m not exaggerating its importance, nor am I downplaying either its’ urgency or its necessity.

Haiti’s population is one of the poorest in the world, with nothing. We need to help them, don’t we? So, we are – and that brings me to the object of this particular column.

Having said that about Haiti, it’s pretty interesting, isn’t it, that we’re all so concerned with Haiti that we’ve completely lost sight of the grinding poverty, hopelessness and despair that’s endemic within some communities in our own country? Wouldn’t you, John and Jane Q. Public, want to help another population that is in much worse shape that Haiti? A community with an over 80% - that’s OVER EIGHTY PERCENT – jobless rate? Where alcoholism is rampant, the infant mortality rate is higher than in the very worst of the urban ghettos?

So, we come to the Cheyenne River Sioux tribe in Eagle Butte, South Dakota. Let me tell you what’s been happening there, the last two weeks. While the rest of the country is squalling about Snowmageddon and the concomitant inconveniences, these folks have been really living in the middle of it. Tribal officials prepared Wednesday to go door to door to assess needs on the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation, where some residents were still without electricity and running water nearly two weeks after an ice storm. Emergency shelters were still open, but seeing fewer people and serving more as distribution centers for food or bottled water. Utility crews continued working through snow and below-freezing temperatures to rebuild above-ground power lines. Federal officials were traveling across the reservation in north central South Dakota and elsewhere to assess damage for possible federal assistance.

And Joe Brings Plenty, in his first term as elected chairman of the impoverished, 8,000-member Lakota Sioux Nation, asked why it took an emergency to get the attention of a government he and many other Indians say has broken its treaty obligations to care for Indians who gave up their land to make way for white settlers. One out of every two people lives in poverty in Ziebach County, home to a reservation larger than Rhode Island and Delaware combined. The jobless rate among tribal members, according to a 2003 Department of Interior report, was 88 percent. Here, as on many of the state’s other nine Sioux Indian reservations, jobs are few and life is short. Alcoholism, suicide, crime and a sense of abandonment plague the tribe.

Gee, a “sense of abandonment”? JUST a “sense”?

“There are a lot of issues in tribal lands that go unheard of because there’s not an interest from the state, there’s not an interest from the federal government until something like this happens where people pay attention to such a disaster,” Brings Plenty said. “Then they have to come in and sit down and visit with us.”

"We can’t put up homes. We can’t put up additional businesses,” Brings Plenty added. “Our water system needs to be upgraded and this has been a concern for my tribal government for almost two decades.” The tribe is the only one of the state’s Sioux tribes that does not offer casino gambling, which can be a major employer on reservations. Job creation is difficult in areas like Cheyenne River that are located far from urban centers and offer little in recreation or amenities that attract families, said Clarence Skye, executive director of United Sioux Tribes, a nonprofit organization working on behalf of Sioux tribes in the Dakotas and Nebraska.

The Chairman of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe has declared a state of emergency in central South Dakota, an Indian reservation approximately the size of Connecticut with nearly 15,000 Tribal members. The Tribe is still awaiting a Presidential disaster declaration. Days of ice storms and strong winds have downed over 3,000 utility poles across the reservation. Thousands of already impoverished tribal residents have been without electricity or heat for five days, with wind chill factors well below zero. Experts estimate it may be as long as a month before all areas have electricity restored.

However, much more assistance is still needed. No one facility can host a shelter large enough for all the Tribal residents; additional generators are needed to set up additional shelters. The Tribe's one and only grocery store has lost all its perishables, additional food is needed. And dialysis patients have had to be evacuated to Rapid City. As electricity is restored and immediate safety and survival needs are met, the Chairman worries perhaps the most about the long term effects of having lost their water system in this crisis. The water intake and distribution system has already been at capacity for decades. In addition to the severe health and safety issues the Tribe now faces, it remains one of the biggest impediments to economic development on the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation. "For years we have had a complete ban on any new housing or business building because we don't have the water infrastructure to support it. This crisis has exacerbated an already impossible situation. The reservations were never set aside for economic development, they were set aside to put Indians away,” Tribal Chairman Brings Plenty said.

Gosh, folks, last time I checked, installations like this – AND the rest of the reservations as well, come to think of it – were called by their proper name: concentration camps. It’s our shame that none of us that don’t live in a place like that find it very easy to ignore what makes us uncomfortable. After all, there’s really nothing that’s photogenic in a bunch of starving, freezing American citizens, is there?

“It CAN’T happen here – it’s not possible!” It’s already happened here, gangers – and what are we collectively doing about it?

NOTHING. And that is our shame. As it damned well should be.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

WPA - AN OLD IDEA WHOSE TIME HAS COME AGAIN?

Hi, all:

Every so often, I repost an older blog entry, and, in view of what House Leader Nancy Pelosi is proposing, and President Obama is now pushing pretty hard, I thought that this one was particularly apt. Maybe it’s LONG past time to look at some of the older programs that were ultimately treated with scorn and derision – like the National Recovery Act, The County Conservation Corps and the Works Progress Administration.

I first posted this blog 2, almost 3 years ago. It’s as relevant today as it was then, maybe even more so. Incidentally, I'd like to add one point: the fact that Senator John Edwards has turned out to be such a sexual sleaze has nothing to do with how effective his programs are. If we adopted them everywhere, we'd be able to accomplish a lot.

Thanks for reading!

**********************************************************************

WHAT ABOUT THE WPA?

I was watching, as is usual for this time of night, Keith Olbermann's show COUNTDOWN, and was struck by an idea floated by Rachel Maddow of AirAmerica Radio. She mentioned that this country is in a recession, headed down the steep and slippery slope of the economic BS that pResident Bu$hit and his "economists" have been pushing for the last 7 years, and added, almost as an afterthought, that setting up something similar to the WPA and some of the various other programs of the New Deal might be in order.

WOW, what a concept. Something that that parlour pink Delano Roosevelt thought up that might actually be a GOOD thing for our struggling country and our struggling economy? TAKE me, Jesus, I'm READY!

Just in case y'all out there in ReaderLand MIGHT have missed the sarcasm, I LOATHE Franklin Delano Roosevelt and just about EVERYTHING that he stood for and espoused. FDR is at least 7/8% responsible for the social services mess that we are fighting right now here in this country. As far as I have been able to find out, he didn't have an original idea in his life; he stole everything that he put together for his New Deal from his predecessor, Herbert Hoover, and took credit for all of it - except the parts that didn't work or that were declared unconstitutional. Those, of course, he blamed on Hoover. Successfully, I'll add.

OK, so what is the New Deal, and why should any of us be excited about it? More to the point, how could anything that is almost 80 years old be relevant to our situation today - and why should we care?

The New Deal set in place and promoted the following programs: the Forest Service, which takes care of the national parks and all publicly-owned lands, The National Recovery Act (declared unconstitutional), The Agricultural Adjustment Act (farming subsidies and soil banking, also declared unconstitutional although later revised - and part of it are STILL in operation today), the TVA, The Wagner Act (empowering labour unions by mandating by law that all employees in a business join a union and/or pay dues if the majority of workers agreed to form one), the CCC, the FDIC, the SEC, (of course) Social Security, the rural electrification programs that are still in force today, the National Youth Authority, and the WPA, or Works Progress Administration.

After Ms. Maddow made her suggestion, I went and did some research. The list above is only a partial list of all the New Deal programs, by the way. Here's what I found out about the WPA:

The administration employed millions of people and affected almost every locality, especially rural and western mountain populations. It was created in April, 1935 by Presidential order, and activated with Congressional funding in July of that year (U.S. Congress funded it annually but did not set it up). It continued and extended relief programs similar to the Reconstruction Finance Corporation (RFC) started by Herbert Hoover in 1932. The program built many public buildings, projects and roads, and operated large arts, drama, media and literacy projects. It fed children, redistributed food, clothing and housing. Until the program was closed down by Congress and the war boom in 1943, the various programs of the WPA added up to the largest employment base in the country — indeed, the largest cluster of government employment opportunities in most states. Anyone who needed a job could become eligible for most of its jobs.

Let me repeat the most salient point: This program fed children, redistributed food, clothing and housing. This is a good thing, no? By the way, hourly wages were the prevailing wages in most of the areas; the rules said workers could not work more than 30 hours a week but many projects included months in the field, with workers eating and sleeping on worksites. In other words, the EMPLOYEER provided food, housing, all training if needed, and clothing <strong>TO THEIR WORKERS ON SITE - and the workers sent their wages HOME to their families. Before 1940, there was some training involved in teaching new skills and the project's original legislation went forward with a strong emphasis on family, training and building people up.

WOW, what a CONCEPT. People actually being HELPED by the FedGov, instead of being turned into slave labour.

About 75 percent of WPA employment and expenditures went to public facilities and infrastructure, such as highways and streets, public buildings, airports, utilities, small dams, sewers, parks, city halls, public libraries (FREE libraries, which NOBODY had ever heard of before!), and recreational fields. The WPA built 650,000 miles of roads, 78,000 bridges, 125,000 buildings, and 700 miles of airport runways. Seven percent of the budget was allocated to arts projects, presenting 225,000 concerts to audiences totaling 150 million, and producing almost 475,000 pieces of art. Some of the art is beautiful, some is garbage - but all of these programs gave employment to people. All of the projects gave something else intangible but absolutely necessary: HOPE.

HOPE. What a concept.

When I first started at Sam Houston State University , all of the sidewalks, the quadrangle, 3/4 of the married students' housing, 2/3 of all the buildings and about 3/5 of the streets and roads within the university proper were all marked as being done under the purview of the WPA, with the year added. I'll add at this point that most of the buildings, and all of the sidewalks, roads and the quad were still in terrific shape. They were, at the time, 50 some-odd years old. Better built than a lot of newer buildings, and much nicer looking. I didn't even know what the WPA was, or why I should care.

Now, I do, and this is something that we all need to check into, and, if it's feasible, get behind and promote the absolute hell out of. Senator Edwards' ministerial coalition is doing something similar in North Carolina , and it's working. Microloans and microcredit could be a part of this as well, and those are already proven to work. With a 99% repayment rate.

Hope. It's the best of things. It's what we all need.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

IS THIS FINALLY THE END OF DADT?

“Senator McCain is a hero of mine . . . I felt that I owed him personally and his generation a debt and I wanted to repay that with service to my country.”

These are the words spoken by Lt. Colonel Fehrehnbach on the Rachel Maddow Show last night (02/02/2010). They cut me to the heart, because Lt. Col. Fehrehnbach, like Lt. Dan Cho and 13,500 OTHER GLBT members of the military aren’t going to be allowed to continue their careers. Because they’re queers. OPEN queers. Just like me – and about 100,000 OTHER GLBT former members of the military. Like Grethe Cammermeyer.

I was at one time a very conservative Republican here in Texas - until 1997, the year that I finally came out of the closet. I was challenged by a gay male friend to tell him exactly what it was that I found so attractive about the Republican Party, since I was now out, and since the platform OF the party was so inimicable to the GLBT community. So, I went and looked - and almost overnight became a liberal Democrat.

As my life has evolved, I have gradually returned to appreciating some of the core values of the Republican Party, while still appreciating and working for the social justice programs that the Democratic Party supports. That's why I now list myself as an independent; I cannot fully support the complete platforms and political agendas of either party, so I try my best to follow my conscience and work for and support those policies with which I DO agree. One of the policies with which I’ve got serious, SERIOUS issues is that contemptible compromise that President Bill Clinton betrayed the GLBT service members, and indeed the entire GLBT community that wanted to serve with called “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”.
(He did the same thing with DOMA, but that's an entirely different column).

I'm one of those that "served in silence" for 20+ years. I find it truly distressing that there is so much controversy surrounding repeal of DADT, because we have lost – hell, thrown away - some of our best and brightest to this entirely unnecessary and discriminatory policy. I especially loathe Senator John McCain’s shallow, self-righteous and self-serving nonsense on this policy. He was for the policy in 2004. Now, because he’s facing a serious challenge to his Senate seat from a Tea Partier, he’s taken the opposite position – and in so doing, he’s betrayed soldiers like Lt. Col. Fehrehnbach.

Today, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin Powell made a statement that made me doubt my own sanity. Seriously. I honestly looked outside to see if the sky was opening up to swallow up the earth. Today, Colin Powell came out in support of repealing DADT. He was one of the chief architects of this policy – and he’s changed his mind. I REALLY think that I hear a choir of turtles singing the Brahms REQUIEM.

“In the almost 17 years since the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ legislation was passed, attitudes and circumstances have changed,” General Powell said in a statement issued by his office. He added: “I fully support the new approach presented to the Senate Armed Services Committee this week by Secretary of Defense Gates and Admiral Mullen.”

Robert M. Gates, the defense secretary, and Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told lawmakers on Tuesday that they supported President Obama’s proposal to repeal the 1993 law forbidding gay men and lesbians to be open about their sexuality while serving in uniform. Admiral Mullen was the first Joint Chiefs chairman ever to take that position, signaling the evolution in attitudes both inside the military and in the broader society since the debate under President Bill Clinton.

When Mr. Clinton tried to end the ban on gay soldiers, General Powell was the Joint Chiefs chairman and opposed the move on the grounds that it would undermine discipline and order in the military but he supported the “don’t ask” compromise. In his statement on Wednesday, General Powell said “the principal issue has always been the effectiveness of the Armed Forces and order and discipline in the ranks.” He noted that he had said for the past two years that it was “time for the law to be reviewed,” but his new statement of unequivocal support for the effort by Mr. Gates and Admiral Mullen could be an important factor as the debate moves forward this year.

Wow. Just, WOW. This is the second time in this past year or so that I’ve sat and cried, and thought to myself, “I DID live long enough to see it”. First time was when President Obama was sworn in, and the sky didn’t fall. This is the second time – and the sky STILL hasn’t fallen.

NOW, I’d like to know just why it’s going to take a year to decide that the GBLT members of the military community not only don’t want to but also are NOT interested in running rampant in the barracks, slavering lustfully after heterosexual men and women. As Lt. Col. Fehrehnbach pointed out last night on the Rachel Maddow show, 25 member countries of the UN have sexually desegregated, and – GOSH, folks – NOTHING HAPPENED. Nothing. AT ALL. Well, actually, something DID happen. The unit members were a lot more comfortable with each other, morale actually went UP, and these countries didn’t throw away some of their best and brightest members because of sexual orientation. NOBODY CARED, after about a month.So, WHY is it going to take a year to get rid of DADT?

Some of the provisions of the Uniform Code of Military Justice provide for either a General Discharge, a Bad Conduct Discharge, or a dismissal from service for “Conduct Unbecoming”.
(Citation: http://www.qrd.org/qrd/orgs/CMS/1993/BriefingBook/BB06-fs-UCMJ). I’ve put the citation up because there is an explanation of it at the end of the citation, which y’all need to read. The other articles that were cited last night as grounds for dismissal with prejudice were adultery (yeah, and when was the last time that THAT happened?), arson, murder (same comment, see Lt. Calley and what happened to him), and “visible body art” IE tattoos. Seen any UNtattoed Marines lately? Me neither!


Which brings me back to Senator McCain. He was gung-ho in 2004 for modifying or getting completely rid of Article 125. Now he thinks that having openly GLBT folks serving in the military would have a “deleterious effect” on morale and unit cohesion. I wonder, has he talked to the members of Lt. Cho’s former unit? THEY all knew he was gay, and they didn’t give a damn. Neither did they tell anybody. Senator McCain is a great example of what NOT to be and what NOT to do – an inspiration that’s turned out, in the end, to be nothing more or less than a sleaze.

Y'know what it would take to do the research for ending DADT? About 10 phone conferences over the course of about a month, collation of that information, which shouldn't take longer than about a week, and then presentation OF that material, which shouldn't take longer than about three days, at most. Then, VOTE THE DAMNED UNCONSTITUTIONAL DISCRIMINATORY POLICY OUT, OUT, OUT! Restore those service members that want to complete their terms of service, give them the rank that they would have attained had they been allowed to serve openly, and get past this most shameful, horrific latest episode in American military history. The same things that are now being prophesized for the inclusion of openly GLBT service members were also predicted when President Truman desegregated the troops after WWII - and the sky didn't fall then. It's not going to fall now, either.

Mr. John. Elliott, who is a former GOP spokesman for the Armed Services Committee, had this to say today on NPR: “There’s a camp, privately among Republicans, that believe that the party would probably be better off not going to the mat over something that is - that has the support of the top of the military as well as a lot in the rank and file, and something that is rapidly becoming a nonissue for younger generations of voters.”

A non-issue. Sexual orientation becoming irrelevant in job performance.

I AM going to live long enough to see it, after all.

Monday, February 1, 2010

FRANKENFOOD! (OR, how TV sometimes anticipates real life)

I LOVE all of the CSI’s, mainly because I love to watch smart people solving puzzles. These three shows are really good at that (and the back stories about the people involved are interesting as well). Unfortunately, sometimes the shows anticipate real-life problems. Like the CSI: MIAMI show, BAD SEED.

I missed it the first time it was on since it came on in the middle of a football game that WonderWifeTheEngineer wanted to watch, and I’m sorry that I did. It was a very scary show, made even more frightening by my reading the latest information about GM crops that dropped into my e-mail the next morning.

GM, as I’m reasonably sure that everybody knows at this point, stands for Genetically Modified. Most people call it FrankenFood and refuse to eat it. There was an absolutely huge scandal a few years ago when it was discovered that Taco Bell was using GM corn in their tortillas. (http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2000/09/24/gm-corn-part-one.aspx)

According to the article, there is some concern that a protein found in the altered corn could cause an allergic reaction in some consumers, which is why the FDA had not approved of its use in humans. Y’see, this corn was only approved for cattle feed. So, OF COURSE, instead of it being directly fed to the consumer in the form of corn products, we got to eat it in beef. Wow. Wasn’t that terrific. According to U.S. government scientists, the GM corn, named "StarLink", is safe for cattle, pigs and other farm animals.

Uh-huh. It’s safe for our food animals to eat it. SURE it is. Of course, nobody did any sort of research into whether those food animals were safe for human consumption, either. An independent laboratory, Genetic ID Inc., concluded in three sets of tests that the samples contained StarLink corn. The boxes of taco shells sold under the Taco Bell brand were produced by Kraft Foods Inc., a unit of Philip Morris Co. Inc.

Dr. Mercola (http://www.mercola.com/) stated back in 2000 on his web site: “In addition to being worried about the corn, what do you think happens to the livestock being feed the GM foods? Although I do feel that animal protein is an important part of the human diet, I am a firm believer in treating livestock properly, which certainly does not include feeding them genetically-modified "FrankenFoods". This is another great reason to buy organic whenever possible and to try to only patronize companies that pledge to stay GM-free.”

So, this is important why?

As Monsanto prepares to unleash its latest Genetically-Modified (GM) corn supercrop, the International Journal of Biological Sciences has revealed the true cost of these crops.

The study focused on three GM corn crops - Mon 863, Mon 801 and NK 603 - and found that they caused statistically significant rates of kidney and liver malfunction, as well as some heart, adrenal, spleen and blood damage in rats. These crops have been approved for consumption in the U.S. and many countries in Europe without proper research into their affect on human health.

GM technology inserts non-food genes into the DNA of food, sometimes making the crop more resilient to herbicides and other times, causing them to produce toxic proteins that act as pesticides themselves. This process changes the structure of the food drastically and presents humans with substances that have never been a part of the human or animal diet.

Several countries in Europe, such as Germany and France, have already banned GM crops, including Mon 801. But the U.S. FDA has done us a potentially dangerous and disastrous disservice by simply taking Monsanto's word that these genetically modified crops are safe and not doing any testing! This 90-day study was just the beginning, and these GM crops must be studied further instead of being immediately available for human consumption.

And this has what to do with a TV show?

Here’s the plot of BAD SEED:

When a pale and unconscious ER patient named Lauren, dies from complete organ failure, Alexx Woods believes she was murdered with an unknown poison. Ethan, her boyfriend who said he had planned to propose to her, becomes the main suspect. Horatio and the team test everything in her apartment for any sort of poison. When the boyfriend collapses during Delko's questioning, they discover Lauren was poisoned by a deadly strain of E. coli. The team investigates the restaurant where Ethan and Lauren last ate but are directed to the farm where the produce comes from, as E. coli starts with the grower. Ryan, Jesse and Walter get resistance from the farm but manage to test the crops and come up with nothing. They investigate other methods the strain could have infected the crops and discover everything is controlled by a larger corporation, Bixby Organic Foods. They secretly go back and test the irrigation system and discover the water tests positive for E. coli as it goes right through a manure-covered cattle field. They discover the corn that's feeding the cows is a perfect breeding ground for E. coli but when Alexx tells them that Ethan doesn't have an E. coli infection they have to dig deeper as to what the source is. Bixby was growing genetically engineered corn to make it easier to digest and Ethan had eaten some of that corn, showing symptoms of botulism and succumbing to it. Horatio confronts the CEO of Bixby but he claims a few deaths are worth feeding an entire nation.

This is the attitude of Monsanto and all of the other ginormous chemical and agricultural combines. Of course, that they all will be getting even richer as a result of these “FrankenFoods”, so-called, is just a SIDE issue. They really really REALLY care about us and gosh, if a few people died of allergic reactions to their genetic manipulations of our food surces, well, so what? That’s just that many FEWER people to clutter up the earth, after all!

And this, gangers, is why we ALL have to watch what we eat and where it comes from.

SHRIMP FARMING IS AN ENVIRONMENTAL NIGHTMARE

It’s funny, but I’m like a lot of other folks. While we all know how horrific the food factory farms are in terms of beef, chickens, sheep and other large mammals are, and how the terrible conditions there affect ourselves in terms of E-coli infections and other diseases that the antibiotic meats are stuffed with, I hadn’t given just a whole lot of thought to the fish farming industries. Specifically, I didn’t think about the environmental damages that can get past me (AND everybody else) because fish farming isn’t something that anybody really pays any attention to.

Well, that mindset – for me, at least – is going to be a thing of the past from now on out. I just read a book by Taras Grescoe entitled BOTTOMFEEDER: HOW TO EAT ETHICALLY IN A WORLD OF VANISHING SEAFOOD, and, oh, BOY, is it an eye-opener. He details an absolutely repulsive picture of how shrimp are farmed in one region of India. The shrimp pond preparation begins with urea, superphosphate, and diesel, then progresses to the use of piscicides (fish-killing chemicals like chlorine and rotenone), pesticides and antibiotics (including some that are banned in the U.S.), and ends by treating the shrimp with sodium tripolyphosphate (a suspected neurotoxicant), Borax, and occasionally caustic soda. When the shrimp arrive in the U.S. very few, if any at all, are inspected by the FDA, and when researchers have examined imported ready-to-eat shrimp, they found 162 separate species of bacteria with resistance to 10 different antibiotics.

YUCK. Resistant strains of bacteria are not a good thing to read about, particularly when you see the damage that resistant strains of bacterias do to people. We eat a lot of antibiotic resistant beef and chicken these days, and nobody seems to be particularly upset about it – that is, until you or somebody you love gets sick from a bacterial disease.

Overall, the shrimp-farming industry represents a dismantling of the marine ecosystem, piece by piece. Farming methods range from those described above to some that are more benign. This doesn’t even begin to cover the secondary ecological disasters that shrimp farming is causing in other ecosystems, either. Problems with irresponsible methods of farming don't end at the "yuck," factor since shrimp farming is credited with destroying 38 percent of the world's mangroves, some of the most diverse and productive ecosystems on earth. Mangroves sequester vast amounts of carbon and serve as valuable buffers against hurricanes and tsunamis. Some compare shrimp farming methods that demolish mangroves to slash-and-burn agriculture. A shrimp farmer will clear a section of mangroves and close it off to ensure that the shrimp cannot escape.

After that’s been done, the farmer relies on the tides to refresh the water, carrying shrimp excrement and various other diseases out to sea – spreading more poison into yet another fragile ecosystem. The shrimp framer destroys the entire mangrove ecosystem and it’s turned into a small dead zone for short-term gain. Even after the shrimp farm leaves, the mangroves do not come back. Get that – they do NOT grow back. Period. So, what can be done to either ameliorate or stop this ecosystem-wrecking practice?

Well, there are a few alternatives. Not many, and not great solutions, but at least more responsible. SORT of. Building and using closed, inland ponds that use their wastewater for agricultural irrigation instead of allowing it to pollute oceans or other waterways are about the only good alternative. When a farm has good disease management protocols, it does not need to use so many antibiotics or other chemicals, but that isn’t really the end of the potential problems, either. An estimated average of 1.4 pounds of wild fish is used to produce every pound of farmed shrimp. Sometimes the wild fish used is bycatch, which are fish that would be dumped into the ocean to rot if they weren't fed to shrimp. Unfortunately, at most other times, farmed shrimp are fed on species like anchovies, herring, sardines and menhaden. These fish are important foods for seabirds, big commercial fish and whales, so removing them from the ecosystem to feed farmed shrimp is problematic at best and disastrous for other species that live off them too.

What’s even worse is the use of trawling to wild-catch shrimp, which in and of itself is a highly destructive fishing method. Football field-sized nets are dragged along the ocean floor, scooping up and killing several pounds of marine life for every pound of shrimp they catch and demolishing the ocean floor ecosystem as they go. Where they don't clear-cut coral reefs or other rich ocean floor habitats, they drag their nets through the mud, leaving plumes of sediment so large they are visible from outer space. So, there’s even more ecological damage in this particular method, plus the denuding of fishing areas as well. After trawling destroys an ocean floor, the ecosystem often cannot recover for decades at least – if not longer. So, why is this significant? 98 percent of ocean life lives on or around the seabed. Depending on the fishery, the amount of bycatch (the term used for unwanted species scooped up and killed by trawlers) ranges from five to 20 pounds per pound of shrimp. These include sharks, rays, starfish, juvenile red snapper, sea turtles and more. While shrimp trawl fisheries only represent 2 percent of the global fish catch, they are responsible for over one-third of the world's bycatch.

So, that means that there are a lot of OTHER species that eat the bycatch that are starving or dying. Trawling is comparable to bulldozing an entire section of rainforest in order to catch one species of bird. So, given all of this, how can an American know how to find responsibly farmed or fished shrimp? Well, right this instant, it's damn near impossible. Only 15 percent of our total shrimp consumption comes from the U.S. (both farmed and wild sources). The U.S. has good regulations on shrimp farming, so purchasing shrimp farmed in the U.S. is not a bad way to go.

Wild shrimp, with a very few, VERY notable few exceptions, is typically obtained via trawling and should be avoided. The notable exceptions are spot prawns from British Columbia, which are caught in traps like those that are used for catching lobster, and the small salad shrimp like the Northern shrimp from the East Coast, or the pink shrimp from Oregon, both of which are certified as sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council. Unfortunately, neither are true substitutes for the large white and tiger shrimp American consumers are used to. “Bigger is better”, right?

Roughly 1/3 of the shrimp that the U.S. imports comes from Thailand, and over 80 percent of those shrimp are farmed. The next biggest sources of U.S. shrimp are Ecuador, Indonesia, China, Mexico, Vietnam, Malaysia and India. Together, those countries provide nearly 90 percent of America's imported shrimp. Interestingly enough, Ecuador's shrimp industry exists almost entirely to supply U.S. demand, with over 93 percent of its shrimp coming up north to the U.S. The vast majority of those shrimp (almost 90 percent) are farmed. Saddest and most sickeningly, shrimp production is responsible for the destruction of 70 percent of Ecuador's mangroves. Farming practices in other countries range from decent to awful, but there's currently no real way for a consumer to tell whether shrimp from any particular country was farmed sustainably or not. At least, not while we’re depending on the toothless, powerless and completely ineffective FDA to inspect the product.

Geoff Shester, senior science manager of Monterey Bay's Seafood Watch, says that ethical shrimp consumption is a chicken and egg problem. On one hand, the solution is for consumers to show demand for responsibly farmed and wild shrimp by eating it but on the other hand, ethical shrimp choices are not yet widely available. Seafood Watch is working with some of the largest seafood buyers in the U.S. to help them buy better shrimp, but it's currently a major challenge. The first – and the biggest - challenge is that labeling and certification programs do not yet exist to identify which farmed shrimp meet sustainable production standards. The second challenge is that even when such programs are in place, the U.S. demand will likely greatly exceed their supply.

Shester's advice to consumers right now is simple: "only buy shrimp that you know comes from a sustainable source. If you can't tell for sure, try something else from the Seafood Watch’s yellow or green lists." Knowing that many will be unwilling to give up America's favorite seafood, he advocates simply eating less of it and keeping an eye on future updates to the Seafood Watch guide to eating sustainable seafood.

Here’s the link to Seafood Watch:

http://www.montereybayaquarium.org/cr/seafoodwatch.aspx

If nothing else, check the packaging and SEE where the shrimp came from. If they’re not certified as a sustainable crop, don’t buy them. Otherwise, once again, we’re going to have the same problems with seafood that we’ve had in the past, with diseases that are not normally species-specific jumping species, and causing all sorts of problems.