Wednesday, December 30, 2009

There Is Plenty of Renewable Energy -- Just Take It

This comment was sent to us, responding to a vapid article by Jurriaan Kamp at Huffington Post:

"Renewable" energy -- as opposed to fossil or fissile fuels -- are those that the earth is already using. When humans take it, whether it's water, wind, or sunlight, we are taking it from other living things. In that sense, though "alternative", renewable energy is not green.

It is also, except for hydro, not efficient, requiring massive machines over huge areas to collect the diffuse resource. And without traditional thermal backup, it requires equal buildup of means of storage, which not only adds to the adverse environmental impact but also drastically reduces efficiency yet more.

Meaningful carbon and pollution taxes would not bring in renewables any more than current subsidies do. But they might inspire more conservation and efficiency, a result that would truly help the planet, not just "transform" our means of exploitation.

wind power, wind energy, environment, environmentalism, human rights, animal rights, anarchism, ecoanarchism, anarchosyndicalism

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Wind Turbines and Health Disputes

In an editorial at, Bill Opalka describes Nina Pierpont's recently published case series describing wind turbine syndrome and the consequent pushback by the American and Canadian Wind Energy Associations. Unfortunately, a few members of their "expert panel" have written in clear support of Pierpont's findings. Opalka also notes their statement that "for 30 years, people have been living near the more than 50,000 wind turbines operating in Europe and the more than 30,000 in North America, with few people experiencing ill effects." A correspondent sent us her comment:
Case studies vs. review

If Pierpont's work is new, then the industry's (self-published) review of earlier published work, much of it not specific to wind turbines, is not a convincing refutation. The point is that it is indeed a newly described phenomenon.

As for the statement that people have lived near wind turbines for decades with few complaints, it should also be noted that: 1) most of those turbines are much smaller and much farther from residences than those now being built in North America and the U.K. (and even so, Dutch and Swedish studies have found remarkable levels of annoyance and sleep disturbance, both of which they describe as an adverse health effect); 2) lease and neighbor easement contracts, signed in the innocence of industry reasurances, generally include gag orders against making problems public; and 3) many properties near wind turbine facilities are bought by the company because of health complaints, as, e.g., last year in Dufferin County, Ontario, with the imposition of new gag orders.

wind power, wind energy, wind turbines, wind farms, environment, environmentalism, human rights, animal rights, anarchism, ecoanarchism, anarchosyndicalism

Friday, December 25, 2009

Are there no prisons?

Paul Krugman wants us to know ("Tidings of Comfort", New York Times, Dec. 24) that the health insurance bailout bill just passed by the Senate is a great progressive act. He notes that if Tiny Tim can keep from getting sick until 2014, some yet-to-be-defined subsidies will help his family pay for some of his insurance, which they very likely will still not be able to afford (the company will be required to cover his preexisting condition by being allowed to charge more for it), for which crime they will be fined in true Scrooge-like fashion -- "to make America a much better country".

Krugman, who has written about the feasibility of both single-payer insurance (Medicare) and socialized medicine (Veterans Administration), now scolds "progressives" -- i.e., 70% of the American people in poll after poll who want a government-run single-payer system -- that "politics is the art of the possible". Krugman is an economist and knows that every other country in the world that has established universal health care has done so first by making it not for profit. The senate bill allows insurance companies to apply 20% (but no more!) of what they take in to "administrative" costs, mainly profits, bonuses, and dividends. In most universal-care countries, they are limited to 5%, and it is often less. Yet it is not possible that Americans should at least be able to choose an efficient public plan.

He thus gives up the fight (admonishing anybody who doesn't), happy to accept the Senate bill as law, to ignore or criticize what actually is possible. As Krugman points out: "There is a narrow [Congressional] majority in favor of a plan with a moderately strong public option. The House has passed such a plan." And there are likely 50 votes for it in the Senate. And, as already mentioned, there is a strong majority of the public in favor. Instead of crying about the rules of the Senate and fetishizing the need for 60 votes, and blaming the American people for not being impressed with the massive sell-out so far, Krugman should admonish both Harry Reid and Barack Obama for letting the assholes run the game.

The "possible" in Krugman's eyes is limited to what the lobbyists deem to be so. But Obama, at least, was elected in the hope that he would listen to the people first. Our bad! Shut up and be joyful! Paul Krugman brings you glad tidings that your betters have protected themselves royally so that someday they can help you a little bit maybe. More crumbs, please, sir.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Moving steel production from U.K. to India saves the planet

Before Rajendra Pachauri became head of the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, he was director and then director-general of the Tata Energy Research Institute, later called "The" Energy Research Institute, or TERI, which is essentially a division of the Indian industrial conglomerate the Tata Group. And he still is. TERI now has branches worldwide. In North America, its corporate sponsors include Amoco, two leading U.S. defense contractors, Monsanto, and two world leaders in the international carbon market, according to Christopher Booker and Richard North in the Independent (click the title of this post).

Under the "Clean Development Mechanism" of the Kyoto accord, which will be replaced by an even more lucrative scheme by the Copenhagen agreement, the Tata Group is transfering steel production from a Corus (which it owns) plant in the U.K. to a new one in India, putting 1,700 British workers on the dole and earning itself a potential £1.2 billion in carbon credits. Pachauri has apparently managed to convince people that emitting your carbon in a "developing" country is better than doing it in a "rich" country. And that his countless industry connections are not a conflict of interest but rather a sign of his fervent commitment to fighting climate change. Of course, rich countries have always transfered as much of their dirty business as possible to poorer countries. But they never pretended that it was saving the planet.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Destroying forests to save carbon emissions

"Clear-Cutting the Truth About Trees", Bernd Heinrich, New York Times op-ed, Dec. 20, 2009:

Part of the problem is the public misunderstanding of how forests and carbon relate. Trees are often called a “carbon sink” — implying that they will sop up carbon from the atmosphere for all eternity. This is not true: the carbon they take up when they are alive is released after they die, whether from natural causes or by the hand of man. The only true solution to achieving global “carbon balance” is to leave the fossil carbon where it is — underground.

Beyond that, planting more trees is decidedly not the same thing as saving our forests. Instead, planting trees invariably means using them as a sustainable crop, which leads not only to a continuous cycle of carbon releases, but also to the increased destruction of our natural environment. ...

In fact, most of the problems with the system can be traced back to the Kyoto Protocol, which was adopted in 1997. After much political wrangling, the Kyoto delegates decided that there would be no carbon-reduction credits for saving existing forests. Since planting new trees does get one credits, Kyoto actually created a rationale for clear-cutting old growth.

This is horrifying. The world’s forests are a key to our survival, and that of millions of other species. Not only are they critical to providing us with building material, paper, food, recreation and oxygen, they also ground us spiritually and connect us to our primal past. Never before in earth’s history have our forests been under such attack. And the global-warming folks at Copenhagen seem oblivious, buying into the corporate view of forests as an exploitable resource.

A forest is an ecosystem. It is not something planted. A forest grows on its own. There are many kinds of forests that will grow practically anywhere, each under its own special local conditions. When a tree falls, the race is on immediately to replace it. In the forests I study, there so many seeds and seedlings that if a square foot of ground space opens up, more than a hundred trees of many different species compete to grow there.

So if you want to plant a specific species of tree for lumber or for offsets, you’ll have to apply an (petroleum-based) herbicide repeatedly over its lifespan. If you hope to make a profit, you will plant a tree genetically engineered to grow quickly and resist disease. This is the path to domestication of a plant that needs to be ever coddled with fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides and fungicides. And not coincidentally, there will then be a market for its seeds, and all the chemicals needed to coddle the crop.

In the end, what was originally intended as a mechanism for slowing global warming has created huge economic pressure for ecocide. And there will be no objections from easily duped bleeding- heart “environmentalists,” who absolutely love tree planting because it sounds so “green.”

To preserve something it first has to be valued, and the most effective means of valuing it is to have a practical use for it. If the discussions in Copenhagen were any indication, mankind sees little value in forests, but much in tree plantations. ...

environment, environmentalism, animal rights, ecoanarchism

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Wind Turbine Sound and Health Effects

In contrast to the latest effort by the Canadian and American Wind Energy Associations to assert otherwise ("Wind Turbine Sound and Health Effects: An Expert Panel Review" (December 2009), read what a couple members of their expert panel said before they tapped into the wind industry money pipeline.

1. "A Review of Published Research on Low Frequency Noise and Its Effects", Report for Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (U.K.) by Dr Geoff Leventhall, assisted by Dr Peter Pelmear and Dr Stephen Benton, May 2003 [excerpts]

8. Annoyance

8.2.4 Annoyance and the dBA. A comparison of a band of noise peaking at 250Hz with a band peaking at 100Hz, whilst both were adjusted to the same A-weighted level, showed that the annoyance from the low frequency noise was greater than that from the higher frequency noise at the same A-weighted level (Persson et al., 1985). This work was subsequently extended (Persson and Bjorkman, 1988; Persson et al., 1990) using a wider range of noises, for example, peaking at 80Hz, 250Hz. 500Hz and 1000Hz, leading to the following conclusions:

There is a large variability between subjects.

The dBA underestimates annoyance for frequencies below about 200Hz.

10. Low frequency noise and stress

10.1 Low frequency noise and cortisol secretion. It is difficult to measure stress directly, but cortisol secretion has been used as a stress indicator (Ising and Ising, 2002; Persson-Waye et al., 2002; Persson-Waye et al., 2003). Under normal circumstances, cortisol levels follow a distinct circadian pattern in which the diurnal variation of cortisol is to drop to very low levels during the early morning sleep period, rising towards the awakening time. The rise continues until about 30 minutes after awakening, followed by a fall until midday and further fluctuations. Stress disrupts the normal cortisol pattern.

Ising and Ising (2002) discuss how noise, perceived as a threat , stimulates release of cortisol. This also occurs during sleep, thus increasing the level of night cortisol, which may interrupt recreative and other qualities of sleep. Measurements were made of the effect on children who, because of traffic changes, had become exposed to a high level of night lorry noise. There were two groups of subjects, exposed to high and low noise levels. The indoor noise spectrum for high levels typically peaked at around 60Hz, at 65dB, with a difference of maximum LC and LA of 26dB. The difference of average levels was 25dB, thus indicating a low frequency noise problem. Children exposed to the higher noise levels in the sample had significantly more problems with concentration, memory and sleep and also had higher cortisol secretions. Conclusions of the work were that the A-weighting is inadequate and that safer limits are needed for low frequency noise at night.

Perrson Waye et al (2003), studied the effect on sleep quality and wakening of traffic noise ( 35dB LAeq, 50dB LAmax) and low frequency noise (40dB LAeq). The low frequency noise peaked at 50Hz with a level of 70dB. In addition to cortisol determinations from saliva samples, the subjects completed questionnaires on their quality of sleep, relaxation and social inclinations. The main findings of the study were that levels of the cortisol awakening response were depressed after exposure to low frequency noise and that this was associated with tiredness and a negative mood.

In a laboratory study of noise sensitive subjects performing work tasks, it was found that enhanced salivary cortisol levels were produced by exposure to low frequency noise (Persson-Waye et al., 2002). A finding was that subjects who were sensitive to low frequency noise generally maintained higher cortisol levels and also had impaired performance. A hypothesis from the study is that changes in cortisol levels, such as produced by low frequency noise, may have a negative influence on health, heightened by chronic noise exposure. The three studies reviewed above show how low frequency noise disturbs the normal cortisol pattern during night, awakening and daytime exposure. The disturbances are associated with stress related effects.

[ [ [
Related to this is the finding from a Dutch study released last year that: "the sound of wind turbines causes relatively much annoyance. The sound is perceived at relatively low levels and is thought to be more annoying than equally loud air or road traffic" ("Visual and acoustic impact of wind turbine farms on residents", by Frits van den Berg, Eja Pedersen, Jelte Bouma, and Roel Bakker, June 3, 2008). This was the final report of the European Union–financed WINDFARMperception study. It is not cited in the new CanWEA/AWEA paper. See also a note from September that in this study, only 9% of the respondents lived with estimated outdoor noise level from wind turbines of more than 45 dBA. It is also noted that in an oft-cited (including in this latest CanWEA/AWEA work) Swedish study (Pedersen and Persson Waye, 2007), the average outdoor noise level was only 33.4 ± 3.0 dBA and the average distance to the nearest wind turbine, which could be as small as 500 kW in size, was 2,559 ± 764 ft (780 ± 233 m) -- the finding of few health effects is hardly relevant to the common North American situation of much closer construction of much much larger machines; in fact, the findings of significant annoyance and sleep disturbance (both of which have adverse health effects) under such "amenable" conditions should ring alarm bells about giant erections closer to homes, not to mention their effect on wildlife.
] ] ]

13. General Review of Effects of Low Frequency Noise on Health

13.2 Effects on humans. Infrasound exposure is ubiquitous in modern life. It is generated by natural sources such as earthquakes and wind. It is common in urban environments, and as an emission from many artificial sources: automobiles, rail traffic, aircraft, industrial machinery, artillery and mining explosions, air movement machinery including wind turbines [emphasis added], compressors, and ventilation or air-conditioning units, household appliances such as washing machines, and some therapeutic devices. The effects of infrasound or low frequency noise are of particular concern because of its pervasiveness due to numerous sources, efficient propagation, and reduced efficiency of many structures (dwellings, walls, and hearing protection) in attenuating low-frequency noise compared with other noise.

13.6 Conclusion. There is no doubt [emphasis added] that some humans exposed to infrasound experience abnormal ear, CNS, and resonance induced symptoms that are real and stressful. If this is not recognised by investigators or their treating physicians, and properly addressed with understanding and sympathy, a psychological reaction will follow and the patientís problems will be compounded. Most subjects may be reassured that there will be no serious consequences to their health from infrasound exposure and if further exposure is avoided they may expect to become symptom free.

2. "Application of Sumas Energy 2 Generation Facility: Prefiled Testimony of David M. Lipscomb, Ph.D., Before the State of Washington Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council", June 2000 [excerpt]

Q: Are you familiar with the effects of noise on public health?

Ans: Yes. In addition to my work with the U. S. EPA, I have attended and made presentations to numerous International Congresses on Noise as a Public Health Problem. They include 1968 (Washington, D.C.); 1973 (Dubrovnic, Yugoslavia); 1978 (Friburg, Germany) and 1982 (Turin, Italy). These were gatherings of active researchers on the topic from around the world. Proceedings of the Congresses were produced and are contained in my library.

Q: Could you describe some of these effects?

Ans: Yes. The effects include loss of sleep, hearing damage, irritability, exacerbation of nervous and cardiovascular disorders, and frustration stemming from loss of control of one’s acoustical environment.

Q: Is a person able to control the physical reaction within their body to sound?

Ans: Only to a limited extent. Dr. Samuel Rosen, formerly physician at New York City’s Mt. Sinai Hospital stated: “You may be able to ignore noise – but your body will never forgive you.” The truth in this statement is that “coping” is a fatiguing activity. Therefore, the energy spent in coping with environmental noise or the frustrations it produces, is robbed from energy desired for other forms of activity.

Q: At what sound levels would your expect to see reactions of effects of noise?

Ans: Surprisingly small sound levels can cause certain reactions. For example, sleep studies have shown that subjects will shift two or three levels of sleep when the environmental sound is increased only 5 dB. Thus, a person in the Rapid Eye Movement (REM), the fifth stage of sleep, when the bedroom sound level is 35 dBA, will shift out of that essential level of sleep when the sound increases only to about 40 dBA. As a result, this negative health effect is known to lead to chronic fatigue and irritability.

Q: Could you please explain the effect of noise at night in residential areas?

Ans: Yes, recall that I mentioned low-frequency noise entering a house almost unimpeded. If that noise source is the predominant sound in a bedroom, any change in the sound level can influence a person’s sleep level, therefore, reducing the adequacy of rest afforded by sleep. Further, the noise source, if it is from the power generation plant, serves as a masking noise. That is, it covers up other sounds to which one may need to attend. For example, sounds from a child’s bedroom.

Q: Could you please explain the effect of low frequency noise and how it travels?

Ans: Yes, but to do so, I must introduce the term “wave length”. This is the distance covered by a sound during one cycle. For example, a mid-frequency 1000 Hz sound has a wave length of slightly more than 1-foot. Lower frequency sounds have longer wave lengths. Thus, a 100 Hz sound has slightly more than a 10-foot wave length. The longer the wave length, the more efficient the sound is in penetrating barriers such as walls of a structure. For the purposes of this investigation, I would define low frequency sounds as those falling below 100 Hz. Perhaps you have experienced life in an apartment when a neighbor plays a stereo loudly. The sound that penetrated to your quarters was the bass (low frequency sound). Also due to the wave length characteristics, low frequency sounds dissipate less over distance than do sounds of higher frequency.

wind power, wind energy, wind turbines, wind farms, environment, environmentalism, human rights, animal rights, anarchism, ecoanarchism, anarchosyndicalism

Sunday, December 13, 2009

"This sentence is dangerous"

The Den Brook Judicial Review Group were recently successful in a Freedom of Information request to obtain drafts of a government-contracted report about noise levels from wind turbine facilities: "The measurement of low frequency noise at three UK wind farms" by Hayes McKenzie Partnership Ltd. for the (former) Department of Trade and Industry, 2006, contract no. W/45/00656/00/00; URN no. 06/1412. See the material posted at National Wind Watch, by courtesy of the Den Brook Judicial Review Group.

3rd draft, page 35:
It is important to note, however, that for Site 1: Location 1, the occupant complained of wind turbine noise only after being woken by the passage of a motor vehicle on the nearby A-Class road. As such, this indicates that, rather than wind turbine noise resulting in noise which is of sufficient level as to awaken a sleeping person, it is the inability to return to sleep associated with some audible wind turbine noise within the bedroom which is of more concern to that occupant. A difficulty in returning to sleep will result in tiredness the next day and all the associated descriptions of ill health which might be associated with a lack of sleep – this sentence is dangerous and could be read that windfarms cause ill-health which is not the intention. We need the report to stick to the facts that LFN is bleow the guidelines but that once woken by a car there may be problems getting gback to sleep for those with sensitive hearing as result of the windfarm – something like that.[Personal Details/Name of official removed under Reg 12(3) of the EIRs]
In the final report, page 48, the "dangerous" sentence has been deleted.

It is also interesting to note how the conclusion statements regarding aerodynamic modulation changed from draft to final report:

3rd draft, pages 45-46 (essentially the same from 2nd draft, not yet written in 1st draft):
The common cause of complaints associated with wind turbine noise at all three wind farms is the audible modulation of the aerodynamic noise, especially at night. Although the internal noise levels associated with this noise source are not high enough to result in the awakening of a resident, once awoken the audibility of this noise results in difficulties in returning to sleep.

The analysis of the external and internal noise levels indicates that it may be appropriate to re-visit the issue of the absolute night-time noise criterion specified within ETSU-R-97. To provide protection to wind farm neighbours, it would seem appropriate to reduce the absolute noise criterion for periods when background noise levels are low. In the absence of high levels of modulation, then a level of 38 dB LA90 (40 dB LAeq) will reduce levels to an internal noise level which lies around or below 30 dB LAeq with windows open for ventilation. In the presence of high levels of aerodynamic modulation of the incident noise, then a correction for the presence of the noise should be considered.
Final report, page 67 (deletions indicated, and additions in italics):
The common cause of complaints associated with wind turbine noise at all three wind farms is not associated with low frequency noise, but is the audible modulation of the aerodynamic noise, especially at night. Although the internal noise levels associated with this noise source are not high enough to result in the awakening of a resident, once awoken the audibility of this noise can results in difficulties in returning to sleep. It is also not uncommon for a wind farm to be identified as a cause of the awakening although noise levels and the measurements/recordings indicate to the contrary.

The analysis of the external and internal noise levels indicates that it may be appropriate to re-visit the issue of the absolute night-time noise criterion specified within ETSU-R-97. To provide protection to wind farm neighbours, it would seem appropriate to reduce the absolute noise criterion for periods when background noise levels are low<. In the absence of high levels of modulation, then a level of 38 dB LA90 (40 dB LAeq) will reduce levels to an internal noise level which lies around or below 30 dB LAeq with windows open for ventilation aerodynamic modulation and the means by which it should be assessed. In the presence of high levels of aerodynamic modulation of the incident noise, then a correction for the presence of the noise acoustic feature should be considered.
wind power, wind energy, wind turbines, wind farms, environment, environmentalism, human rights, animal rights

Friday, December 11, 2009

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Muhammad Ali on war

"Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go 10,000 miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights? No, I'm not going 10,000 miles from home to help murder and burn another poor nation simply to continue the domination of white slave masters of the darker people the world over. This is the day when such evils must come to an end. I have been warned that to take such a stand would cost me millions of dollars. But I have said it once and I will say it again. The real enemy of my people is here. ... If I thought the war was going to bring freedom and equality to 22 million of my people, they wouldn't have to draft me, I'd join tomorrow. I have nothing to lose by standing up for my beliefs. So I'll go to jail, so what? We've been in jail for 400 years."

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Trim costs of wind power: Don't build 'em

Kate Galbraith writes in today's "Green, Inc." column for the New York Times that offshore wind is moving along: first example, Denmark's starting the operation of Horns Rev 2, the world’s largest offshore wind farm, in September. That project represents the first addition of wind capacity in Denmark since 2003. In November, it had already ceased operation due to problems with the transmission connections -- which Galbraith forgot to mention.

Horns Rev I, a.k.a Nysted, had expensive problems, too. Every single nacelle (with blade assembly) had to be brought back ashore to replace all of the transformers and generators. Less than 3 years later, it was shut down again because of transformer problems.

Clearly, offshore wind is even more of a boondoggle than onshore wind.

It is also clear that the imperative to build it up is stronger still -- witness the growing number of ads (and even video games) featuring wind turbines featuring wind turbines. This goes hand in hand with corporate support for a cap-and-trade "solution" to carbon emissions: Wind is the absolver. As long as those blades are spinning, someone gets to continue emitting carbon. Build enough of them, and nobody has to change anything about their energy use. With wind on board, coal and oil are clean and green! Even though the reality is that wind is just more of the same making things worse -- for people, for nature, for the economy.

wind power, wind energy, wind turbines, wind farms

environment, environmentalism, human rights, animal rights, anarchism, ecoanarchism, anarchosyndicalism

Monday, November 23, 2009

Healthcare is a Human Right: VT postcard campaign

Healthcare is a Human Right

Click the above link to sign a postcard to be delivered to legislative leaders in Vermont on Jan. 6, the first day of the next session.

human rights, Vermont

Sunday, November 22, 2009

We're better than other animals. That's why we get to kill them.

Gary Steiner writes in today's New York Times:

Lately more people have begun to express an interest in where the meat they eat comes from and how it was raised. Were the animals humanely treated? Did they have a good quality of life before the death that turned them into someone’s dinner?

Some of these questions, which reach a fever pitch in the days leading up to Thanksgiving, pertain to the ways in which animals are treated. (Did your turkey get to live outdoors?) Others focus on the question of how eating the animals in question will affect the consumer’s health and well-being. (Was it given hormones and antibiotics?)

None of these questions, however, make any consideration of whether it is wrong to kill animals for human consumption. And even when people ask this question, they almost always find a variety of resourceful answers that purport to justify the killing and consumption of animals in the name of human welfare. Strict ethical vegans, of which I am one, are customarily excoriated for equating our society’s treatment of animals with mass murder. Can anyone seriously consider animal suffering even remotely comparable to human suffering? Those who answer with a resounding no typically argue in one of two ways.

Some suggest that human beings but not animals are made in God’s image and hence stand in much closer proximity to the divine than any non-human animal; according to this line of thought, animals were made expressly for the sake of humans and may be used without scruple to satisfy their needs and desires. There is ample support in the Bible and in the writings of Christian thinkers like Augustine and Thomas Aquinas for this pointedly anthropocentric way of devaluing animals.

Others argue that the human capacity for abstract thought makes us capable of suffering that both qualitatively and quantitatively exceeds the suffering of any non-human animal. Philosophers like Jeremy Bentham, who is famous for having based moral status not on linguistic or rational capacities but rather on the capacity to suffer, argue that because animals are incapable of abstract thought, they are imprisoned in an eternal present, have no sense of the extended future and hence cannot be said to have an interest in continued existence.

The most penetrating and iconoclastic response to this sort of reasoning came from the writer Isaac Bashevis Singer in his story “The Letter Writer,” in which he called the slaughter of animals the “eternal Treblinka.”

The story depicts an encounter between a man and a mouse. The man, Herman Gombiner, contemplates his place in the cosmic scheme of things and concludes that there is an essential connection between his own existence as “a child of God” and the “holy creature” scuffling about on the floor in front of him.

Surely, he reflects, the mouse has some capacity for thought; Gombiner even thinks that the mouse has the capacity to share love and gratitude with him. Not merely a means for the satisfaction of human desires, nor a mere nuisance to be exterminated, this tiny creature possesses the same dignity that any conscious being possesses. In the face of that inherent dignity, Gombiner concludes, the human practice of delivering animals to the table in the form of food is abhorrent and inexcusable.

Many of the people who denounce the ways in which we treat animals in the course of raising them for human consumption never stop to think about this profound contradiction. Instead, they make impassioned calls for more “humanely” raised meat. Many people soothe their consciences by purchasing only free-range fowl and eggs, blissfully ignorant that “free range” has very little if any practical significance. Chickens may be labeled free-range even if they’ve never been outside or seen a speck of daylight in their entire lives. And that Thanksgiving turkey? Even if it is raised “free range,” it still lives a life of pain and confinement that ends with the butcher’s knife.

How can intelligent people who purport to be deeply concerned with animal welfare and respectful of life turn a blind eye to such practices? And how can people continue to eat meat when they become aware that nearly 53 billion land animals are slaughtered every year for human consumption? The simple answer is that most people just don’t care about the lives or fortunes of animals. If they did care, they would learn as much as possible about the ways in which our society systematically abuses animals, and they would make what is at once a very simple and a very difficult choice: to forswear the consumption of animal products of all kinds. ...

The challenges faced by a vegan don’t end with the nuts and bolts of material existence. You face quite a few social difficulties as well, perhaps the chief one being how one should feel about spending time with people who are not vegans.

Is it O.K. to eat dinner with people who are eating meat? What do you say when a dining companion says, “I’m really a vegetarian — I don’t eat red meat at home.” (I’ve heard it lots of times, always without any prompting from me.) What do you do when someone starts to grill you (so to speak) about your vegan ethics during dinner? (Wise vegans always defer until food isn’t around.) Or when someone starts to lodge accusations to the effect that you consider yourself morally superior to others, or that it is ridiculous to worry so much about animals when there is so much human suffering in the world? (Smile politely and ask them to pass the seitan.)

Let me be candid: By and large, meat-eaters are a self-righteous bunch. The number of vegans I know personally is ... five. And I have been a vegan for almost 15 years, having been a vegetarian for almost 15 before that.

Five. I have lost more friends than this over arguments about animal ethics. One lapidary conclusion to be drawn here is that people take deadly seriously the prerogative to use animals as sources of satisfaction. Not only for food, but as beasts of burden, as raw materials and as sources of captive entertainment — which is the way animals are used in zoos, circuses and the like.

These uses of animals are so institutionalized, so normalized, in our society that it is difficult to find the critical distance needed to see them as the horrors that they are: so many forms of subjection, servitude and — in the case of killing animals for human consumption and other purposes — outright murder.

People who are ethical vegans believe that differences in intelligence between human and non-human animals have no moral significance whatsoever. The fact that my cat can’t appreciate Schubert’s late symphonies and can’t perform syllogistic logic does not mean that I am entitled to use him as an organic toy, as if I were somehow not only morally superior to him but virtually entitled to treat him as a commodity with minuscule market value.

We have been trained by a history of thinking of which we are scarcely aware to view non-human animals as resources we are entitled to employ in whatever ways we see fit in order to satisfy our needs and desires. Yes, there are animal welfare laws. But these laws have been formulated by, and are enforced by, people who proceed from the proposition that animals are fundamentally inferior to human beings. At best, these laws make living conditions for animals marginally better than they would be otherwise — right up to the point when we send them to the slaughterhouse.

Think about that when you’re picking out your free-range turkey, which has absolutely nothing to be thankful for on Thanksgiving. All it ever had was a short and miserable life, thanks to us intelligent, compassionate humans.

Monday, November 16, 2009

The enemy of the good

There is an excellent essay at Counterpunch today by Alan Nasser: "Obama's Flawed Case Against Single Payer".

Similar to what he notes about Obama, it seems to be a motto for the sometimes slightly progressive neoliberal politicians in Vermont that "We can't let the perfect be the enemy of the good [so let's not even consider it, or for that matter whether what I'm going along with actually is any good]." It's one big antidemocratic thumbing of their collective nose and most people just nod at this signature wisdom.

And so by dismissing actual good as too "perfect", as irresponsible madness, all that is usually left is quite a bit less than good.

And so we have health insurance reform from our Congress and President: the same lousy system, only more punitive.

human rights, Vermont, anarchism, anarchosyndicalism

Friday, November 06, 2009

Local Organic Meat

Bushway Packing in Grand Isle, Vermont, was certified organic. As this video shows, being local and organic doesn't change the facts about killing and eating animals. This also illustrates the dark side of the dairy industry, which should also be called the veal industry.

animal rights, vegetarianism, Vermont, ecoanarchism

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Single-payer, not-for-profit health care system

Dennis Kucinich, Ohio, July 31, 2009:

Mr. Speaker, I've listened to the health care debate, as all Members have, for the last few months. And what's very interesting about it is that in this debate, we've essentially talked past the single most effective way to reduce costs and to provide health care for all Americans, and that is to create a single-payer, universal not-for-profit health care system.

Such a system is envisioned in and provided for in H.R. 676, Medicare for All, a bill that I had the privilege of writing with John Conyers of Michigan, a bill that is supported by 85 Members of Congress, by hundreds of community organizations and labor unions, by over 14,000 physicians, and a bill which represents an idea whose time has come.

Some basic facts require discussion when we're speaking about our health care system. And that is that we spend about $2.4 trillion on health care in America, all spending. That amounts to about 16 to 17 percent of our gross domestic product. Clearly health care is a huge item in the American economy.

If all of that money, all of that $2.4 trillion went to care for people, every American would be covered. But today, not every American is covered. As a matter of fact, there are 50 million Americans without health insurance and another 50 million underinsured. Why is it in this country which has so much wealth in this country, which has given so much of its wealth to people at the top, we can have 50 million Americans without insurance? By and large, it's because people cannot afford private insurance.

Why not? Well, it's very simple. When you look at the fact that an individual can pay $300 to $600 a month or more for a premium, when you look at the fact that a family can pay $1,000, $2,000 a month or more for a health care premium, when you consider that a family budget cannot in any way countenance the kind of health care expenses that most families can run into, when you understand that any family can lose its middle class status with a single illness in that family, you come to understand the dilemma that we have in America.

Why isn't health care a basic right in a democratic society? Why do we have a for-profit health care system? I will tell you why. Because out of that $2.4 trillion that is spent every year in health spending, $1 out of $3, or $800 billion a year, goes to the activities of the for-profit system for corporate profits, stock options, executive salaries, advertising, marketing, the cost of paperwork; 15 to 30 percent in the private sector as compared to Medicare's 3 percent.

This is what this fight is about in Washington. This is why the insurance industry is hovering around Washington like a flock of vultures. $800 billion a year is at stake. And so they will do anything that they can to be part of this game so that the government can continue to subsidize insurance companies one way or another.

One out of every $3 goes for the activities of the for-profit system. If we took that $800 billion a year and put it into care for everyone, we'd have enough money to cover every American. Not just basic health care, with doctor of choice, but dental care, mental health care, vision care, prescription drugs, long-term care, all would be covered. Everything.

People say how is that possible? It's because we're already paying for the universal standard of care. We're just not getting it.

Israeli violations of international law must not be acknowledged

House resolution "opposing any endorsement or further consideration of report of the United Nations fact finding mission on the Gaza conflict" (the "Goldstone report") -- Nov. 3 -- Peter Welch of Vermont boldly votes "present".

human rights, Vermont

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Canadian wind industry's cynical dismissal of health concerns

Deconstructing CanWEA Health “Research”

On October 6, 2008, the industry trade group Canadian Wind Energy Association (CanWEA) posted a press release titled “Scientists conclude that there is no evidence that wind turbines have an adverse impact on human health” in response to news coverage of Dr. Nina Pierpont's work describing and explaining "wind turbine syndrome", stating:
[T]he Canadian Wind Energy Association (CanWEA) has compiled a list of articles and publications on the subject from reputable sources in Europe and North America. ...

These findings clearly show that there is no peer-reviewed scientific evidence indicating that wind turbines have an adverse impact on human health.
In May, Wind Concerns Ontario reviewed the seven articles cited by CanWEA, asking the following questions:
  • Do they support the claim in the title of CanWEA’s press release?
  • Do they support the conclusion of CanWEA’s press release?
  • Do they refute Dr. Pierpont’s research?
None of the articles “conclude that there is no evidence that wind turbines have an adverse impact on human health”.

None of the articles state that “there is no peer-reviewed scientific evidence indicating that wind turbines have an adverse impact on human health.”.

None of the articles review Pierpont’s research.

Only one article mentions Pierpont’s case studies, stating that “One cannot discount the information”.

Six of the articles identify wind turbine noise as a health concern which must be considered.

Only one of the articles discusses noise in the assessment of adverse health effects related to various forms of electricity generation.

None of the articles study patients or reports of patients describing adverse health effects when exposed to wind turbines.

None of the articles consider recent research in addition to Pierpont's regarding health effects related to wind turbines.

The seven articles are:
  1. Infrasound from wind turbines – fact, fiction or deception. Geoff Leventhall (noise and vibration consultant). Canadian Acoustics 2006;24(2):29-36.
  2. Wind turbine facilities noise issues. Ramani Ramakrishnan (acoustician); prepared for Ministry of the Environment of Ontario. Aiolos report no. 4071/2180/AR155Rev3 (Dec 2007).
  3. Wind turbine acoustic noise. Anthony Rogers (mechanical engineer), James Manwell (mechanical engineer), Sally Wright (mechanical engineer), Renewable Energy Research Laboratory, Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering, University of Massachusetts at Amherst. June 2002, amended Jan. 2006.
  4. Research into aerodynamic modulation of wind turbine noise. Andy Moorhouse (acoustician), Malcolm Hayes (acoustics student), Sabine von H√ľnerbein (acoustician), Ben Piper, Mags Adams (social scientist), University of Salford; prepared for Dept. for Business Enterprise & Regulatory Reform, contract no. NANR233. July 2007.
  5. Electricity generation and health. Anil Markandya (economist), Paul Wilkinson. Lancet 2007 (Sep. 15);370(9591):979-990.
  6. The health impact of wind turbines: a review of the current white, grey, and published literature. David Colby (MD), Acting Medical Officer of Health, Chatham-Kent Public Health Unit; prepared for Chatham-Kent Municipal Council. June 2008.
  7. Energy, sustainable development and health (background document, Fourth Ministerial Conference on Environment and Health). Anil Markandya (economist) et al. (no MDs). June 3, 2004.
Also posted at Wind Concerns Ontario is an assessment of CanWEA's press release by Wayne Gulden of Amherst Island Wind Information. (Gulden also analyzed the Chatham-Kent review, as did Dr. Robert McMurtry.)
CanWEA has included a quote from each of these sources that appears to support their contention. As any reader will quickly discover, however, these quotes generally have little to do with the gist of the article. It quickly becomes obvious that CanWEA has “cherry-picked” the articles for the most supportive sentence, completely out of context.

Anyone can play this game, and as an example I could take The Doctors’ position and use quotes out of the very same 7 references to support it. Such a statement might look something like:
There are numerous reports of health issues caused by wind turbines and we want to have an epidemiological study to determine the facts. We have compiled a list of articles and publications on the subject from reputable sources in Europe and North America.

1. Leventhall. “Attention should be focused on the audio frequency fluctuating swish, which some people may well find to be very disturbing and stressful, depending on its level.”

2. Ramakrishnan. “However, additional concerns still need to be addressed in the next round of revisions to their assessment process. These revisions may need to be addressed after the results from future research provide scientifically consistent data for effects such as meteorology, human response and turbine noise source character.”

3. Rogers. “Community noise standards are important to ensure livable communities. Wind turbines must be held to comply with these regulations.”

4. Salford. “The results showed that 27 of the 133 windfarm sites operational across the UK at the time of the survey had attracted noise complaints at some point.”

5. Lancet. “In varying degrees these [renewable] sources share four main drawbacks: ... and environmental effects, aesthetic effects, or both, that might in part off set the broader environmental and health gains derived from lower air pollution and greenhouse-gas emissions.”

6. Colby. “Despite extensive searching of the current literature, limited information is available on health concerns relating to wind turbines.”

7. WHO. “[H]ealth effects from wind energy are negligible, however issues such as sleep disturbance, school absenteeism, eventually resulting from noise in vicinity, could not be evaluated.”
Why don’t they? Aside from the time constraints of not having their livelihoods supplied by the wind energy industry, they have a different set of priorities. CanWEA’s main interest, perhaps their only interest, is making money for their clients and themselves.

With that goal, the appearance of being truthful is far more important that actually being truthful. The Doctors, on the other hand, deal with real people having real health issues,and the real truth is the basis of how they deal. And the real truth being conveyed by these seven references – most of which are, as CanWEA says, respectable – has very little to do with health issues and epidemiological studies for people living in the shadow of wind turbines.

To use these otherwise useful references in this way is fundamentally dishonest, but it creates a “he said, she said” confusion that serves the interests of the industry.
wind power, wind energy, wind turbines, wind farms, human rights

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Friday, October 16, 2009

Animal agriculture as climate killer

Note that organic animal farming is not much better than chemical-based and factory farming of animals. An organic meat diet adds 92% of the greenhouse gas equivalence of a "conventional" meat diet, compared with 13% by a vegan diet and 6% by an organic vegan diet.

environment, environmentalism, animal rights, vegetarianism

Solomon and Sheba, by Konrad Witz, 1435

For mine qvinne I thee giftake and bind my hosenband I thee halter.
Finnegans Wake, page 62)

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Folly dressed up as science

The Burlington Free Press describes the final presentations of "The Energy Project Vermont," a celebration of wind power by the ECHO museum and Burlington City Arts:
Bringing in the science behind wind power, Thomas Tailer, co-director of UVM's Engineering Institute, ... has worked in alternative energy and education since 1979. Tailer's passion for seeing engineering and environment at work together was clear throughout his presentation. ... Tailer said just as the iconic Quixote jousted windmills to fight the Industrial Revolution, people today are in denial of our changing climate and are fighting alternative energy sources. ... "The image of an angel is an icon, and to me the windmill is that kind of icon, an icon of a sustainable future for this planet."
First, Miquel Cervantes published the first volume of his history of Don Quixote 1605 (the same year William Shakespeare produced King Lear), long before the industrial revolution. Tailer may be thinking of William Blake's "dark Satanic Mills" (preface to Milton, 1804).

Second, if Don Quixote were nonetheless a proto-Luddite, then he has (like the English Luddites of Blake's time) been vindicated by the environmental and social devastation wrought by centralized industry, and his battle was not madness but prescience. To equate that with denial of the devastation thus foreseen therefore doesn't fly. It is Tailer who denies the devastation wrought by industrial windmills, and Don Quixote who is right to tilt against them.

Third, Tailer evokes angels only to denigrate them as mere icons. But so it must be with windmills. Their agency doesn't really exist. They serve only as symbols.

So let's get real. If large-scale wind actually worked, it wouldn't need all these twisted rationalizations to justify it. Tailer not only mocks Don Quixote and angels, he also makes a mockery of science.

wind power, wind energy, wind turbines, wind farms, environment, environmentalism, human rights, animal rights, Vermont, anarchism, ecoanarchism, anarchosyndicalism

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

The supplicant lady


Solomon and Sheba by Dandini, and Don Quixote and Micomicona (Dorothea)

A woman's feet


Sulaiman (Solomon) spying on Bilqis (Queen of Sheba), and the curate and Cardenio spying on Dorothea (in the history of Don Quixote)

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Wind turbines keeping the oil giants in business

From Exxon Mobil's industrial products web site:

wind power, wind energy, wind turbines, environment, environmentalism

Grand Meadow Wind Farm, Dexter, Minnesota

Some specs of a typical wind "farm":

The wind farm spans a stretch of farm fields six miles long and four miles wide, and is spread out over roughly 10,000 acres southeast of Interstate 90 three miles north and three miles south of Hwy 16, in Grand Meadow, Clayton, and Dexter Townships in Mower County.

Grand Meadow is a 67-unit wind farm consisting of GE 1.5 SLE turbines.

Power Production Capability: 1.5 MW each for a total of 100.5 MW.

Wind turns the blades, which spin a shaft through a gearbox that connects to a generator, which produces electricity. The 3 blades rotate (pitch) from 0 to 90 degrees allowing the power output to be controlled if desired. The amount of electricity generated is determined by the wind speed:
  • Minimum (0.1 MW): 7.8 mph (3.5 m/s)
  • Design (1.5 MW): 31.3 mph (14 m/s)
  • Maximum (1.5 MW): 55.9 mph (25 m/s)
The project was developed by enXco and constructed by Mortenson Construction in 2008. In December 2008 the wind farm became fully operational and was turned over to Xcel Energy.

The height to the tip of the highest blade is 389 ft (slightly longer than a football field).

Each blade is a composite fiberglass material weighing 13,900 lbs and is 122 ft long. [The blade assembly sweeps a vertical area of 1.15 acres.]

Each turbine base consists of a 52 ft × 52 ft octagon that is 7 ft deep. This requires 278 cubic yards (28 trucks) of concrete and 57,000 lbs of reinforcing steel. Each base weighs over 1.1 million pounds.

The base of each turbine uses approximately 1 acre of farmland.

There are approximately 37 miles of 3-wire underground power collection cables connecting the 67 turbines.

Source: Xcel Energy

wind power, wind energy, wind turbines, wind farms

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Health Care in Other Countries: Germany

New York Times "Prescriptions":

Uwe E. Reinhardt is a professor of health economics at Princeton University and a former president of the Association of Health Services Research. He is also a member of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences, a board member of the Journal of the American Medical Association and a contributor to The Times’s Economix blog. His research has compared health care in the United States to that in other countries, including his native Germany. He spoke with freelance writer Anne Underwood.

  • Life expectancy: 80 years (USA: 78)
  • Infant mortality: 4 per 1,000 live births (7)
  • Health spending as a percentage of GDP: 10 (15)
  • Percentage of health spending that is private: 23 (54)
  • Doctors per 10,000 people: 34 (26)
Source: World Health Organization.

Q. Is it true that the concept of health insurance originated in Germany in the 1880s?

A. During the Industrial Revolution, workers who got sick didn’t earn money, so they formed what they called “friendly societies.” These were cooperatives into which workers paid monthly premiums, pooling their resources so they could continue the cash wages of workers who got sick. Those cooperatives became what are now called “sickness funds” in Germany.

Around the same time, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels were stirring up the masses with their tracts, including “The Communist Manifesto.” To Otto von Bismarck, the so-called Iron Chancellor of Germany, it seemed that the only way to stop the growth of communism was to take the wind out of its sails by giving low-income people the things they craved — health care, education and a social safety net in general. So in 1883, he passed the Imperial Insurance Order — in German, the Reichsversicherungsverordnung, or R.V.O. — which made it mandatory that all workers up to a certain income threshold pay premiums to such sickness funds. The R.V.O. still governs German health care, although it’s had a thousand amendments in the meantime.

During World War II, Hitler exported the system to the Netherlands, Belgium and France. It’s now generally called the Bismarck Model, to distinguish it from other forms of social health insurance, such as the British National Health Service. The Bismarck model was so popular that after the war, even though it came from Hitler, these countries kept it.

Q. So Bismarck’s system was the world’s first real insurance system?

A. It was the first formal social health insurance system, yes — the first government-regulated system. I believe it is still the best model there is, because it blends a private health-care delivery system with universal coverage and social solidarity. The financing is simple. It’s inexpensive and equitable. Coverage is portable. You’re never uninsured in Germany. No family goes broke over health care bills.

Q. This is based in the workplace. Does it amount to an employer mandate?

A. Not exactly. Formally, employers pay half of the premium and workers pay the other half — although economists would argue that the premium is entirely taken out of the workers’ take-home pay. But the mandate to be insured is really on the individual. Each worker chooses a sickness fund.

In the United States, employers have a larger role. Employers pick the menu of health insurers from which employees can choose. German employees would take umbrage at that.

Q. How large is the choice of funds?

A. The sickness funds were originally organized by craft or company or locality. Until 1992, you had no choice. If you were a carpenter, you belonged to the carpenters’ fund. But since 1992, people have been able to choose any of some 200 sickness funds.

Q. What if you’re unemployed?

A. Unemployment insurance continues your premiums. If you’re poor, the community pays. If you’re retired, the pension fund pays. Children remain in the sickness fund with their parents, but the premium is paid by the federal government.

Q. Does it achieve universal coverage?

A. 100 percent.

Q. What about illegal immigrants, who are the subject of so much debate in this country?

A. Once you’re in the country, you have rights to all social services.

Q. Are the sickness funds run as for-profit businesses or nonprofit?

A. They’re all nonprofit companies. There is a separate for-profit industry to which you can belong if your income is above 45,000 euros [about $65,000]. If you’re 33 years old and have a high income, your premium in the private plan is much lower. However, premiums increase with age. And if your income declines, you could be in dire straits. Since 1992, individuals with an income above the threshold who choose to buy private insurance cannot get back into the social insurance system unless they fall below the poverty line. This makes people hesitant to leave the social insurance system.

Q. Is there competition between private and public plans?

A. Yes, there is, but 90 percent of people are in the public plans. There is competition among the sickness funds, too, now that people can choose.

Q. Many Americans are concerned that if we offer a public option, it will ultimately put private insurers out of business. What does the German experience tell us?

A. About 10 percent of the population is in for-profit plans, but most people who are entitled to choose such a plan don’t. It’s the same in this country with Medicare. Eighty percent stay in the traditional Medicare plan rather than choosing the private Medicare Advantage. Although the American people appear unaware of it, government is the only institution they really trust deep down.

Q. That’s not what we heard over the summer in the town halls.

A. It’s utterly ridiculous to say they don’t trust the government. Where do Americans turn for help when they get into trouble? Do they run to the private sector? Even big bankers run to Washington. With a public plan, you would get something like Medicare. Just try taking Medicare away from the elderly. In the decades I have lived here, I have discovered this about America’s legendary rugged individualists: when the going gets rough, the rough run to the government.

Q. Has competition between public and private plans in Germany made the system more efficient?

A. Competition in health care typically doesn’t make things more efficient. But the German system is more efficient than the U.S. system for other reasons. In Germany, the plans do not individually negotiate prices with individual doctors and hospitals. Instead representatives of each state (or Land) sit across the table from associations of doctors and hospitals and hash out uniform fees that every plan in that state will pay. They don’t waste a huge amount of resources by having each plan negotiate separately with every hospital and doctor.

Q. Are administrative costs lower?

A. Much lower. I don’t have the exact figure, but it’s about half of what we spend. All billing is done electronically. You have a card, like an American Express card, that you take with you to the doctor. The physician codes in what he did for you, swipes the card, and in two weeks he gets a check. There is no haggling over bills. The patient usually pays a small co-pay. It’s 10 euros or so for the first visit in a quarter. After that, you pay nothing else for the rest of the quarter. It’s trivial.

Q. How much government control is there?

A. The R.V.O. regulates the sickness funds to the point that they’re essentially uniform. But German hospitals probably have less regulation on them than U.S. hospitals. In the United States, there are multiple layers of regulators each imposing restrictions. The Medicare payment system alone is forbidding with all of its regulations.

Q. Are drug prices regulated?

A. No. In principle, drug makers are free to price their products for the market. But the sickness funds group drugs into therapeutic groups. Patients have a choice between taking a low-cost drug for which they are fully reimbursed, or paying the difference between the low-cost drug and a higher-priced one in the same category. The system is called “reference pricing,” and it is much hated by drug manufacturers around the world — even though it’s a market system relying on the decisions of patients themselves. Isn’t that what the so-called “consumer directed health care” now being pushed in the U.S. is all about?

Of course, when patients can’t evaluate the different drugs, they tend to stick with the low-cost drugs. Apparently it happens often, because expenditures on drugs are much lower in Germany than the United States.

Q. Are there long waits for service in Germany?

A. No, basically none.

Q. How does Germany do at controlling costs?

A. They’re half as expensive as we are on a per capita basis, even though a much higher percentage of the German population is over age 65. Still, Germans lament that growth in medical spending is a problem. I say if we had problems like that, we would drink champagne.

Q. What’s your biggest criticism of the system?

A. Every system has its weaknesses. I think, for example, lots of care [is] given in Germany — as it is elsewhere — for which we don’t actually know the effectiveness compared to other treatments. There is overutilization of the system. Also, the German system is a bit rigid in its structure, which makes innovation in organizing health care more difficult than it is here.

Q. Is there medical bankruptcy in Germany?

A. That’s almost impossible. Germany’s benefit package is very broad and deep. If Germans were to go bankrupt on medical bills, it would be from purchasing drugs or services not in that broad benefit package. But I have not ever read of Germans going bankrupt over health care.

Q. What is the most important lesson Americans should learn from the German system?

A. The K.I.S.S. principle — which stands for “Keep It Simple, Stupid.” If you can do something in a complicated way, trust Americans to discover it — certainly in health care. I was on the phone this morning with a hospital and insurer that were suing each other because the patient had gone to a hospital that was not in the insurer’s network. The hospital was charging the insurer two to three times the negotiated rate the insurer pays for in-network hospitals. Only lawyers can love this system. And it is a safe bet that whatever President Obama and the Congress comes out with this year will be so complicated, no one but a few consultants will understand it — and many of those consultants will be the Hill staffers who wrote the reform law. By comparison, the German system is very simple. Every German knows what health care costs his or her family.

The husk of our democracy

As reported in the New York Times today,
Senator John Ensign, Republican of Nevada, said he feared that a government plan would prove so popular it could never be uprooted. “Does anybody believe Congress would let this public plan go away once it has a constituency?” Mr. Ensign asked. “No way. Once it’s started, you will never get rid of it. Congress will subsidize it more and more, allow it to grow and grow.”
Yes, the people would like it and benefit from it -- a clear reason to oppose by every means possible.
First there is the original seed, ripening vigorously enough. And then comes some insect and lays an egg under the skin, and behold! in a little while the seed is a hollow shape with an active grub inside that has eaten out its substance. And then comes some secondary parasite, some ichneumon fly, and lays an egg within this grub, and behold! that, too, is a hollow shape, and the new living thing is inside its predecessor’s skin which itself is snug within the seed coat. And the seed coat still keeps its shape, most people think it a seed still, and for all one knows it may still think itself a seed, vigorous and alive.

--When the Sleeper Wakes, H. G. Wells, 1899

Thursday, September 24, 2009

When the Sleeper Wakes

In H. G. Wells's book When the Sleeper Wakes (1899), a man wakes up from a trance of 203 years to learn that the project of civilization has not turned out well except for a cabal of totalitarian capitalists. Among other things, the countryside is completely turned over to giant windmills. In "A Story of the Days To Come" (1897), Wells describes "the Wind Vane and Waterfall Trust, the great company that owned every wind wheel and waterfall in the world, and which pumped all the water and supplied all the electric energy that people in these latter days required."

And from point to point tore the countless multitudes along the roaring mechanical ways. A gigantic hive, of which the winds were tireless servants, and the ceaseless wind-vanes an appropriate crown and symbol. ...

And out here, under the fresh sunlight, beyond the crater of the fight, as if nothing had happened to the earth, the forest of Wind Vanes that had grown from one or two while the Council had ruled, roared peacefully upon their incessant duty.

Far away, spiked, jagged and indented by the wind vanes, the Surrey Hills rose blue and faint; to the north and nearer, the sharp contours of Highgate and Muswell Hill were similarly jagged. And all over the countryside, he knew, on every crest and hill, where once the hedges had interlaced, and cottages, churches, inns, and farmhouses had nestled among their trees, wind wheels similar to those he saw and bearing like vast advertisements, gaunt and distinctive symbols of the new age, cast their whirling shadows and stored incessantly the energy that flowed away incessantly through all the arteries of the city. And underneath these wandered the countless flocks and herds of the British Food Trust with their lonely guards and keepers.
(ch. 14)

The whole expanse of the Downs escarpment, so far as the grey haze permitted him to see, was set with wind-wheels to which the largest of the city was but a younger brother. ... Then rushing under the stern of the aeropile came the Wealden Heights, the line of Hindhead, Pitch Hill, and Leith Hill, with a second row of wind-wheels that seemed striving to rob the downland whirlers of their share of breeze. (ch. 16)

To the east and south the great circular shapes of complaining wind-wheels blotted out the heavens ... (ch. 20)

[We thank Church Street Energy System for bringing this work to our attention.]

wind power, wind energy, wind turbines, wind farms, environment, environmentalism, human rights, animal rights, vegetarianism, Vermont, anarchism, ecoanarchism, anarchosyndicalism

Monday, September 21, 2009

Senate Public Option Scoreboard

Senate Public Option Scoreboard
(click for update -- 12 / 50 / 38 as of Nov. 10, 2009)

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Shakespeare on the madness of eating meat

... I am a great eater of beef and I believe that does harm to my wit.

No question.

(Twelfth Night, act I, scene iii)


Clown [as Sir Topas the curate]
What is the opinion of Pythagoras concerning wild fowl?

That the soul of our grandam might haply inhabit a bird.

What thinkest thou of his opinion?

I think nobly of the soul, and no way approve his opinion.

Fare thee well. Remain thou still in darkness: thou shalt hold the opinion of Pythagoras ere I will allow of thy wits, and fear to kill a woodcock, lest thou dispossess the soul of thy grandam. Fare thee well.

(Twelfth Night, act IV, scene ii)

Friday, September 18, 2009

HR676 - Medicare for All

Not so clean energy

Although the information is from an article on yet another site alarmed at the American way of capitalism only since Obama rose to the head of it, facts are facts:

The Treasury and Energy departments today announced $503 million in stimulus grants for "clean energy" projects. And while the energy may be clean, the politics may remind some of the soot belching from an old-fashioned smokestack.

Of the $503 million, $294 million went to a Spanish wind power company, Iberdrola SA, the Wall Street Journal reported. A quick search of the Federal Election Commission database shows the company's executives donated to the Obama campaign, with executives Brent Alderfer contributing $2000, Brent Beerley $1750, Eric Blank $2775, Jennifer Bradford $250, Melissa Erickson $250, Jon Fischer $250, Anders Glader $250, Kevin Helmich $250, Kevin Lynch $2300, Kourtney Nelson $450, Carolyn Plemons $250, Timothy Seck $250, and Peter Toomey $300 — a total of $11,325. An additional $10,250 from Iberdrola executives went to the "Obama Victory Fund," a joint fundraising committee allied with the Obama campaign.

Another about $115 million of the $503 million went to a company called First Wind [formerly UPC Wind], whose owners include the Chicago-based Madison Dearborn Partners and a member of the D.E. Shaw group. [A] Bloomberg article quotes President Obama's White House chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, a congressman at the time the article was published [2007], as saying of Madison Dearborn, "They've been not only supporters of mine, they're friends of mine." The Bloomberg article says, "Employees of Madison Dearborn have donated $77,500 to Emanuel's re-election committee since 2001, collectively emerging as the top contributor to his campaigns in his congressional career, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics." D.E. Shaw is the firm at which Mr. Obama's chief of the National Economic Council, Lawrence Summers, held a $5.2 million a year, one-day-a-week job.

wind power, wind energy

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Questions for Dr. Marcia Angell

New York Times "Prescriptions":

Dr. Marcia Angell is a senior lecturer in social medicine at Harvard Medical School and former editor of The New England Journal of Medicine. A longtime critic of the pharmaceutical industry, she has called for an end to market-driven delivery of health care in the United States. She spoke with freelance writer Anne Underwood.

Q. President Obama hopes to increase the number of Americans with insurance and to rein in costs. Do you believe any of the plans under consideration by Congress will accomplish those goals?

A. They won’t, and that’s the essential problem. If you keep health care in the hands of for-profit companies, you can do one or the other — increase coverage by putting more money into the system, or control costs by decreasing coverage. But you cannot do both unless you change the basic structure of the system.

Q. Segments of the health care industry — pharmaceutical companies, for instance — are promising to cut costs.

A. It’s not going to happen. These are investor-owned companies. Their fiduciary responsibility is to maximize profits. If they behaved like charities, heads would roll in the executive suites.

Q. But what about market mechanisms for reducing costs? Wouldn’t the public option, for instance, provide competition for the insurance companies?

A. Theoretically it would, but I doubt the public plan will pass. Industry is lobbying against it, and the president has not said this is a “must.” Even if it does pass, I’m afraid the private insurance industry will use their clout in Congress — and they have enormous clout in Congress — to hobble the public option and use it as a dumping ground for the sickest while they cream off the young and healthy for themselves.

Q. How? Won’t insurance companies have to cover all applicants regardless of health status?

A. It’s hard to regulate an enormous industry without setting up a bureaucracy to oversee it. That’s very expensive and creates a whole new set of problems.

Q. How about the individual mandate? Wouldn’t it reduce costs per capita by bringing in young, healthy people who are currently uninsured?

A. No. In Massachusetts [which enacted an individual mandate in 2006], there is no real price regulation. Essentially what the mandate does is say to people, you will go into this treacherous market and buy insurance at whatever price the companies choose to charge. In effect, it’s delivering a captive market to these profit-oriented companies.

Q. Are people at least getting better health care in Massachusetts now?

A. Massachusetts already spends one-third more on health care than other states, and costs are rising at unsustainable rates. As a result, they’re chipping away at benefits, dropping beneficiaries and increasing premiums and co-payments.

Q. Then what’s the path to meaningful cost control?

A. The only way to both control costs and have universal comprehensive coverage is a single-payer system — a nonprofit, single-payer system. Nothing else will work. All other advanced countries have some form of a single-payer system, and they pay less than half as much per person as we do. We should be asking, why is that so? It’s not because we provide more basic services. We do provide more tests and procedures for those who can pay, but not more basic services — and we don’t cover everybody. So why is it so? We are the only advanced country that delivers health care in a system that’s set up to generate profits, not to provide care.

Q. If a single-payer system isn’t feasible politically, aren’t the current proposals at least better than doing nothing? Isn’t half an aspirin better than none?

A. I think not. As costs continue to soar, people will not say, “That didn’t work. Let’s try a single-payer system.” Instead, they’ll try to pay for the costs in piecemeal ways, by increasing co-pays and deductibles, by limiting services, by making the system less equitable and less comprehensive. I’m afraid the lesson they’ll draw is that universal care is impossible.

But I’m not convinced that getting a single-payer system now is politically infeasible. The public would be happy with Medicare for all. Polls have shown that the public loves Medicare. The problem isn’t the public. It’s Congress, which caves in to special interests.

Q. If Congress is reluctant to cut out the insurance companies, is that partly because they, like the major banks, are too big to fail?

A. A nonprofit, single-payer system would lead to job losses in this sector, which constitutes 17 percent of the economy. But what about the other 83 percent of the economy? They’re being bled to death. Businesses can’t compete globally because the cost of providing coverage to their workers is so exorbitant. Whatever loss of jobs you might see would be more than offset by benefits and job gains in the rest of the economy.

[As for the insurance companies,] you could introduce the program incrementally. You could do it state by state. Or probably better, you could do it decade by decade. Medicare kicks in at age 65. In the first stage, you could take it down to 55. Between 55 and 65, people are vulnerable. They’re losing jobs, losing health care. They’re starting to have more medical needs. After a few years, you could drop it to 45, then 35. It would give insurance companies time to adjust.

Q. But Medicare is already hugely expensive. How can we afford such a plan for everyone?

A. Medicare costs are rising at an unsustainable rate because care is provided in a profit-maximizing system. The prescription drug benefit was nothing but a bonanza for the pharmaceutical industry. I would change that. I would also adjust the fee schedule, which preferentially rewards highly paid specialists for very expensive tests and procedures. For the system to work, it would have to be a nonprofit delivery system.

Q. How much could we save in administrative costs?

A. On average, the private insurance industry takes 15 to 20 percent right off the top of the premium dollar for its administrative costs and profits. That’s a lot to siphon off by an industry that adds almost nothing of value. It’s just a middleman. Medicare has overhead costs of less than 3 percent.

With the money in the system right now, we could cover everyone for every medically necessary service. But the system has to be distributed according to medical need and not as it currently is — as a commodity. Today, those who can pay get lots of M.R.I.’s they don’t need, while those who are uninsured can go without ones they do need.

Q. Military historians say we’re always fighting the last war. Is Mr. Obama now fighting the last health care war, in which Congress rejected the Clinton plan partly because it was developed without consulting other interested parties?

A. Yes. Mr. Obama has decided that he will listen to everybody. But it’s not working for him, because the public can’t become enthusiastic about a plan that doesn’t exist. That’s what he’s asking. Now Congress has gone home, and for the next month the special interests will be out there scaring people with stories of rationing and socialized medicine.

Q. Is the president really bringing everyone to the table?

A. He’s bringing everyone to the table except the single-payer people. It’s very odd. When he was a state senator, he emphatically favored a single-payer system. And in his July 22 press conference on health care, he stated that the only way to provide universal health care is with a single-payer system. Then he moved right on, as if that was somehow self-evidently absurd.

Q. So are you opposing this reform?

A. I am, though not for the same reasons as the Republicans and Blue Dogs. I’m opposing it more in sorrow than in anger. I’m afraid the president squandered a good opportunity.

By Anne Underwood
August 12, 2009

Health Care in Other Countries: Questions for T. R. Reid

New York Times "Prescriptions":

T. R. Reid was a bureau chief in Tokyo and London for The Washington Post. His new book, “The Healing of America: A Global Quest for Better, Cheaper, and Fairer Health Care,” is a systematic study of the health systems in seven countries that was inspired in part by his family’s experiences living overseas and receiving health care abroad. Mr. Reid also produced a 2008 documentary on the same topic for PBS called “Sick Around the World.” He spoke with blog contributor Anne Underwood.

Q. We’ve just passed the eighth anniversary of 9/11. You make a shocking comparison in your book between that crisis and the state of American health care.

A. On Sept. 11, 2001, roughly 3,000 Americans were killed by terrorists. Since then, we’ve spent hundreds of billions of dollars to make sure that doesn’t happen again. But the same year — and every year since, according to the National Academies of Science — about 22,000 Americans died of treatable diseases because they couldn’t afford health care. And we let that go on. Do Americans consider that acceptable? To me, it’s not. The American people must not realize how cruel our system is, because if they did, they’d change. We’re not a cruel people.

Q. You focused primarily on Canada, Great Britain, France, Germany, Switzerland, Taiwan and Japan. Why?

A. I chose big, rich, advanced, free-market democracies that might make a good model for the United States. In each of these countries, they set a goal of providing health care for all and found a way to get there. As I argue in the book, health care systems are moral instruments. They reflect a country’s basic moral values.

Q. Americans seem to think that all advanced countries with universal coverage have single-payer systems. Actually, that’s not true.

A. A lot of what Americans think they know about health care overseas is not accurate. Japan has 3,000 payers. Germany has 220 payers. Switzerland has 70. But in many ways, the systems in these countries act like single payers, with one set of rules, one set of forms.

In Japan, there is one price for each procedure for the entire country. They publish a huge book thicker than the Tokyo phone book that lists 30,000 medical procedures and sets the price for each. There’s one set price for a cut requiring six stitches on the back of the hand and another for a cut requiring six stitches on the thigh.

Q. Many Americans are saying that universal coverage is too expensive. But you say it’s essential for controlling medical costs. Why?

A. If everybody’s in the system, you have the political will to make tough decisions about cost control. If you say, “We will cover the $20,000 drug for breast cancer, but not the $40,000 drug,” that means some women may die sooner than they might have. But if the system covers everybody, you know the money saved is going to be used to help a sick child or a mother with a difficult pregnancy. That makes it easier for society to accept those tough decisions.

In the U.S., when Aetna or WellPoint declines to pay for a drug or a procedure, the money saved goes to enhance the insurer’s profit, not to pay for another person’s treatment. So people are less willing to tolerate cost controls. All over the world, health ministers told me that the first step is universal coverage — and that generates the political will to impose controls.

Q. Critics argue that if we institute cost controls, it will stifle innovation in both drug discovery and the development of new technologies.

A. That’s completely false. Overseas, cost controls drive innovation. In Denver, I had an M.R.I. that cost $1,434 dollars. The exact same procedure in Japan today costs about $105. That’s because the government kept reducing the price it would pay for M.R.I.’s. Japanese researchers had to devise ways to get the same scan for less money, and they did, developing much cheaper machines.

As for drugs, it’s also false. Lots of drugs that make TV news in America come originally from labs in the U.K., Switzerland or Japan.

Q. And yet other countries also have trouble keeping costs in line.

A. Modern medicine is extremely expensive. Other countries constantly have to decide which new procedures and medicines they will pay for.

Q. Which sounds like rationing.

A. Other countries definitely ration, but so do we. Here’s the difference. In other developed countries, there is a basic level of care that everybody gets. Our method is to leave tens of millions of people out of the system, which is the harshest way to ration.

Q. Did other countries find it difficult to institute universal coverage?

A. In Switzerland it was very tough, because Switzerland is home to huge drug companies and giant international insurance companies. Until the 1990s, they were making a profit on health insurance. They copied the pre-existing conditions rule of American insurers and tried not to sell policies to anyone who might make a claim. They hired lots of underwriters to deny claims, like our guys do. And by 1994, Switzerland got to point where 5 percent of people couldn’t afford health insurance.

For the Swiss, this was shocking. They had national referendum on universal coverage, and most of the business community opposed it. The giant insurance companies opposed it, and the drug companies opposed it. But the reform passed and took effect on Jan. 1, 1996. The result was that insurers had to cover everybody and they couldn’t make a profit on basic health insurance.

Q. How’s it working out?

A. I went there in 2007, and everyone was happy. The pro-business Christian Democratic Party is proud of it. And the insurance companies are doing better than before the reform. Here’s why. They’re now required to sell basic coverage to anybody for no profit, and there are strict controls on pricing and administrative costs. But the same companies sell supplemental policies on a for-profit basis that cover things like private hospital rooms or Viagra. In addition, the same companies sell life insurance and fire insurance. They use the basic health insurance plan, for which they can’t make profit, as a loss leader for other lines of business. All of them are bigger and making more money than before the change.

Q. The rate of medical bankruptcies in this country is alarmingly high. What about overseas?

A. When I made the documentary “Sick Around the World,” I asked the health minister in every country I examined, “How many people in your country went bankrupt last year due to medical bills?” They looked at me as if I’d just asked how many flying carpets they rode on their way to work. In Canada, it was zero. In the U.K., zero. In Germany, zero. Japan, zero. Taiwan, zero. The other rich countries don’t let it happen. When I asked the president of Switzerland, who belongs to the pro-business Christian Democratic Party, he said, “Nobody. It would be a huge scandal if we let that happen.”

Q. Another issue on the table now is tort reform. Are medical malpractice suits a problem in other countries?

A. No. Every country has come up with a mechanism to compensate patients who are injured by doctors and hospitals. These injuries happen in every country. If doctors are seriously negligent, you need a system to discipline them. But nobody does this through the tort system except the United States because it’s a very expensive way to do it. Most of the money doesn’t get to injured person, but gets paid to court system, investigators, lawyers.

Q. If other countries don’t handle malpractice through the tort system, how do they do it?

A. In Germany . . . it’s like an accreditation body that tests you. In Britain, they have an agency called NICE, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence. NICE issues guidelines for treating medical ailments. In the U.K., if you demonstrate that you followed NICE guidelines, you can’t be held liable. Even if patients are horribly injured and impaired for life, you can’t be disciplined as long as you followed the guidelines.

Q. So other countries have no huge jury awards to drive up costs?

A. You read about massive judgments in this country with injured patients receiving tens of millions of dollars. A major part of that is, once someone is injured or crippled, the damage award includes lifetime care. In the United States, that’s really expensive. But if somebody won a judgment of lifetime medical care in the U.K., the cost would be zero. Health care is free. And if you won a big tort judgment in France or Belgium, an award of lifetime care would be vastly cheaper than in America.

Q. Do you support any of the plans being discussed on Capitol Hill?

A. I think all the plans that we’ve seen in America are tinkering at the margins of a system that is unfair and grossly expensive. On the other hand, I came away from writing the book feeling optimistic, because I know we could get to universal coverage at reasonable cost if we want to. All the other developed countries in the world have done it. Are you telling me Taiwan can do this and the U.S.A. can’t? Come on.

Q. Do you see a way of getting back on track?

A. It takes a leader. My book focused on people like Tommy Douglas in Canada, Otto von Bismarck in Germany and Nye Bevan in the U.K., who persuaded their countrymen that they needed universal coverage. It will take someone who can grab the moral imperative and remind us that the important issue is not whether insurance companies make 4 percent or 6 percent on their coverage, but whether people get medical care when they need it.

By Anne Underwood
September 15, 2009