Archive for June, 2009

Swiss offer millionaires a haven away from the poor

Friday, June 26th, 2009

– Regarding the general rape of the world for profits by the big corporations, I’ve long held that once they do manage to pull the pillars down around us by crashing the environment and the world’s economies, they will take their earnings and go and hide away in high security enclaves living the good life that only big money can buy.   Yes, they’ll be living well, insulated from the consequences of their rampant greed while the rest of us are left to slug it out for survival in what remains.

– This article may be the first we see like this.   Remember it when you think to yourself in the future, “I wonder where those bastards went?

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The plans of a Swiss canton to attract the super-rich by offering them the chance to buy property in exclusive, previously out of bounds locations has sparked a political row and accusations that the country is encouraging apartheid of the rich and poor.

MoneyThe canton of Obwalden is planning to launch “special living zones” for millionaires in an attempt to boost its tax take by luring the wealthiest residents. Like other cantons in the tax haven, Obwalden finds itself short of revenue because it has been competing with other jurisdictions to see who can offer the lowest rate of tax.

The result has been a drastic shortfall in tax revenues as people set up PO box companies to take advantage of the low rates, while contributing nothing to the local economies because they live elsewhere.

Obwalden’s answer is to lift construction bans on land reserved for agricultural use, offering the rich the chance to secure property on protected land, with the promise of spectacular views of lake and alpine landscapes.

Details of Obwalden’s plan, published in the Swiss press, suggest selling villas on an exclusive basis to those who pay high taxes or who create work in the area – “a sunny location, with low noise emissions, good amenities … as well as an unrestricted view that cannot be built on”.

The homes would be constructed on land not usually accessible to ordinary citizens, leading to accusations that the policy discriminates against less wealthy inhabitants while rewarding the rich.


– hat tip to Cryptogon

U.S. Dollar will get weaker over time

Friday, June 26th, 2009

breadline2– I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again.  The U.S. dollar will weaken as we go forward.   There may be momentary gains and loss cycles but the overall long term trend will be for a weaker U.S. dollar.

– Why?   Short-term Capitalistic greed over long-term nationalistic concerns.

– Virtually all the big corporations (U.S. and otherwise), have renounced any allegiance they may have had in favor of one nation or another in pursuit of wealth.  If sending U.S. manufacturing and U.S. hi-tech jobs overseas results in lower costs and thus higher profits, they’ve long since done it.

– The net result?  We, the United States, are no longer a wealth generating nation.   We no longer produce large quantities of things to sell the the rest of the world.  We’ve sent our production capabilities out of the country and we’ve become a nation of consumers.  And any nation that spends more on what it consumes than it makes on what it sells, is a nation with diminishing wealth.

– Other nations, and the U.N. itself, have realized that as the U.S. gets poorer, it makes less and less sense that our currency should remain the world’s reference currency.   The calls to move away from the U.S. dollar as the standard are increasing.   I’d say the writing is on the wall unless something fundamental changes.

– Check out the following articles that have just come out in the last few days:

China argues to replace US dollar

BRIC nations urge diverse monetary system

UN panel touts new global currency reserve system

– And check out these pieces that I reported and commented on earlier:

China stuck in ‘dollar trap’

China Flexes its Muscles and Finds Support in a Bid to Dump the Dollar as the World’s Main Reserve Currency

Growing Deficits Threaten Pensions

Blue Desert

Sunday, June 21st, 2009

– George Monbiot, always one of my favorite writers, writes here on the Fishing Industry.   Just one small piece in the large gathering Perfect Storm, this industry is a perfect microcosm of the macrocosm.  At all levels, there is a war between the competing drives towards short-term profits and long-term sustainability.

– In a very real way, how this contest turns out in all the micro and macrocosms will be a succinct measure of our intelligence as a species.   And I think, to the objective observer, the outcome is not looking good.

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By George Monbiot. Published in the Guardian, 2nd June 2009

I live a few miles from Cardigan Bay. Whenever I can get away, I take my kayak down to the beach and launch it through the waves. Often I take a handline with me, in the hope of catching some mackeral or pollock. On the water, sometimes five kilometres from the coast, surrounded by gannets and shearwaters, I feel closer to nature than at any other time.

Last year I was returning to shore through a lumpy sea. I was 200 metres from the beach and beginning to worry about the size of the breakers when I heard a great whoosh behind me. Sure that a wave was about to crash over my head, I ducked. But nothing happened. I turned round. Right under my paddle a hooked grey fin emerged. It disappeared. A moment later a bull bottlenose dolphin exploded from the water, almost over my head. As he curved through the air, we made eye contact. If there is one image that will stay with me for the rest of my life, it is of that sleek gentle monster, watching me with his wise little eye as he flew past my head. I have never experienced a greater thrill, even when I first saw an osprey flying up the Dyfi estuary with a flounder in its talons.

The Cardigan Bay dolphins are one of the only two substantial resident populations left in British seas. It is partly for their sake that most of the coastal waters of the bay are classified as special areas of conservation (SACs). This grants them the strictest protection available under EU law. The purpose of SACs is to prevent “the deterioration of natural habitats … as well as disturbance of the species for which the areas have been designated”(1).

That looks pretty straightforward, doesn’t it? The bay is strictly protected. It can’t be damaged, and the dolphins and other rare marine life can’t be disturbed. So why the heck has a fleet of scallop dredgers been allowed to rip it to pieces?

Until this Sunday, when the season closed, 45 boats were raking the bay, including places within the SACs, with steel hooks and chain mats. The dredges destroy everything: all the sessile life of the seabed, the fish that take refuge in the sand; the spawn they lay there, reefs, boulder fields, marine archaeology – any feature that harbours life. In some cases they penetrate the seafloor to a depth of three feet. It is ploughed, levelled and reduced to desert. It will take at least 30 years for parts of the ecosystem to recover; but the structure of the seabed is destroyed forever. The noise of the dredges pounding and grinding over the stones could scarcely be better calculated to disturb the dolphins.

The boats are not resident here. They move around the coastline trashing one habitat after another. They will fish until there is nothing left to destroy then move to the next functioning ecosystem. If, in a few decades, the scallops here recover, they’ll return to tear this place up again.


Life savings sucked into black hole of tunnels

Sunday, June 21st, 2009

– People the world over believe they can get something for nothing.   They believe in get-rich-quick schemes.   And, people the world over will take advantage of others as part of their own get-rich-quick schemes.   Human nature – ain’t it a wonderful thing?   Even in the desperate circumstances of the Gaza Strip, people use and misuse each other with impunity

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tunnelsJawad Tawfiq, a 52-year-old Gazan actor and director, was dubious at first, but his nephew insisted. If they could scrape together enough money, the nephew said, large profits could be made from investing in the tunnels beneath the Egyptian border.

“They were liars,” Tawfiq said bitterly. “They took my money to put in their own pockets. And we are being offered a fraction of what we gave them.”

At first the tunnels emerged as smuggling routes; then they became the vital lifeline for a Gaza under economic siege by Israel. But many people who invested in the tunnels now see them quite differently – as a source of ruination.

The tunnel schemes were advertised as opportunities for doubling and trebling money by unscrupulous figures linked to powerful businessmen in Gaza and, allegedly, to senior officials in Hamas, but have instead led to huge losses for ordinary residents of the Strip.

According to Hamas’s Economics Minister, Ziad al-Zaza, whose office is investigating the issue, US$100 million ($159 million) has been taken fraudulently from would-be entrepreneurs. Others suggest the figure could be closer to US$500 million.


Sizewell nuclear disaster averted by dirty laundry, says official report

Sunday, June 21st, 2009

Contractor noticed water from radioactive cooling pond that posed ‘significant risk to operators and public’

A nuclear leak, which could have caused a major disaster, was only averted by a chance decision to wash some dirty clothes, according to a newly obtained official report.

On the morning of Sunday 7 January 2007, one of the contractors working on decommissioning the Sizewell A nuclear power station on the Suffolk coast was in the laundry room when he noticed cooling water leaking on to the floor from the pond that holds the reactor’s highly radioactive spent nuclear fuel.

As much as 40,000 gallons of radioactive water spilled out of a 15ft long split in a pipe, some leaking into the North Sea. The pond water level had dropped by more than a foot (330mm) – yet none of the sophisticated alarms in the plant sounded in the main control room.

By the time of the next scheduled safety patrol, the pond level would have dipped far enough to expose the nuclear fuel rods – potentially causing them to overheat and catch fire sending a plume of radioactive contamination along the coastline.

The HM Nuclear Installation Inspectorate’s report of the incident, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, said: “The pond could have been drained (it takes about 10 hours) before the required plant tour by an operator had taken place. In this worst-case scenario, if the exposed irradiated fuel caught fire it would result in an airborne off-site release.”

It concluded: “NII believes that there was significant risk that operators and even members of the public could have been harmed if there had not been fortunate and appropriate intervention of a contractor who just happened to be in the right plant area when things went wrong.”


The dissolution of European cultures

Sunday, June 21st, 2009

immigration– I’ve discussed Immigration and Assimilation before.   The idea basically being that if countries want to preserve their current cultures, that they cannot allow immigration of peoples from other cultures at too fast a rate.  When new people come in at too fast a rate, they do not assimilate into the receiving culture.  Rather, they establish new cultural enclaves within the receiving culture and once enough of them have gathered, the country’s cultural identity is fractured and either a new hybrid emerges or culture wars ensue.

– The report, below, from Belgian TV, shows that this is already happening in Europe.  The same thing, I believe, is going on in Britain, France, the Netherlands and Germany among others.

– Perhaps the deepest irony here is that the very countries that most of these Muslim immigrants hail from have no reciprocal intention to accept large numbers of immigrants from other cultures.

– Can you imagine large numbers of European immigrants setting up ‘Little Europe’ neighborhoods in any Mulslim country, building Christian churches and demanding that they be allowed to practice their European cultural and religious practices freely alongside the Muslim  locals?

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Click the following link to see the video: 

– research thanks to Mike D.

– Additional reading: , and

Britons find paradise in New Zealand

Thursday, June 18th, 2009
New Zealand

New Zealand

New Zealand has been described as a “paradise” by British expats who moved here for a warmer climate and cheaper cost of living.

A NatWest International bank survey of more than 2000 British immigrants living in 12 countries found that Britons in New Zealand rated the country highly in all areas.

In the quality-of-life index, New Zealand came ahead of Canada, which topped the poll last year.

Respondents said NZ had one of the lowest average property prices in the developed world, and many cited lower taxes than in Britain, a better quality of life and less stress as benefits.

A favourable tax regime meant that although average wages were lower, earnings went further.

NatWest International personal banking head Dave Isley said expats reported they were living healthier lifestyles while benefiting financially.

The average salary in New Zealand was $28,427, compared with $65,841 in Britain, but the average cost of a home was only $293,000, compared with $592,000 in Britain.

In both countries an average property cost the equivalent of roughly 10 years’ wages, but Britons who sell their houses find themselves with much more cash in hand when arriving in New Zealand.

Two years ago, Chris and Janice Gorman shifted from a three-bedroom house in Surrey to a four-bedroom house with a sprawling garden near the sea in Auckland.

“New Zealand and the UK are roughly the same size, but there are 56 million fewer people,” Mr Gorman said. “It makes a massive difference. Everyone has time for you.

“We find it much more sociable here. There is a huge emphasis on family life and relaxation time.”

The Gormans, who are two of more than 200,000 British-born Kiwis, said their only regret was not being able to visit family in the UK “on a whim”.

Of all the expatriates surveyed, 86 per cent believed their lives were better than before they emigrated and 92 per cent said they were happier.

Despite the global recession, 87 per cent were better off, including engineers, teachers, economists, accountants, IT professionals and those working in financial services and marketing.

“Despite the global slowdown affecting everyone, the potential to earn more money abroad is clearly one of the main benefits expats are experiencing,” said Mr Isley.

New Zealand and Canada were followed in the poll by Australia, France, the United Arab Emirates, Portugal, Spain, South Africa, the US and China. Singapore and Hong Kong came last.

To the original…

Health insurers refuse to limit rescission of coverage

Thursday, June 18th, 2009

– There’s a lot that bothers me about health care coverage here in the U.S.A.  I’ve written several times on it:

– But I don’t think I’ve seen anything that irritated and angered me quite like the story below.

– Insurance industry executives saying in front of congress that they will do basically anything they can to drop folks who are insured – rather than paying their legitimate claims.  Unbelievable!

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cancelLawmakers ask three executives if they’ll stop dropping customers except where they can show “intentional fraud.” All say no.

Executives of three of the nation’s largest health insurers told federal lawmakers in Washington on Tuesday that they would continue canceling medical coverage for some sick policyholders, despite withering criticism from Republican and Democratic members of Congress who decried the practice as unfair and abusive.

The hearing on the controversial action known as rescission, which has left thousands of Americans burdened with costly medical bills despite paying insurance premiums, began a day after President Obama outlined his proposals for revamping the nation’s healthcare system.

An investigation by the House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations showed that health insurers WellPoint Inc., UnitedHealth Group and Assurant Inc. canceled the coverage of more than 20,000 people, allowing the companies to avoid paying more than $300 million in medical claims over a five-year period.

It also found that policyholders with breast cancer, lymphoma and more than 1,000 other conditions were targeted for rescission and that employees were praised in performance reviews for terminating the policies of customers with expensive illnesses.

“No one can defend, and I certainly cannot defend, the practice of canceling coverage after the fact,” said Rep. Michael C. Burgess (R-Tex.), a member of the committee. “There is no acceptable minimum to denying coverage after the fact.”

The executives — Richard A. Collins, chief executive of UnitedHealth’s Golden Rule Insurance Co.; Don Hamm, chief executive of Assurant Health and Brian Sassi, president of consumer business for WellPoint Inc., parent of Blue Cross of California — were courteous and matter-of-fact in their testimony.

But they would not commit to limiting rescissions to only policyholders who intentionally lie or commit fraud to obtain coverage, a refusal that met with dismay from legislators on both sides of the political aisle.


A ‘time bomb’ for world wheat crop

Thursday, June 18th, 2009

– This story has been gathering steam for awhile: , , and .

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The Ug99 fungus, called stem rust, could wipe out more than 80% of the world’s wheat as it spreads from Africa, scientists fear. The race is on to breed resistant plants before it reaches the U.S.

The spores arrived from Kenya on dried, infected leaves ensconced in layers of envelopes.

Working inside a bio-secure greenhouse outfitted with motion detectors and surveillance cameras, government scientists at the Cereal Disease Laboratory in St. Paul, Minn., suspended the fungal spores in a light mineral oil and sprayed them onto thousands of healthy wheat plants. After two weeks, the stalks were covered with deadly reddish blisters characteristic of the scourge known as Ug99.

Nearly all the plants were goners.

Crop scientists fear the Ug99 fungus could wipe out more than 80% of worldwide wheat crops as it spreads from eastern Africa. It has already jumped the Red Sea and traveled as far as Iran. Experts say it is poised to enter the breadbasket of northern India and Pakistan, and the wind will inevitably carry it to Russia, China and even North America — if it doesn’t hitch a ride with people first.

“It’s a time bomb,” said Jim Peterson, a professor of wheat breeding and genetics at Oregon State University in Corvallis. “It moves in the air, it can move in clothing on an airplane. We know it’s going to be here. It’s a matter of how long it’s going to take.”


– Hat tip to Cryptogon

The Battle for Pork Chop Hill (healthcare)

Tuesday, June 16th, 2009

obama-listening– A friend of mine is an M.D. and recently he responded to President Obama’s request for grass-roots input from the U.S. public on health care reform by writing a letter to the president detailing his thoughts.   He sent me a copy of his letter to see if I had any thoughts and/or comments.

– I found it a well-written, thoughtful letter full of excellent suggestions but when I responded to him, I found it impossible to get into the spirit of it.   To me, here in the U.S., the battle for serious health care reform, is a meaningless battle – a lot like those battles when our troops fought for mastery of particular hilltop in WWII and the Korean War.   The hills won one day at a terrible cost would be abandoned just a few days later as the conditions of the larger enclosing battles changed.

– Frankly, I don’t think there’s any chance that the U.S. will ever enact serious health care reform and in my response to my friend, below, you’ll see why.

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Dr. H.,

Thank you for responding to the president’s request for input on our health care system.   What you’ve written here is an excellent public service.

I too have thoughts about all of this but I’m afraid I am less optimistic that calls for ideas will lead to any changes of significance.   My fear, as I’ve told you before, is that the medical and pharmaceutical industries in the U.S. have been thoroughly captured by large and powerful profit-centric corporate interests and that nothing will wrest control back from them short of a revolution.

Corporations vs. People

I don’t mean an armed revolution.   I mean a revolution in how we, as human beings, think about what the purposes of our national governments should be.   I’m fond of saying that, “One cannot have two number-one priorities.“  When it comes to deciding what governments are for, we certainly cannot.   We either have to place the welfare and happiness of the nation’s people first or the freedom of the nation’s corporations  to do whatever they want to do in their pursuit of profits.  We cannot have it both ways.

Once this choice is explained clearly and brought into our collective consciousness, I have little doubt that most people would feel that government’s number-one priority should be to maximize the quality of life for its citizens.   But, absent such explanations and awarenesses, our country, and most others as well, have been primarily molded by those who seek profit and power for themselves with little regard for the circumstances of others.

(As an aside, let me say that I am not against Capitalism.   Indeed, it is the engine that creates wealth and innovation in our societies.   I am only saying that at the very top of the decision pyramid, when corporate interests clash with the best interests of the people, the decision makers should opt for the good of the people.   Done even handedly, this might limit the range of actions of corporations but it would still be a level playing field for them and none would be disadvantaged verses the others.   More over, those decisions makers at the very top would be strongly instructed to stay out of the way of corporations to the maximum extent possible – save when the people’s best interests are at stake).

So, from my POV, the battle here is not how we can ‘fix’ health care.  It goes far far deeper than that.   Until we, as a people, decide that the happiness and well being of the nation’s people IS the highest priority of the national government, we will always have these battles.   And, given the drive and tenacity of those whose primary aims are for power and profit, we will usually lose these battles.

Beyond all of this, there are bigger problems for our country and the world yet looming.


A healthy vibrant country can organize its finances to support free medical care for all of its citizens.  Several countries around the world have proven this decisively.   But, I’m not sure that a country whose finances are faltering badly can do this.   And our country is faltering badly at this point in its history.   Globalization was touted as our “friend”.   Indeed, as the “world’s friend”; better and cheaper products for everyone and improved standards of living for all.

life-and-debtBut, it hasn’t turned out that way for some of us.  Small countries, like Jamaica (see the Movie “Life and Debt“), have had food stuffs injected  into their markets at far lower prices than their local farmers could sell for.  The result is that the local farmers have all lost their farms and moved to the cities and now entire countries are completely dependent on the food stuffs supplied by the multinational corporate proponents of Globalization.  Sure, these folks can buy their food cheaper.  But now they’ve lost their independence, their jobs, their communities and they are utterly dependent on outside forces for their survival.   Globalization has made them into captive consumers.

And the rich nations have not escaped unscathed.   Multinational corporations seeking ever larger profits have convinced us in the U.S. to send our manufacturing and high-tech industries overseas.    They promised us lower costs on all the cheap goods  love to buy at Wal-Mart.  And for a while, that was fun.   But now we see the deep truth that a nation can only continue being rich if it produces and sells things of value.  And we’ve been turned into a nation of consumers and borrowers by Globalization and are getting poorer by the day.

The multinationals saw great opportunity some years back when they gazed at, for example, the U.S. and China.   They thought, “China is poor and has really cheap labor and the U.S. is rich and its labor is expensive.   If we connect these two situations, goods will flow from China to the U.S. and money will flow from the U.S. to China and we’ll set ourselves up as the folks in the middle coordinating the exchange and getting hugely rich.“  And, for the multinationals and China, it’s been a good deal.  But, for the U.S., the promises of Globalism have only impoverished us.

So, back to socialized health care.   I don’t believe that even if the U.S. wanted to implement serious socialized healthcare, that we could.   What would we pay for it with?   We are no longer a wealth generating nation.

So, that’s one of the big looming problems I was referring to.

Economies and Growth

The other has to do with the idea that most of our societies are built upon the principle that healthy economies are growth economies.  That’s worked well for us as a species up until now but it isn’t going to work much longer.   We’re coming to the limits of what the planet can supply for food and water and we’ve clearly exceeded what it can supply for renewable resources. We’ve built the very foundations of our societies on a non-renewable resource, oil, that will be running out soon.   And we’ve messed with the atmosphere’s Carbon Dioxide so badly that we’re well on our way towards a major climate shift.

And, in the midst of all of these dire warnings written so clearly on the wall of our future, the very best folks can come up with, as they consider and fret about the problems of the currently global economic downturn, is that with luck and perseverance, soon we’ll have our economies all back up and running just as before – with ever increasing growth, consumption and pollution as the cornerstones of our brave new world – same as the old unworkable, unsustainable world.

So, that would be the second problem – and it’s a big one.


pork-chop-hillIf you are down inside the workings of a specific nation and deeply involved and  invested in the concerns and problems of the local health care system, then it might seem reasonable to you to fight the good fight  for a better way of doing things.

But I would suggest that if one gets out of the trenches and ascends above the entire field of battle to a great height, one might see that in the bigger picture it isn’t going to matter if your brave and idealistic unit captures that small hill called “Healthcare”.   Bigger forces are afoot and visible from a greater height.

Those are my thoughts, Dr. H.   As always, I know I sound like a great pessimist.   But I don’t feel that way.   I think I am simply seeing the bigger picture.   I too am idealistic and I talk and rail and write about all of this almost daily.   But, in truth, I don’t do these things because I think I can really change them.   I act more because speaking the truth is right in and of itself and needs no other justification.

At the end of your letter, you listed the following points:

1. There is no place in medical care for “For Profit”.

2. Insurance companies’ priority is profit for shareholders.

3. Direct to patient advertising should be banned.

4. Medical Schools need to be induced to greatly increase graduation of primary care physicians, including loan forgiveness for those who go into primary care practice.

5. Providers should be incentivized for keeping patients healthy and minimizing expensive tests and medications.

6. We should have a single payer system that links patients and families with primary care providers that have support from social services, nutrition and exercise referrals and other support groups.

7. Hopefully we can move toward a society with less income inequality and social injustice where we prioritize education and opportunity and improve the quality of life for all.

I agree and applaud everyone of them.  And I say this not withstanding the fact that I think this battle over health care will be swept away by the larger trends that are afoot.

Again, thanks for writing your letter to the President.  I deeply admire your motives and your idealism.   Please do not take anything I’ve said here as a criticism – it is not intended to be.

Your friend,

Dennis Gallagher