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G-Comm™: Hoppy’s Commentary - Lipitor and Me

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I’ve been blessed throughout my life with good health. I say that not to brag or tempt fate, but rather as a statement of fact.

But even those destined by the good fortune of the genetic roulette wheel to avoid serious or life-threatening diseases at early or middle age are still subject to certain inevitabilities.

And that brings me to today, my first day on Lipitor, the drug that reduces LDL (bad cholesterol).

I put up only a mild protest to my family doctor as we reviewed the lab results. “But can’t I control this with diet and exercise?” I got a casual shrug, a prescription and a brief tutorial on the link between family history and heart disease.

So, the payback for a healthy 0-to-60 years finally arrives.

Many of you are saying, “welcome to the club.” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that nearly 74 million adults in this country—that’s 32% of the adult population—have bad cholesterol issues, and just one in three of those adults has the condition under control.

But we’re actually doing better. The high cholesterol rates are declining because of improved treatment with drugs like Lipitor and Crestor. I understand that Lipitor has side effects such as upset stomach, muscle and joint pain, but they don’t seem too bad when weighed against an increased risk of heart attack.

That’s the thing about healthcare; in many instances it’s about options rather than a cure.

If I’m like most Americans, Lipitor is just the start for me.

The pharmaceutical industry reports that while seniors make up just over 13% of the population, they take 40% of all prescription drugs. “On average, individuals 65 to 69 years old take nearly 14 prescriptions per year; individuals 80 to 84 take an average of 18 prescriptions per year.”

Add up all the drugs taken by the entire population and you get a huge number.

The Institute for Healthcare Informatics reports that we spent $374 billion on medicine in 2014, and filled 4.3 billion prescriptions.  That’s up 13% from the previous year. And that’s before we count over-the-counter drugs.

One can argue that we’re over-medicated. But taking too many pills is something someone else does, while my scripts are essential, life-saving medications, right?

I still consider myself fortunate, and as time passes I’ll try hard not to be that guy whose conversation starter is, “So, how are your cholesterol numbers?” And compared with those of you with serious health problems, this is nothing.

It’s not so much the Lipitor itself but the inevitability of aging that’s a tough pill to swallow.

A Nuclear Weapons Ban Emerging

The Gilmer Free Press

Every moment of every day, all of humanity is held hostage by the nuclear nine. The nine nuclear nations are made up of the P5 permanent members of the United Nations Security Council and their illegitimate nuclear wannabes Israel, North Korea, India and Pakistan, spawned by the mythological theory of deterrence. This theory has fueled the nuclear arms race since its inception wherein if one nation has one nuclear weapon, its adversary needs two and so on to the point that the world now has 15,700 nuclear weapons wired for immediate use and planetary destruction with no end in sight. This inaction continues despite the 45-year legal commitment of the nuclear nations to work toward complete nuclear abolition. In fact just the opposite is happening with the U.S. proposing to spend $1 Trillion on nuclear weapons “modernization” over the next 30 years, fueling the “deterrent” response of every other nuclear state to do likewise.

This critical state of affairs comes as the 189 signatory nations to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) concluded the month long Review Conference at the U.N. in New York. The conference was officially a failure due to the refusal of the nuclear weapons states to present or even support real steps toward disarmament. The nuclear gang demonstrates an unwillingness to recognize the peril that the planet faces at the end of their nuclear gun; they continue to gamble on the future of humanity. Presenting a charade of concern, they blamed each other and bogged down in discussions over a glossary of terms while the hand of the nuclear Armageddon clock continues to move ever forward.

The nuclear weapons states have chosen to live in a vacuum, one void of leadership. They hoard suicidal nuclear weapons stockpiles and ignore recent scientific evidence of the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons that we now realize makes these weapons even more dangerous than we thought before. They fail to recognize that this evidence must be the basis for prohibiting and eliminating them.

Fortunately there is one powerful and positive response coming out of the NPT Review Conference. The Non-Nuclear Weapons States, representing a majority of people living on the planet, frustrated and threatened by the nuclear nations, have come together and demanded a legal ban on nuclear weapons like the ban on every other weapon of mass destruction from chemical to biologic and landmines. Their voices are rising up. Following a pledge by Austria in December 2014 to fill the legal gap necessary to ban these weapons, 107 nations have joined them at the U.N. this month. That commitment means finding a legal instrument that would prohibit and eliminate nuclear weapons. Such a ban will make these weapons illegal and will stigmatize any nation that continues to have these weapons as being outside of international law.

Costa Rica’s closing NPT remarks noted, ”Democracy has not come to the NPT but Democracy has come to nuclear weapons disarmament.” The nuclear weapons states have failed to demonstrate any leadership toward total disarmament and in fact have no intention of doing so. They must now step aside and allow the majority of the nations to come together and work collectively for their future and the future of humanity. John Loretz of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons said, “The nuclear-armed states are on the wrong side of history, the wrong side of morality, and the wrong side of the future. The ban treaty is coming, and then they will be indisputably on the wrong side of the law. And they have no one to blame but themselves.”
“History honors only the brave,” declared Costa Rica. “Now is the time to work for what is to come, the world we want and deserve.”

Ray Acheson of Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom says, “Those who reject nuclear weapons must have the courage of their convictions to move ahead without the nuclear-armed states, to take back ground from the violent few who purport to run the world, and build a new reality of human security and global justice.”

Why Are We in the Middle East?

The Gilmer Free Press

To placate their pique at his effort to get a non-proliferation agreement with Iran, Barack Obama met last Thursday at Camp David with Saudi royals and leaders of the other five feudal dictatorships of the Persian Gulf. He reaffirmed the United States “ironclad” commitment to their security and promised even more military aid and cooperation. After the personal dust-up between Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu settles, we can expect the Administration and Congress to add even more steel to our commitment to protect and subsidize Israel by adding more to its already vast store of sophisticated weapons.

Thus, we take another step deeper into the tragedy of U.S. intervention in the Middle East that has become a noxious farce.

Consider just one of the head-spinning subplots: We are allied with our declared enemy, Iran, against the bloody Islamic State, which was spawned from the chaos created by our own earlier decisions to invade Iraq and to overthrow the Assad regime in Syria, which has us fighting side-by-side with jihadist crazies financed by Saudi Arabia, whom we are supporting against the Houthis in Yemen, the bitter rivals of Al Qaeda—the perpetrators of 9/11!

Since 1980, we have invaded, occupied and/or bombed at least 14 different Muslim countries. After the sacrifice of thousands of American lives and trillions of dollars, the region is now a cauldron of death and destruction. Yet, we persist, with no end in sight. As a former Air Force General Charles F. Wald remarked told the Washington Post, “We’re not going to see an end to this in our lifetime.“

Democrats and Republicans snipe over tactics, but neither wants to discuss the question of whether we should be there in the first place. Even liberals counseling caution, like the New York Times editorial board, hasten to agrees that the U.S. must play a “leading role” in solving the Middle East’s many problems. In other worlds, stay the course.

The ordinary citizen trying to make sense of all this might reasonably ask: why? The president’s answer is that the war is in our “national interest.“ Congress says, Amen. The phrase causes politicians and pundits on talk shows to synchronize the nodding of their heads, signaling that the national interest should not have to be explained—and certainly not debated.

When pressed for more specifics, our governing class offers four rationales for this endless war:

1. Fighting terrorism

2. Containing Iran

3. Securing oil

4. Defending Israel.

But when the citizen in whose vital interest the war is supposedly being fought takes a close look, he/she will find that none of these arguments—or all of them together—justifies the terrible cost, or even makes much sense.

Terrorism

The claim is that we will prevent another 9/11 by killing terrorists and keeping them offshore. But by now it is obvious that our interventions are counter-productive, i.e., they have vastly enlarged the pool of American-hating fanatics, willing to kill themselves in order to hurt us.

Americans are appalled when shown ISIS’s public beheadings on TV. What they are not shown is the beheadings routinely performed by the Saudi Arabian government and our “moderate” allies. Nor are they told that militias allied to the U.S.-backed government in Iraq have killed prisoners by boring holes in their skulls with electric drills. This is the way bad people behave in that part of the world. ISIS is a symptom, not a cause, of Middle East fanaticism—a problem rooted in corruption, tyranny and ignorance, which the United States cannot solve. Meanwhile, Arab governments themselves have enough firepower to defeat ISIS if they can put aside their own differences to do it. If they can’t, it is not our job to save them from their own folly.

The rationale here is embarrassingly circular—we must remain in the Middle East to protect against terrorists who hate America because we are in the Middle East. George W Bush’s often echoed claim that “They hate us for our freedoms” is nonsense. They hate us because we are foreign invaders. The longer we stay, the most likely it is that we will see another 9/11. And as the Boston Marathon bombing demonstrates, the people who carry out the next attack are more likely to live here, than there.

Iran

Iran is not a threat to U.S. security and will not be as far as one can see into the future. Its hostility to the U.S. is a product of over 50 years of our active interference in its politics, beginning in 1953 when the CIA overthrew the democratically elected prime minister and replaced him with a king.

Barack Obama is right that stopping the spread of nuclear weapons should be one of our highest international priorities. But taking sides in the Middle East’s political and religious civil wars has undercut our credibility, making it look like we are more interested in checking Iran’s influence than nuclear proliferation. Why, the inquiring American citizen might ask, is it OK for Israel and Pakistan to refuse to sign international treaties and allow inspection of their nuclear facilities, but not Iran?

In any event, the leverage that brought Iran to the negotiating table was not the U.S. military’s presence or saber rattling in Washington. It was the economic sanctions.

Oil

Oil is an international commodity. When it comes out of the ground it is sold on world markets. Producing countries need consumers. U.S. consumers buy oil at world prices, and it is available to them as it is to everyone else who can pay for it. They get no special discount for having military bases in the area.

The economic motivation for the invasion of Iraq was not to assure that we Americans would have gas for our cars and oil for our furnaces, but to assure that American-based oil companies would be the ones to bring it here.

Today, we get less than 10 percent of our oil from the Persian Gulf. The U.S. is now projected to pass both Saudi Arabia and Russia as the world’s largest oil producer in the next two years. By 2020 North America, and likely the U.S. alone, will be self-sufficient in oil and gas.

The claim that Americans need to be in the Middle East for the oil has gone from dubious to implausible.

Israel

The United States does not need Israel to protect its security. Nor does Israel need the U.S.

Israel has by far the most powerful sophisticated military in the entire region. Its arsenal includes nuclear and chemical weapons that, because Israel has refused to ratify international nonproliferation treaties banning, it can continue to develop with no outside interference. The surrounding Arab states are dysfunctional, disorganized and caught in the brutal quasi-religious war between Sunnis led by Saudi Arabia and Shiites led by Iran that is likely to drag on for decades. Hezbollah, which arose in Lebanon as a result of Israel’s 1982 invasion, can harass, but is certainly no threat to Israel’s existence.

Even if Iran eventually builds a bomb, Israel would still have the capacity to blow that country back to the Stone Age, and there is no evidence that Iran’s political establishment is suicidal.

The security problem for Israel comes from within the territory it controls: the status of the conquered, embittered Palestinians, who in 1948 and 1967 were driven out of their homes and herded into the ghettos of the West Bank and Gaza in order make room for the Jewish state.

The Palestinians are militarily powerless. They can throw stones and occasionally talk some lost soul into becoming a suicide bomber. From Gaza they can lob wobbly mortars over the Israel border. But always at the cost of harsh retaliation. Two thousand Gazans were killed in the Israeli punitive attacks of August 2014. It will take them ten years to rebuild their homes and infrastructure.

Yet the Palestinians will not give up their own dream of an independent homeland—at least on the territory occupied by the Israel army since 1967. So for almost a half century, our governments have pushed both sides to negotiate a permanent solution, pouring billions in aid to Israel, and lesser, but substantial amounts to placate the Palestinians and to bribe Egypt and Jordan into recognizing Israel. We have paid a huge political price; our role as collaborator in the Palestinian oppression is a major source of anti-Americanism in the Muslim world.

The U.S. effort has failed. Neither the Palestinians nor the Israelis—both driven by anger, mutual distrust and historical grievances—have behaved well. But, Israel is the one in control of the West Bank. So any credible solution requires that it end the apartheid system they have imposed, either by giving Israeli citizenship to the Palestinians (One-State) or by permitting the establishment of an independent Palestine (Two-States).

The Israelis will never accept a one state solution with the Palestinians. Among other reasons is a widely shared fear of the faster Palestinian birthrate. The re-election of Benjamin Netanyahu in March after he promised Israeli voters he would never accept two states, has buried that idea as well. The real Israel solution is already in motion on the ground—pushing Jewish settlements further and further into the Palestinians’ territory until there is no space left for a Palestinian state.

There are now about 600,000 people in the Jewish settlements in the West Bank, and their number is growing. No Israeli government in the foreseeable future will be capable of evicting a substantial share of them in order to give the Palestinians room to form an independent country. The only pressure on Israel is the fear that it might become an international pariah state—as South Africa did before it ended its apartheid. But so long as Israel is under the political protection of the U.S., it can, and will, ignore world opinion.

Our choice therefore is either to remain as enabler of Israel’s “settler” solution, or, as part of a general withdrawal from the region, to let the Israelis and Palestinians deal with the consequences of their own behavior. Indeed, U.S. disengagement might be the political jolt needed to force a change.

Thus, the real answer to the question of why our country is stuck in the Middle East will not be found in the phrase, “national interest.“ Rather it will be found among a much narrower group of special interests—military contractors, oil sheikdoms, the Israel lobby, and a media that hypnotizes the electorate into equating patriotism and war.

These interests are formidable. Their fallback argument is that we are in too far even to contemplate pulling out. Much too complicated. And America’s “credibility” is at stake.

Maybe. But our credibility as a democracy is also at stake. To maintain it, responsible citizens should at least demand clarity about why we are slogging deeper and deeper into this quagmire, putting lives at risk, wasting enormous resources and diverting the attention of the U.S. government from the deterioration of our national economy—the fundamental source of national security.

America’s bi-partisan governing class has no intention of opening up their Middle East misadventure to such scrutiny. So it’s up to the citizenry. The 2016 president election campaign will force candidates into forums, town meetings and question-and-answer sessions. It may be the last chance for citizens to pierce the veils of glib rhetoric that hide the reasons our rulers have pushed us into a part of the world where we have no real business and where our presence has only made things worse.

~~  Jeff Faux - Economic Policy Institute ~~

Jim Justice Mining Operation Endangers Public Health and Ecology, Says Scientific Center

Center for Biological Diversity calls upon federal and state officials to provide greater scrutiny of mining permit approved for Justice-owned McDowell County surface mine
The Gilmer Free Press

BRIDGEPORT, WV – Tierra Curry, the senior scientist with the Center of Biological Diversity, has written an eight-page letter to state and federal officials asking the agencies to further review the public health and environmental impact of a surface mine owned by Jim Justice, who earlier this month declared his candidacy for governor of West Virginia.

Justice, who owns the Greenbrier Resort in White Sulphur Springs, is a Democrat. The gubernatorial race is in 2016. He is also the subject of news coverage reporting that he has avoiding paying fines leveled against his mining operations for various environmental violations.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national nonprofit conservation organization. The operation in question is the Big Creek surface mine in McDowell County. Last month, the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection issued a surface mining permit to Justice Low Seam Mining, Inc. for the operations. In response, Curry wrote, “Please accept these comments from the Center for Biological Diversity concerning impacts to threatened and endangered species and the environment that will result from the proposed Big Creek surface mine. …”

Curry asserts, “In terms of intensity, this permit directly affects public health and safety, harms an ecologically critical area, has highly controversial effects on the environment, will cause and contribute to cumulative impacts in this important ecological area, and directly affects endangered species and their habitat.”

She adds, “More than 20 peer-reviewed scientific articles have now revealed threats posed to human health by pollution from mountaintop removal coal mining includes increased incidence of cancer, birth defects, cardiovascular disease and kidney disease.”

Additional Oversight Required
Hence, Curry argues that the agencies responsible for public health and environmental oversight have more work to do. In her letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources, Curry wrote, “We ask that you undertake further environmental review and analysis before allowing this mining project to move forward. Specifically, we ask you to consider alternatives to the mine as proposed including a no action alternative and an alternative that does not include a valley fill and that buffers and protects all streams from mining activity. We also ask that you seriously weigh these comments given the applicant’s lengthy history of environmental violations when coal mining.”

Curry was in Charleston in April, where she was the keynote speaker at the Preserving Sacred Appalachia Conference at the St. John’s XXIII Pastoral Center. Recalling that visit, she shared, “When I visited West Virginia this spring for the Preserving Sacred Appalachia Conference, I got to hear spring peepers and whippoorwills and smell the flowering redbuds and trilliums. It was a heartbreaking reminder that when mining companies blast away mountains, they are not just blowing up dirt and rocks. They are blowing up the plants and animals that make the Appalachian Mountains so special, so sacred. Appalachia has more kinds of freshwater mussels, crawdads and salamanders than anywhere else in the world and yet companies are blowing up our natural heritage so that the rich can get richer and poor people can remain stuck in a boom and bust extraction economy that threatens public health and prevents economic diversification.”

Impact upon Water Quality and Habitats
In the letter, Curry notes, “The Big Creek surface mine will discharge into unnamed tributaries of Jacobs Fork, which flows into the Dry Fork of the Tug Fork on the Big Sandy River. The mine will harm more than 5 miles of currently high quality streams. The mine will impact 19 streams totaling 27,102 linear feet including, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, 12, 715 feet of intermittent channel, 14,387 feet of ephemeral channel, and 0.15 acres of open water.”

She notes also, “We are writing to call your attention to required environmental documents for the mine including consultation with the USFWS on the northern long-eared bat, a conference with the USFEW on the Big Sandy crayfish, Protection and Enhancement for these two species, and an updated Wildlife Resources Lands Inquiry. We also wish to point out that the water quality impacts analyses for the mine are woefully inadequate.”

Curry notes that the surface mine would destroy 907 acres of primary hardwood habitat – home to the northern long-eared bat. “In short,” says Curry, “northern long-eared bats are interior forest dependent species and removal of 907 acres of their habitat will have significant impact upon the species.”

The Big Sandy crayfish is also threatened by the mining operation, but as Curry points out, “None of the analyses for the mine have taken into consideration impacts that mining operations will have on the Big Sandy crayfish.” Curry states bluntly, “Both of these species will be harmed by the Big Creek surface mine and your agencies are obligated to safeguard these species from mining activities.”

History of Environmental Violations by Justice Noted
Curry also points out that the company owned by Justice has not provided proper plans to mitigate the impact of its activities. “The documents submitted with the application in no way meet these requirements. The response provided on how the mine will avoid and minimize adverse impacts is a single generic paragraph that includes no specific measures to safeguard water quality, the Big Sandy crayfish, or the capability of Jacobs Fork to continue to support trout.”

She also takes exception with claims by the company “… that downstream water chemistry is not expected to change.” Characterizing that claim as ludicrous, Curry writes, “Surface coal mining causes increased siltation and sedimentation, increased conductivity, increased total dissolved solids, and increased concentrations of pollutants including selenium, aluminum, sulfate, manganese, iron, and bicarbonate ions.”

She argues, “The inadequacy of the analysis is further evidenced in that in addition to stating that downstream water quality will not change, the analysis also says that downstream waters will receive alkaline leachate and that net alkalinity will be raised, which is an acknowledgment that downstream water quality will be changed.”

Curry continues, “Moreover, Jim Justice, the owner of Justice Low Seam Mining, Inc., has a long history of environmental violations at his mining operations including water quality violations. It was reported in July 2014 that coal mines owned by Mr. Justice have been cited for more than 250 environmental violations with unpaid penalties of about $2 million. Of note, a violation was recently issued to a Justice-owned mine by WVDEP for failure to pass runoff through sediment control. Thus, issuing a mine permit to this company, given its history of violations, is highly controversial.”

Coal Not the Future
Near the end of her letter, Curry offers, “The effects of surface coal mining on the quality of the human environment are unquestionably controversial due to the permanent and irreversible effects on the environment, the harm to human health, property damage, risk of flooding, and other factors. This mine in particular is controversial because in addition to the presence of endangered species on site, a church and a Head Start are downstream from the mine site.”

In addition to the remarks in her letter, Curry shared, “I visited with some of the families that live on the creek below the proposed Big Creek mine and I saw the Head Start center that would be at risk from flooding and pollution. People showed me their foundations and roofs that have been cracked from mine blasting and their wells that they can no longer use because the water has been contaminated. I think the people in the rest of the country don’t realize that U.S. citizens living in the coal fields do not have access to clean water. It is outrageous that here in the United States corporations are destroying people’s water and the people are so poor that they have no choice but to drink water that they know could make them and their families very sick.”

She concluded, “It is pretty obvious that blowing up mountains and dumping the waste into streams is bad for the economy, bad for public health, bad for endangered species, and bad for our children’s future; the science and economic studies are now available that unequivocally demonstrate the social, economic, environmental, and public health costs of surface coal mining. People need to stop defending the coal industry and realize that there are other paths forward economically, that there are other ways to keep the lights on, and that the billions of dollars the coal operators are amassing are never going to create a healthy economy for Appalachian communities. … There has never been a better time for people to unite and demand clean jobs, economic diversification, and a healthy environment.”

~~  Michael M. Barrick ~~

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