The Supreme Court Ruling on Obamacare or; How I Learned to Stop Thinking and Love Totalitarianism

If I wasn’t pregnant, this would definitely be a night or two that involved a glass of whiskey.  The Supreme Court has ruled the individual mandate of Obamacare is constitutional.  I guess five justices bought into the last-minute argument that the $1,900-per-year penalty is a tax.  Because we don’t have enough of those to go around.  I’m sure that a good portion of the progressives I know are going to be throwing a party tonight.

Here’s the issue.  Constitutionally, Congress isn’t allowed to tell you what you will and will not buy.  It’s that simple.  You don’t have to be a constitutional scholar to understand this stuff.  Does that sound like it’s throwing shade at the five justices who voted in favor of the mandate?  It is, and it should be.  They have no more respect for the Constitution than I do for communists.  (That’s very little, not that I needed to tell you.)  To me, it takes nothing less than audacity to think that a penalty “tax” for not purchasing something doesn’t count as regulating individual commerce.  A rose by any other name would smell as sweet, and the words “tax” and “penalty” are practically interchangeable to me.

As an expat, what I’m concerned most about right now is the possibility that I will be forced to pay this penalty, in spite of the fact that I’ve lived outside the US for over three years.  I have full coverage health insurance where I am now.  The original version of Obamacare mandated that even expats living outside the US take out a US health insurance policy or face the penalty, as it as called every day prior to the Supreme Court hearings.  Supposedly it was left out of the final draft, but frankly, I haven’t read the final draft, and if the Supreme Court is willing to rule that Congress can effectively tell me what I must and must not buy, then I wouldn’t put it past them to shove the penalty down my throat.

Do you want to know how much $1,900 is to me?  It’s almost a month’s salary, and from that salary, I already pay into my health insurance plan over here, as well as my state pension.  I also have to report my earnings to the IRS, which it doesn’t tax, since I’m obviously not a high earner.  I also pay property taxes to the state of Illinois, which went up this year in the spite of the fact that my property value has plummeted since 2008, and I couldn’t get rid of that land if I wanted to.  And I’d love to.  If anyone wants to buy some prime development land in a nice, upscale subdivision, feel free to email me!  But the point that I’m making is that it goads me – nay, pisses me off – that I am expected to pay rent on my own property, a portion of my earnings to the government as though I have no right to them in the first place, and perhaps even a penalty for being satisfied with my out-of-country health care plan.

I am a sovereign individual, as is everyone else who reads this post and everyone who doesn’t.  You owe the government nothing.  You have the right to keep every penny of what you’ve earned, and they have no right to take it from you.  The very notion of income taxes rests on the idea that the government owns your earnings, and they may redistribute them as they see fit.  This is legalized plunder.  Call it any other name – remember the rose – but it still has the same stench of theft.

Let it be said that I love my country.  I really do.  I ache for the wilderness and the spread of the North American continent.  The prairie is in my veins, much as the bored, fed up teenager in me hates to admit it.  But I do so very much hate our government right now.  They would take everything from us, if they thought they could get away with it, and we are heading increasingly in that direction.  There is more freedom and prosperity in other nations than in the US, and that is the honest truth.  The ideals of the constitutional republic, much as it saddens me to think this, seem to be alive only in the hearts and minds of a committed few, and some of them are getting the hell out of Dodge.  I think any truly honest libertarian would vow allegiance to himself and the principles of freedom long before he or she would ever vow allegiance to a morally and financially bankrupted government.  I am teetering tonight on that point myself.  As much as it pains me to say this, my mind is turning towards the idea of getting out for good, in spite of the 15% escape tax and wondering where I would go from there.

Times like this, I think of Daniel Day-Lewis in his role as Hawkeye in Last of the Mohicans.  He is a man doesn’t consider himself subject to much of anything, and he refuses to live by another’s leave.  He is speaking frankly and yet eloquently about freedom, and if the absence of control by another is true freedom, it is no longer to be found in the US, the land which once so jealously guarded its freedom.  I hope things will change.  I really do.  There are a lot of people out there who are working towards it, but sometimes it seems like one step forward and two steps back.

I hope we will eventually see Obamacare repealed, but the blackguard cynic in me suspects that at least some parts of it will survive in the US tax code and health care Goliath that already give us so much headache.  Maybe I’m wrong.  But I doubt it.


Cough Drops: The Mandate

This video I found on Reason TV brought a few LOL moments for me, so I thought I’d bring you guys something a little light-hearted for Saturday night.  I also posted this to Twitter.  I think it pretty accurately describes what happens when the government gets involved with anything that is anywhere near your body: somebody is getting probed!  Enjoy!

Cough Drops: The Mandate

My Two Cents on the Birth Control Debate

I know, I know, I haven’t been posting much lately, and for that I’m sorry.  I seem to go through slumps with my writing, and I’ve definitely been in one lately.  I think I’m going to fancifully call it an “intellectually lazy” period because that sounds better than saying I’ve just been plain lazy.  I’ve been equally lackadaisical about following the bruja on birth control that has been swirling around the US as of late.  I’m sure it’s just as (intellectually) lazy to admit this, since I have no solid evidence to support this other than Facebook observations, but truthfully, it seems like a bunch of progressives getting miffed because a religiously affiliated university doesn’t see fit to provide students with birth control.  Maybe that’s why I didn’t blink: it’s a Catholic institution.  Didn’t everyone already know that, generally speaking, the traditional Catholic stance has been against birth control?

Of course, then it seems like the religious right proclaiming that nobody should be on birth control, since they don’t believe in it.  And if it’s morally wrong, then nobody should have the right to do it.  I don’t know if that’s exactly what they’re driving at, but it sounds like the sort of knee-jerk statement that would come out of the mouth of someone like, for example, Rick Santorum.  Being as how neither side makes any sense, I’m going to assign both of them a dunce cap and tell them to go sit in the corner.  Much like my student whom I’ve dubbed “the scarecrow” – brains made of straw and a face to match – they probably will neither sit down nor shut up.

Both sides are wrong for a similar reason: they are attempting to force their beliefs on those who don’t share them.  In the case of the left, they are attempting to coerce a group or groups of people to financially support something with which, for whatever reason, they do not agree.  In the case of the right, they are attempting to deny a group or groups of people something that they desire from the marketplace.  Neither has any real legitimate claim to coerce another group, regardless of all the well-intentioned arguments and ideas behind it.

Let’s start with the progressives.  From what I’ve gleaned, they support insurance companies and businesses forcibly providing birth control for medical reasons, such as cystic ovaries.  They have also argued, essentially, that society benefits from the effects of more women being on birth control.  One friend of mine also argued that providing birth control, rather than not providing it, ends up costing the insurance providers and businesses in question less over time.

There are very few, if any, insurance companies that will refuse birth control if it is necessary to save one’s life or prevent more expensive procedures further on down the line.  I find this to be a rather weak argument, so I’m going to leave it where it is.

The argument that “society owes it to itself” is a huge fallacy that was exposed by the late, great Murray Rothbard.  Simply stated, society doesn’t exist.  I know that sounds like a claim from outer space, but let’s look at the facts.  Society is frequently treated as though it is some entity that actually exists, and it doesn’t.  Rothbard, in his brilliant work For a New Liberty: The Libertarian Manifesto, provides us with the example of a band of ten robbers.  Those ten robbers show up to a home, break in, and take whatever they please.  They are caught and, when brought to court, make the argument that they are a “society,” and they were robbing other people because it was in their best interests to do so.  Naturally, this idea would not hold up in any respectable court.  However, when the number multiplies and suddenly we are speaking of a large number of people seeking to rob another large (or small) number of people, the argument suddenly becomes cloudy and more difficult to perceive.  Interestingly, this argument about “society” can also be used to take blame away from a person or persons who most properly deserve it, thus removing the need for accountability.

I view the argument that “society” owes it to itself to be a completely erroneous and frankly illogical argument.  In order for a “society” to truly exist, it must be homogenous with identical beliefs, hopes, and standards.  Obviously, this “society” or utopia, if you will, has never and will never exist.  Even if everyone else were in favor of doing something, if one person doesn’t consent, then that person has a right not to be coerced.  Put differently, it is not moral or ethical to force me or anyone else to pay for something that you want, if I do not wish to provide it of my own free will.  This applies to taxes just as easily as birth control and a host of other things.

The savings argument is an interesting one, and I have not seen any articles or statistics on it, though I will freely state that statistics can be skewed to go the way the person reporting wants them to go, in many cases.  One might ask why, if there are such great savings to be had, businesses and insurance companies are not already taking advantage of these great savings.  Honestly, why?  The only reason I could think would be if there were some sort of government subsidy that provided more money and thus negated those potential savings.  Knowing how heavily government is involved in the medical and insurance industries, this would not be unexpected, though I have no evidence to back it up; it is merely a hazarded guess.

Ultimately, birth control specifically and reproductive rights generally are a deeply personal issue for most, if not all, women.  Women should have the right to choose, of course.  Nobody should be asked to cosign another individual’s beliefs, whatever they may be.  However, being forced directly or indirectly to subsidize those choices is demanding that acquiescence.  The only way to forever settle this issue is to forget this notion about what is good for society and let people take care of themselves with their own money.  Leave the government out of it.  Leave the church out of it.  I have the right to decide for myself, and so does everyone else out there.  Don’t let anyone, left or right, tell you otherwise.

Psych Meds: Worth the Risk?

I’ll start by saying at the outset of the article that I’ve always felt that the decision to take any kind of psych med is a deeply personal one, and it is not a decision that anyone else can make for the individual in question.  I have known more than one person who went on a psych med of one variety or another and ended up going off of it for one of two reasons: 1. He/She no longer felt like him- or herself, or; 2. The medication was causing more severe disruptions to his/her life than the condition that the pills were created to combat.  I have never taken a medication of this sort, and I understand that many people feel them to be effective and helpful to them.  Based on my own observations, however, I remain deeply skeptical of their overall benefits.

Why is this?  Well, for one thing, I have known more than one person in my close circle of friends, which isn’t all that big, who has gone on SSRIs when they were going through a tough time in life.  In both cases, the person was hoping to be relieved from the constant feelings of “the blues.”  In the first case, the person reported feeling more suicidal tendencies.  In fact, she had never even been suicidal until she started taking this medication.  Needless to say, it wasn’t a medication that she stayed on for long.  In the other case of which I’m thinking, the person was also on them for a short period but elected to stop when they made the person feel crazy.  The person later told me that it took about six months for him/her to get back to feeling like their normal old self.

Another friend of mine had an even worse experience with strong sleeping medication.  Her doctor had prescribed them to her, as she had been a lifelong insomniac.  It was a rare occasion that she got more than four hours of sleep in a given night the entire time I knew her.  Being tired and cranky was a way of life for her.  She went to the doctor to get some sleeping medication for the nights when sleep was impossible, and she was on that medication for probably about three years.

When she went back to university, she neglected to renew the prescription.  She thought nothing of it… Until she stopped being able to remember where she was going.  She recounted to me a story of driving around a strange, new city for hours, trying to find the place whose location she had known only minutes before.  She never did find it.  Her moods swung dramatically, and she found herself strung out and crying on a daily basis.  She found out later that she as experiencing massive withdrawal.  She ended up dropping out of grad school for a semester to move back home and get herself back together.  She’s healthy and well now, but I think I can say with absolute confidence that it was the most awful, harrowing time in her life.  Interestingly, the medicine she was taking was almost chemically identical to Xanax, which is why I used her example in this article.  I have known a shocking number of people who are prescribed Xanax for the most mundane reasons, and they really shouldn’t be anywhere near it.

Can you see why I’m mildly skeptical of all of these medications?  Those are two stories of many that I could share with you.

I know that my friends’ stories are not unique, tragically.  I think there are more people than most of us realize who have had hellish ordeals with prescription medication.  Although I will neither provide nor know of a statistic which supports this opinion, I nevertheless believe that prescription medications are more dangerous to the health of America than street drugs.

Natural News featured a report a few days ago which I posted up on Twitter about two days ago.  The article talk about how the FDA and Big Pharma have actively attempted to hide some rather shocking findings (I wasn’t shocked, but I’m cynical): placebo pills (sugar pills) registered exactly the same effect on patients as the actual anti-depressant meds.  This is reported by University of Hull psychologist Dr. Irving Hirsch.

Was Hirsch using a new, fancy research to test out his hypothesis?  Surprisingly, the answer is no.  According to another article written by Dr. Hirsch that was published in The Huffington Post, Hirsch and his colleagues compiled what is referred to as a meta-analysis.  Dr. Hirsch explains that this type of study is used to make sense of large amounts of information that have been conducted by previous studies.  Seems simple enough.

Included in the mass of data analyzed were the actual clinical trials conducted by the drug companies producing these drugs.  These trials were conducted as double-blind studies.  In a double-blind study, patients will be divided into two groups, with one group receiving the real drug to be tested and one that receives a dupe sugar pill.  Neither doctors/researchers nor patients know who is receiving which pill until the end of the trial.  This is considered to be one of the best way to avoid psychological contamination of the study, if you will, as it will be harder for patients or doctors to imagine that effects are there which really aren’t.

Hirsch says that by the end of the major study they looked at, though, most of the patients receiving the real medication knew that they were receiving it because of the side effects.  This group did report slightly increased benefits, but the Hirsch team concluded that these could be real effects or imagined effects, since the patients mostly knew that they were medicated.

Hirsch then asks the question, if the FDA knew about this, why did they allow these drugs to be approved?  In fact, the FDA only requires two successful trials for a drug to be sent to market.  In other words, if company A runs 15 trials and two could be interpreted as successful, those results will then be sent to the FDA, who will then approve or disapprove the drug.  To quote Dr. Hirsch, the study “must be statistically significant.”  Statistical significance, however, does not imply clinical significance.

Hirsch also asserts early on in the article that there is evidence mounting that seems to suggest that depression is not a disease of the brain, chemical in nature.  Just suppose for a moment that Hirsch is correct.  I am not saying he is or he isn’t, but it is an interesting hypothesis.  If depression were, say, a physiological rather than a psychological disease, it would have serious implications for the mental health industry, the drug industry and, I believe, the health and well-being industry.  What if depression could be treated by improved diet, regular exercise, and regular, positive social interaction away from one’s desk job?

I suppose with that in mind, there are two things I want to drive at here.  The first is that, should Hirsch’s results hold up and his conclusions prove to be accurate, it paints a damning picture (more so) of Big Pharma and the FDA.  I have long questioned the efficacy of the FDA, but if they are approving drugs that create huge profits for some while poisoning the population with terrible side effects for little, if any, benefit, it seems to be that they are criminal in nature and deserve to be treated as such.  Once again, government is giving aid and comfort to precisely those who need and deserve it least.

The other point to be made is that the old, conventional wisdom about healthy diet and exercise becomes so much more valuable to us.  Unfortunately, we seem to live in a society where we think everything can be solved with a magical pill.  But what if the power to feel and look good, for the most part, is something that is within our own control?  Does that sound depressing (pun not intended)?  It shouldn’t.  It’s liberating, and that’s what we are all about here at the Lady Libertarian: freedom.  Yes, it may seem scarier for some, to have to take total responsibility for one’s own health instead of relying on a doctor and being able to place blame with him/her when things don’t go well, but ultimately, we are the masters of our destinies.  A little like Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz, wouldn’t it be at once exciting and mildly disheartening to find that the power to transport ourselves to our rightful place has always been within our own power?  Perhaps it truly is something that we have to discover for ourselves…

Interested in reading more?  Check out the links below!

Dr. Irving Hirsch via The Huffington Post: “Antidepressants: The Emperor’s New Clothes?”

Natural News: “How FDA and Big Pharma mislead millions into taking dangerous antidepressants”

Natural News: “BMJ Admits antipsychotic drugs kill far more people than terrorism” 

Curing the Obesity Epidemic with Fat

I thought I might give you folks at home a break from the campaign reporting and send you a post on food and health.  I was cherry picking some Lew Rockwell podcasts to download, and I ran across this interview with a chap named Gary Taubes.  He has a long list of academic credentials, but his main focus at this point appears to be diet and health and most specifically the benefits of low-carb diets, which is a subject that is near and dear to my heart.

I have previously advocated in favor of the Somersize diet, which is a low-carb diet that emphasizes eating protein and fat in larger quantities while giving sugar, white flour, and starchy vegetables a miss.  I’m going to toot my horn here and tell you that to date, I have lost over 100 pounds on this diet, so I am here to tell you that low-carb diets work.  I eat like a horse and maintain weekly weight losses without counting calories, a feat which I frankly never believed possible.

Some of you would no doubt say, Seriously?!  A diet where I don’t have to weigh and measure and count and keep a food journal?  No way!  It sounds too good to be true!  It isn’t.  Carbohydrates are the obstacle between the average dieter and success.  I have tried various low-calorie diets, most of which were heavy on the carbs in the maintenance phase.  I starved myself, exercised like a maniac – we’re talking a 10k run every day with a weight circuit – and I was still overweight.  It was depressing and disheartening, and I eventually gained back all the weight I’d lost over the years and then some.  It was a sorry state of affairs.

Like so many others, I had this feeling that there was something in the equation that was missing.  I weighed the food, I counted the calories, I logged my exercise, but still something wasn’t adding up.  Why was I still fat?  I should have been a serious beast, given the amount of exercise and minimal amount of food that I was eating.  I felt healthy, but I never had that bangin’ bikini bod for which most of us girls so dearly yearn.  As it turns out, carbohydrates generally and sugar specifically are the most likely derailers of the beleaguered dieter.

According to a New York Times article written by Taubes which cites a statistic given by the U.S.D.A, by the early 2000s, the average American was consuming about 90 pounds of sugar a year.  Please bear in mind that this includes all sugar – fructose, sucrose, high-fructose corn syrup, and all of their comrades.  As I’ve discussed in previous articles, high-fructose corn syrup, or corn sugar, as some companies as now choosing to call it, is to be found in a large number of products that are on the grocery store shelves today.  If you are shopping anywhere but the outer edge of the supermarket, it will be a difficult thing for shoppers to avoid.  I have previously mentioned the specific dangers of high-fructose corn syrup in my article “If You Really Are What You Eat, America is in BIG Trouble,” so you can check out the links and analysis there.

In Taubes’ Times article, he goes on to remark that, in legalese, the evidence that links sugar, obesity, and diabetes together is purely circumstantial.  He goes on to point out, though, that the evidence becomes more compelling when you realize that in the 1980s, one in every six Americans was obese, and there were only about 6 million cases of diabetes at that time.  By the early 2000s, though, one in three Americans is obese, and there are more than 14 million reported cases of diabetes.  That, friends and neighbors, is quite a significant jump for a 20-year period.  Taubes goes on to cite more excellent examples of the proposed link between increases in American sugar consumption and diabetes-related deaths.

So if there is a link between being a lard butt, having “the diah-beet-us,” and horking down sugar like there’s no tomorrow, where did this notion about eating more carbs and less fat come from?  Well, it came from a nutritionist at the University of Minnesota named Ancel Keys.  He did a study called the Seven Countries study, and he came to the conclusion that saturated fat consumption was the best predictor of heart disease.  At the same time, a man named John Yudkin was claiming that sugar raised the level of triglycerides in the blood, which is now considered to be a link to heart disease.  The two were not exactly best friends, and Keys apparently wrote some scathing commentaries about Yudkin which he (Yudkin) never quite lived down.  As a result, advocating any of Yudkin’s ideas was a bit of a taboo in the nutritional community for some time afterwards, as nobody wanted to damage his or her reputation by being linked to a researcher who hadn’t been taken seriously.

Taubes brings all of this information nicely back around to talk about metabolic syndrome, which is quite often the cause of heart attacks.  Simply stated, if you have metabolic syndrome, you are insulin-resistant – your cells are ignoring the hormone insulin.  Your pancreas produces insulin to keep your blood sugar under control when you eat.  When you eat carbohydrates, your body has to produce more insulin to control your blood sugar.  At the point where your pancreas can no longer produce enough insulin to control your blood sugar, you have diabetes.

Several studies have been done where lab rats were given diets heavy in fructose.  The results were stunningly clear: the rats developed fatty liver and insulin resistance.  Why would fatty liver be linked to insulin resistance?  Well, your liver is what metabolizes fructose and sucrose (refined sugar), and when your liver cannot keep up with your consumption of sugar, you will develop fatty liver.  When the animals’ diet was changed, however, the fatty liver and insulin resistance disappeared in short order.

Somers touches on the notion that eating sugar may contribute to increased rates of cancer.  According to Taubes, research supports this, as individuals who are obese, have diabetes, and/or who have metabolic syndrome are more likely to have cancer.  The reason for this, it has been discovered, is that some cancer cells actually thrive on insulin.  Insulin seems to be the signal for pre-cancerous cells to develop mutations and begin multiplying in large numbers.  In effect, insulin nourishes these out-of-countrol cells.

Taubes wraps up his illuminating report by saying that he feels like he should allow himself or his sons to eat some sugar in moderation.  The evidence is not completely conclusive on the subject.  However, he admits that sugar scares him, and he just can’t quite bring himself to chow down on those delicious delights.

For my part, I find it rather hard to ignore the evidence, circumstantial though it may be.  There is no denying that America is getting fatter and fatter, and more and more people are being diagnosed with adult onset diabetes.  Cancer rates are not decreasing.  I think it would be fairly tough to argue that there isn’t something terribly wrong with the American diet today, and the amount of sugars, starches, and carbohydrates in our diet is certainly one of them, in my opinion.

Am I advocating that you all go out and start chowing down on giant steaks and fatty bacon?  No.  Lean, grass-fed meat is always best for us, of course.  What I am saying is that you might want to think twice before picking up that bottle of Coca-Cola or shoving that Ding-Dong into your mouth.  What I’m saying is that the conventional wisdom that states that fat and protein are our enemies is simply untrue.  You can eat a diet rich in flavor with meat, cream, cheese, and a variety of healthy fruits and vegetables that is delicious, nutritious, and will help you lose and maintain a healthy weight without feeling like you’re starving.  The simple truth is that you will find it much harder to maintain a lean physique if you eat a lot of carbs and sugar.

I strongly encourage all of you to check out the Somersize Diet or the Atkins Diet.  I’ve heard the South Beach Diet is good too, as far as low-carb diets go, but I can’t speak from my own or friends’ experiences, because I don’t know anyone who has done South Beach.  I would also seriously recommend that you read the article I linked and check out Gary Taubes’ blog, which is relatively new and features articles about the dangers of eating too much sugar.  He also has two books, Why We Get Fat and Good Calories, Bad Calories.  I haven’t read either of them, but I’m so impressed with his evaluations that I intend to pick one or both of them up as soon as I get a chance.

So instead of shoveling gobs of sugary chocolates into my mouth this Valentine’s Day, I think I will be opting instead to have a nice chicken breast with some yummy veggies and maybe some brie or camembert for dessert.  (Nothing says “classy” like a cheese plate!)  If you’re struggling with your weight, you are not alone, but the great news is that you can turn things around, and it doesn’t have to be painful or involve deprivation.  Check out Suzanne Somers’ books about weight loss, and if you still aren’t convinced, head over to Gary Taubes’ site for some rigorous scientific analysis.  You won’t regret it; I sure haven’t!

Check out the media below for more information on becoming a low-carber!  Please give a listen to the Taubes-Rockwell interview!

Gary Taubes’ Website
“Is Sugar Toxic?”
 by Gary Taubes
Suzanne Somers Books
Lew Rockwell Interview with Gary Taubes: Why We Get Fat and What To Do About It  (page includes downloadable Podcast)

Monsanto: A Bad Seed

For those readers who don’t know what Monsanto is, let me bring you up to speed.  Monsanto is, according to Wikipedia, a “multinational agricultural biotechnology corporation.”  Monsanto produces Round-Up and some other herbicides, as well as about 90% of the genetically altered seeds available in the US today.  That may sound fairly harmless on the surface, but trust me, Monsanto is about as far from harmless as you can get.  This St. Louis-based company has been harassing farmers, depriving them of their incomes, and forcing GMO’s down the throats of the consumers for quite some time now.  Fortunately, there seem to be a lot of people who are up in arms about this “bad seed.”

Let me be clear by saying that I don’t think that there is anything wrong with making a profit.  I have no problem with entrepreneurs.  I like them.  In fact, a budding entrepreneur is the reason I have a job.  What I don’t like is the government selling out to the lobbying efforts of mega-corporations like Monsanto, who are willing to make a profit at anyone’s expense.  Where the heck are those anti-trust laws, anyway?

Monsanto is most famous for creating “Round-Up ready” seeds – that is, seeds that are genetically modified to withstand repeated sprayings of their Round-Up herbicides.  Most natural plants, not shockingly, don’t hold up that well in the fact of poisons designed to kill them.  Kind of like people when they’re fed too much corn syrup… But I digress.  Monsanto manufactures both the herbicide and the seeds that resist them.  Monsanto has patented several genes for their GMO seeds, and they enforce their patents aggressively.

As most anyone who has ever had a garden will tell you, it’s tough to tell pollen where you want it to go.  Pollen pretty much goes wherever the wind takes it.  That means that farmers from one field will often find that some of their plants have cross-pollinated with plants from another farmer’s field. Seems natural.  Well, the problem now comes along when Farmer A, who doesn’t use Monsanto’s seed, finds some seeds that have cross-pollinated with Farmer B’s plants, which are Monsanto seeds and therefore patented by the company.  Monsanto has taken these non-buyers to court and successfully argued in more than case that the farmers were in violation of their patent rights.  In other words: pay up, or we’ll run you out of business.

There was an interesting section from the film Food, Inc., that told of a farmer who lived not all that far from where I call home.  This chap made part of his living, as a semi-retired farmer, off of cleaning seeds for other farmers for the next year.  Of course, Monsanto doesn’t endorse this behavior of cleaning and storing seeds for next year.  They want every farmer to pay up every year for brand-new seed.  Seed cleaning is something that most farmers have traditionally done, and Monsanto is doing this solely to make a profit; they do not care how this may harm the farmers’ profits.

There have been talks about so-called “terminator seeds” that become genetically unfeasible after one season.  That means that they can’t be saved or replanted, because they won’t be any good by the time the next planting season comes around.  It seems to me like this is a pretty raw deal for the farmer.  I know that not all of the readers come from farm country, but I do, and I know for a fact that farmers will go to great lengths to reuse things and get as much life out of seeds and equipment as they possibly can.  It just makes good economic sense for them to do so.

Another issue with Monsanto that directly affects consumers like you and me is GMO foods.  GMO stands for genetically modified organisms, and there is now scientific evidence emerging that, for example, GMO soy beans have increased the allergic reaction to soy.  In fact, from 1999-2000, the incidence of allergic reactions to soy had increased by 50%.  That’s nothing to sneeze at!

So okay, you think.  I’ll just stop eating products with lots of soy.  No problem.  Wrong.  GMOs are in animal feed, oils from corn, canola, and soy, the vegetables and fruits we eat, and the milk we drink.  Companies like Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, Nabisco, Kellogg’s, Slim Fast, and even Quaker Oats are known to contain GMOs.  If you like Wheat Thins, oatmeal, greasy cheeseburgers, or soda, you’ve probably been gulping down GMO food like there’s no tomorrow.

The thing about GMO food is that it is genetically re-engineered and can contain genetic bits from viruses, bacteria, and all sorts of other “fun” bits.  We have no idea what the long-term consequences for injecting our food with sketchy genetic code might be.  Will it help, hurt, or have no cumulative effect?  The fact of the matter is that we don’t know.  It’s incredibly difficult to predict precisely what the effects of genetic tampering may be.  And because there are no labels for GMO foods in the US, it’s going to be pretty tough to track the results scientifically.  In other words, there are no “tracks,” per se.  In a world where trans fat, corn syrup, and just about everything else in our food is bad for us, it may be tough to attribute diseases to GMO foods in hindsight.  What we do know right now is that animals eating GMO food have been adversely affected by it, and honestly, that’s enough for me.  What’s bad for the goose is bad for the Lady.

At the moment, I’m most interested in how this affects me as a consumer and how much money we are potentially losing out of our economy because of companies like Monsanto.  Monsanto lobbies very heavily in Washington.  Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas used to work for Monsanto.  In a political world where everyone has his/her hand out, this unfortunately means that the possibilities for pocket-greasing and paid-for advantages are the norm.  Why, oh why, can’t we go back to the days when corporations used to have to prove their usefulness to society and could have their charters revoked after a few short years, if they were found to be no good to the public or even a threat?

As I said before, I have no issue with an individual or company wishing to make a profit.  After all, that’s the primary aim of business.  However, I do have a problem with it begins interfering with consumer choice and the ability of others to enter the market.  I, for one, would like to know whether or not my foods contain GMOs, gross amounts of corn syrup, or various other sundry ingredients.  Unfortunately, most major food companies just aren’t labeling that way.

I like to think that there are ways we can avoid ingesting so much unhealthy food.  Try shopping at a local farmers’ market.  Ask the farmers what they’re planting; chances are pretty good that you’ll get an honest answer.  Plus, you’ll be getting seasonal goodies and not stuff that was artificially grown somewhere in Guatemala.  Alternatively, try planting some maters and taters yourself next summer.  It’s fun, it’s easy, you’ll get some exercise, and you won’t have to go to the grocery store and mess with stupid people armed with shopping carts so often.

Do I think we should boycott farmers?  No.  The farmers are not the bad guys here.  They’re just trying to make a decent living, like most people.  I do think that we should be pushing for more effective anti-trust laws and, in my opinion, it wouldn’t hurt to throw out a lot of these ridiculous patent laws.  This is a prime example of patent law causing direct harm to the little guy.  But I will save my discussion of patent law for another blog.  Ultimately, our health is in our hands – more so today than ever.  We are going to have to push to see the changes that we want, as consumers and as citizens.  But until the labels in the US are more complete, I think I’m going to get myself a nice little veggie garden when I get home.  Hopefully, I’ll be living far enough away from the corn fields that my stuff won’t cross-pollinate with any Monsanto seeds!

For more information, check out these articles:

“Hungary Destroys All Monsanto GMO Corn Fields” – Natural Society
“Ten Things Monsanto Doesn’t Want You to Know” – Organic Consumers
“Ten Reasons Why We Don’t Need GM Foods”Say No to GMOs! 
“Monsanto vs. Farmers” – Institute of Science in Society

If You Really Are What You Eat, America is in BIG Trouble

Per capita consumption of sweeteners over the past 30 years

For those of you reading who actually know me, you know that I’ve become a faithful “Somersizer.”  I have been fighting the “battle of the bulge” for most of my life.  I like to eat, and I’m not exactly what anyone would call an enthusiastic athlete.  I can run and lift weights when I have to, but sitting in front of a typewriter or curling up on the couch with a book is more my style.  I’ve been on a lot of diets over the years, including a doctor-supervised liquid fast, but I’ve always gained the weight back.  And then lo!  There was Somersizing.

The real name for Somersize is the Schwarzbein Diet.  In a nutshell, Suzanne Somers is the celebrity spokesperson for the diet, and Dr. Diana Schwarzbein created the diet.  It’s a high protein, high fat, low sugar diet.  I was skeptical at first, but I picked up the book Get Skinny on Fabulous Food.  It was a revelation.  I’d been searching for a diet that I could do over here in Korea, since so many diets require special foods or equipment or something.  All this required was a restriction on all foods containing sugar, fructose corn syrup, white rice, and white flour.  Again, I was skeptical, but I have lost about 95 pounds since June.  I eat like a horse – no kidding, I will sometimes eat 3-5 pieces of chicken at dinner! – and I am losing weight.

Okay, okay, congratulations, Lady Libertarian, way to toot your own horn.  Fair enough, but I do have another few points that I’d like to make before you accuse me of being a shameless horn tooter for my own one-man band.  In her books, Somers often points out that sugar, not fat and salt, is the main culprit of America’s expanding girth.  At first, I treated it with the same skepticism that I treat most things, but what she was saying really started to speak to me.  And it certainly spoke to my gut!

According to Schwarzbein, the key to controlling our weight is to balance the amount of insulin that our body creates when we eat.  In her own experience with diabetic patients, the ones who had the greatest success controlling their blood sugar were the so-called “cheaters” – the ones who were eating high fat foods such as cheese, eggs, and meat.  Of course, as it turns out, those foods also elicit the least amount of insulin response.  Their cholesterol levels also improved, and they no longer felt hungry.  As it turns out, there is no proof that low-fat, high-carb diets work.  What is proven is that high insulin levels result in all sorts of unsavory side effects, like high blood pressure, excess body fat, etc.

Schwarzbein goes on to say that fat is essential for restoring cells and enzymes, while food high in sugar and carbohydrates must be used up immediately for energy, or it will be stored – most likely in that oh-so-flattering “spare tire” zone right at the belt line.  In fact, without fat, insulin levels rise in the blood, which contributes to high blood pressure.  Increased insulin also results in plaque being deposited in the arteries – hello, heart attack!  Schwarzbein concludes her attack against the “conventional wisdom” by saying that cells that are chock-a-block full of insulin are breeding grounds for cancer cells.

This book was written in 1999, which puts it a little bit out of date now.  I ran across an article – thanks again, Natural Society! – talking about the dangers of fructose.  In fact, a new study that was just recently published has shown that pancreatic cancer, the one that recently felled Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, thrives best in sugar-laden environments.  Shocking!  The article says that not only do the cancer cells thrive in sugary environments, but they “proliferate.”  In other words, they use the sugar as fuel to keep you sick!  Think about it: if you are drinking Coca-Cola while taking cancer treatment, you are inadvertently derailing yourself!

The Natural Society article also charges that fructose is not only deadly – it’s more addictive than cocaine!  It can also potentially damage DNA, alter cellular metabolism, inflame, and increase the production of those nasty little free radicals.  As if that little laundry list wasn’t enough to make you put down the Dew, 50% of high fructose corn syrup has also been found to contain mercury!   Guess how much corn syrup the average American gobbles down in a year?  About 100 pounds.  That is a heck of a lot of corn syrup!  Additionally, a study done at Princeton found that lab rats who were given water sweetened with corn syrup gained more weight than those who were given water sweetened with sucrose, or regular old sugar.

The culprit behind America's girth growth problem?

How can the claim be made that stuff is addictive?  After all, it’s not like fructose is really cocaine.  Well, the answer, it would appear, is in the chemistry.  According to an article by Aaron Snyder, a nutrition and diabetes blogger, high fructose corn syrup disrupts leptin levels.  I know, I didn’t know what the heck leptin was, either.  Leptin is an adipose-derived hormone that your fat cells send up to your brain to tell you when you’re full.  High fructose corn syrup disrupts that signal.  So, in a nutshell, when you go for your Big Gulp of Mountain Dew you are, in effect, sowing the seeds for future overeating.  Given the fact that the average American guzzles and gobbles around 100 pounds of this stuff, is it any wonder that so many people complain about eating big meals and being hungry two hours later or eating for comfort as often as they do?  It’s the engineered sugar, stupid!

The bottom line is that we are being slowly poisoned by the foods that we’re eating.  Honestly, you don’t even need high fructose corn syrup to feel poisoned by carbs – I speak that from personal experience.  Within a week of eliminating all refined sugar and white flour from my diet, I felt like a new woman, and that’s no exaggeration.  My energy returned, I felt good, and I dropped a ton of weight overnight.

So if the stuff is so bad for us, how come it’s in everything?  Well, for one thing, it’s cheap.  If you aren’t from somewhere in the bread basket, we grow an awful lot of corn, and corn is basically just a carb in a kernel, which means that it can be easily manipulated into becoming another sugar.  The other issue – and this is a wild one – is that the US sugar industry is one that is actively engaged in protectionism.  For a breakdown of how it looks politically, check out this report done at Duke University.  The Cato Institute has another report on it, and if you want a quick summary of what it means for the food that goes onto your shelf, it’s this: sugar prices are quite high in the US and, because of that, it is cheaper to fill everything with high fructose corn syrup.  Yes, the US government actually pays to store the sugar and create artificially high prices, which benefits the sugar growing industry but results in a net loss for the economy.  At the same time, more corn is needed to produce high fructose corn syrup.

If you thought sugar was the sweetener of choice in these foods, you thought wrong.

I know this doesn’t seem like a short story, but I could go on about it for ages.  The bottom line is that we are getting sick from the food we eat.  What we eat today does not contribute to wellness.  I bet folks could accuse me of getting preachy here, but hand to God, I am not a health nut.  I don’t drink that wheat grass stuff, and I hate green tea.  I don’t just love vegetables, and I sure as anything love my sweets.  But I also came to a point with my personal health and well-being where I knew that I had to change or suffer the consequences: cancer, prolonged illness, and early death.  And that’s not what I want for myself.  I want to feel good, and I want to stick around for as long as I can.  We have a short enough time on this planet; we don’t need to speed ourselves towards an early demise.

So what can we do?  Well, honestly, the situation in the food industry is hardly encouraging.  That said, we can all make some simple changes in our lifestyles that should help shed a few pounds from the gut and reduce our corn syrup intake.

1. Give up the soda.  Today.  It is literally no better than rat poison.  Throw it down the sink.  Start drinking (non-fluoridated) water, green tea, or skim milk.
2. Check the packages.  I know, it’s boring and time-consuming, but would you rather be bored or dead?  There is a great little iPhone/iPod app I discovered called Fooducate.  I’m not getting paid to plug or anything, but it is handy.  Just scan the bar code with the camera, and it will give you a grade, telling you what’s really in it.  You can also report new finds to the parent site, and it will update so that others can use your new-found information.  You really have to watch out for the refined sugars, especially since high fructose corn syrup is now being called “corn sugar.”  Don’t be fooled.
3. Try to give up processed sugar, corn syrup, and white flour for a week, just to see how you feel.  I guaran-damn-tee that you will feel better.  And I know it’s not easy, the first day or two, but believe me, once you’re weaned from the sugar, you won’t want it anymore, and you’ll feel like a million bucks!

I know, I’ve probably come off a bit preachy in this article, but if I do, it’s because I am actually excited about the prospect of people losing a few pounds and feeling as good as I do.  I never thought sugar would make that big a difference in my life, but it has.  I have to think that if I was walking around, feeling and looking like an overweight gastropod, there are more people out there with the same problem.  I am feeling extremely encouraged by the fact that there are finally studies coming out that are lending credence to what used to be a fringe belief.  Hopefully we will see greater efforts in the food industry in the near future to contain the side effects from fructose and its ilk.

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