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Gadfly | January 28th, 2015

Gitmo, The Salt People, The Yanomami, The Reindeer People, And Us

So far, paleontologists say our early ancestors learned how to control fire over a million years ago. Modern man took over from the Neanderthals about 40,000 years ago if the scientists are right, and we have made tremendous economic and personal progress just in the last 100 years.

In 1910 we expected to live only 47 years. Now we expect to live at least 81, with many living beyond 100. Only 14 percent of 1910 homes had bathrooms, only 8 percent had telephones and 95 percent of births took place in the home. Employees made a “living” earning about 22 cents an hour.

As a farm boy, I did not have the pleasures of electricity until the late 1930’s and a bathroom until 1946, and walked a mile and a half to country school Morrison County District #54, uphill both ways. We put electricity in the barn first so we could pump water to the animals in winter. Life was good because we didn’t know any better.

In 2014 we landed a small spaceship from the mothership called Rosetta on Comet 67P after a 10-year journey to see if there was water on it. Nothing particularly new about this. We had previously sent probes and landers to Venus, Mars, the Moon, to Saturn’s moon Titan and to two asteroids hurtling through space.

In the 1990s Corky and I visited Cape Canaveral, climbed aboard a model space shuttle, walked on the rocket site that blew our astronauts to the moon, and watched Japanese and Canadian scientists working on science labs and equipment for the International Space Station. The Internet circles the world and climbers on Mount Everest can make a satellite phone call to any spot on earth. But evidence shows some of us are not very happy.

When $38 Million A Year Is A “Poor” Divorce Settlement

Poor Harold Hamm.

The president of Continental Oil and the main tycoon in the Bakken oil fields had poor luck in divorcing his wife of 26 years. He was worth over $18 billion just a few months ago when his wife got a $1 billion in a divorce settlement. He thought it was a “fair and equitable” settlement at the time.

She didn’t, so she is appealing the judge’s decision. But since the court decision the world oil market has tanked to a certain extent, and poor Harold’s estate has shrunk to a measly $10 billion. After all, who can find a trophy wife and live the good life on that sum?

So now Harold is going to also appeal the case, evidently thinking that a once “fair and equitable” deal is no longer that because of his big losses lately. You decide. They were married for 26 years so she “earned” $38 million for each of those years. Is this a bad or good deal for her — or him? When is “enough” enough?

According to some pundits — including myself — we are going to hell in a handbasket, although over half of the people think 2014 was not such a bad year. For about the last 50 years the world has shrunk so much that what happens in Vegas is instantly known throughout the “civilized” world in seconds and cars assembled in this country may have parts from 50 other countries.

Wall Street has replaced Las Vegas, Atlantic City, Monte Carlo, Singapore and Macau as the gambling meccas of the world. Wall Street investment banksters play crap games, but not with rolling dice. They play the gambling games with real crap called credit default swaps, derivatives, hedge funds and other exotic creations designed to separate honest money from the basically honest middle class. Worse than poker, blackjack, baccarat, lotteries and other skin games, many billions are bet with derivatives on whether companies and corporations are going to live or die.

As an example, in December 2014, Radio Shack was in trouble, closing stores and saddled with a $1.4 billion debt. But credit default swaps and derivatives betting on whether Radio Shack survived or perished amounted to $23.5 billion! Does that make any economic sense?

This is like betting whether Oregon or Ohio State will win the college football championship, basing your decision on which cheerleading squad has the best cheers or the least clothes!

All of this Wall Street crap has been approved by The Best Congress Money Can Buy. The debt of the failing JCPenney Co. now sits at about $8.7 billion, but hedge fund managers and banksters have bet $19.3 billion that it will succeed or fail.

Welcome to the casino and banks too big to fail! Remember 2007, Lehman Brothers and AIG? Here we go again. The financial law called Dodd-Frank was supposed to correct the problems caused by all this crap. But a poorly regulated Wall Street loves this crap and has already bought Congress off.

The Tale Of Two Cities—Or Another Tale Of The Rich And The Poor

Over 200 years ago the English poet William Wordsworth wrote these lines that could be repeated with more power and meaning today: “The world is too much with us, late and soon,/ Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;/ Little we see in nature that is ours,/ We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon.”

There is such an inequality gap in the U.S., we have red and blue states, Upper Richistan and Lower Pooristan, and two major political parties bought by the inhabitants of Upper Richistan with the lowest political approval record in the history of the country.

And race is still a good indicator of our widening economic gap. One in three blacks has less than $1,000 in wealth, defined as assets minus debts. For whites it’s only one in nine, for Asians one in eight, and Latinos one in four. The odds on being a millionaire are one in eight for whites and one in nine for Asians, but one in one hundred for blacks and Latinos. This fact also shows up in median wealth statistics: Whites, $134,000; Asians, $91,000; Latinos, $14,000, and blacks, $11,000.

The lack of money creates other gaps among races. Blacks cannot convert money to home ownership, pensions, savings and inheritances. Blacks and Latinos earn high school diplomas and college degrees at a much lower rate than whites and Asians. Families need wealth to function.

What happens to a poor family if a job is lost? Or if a sudden illness or accident creates big hospital bills? Or if a car breaks down? Or if one does not have enough money to have a bank account so is forced to use payday lenders and pay exorbitant check-cashing fees?

Without money or credit there are no opportunities to buy a home, a car, an education, or to pass on assets or cash to future generations.

Our LifeStyle, Our Tremendous Inequality Has Not Reached All Of The World Yet

Just in the last couple of weeks I have read about people who have almost no exposure to modern society and the world economic systems. We have the slave salt people who work salt “farms” on South Korean islands. Although South Korea is one of the richest Asian countries, salt farmers employ or enslave disabled and impoverished workers, often with the approval of mainline families.

Some earn nothing but their food and shelter. This exploitation has been going on for centuries. In a sense it has become “traditional.” The workers work 18-hour days in the hot sun, raking and bagging sea salt on the coasts. There are 38,000 salt farms on 72 islands, many of them protected by important politicians in the South Korean government. Only a few farmers have gone to prison for short periods because they have been found guilty of mistreatment or slavery.

Then we have perhaps the smallest ethnic minority on earth, the Tofa reindeer people who inhabit about 27,000 kilometers of eastern Siberia, most of it north of the Arctic Circle.

This tribe depends upon reindeer for food, clothing, shelter, transportation and everything else. They are separated from other people and Russia by the Eastern Sayan mountain range. Winters last for at least eight months, so the Tofas are nomads, traveling and herding reindeer for long distances in order to find grass.

And reindeer are known for scratching through snow to find something to eat. Reindeer milk is seven times richer than goat milk so Tofa children thrive on it. It’s a fascinating society.

Reindeer serve as horses and draft animals, carrying people on small saddles without stirrups and pulling their reindeer skin homes on wheels or sleds, depending on the season. For the few Tofas who have left the taiga (frozen land) to explore life in the cities, about 70 percent return to the nomadic life, citing the horrors of being away from their traditions.

Then we have 24,000 Yanomami people of the Amazon rainforest occupying land and water the size of Austria in Brazil and Venezuela. They were the first people in South America according to the experts, arriving over 50,000 years ago. Brazilians call them the most primitive people in the world.

In this era of globalization they have maintained their own traditions. The Brazilians could be terribly wrong. I think we should listen carefully to Davi Kopenawa Yanomami, a shaman of one village who has spent 25 years battling the Brazilian government about land, pollution and greedy mining and oil companies.

The Musings Of A Yanomami Shaman That Should Give Us Pause About Our Society

The Yanomami live in about 350 villages scattered in their huge territory, and move every three to four years so they have new and fertile ground for gardens and hunting. They live by hunting, fishing, gardening, and collecting fruit, insects, frogs and anything else edible. They did not see any white people until the 20th century.

A Yanomami community has no chief and uses democratic discussions to solve problems. But each village has a shaman, a healer who also protects the village from demons. Don’t laugh. Many of our smaller communities have the same arrangement. Somehow the Yanomami have discovered genetics because the men steal women from other tribes in order to have normal children.

After observing the world for 25 years in his battles against gold prospectors and oil drillers in Brazil, shaman Kopenawa, now known as the Dalai Lama of the Yanomami, has these thoughts about us: “We people in the forest possess few things and we are satisfied. They (modern man) are used to greedily hoarding their goods and keeping them locked up. They probably tell themselves: ‘I possess all these things alone. I am so clever, I am an important man, I am rich!’ They always desire new goods. They entangle themselves to the point of chaos. They are making us all perish with the epidemic of fumes that escape from all these things. They do not think they are spoiling the earth and sky. These white men are greedy and do not take care of those among them who have nothing. How can they think they are so smart?”

The Prison At Gitmo Is An Example Of White Man’s Thinking

Congressional Republicans refuse to allow President Obama to close our black prison of terror at Gitmo. We presently guard 122 detainees there. Fifty-four have been approved for transfer, nine are supposedly being handled by military commissions, one is a convicted war criminal and 58 are in a “continue-to-detain” status.

It costs us $3.1 million per detainee to keep them at Gitmo. It would cost at the most $60,000 each to keep them in the most restrictive top security U.S. prison. Currently, we have over 2,000 military and civilians staffing Gitmo, guarding 122 detainees from ages 23 to over 80. We are currently building a Gitmo school for 275 K-12 students at a cost of $65 million. That’s about $250,000 per student. The average new school in Miami runs about $30,000 per student.

I think the shaman is right. We aren’t very smart.

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