Cleopatra’s Sister

The tomb?

Everyone knows of Cleopatra, Queen of the Nile.  Abd everyone seems to love Game of Thrones.  History is rife with the struggles between kin for the crown.  I’ve written about one or two of these dynastic struggles, the last one concerning the succession after Henry VIII.  You can read about it here:

Today we will talk about Cleopatra’s family and particularly her younger sister Arsinoe.  Though just a footnote in history in the shadow of her sister, it seems Arsinoe was quite the young woman, waging a serious battle for the throne of Egypt at the time of Caesar.

Cleopatra and her two sisters and two brothers were Ptolemys, to be the last of a Greek line of rulers in Egypt.  Ptolemy I was one of Alexander the Great’s generals who divided up his empire after his death.  Their father, Ptolemy XII, a direct descendent,  reigned over a rich country independent of Rome and spent his life working to maintain Egyptian independence.  Alexandria, the Ptolemaic capital city was a marvel with a light house and the greatest classical library in the ancient world.  The Ptolemy’s didn’t change Egypt, they adapted to it.  The old religion continued, some new gods were added, the language and hieroglyphs went on with the addition of Greek.

Basalt statue of Cleopatra in the Ptolemaic Egyptian collection of the Heritage Museum.

Now we all know that being a parent can be difficult and many times the children don’t turn out as we had hoped.

Ptolemy’s eldest daughter Berenice didn’t even wait for him to die before making her move to seize the throe.  She forced her father to flee to Rome and ask for assistance in putting down the revolt and deposing his daughter.  Ptolemy returned with a Roman army, reclaimed his throne and executed Berenice.  And then there were four kids.

Before daddy  died he designated his son as Ptolemy XIII and Cleopatra as co-rulers which required the young Pharaoh to marry his older sister.  Their father would pass in 51 B.C.

In 48 B.C. Ptolemy XIII, Cleopatra’s brother-husband and co-ruler became tired of being side-lined by his older sister and managed to drive her out of Egypt.  Cleopatra fought back and while the two rulers were occupied little sister Arsinoe set herself up as a rival.

At this time Rome was the power in the Mediterranean but was in the midst of civil war between Julius Caesar and his rival Pompey.

Julius Caesar arrived in Alexandria in 48 BC pursuing Pompey, whom he had defeated at the Battle of Pharsalus. When he arrived in Alexandria, he was presented with Pompey’s head by young Ptolemy. Rather than being pleased (at least outwardly) Caesar expressed disgust and demanded the rest of Pompey’s body for a proper Roman funeral.   The execution of his longtime friend and foe ended the possibility of an alliance between Caesar and Ptolemy, and instead he sided with Cleopatra’s faction. He declared that in accordance with Ptolemy XII’s will, Cleopatra and Ptolemy would rule Egypt jointly, and in a similar motion restored Cyprus, which had been annexed  by Rome in 58 BC, to Egypt’s rule and gifted it to Arsinoë and her youngest brother, (eventually to be Ptolemy XIV) as compensation.  Caesar had Ptolemy’s regent, the eunuch Pothinus, executed while the general Achillas escaped and began besieging Alexandria.

Still determined to depose Cleopatra, Ptolemy XIII allied himself with Arsinoe. Jointly, they organized the factions of the army loyal to them against those loyal to Cleopatra and the relatively small army that had accompanied Caesar to Egypt. The battle between the warring factions occurred in mid-December 48 BC inside Alexandria itself which suffered serious damage.  Around this time, the burning of the Library of Alexandria occurred destroying priceless ancient Egyptian and Greek texts.

Arsinoe had General Achillas executed for thinking he could be ruler and put her own general, Ganymedes in charge.    Her forces trapped Caesar in a section of the city, by the building of walls to close off the streets, and she now directed Ganymedes to order the drawing of water from the sea, which was poured into the canals that supplied Caesar’s cisterns, causing panic among Caesar’s troops.   

Caesar countered this measure by digging wells into the porous limestone beneath the city that contained fresh water, which only partially alleviated the situation, so he then sent ships out along the coast to search for more fresh water.

Caesar realised he would soon have to break out from the city, and attacked the island of Pharos, upon which stood the great lighthouse, in order to gain control of the harbor. But Arsinoe’s forces drove him back, inflicting upon him a humiliating defeat, in which Caesar himself was forced to tear off his armor and his purple cloak, and swim to the safety of a nearby Roman ship in the bay.

However Arsinoe was not all that popular with the leading Egyptian officers, having executed their general and replaced him with Ganymedes, and under a pretext of wanting peace, negotiated with Caesar to exchange Arsinoe for Ptolemy XIII, who was subsequently released.  Ptolemy continued the war, until the Romans received reinforcements and inflicted a decisive defeat upon the Egyptians.  Ptolemy XIII was drowned as he tried to escape across the Nile.

And then there were three.

Why did Caesar make the swap?  Because Caesar knew young Arsinoe was a more dangerous foe than her brother and Caesar desperately wanted to get his hands on her.

Captive, Arsinoe was transported to Rome, where in 46 BC she was forced to appear in Caesar’s triumph and was paraded behind a burning effigy of the Lighthouse of Alexandria, which had been the scene of her victory over him.

The young teenage girl, in her chains carried herself with such regal deportment and dignity that the Roman crowds were clearly moved by her.  This beautiful young royal was not the barbarian Vercingetorix, the Gaul who had been marched in chains in Caesar’s last Triumph and then strangled before the mob

Despite the custom of strangling prominent prisoners in triumphs when the festivities concluded, Caesar was pressured to spare Arsinoe and granted her sanctuary at the temple of Artemis in Ephesus. Arsinoe lived in the temple for a few years, always keeping a watchful eye on her sister Cleopatra, who perceived Arsinoe as a threat to her power.

In 41 BC, at Cleopatra’s instigation, Mark Antony ordered Arsinoe’s execution on the steps of the temple. Her murder was a gross violation of the temple sanctuary and an act which scandalized Rome.  The eunuch priest who had welcomed Arsinoë on her arrival at the temple as Queen was only pardoned when an ambassador from Ephesus made a petition to Cleopatra.

That left two children, Cleopatra and Ptolemy XIV her baby brother.  Again Caesar made both of them co-rulers and had them married.  The young boy was shuffled off to the side-lines and eventually murdered when Cleo took up with Mark.

We all know what happened from there.

Cleopatra shows up in Rome (see Liz Taylor arriving!) with a son – Julius Caesar’s son allegedly.  While Caesar never publicly acknowledged the boy as his, he did allow Cleopatra to name him Caesarion.

Now Roman generals were gone on campaigns for years at a time and everyone expected that they would take lovers.  Even their wives.  This however was different.  Cleopatra was a Queen of a foreign country and the child could one day claim his Roman inheritance and show up at the Roman Senate where Caesar had been declared Dictator.

Octavian, his nephew and adopted son, was not pleased.

In any case, Caesar dies on the Ides and Cleopatra immediately sails for Alexandria with her young son.

Octavian and Mark Antony unite to defeat Brutus and Cassius and then proceed to murder all of their Senatorial supporters.  They split the Roman world between them and Mark Antony (who is married to Octavian’s sister) takes up residence and more in Alexandria with Cleopatra.  He father’s three children with her.  That’s for another post.

Rome and Octavian, now incensed, declare war, defeat the two at Actium and march on Alexandria.  Both Cleo and Mark commit suicide.

Caesarion, who had fled to India, was lured back with false promises and promptly dispatched by Octavian.  “Too many Caesars are not a good thing.”

So how old was Arsinoe?  Most sources indicate she was born in 63 B.C. which would make her about 15 when she defeated Julius Caesar and 22 at the time of her death.

A skeleton found by the Nazis at Ephesus in an octagon tomb and analyzed indicates she may have been as young as 12 IF the skeleton is the remains oa Asinoe.

Identification of the skeleton was based on the shape of the tomb, which was octagonal, like the second tier of the Lighthouse of Alexandria, the carbon dating of the bones (between 200 – 20 BC), the gender of the skeleton, and the age of the young woman at death.  It was also claimed that the tomb boasts “Egyptian motifs.”

Measurements of the skull were available from Nazi records and a face reconstructed from the measurements.  DNA analysis is considered impossible as the bones have benn handled by too many hands.

Her actions in the brief war against Caesar naturally suggest that she was older than that, and her date of birth had been placed between 68 BC and 63 BC. However this in turn would have made it impossible for her to be the woman buried in the octagon, and it was speculated had the remains been hers she’d be younger, and that she may have been just a figurehead rather than an active participant in the war, or, more likely, a young person of inordinately high intellect, a quality already hinted at in her family by the multilingual and intellectual talents of her sister Cleopatra.[

Perhaps the strongest evidence that she was in fact exercising her own authority is that Caesar, after the Pharos debacle, was prepared to release Ptolemy XIII — a male, who continued the war against Caesar — just to get his hands on her. 

In any case the skeleton has never been definitely proven to be the remains of Cleopatra’s sister.


I could not stay in Alexandria
the brilliant blue sea, the cloudless sky
the perfect yellow shore
all lovely; bathed in light.

Standing there day dreaming of Antony
lost was he between her limbs
High Priestess of Isis
intoxicated Roman.

What color were her eyes?
Blue? Perhaps Nile green
like the eyes of my lover
far away on another yellow shore.

I could not stay in Alexandria
the blue sea, the cloudless sky
I must hasten to my Isis
an intoxicated Roman lost between her limbs.



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Join the Space Force!!

I Want You!

The Emperor wants YOU to vote for your favorite Imperial Space Force insignia!  The winner will be manufactured in…eh China (tariff free!) and will be available on hats, t-shirts and jackets from your local Republican committee (for a nominal donation!) in time for 2020!

So come show your support for the Dark Side!

Join the Few!

The Proud!

Join the Empire’s Space Force!

Strike Back!



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Akhenaten – Monotheist and Scientist – A Re-Post

“How many are your deeds,
though hidden from sight.
O sole God without equal !
You made the Earth as You desired, You alone.
With people, cattle, and all creatures.
With everything upon Earth that walks on legs,
and all that is on high and flies with its wings.

You make all arms firm for the King,
every leg is on the move since You founded the Earth,
You rouse them for your son, who emerged from your body

the Lord of Crowns, Akhenaten, great in his lifetime.
And the great Queen whom he loves,
the Lady of the Two Lands :
Nefer-neferu-Aten Nefertiti,
who lives and is rejuvenated forever and ever.” 

The above lines were written by the Pharaoh Akhenaten, originally  crowned as Amenhotep IV before he changed his name.  He was a Pharaoh of the XVIII Dynasty and the words were written in 1360 B.C.   They are just several lines of the Great Hymn to the Aten carved on the walls of Akhenaten’s capital city at Amarna.

The Great Hymn to the Aten is the longest form of one of a number of hymn-poems written to the creator god Aten and attributed to Akhenaten who radically changed traditional forms of Egyptian religion replacing them with Atenism.

Egyptologist Toby Wilkinson said that “It has been called ‘one of the most significant and splendid pieces of poetry to survive from the pre-Homeric world.'”   Egyptologist John Darnell asserts that the hymn was sung.

Crowned as  Amenhotep IV at Thebes, (present day Luxor) he changed his name to Akhenaten in the fifth year of his reign and began the abandonment of Egypt’s polytheist religion culminating in the building of a new capital city at Amarna.

It was first thought that Akhenaten’s new religion was a form of sun worship but the readings and iconography soon revealed that Akhenaten did not believe the sun was god – he believed the sun was the only visible manifestation of god to man.

Akhenaten soon forbade the open worship of the old gods, abandoned their temples, arrested their priests.  His new temples to the Aten at Amarna had no roofs, no statues, no priests of Amun  – open air to let in the light.  It was a religion without darkness.

Akhenaten issued a royal decree that the name Aten was no longer to be depicted by the hieroglyph of a solar disc emanating rays but instead had to be spelled out phonetically. Thus Akhenaten extended even further the heretical belief that Aten was not the disc or orb of the sun (the Egyptian sun god Ra) but a universal spiritual presence.  Akhenaton’s religious reforms (later regarded heretical and reverted under his successor Tutankhamun) have been described by some scholars as the earliest known example of monotheistic thought.

You who cause the sperm to grow in women,
who turns seed into people,
who causes the son to live in the womb of his mother,
who silences him in stopping him crying.
Nurse in the womb, who gives breath to cause all he has made to live,
when he goes down from the womb to breathe on the day of his birth,
you open his mouth in form,
you make his needs.
When the chick in the egg speaks in the shell,
you give it breath within to cause it to live,
you have made him, he is complete, to break out from the egg,
and he emerges from the egg to speak to his completion,
and walks on his legs, going out from it

. In 1899, the English Egyptologist Flinders Petrie wrote:

If this were a new religion, invented to satisfy our modern scientific conceptions, we could not find a flaw in the correctness of this view of the energy of the solar system. How much Akhenaten understood, we cannot say, but he certainly bounded forward in his views and symbolism to a position which we cannot logically improve upon at the present day. Not a rag of superstition or of falsity can be found clinging to this new worship evolved out of the old Aton of Heliopolis, the sole Lord of the universe.

While it has been argued that there were monotheists among various Iron Age cultures, there is little doubt that Akhenaten was the first ruler of a major nation of the time to express a belief in monotheism and to impose it on his people   -albeit briefly.

Why did he do it?  Did he believe or were there more practical political reasons involved as well?

Akhenaten professed he was the son of god, of the same substance – “begotten, not made” as us cultural Catholics would say – the son, “who emerged from your body.”  Did Jesus not profess essentially the same?

On the other hand, he and only he could communicate with and understand god; he was god’s representative on earth.  This appears to claim infallibility, a claim of many church leaders and prophets.  Further, he established a virtual trinity – god, the pharaoh and his wife – “who lives and is rejuvenated forever and ever” -responsible for the people’s salvation of earth.

The rather strange and eccentric portrayals of Akhenaten, with a sagging stomach, thick thighs, large breasts, and long, thin face — so different from the athletic norm in the portrayal of Pharaohs — have led certain Egyptologists to suppose that Akhenaten suffered some kind of genetic abnormality. Various illnesses have been put forward. On the basis of his long jaw and his feminine appearance.  One theory was that he suffered from Marfan’s Syndrome which was later disproved with DNA analysis.

Other eminent Egyptologists argue that the body-shape relates to some form of religious symbolism. Because the god Aten was referred to as “the mother and father of all humankind” it has been suggested that Akhenaten was made to look androgynous in artwork as a symbol of the androgyny of the god. This required “a symbolic gathering of all the attributes of the creator god into the physical body of the king himself”, which will “display on earth the Aten’s multiple life-giving functions”.  Akhenaten did refer to himself as “The Unique One of Re”, and he may have used his control of artistic expression to distance himself from the common people, though such a radical departure from the idealized traditional representation of the image of the Pharaoh would be truly extraordinary.

Others argue that the early deaths of XVIII Dynasty Pharaohs were likely a result of a Familial Temporal Epilepsy. This would account for the untimely death of Akhenaten, his abnormal endocrine body shape on sculptures and can also explain Akhenaten’s religious conviction due to this type of epilepsy’s association with intense spiritual visions and religiosity.  There is no solid proof of this disease either although there was much in-breeding among Pharaonic blood lines.  Akhenaten’s son, King Tut was born by one of his sisters.

Professing monotheism, building a new capital away from the priests of Amun, banning the old gods and closing the old temples, banning the festivals, cut the people off from god.   God would no longer hear them; god only heard Akhenaten.  They must pray to him.

Akhenaten also radically changed Egyptian art.  Prior to his reign we saw the flat two dimensional depictions of men and gods.  Here again there was a religious reason.  The entire body had to be depicted in order that you have all of your parts in the after-life.Thus figures are flat, the body facing forward, all extremities illustrated including all ten fingers and ten toes.

Akhenaten commissioned more human realistic depictions including family relations, as above sitting with his wife and three of his children.

All of this was in direct contradiction to a thousand years of belief and culture and was bound to  engender serious resistance.

Sigmund Freud argued that Moses was a follower of Atenism, leaving Egypt after Akhenaten’s death to lead the Hebrews into the wilderness.  Maybe the pharaoh was not the right man for the job.

So do the modern monotheist religions borrow anything from Akhenaten?   Psalm 104 sure bears a striking resemblance to the Great Hymn.  How about the idea of a deity directing a group of people to a promised land, i.e. – the move from Thebes to Amarna?  Son of god?  Trinity?

True believers today deny any connection – their religion came abut through “revelation” and not through any rational discourse involving philosophy and the exchange of ideas among a bunch of pagans

Within a few years after his death, Akhenaten’s religion was destroyed and erased and the old gods re-established.  The old gods had been around for centuries – to believe Osiris had become irrelevant and to that to pray to Akhenaten and Nefertiti was sufficient wasn’t going to fly.

“The Amarna episode elucidates one of the dangerous characteristics of monotheism, namely the “scape-goat”-effect, dogmatism and fanaticism. In the case of Akhenaten, Amun and Osiris were the scape-goats, his exclusive Aten worship with adjacent Pharaonic exclusivity, the dogma and the more or less systematic destruction and termination of cults & festivals; the effects of fanaticism and a lack of tolerance towards existing traditions.

These themes are recurrent in Judaism, Christianity and Islam, each claiming an exclusive relationship with God.

Perhaps the wisdom of Egypt is precisely this Oriental refusal to reduce and simplify creation.”




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Farm Bills, Price Supports and Big Sugar

Every time Hoosiers see sugar listed as a food ingredient, they should know that they are paying more than they need to because of the current federal sugar program. I still manage my family’s 604-acre farm in Marion County, so I understand the challenges of competing. Yet, I also know that government intervention to keep prices high for a small group of powerful farming interests violates the free market concept of the American economy.”

Senator Richard M. Lugar (R -Indiana) Former Chairman of the Senate Agricultural Committee

“The farm bill provides farmers with a number of programs to mitigate risk. But there’s a problem when 10 percent of farmers receive 75cf percent of the benefits. What’s worse is that the 10 percent receiving most of these benefits are wealthy farmers who use the money to bid up land prices and keep young and beginning farmers from the business. As a farmer, citizen, and legislator, I believe it’s wrong to expect or to allow the government to give unlimited support to my farm or any other farm.”

Senator Chuck Grassley (R – Iowa)

Like many lobbies, the American Sugar Coalition wants to have its cake and eat it too. The sugar lobby wants to make sure its members receive prices for their product that in most years are close to double what’s standard on the open world market. But the lobby also wants to make sure that the sugar program’s costs to the average American household and the U.S. economy are hidden from plain sight.

Meanwhile the shmoes who prattle on about small government, free markets,  the benefits of unfettered capitalism etc. have no problem at all supporting corporate welfare.

Especially Big Ag.

Back in 1964 I actually read Barry Goldwater’s Conscious of a Conservative.  I didn’t plan on voting for him (Hillary did!) but I was interested to know how he thought.

Barry G. believed in “freedom,” small government, capitalism, a muscular foreign policy and was a socially tolerant man of his time.  He opposed government “interference” in social relations and the free markets.  He voted against the civil rights bill.

He also railed in his book against farm subsidies.  If, for example, too much sugar was being produced and the market price was falling and remained low, it was an indication that too much sugar was being produced and the market would adjust.

Some producers would leave the market; others would plant other more profitable crops and the market would stabilize.  Consumers would benefit.   Low, continually falling prices simple meant there were too many farmers and it was not the government’s business to keep unprofitable farms in business.  That’s capitalism.

Today we have an out of control farm handout system.

So here in Florida we have Big Sugar.  You can read about Florida’s sugar plantations in the previous post.  Not only does big sugar takes price support subsidies but they have been destroying the environment of south-central Florida for decades.  They are getting attention because the environmental damage has begun to affect Republicans with money.

Karma’s a bitch ain’t it?    🙂

So let’s talk about the price supports for sugar.

Lately  there has been considerable discussion about the direct and highly transparent costs to the federal government of the sugar program due to defaults on government loans by sugar processors. In 2013 for example, the U.S. Department of Agriculture spent $107 million buying sugar to increase prices to producers after processors defaulted on $172 million in what are known as non-recourse loans from the government.

What are non-recourse loans you say?

The processors borrowed money from the government using their sugar inventories as collateral at a guaranteed loan rate of 22.9 cents per pound of sugar.

If the market price is less than the guaranteed loan rate, as was the case in 2013 – 14, processors are free to default on the loan and turn the sugar being used as collateral over to the government. The government then has to deal with thousands of tons of sugar no one will buy at the loan rate price. These non-recourse loans are a central element of the government’s price-support program for sugar, which benefits sugar manufacturers and farmers at the expense of taxpayers and consumers.


Look at it this way.  When the sugar barons “borrow” from the government under this program they are really purchasing an option.  If the price of sugar goes up they will repay the government and take their sugar back.  If it goes down it’s like “Thanks!  Here’s your sugar!”

Sweet eh?

The U. S. government will have to get rid of the sugar at a loss and it is us shmoes who eat the loss.  Thank you very much.

The sugar program, which has existed in one form or another for decades, is now a complex set of regulations that ensures producers receive higher prices for their product. For much of the past 45 years, the program has supported domestic sugar prices so extensively that they have been at least two times the world price. Between 2010 and 2012, with high commodity prices worldwide, the gap between domestic and world sugar prices was much smaller. But in 2013 and 2014 world prices for sugar returned to their lower longer-run trend levels and the U.S. price support program has again become a costly proposition.

Sugar prices are also supported through restricting imports by a tariff rate quota system. A prohibitive tariff on imported sugar is established for imports in excess of the moderate amount allowed under the quota. When the sum of domestic production plus the imports allowed under the quota system, the total amount of sugar supplied to the U.S. market, is large enough to reduce domestic prices below their targeted level, the government operates a price-support scheme through a loan-rate program. This program guarantees a minimum price to producers, ensuring that the government may effectively end up being repaid by processors in sugar rather than dollars. The world price is typically much lower than the price the domestic market clears when the quota is in place. Thus, a floor is established for the domestic price.

Any one here use ethanol in their cars?  I didn’t think so.

The government usually dumps it’s excess sugar at pennies on the dollar to manufacturers of ethanol effectively subsidizing an industry currently going nowhere.  Before cheap gas and electric cars ethanol was touted as the fuel of the future.

Fructose?   The high-fructose corn syrup industry did not exist prior to the early 1970s, when the current sugar price support program was implemented. The industry came into existence only because of the high sugar prices created by the program. Now, however, the high-fructose corn syrup industry accounts for about half of all sugar consumed in the U.S., much of which is used by the soft drink industry. Increasingly, questions have been raised about the possible health effects of high-fructose corn syrup, including its relationship to obesity, diabetes and liver damage. If the program were eliminated, sugar prices would fall and the proportion of high-fructose corn syrup in our diets would decline significantly.

The direct cost to consumers from higher sugar prices amounts to about $10 per person per year for all 300 million-plus U.S. citizens. This amount, while significant, highlights a political dilemma and failure associated with many farm subsidy programs. Benefits from the program are concentrated in the hands of a small number of farmers and sugar manufacturers, but its costs are spread widely among consumers, so there is no effective opposition to the well-organized sugar lobby. Therefore, congressional support continues for a program that is extremely costly for the U.S.

And the meat and dairy industries get significantly more than Big Sugar in the grand scheme of things.

Some 75% of all farm support subsidies go to the top 10% of “farmers” – Big Ag.

An aerial shot of Fanjul land in Florida.  Looks like they need subsidies don’t it?

So you thought the farm subsidies were helping the “small family farmer,” those good hardworking Christian folk out in the heartland.  Schmoe.

The high cost of sugar raises the value of land under cultivation, encourages large landholders to buy out smaller farms and discourages new potential farmers from entering the business.  Which is one of the reasons the Fanjuls, sugar barons here in Florida, don’t want to sell their land which is needed to clean up Lake Okeechobee,

Our junior Senator, empty suit Rubio, a paisano of the Fanjuls, was backed with Fanjul money when he ran for the seat.

He thinks price support for sugar is a “national security issue.”

So all of you Republicans down in Naples with the stink of dead fish on your beaches, who spout abut deregulation and welfare queens, should take a close look in the mirror and ponder the issue of corporate welfare and deregulation.

I was a banker.  I know bullshit schemes when I see one.



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Red Tide, Lake Okeechobee and Big Sugar

Red Tide

Those of you who don’t live around here think of Florida as a paradise of  Disney for the kiddies, palm trees and pristine beaches.  Indeed we have some of the finest beaches in America.  I am lucky to live within a short drive of several of them.

Well southwest Florida beaches are in dire straits this year.  From Naples to Sanibel Island here in the Tampa metro area we are seeing the scourge of Red Tide; “pristine” beaches covered with dead fish and pinkish waters which will make swimmers sick.

The first thing you notice is the smell. It’s not a scent, exactly, but a tingling in the nose that quickly spreads to the throat and burns the lungs. But then you see the carcasses.

Southwest Florida beaches

Thousands of sea creatures now litter many of southern Florida’s typically picturesque beaches. Most are fish—mullet fish, catfish, pufferfish, snook, trout, grunt, and even the massive goliath grouper. But other creatures are also washing ashore—crabs, eels, manatees, dolphins, turtles, and more. It’s a wildlife massacre of massive proportions. And the cause of both the deaths and toxic, stinging fumes is a bloom of harmful algae that scientists say is the region’s worst in over a decade.

Yesterday six dolphins washed ashore along with another manatee.

There have been hotel cancellations by the thousands at gulf beach hotels south of me along with millions in lost revenue for restaurants, tourist attractions, gas stations, trinket shops etc.

Dead fish pushed into a cluster by the tides

The culprit is the tiny, plant-like alga known as Karenia brevis which produces toxins, dubbed brevetoxins, that cause both gastrointestinal and neurological problems when eaten. The latest bloom now stretches around 100 miles along the coast and miles offshore, often pushed into concentrated patches by winds and currents.

The infestation began about ten months ago after a summer of heavy rains and hurricanes, picking up intensity this month.  Now these folks who live along these beaches, particularly in the Naples area are not “po” – they have money and influence.  And they are tired of cleaning up dead smelly fish from beaches. The finger pointing as to the cause of this environmental disaster is getting nasty.

Is it caused by humans?

Let us move inland to the western portion of Palm Beach County.  Yes  – that Palm Beach county where Mar-a-Lago hosts Emperor Don and other billionaires when he doesn’t feel like New Jersey.

In the west of Palm Beach county, in the center of South Florida sits Lake Okeechobee, one of the largest fresh water lakes in America.

And one of it’s most polluted.

Lake Okeechobee

Why you ask?

The inland lake is  clogged with yet another bloom of vibrant green cyanobacteria. Runoff from cattle farms, sugar plantations and residential developments that lie north and south of the state’s largest freshwater body carries in nutrients, turning its waters into a thick green smoothie.  The current “Herbert Hoover Dike” completed by the Army Corps of Engineers was completed around 1960 and completely encloses the lake.

Development and sugar farms south of the lake prevent the natural trickling and filtering of overflow through the Everglades. Instead, to prevent flooding of nearby towns, heavy rains force engineers to release polluted water into the estuaries that lead out to the sea.

This was not the natural pathway of the lake before the dike;

The Federal government use of massive pumps and lock infrastructure, to control Lake water height — called “schedules” by the US Army Corps of Engineers — is calibrated to dike safety. Possible breaches would endanger lives in downstream communities: places like Belle Glade and Clewiston that, thanks to low labor wages of Big Sugar, are also among the poorest in the Florida.

To keep the dikes from bursting, The Army Corps of Engineers open the floodgates of hell into the St. Lucie and Indian River, opening to the Atlantic and the Caloosahatchee River, opening to the gulf.  The nutrient filled sludge entering the open water from the lake clearly has caused a massive kill off of fish and aquatic life as well as being toxic to humans.

For the public, the end game s to provide connectivity between Lake Okeechobee and the Everglades, building a solution toward cleaning Big Ag’s toxic mess of Lake Okeechobee.  Halting toxic releases to tide -measured in trillions of gallons – would eventually provide clean fresh water to the remaining three millions acres of Everglades, owned in perpetuity by the public thanks to the national park and other public entities.

Florida voters approved a plan to buy up land south of the lake in order to provide connectivity with the Everglades.  Never happened.

Big sugar south of the lake

Enter Big Sugar and the Fanjouls.   Cuban born Alfonso “Alfy” Fanjul Jr., José “Pepe” Fanjul, Alexander Fanjul, and Andres Fanjul — are owners of Fanjul Corp., a vast sugar and real estate conglomerate in the United States and the Dominican Republic. It comprises the subsidiaries Domino Sugar, Florida Crystals, C&H Sugar, Redpath Sugar, former Tate & Lyle sugar companies, American Sugar Refining, La Romana International Airport, and resorts surrounding La Romana, Dominican Republic.  Fanjul Corporation was the 3rd largest in Florida in 2011 which at the time included 187,000 acres of farming in Palm Beach County, Florida, with 2,000 jobs and more than 650,000 tons of sugar.  Worldwide the Fanjul companies at the time included four raw sugar mills and 10 refineries in six countries, making them the world’s largest refiner of cane sugar, producing 6 million tons of sugar annually.

The Fanjul brothers were large shareholders and directors of Southeast Bank before its takeover and liquidation by the U.S. Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation in 1991. In addition, they are the majority shareholders and directors of FAIC Securities, which was investigated by the United States Securities and Exchange Commission for regulatory violations

Think of them as the Koch Brothers of Florida.  Not all Cubans fleeing Fidel were poor peasants.  These guys are still talking about reclaiming their lands and mansions some day.

The Fanjuls are not interested in selling their fields south of the Lake upon which they grow sugar cane; in fact they are more interested in further development.

From the background the Fanjuls push Marco Rubio into a Senate seat.

At the same time the Fanjuls also moved to block any future plans to use their land for cleansing the toxic mess they created in Lake Okeechobee by  pushing at the county and state level for zoning changes to allow massive new developments like “inland ports” in the Everglades Agricultural Area.  When pushed to answer for his support of Big Sugar, Rubio defaults to aa rote response; “sugar subsidies are a matter of national security.”

Florida political leaders led by Gov. Rick Scott and Ag Secretary Adam Putnam (who is running for Governor in the Republican primary here in 3 weeks) found a way to relieve the political pressure: don’t buy the land south, move the pollution south.

The net result:  filthy Lake Okeechobee water has been diverted through public lands toward other, more distant water bodies like Florida Bay and the Florida Keys. State officials claim the water will be “clean” although what none will confess this is an uncontrolled experiment for the purposes of political expediency.

The public has been arguing for many years that the only solution to the crisis is to buy up the land south of the lake, surface water storage, a rigorous water quality regimen and a conveyance adequate to deal with the toxic mess.

And not just arguing.  In the 1990s the voters went to the polls and agreed that Big Sugar should be held responsible for cleaning up the toxic mess.  Nothing happened.  Voters went to the polls iin 2014 to pass a constitutional amendment- approved by 75% of the voters – to buy up environmentally important lands like those owned by US Sugar and the Fanjuls.  Hasn’t happened.

Each year brings more nutrient-rich waters—often laden with slimy cyanobacteria—flowing from Lake Okeechobee down the Caloosahatchee river out into the Gulf of Mexico. “Those freshwater algae die, release all those nutrients, and that just feeds right into the K. brevis algae,”

So all you folks down in Naples, you keep right on voting for those Republican candidates while your Governor and your empty suit Senator do nothing but take 6 figure campaign donations from Big Sugar and vote for a farm bill giving hundreds of millions for sugar price supports while purporting to be good conservatives.

Enjoy the dead fish and toxic fumes on your beaches.  It’s not man-made; it must be an act of god.


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On “Medicare for All”

Awhile back I put up a post concerning the “Medicare for All” movement and the difficulties we might have in this country in moving toward universal health care.

You can read about it here:

In it I argued that “Medicare for all” should not literally mean “Medicare for all” but universal health care available through a number of choices including a Federal program like Medicare as one available option.

It’s been half a century since the passage of Medicare for those over 65 years of age.  I personally do not know how I would have survived without it.  Yet even Medicare allows one to opt out and join a Medicare Advantage plan run by private insurers which promise greater benefits at lower cost.  My own doctors have advised me to stick with original Medicare, which I have.  I have not had a significant medical bill since I retired.

“Half a century later, we’re witnessing the early stages of yet another popular thrust toward single payer, increasingly billed as “Medicare for All.” The nomenclature intends to evoke associations with the popular, trusted program, and is perhaps easier for Americans to latch onto than a phraseology that threatens to trigger a tedious lesson in comparative health policy. But if the conceptual jump from Medicare to Medicare for All can serve as a rough model for achieving universal health care in the United States, we should also look to the history of the social movements that achieved something that then, too, seemed impossible.”

The 1964 Democratic Convention in Atlantic City

In August of 1964, 14,000 retirees arrived by the busload in Atlantic City. Representing the National Council of Senior Citizens (NCSC), the former railroad workers, dressmakers, and auto assemblers marched 10 blocks up the fabled New Jersey boardwalk to the Democratic National Convention at the Convention Hall. The group, which was organized and bankrolled by the AFL-CIO, moved en masse in floral housecoats and sandwich boards with slogans like “Our Illnesses Burden Our Families” and “Senior Citizens Vote, Remember Medicare.” They intended to push President Johnson to extend public health insurance to millions of Americans.

Astonishingly, less than a year later, they won. Medicare was signed into law in July of 1965 in Independence, Missouri, at a ceremony attended by former president Harry S. Truman, whose push for national health insurance (NHI) had collapsed nearly two decades before. The landmark law created a public-sector insurance pool for Americans 65 and over, which remains today the closest thing to a robust universal entitlement in the US health-care system. Its successful passage (which also passed Medicaid, to insure the very poor) stands in sharp contrast to multiple failed efforts to install a universal single-payer system.

The most viable push toward NHI in American history crumbled in the late 1940s, ruthlessly crushed by not only insurers and pharmaceutical companies but also the American Medical Association. (Physicians, whose already handsome salaries began to rise in the postwar era, feared the blow that NHI could strike to their paychecks, professional prestige, and autonomy, since a government payer would also reduce their control over prices.) As such, the AMA famously shook down its membership for $25 apiece to fund the multimillion-dollar campaign that injected the phrase “socialized medicine” into mainstream American culture.

In this context, it’s perhaps tempting to view Medicare as a capitulation to industry pressure and political challenges, rather than as evidence they can be flouted. After all, Medicare (and, for that matter, Medicaid) targeted the most vulnerable patients. Many single-payer skeptics insist that Medicare managed to pass because it covered the people private insurance left behind.”  

This viewpoint presents Medicare as a sort of compromise between the unfettered free market and the dashed dreams of the 1940s.

While insurance companies certainly fought against health-care-financing reforms, physicians associations and hospitals are typically considered to have been the more significant opponents—they believed Medicare to be a likely conduit for eventual full-scale single payer (and all the government interference they assumed would come with it), and struck back with more or less the same zeal that they mustered decades earlier. The AMA fought Medicare with “every propaganda tactic it had employed during the Truman era.  Such tactics included a widespread media blitz, advertising in doctors’ offices, and visits to congressmen from physicians in their districts. One tactic, called “Operation Coffee Cup,” deputized physicians’ wives to host ladies’ gatherings, at which they’d play their guests an anti-Medicare PSA starring actor Ronald Reagan.

No one imagines expanding “Medicare” in one form or another to all Americans will be easy. Nothing quite like this has ever been accomplished in the United States. Yes, dozens of peer countries have built coherent, humane, universal health-care systems out of entrenched private ones.

Yes, mass movements have won major leftist reforms. Yes, advanced private industries of variou nations have been nationalized. But human history offers no examples of these things happening in combination, which is what winning Medicare for All will take.

Other countries’ publicly financed health-care systems were built atop systems far less entrenched and commodified than ours, and therefore presented far less of a threat to capitalism.  The UK’s National Health Service—a fully socialized system of financing and delivery—sprouted from the wreckage of World War II, not high-performing investor-backed hospital chains.

Yet it is puzzling why American manufacturers, a group with enormous political clout that ought to welcome the discussion and be eager to overturn the existing model for healthcare. is on the sidelines.  They are the ones who have to build the cost of subsidizing healthcare for their employees into their pricing structure, while most of their foreign competitors do not.  Their competitors have the benefit of a national healthcare system taking care of their workers.

So why aren’t large corporations like Ford, GE, Apple and Hewlett-Packard lobbying for this? It would significantly reduce their costs. And they could compete for employees by offering ever-better supplement plans which would cost them far less than they are paying now.

The heads of these corporations have not lobbied for Medicare (and in fact have generally opposed it) because they feel that their class interests are at stake.

There has been vehement opposition from non-health care corporations to this type of “socialist” legislation, even though its enactment would greatly benefit these corporations’ bottom lines. But the non-health care corporations, including large manufacturers with major employee health cost burdens, stuck with the positions of the health industry lobby against their own corporate interests, and did so aggressively. 

There is a more insidious possibility. Health insurance keeps employees chained to an employer. It is, in effect, a means by which employers can keep employees under their thumb. I know a lot of people who would quit their jobs tomorrow if an adequate and realistic alternative to their health care needs was in place.

But hen again there is always the possibility that Karl Marx’s class-based analysis was fundamentally correct.




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Sharing Cheerios

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