Waking in the Trees (Watch for the Giant Dragonfly!)

dragonfly2

The road to our friends’, Brent and Susanna’s house is scary at first….but breathtakingly beautiful.  The narrow trail  winds through a redwood forest in the Santa Cruz mountains near Los Gatos, dangerously close, at times, to the edge of the mountain…but the air is fresh and smells of eucalyptus and I get high from the joy of even being there.

windy road

I loved it that our directions told us to “watch for the giant dragonfly”.  I think that summed up the entire experience quite nicely!

Apart from my husband and children, I admire Brent Sumner more than just about anyone…and now that he has married his beautiful love, Susanna, there is another person in the mix to love and admire.   Brent is an artist in every respect of the word.  His entire life is a work of art, and it appears he has chosen the perfect partner to share it all with.  Susanna is a practitioner of Ayurvedic medicine and together, they are building a beautiful home on the side of the mountain.

brent and susanna

The instant we arrived, we were surrounded by creativity, art and beauty….not that there is a difference between any of those things.  Brent seems to have mastered the art of living.  He is respectful of the earth, and tries to minimize his impact on it.  He uses things from nature to carve out this incredible existence, and is one true inspiration!

This our car at the beautiful entrance gate that Brent built.

gate

Their house is a work in progress, still under construction, built into the side of the mountain, almost entirely from recycled materials by Brent, himself.  It is multi-leveled and beautiful and cozy, at once.  When we arrived, Brent was working on the upper level, creating a room for Susanna to practice her Ayurvedic medicine

house2

The picture above was taken facing the house.  The picture below is of the view from the other direction.  Everything is about nature there.   Everything is beautiful.

view

These sweet tempered glass mosaic globes line the walk up the drive to the house.

unlit globes

They are solar powered.  At night, they glow with beautiful color, lending a magical overtone to the environment.

globes

There are artful little touches everywhere, such as these mosaics on the steps that were created by Brent’s lovely dynamo of a mum, Dhaj, in her 80’s and currently visiting Turkey.  Dhaj lives in New Zealand, but visits Brent and Susanna when she can. We were sorry to have missed her again this year.  Dhaj is a force to be reckoned with!

steps

The living room/kitchen of the house is a long, narrow room with a bank of windows that overlooks the mountainside.  Susanna and Brent prepared a lovely dinner for us the night we got there, and a delicious breakfast the next morning.

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brent coffee

dinner

We had cocktails made from the passionfruit that grows right outside their door.  Brent scratched some designs into the fruit even before it was picked.

passionfruit

Everything about this hobbit house is artful and beautiful.  Brent did a lot of the interior work using his product, Darjit! a sculpting compound that he makes from recycled materials.

kitchen

Perhaps the highlight of our stay was sleeping in the treehouse that night.  Brent built this himself, with a little help from his friends.  I think my son, Myles, helped at some point, too.

treehouse

It was sooooo wonderful waking up in the forest with such a magnificent view!  The air was fresh and crisp and cool, and the sounds of the forest were incredible!  Brent had warned me that I probably wouldn’t want to get out of bed the next morning, and he was right.  I could have stayed in that spot forever!                              

stacy treehouse bedThe picture that follows is a view of the upper room of the treehouse as seen from the bed on the far end of the room.  As you can see, it is open to the air…(and the lions and tigers and bears, oh my!) on one side.  Delightful!

treehouse room

This is the beautiful outdoor shower in the main house.  It smells of fresh spearmint and flowers.   This is what it looks like when you face the shower….

shower

However, if you turn around and let the water wash over your back, THIS is your view!  Nirvana!

shower view

There were happy little hummingbirds all over the place.  They are my favorite birds.  I think I know how they feel living up on the mountain near Brent and Susanna, and I must say…..I am a little envious.

hummingbird

Feeling deep gratitude in my heart today, that Brent and Susanna are our friends, and feeling very thankful for this beautiful experience that they gifted us with.  Thanks, guys.   With love.

ObamaCare – Are you a doubting Thomas?

I am STILL hearing whining about ObamaCare….yet every time I do, it is from someone that is ill-informed about the Affordable Care Act’s benefits.  Here is a comprehensive list of ways in which ObamaCare is helping Americans….and it is just going to get better from here.  Each point is linked to substantiation.

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Benefits of the Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare):

  1. Prevents denial of coverage to children with pre-existing conditions.
  2. Adults up to age 26 can stay on their parents’ health plans.
  3. Requires new health plans to provide  free preventive care  without cost-sharing such as co-pays or deductibles. HHS issued interim final regulations on preventive services and amendment to the final regulations.
  4. Prohibits rescinding coverage making it illegal.
  5. Prohibits lifetime limits on the dollar value of insurance coverage.
  6. Prohibits annual limits on insurance coverage.
  7. More options to appeal coverage decisions.
  8. Provides $5 billion in immediate federal support to affordable Coverage for the Uninsured with Pre-existing Conditions.
  9. Provides a $10 billion investment in Community Health Centers to expand medical services.
  10. Create immediate access to re-insurance for employer health plans providing coverage for early retirees over age 55 who are not eligible for Medicare.
  11. Implemented a process that requires states to review insurance companies premium increases. The final rule for the insurance rate review program was published in the Federal Register on May 19, 2011 .
  12. Provided grants worth almost $250 million ($46 million and $199 million) to assist States enforce the insurance rate review program.
  13. Provides tax credits or grants to employers with 250 or fewer employees for up to 50% of the investments costs in projects that qualifying Therapeutic Discovery Project. About a $1 billion in tax credits and grants have been provided by end of 2010.
  14. Appropriated $5 billion for fiscal years 2010 through 2014 and $2 billion for each of the subsequent five fiscal years to support prevention and public health programs.
  15. Provides a $250 rebate to 750,000 Medicare Beneficiaries who reach the Part D coverage gap in 2010. As of March 22, 2011, 3.8 million beneficiaries had received a $250 check to close the coverage gap, according to an HHS report.
  16. Requires pharmaceutical manufacturers to provide a 50% discount on brand-name prescriptions and a 7% and 14% generic drug discount (in 2011 and 2012, respectively) filled in the Medicare Part D coverage gap.
  17. Businesses with fewer than 25 employees will get tax credits covering up to 35% of employee premiums effective 2011 and a 50% tax credit effective 2013.
  18. Creates a state option to provide Medicaid coverage to childless adults with incomes up to 133% of the federal poverty level. By 2014, States are required to provide this coverage.
  19. Provides a 10% Medicare bonus payment for primary care services and to general surgeons practicing in health professional shortage areas.
  20. Requires insurance companies spend at least 80 to 85 percent of the proportion of thepremium dollars on clinical services and issue a rebate if the share of the premium spent is less than the threshold.
  21. Creates a temporary program to provide health coverage to individuals with pre-existing medical conditions who have been uninsured for at least six months.
  22. Imposes a tax of 10% on the amount paid for indoor tanning services.
  23. Expands eligibility for the 340(B) drug discount program to sole-community hospitals, critical access hospitals, certain children’s hospitals, and other entities with a savings estimated to be 20% to 50% on the cost of pharmaceuticals and reaching more eligible patients while providing more comprehensive services.
  24. Eliminates cost-sharing for Medicare-covered preventive services that are recommended (rated A or B) by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force.As of October 6, 2011, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) reported that 20.5 million people had participated in the free Annual Wellness Visit.
  25. Provides 3-year grants worth $100 million to states to develop programs for Medicaid enrollees with incentives to participate in comprehensive health lifestyle programs.
  26. Awarded $185 million worth of grants as of August 2011 to states to begin planning for the establishment of American Health Benefit Exchanges and Small Business Health Options Program Exchanges, which facilitate the purchase of insurance by individuals and small employers.
  27. Requires disclosure of the nutritional content of standard menu items at chain restaurants and food sold from vending machines.
  28. Imposes new annual fees on the pharmaceutical manufacturing sector. The sector will be assessed at the following rates$2.8 billion in 2012 through 2013, $3 billion in 2014 through 2016, $4 billion in 2017, $4.1 billion in 2018 and $2.8 billion in 2019 and after

Day #5 – Environment

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Photo a Day – JUNE

Day #5 – ENVIRONMENT

© Stacy Alexander – 2013

THERE IS NO ‘ MONSANTO PROTECTION ACT’, PEOPLE!!

Conservatives Laugh As Liberals Attack President Over Non-Existent ‘Monsanto Protection Act’

2013/03/28

By 

If you’ve been on the internet any time since Tuesday, it is likely that you have seen something about what is being called the ‘Monsanto Protection Act.’ It always looks as if it is that the President has signed a bill giving complete immunity to the Missouri based corporation. But even a casual glance into this, and the whole argument falls apart.

What is being referred to is an amendment to the “Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act, 2013″ signed into law on Tuesday. This act was implemented to avoid a government shutdown on Wednesday, by authorizing the president to pay the nations bills through October, when the new fiscal year begins. The particular provision being pointed to in this act is Section 735, within the agricultural portion of the bill. This section reads as follows:

SEC. 735. In the event that a determination of non-regulated status made pursuant to section 411 of the Plant Protection Act is or has been invalidated or vacated, the Secretary of Agriculture shall, notwithstanding any other provision of law, upon request by a farmer, grower, farm operator, or producer, immediately grant temporary permit(s) or temporary deregulation in part, subject to necessary and appropriate conditions consistent with section 411(a) or 412(c) of the Plant Protection Act, which interim conditions shall authorize the movement, introduction, continued cultivation, commercialization and other specifically enumerated activities and requirements, including measures designed to mitigate or minimize potential adverse environmental effects, if any, relevant to the Secretary’s evaluation of the petition for non-regulated status, while ensuring that growers or other users are able to move, plant, cultivate, introduce into commerce and carry out other authorized activities in a timely manner: Provided, That all such conditions shall be applicable only for the interim period necessary for the Secretary to complete any required analyses or consultations related to the petition for non-regulated status: Provided further, That nothing in this section shall be construed as limiting the Secretary’s authority under section 411, 412 and 414 of the Plant Protection Act.

A bit wordy and complex, as laws tend to be. However, this is not a new measure. This particular section is already law, passed as part of the Agriculture Appropriations Bill, and was carried forward when that bill was merged in with numerous other ones to make this current bill. What this particular measure does is allow the Secretary of Agriculture to grant a temporary deregulation status for a crop in the event that the crop is under litigation against the USDA’s approval of deregulation status, for the time period that the case is working through the courts. This means that attempts to damage a competitor, by filing suit against their crop, will not happen. Anybody can file a lawsuit in the United States. It would be incredibly easy for a competing firm to file a lawsuit against such a status for a crop grown by their competition, to effectively freeze that competition out of the market for the years needed for a case to work its way through the courts. This measure simply ensures that will not happen.

This measure also relieves a lot from the USDA’s legal department. Months, and millions of dollars, can be spent fighting injunctions in the courts before the case ever goes before the judge. By this measure, that money can be saved, and the legal proceedings sped up accordingly. Instead of needing up to a year just to address an attempted injunction, the case can proceed much quicker, bypassing this step in the process. This also means that farmers, from the smallest family farms to the largest corporate giant, do not have to live in fear that their crop will be targeted by a competitor.

Researching the origin of the measure finds us going to 2010, when the Supreme Court ruled inMonsanto vs Geertson Seed Farms that lower courts cannot prohibit the planting of crops during the litigation process. This rule is just the codification of the courts ruling, enabling the regulators to have a say in the process. Without it, there would be no process, and companies which do happen to produce a dangerous crop would have a free hand in planting. By codifying this, now the Secretary of Agriculture has final say, and while can grant such a waiver, now can, thanks to the Plant Protection Act which this derives its authority under, also refuse to grant such a waiver. In other words, now there is a protection put in place, while before there was not.

But where did these attacks against the provision come from? You find the origins among the darker corners of the internet, with the shady astroturf groups more commonly associated with organizations like the American Legislative Exchange Council and the Heritage Foundation. Conservative organizations fuel the idea, and let left-wing pundits go into the fight to attack… the bill meant to prevent the government from shutting down. but why Monsanto, why use that label when the bill could as easily apply to ConAgra, US Sugar, or one of hundreds of other agricultural businesses?

It’s because Monsanto is one of the largest corporate supporters of climate change science, and is actively working to help ring the alarm.

The concerns over these crops comes from fear. People instinctively understand sex, and how that produces children. They do not instinctively understand gene splicing, even though that is how sex produces children in the first place. Most people do not have time to go out and understand it, so they label such modified products as “frankenfoods” and build fear upon lack of information, or worse purposeful misinformation fed by other industries who seek to hurt some related cause, such as climate change science. The fact is, some genetically modified crops have been shown to have substantial benefits, by making them more resistant to disease, adding essential nutrients, and even fight climate change. Genetic modification through direct gene splicing has been done since 1970, and is widely understood after decades of research and application.

Even snopes was quick to discredit the claims about the bill, finding it a mixture of fact and fiction, with the main claims of it granting immunity from prosecution as false.

Not only that, but this bill passed both houses of Congress with a filibuster proof majority. Even if it was as bad as some people are claiming the President couldn’t have vetoed it if he wanted to.

The bill as signed did not provide immunity to Monsanto or any other company, it only brought US Code into compliance with the Supreme Courts ruling, while also speeding up the litigation process over unregulated food crops.


Nate_Downes

Nathaniel Downes is the son of a former state representative of New Hampshire, now living in Seattle Washington.

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