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Promises, Promises (Lies, Lies!)

West Virginia is one of the poorest – and most beautiful – of the 50 United States, green with forests and uninhabited spaces. It also has pockets of some of the poorest people in the United States. It is a state which accepts that which other states might find unacceptable. And when the chemical spill poisoned the water of thousands of people, Freedom Industries, the responsible company, declared bankruptcy.

Even today, while their water has been declared OK, people say it tastes funny, and chemists have found unacceptable traces of chemicals that other tests were not even measuring. Today, we have this report that the spill was much worse that the company originally reported.

Its sad, and it is disheartening.

In Florida, there are constant proposals for land use restrictions being lifted. The military, the companies – they all promise that this (whatever) will have no impact on the environment. Why, no one could be more environmentally responsible than (_______) fill in the blank with whatever the requestor is.

Yeh. Right.

My guess is that if the true cost of the BP oil spill in the Gulf were known, it would bankrupt BP.

Water Supply Threaten In Charleston Community Of Over 300,000 After Chemical Leak

The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection issued an update on Monday evening indicating that the Elk River spill in West Virginia earlier this month involved more gallons of chemicals than previously reported.

Freedom Industries, which owned the tank that leaked into a river supplying water in the state, now says that approximately 10,000 gallons of the chemicals 4-methylcyclohexane methanol (also known as MCHM) and PPH were released. The company initially said 7,500 gallons spilled, and failed to disclose the presence of the second chemical until last week. The leak, first reported on Jan. 9, left hundreds of thousands in the capital region without access to tap water for days. Though the formal advisory on the water has been lifted, some in the region say they are still concerned about the safety of their water.

The DEP’s press release provides Freedom Industries’ newest estimate, but notes, “It is not known how much material spilled into the Elk River and shut down the drinking water supply for citizens across nine West Virginia counties.”

“We are not making any judgment about its accuracy,” DEP Secretary Randy Huffman said in a statement, referring to the company’s latest spill figure. “We felt it was important to provide to the public what the company has provided the WVDEP in writing. We are still reviewing the calculation, and this is something that will be researched further during the course of this investigation.”

“This is the first calculation that has been provided concerning the amount of materials that spilled on Jan. 9,” Huffman said. “This new calculation does not change any of our protocols in dealing with this spill, nor does it affect the ongoing remediation efforts. Our actions have never been dependent on what Freedom has reported to us. From the start, we have acted aggressively to contain the spill and remediate the site.”

West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin (D) has called for the storage facility to be torn down, and for a full remediation of the site.

January 28, 2014 Posted by | Bureaucracy, Circle of Life and Death, Community, Crime, Environment, Financial Issues, Florida, Leadership, Lies, Living Conditions, Pensacola, Political Issues | , , , | Leave a comment

Killing the Golden Goose in Pensacola

Every place we have ever lived in has it’s own politics, and the politics in Pensacola are opaque, and to me, bizarre. We have a very pretty mayor – great for photo ops – but WHAT IS HE THINKING???? He displays some of the very worst traits of the old-boy way of doing business. What are those traits? How about telling one of the top grossing restaurants in Pensacola that they now owe $5M because they haven’t been paying a percentage of their revenue to the City of Pensacola? How about voting a Dollar Store into an upper level residential neighborhood? Singlehandedly re-naming a small airport without a single international flight Pensacola “International” airport? How about allocating all the food services at our “International” airport to bland chains, rather than some of our really good local vendors?

 

Lots of behind the scenes machinations, not putting items on the agenda – countering the spirit of the Sunshine Laws and making the deals in public – giving those who will be impacted some input on the measures.

 

It’s killing the golden goose. When something is working – and the Fish House restaurant is a go-to place in Pensacola, a place you meet up with friends and a place you take your out-of-town visitors to show off the city – LEAVE IT ALONE!  When good people like the Studers and Collier Merrill are investing in downtown Pensacola, and building downtown up as a destination, let them make a buck or two – they are breathing life into the city! Do not kill the golden goose!

 

Piano11

 

“The Emperor Has No Clothes!”

In contrast to some of the places we have lived, Pensacola has an outspoken paper – Our favorite newspaper, Rick Outzen’s Independent News has several wonderful articles this week. It’s where you find out what is really going on in Pensacola. His paper will bravely call out when the emperor has no clothes. I have shamelessly copied and pasted from his website at the Independent News:

 

How Not To Do Business

City vs. The Fish House
By Rick Outzen

The title of the Pensacola News Journal’s (PNJ) article on Tuesday, Nov. 26 could have easily been “Mayor Accuses Fish House of Cheating City Out of Millions.” It wasn’t, but that is how some interpreted the article about the default notice sent on behalf of Mayor Ashton Hayward to Collier Merrill, co-owner of the restaurant.

But PNJ readers didn’t know what Merrill knew—that the notice was a negotiation ploy by the city, unsupported factually or legally, according to his attorney. They also didn’t know that the notice itself was leaked, Merrill believed, to the media to hurt his business.

The notice demanded that Seville Harbour, Inc. (owned by Ray Russenberger) and Merrill Land LLC (owned by Burney, Collier and Will Merrill) pay as additional rent payments five percent of The Fish House and Atlas Oyster House’s gross sales since April 2000, plus interest—an amount that could total well over $5 million.

Seville Harbour, Inc. has the ground lease for Pitt Slip, the name given to the three parcels owned by the city that include the anchorage between the Port of Pensacola and Bartram Park. Merrill Land LLC bought in April 2000 the building on the property from Seville Harbour for $1.3 million and subleased the parcel upon which it was built.

The default notice stated that the two companies had 90 days to pay up or the city would terminate the master lease, which would shut down the two restaurants on Feb. 13, 2014.

The impact of the article on The Fish House was immediate. Merrill tried to prepare his staff for any questions from customers.

“I had a meeting with the managers the next morning at 9:30 after the written article came out,” he said. “As much as you can say everything is fine, a few were a little hesitant. They were getting calls from other restaurants; one guy was offered a job.”

Jean Pierre N’Dione, the general manager of the two restaurants, said that the holiday business has been slower than prior years. He’s also dealt with questions from customers.

“The day of the article, a couple came in and said they were here to get a meal before the restaurant closed,” said N’Dione. “They were thinking we were going to be shut down in a few days. It was difficult to say if they were jokingly saying that or if they really believed it.”

The restaurant’s party and catering businesses have also been hurt by the city’s threat.

“We’ve definitely lost business,” said Merrill. “Over Thanksgiving weekend, there were brides in town booking their parties for next October. They didn’t want to take the chance that we might not be in business next year. People are now hesitant to book their Christmas parties with us.”

Why would the mayor’s office resort to such strong-arm tactics? Many would expect a default notice to be sent by Mayor Hayward only after his negotiations with Seville Harbour and Merrill Land had hit an impasse, especially when the notice is a public record that could hurt two landmark restaurants.

However, there had been no negotiations with the city, though Russenberger’s attorney asked for the leases to be combined in 2009. The leases were properly renewed in July 2011, and the mayor had never sent them any written proposals for the properties.

Merrill told the IN that he had only two meetings with the Hayward administration on the lease—one in 2011 with City Attorney Jim Messer and then Chief of Staff John Asmar, the other this past September with City Administrator Colleen Castille. Neither time did the city officials bring up anything about the restaurants owing millions in back rent. Never did the city ask for five percent of his restaurants’ sales.

“We have been waiting for the city to get back to us,” said Merrill. “We had no idea this was an issue or the mayor’s position on the leases.”

Pensacola Landmark

For many, The Fish House is an iconic Pensacola landmark.

The restaurant has hosted presidents, governors, senators, congressmen and other celebrities. During the 2008 presidential election, John McCain, Rudy Giuliani and Fred Thompson held campaign fundraisers there. This past election cycle, GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, with McCain, actor Jon Voight and Mayor Hayward, held a rally on The Fish House deck, pictures of which appeared in the Washington Post and New York Times.

Chef and co-owner Jim Shirley has served his famous Grits a Ya Ya for dignitaries in Washington, D.C. and New York City. Pensacola native, former congressman and author Joe Scarborough has hosted his MSNBC show “Morning Joe” several times from the restaurant.

Three reality shows have been filmed there.  The Travel Channel aired an episode of “Bizarre Foods” that featured The Fish House’s grouper throats. “American Pickers” also filmed an episode from The Fish House, which featured the Merrill brothers trading some of their memorabilia for a model of the USS Atlanta. This past August, Chef Emeril Lagasse showcased The Fish House as part of his show “Emeril’s Florida” on the Food Network.

The Fish House and Atlas Oyster House have made Pitt Slip a destination for many visiting our area, serving an estimated 500,000 customers a year. They also are part of what was one of the city’s first public-private development projects.

In the 1980s, the Pensacola City Council wanted a marina built on Pitt Slip, the inlet across from the town’s historic district and outside the gates of the Port of Pensacola. Three parcels were combined—the water area for the docks (Parcel 1), the area along Barracks Street that the city leased from the state (Parcel 1A) and the lot south of the marina (Parcel III).

The intent was to lease to a developer the parcels for 30 years with a renewal option for an additional 30 years. When the original lease was executed in 1985, the city learned that its lease for Parcel 1A with the state only had 27 years remaining. The city had to amend the original lease to adjust its end date. The state required that it be renewed for five successive five-year periods.

The history of the development was filled with ownership changes and business failures. The project never was as successful as the council had hoped until Russenberger and the Merrills got involved.

In January 1998, Chef Jim Shirley rented the space formerly used by the closed Beef & Ale House in the Seville Harbour building on Parcel 1A. He opened the Fish House with Brian Spencer and Dr. Roger Orth as his investors. By the spring, Merrill brothers stepped in as investors in The Fish House, forming Great Southern Restaurant Group of Pensacola, Inc. that put about $2 million into the restaurant, according to Merrill. Spencer and Orth focused on Jackson’s, a restaurant they were opening on Palafox.

“At the time, my brothers and I had invested in several businesses downtown,” said Merrill. “We bought the Bass building on the corner of Palafox and Gregory and were the landlord to Jim Shirley and the Screaming Coyote. We bought Seville Tower on the corner of Palafox and Government streets, which is where my grandfather had his offices in the 1940s.”

He said, “We wanted to move downtown. At the time, our offices were near the mall at Madison Park. Though not a lot was going on downtown, we loved it and saw the potential.”

In 2000, Merrill learned Russenberger was looking to sell the Seville Harbour building. Merrill Land LLC, the brothers’ real estate development company, bought it for $1.3 million and agreed to sublease the ground lease for parcel 1A upon which it was built at the same terms of the master lease. The purchase and sublease were both recorded with the clerk of courts.

Great Southern Restaurant Group went from renting from Seville Harbour, Inc. to renting from Merrill Land LLC.

“Merrill Land got a loan to buy the building, on which it is still making payments,” said Merrill. “It’s like any business. It rents out spaces. We charge rent and hope that those collections are enough to cover our mortgage, lease payment to Russenberger for the ground lease, utilities, repairs and maintenance. At the end of the day, we hope to make a profit like any landlord does.”

Merrill admitted he has been surprised by how much he has come to like the restaurant business. He enjoys the positive feedback he receives from customers and is proud of the role The Fish House plays in the community.

“Maria Goldberg, our marketing director, and I get together once a week,” said Merrill. “We go over all the requests for donations from charities, and there’s always a stack of them. We try to help every one of them, from the high school booster clubs to the NICU at Sacred Heart.”

The Fish House caters events for charities, hosts parties and donates appetizers and the services of its chefs for other fundraising events.  He said, “We’ve tried to be good citizens by giving back to the community, trying to get downtown going and helping to promote Pensacola.”

Legal Battle

The default notification from the city asserted that it was entitled to five percent of the gross sales of the restaurants because Merrill Land had been partially assigned the master lease when it bought the Seville Harbour building. The city claimed Great Southern Restaurant Group was a subsidiary or business combination of Merrill Land and therefore should have paid rent based on its gross sales.

Attorney Bruce Partington responded on Nov. 27 on behalf of Seville Harbour and Merrill Land LLC.

First, he made it clear that the leases had been properly renewed. According to Partington, the renewals required nothing more than delivery of a written notice. The letter exercising the renewals was sent July 21, 2011 by Leo Cyr on the behalf of Seville Harbour.

Seville Harbour never partially assigned its lease to Merrill Land.

“Seville Harbour retains multiple rights and duties with respect to the property sub-leased to Merrill Land,” said Partington. “The fundamental concept of an assignment is that the assignor’s entire interest is transferred to the assignee which did not occur here.”

He pointed out that the city had refused in 2000 to approve any assignment to Merrill Land, which is why the transaction was done as a sublease. He asserted that the city’s new position of the relationship between the two companies being an assignment was “irreconcilable and fundamentally inconsistent” with its position 13 years ago.

He pointed out the two restaurants are not owned by Merrill Land. The owner, Great Southern Restaurant Group, “is not, and has never been, a ‘subsidiary or business combination’ of Merrill Land.”

“Merrill Land has no ownership or other interest in Great Southern Restaurant Group, nor does Merrill Land receive any portion of the revenues from the operation of the restaurants on the property.”

Partington believed that the city’s position is without merit and based on “two dubious propositions which are unsupported factually or legally.”

He expressed Merrill’s concerns about how the daily newspaper got wind of the letter one day after the certified letter was received.

“It is extremely troubling that Seville Harbour’s multiple attempts over several years to meet with representatives of the city to discuss the lease were ignored,” wrote Partington, “and then, after years without a response, receive a notice of default, which was then leaked by the city to the media for dramatic effect.”

He put the city on notice that it was responsible for any damage that the leak may have caused Great Southern Restaurant Group.

The Leak

Merrill admitted that when he first received the letter from Daniel he was not that concerned. He was surprised the attorney brought up gross sales, but believed that the restaurants were on solid legal ground.

He said, “I wasn’t really worried about it. I don’t even think I told my brothers about it because I knew it was baseless.”

He sent the letter to Stephen Moorhead, Russenberger’s attorney, to review. Then on the afternoon of Thursday, Nov. 21, Merrill received a call from the PNJ saying that they had heard about a letter sent to him saying The Fish House owed the city millions of dollars. The reporter would not tell him how they got that information, but he admitted they had not yet seen the letter.

Merrill called City Administrator Colleen Castille, who denied any responsibility for the leak. “Colleen, I don’t think you understand the severity of this. This is going to be a front-page story and I’m going to lose business immediately.”

A meeting was set up for the following morning between the daily newspaper, Castille and Merrill. He hoped that the City Administrator, whom he had given the details of the leases in September, would say the letter was wrong. That did not happen.

According to Merrill, she said the letter was a negotiating tool.

“I said that’s fine if you want to sit down at the negotiation table. We’ve been wanting to do it for years,” Merrill recalls what he told Castille at the meeting.

“But to say something that bad about my business is just wrong. I told the City Administrator that to send out a totally baseless letter with inaccurate facts to hurt my business is almost criminal.”

The IN asked the city for an interview with Castille for this article. The city’s communications director, Tamara Fountain, replied the following week, “Colleen has decided not to do any further interviews.”

The city did not offer for anyone else to explain the mayor’s decision to send the default notice or talk about the negotiations and did not give the paper permission to talk to its attorney Nix Daniel.

Who does Merrill think leaked the letter?

“Obviously it had to come from the city. It was either someone with the city or they gave the information to someone who then leaked it to the News Journal,” he said. “The last thing I wanted was this inaccurate letter to come out, because it’s hard to get that genie back in the bottle. I knew people were going to think The Fish House owes the city millions and the city was going to shut us down.”

Merrill said that the city knows the letter is totally inaccurate. “We’ve paid every bit of rent we owe. We’ve shared our financial information. I’m shocked that the mayor’s office would use this tactic. We sat down with Colleen, explained all the details of the leases and we thought it was all good—until we got the default notice.”

He said for the city to send out a default notice demanding millions of dollars without any discussion is unconscionable. “We properly and legally renewed our leases in July 2011. We got a letter from the city attorney that our attorney responded to almost immediately. We received nothing in writing until two years later and it’s a baseless default notification about something that the city has never mentioned to us was even an issue.”

Merrill asked, “What kind of message does this to send to businesses looking to invest in Pensacola and possibly partner with the city?”

Editor’s notes:  •Collier Merrill owns a five percent interest in the Independent News. Ray Russenberger owns 2.5 percent of the paper. Neither has, or has ever had, any control over the paper’s editorial coverage.

•At the time of print, the mayor and his attorneys had scheduled a meeting for Monday Dec. 9 to discuss Pitt Slip with Ray Russenberger, Collier Merrill and their attorneys.

———————————————

 

Don’t Forget The Airport

Mayor Hayward has been in a dispute with The Fish House over the food services contract at the Pensacola International Airport.

Hayward recommended to the city council at its Sept. 26 regular meeting the 10-year concession contract should be awarded to OHM Concessions—which included Chick-fil-A, Einstein Bros. Bagels, Surf City Squeeze and Corona Beach House. Collier Merrill’s The Fish House had joined forces with Bagelheads, Varona’s, and Pensacola Bay Brewery to offer a more local option that had placed second to OHM during the selection process.

The issue was tabled at the meeting when Merrill, the other local business owners, their employees and citizens spoke out in favor of their proposal. Since then, Mayor Hayward has pulled the item off the council’s agenda twice.

Those familiar with council politics say the mayor simply doesn’t have the votes to win approval for OHM. Did the mayor’s office leak the default notice to the daily newspaper to tarnish the image of Merrill and The Fish House to gain the one or two votes needed to bring Chick-fil-A to the airport?

“I certainly hope not,” said Merrill, “because I would hate to see them use those tactics (the notification of default and subsequent leak to the media) to win on a completely separate issue and to punish my 250 employees and my family.”

The next week in his “Upwords” newsletter Hayward criticized Merrill and the others who spoke out at the council meeting claiming they “ambushed” the council.

“It is a terrible idea to disregard our objective business processes in response to a few influential people politically strong-arming our elected officials,” said the mayor.

Merrill was dumbfounded by the mayor’s comments.

“I spoke before the city council because City Administrator Colleen Castille said that was what I should do,” he said. “She said she was going to let the Airport Director, Greg Donovan, stand on his own. We could make our argument and then we let the council make the decision.”

After the newsletter, he met with Castille and City Attorney Jim Messer and asked for explanation of the mayor’s comments.

“I asked Colleen, didn’t I do what you told me do?” he told the IN. “Basically she told me that she didn’t think we would be that organized.”

On Tuesday, Oct. 15 at his first “Mornings with the Mayor” session, Hayward bristled when asked about his “ambush” comment.

“That’s what I called it,” said Hayward, “It was an ambush.”

The IN asked how so, especially since Merrill had been instructed by the City Administrator to make his case at the council meeting.

“They did, but in my opinion I said it was an ambush,” said the mayor.

Mayor Hayward said of the upcoming council vote on the issue, “We will see what happens. They might win. If they do, we will move on. We’re going to support them and we’re going to say let’s make Pensacola a better place. I’m a big boy. Sometimes you win ’em; sometimes you lose ’em.”

When the council agenda for its Oct. 24 meeting was released, the food services contract was on it. The following Sunday, Hayward supporter Bob Kerrigan wrote a viewpoint in favor of OHM getting the contract. Ads appeared in the daily newspaper supporting the mayor’s proposal. A website was set up for Hayward supporters to send emails to council members.

Then at the council’s agenda review meeting, City Administrator Castille, on the mayor’s behalf, unexpectedly pulled it off the agenda. The mayor appeared no longer willing to lose on the issue.

The airport food services recommendation was not on any of the council’s agenda. On Dec. 2, Merrill received an email from the city that stated the issue would not come up in December either.

“Please be advised that the Airport Director will not be bringing the Food and Beverage concession lease agreement to the Pensacola City Council during its December, 2013 meeting,” wrote Airport Administration & Contracts Manager Michael Laven. “Both the Director and the Mayor will be out of the country on business. We believe that the scheduling of this concession will take place in January or February of 2014.”

Stay tuned.

December 7, 2013 Posted by | Blogging, Bureaucracy, Cultural, Customer Service, Eating Out, ExPat Life, Financial Issues, Leadership, Living Conditions, Pensacola, Political Issues, Restaurant, Social Issues | , , , | Leave a comment

If You Lived Here, I’d Know Your Name: Heather Lende

Screen shot 2013-11-22 at 11.10.34 AM

“You have to read this!” said my book friend, “You’re from Alaska! It’s about a woman who lives in some small town and writes obituaries!”

I grinned politely and put the book in my bag. Some books sound more interesting than other books – I’ve always loved adventures and mysteries and murders – add a little drama to the day-to-day-ness of everyday life. A woman who writes obituaries? Hmmm, not so much.

But spending my afternoons tending to my sweet little 3-month-old granddaughter means I often sit, anchored by the soundly sleeping baby who I don’t want to disturb, even by twitching. I have one hand free – and you can only play so much iPhone Sudoku.

An Alaskan friend had also recommended this book, so early this week I picked it up and started reading.

Oh. my. goodness. Yes, Haines is a small town, but oh the drama of writing obituaries. Oh, the things you learn about your neighbors and the surprises you get learning about their earlier lives. I love the way Heather Lende weaves the writing of the town obituaries with the current ongoing dramas in her own life and in the lives of her friends and makes it work.

It’s not unlike where I grew up, although my hometown had a hospital. We also had moose and bear and elk in our back yards, and learned to treat wildlife with respect, and that the best option was to back away slowly. There are the same senseless deaths from auto accidents, fishing boat accidents and unexpected changes in weather. There is the same feeling of wonder, almost every day of your life, knowing how very lucky you are to live in the midst of such awe-inspiring beauty. It’s hard for me to imagine being an unbeliever living in Alaska.

It’s also a great book to read before going to bed. Some of the books I read are too exciting or too disturbing to read before bed; books that infiltrate your dreams with images and situations that give you a restless night. While Lende deals with death and sadness and drama, there is an underlying message of hope in the neighborliness of your neighbors, the security of living in a town where everybody knows everybody else, in the civility even of people who strongly disagree with one another. If You Lived Here, I’d Know Your Name gives you peaceful sleep. She ties it all together with an ending that rips your heart out; you will never forget this book once you read it. After reading, you will feel like you have lived in Haines, Alaska.

The paperback version is available from Amazon.com for $9.73. No, I no longer own stock in Amazon.com.

November 22, 2013 Posted by | Adventure, Alaska, Arts & Handicrafts, Biography, Books, Bureaucracy, Character, Circle of Life and Death, Civility, Community, Education, Entertainment, ExPat Life, Faith, Family Issues, Financial Issues, Friends & Friendship, Gardens, Health Issues, Living Conditions, Local Lore, Spiritual, Wildlife | , , | Leave a comment

Kuwait to Limit Auto Ownership to Solve Traffic Gridlock?

Limit Kuwaitis to two cars per citizen?

Limiting expats to one car will also limit the people willing to take contracts in Kuwait, and family willing to accompany them . . .

Or is this another of those unenforceable laws to put on the books?

Restrictions on automobile ownership in the offing – Bid to solve traffic problems

KUWAIT: According to a report published yesterday in a local Arab daily, the government is planning to limit the number of vehicles a person is allowed to own at two for citizens and one for expats. This proposal may be announced at the beginning of the next year. The proposal also calls to stop renewing registrations of old vehicles without specifying the period, which could be between 8 to 12 years.

The Ministry of Interior hasn’t received any official instructions to take action in this matter. “We are an executive department that applies the law and executes decisions. It’s possible that there are committees at the ministry studying this proposal, but we are not aware of it yet,” Maj Naser Buslaib, Head of the Media Department at the Ministry of Interior told Kuwait Times. Economic analyst Hajaj Bukhadour thinks such a proposal is not realistic and doesn’t believe it may be applied. “Such rules do not exist in any country, even the poor ones or those suffering from traffic woes. Through such unreal proposals, the officials in charge are trying to shirk the problem.

The officials pin the blame and responsibility on expats as they are not qualified and creative enough to find a solution for the traffic problem in Kuwait,” he pointed out. Development and improvement in administration is important to solve major problems. “We should improve the performance of the officials who are in charge of issuing decisions.

There are mistakes in any institution, but we need to improve and this is a great part of solving the problem. Such a proposal proves that officials in charge at the Ministry of Public Works, Ministry of Interior and other institutions didn’t study the problem correctly,” stressed Bukhadour. There are various solutions according to him.

“Different public institutions should cooperate to organize the movement of people in streets through different timings of public employees, schools and others. Also, the government should provide modern and clean public transportation such as a metro or new modern buses that will respect the time and have stops near residential areas that are shaded to suit the hot weather when passengers are waiting for the bus,” he explained.

He mentioned additional solutions. “Developing roads and the infrastructure is very important in solving the traffic problem. Also, the development of the Traffic Department will help in this matter. I think that such suggestions may bring better results in solving the traffic problem rather that coming up with unreal proposals,” concluded Bukhadour.

By Nawara Fattahova

November 20, 2013 Posted by | Bureaucracy, Community, Cultural, ExPat Life, Kuwait, Law and Order, Living Conditions, Safety, Social Issues | 2 Comments

Kuwait Airways Buys USED Jets

Has Kuwait Airways safety record improved? Can you still pilot for Kuwait Airways just by being Kuwaiti? Just one more reason not to fly Kuwait Air rom today’s Kuwait Times:

Kuwait Airways buys used jets

KUWAIT: The Kuwait Airways is buying five used aircrafts from India’s Jet Airways after an initial deal with Airbus fell apart due to lack of funding, a local daily reported yesterday quoting sources with knowledge of the case. Speaking to Al-Qabas on the condition of anonymity, the sources said that an agreement to purchase the Airbus A330-200 aircrafts was reached during Kuwait Airways board meeting last Wednesday. Kuwait Airways had signed a memorandum of understanding earlier this year with Airbus to purchase and rent the same class of aircrafts, but the deal fell apart due to lack of funding and after Boeing reportedly entered negotiations with the national carrier. According to the sources, Jet Airways offered the five planes which have a total capacity of 1260 seats (252 seats each) for a total of KD 80 million.

The Kuwait Airways’ board sent its approval to the Kuwaiti government to make the final decision; which according to the sources is expected to be made by the Kuwait Investment Authority, which represents the general assembly for the Kuwait Airways and which will fund the deal if approved. If a deal is signed, the source predicts the aircrafts to arrive early next year. The planes, which have been in service for four years, can be used in medium and short range flights to Europe, the Middle East and Far East, the sources said. They added that each plane has two classes; a ‘Premium Class’ with 42 seats for businessmen, and an economy class with 190 seats.

November 19, 2013 Posted by | Adventure, Bureaucracy, Cultural, ExPat Life, Kuwait, Safety, Work Related Issues | 2 Comments

“if You Can’t Prevent Rape, You Enjoy It”: Ranjit Sinha

The Chief of India’s Central Bureau of Investigation said this! Was he snorting cocaine in a drunken stupor? Of course he is apologizing, but his careless remark demonstrates the sentiments buried deep in his culture’s heart – it’s only women. Not worth much, not like us men.  Outrageous.

 

Ranjit Sinha

 

NEW DELHI (AP) — India’s top police official apologized Wednesday for saying, “If you can’t prevent rape, you enjoy it,” a remark that has outraged women across the country.

Central Bureau of Investigation chief Ranjit Sinha made the remark Tuesday during a conference about illegal sports betting and the need to legalize gambling. The CBI, the country’s premier investigative agency, is India’s equivalent of the FBI.

Sinha said at the conference that if the state could not stop gambling, it could at least make some revenue by legalizing it.

“If you cannot enforce the ban on betting, it is like saying, ‘If you can’t prevent rape, you enjoy it,’” he said.

The remarks have caused outrage across India, which in the past year has been roiled by widespread protests following the fatal gang rape of a 23-year-old woman on a bus in New Delhi.

On Wednesday, Sinha said that his comments had been taken out of context and misinterpreted, and that he was sorry if he had caused hurt.

Angry activists, however, called for his resignation.

Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader Brinda Karat said Sinha’s comments were offensive to women everywhere.

“It is sickening that a man who is in charge of several rape investigations should use such an analogy,” Karat told reporters. “He should be prosecuted for degrading and insulting women.”

The New Delhi attack on the young woman last December caused nationwide outrage and forced the government to change rape laws and create fast-track courts for rape cases. New laws introduced after the attack make stalking, voyeurism and sexual harassment a crime. They also provide for the death penalty for repeat offenders or for rape attacks that lead to the victim’s death.

November 13, 2013 Posted by | Bureaucracy, Character, Civility, Community, Crime, Cross Cultural, Cultural, Customer Service, India, Interconnected, Language, Law and Order, Leadership, Living Conditions, Political Issues, Social Issues, Work Related Issues | 3 Comments

Expat Teacher Murdered In Qatar After Night of Clubbing?

The prosecutor says violent crime is rare in Qatar.
If, by violent crime, the prosecutor is excluding abduction, rape in isolated sites in the desert, and expats who quietly exit the country when they discover the justice system is not going to prosecute Qatari citizens, only if those are excluded, along with the rape and abuse of local domestic workers, then he can say violent crime is rare.
Violent crime is not rare. It is not talked about.
This girl met up with people who seemed trustworthy. They were probably educated, and spoke English well. They might have even seemed gentlemanly. They offered her a ride home. They dropped off her friend.  But this girl never made it home.
One of the bravest women I ever knew, at 16, told me she was lucky to be alive. She accepted a ride home; they were brothers of a school friend. She reported them to the police. The boys were held – briefly – and she forced them to strip during the line-up to have them endure just a tiny amount of what she had endured. The prosecutor ultimately told her that they could not be prosecuted. Her family, shattered, left the country. It was a very common story, this ride home from a club turning into a nightmare, through which some victims live – and some don’t.
The 16 year old was very stoic. She said if she let it get to her, they won, they would be in her head. For most victims, the memories and the nightmares resonate for a long time.

Qatar expats shocked after UK teacher’s suspected murder

Yolande KnellBy Yolande KnellBBC News, Doha, Qatar

Lauren PattersonLauren Patterson had gone to a nightclub with a friend before she went missing

The suspected murder of a young primary school teacher from south-east London has deeply upset British expatriates living in the Gulf state of Qatar.

However, two weeks after Lauren Patterson disappeared following a night out in the capital, Doha, officials have given few details about her disappearance.

DNA tests have been carried out on the remains of a body found in a remote area of desert but the results have not yet been released.

At the Newton British School, where Ms Patterson worked, one mother paid tribute to a talented teacher who she said had been a favourite of her little son.

However, staff refused to comment, saying they had been advised not to.

“We’re a small, close-knit community and we’re all in deep shock,” explained headteacher Katherine Dixon. “We are dealing with small children here.”

Security camerasWhen 24-year-old Ms Patterson went out on 11 October she had just returned from a trip home to the UK for her grandmother’s funeral.

She and a female friend decided to go to Club 7 on the seventh floor of the luxury La Cigale Hotel.

It is a popular venue where all nationalities mingle on the dance floor as DJs play ambient house music.

High living standards and high tax-free salaries draw thousands of Britons to Qatar

Groups sip cocktails around low tables decorated with colourful, illuminated ice buckets.

Everyone entering the club has their ID checked and they are watched by burly bouncers and security cameras.

It is believed that in the early hours of the morning, the two women left with two local men they knew who had offered to drive them home.

Ms Patterson’s companion was dropped off safely but she went missing.

The alarm was raised by her friend who called the police the next day.

Arrests

Reports say a falconer found a badly burnt corpse shortly afterwards. Two suspects were detained although no details about them have been confirmed.

Mohammed Rashed al-BinaliPublic prosecutor Mohammed Rashed al-Binali says violent crime is “very rare” in Qatar

The case has been referred to the attorney general.

“Violent crime is very rare in Qatar,” public prosecutor, Mohammed Rashed al-Binali told me in his smart office surrounded by shining skyscrapers in central Doha.

“We are continuing to investigate the case. We cannot give more details at the moment but the Ministry of Interior did arrest the suspects within 24 hours.”

Alison Patterson has flown to Doha and is awaiting further news about her daughter.

She told the BBC she would only make a statement “when I feel the time is right and I have received all the information concerning Lauren”.

Meanwhile, the British Foreign Office says it is providing the family with consular assistance.

Qatar, which will host the 2022 World Cup, is generally considered one of the safest places in the Middle East for Westerners.

The tiny, but very wealthy Gulf state, which is the biggest exporter of natural gas in the world, relies heavily on its growing foreign workforce.

It now has some 17,500 British residents. Most are attracted by the high living standards and high tax-free salaries.

Yet work permits can be easily revoked and this makes employees from overseas very wary of upsetting the authorities.

While Qatar has recently supported opposition movements pushing for greater freedom across the Arab world, the nation itself remains very conservative and tightly controlled.

October 31, 2013 Posted by | Bureaucracy, Character, Circle of Life and Death, Crime, Cultural, Doha, ExPat Life, Law and Order, Lies, Living Conditions, Mating Behavior, Qatar, Safety | , | Leave a comment

Saudi Women Drive, No Problem

For your delight of the day, please go to YouTube and watch this hilarious Saudi video, No Woman, No Drive! Click on the blue type above :-)

 

Screen shot 2013-10-28 at 5.34.04 PM

From The Guardian:

Dozens of Saudi Arabian women drive cars on day

of protest against ban

Activists say at least 60 joined call to allow female drivers – making it country’s biggest ever demonstration against the ban

More than 60 Saudi women got behind the wheels of their cars as part of a protest against a ban on women driving in the kingdom, activists have claimed.

A Saudi professor and campaigner, Aziza Youssef, said the activists have received 13 videos and another 50 phone messages from women showing or claiming they had driven, the Associated Press reported.

She said it had not been not possible to verify all of the messages. But, if the numbers are accurate, they would make Saturday’s demonstration the biggest the country has ever seen against the ban.

Despite warnings by police and ultraconservatives in Saudi Arabia, there have been no reports from those who claimed to have driven of being arrested or ticketed by police.

A video clip of a protest by May al-Sawyan, a 32-year-old economics researcher and mother of two, was uploaded on the YouTube channel of the October 26 driving for women group, along with several other videos of women purportedly driving in defiance of the ban in Riyadh, al-Ahsa and Jeddah. It was not possible to verify when they were filmed. Another video to feature on YouTube was the spoof No Woman, No Drive.

“I am very happy and proud that there was no reaction against me,” she told AP. “There were some cars that drove by. They were surprised, but it was just a glance. It is fine. They are not used to seeing women driving here.”

Sawyan said she had obtained a driver’s licence from abroad. She said she was prepared for the risk of detention if caught but added that she was far enough from a police car that she was not spotted.

“I just took a small loop. I didn’t drive for a long way, but it was fine. I went to the grocery store,” she said.

Her husband and family waited at home and called her when she arrived at the shop to check on her, she said. She drove with a local female television reporter in the car. They were both without male relatives in the vehicle.

“I know of several women who drove earlier today. We will post videos later,” one of the campaign organisers told Reuters.

The Associated Press reported that a security official said authorities did not arrest or fine any female drivers on Saturday.

Youssef said she and four other prominent women activists received phone calls this week from a top official with close links to Interior Minister Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, warning them not to drive on Saturday, the day the campaign set for women’s driving.

She also said that “two suspicious cars” have been following her everywhere all day. “I don’t know from which party they are from. They are not in a government car,” she said.

Activists said they have 16,600 signatures on an online petition calling for change. Efforts to publicise the issue have been described as the best-organised social campaign ever seen in Saudi Arabia, where Twitter has millions of users and is used to circulate information about the monarchy and official corruption.

Previous attempts to promote change fizzled out in arrests for public order offences and demoralisation. In 2011, the activist Manal al-Sharif made a YouTube video urging women to drive their own cars, and was imprisoned for more than a week. But the signs are far more positive now.

Three female members of the shura (advisory) council – among 30 appointed by the 90-year-old King Abdullah – recommended this month that the ban be rescinded, though no debate has yet taken place.

Latifa al-Shaalan, Haya al-Mani and Muna al-Mashit urged the council to “recognise the rights of women to drive a car in accordance with the principles of sharia and traffic laws”.

The three – praised by supporters for “stirring the stagnant water” – framed their argument with careful references to religious edicts banning women from being in the company of an unrelated male driver. Other ideas designed to reassure critics are appointing female traffic police and driving instructors. Cost is another big factor, with families having to employ chauffeurs, as is convenience.

Though no specific Saudi law bans women from driving, women are not issued licenses. They mostly rely on drivers or male relatives to move around.

Powerful clerics who hold far-reaching influence over the monarchy enforce the driving ban, warning that breaking it will spread “licentiousness.” A prominent cleric caused a stir when he said last month that medical studies show that driving a car harms a woman’s ovaries.

October 28, 2013 Posted by | Adventure, Bureaucracy, Cross Cultural, Cultural, ExPat Life, Family Issues, Interconnected, Saudi Arabia, Women's Issues, Work Related Issues | 3 Comments

Kuwait Divorce Rate “50% and Rising”

How did I miss this truly excellent article in the Arab Times?

Divorce Rate In Kuwait 50pc … And Rising

Huge Increase Seen In ‘Cheating’

A good, productive and stable marriage is built on one’s ability to love someone else and make sacrifices for that person. We in this region as a whole are sometimes very materialistic and usually wealthy. Many a time couples get married for the wrong reasons. Sometimes because marriage is the new “thing to do”, it’s merely the new toy. Maybe the honeymoon period is the only highlight of the whole affair.

Lawyer Waleed Khaled Al-Dousari was talking to the Arab Times on marriages in Kuwait, exploring the causes behind the increasing rate of divorces in the society. “The rate of divorce in Kuwait has reached more than 50 per cent, and the number is still on the rise,” he adds.

Q: How would you describe marriage in Kuwait, and have the trends changed?

A: Traditionally, the ideal marriage was tribal, related families encouraging their offspring to marry cousins or other relatives in order to increase and strengthen the tribe, or occasionally to marry into another tribe in order to heal rifts between families. Another reason for such marriages was that families knew the background of the partner.

As is the case in some Latin countries, young couples in the region are allowed to meet under the watchful eyes of a chaperon. In Kuwait, however, the marriage is arranged without any part of the girl’s body (including her face) being seen by the prospective groom, who must rely on the reports of his female relatives as to his wife’s appearance.

There are three main elements in an Arab marriage. First, the groom must discuss and agree the dowry with the bride’s father. This might include gold, jewelry and clothing and is usually of considerable valuable. After the dowry settlement, comes the actual marriage contract, which is conducted by a legal or religious representative.

The bride is asked in the absence of the prospective groom if she agrees to the marriage and this question is then put to the groom. After the agreement, the groom joins hands with his future father-in-law and, with two witnesses present, the marriage becomes official.

However, there’s another stage before the couple actually meet as man and wife: the wedding party. Celebrations are segregated, with the women in one section of the house or private ballroom and the men in another. Finally, on the last night of celebrations, the couple meets, accompanied by all their friends, and eventually leaves for their honeymoon. On their return, they either live with the groom’s parents and become members of the extended family or – as is increasingly the case – set up a separate home by themselves.

According to Sharia, a Muslim man may have four wives, provided that he can look after them materially and treats them equally. This practice is now dying out, however, not only because only a few can afford it, but also because women are becoming more independent and assertive and many refuse to accept it.

In fact, a Muslim woman can insert a clause in the marriage contract that restricts her husband from marrying another woman for as long as the contract is valid. The wife also retains her own name after the marriage.

Although gender roles have always been clearly defined in the Islamic world, with the man as ‘provider’ and the woman as ‘nurturer’, both the man and the woman are increasingly going out to work, although this is much less common in Saudi Arabia, where there are restrictions on women working, except in culturally ‘acceptable’ occupations such as medicine and teaching. However, many Saudi men are reluctant to marry doctors and nurses, who have physical contact with male patients.

A man can divorce his wife simply by saying ‘I divorce you’ three times. He can rescind the divorce if this was done in the heat of the moment, but only if the wife agrees (and only on three occasions though). On the other hand, even if a wife has a good reason to seek a divorce (e.g. if her husband has been unfaithful, abused or deserted her, or engaged in criminal activity), she must go to a court for the case to be heard.

The husband must maintain a divorced wife and any children from the marriage if the wife is unable to support herself. He can claim custody of any sons when they reach a certain age; however, the priority is given to the mother, but this still depends on the sect of the couple. A female divorcee usually returns to her family, and few remarry.

Although a Muslim woman may not marry a non-Muslim man unless he converts to Islam, the reverse isn’t the case. Non-Muslim women are often pressurized into converting, and there have been many cases of foreign women marrying Arabs and then discovering that the local culture and lifestyle are unacceptably restrictive. It should also be noted that, in the event of the breakdown of such a union, the children are usually kept by the husband in his home country.

Expatriate workers can usually be married in the Gulf, provided that they meet the civil and religious requirements of their home country. Embassy and consulate staff sometimes performs civil marriage ceremonies, again provided that certain requirements are met. Religious ceremonies can be arranged, but only in countries that allow churches or similar non-Muslim places of worship.

Although many young citizens in Kuwait are still seeking the blessing and help of their parents for choosing life partners, some youngsters in Kuwait prefer finding their partners without parental guidance and mediation. This approach is the result of cultural interactions. This changing trend has become quite noticeable in the countries of the region.

Q: Why are we currently encountering an increasing rate of divorce in the country?

A: A good, productive and stable marriage is built on one’s ability to “love” someone else and make sacrifices for them. We in this region as a whole are sometimes very materialistic and usually wealthy. Many a time couples get married for the wrong reasons. Sometimes because marriage is the new “thing to do”, it’s merely the new toy. Maybe the honeymoon period is the only highlight of the whole affair.
In some cases, both partners may be in need of intimacy and so they get married to have that kind of intimacy. There’s nothing wrong with that. In fact in this arrangement, there is one good thing in that youngsters feel that they should “get married first” before “becoming intimate with anyone”. That’s a noble and encouraging thought.

But after the first few months or the first couple of years, we start noticing the first signs of trouble, and you see both sides contemplating the “D” word. They think “I don’t need this.” And rightly so, they really don’t need it. Both are wealthy, both have high paying jobs, their rooms in their parents’ houses are still empty and perhaps are still untouched with their original furniture in place and in tact.

Other reasons, however, come along due to the change in the definition of marriage as a whole from the perspective of both men and women. Even families in Kuwait today no longer feel shameful that their daughter or son is divorced. Some families are actually encouraging their daughters to divorce, because sometimes that divorce gives her more financial gains than she already has.

In Kuwait, it is a huge problem when a man cannot provide a luxurious life to his wife. It is his duty to provide her with the maid, driver, shopping every now and then, and the ability to travel at least on a yearly basis.

However, not all Kuwaitis are able to provide this kind of lifestyle for their wives and children.
Another issue is that of cheating. There is a huge increase in the percentage of cheating wives and husbands. It has become so easy for a husband or wife to cheat on each other, especially because marriages are neither based on love nor respect.

The high divorce rate in Kuwait insinuates that we are too spoiled to remain stuck to our marriages.
So what will happen to us in say 50 years? The world will be less dependent on our oil, and the oil will become less abundant anyway. We will become poorer in general. Isn’t that right?

We will have less materialistic “toys” to play with. And therefore we will be less spoiled. And I think we will tend to stay committed to our marriages more.

Our men will start actually doing some “work” to earn a living. And less of these jobs will be suited to women, and women will have less incentive to leave the umbrella of her husband’s (modest) financial security. Just like the times of our grandfathers and grandmothers.

Now, this might be a bleak picture, but maybe with less material distractions, and with healthier marriages, I only see us becoming happier people.

Q: So what happens, when a couple comes asking for a divorce?

A: From my experience as a lawyer, the usual scene when two couples ask for a divorce is that they come to my office in the image of two enemies who completely hate each other, and cannot even stand being in the same room with each other.

The women usually tries to file as much cases against her husband to get all the rights that she wants, and the man tries to do the same thing.

Q: What is the role of Shari’a law in divorce cases? Is there a difference between the rights that a woman may take if she was Sunni or Shi’ite?

A: In Kuwait we abide by the Islamic Sharia law when it comes to marriage or divorce. Therefore, when a couple asks for a divorce, usually there are certain proceedings that should take place.
To apply for divorce, you should be of sound mind and be able to make your own choices.
The first step the couple should do is to register the case at the Moral and Family Guidance Section at the court.

Shortly afterwards, a counselor will meet the couple and discuss their problems. They are then given a three-month time to try and solve the problems, before beginning the divorce process.

If the couple, or either of them, still insists on divorce, the papers will be forwarded to the court for the judge to study the case. The judge will discuss it with the couple and listen to the witnesses. It could take a couple of sessions before the judge makes his decision. The couple needs to attend all the proceedings.

A woman may be granted a divorce if she can prove that her husband has physically hurt her or mentally tortured her. A woman also may sue for divorce if her husband abandons her for a period of three months, or if he has not taken care of her needs or that of their children.

The law allows women to obtain a khula – a separation, when she returns the dowry to the husband.

The Sharia Court will accept a divorce lawsuit from Muslim men or Christian or Jewish women married to a Muslim and apply the Islamic laws.

If the divorce applicants are both Muslims, but from different countries and are residents in Kuwait, they will be divorced according to the administrative laws in their country, or the Kuwaiti law, whichever they wish. While Sharia is same in all Muslim countries, there are a few administrative differences between the various schools of thought.

If the couple is from the same country, the law of their country, will be applied or the Kuwaiti law may be applied, if they so wish.

If the husband is a Muslim and the woman is not a Muslim, the Kuwaiti laws will be applied, or the law of the country where they had got married will be applied.

If the couple is non-Muslim, they can seek divorce according to the law of their country, at the embassy or consulate.

There is not much difference between the two sects when it comes to divorce; there is only one main difference, and that is a Sunni women can take the custody of her children without ever having to return them to their father. However, the father can be with his children on previously arranged days.

According to the Shi’ite sect, the father can take his children when the children reach the age of seven or above, by which time the children too have a say in that kind of decision.

However, even the issue of custody is abused by some women, who place a huge financial burden on the man under the pretext of asking for the children’s upkeep. Some women do so despite being financially well off themselves.

Q: Can you give us examples of some divorce cases in Kuwait?

A: One intriguing divorce case involved a woman who divorced her husband on their wedding day because she found out at the wedding ballroom that groom had not made the costly arrangements that she had asked for, and instead chose a reception that cost much.

Some women get divorced because they see divorce as a financial gain for them. Men are sometimes forced to provide his divorcee with a house, a maid, a driver, and a monthly alimony for her and her children.
In many cases the reasons are very silly, which makes it very difficult for us lawyers to take any stand on the issue. For example one woman filed for a divorce because she didn’t like the way her husband made sounds while eating.

Q: What do you think is the role of society to tackle the problem of increasing divorce rates? How can education help reduce the rate of divorce, or help couple’s understand and appreciate the true value of marriage?

A: In light of high rates of divorce cases, social authorities should play a role in educating youth about the basic criteria for sound marriages. Grassroots associations and the media in the Gulf have to educate families about potential negative aspects of coercing young males and females to marry relatives, in the first place, and also how arranged marriages can have very harmful results on both couples, especially as they might not be suitable for each other.

Most of the persons I have met expressed desire to marry non-relatives, thus affirming the idea that parents must refrain from coercion. Moreover, to by taking away the right of youngsters to choose their life partners is against religious values and common sense.

Some official reports estimate that divorce cases in Kuwait are at 50 percent, and the phenomenon has been linked to diverse factors related to modern-day developments in the country, and western concepts and values and post-oil-boom social transformations.

Most males in Kuwait tend to get acquainted with the would-be “soul mate” personally while the majority of the females favor the parents’ role in this regard.

In Kuwait, we are starting to have many welfare societies that are helping couples to refrain from divorce as much as possible. However, the problem is that we do not have the right education concerning marriage in the country.

Neither families nor schools educate children on marriage or even give them the chance to fall in love and make their own choices of who they want to get married to.

We need to set a proper age limit for marriage for both males and females, because some are getting married at a very young age, such as 17 and 18. This is also leading to the great increase in divorce rates. The proper age for males to get married should be between 26 and 30, and that for the females should be above 20. However, that is only my opinion.

As to the qualifications of the would-be partner, the couples should believe in commitment. They should be educated. There is the need to be attracted to the physical appearance of each other and not be forced to get married to people they don’t know. Then of course financial capacities and employment are important factors. These are not the most important issues though.

biography

Born in 1983
Khaled Al-Dousari: currently a divorce lawyer at the Mohamad Saleh Al-Sabti, Lawyer Office. Started at the office in January 2007.
Graduated from the Academic Law Institute in Jordan in 2006.
Until today he has taken up to 300 cases of divorce.

By: Rena Sadeghi

October 10, 2013 Posted by | Bureaucracy, Character, Community, Cultural, Family Issues, Financial Issues, Generational, Kuwait, Living Conditions, Marriage, Mating Behavior, Social Issues, Women's Issues | Leave a comment

The Meat You Eat Can Make You Sick

A fascinating – if long – article on how our meat is farmed and the high cost of ‘cheap’ meat:

‘Healthy’ Cows, Sick Consumers: CDC Warns of a High Cost in Cheap Meat
by Bruce Watson Sep 25th 2013 6:00AM

On the surface, it’s hard to question the cost-effectiveness of factory-farmed meat. After all, the math is pretty simple: You start with inexpensive animals, raise them at relatively minimal cost, butcher them in the cheapest way possible, and sell them for low, low prices.

But the math gets a little more complicated when you look at the long-term health impact of all that cheap meat. Of course, there are the obvious things that everyone’s already worried about — issues like cholesterol and high blood pressure and gout and whatnot — but the biggest downside comes from something that you probably haven’t considered: antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

In a recent report, the Centers for Disease Control estimated that 2 million Americans are hit with antibiotic-resistant infections every year — and 23,000 people die from them.

Doctor Feelgood

So what causes all these outbreaks? In part, it’s our overreliance on antibiotics. Every time your doctor prescribes antibiotics to you, the bacteria in your body grow more able to tolerate them. Those antibiotic-resistant germs can then get passed on to other people, leading to the spread of harder-to-kill infections, which leads to more doctor visits, and so on, in a vicious cycle.

So, obviously, the first solution to our antibiotic-resistant bug problem is to stop overprescribing antibiotics. We should, many health experts argue, save the antibiotics for the times when we really need them.

This Little Piggie Had Penicillin …

But our overuse of erythromycin and amoxicillin is just a small part of the problem. Even if you never fill your antibiotic prescriptions — even if your doctor never writes them — chances are that you’re still consuming a huge amount of antibiotics in your food. More specifically, in your meat.

When factory farms look for ways to cut costs, space is one of the first things to go: Factory owners often crowd animals together in cramped pens. But when cows, pigs and chickens live in such cramped conditions, often with open wounds and amid ever-growing piles of feces, the barns become a breeding ground for bacterial infections. One way to cut back on this is to give the animals more space. Another way is to pump them full of antibiotics.

Not surprisingly, most factory farm operations go for the latter. In fact, the meat industry currently uses 80 percent of all antibiotics that are consumed in the US. All those drugs keep the animals relatively disease-free — and help keep meat cheap. But it’s not exactly an impressive price cut for the customer: According to one estimate, the use of antibiotics on farms saves the average meat-eating consumer $5 to $10 a year.

And those minor savings may come at a huge cost. Sloppy slaughtering methods often contaminate meat with antibiotic-resistant bacteria from the animals’ colons and stomachs. And, even if factory-farmed meat makes it to your grocery store without becoming contaminated, there are other ways animal waste enters the food cycle: Water and manure that are left over from factory animals often get used on crops, further spreading antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

So What Can You Do?

As I’ve pointed out in the past, there are a few ways to protect yourself. To begin with, you can ensure that your meat is cooked to an internal temperature of 160 degrees F — both at your home, and in any restaurants that you visit. Unfortunately, while this will kill any bacteria hiding inside your burger, it will also transform it into a well-done hockey puck.

Maybe you should just stick to the brisket.

You can also try looking for organic meat. While a little more expensive, it is produced without antibiotics, which lowers your chance of encountering antibiotic-resistant bacteria. For that matter, you may want to think about using organic vegetables — or, at least, carefully washing your fresh produce.

Another option is to get involved. Last week, I wrote about new USDA procedures would cut inspections on chicken and pork, and would allow Chinese poultry to be sold in American markets. Since these plans also reduce the number of USDA inspectors — among the few barriers between you and food poisoning — they could directly affect your health. If you get a chance, you may want to tell your congressman or senator that you’ve got some problems with this.

Given the huge lobbying efforts behind the USDA’s inspector cuts and opening the U.S. to Chinese chicken imports, chances are that both policy changes will happen. Even if they don’t, however, it never hurts to be safer with your food.

Bruce Watson is DailyFinance’s Savings Editor. You can reach him by e-mail at bruce.watson@teamaol.com, or follow him on Twitter at @bruce1971.

September 25, 2013 Posted by | Bureaucracy, Food, Health Issues, Living Conditions, Shopping | , | Leave a comment

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