Sunday, February 28, 2010

Zombie rights upheld

Zombies as portrayed in the movie Night of the...Image via Wikipedia

02.25.10 - 12:32 PM

The U.S. Court of Appeals has ruled in favor of a group of Minneapolis zombies who had filed a federal lawsuit charging they were wrongfully arrested while protesting mindless consumerism in 2006. Police said they arrested the six lurching protesters because they thought they were carrying "simulated weapons of mass destruction," which turned out to be portable sound systems for a Zombie Dance Party.

"I don't give a goddamn about anybody's constitutional fucking rights." - Police officer Edward Nelson at the station after the arrest, according to the undead plaintiffs.
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Saturday, February 27, 2010

Consumers Are Sleeping With the Enemy – and Paying for It

Edward Bernays was the self-appointed Father o...Image via Wikipedia

Published on Friday, February 26, 2010 by
Consumers Are Sleeping With the Enemy – and Paying for It

by Sandy Leon Vest
"Those who manipulate the unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. We are governed, our minds molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested largely by men we have never heard of… In almost every act of our lives whether in the sphere of politics or business in our social conduct or our ethical thinking, we are dominated by the relatively small number of persons who understand the mental processes and social patterns of the masses. It is they who pull the wires that control the public mind."

-Edward Bernays-

Anyone whose mission it is to ‘control the masses’ knows it all begins with good marketing.

Public relations aficionado Edward Bernays understood that.

One of the country’s original PR flacks, Bernays is perhaps best known for forging the decades-long marketing alliance between the AMA and the tobacco industry. The ‘Father of Spin,’ as he is known, also played a major role in the marketing and selling of the First World War to the American public with his now infamous slogan, "Making the World Safe for Democracy." Having mastered the art of seduction, Bernays understood that luring the public into purchasing products they didn't need was a simple matter of connecting those products to their unconscious desires and (perceived) unmet needs. He called this scientific technique of opinion molding the “engineering of consent.”

Corporations have come a long way since Bernays first began coaching them in the stealthy art of consumer seduction. And we have been forever changed by their success. From credit cards to satellite television to fossil fuels, American consumers, having succumbed to corporate seduction, are today paying a very high price for their acquiescence.

Coal-fired Facebook Fires Up Activists – sort of

The series of events following Facebook’s recent announcement that their ‘energy efficient’ data center in Prineville Oregon would be powered by the dirtiest fossil fuel on earth (coal) is illustrative of the problem.

When Facebook announced the opening of its new data center, its PR people made a point of emphasizing that the facility would be “among the greenest in the industry.” So, it was little wonder that clean energy activists were up in arms when it was revealed that the social networking site had contracted with mega-utility PacifiCorp for its power - since PacifiCorp’s primary power-generation fuel is coal.

What followed was a flurry of Facebook activity, mostly in the form of negative comments on the site itself, but also including at least two petitions - one initiated by and another by Greenpeace – demanding that FB’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg either clean up or abandon the company’s contract with PacifiCorp. At least so far, the contract is unaltered, although it remains to be seen whether Facebook will succumb to the pressure being applied by its more energy-conscious users.

The proverbial ‘rub,’ of course, lies in just how much pressure FB users will be willing to apply. It may be that the Internet, as Chris Hedges recently asserted, “has become one more tool hijacked by corporate interests to accelerate our cultural, political and economic decline.” Yet, the inevitability of such a prediction is far from certain. How social networking tools like Facebook ultimately impact our collective future and whether or not they actually live up to their promise to “promote democracy and unleash innovation and creativity” may well be up to those who use them.

Having become the most popular social networking site in the world (and the one most utilized by activists of all stripes), Facebook is clearly holding most of the cards. And this is where Bernays’ theory of ‘perceived need’ kicks in big time. After all, FB users need to communicate with one another. We have products to sell, thoughts to express, ideas to flesh out and events to publicize. And, let’s face it, social networking is the most effective and efficient means toward those ends. Given this (perceived) need, the threat of a boycott – likely the only truly effective tool activists have to make their point - seems all but out of the question. The irony of consumers feeling empowered by the same technology that captivates them is difficult to miss.

One liberal-leaning blogger expressed the dilemma succinctly: “Do I want more ads and more privacy issues to deal with so Facebook can afford to buy more expensive but cleaner power? Definitely not. Would I use a greener Facebook competitor if it existed? Yes, but not if I had to sacrifice functionality.”

We consumers are not very good at sacrifice.

The Enemy is Here – and We’re Addicted to Their Products

In the same way consumers have become captive to the social networking industry, we have likewise become captive to the telecommunications, satellite television, pharmaceutical, fossil fuel, fast food and credit card industries (to name a few). We may not like the ways in which these corporate behemoths treat us, but we’re too addicted to their products to do much about it. Those addictions to everything corporate may offer the only cogent explanation of why we remain paralyzed in the face of apparently unlimited corporate power.

How much progressives will be willing to sacrifice in order to create the world we (say we) want is not yet clear. But one thing is certain: As long as we remain unwilling to stretch the boundaries of our comfort zones in the interest of the greater good, we will remain relatively powerless. We will, in the most perverse sense of the term, “get what we pay for.”

We are here now – at this point in history. The battle lines between ‘We the People’ and the Corporate State have never been more clearly drawn. At this moment, progressives still have the opportunity to determine the outcome of that battle. But it is only a moment, and we will never get it back. No less than the future of our culture and our species will depend upon what we choose to do next. If we let the moment pass, that non-decision will become our collective destiny.

It seems entirely possible that American consumers are already so damaged by our cultural addictions that we lack the ability to give them up. It is also possible that, like all addicts, Americans will continue consuming their preferred ‘poison’ until the supply is gone or until something equally untenable occurs. Yet, all addicts hit bottom sooner or later – however far down that might be.

We’d better hope that happens sooner than later.

Sandy Leon Vest is the editor and publisher of SolarTimes, an independent quarterly energy newspaper with a progressive point of view. SolarTimes is available online at, and distributed in hardcopy throughout the Bay Area and beyond. Sandy LeonVest's work has been published locally, as well as internationally, and includes 15 years in the news department at KPFA Radio in Berkeley, CA.

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Thursday, February 25, 2010

Opeyemi Column Issues Manifesto Re Health Care

Mary Baker Eddy Burial MonumentImage via Wikipedia

Opeyemi’s manifesto by Opeyemi Parham.

It’s time to walk away from the beat grinder, folks. I am speaking --truth to power, in relation to our health. The WHOLE of our health. Holistic health. Mind, body, and spirit.

They drew a line in the sand. In their reality, I stepped over it.

In Massachusetts, we are penalized each April if we have not purchased the mandatory health insurance legislated by our state. This is NOT universal health care, nor is it health care for all. It is a coercive attempt to monopolize “health” by forcing us into the jaws of Big Pharma and corporate medicine.

Feel like I may be overstating my case? Check out the stock market’s response, as the “public option” section of Obama’s version of comprehensive health coverage gets mangled and co-opted in Washington. The insurance companies stocks are rocketing up.

This year I said “no” to the entire mess, and I mean it.

In Massachusetts, I can say “no” to mandatory health insurance if I have a sincere religious belief that conflicts with purchasing insurance. Well, I do. I believe the system that would be forcing this upon me is EVIL I believe that this system not only has no interest in my health; it actually has an interest in making me, and keeping me, chronically ill.

In order to claim my religious exemption, I must show that I use no medical care. No doctors. No emergency rooms. No hospitals. I am sure that this caveat in the law was influenced by Massachusetts being the birthplace of Mary Baker Eddy’s Christian Science movement. And, I am also sure that the arrogance of the state that birthed Harvard medical school assumes that no one in their right mind would claim such an exemption.

I am not a Christian Scientist, but my spiritual views on health are closer to the fringe than to the mainstream, these days. I had a religious experience back in 2005, that led me to question my entire world view and belief system. Up to now, I held that experience sacred/secret because it is not wise for a conventionally trained M.D. to use the “s” word when speaking about health and healing.

Not the “s” word sex,; the “s” word SPIRIT.

My spiritual experience left me on the wrong side of that line in the sand, drawn by the Bigheads on Beacon Hill. When push comes to shove, if you ask me to use conventional meds as prescribed by my state’s legislature, or be banned from using them at all, I will choose the side of the ban.

THEY drew the line in the sand. In their reality, I am stepping over it.

In my reality, I am dancing into spiritual evolution:

I’m stepping into clarity…
I’m walkin’ in my Power
I’m dancin magic in my life
Every day and every hour
I’m choosin’ to be usin’ the things I got
To make this world so fine
‘Cuz I am one unique expression,
of the great divine…
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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Blackwater, Missing Guns, Afghanistan and... South Park?

Published on Tuesday, February 23, 2010 by The Washington Independent
Blackwater, Missing Guns, Afghanistan and... South Park?
Blackwater Took Hundreds of Guns From U.S. Military, Afghan Police * Senate Inquiry Shows Contractor Signed for Rifles Using 'South Park' Alias

by Spencer Ackerman

WASHINGTON - Employees of the CIA-connected private security corporation Blackwater diverted hundreds of weapons, including more than 500 AK-47 assault rifles, from a U.S. weapons bunker in Afghanistan intended to equip Afghan policemen, according to an investigation by the Senate Armed Services Committee. On at least one occasion, an individual claiming to work for the company evidently signed for a weapons shipment using the name of a "South Park" cartoon character. And Blackwater has yet to return hundreds of the guns to the military.

A Blackwater subsidiary known as Paravant that until recently operated in Afghanistan acquired the weapons for its employees' "personal use," according to committee staffers, as did other non-Paravant employees of Blackwater. Yet contractors in Afghanistan are not permitted to operate weapons without explicit permission from U.S. Central Command, something Blackwater never obtained. A November 2008 email from a Paravant vice president named Brian McCracken, obtained by the committee, nevertheless reads: "We have not received formal permission from the Army to carry weapons yet but I will take my chances."

As a result of Blackwater's disregard for U.S. military restrictions on contractor firearms, four employees of Paravant - which held a subcontract from defense giant Raytheon to train Afghan soldiers - under the influence of alcohol opened fire on a car carrying four Afghan civilians on May 5, 2009, wounding two. That incident, occurring less than two years after Blackwater guards killed 17 Iraqi civilians in Baghdad, prompted the committee's investigation.

"In the fight against the Taliban, the perception that the Afghans have of us is critical," Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), the chairman of the committee, told reporters Tuesday afternoon. "It's clear to me that if we're going to win that struggle, we need to know that contractor personnel are adequately screened, they're adequately supervised and they're adequately held accountable." Levin will hold a hearing on Blackwater's Afghanistan contracts Wednesday morning.

The committee's investigation points to the contrary. Blackwater personnel appear to have gone to exceptional lengths to obtain weapons from U.S. military weapons storehouses intended for use by the Afghan police. According to the committee, at the behest of the company's Afghanistan country manager, Ricky Chambers, Blackwater on at least two occasions acquired hundreds of rifles and pistols from a U.S. military facility near Kabul called 22 Bunkers by the military and Pol-e Charki by the Afghans. Gen. David Petraeus, the commander of all U.S. military forces in the Middle East and South Asia, wrote to the committee to explain that "there is no current or past written policy, order, directive, or instruction that allows U.S. Military contractors or subcontractors in Afghanistan to use weapons stored at 22 Bunkers."

On one of those occasions, in September 2008, Chief Warrant Officer Greg Sailer, who worked at 22 Bunkers and is a friend of a Blackwater officer working in Afghanistan, signed over more than 200 AK-47s to an individual identified as "Eric Cartman" or possibly "Carjman" from Blackwater's Counter Narcotics Training Unit. A Blackwater lawyer told committee staff that no one by those names has ever been employed by the company. Eric Cartman is the name of an obnoxious character from Comedy Central's popular "South Park" cartoon.

Blackwater personnel invoked their Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination when approached by the committee to explain the weapons acquisitions from 22 Bunkers, according to committee staff. Sailer, who is still deployed to Afghanistan, told the committee that he thought Blackwater was signing for the weapons to train Afghan police, a task it has never conducted.

Not all of the guns received from Blackwater have been returned to the Afghan government - and, according to committee staff, many only began to be returned after staff approached the company for an explanation. "It was represented to us that all the weapons had been returned" to 22 Bunkers, Levin said. "That is not true. Hundreds of them were not returned." Asked if that meant Blackwater lied to Congress, Levin replied, "They misrepresented the facts, and I'd like to leave it at that."

Raytheon did not renew Paravant's contract for training the Afghan army, which expired in September. Blackwater still holds a contract with the State Department worth millions of dollars to protect diplomats in Afghanistan. While that contract expires this year, Politico reported on Tuesday that Blackwater, now renamed Xe Services, might acquire a new multimillion-dollar contract from the Defense Department to train Afghan police - the same police force that Blackwater's weapons diversions from 22 Bunkers deprived of hundreds of pistols and rifles.

This is not the first time Blackwater has faced allegations of diverted weapons. In 2007, company employees came under federal investigation for improperly shipping hundreds of weapons to Iraq, some of which are believed to have been sold on the black market and acquired by a Kurdish terrorist group. A Blackwater statement at the time said allegations that the company was "in any way associated or complicit in unlawful arms activities are baseless." The New York Times reported in November that the company is negotiating with regulators over "hundreds of millions of dollars in fines" associated with the illicit weapons shipments.

In January, Blackwater's founder, Erik Prince, confirmed to Vanity Fair that his 12-year-old company - which has earned more than a billion dollars through government contracts in the past decade - was involved in a nascent terrorist assassination program run by the CIA, among other CIA activities. "I'm paying for all sorts of intelligence activities to support American national security, out of my own pocket," Prince told the magazine. Additionally, The Nation recently reported that Blackwater assists the Joint Special Operations Command with the terrorist manhunt in Afghanistan and Pakistan, including with the operations of JSOC's armed unmanned drones.

Levin said his inquiry had uncovered "inadequate oversight by the Army over this contract." The Florida-based Army office supposedly overseeing the contract did not even have a contracting officer representative in Afghanistan when the Paravant employees shot at Afghan civilians on May 5, 2009. Yet as early as December 2008, concerned Raytheon personnel informed that Army office that Paravant personnel were carrying unapproved weapons. An officer in Afghanistan responsible for training Afghan soldiers told the committee, "We should have had better control."

Additionally, Blackwater personnel in Afghanistan, including those involved in both the May shooting and an earlier improper weapons discharge from December 2008, have been cited for, among other infractions, drug and alcohol abuse and, in one case, an "extensive criminal history."

Wednesday's hearing is expected to receive testimony from current and former Blackwater/Paravant officers, including Brian C. McCracken, the former Paravant vice president who now serves as Raytheon's chief Afghanistan program officer; Fred Roitz, a Blackwater vice president; and John Walker, a former Paravant program officer.
© 2010 The Washington Independent

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Monday, February 22, 2010

The Bankruptcy Boys

Cover of "The Conscience of a Liberal"Cover of The Conscience of a Liberal

Published on Monday, February 22, 2010 by The New York Times
The Bankruptcy Boys

by Paul Krugman

O.K., the beast is starving. Now what? That’s the question confronting Republicans. But they’re refusing to answer, or even to engage in any serious discussion about what to do.

For readers who don’t know what I’m talking about: ever since Reagan, the G.O.P. has been run by people who want a much smaller government. In the famous words of the activist Grover Norquist, conservatives want to get the government “down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub.”

But there has always been a political problem with this agenda. Voters may say that they oppose big government, but the programs that actually dominate federal spending — Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security — are very popular. So how can the public be persuaded to accept large spending cuts?

The conservative answer, which evolved in the late 1970s, would be dubbed “starving the beast” during the Reagan years. The idea — propounded by many members of the conservative intelligentsia, from Alan Greenspan to Irving Kristol — was basically that sympathetic politicians should engage in a game of bait and switch. Rather than proposing unpopular spending cuts, Republicans would push through popular tax cuts, with the deliberate intention of worsening the government’s fiscal position. Spending cuts could then be sold as a necessity rather than a choice, the only way to eliminate an unsustainable budget deficit.

And the deficit came. True, more than half of this year’s budget deficit is the result of the Great Recession, which has both depressed revenues and required a temporary surge in spending to contain the damage. But even when the crisis is over, the budget will remain deeply in the red, largely as a result of Bush-era tax cuts (and Bush-era unfunded wars). And the combination of an aging population and rising medical costs will, unless something is done, lead to explosive debt growth after 2020.

So the beast is starving, as planned. It should be time, then, for conservatives to explain which parts of the beast they want to cut. And President Obama has, in effect, invited them to do just that, by calling for a bipartisan deficit commission.

Many progressives were deeply worried by this proposal, fearing that it would turn into a kind of Trojan horse — in particular, that the commission would end up reviving the long-standing Republican goal of gutting Social Security. But they needn’t have worried: Senate Republicans overwhelmingly voted against legislation that would have created a commission with some actual power, and it is unlikely that anything meaningful will come from the much weaker commission Mr. Obama established by executive order.

Why are Republicans reluctant to sit down and talk? Because they would then be forced to put up or shut up. Since they’re adamantly opposed to reducing the deficit with tax increases, they would have to explain what spending they want to cut. And guess what? After three decades of preparing the ground for this moment, they’re still not willing to do that.

In fact, conservatives have backed away from spending cuts they themselves proposed in the past. In the 1990s, for example, Republicans in Congress tried to force through sharp cuts in Medicare. But now they have made opposition to any effort to spend Medicare funds more wisely the core of their campaign against health care reform (death panels!). And presidential hopefuls say things like this, from Gov. Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota: “I don’t think anybody’s gonna go back now and say, Let’s abolish, or reduce, Medicare and Medicaid.”

What about Social Security? Five years ago the Bush administration proposed limiting future payments to upper- and middle-income workers, in effect means-testing retirement benefits. But in December, The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page denounced any such means-testing, because “middle- and upper-middle-class (i.e., G.O.P.) voters would get less than they were promised in return for a lifetime of payroll taxes.” (Hmm. Since when do conservatives openly admit that the G.O.P. is the party of the affluent?)

At this point, then, Republicans insist that the deficit must be eliminated, but they’re not willing either to raise taxes or to support cuts in any major government programs. And they’re not willing to participate in serious bipartisan discussions, either, because that might force them to explain their plan — and there isn’t any plan, except to regain power.

But there is a kind of logic to the current Republican position: in effect, the party is doubling down on starve-the-beast. Depriving the government of revenue, it turns out, wasn’t enough to push politicians into dismantling the welfare state. So now the de facto strategy is to oppose any responsible action until we are in the midst of a fiscal catastrophe. You read it here first.
Copyright 2010 The New York Times Company

Paul Krugman is professor of Economics and International Affairs at Princeton University and a regular columnist for The New York Times. Krugman was the 2008 recipient of the Nobel Prize in Economics. He is the author of numerous books, including The Conscience of A Liberal, and his most recent, The Return of Depression Economics.

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Saturday, February 20, 2010

World's Top Firms Cause $2.2 Trillion of Environmental Damage

Published on Friday, February 19, 2010 by the Guardian/UK
World's Top Firms Cause $2.2 Trillion of Environmental Damage, Report Estimates
Report for the UN into the activities of the world's 3,000 biggest companies estimates one-third of profits would be lost if firms were forced to pay for use, loss and damage of environment

by Juliette Jowit

The cost of pollution and other damage to the natural environment caused by the world's biggest companies would wipe out more than one-third of their profits if they were held financially accountable, a major unpublished study for the United Nations has found.

[Black clouds over the central business district, Jakarta. The report into the activities of the world's 3,000 biggest public companies has estimated the cost of use, loss and damage of the environment. Photograph: Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images]Black clouds over the central business district, Jakarta. The report into the activities of the world's 3,000 biggest public companies has estimated the cost of use, loss and damage of the environment. Photograph: Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images
The report comes amid growing concern that no one is made to pay for most of the use, loss and damage of the environment, which is reaching crisis proportions in the form of pollution and the rapid loss of freshwater, fisheries and fertile soils.

Later this year, another huge UN study - dubbed the "Stern for nature" after the influential report on the economics of climate change by Sir Nicholas Stern - will attempt to put a price on such global environmental damage, and suggest ways to prevent it. The report, led by economist Pavan Sukhdev, is likely to argue for abolition of billions of dollars of subsidies to harmful industries like agriculture, energy and transport, tougher regulations and more taxes on companies that cause the damage.

Ahead of changes which would have a profound effect - not just on companies' profits but also their customers and pension funds and other investors - the UN-backed Principles for Responsible Investment initiative and the United Nations Environment Programme jointly ordered a report into the activities of the 3,000 biggest public companies in the world, which includes household names from the UK's FTSE 100 and other major stockmarkets.

The study, conducted by London-based consultancy Trucost and due to be published this summer, found the estimated combined damage was worth US$2.2 trillion (£1.4tn) in 2008 - a figure bigger than the national economies of all but seven countries in the world that year.

The figure equates to 6-7% of the companies' combined turnover, or an average of one-third of their profits, though some businesses would be much harder hit than others.

"What we're talking about is a completely new paradigm," said Richard Mattison, Trucost's chief operating officer and leader of the report team. "Externalities of this scale and nature pose a major risk to the global economy and markets are not fully aware of these risks, nor do they know how to deal with them."

The biggest single impact on the $2.2tn estimate, accounting for more than half of the total, was emissions of greenhouse gases blamed for climate change. Other major "costs" were local air pollution such as particulates, and the damage caused by the over-use and pollution of freshwater.

The true figure is likely to be even higher because the $2.2tn does not include damage caused by household and government consumption of goods and services, such as energy used to power appliances or waste; the "social impacts" such as the migration of people driven out of affected areas, or the long-term effects of any damage other than that from climate change. The final report will also include a higher total estimate which includes those long-term effects of problems such as toxic waste.

Trucost did not want to comment before the final report on which sectors incurred the highest "costs" of environmental damage, but they are likely to include power companies and heavy energy users like aluminium producers because of the greenhouse gases that result from burning fossil fuels. Heavy water users like food, drink and clothing companies are also likely to feature high up on the list.

Sukhdev said the heads of the major companies at this year's annual economic summit in Davos, Switzerland, were increasingly concerned about the impact on their business if they were stopped or forced to pay for the damage.

"It can make the difference between profit and loss," Sukhdev told the annual Earthwatch Oxford lecture last week. "That sense of foreboding is there with many, many [chief executives], and that potential is a good thing because it leads to solutions."

The aim of the study is to encourage and help investors lobby companies to reduce their environmental impact before concerned governments act to restrict them through taxes or regulations, said Mattison.

"It's going to be a significant proportion of a lot of companies' profit margins," Mattison told the Guardian. "Whether they actually have to pay for these costs will be determined by the appetite for policy makers to enforce the 'polluter pays' principle. We should be seeking ways to fix the system, rather than waiting for the economy to adapt. Continued inefficient use of natural resources will cause significant impacts on [national economies] overall, and a massive problem for governments to fix."

Another major concern is the risk that companies simply run out of resources they need to operate, said Andrea Moffat, of the US-based investor lobby group Ceres, whose members include more than 80 funds with assets worth more than US$8tn. An example was the estimated loss of 20,000 jobs and $1bn last year for agricultural companies because of water shortages in California, said Moffat.
© 2010 Guardian/UK

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Thursday, February 18, 2010

Loan Guarantees Distort Capital Markets

Obama’s Nuclear Option

Posted on Feb 16, 2010

By Amy Goodman

President Barack Obama is going nuclear. He announced the initial $8 billion in loan guarantees for construction of the first new nuclear power plants in the United States in close to three decades. Obama is making good on a campaign pledge, like his promises to escalate the war in Afghanistan and to unilaterally attack in Pakistan. And like his “Af-Pak” war strategy, Obama’s publicly financed resuscitation of the nuclear power industry in the U.S. is bound to fail, another taxpayer bailout waiting to happen.

Opponents of the plan, which includes a tripling of existing nuclear plant construction-loan guarantees to $54.5 billion, span the ideological spectrum. On its most basic level, the economics of nuclear power generation simply doesn’t make sense. The cost to construct these behemoths is so huge, and the risks are so great, that no sensible investor, no banks, no hedge funds will invest in their construction.

No one will loan a power company the money to build a power plant, and the power companies refuse to spend their own money. Obama himself professes a passion for the free market, telling Bloomberg BusinessWeek, “We are fierce advocates for a thriving, dynamic free market.” Well, the free market long ago abandoned nuclear power. The right-wing think tank Heritage Foundation remarked, “Expansive loan guarantee programs ... are wrought with problems. At a minimum, they create taxpayer liabilities, give recipients preferential treatment, and distort capital markets.”

Amory Lovins of the Rocky Mountain Institute, a longtime critic of the nuclear power industry, told me, “If you buy more nuclear plants, you’re going to get about two to 10 times less climate solution per dollar, and you’ll get it about 20 to 40 times slower, than if you buy instead the cheaper, faster stuff that is walloping nuclear and coal and gas.”

In his 2008 report “The Nuclear Illusion,” Lovins writes, “Nuclear power is continuing its decades-long collapse in the global marketplace because it’s grossly uncompetitive, unneeded, and obsolete—so hopelessly uneconomic that one needn’t debate whether it’s clean and safe; it weakens electric reliability and national security; and it worsens climate change compared with devoting the same money and time to more effective options.”

The White House Office of Management and Budget, in the same statement announcing the $54.5 billion for nuclear power, also listed a “credit subsidy funding of $500 million to support $3 [billion] to $5 billion of loan guarantees for energy efficiency and renewable energy projects.” Thus, just one-tenth the amount for nuclear is being dedicated to energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies. At the same time, the Obama administration plans to cancel funding for the hugely unpopular Yucca Mountain nuclear waste storage facility. Edwin Lyman of the Union of Concerned Scientists told The Christian Science Monitor the Obama administration “doesn’t have a plan for [storing] radioactive waste from a new generation of nuclear power plants. That is irresponsible.”

The waste from nuclear power plants is not only an ecological nightmare, but also increases the threats of nuclear proliferation. Obama said in his recent State of the Union address, “We’re also confronting perhaps the greatest danger to the American people—the threat of nuclear weapons.” Despite this, plans that accompany what Obama has proposed, his “new generation of safe, clean nuclear power plants,” include increased commercial “nuclear fuel reprocessing,” which the Union of Concerned Scientists calls “dangerous, dirty and expensive,” and which it says would increase the global risks of both nuclear proliferation and nuclear terrorism.

Both Lovins and the Union of Concerned Scientists debunk the myth that nuclear energy is essential to combat global warming. Lovins writes, “Every dollar invested in nuclear expansion will worsen climate change by buying less solution per dollar.” Obama said that this first tranche of public funding, which will benefit the energy giant Southern Co., “will create thousands of construction jobs in the next few years, and some 800 permanent jobs.” Yet investment in solar, wind and cogeneration technologies could do the same thing, quickly creating industries here in the U.S. that are thriving in Europe. What’s more, the risks of failure of a windmill or a solar panel are minute when compared with nuclear power plant disasters like Three Mile Island and Chernobyl.

From economics, to the environment, to the prevention of nuclear threats, Obama’s nuclear loan guarantees fail on all counts.

Denis Moynihan contributed research to this column.

Amy Goodman is the host of “Democracy Now!,” a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on more than 800 stations in North America. She is the author of “Breaking the Sound Barrier,” recently released in paperback and now a New York Times best-seller.

© 2010 Amy Goodman

Distributed by King Features Syndicate

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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

A Thought on Evan Bayh and Partisan America

U.S. Senator Evan Bayh of Indiana.Image via Wikipedia

Robert Reich is Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley. He has served in three national administrations, most recently as secretary of labor under President Bill Clinton. He has written twelve books, including The Work of Nations, Locked in the Cabinet, and his most recent book, Supercapitalism. His "Marketplace" commentaries can be found on and iTunes.

A Thought on Evan Bayh and Partisan America

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Not long ago I was debating someone on television. I thought the discussion was going well until the commercial break when a producer said into my earpiece “be angrier.”

“Why should I be angrier?” I asked him, irritated that he hadn’t appreciated the thoughtfulness of debate.

“That’s how we get channel surfers to stop and watch the program,” the producer explained. “Eyeballs are attracted to anger.”

At this point I lost my temper.

The incident came back to me when I heard about Evan Bayh’s decision to leave Congress because he felt it was becoming too partisan. The real problem isn’t partisanship. Bold views and strong positions are fine. Democratic debate and deliberation can be enhanced by them.

The problem is the intransigence and belligerence that has taken over Congress and much of the rest of the public — a profound distrust of people “on the other side,” an unwillingness to compromise, a bitterness and anger disproportionate to issues being discussed.

Anger makes good television, but it’s fake and it teaches Americans the wrong lessons. Anger also can win elections (Senate Republicans haven’t given Obama any votes because they’ve been eyeing the 2010 midterms since he took office, hoping for a rerun of 1994), but partisan anger is just as fake, and it undermines the capacity of our democracy to do the public’s business.

By the way, I was on CNBC this morning, and the subject of discussion was Bayh’s decision. No producer prodded me to be angrier but Larry Kudlow introduced the segment by saying that I’d be “duking it out” with Steve Moore, who writes editorials for the Wall Street Journal. And when it came for us to discuss the gridlock in Congress, Larry continuously interrupted, saying the reason for the gridlock was Obama’s lefti-leaning agenda.

When this is almost all the public sees and hears about public issues, it’s no wonder Americans begin to think everything is an angry shouting match. Americans stop listening to each other. We retreat into small ideological bubbles and talk only with people who agree with us. We forget how much we have in common, and how important it is to get on with the task of making the nation better.

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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Forest Biomass: Forest Use or Forest Abuse?

Forest Biomass: Forest Use or Forest Abuse?

Tuesday 16 February 2010

by: Josh Schlossberg, t r u t h o u t | Op-Ed

The Taking Tree

Chances are you've read Shel Silverstein's "The Giving Tree," the classic children's story about a boy who keeps taking from a tree - apples for eating, branches to build a house, the trunk for a boat - until there's nothing left but a stump. The message is clear: forests give us a lot, but there's such a thing as taking too much. While the story touches only on a tree's material uses, there are far more indispensable - as in can't live without - uses trees provide us with such as clean air, pure water, fertile topsoil and a livable climate.

But it's not about the use of one tree. It's about the abuse of entire forests, living ecosystems that regulate basic life processes that all human and nonhuman life depend on for survival. Flood control, erosion prevention, even the regulation of rainfall patterns depend on intact forest ecosystems.[1] Forests store such vast quantities of carbon in trees, leaf litter and soil that NASA claims logging the world's forests to be the second largest source of human-caused global warming gases, 25-30 percent of the total according to the United Nation's Food & Agriculture Organization.[2][3]

Jared Diamond's book "Collapse" documents the destruction of forests to be a leading cause of the downfall of civilizations like Easter Island. The modern day tally? Humans have consumed 60 percent of natural forests worldwide and over 95 percent in the US.[4][5]

It's possible for us to take what we need from forests without destroying whole ecosystems in the process. But it requires thinking about all forest benefits over the long term, rather than the easiest to exploit over the short term. Preserving all remaining natural forests, while employing responsible, selective logging practices in designated forests, would provide necessary forest products, jobs and stimulation of local economies, while protecting the ecosystems that keep us alive.

To further remove the stress from forests, we can turn to alternative substances whenever possible, especially when the alternatives are more efficient and economical, as is the case with hemp, flax and kenaf for paper production. Instead, industrial hemp production remains illegal in the US, despite 16 states having passed pro-hemp legislation.[6]

Still, forests continue to be devoured at an average rate of eight million hectares per year, and we are on the cusp of beginning a brand new kind of forest butchery, one that has every possibility of being the final nail in the coffin: forest biomass for electricity and liquid fuels.[7]

"Waste" Not, Want Not

Climate change and the end of the age of cheap oil leave no question about ending our dependence on fossil fuels. Solar, wind, tidal and micro-hydro, as well as efficiency, conservation and city-planning measures - combined with a serious re-examination of lifestyles - should be priorities for government, industry and citizens. But in kicking our fossil fuels dependence, let's make sure the alternatives aren't just as bad - or even worse.

Don't worry, says the biomass industry - the newest "branch" of Big Timber - we're just going to convert forest "waste" into electricity and liquid fuels. And what exactly is this waste? Basic forest ecology shows forests are nothing without their soil, which is nourished through the decomposition of dead tree trunks, branches, bark, leaves, needles and cones. After logging, the tops of trees, branches, and other organic material, called "slash," is left on the forest floor to fertilize damaged and depleted soils. The waste that biomass opportunists want to remove from the forest to power the American way of life is actually the forest's future soil.

Now that we're talking about logging, let's take a look at what passes today for forest "management." The vast majority of forest waste in the US is the aftermath of highly destructive, toxic pesticide-dependent, soil eroding and compacting, clearcut logging on industrial forest lands, or the eradication of the last 5 percent of native forests, found mainly on public lands. Ecological and economic realities necessitate replacing current forest practices with responsible, selective logging methods. Using forest waste for electricity or liquid fuels means further subsidizing toxic clearcutting and native forest liquidation.

But even if you're O.K. with clearcutting and old growth logging, it's hard to ignore a statement made by RISI, the leading information provider for the global forest products industry, which claimed: "the perceived overabundance of 'waste wood' in the nation's forests is simply not there."[8] Now, factor in a collapsed housing market and its subsequently lower demand for timber - and therefore slower pace of logging - and where is all this waste going to come from?

Fanning the Flames of Fire Hysteria

"Obtaining a consistent supply of woody biomass from federal lands is one of the primary impediments to developing a biomass utilization sector," said pro-biomass nonprofit Sustainable Northwest.[9] The biomass industry has for many years acknowledged the need for fresh feedstock. In 2003, the so-called Healthy Forest Restoration Act (HFRA) was passed into law with a priority purpose to "reduce wildfire risks to communities."[10] So far, so good, right? But the second purpose of HFRA was "to authorize grant programs to improve the commercial value of forest biomass." Forest biomass, not community protection, is the reason the Forest Service's top priority is opening up 180 million acres of western public forests to the chainsaw.[11]

Jack Cohen, research scientist at the Fire Sciences Laboratory in the Forest Service's Rocky Mountain Research Station said:

home ignitability, rather than wildland fuels, is the principal cause of home losses during wildland/urban interface fires. Key items are flammable roofing materials and the presence of burnable vegetation immediately adjacent to homes. Intense flame fronts (or crown fires) will not ignite wooden walls at distances greater than 40 meters or 130 feet.[12]

So, has HFRA taken these common-sense measures to protect communities?

Instead of focusing on protection around homes, the Forest Service has put lives and property at risk by abusing HFRA to log large trees in backcountry native forests miles from any town. A couple of examples include a project in Idaho's Clearwater National Forest, with portions of the project 30 miles from the nearest town, or one in the Okanogan National Forest in Washington which focused on big trees up to 21 inches diameter.[13]

What's the Forest Service's excuse? Their basic argument is that after 75 years of (sometimes successful) industrial fire suppression, hundreds of millions of acres of western forests have built up excess "fuels," which must be removed to prevent "catastrophic" wildfires.[14] Few question the need to return the natural and essential cycle of wildfire to our western forests. Yet, many forest types go several decades and often centuries between wildfires.[15] It is a dubious assumption that all of these forests are out of their centuries-long natural wildfire regimes after little more than a few decades of - often ineffective - fire suppression.

Let's say we turn a blind eye to the science of fire regimes, as biomass advocates would prefer. Strange questions still remain, like: does thinning forests actually slow fires? Modern science demonstrates that large wildfires are more a product of drought and low humidity, than fuel levels.[16] If conditions are ripe, especially with high winds, wildfires can burn across hundreds of acres of clearcuts, much less thinned forests. Ecologist George Wuerthner pointed out that during 2003's Biscuit Fire in southwestern Oregon "low-density, widely spaced Jeffrey pine growing on serpentine burned up even though their natural stand density is much lower than what you are left with under even aggressive thinning."

Not only does evidence suggest that thinning doesn't stop big wildfires, it might actually make things worse. Thinning a forest opens it up to sunlight, which dries the forest and also exposes it to winds, which can hasten the spread of flames during wildfires. With climate change making summers hotter and drier, there is no question that forest fires will be more prevalent in our forests, no matter the fuels level. The solution is to make homes FireWise and encourage zoning laws to limit sprawl into the forest. We have laws against building homes in flood plains, so why not fire plains?

Forest BioMESS

It's likely that even biomass proponents themselves realize forest waste can never provide enough feedstock to power an entire industry. But it's a way for them to get their foot in the door, to get the facilities up and running. Then, once the investments have been made, they can move toward their end game: converting whole trees into biomass and biofuels. By that time, the industry will be entrenched and it will be too late to stop them.

While many of those in favor of forest biomass continue to deny any long term plans to use whole trees, it's actually already happening. An aerial photograph of the McNeil biomass plant in Burlington, Vermont, showed a yard stacked with whole trees awaiting the chipper.[17] Other instances in the Wendell State forest in Massachusetts and forests in Maine and Canada demonstrate the same pattern of whole trees falling to the chainsaw for biomass facilities.[18]

If biomass's end game is the use of whole trees, then we are flirting with disaster. It is simply not possible to provide even a fraction of the electricity and fuels currently consumed in the US from forests. According to David Pimentel, Cornell professor and White House adviser: "to sustain our lives and activities we are burning 40 percent more fossil energy than the total amount of solar energy captured by all plant biomass ... this includes all the solar energy captured by agricultural crops, forests, lawns, and natural plants."[19] To keep the lights on using trees, we'd need entire continents' worth. And it's doubtful other countries are going to want to share.

The BioMonster

According to, 417 biomass facilities where trees and forest waste are burned for electricity currently operate in the US. One hundred and nine more are proposed across the country.

In 2009, Meg Sheehan of the Stop Spewing Carbon campaign with help from other groups such as Massachusetts Forest Watch and Concerned Citizens of Franklin County among others, led the effort to get a measure on the ballot that will give Massachusetts citizens the chance to vote against using public "clean" energy subsidies to support biomass facilities. Biomass opponents sometimes refer to the spread of biomass facility proposals across the US as the "BioMonster." One gets the image of a hulking troll slathered in "green" paint stalking the continent, chewing up forests and farting out clouds of toxic, polluting smoke.

Speaking of monsters, oil giant Chevron and timber beast Weyerhaeuser have recently ganged together to create something called Catchlight Energy. No, not a solar panel company, but a scheme to grow whole trees to turn them into gasoline. And then there's gene-splicing Goliath ArborGen and its plans to grow genetically engineered, cold-hardy eucalyptus monocrops for biofuels and paper pulp. ArborGen currently has a request in with the Forest Service to grow 260,000 GE eucalyptuses across the southern US.[20] Which would give a whole new meaning to southern plantation.

It's clear the BioMonster poses many threats from forest depletion to air pollution to climate disruption. But often neglected is how funneling forests into biomass will compete with one of the most basic and common uses of wood: home heating. While the highest and best use of a tree is certainly not to be burned, studies have demonstrated that burning wood for heat to be more than twice as efficient as burning it for electricity, and roughly eight times as efficient as converting it to liquid fuels.[21] Wood stoves are far from the cleanest technology on the planet, but hundreds of thousands of often low-income families count on wood to keep them warm through cold winters, and that's unlikely to change anytime soon. Starting up a market for forest biomass will create enough competition to sharply spike the price of firewood for already cash-strapped families. Are we really going to force families to shiver in the cold so we can charge our i-things?

"Know When to Say When"

It's not about the use of trees; it's about the abuse of forests.

Common sense says we must adapt genuinely sustainable, selective forestry techniques to replace toxic clearcutting and native forest logging. Evidence suggests we reform our current abusive forest practices by focusing on alternative substances, such as hemp for paper and cob for building, not to mention cutting back on our habits of conspicuous consumption and waste. Yet, solutions such as hemp are against the law in the US, forests still fall at a breakneck pace and here we are just about to start up a brand new habit.

The biomass/timber industry denies they're addicted to an unsustainable supply of trees. They just want a taste, they say, just a little bit of waste here and there. Nothing more. They've learned to control their past desires and will prove it - if only you give them the key to the liquor cabinet.

Alcoholics are never really "cured." They can control their impulses, but the desire to drink never goes away. The same thing goes with forest abusers. Do the American people really want to enable the biomass/timber industry to suffer a relapse? A relapse from which forests - and ultimately our nation - might not recover?















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This work by Truthout is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 United States License.

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Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Consequence Of Sweetness: There's No Such Thing As 'Just A Little Sugar'

Mehmet OzImage via Wikipedia

Mehmet Oz, M.D.

Vice-Chair and Professor of Surgery at Columbia University, author, radio and TV show host
Posted: February 12, 2010 08:39 AM

I want to introduce you to a brave woman at the hospital where I work. Her name is Laureen. At 34 years old, she was an active nurse -- vibrant, full of life and a volunteer EMT. But now, 10 years later, she spends three days a week tethered to a dialysis machine to rid her blood of impurities that her failed kidneys can no longer process. She has lost parts of both her legs. Her body is slowly turning on itself and each and every day revolves around managing the disease that ravages and scrapes away at her insides: diabetes.

Laureen was on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" last Thursday, courageously sharing her story. Even though it's very personal, Laureen told her story because she doesn't want others to go through what she has gone through. And there are almost 60 million potential diabetics who can watch and benefit from her experience -- though it doesn't have to be this way. One of the most painful things about her situation is that it could have been prevented. That's right -- Laureen's disease trajectory could have been slowed, stopped or even reversed through lifestyle and diet choices.

As a surgeon I have operated on thousands of people whose hearts were destroyed by diabetes - about 25 percent of all the patients I see are diabetic. Most of them could have prevented their fate.

But as the tragedy of this news sinks in, the alarm bells are ringing. Here are the statistics: there are 24 million diabetics in this country and about six million of them don't even know it yet. These are people whose blood sugar is over 125. They will most likely find out when other complications arise such as impaired kidney function, vision problems and, of course, heart disease. Even scarier is that there are 57 million pre-diabetics who are at a crucial fork in the road. Their blood sugar is between 100 and 125 and they stand at a juncture where some simple lifestyle changes and mindful diet choices will lengthen their lives and save them a world of suffering. Nearly half of Hispanic and African American children born this decade are projected to get diabetes. The CDC estimates one third of all Americans will develop diabetes and live 15 years less while losing immeasurable quality of life.

No public health problem compares in scale.

Diabetes will bankrupt our healthcare budget if left unchecked. It costs us $175 billion now to treat this killer and its complications, and that's expected to double in 25 years. Despite the best devised policy plans to manage the economics of healthcare, all solutions will fail unless we address the root causes and engage in widespread awareness and prevention. It starts with education -- you must know what this disease is, who is at risk and how to prevent it.

There are two types of diabetes. Type 1 is also called juvenile diabetes and you are born with it. It can't be reversed but it can be managed. Only 10 percent of diabetics are Type 1.

Type 2 is the culprit in 90 percent of those 24 million cases and 57 million pre diabetics in danger of slipping into full blown disease.

Type 2 takes root when fat stored in the abdomen -- belly fat called omentum -- poisons the pancreas and causes it to stop producing insulin or the insulin in your blood cannot deliver glucose into your cells. Without insulin you cannot process sugar and without glucose your cells have no power supply. Belly fat is a huge problem in America, with 60 percent of our population overweight. Any casual stroll down the street will reveal the prevalence of omentum in our society. The reason for the drastic increase is a perfect storm of poor diet and sedentary lifestyle. Our ancestors usually had little food and had to work very hard to catch or kill what food they could. As a result our bodies are designed to survive scarcity and famine. Now with food available virtually unrestricted our biology is outpaced by this abundance, and overeating creates disease. It happened incredibly fast.

Why is diabetes so destructive? Quite simply in both Type 1 and 2 your body can't metabolize sugar, leaving it to float in your bloodstream. Sugar in your blood is like shards of glass scraping the inner lining of your arteries. The scrapes heal with scar tissue and cause blockages. Smaller blood vessels in your feet close completely and cut off circulation, resulting in amputation as the tissue dies and becomes infected. The coronary arteries scar and cause heart attacks and stroke. These sugar shards damage kidneys so severely they shrivel and die and patents often wind up on dialysis.

Here's the catch: The symptoms are reversible.

Right now the average American eats 140 pounds of sugar per year, which is 40 pounds more than when Oprah and I were born 50 years ago. Sugar is hidden all kinds of places that you least expect -- condiments such as salad dressing and ketchup, peanut butter, and of course juice and soda. To be competitive and make things taste better, food companies have added more and more sugar. The intention wasn't to hurt anyone, it was just to get you to like their food. We have slipped into a cultural acceptance of "a little sugar" - a little in our coffee, a little on our cereal, and it all adds up. The consequence of all that sweetness is obesity and rampant diabetes.

But back to the good news: 90 percent of diabetes is preventable and the symptoms are reversible. Let's go through a few risk factors and action steps:

First, the warning signs are constant thirst, frequency in urination, feeling tired, frequent infections, tingling in the toes, and vision problems. If you have any of these symptoms, see your doctor.

Risk factors are a big belly which blocks insulin, a sedentary lifestyle and a family history. When we refer to a "big belly" we mean one that measures more than half your height. If you are five foot 10 inches, (70 inches) your waist should measure no more than 35 inches at your belly button. Another rule of thumb is a woman of average height should weigh less than 150 pounds for optimum health.

Can we change our biology or our genes? No. But we can nudge it in the right direction. Avoid "white" foods -- those with enriched flours, pasta, obvious sugar and rich starches like potatoes. Avoid high fructose corn syrup, which is found in everything from condiments to bread. You can just read the label to see what's in a food item. Exercise - a lot! Start by walking and set a goal of 30 minutes three times a week of vigorous walking, then move gradually into an exercise program.

Also, know your numbers. Speak with your physician about your risk factors and a screening - just about anyone can get tested for free. This is one of the most important decisions you can make for your health and your children's health. You owe it to yourself and your loved ones. It's not just a little sugar!

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Saturday, February 13, 2010

Wasserman Disputes Fundamentalist Propaganda

John Trumbull's painting, Declaration of Indep...Image via Wikipedia

Published on Saturday, February 13, 2010 by
Our Founders were NOT Fundamentalists

by Harvey Wasserman
"God made the idiot for practice, and then He made the school board." --Mark Twain

Tomorrow's New York Times Sunday Magazine highlights yet another mob of extremists using the Texas School Board to baptize our children's textbooks.

This endless, ever-angry escalating assault on our Constitution by crusading theocrats could be obliterated with the effective incantation of two names: Benjamin Franklin, and Deganawidah.

But first, let's do some history:

1. Actual Founder-Presidents #2 through #6---John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe and John Quincy Adams---were all freethinking Deists and Unitarians; what Christian precepts they embraced were moderate, tolerant and open-minded.

2. Actual Founder-President #1, George Washington, became an Anglican as required for original military service under the British, and occasionally quoted scripture. But he vehemently opposed any church-state union. In a 1790 letter to the Jews of Truro, he wrote: The "Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistances, requires only that they who live under its protection, should demean themselves as good citizens." A 1796 treaty he signed says "the government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion." Washington rarely went to church and by some accounts refused last religious rites.

3. Washington was also the nation's leading brewer, and since most Americans drank much beer (water could be lethal in the cities) they regularly trembled before the keg, not the altar. Like Washington, Jefferson and Madison, virtually all American farmers raised hemp and its variations.

4. Jefferson produced a personal Bible from which he edited out all reference to the "miraculous" from the life of Jesus, whom he considered both an activist and a mortal.

5. Tom Paine's COMMON SENSE sparked the Revolution with nary a mention of Jesus or Christianity. His Deist Creator established the laws of Nature, endowed humans with Free Will, then left.

6. The Constitution never mentions the words "Christian" or "Jesus" or "Christ."

7. Revolutionary America was filled with Christians whose commitment to toleration and diversity was completely adverse to the violent, racist, misogynist, anti-sex theocratic Puritans whose "City on the Hill" meant a totalitarian state. Inspirational preachers like Rhode Island's Roger Williams and religious groups like the Quakers envisioned a nation built on tolerance and love for all.

8. The US was founded less on Judeo-Christian beliefs than on the Greco-Roman love for dialog and reason. There are no contemporary portraits of any Founder wearing a crucifix or church garb. But Washington was famously painted half-naked in the buff toga of the Roman Republic, which continues to inspire much of our official architecture.

9. The great guerilla fighter (and furniture maker) Ethan Allen was an aggressive atheist; his beliefs were common among the farmers, sailors and artisans who were the backbone of Revolutionary America.

10. America's most influential statesman, thinker, writer, agitator, publisher, citizen-scientist and proud liberal libertine was---and remains---Benjamin Franklin. He was at the heart of the Declaration, Constitution and Treaty of Paris ending the Revolution. The ultimate Enlightenment icon, Franklin's Deism embraced a pragmatic love of diversity. As early America's dominant publisher he, Paine and Jefferson printed the intellectual soul of the new nation.

11. Franklin deeply admired the Ho-de-no-sau-nee (Iroquois) Confederacy of what's now upstate New York. Inspired by the legendary peacemaker Deganawidah, this democratic congress of five tribes had worked "better than the British Parliament" for more than two centuries. It gave us the model for our federal structure and the images of freedom and equality that inspired both the French and American Revolutions.

It's no accident today's fundamentalist crusaders and media bloviators (Rev. Limbaugh, St. Beck) seek to purge our children's texts of all native images except as they are being forceably converted or killed.

Today's fundamentalists would have DESPISED the actual Founders. Franklin's joyous, amply reciprocated love of women would evoke their limitless rage. Jefferson's paternities with his slave mistress Sally Hemings, Paine's attacks on the priesthood, Hamilton's bastardly philandering, the grassroots scorn for organized religion---all would draw howls of righteous right-wing rage.

Which may be why theocratic fundamentalists are so desperate to sanitize and fictionalize what's real about our history.

God forbid our children should know of American Christians who embraced the Sermon on the Mount and renounced the Book of Revelations...or natives who established democracy on American soil long before they saw the first European...or actual Founders who got drunk, high and laid on their way to writing the Constitution.

Faith-based tyranny is anti-American. So are dishonest textbooks. It's time to fight them both.

Harvey Wasserman's SOLARTOPIA! OUR GREEN-POWERED EARTH, A.D. 2030, is at He is senior advisor to Greenpeace USA and the Nuclear Information & Resource Service, and writes regularly for, where this article first appeared.

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Thursday, February 11, 2010

Vermont's Radioactive Nightmare

Vermont's Radioactive Nightmare

by Harvey Wasserman

Like a decayed flotilla of rickety steamers, at least 27 of America's 104 aging atomic reactors are known to be leaking radioactive tritium, which is linked to cancer if inhaled or ingested through the throat or skin.

The fallout has been fiercest at Vermont Yankee, where a flood of cover-ups has infuriated and terrified near neighbors who say the reactor was never meant to operate more than 30 years, and must now shut.

In 2007 one of Yankee's 22 cooling towers simply collapsed due to rot.

Now the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has confirmed tritium levels in a monitoring well at Vernon to be 3.5 times the federal safety standard. The leaks apparently came from underground pipes whose very existence was recently denied by VY officials in under-oath testimony at a public hearing. Vermont's pro-nuclear Republican Governor Jim Douglas has termed the event "a breach of trust that cannot be tolerated."

Yankee is owned by Entergy, a Mississippi-based consortium that also owns New York's Indian Point reactor, which suffered an internal gusher of radioactive water in May, 2009. Another leak has just been found at Oconee in South Carolina. Illinois' Braidwood leaked so many millions of gallons of tritium-laced water that its owner, Exelon, was forced to buy a new municipal water system for a nearby town.

Entergy says none of Yankee's tritium has been found in local drinking water or in the Connecticut River, which supplies the plant's cooling water. Vernon sits near Vermont's southeast border with Massachusetts, across the river from New Hampshire. "The existence of tritium in such low levels does not present a risk to public health or safety whatsoever," says the company's Robert Williams.

But VY is just the latest of more than two dozen U.S. nuclear plants---many built in the 1960s and '70s---to be found with leaking tritium.

Last year at New Jersey's Oyster Creek, tritium was reported leaking a second time shortly after Exelon got it a 20-year license extension. Entergy's Pilgrim reactor, at Plymouth, Massachusetts, has recently leaked tritium into the ground.

The NRC's Neil Sheehan has confirmed leaks involving 27 of 104 licensed US reactors, and says that probably doesn't account for all of them. At Yankee, Oyster Creek and elsewhere, rotting pipes are the likeliest culprit, but no one is 100% certain.

The epidemic has escalated public dismay. Vermont state Representative Tony Klein, chair of House Natural Resources and Energy Committee, says that "when you have public officials that the public depends on for their health and welfare making casual statements that a radioactive substance is not harmful to you, I think that's ludicrous."

For decades the Encylopedia Britannica, National Academy of Sciences and other primary scientific bodies have confirmed that no dose of radiation, no matter how small, can ever be deemed perfectly safe. "There is no threshold of exposure below which low levels of ionizing radiation can be demonstrated to be harmless or beneficial," says Richard R. Monson, associate dean for professional education and professor of epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health.

Thus far the NRC has granted a series of license renewals to aging reactors. But by virtue of a long-standing agreement with Entergy, the Vermont Legislature can deny Yankee's request for a 20-year extension. In the 1990s local groups like the Citizen's Awareness Network ( helped force down the Yankee Rowe plant on the Deerfield River in Massachusetts, about 25 miles southwest of Vernon. The root cause was concern over embrittlement of the elderly reactor's core, a key to the future of all other aging nukes.

In Vermont, angry debate has also arisen over Entergy's dwindling decommissioning fund, which has been slashed by a declining stock market. Entergy has proposed spinning off plant ownership to a shell corporation whose assets may be even more dubious. But area residents also fear Entergy may be pushing Yankee operations in an attempt to find the source of its leaks.

With VY operating under duress, Katz and others report an increasing wave of concern among local citizens starting to think seriously about how they might evacuate if Entergy keeps pushing. "This plant appears to be leaking from its reactor piping, but they don't really know where," she says. "They don't want to shut down because they're afraid they'll never get back up. Entergy is choosing to protect its bottom line rather than the health and safety of our community."

Indeed, a desperate national industry now pushing for massive federal subsidies to build new reactors may not survive a flood of elderly clunkers being forced to close by the weight of their own contamination. "This is an industry trying to build a new fleet of Titanics while the old ones are sinking," says Katz.

Amidst the gusher of tritium leaks, Governor Douglas wants to postpone the legislature's vote on VY's license extension. But his term expires in November, and all five Democratic gubernatorial candidates are pledged to a Yankee shutdown.

What happens next will be defined by fierce grassroots activism crashing into a flood of corporate money in support of a rickety old reactor being operated with increasing recklessness.

The highly hyped "reactor renaissance"---and much more---may hang in the balance. Stay tuned.

Harvey Wasserman is Senior Advisor to Greenpeace USA and the Nuclear Information & Resource Service, and Senior Editor of , where this article first appeared. His SOLARTOPIA! OUR GREEN-POWERED EARTH is at

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