False Advertising: The Marketing of Obama’s War on Syria

September 9, 2013

As the Obama administration continues to market its planned war on Syria as a “limited” strike and “shot across the bow,” the language of the resolution the Congress is being asked to vote on this week and the plans of the President’s national security team belie any such limited intention.

The text opens with the false claim that the Syrian government employed chemical weapons against its civilian population.  Of course, taking aggressive military action without UN authorization would be illegal under international law, regardless of anything the Assad regime has done.  But it bears repeating that the administration has produced no evidence to back up its claim, while the rebels clearly have chemical weapons capability and Carla Del Ponte, Member of the UN’s Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic, last May said that a UN investigation indicated it was the rebels who had used nerve gas in a previous attack.  http://www.dailykos.com/story/2013/08/28/1234403/-Last-May-UN-s-Del-Ponte-found-evidence-Syria-rebels-used-nerve-gas

But beyond the fact that the war is being sold with lies, the fact that war is planned at all is being hidden by the administration and most or all of the mainstream media behind a false and misleading marketing campaign.  If the campaign is successful, we’re about to be treated to what is known among those who enforce the law of deception as “bait and switch” – when an advertiser draws the prospective mark in with one product while intending to deliver something else.

The truth is revealed in the language of the Authorization to Use Military Force as it emerged from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week on a 10-7 vote.  The document, labeled S.J. 21 on the Senate website, http://www.senate.gov/pagelayout/legislative/b_three_sections_with_teasers/active_leg_page.htm, incorporates in one of its “Whereas” clauses that “the President’s goals of Assad leaving power” (along with “an end to the violence” and “a negotiated political settlement in Syria”) are necessary to a “stable, democratic future for Syria and regional peace and security,” and that achievement of this goal requires “decisive changes to the present military balance of power on the ground in Syria.”  The resolution goes on to state, “It is the policy of the United States to change the momentum on the battlefield in Syria so as to create favorable conditions for a negotiated settlement that ends the conflict and leads to a democratic government in Syria.”

The President himself came pretty close to calling for regime change by name when he told senior members of Congress at a White House meeting last week that the attack on Syria “also fits into a broader strategy that can bring about over time the kind of strengthening of the opposition and the diplomatic, economic and political pressure required – so that ultimately we have a transition that can bring peace and stability, not only to Syria but to the region.”  http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/sep/03/obama-strategy-assad-republicans-syria

There is later on in the Congressional document a prohibition on the use of “the United States Armed Forces” on the ground in Syria “for the purpose of combat operations.”  One may wonder whether that language is intended to cover CIA operatives, advisers, or military contractors.  But in any case, ABC News has reported that the President’s national security team is planning a “significantly larger” attack on Syria than the administration’s marketing campaign would lead us to expect.

The ABC broadcast mentions use of B-2 and B-52 bombers as well as a “relentless assault” with “the vast majority” of the 200 Tomahawk missiles on Navy destroyers already stationed off the coast of Syria.  The broadcast quotes a senior national security official as saying the US assault “could do more damage to Assad’s forces in 48 hours than the rebels have done in two years of civil war.”  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KDJBOgdm3uI

Anybody?  Does all of this sound like it contemplates a “limited strike” or a “warning shot across the bow”?  (Recall that a shot “across the bow” doesn’t actually hit anything.)  And how comforting will it be if no US Armed Forces have their boots on the ground, while hundreds or even thousands of Syrian civilians are killed and maimed in another “shock and awe” campaign that may well even ignite a larger regional war?

Along with the drums of war, I’m hearing regime change.  And unfortunately, the sound has become all too familiar.

NO US War On Syria

September 4, 2013

President Obama now seeks Congressional approval for a military strike against Syria.

The Congress should save us and the President from this proposed folly by declining to authorize it.  The US and its allies should refrain from attacking Syria and instead promote a durable ceasefire and a political solution.

Assuming chemical weapons were used in Syria last month, who used them will likely remain unclear.  Carla del Ponte, former Swiss war crimes prosecutor and a member of a UN commission of inquiry on Syria, said last June in an interview with Swiss Italian broadcaster RSI that, “According to the testimonies we have gathered, the rebels have used chemical weapons, making use of sarin gas.”

An attack on Syria without UN authorization would in any case be a clear violation of international law.  It would also be ill-advised, hypocritical, and deeply immoral.

As a senior British military commander told the Financial Times (8/29/13), “The idea that the west can neatly restrict any attack to a short duration punishment with the limits drawn exclusively by us is naïve in the extreme.”

If the President is really upset by the use of chemical weapons, perhaps he could arrange compensation for the victims of US use of other internationally condemned weapons of war, such as cluster bombs, depleted uranium, and white phosphorous in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Agent Orange in Vietnam.   This is not to diminish or denigrate the horror of chemical weapons.  But unexploded cluster bombs can release over a wide area tiny bomblets that can do terrible harm to children who pick them up.  Iraqis are suffering terrible birth defects, especially in Fallujah, in the wake of widespread use of depleted uranium by the US military.  White phosphorus gas melts the skin and burns to the bone.

For more on these issues, see “Killing Civilians to Protect Civilians” by law professor Marjorie Cohn and attorney Jeanne Mirer, at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/marjorie-cohn/syria-civilians-violence_b_3826961.html.

Taking The Offensive At The Edge of the Fiscal Cliff: Demand MORE, Not Less, Social Security and Medicare!

November 24, 2012

As the federal government approaches the “fiscal cliff,” a package of tax increases and spending cuts that would further undermine an already anemic economic recovery, the likely hazards of a bipartisan effort to reduce so-called “entitlements” like Medicare and Social Security have been covered extensively here.  And the smiling faces that emerged from first discussions between President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner are not reassuring.  But most opposition to such a Great Betrayal is geared to merely preserving what is left of the safety net.

It’s time to go on the offensive!

The neoliberals Obama appointed as a majority on the Simpson-Bowles Commission claim the government must balance the budget by slashing Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, instead of restoring progressive taxation. Bill Black, author of The Best Way To Rob A Bank Is To Own One,[1] calling this the Great Betrayal, points out that only a Democrat can make it politically safe for Republicans who hate the safety net to unravel it, by legitimizing the claim that it must be cut.  And if Obama weakens the safety net, ostensibly to save it, the effect would be to legitimize future Republican assaults on the safety net.

The really illegitimate “entitlements” are all but beyond criticism.  Yet Stage One of the negotiations should rightfully be the end of subsidies to which recipients and constituencies who tend to feel entitled but really are not:  to agribusiness, Big Oil, businesses that ship jobs overseas, and all those hundreds of U.S. military bases around the world.  Yet they all belong in the “canceled” column, along with most of the unconscionably gigantic budget for “defense” (sic: war).  We could make an all but immediate down payment on the deficit by stopping the cash flow of $2 Billion a week to the war in Afghanistan.  And the bulk of “defense” spending, our 5,000 nuclear warheads and our ongoing wars do not enhance our security, but instead undermine it by bankrupting our government and helping recruit new generations of terrorists.[2]  Cutting these could save hundreds of billions easily.

Progressive taxation, based on ability to pay, and a financial transactions tax could raise billions more.

Having saved all that money in Stage One, we could deal in Stage Two with the genuine entitlements by increasing, not cutting, Social Security benefits and Medicare payments; lowering, not raising, the retirement age for Social Security, and extending Medicare coverage, for starters, to all those age 55 or over.  These simple steps would provide real stimulus to the economy and by enabling and hastening retirements, produce millions of job openings for younger people who need work.

Still think we can’t afford it?  Then perhaps you didn’t notice that, as economist Michael Hudson observes, “After the 2007 crash the Fed printed $13 trillion on its computers to give to bankers. It can do the same for Social Security….It can [also] pay state and local pension obligations in the same way it has paid Wall Street’s 1%. The problem is that the Fed is only willing … to save bondholders and the banks’ high-flying counterparties, not the 99%.”

Handling the deficit by attacking the social safety net connects with the effort to undermine and privatize another collective enterprise, the U.S. Postal Service.  As others have pointed out, the USPS is doing fine financially in its operations but is being forced by legislation Congress enacted in 2006 to funds its retirement program for the next 75 years.  And now we have efforts to diminish service, as by closing a local mail processing center here in Springfield, Oregon and stopping Saturday delivery.  That’s how privatizers work:  First undermine the effectiveness of the program, then claim it can be done better by “private industry.”

The safety net and the Postal Service are under attack for the same reasons:  Each promotes the common good and stands for the proposition that we have interests in common that we can and should address collectively, through government as well as other forms of social organization.  Each exemplifies and implements the notion that we should care about and for one another, and need not engage in a perpetual war of each against all. These core ideas, along with the living standards of the 99% (more precisely, the 99.9%), have been under relentless attack for decades.  It began with deregulation of key industries and an ongoing effort to crush unions and the working class, and is now moving on to programs that promote the general welfare, not only Medicare and Social Security but Medicaid, Head Start, food stamps, college loans, unemployment benefits, and others.

Homelessness and suicide are on the rise.  But these are symptoms of much larger problems.  The basic story is that for about the last 30 years, incomes of everyone but the very rich stagnated.  People compensated by working two jobs, longer hours, and then, by borrowing on the value of their homes, which was rising with the bubble that popped a few years ago.  Now the middle class has lost trillions in what people thought was their net worth, and our politics have been so structured that the very rich continue to get richer while millions are impoverished, unemployed, underemployed, and ultimately homeless.  We’re becoming a Third World country.[3]

But I say Yes, We Can! afford a humane society.  All we have to do to build upon the framework we now have for one is to de-fund programs that undermine our security and humanity, and tax citizens who can best afford it and processes, like financial transactions, that are most entitled to taxation.  We could also use the $40 billion a month the Fed is currently spending on, as Mike Whitney has noted in detail, what amounts to garbage.  And the first beneficiaries should be the core elements of the safety net:  Social Security and Medicare.

A movement that united and mobilized to achieve such demands would be better informed and empowered and in a better position to achieve more fundamental change, while people who are struggling for the means of sustenance can’t even think about such things.  And if we add Jobs For All to the existing and expanded safety net, we’re on the way  a comprehensive program with enormous appeal to the entire 99%.  But we have to begin by climbing out of the trenches and taking the offensive.

This essay appeared in slightly different form at http://www.counterpunch.org/2012/11/23/taking-the-offensive-in-defense-of-the-safety-net/

[1] See Bill Black’s essay at http://neweconomicperspectives.org/2012/11/wall-street-uses-the-third-way-to-lead-its-assault-on-social-security.html  and buy a copy of his book at http://www.alibris.com/booksearch?keyword=The+Best+Way+To+Rob+A+Bank+Is+To+Own+One&mtype=B&hs.x=17&hs.y=12

[2] And by the way, military Keynesianism doesn’t work:  Military spending is not an effective general economic stimulus or job creator.  There is research suggesting military spending is one of the least effective ways to create jobs via the “Keynesian multipliers” flowing out of government expenditures.  See Franklin C. Spinney, “Will Military-Industrial-Congressional Complex Heave the Middle Class Off the Fiscal Cliff?  America’s Defense Dependency,” at http://www.counterpunch.org/2012/11/16/americas-defense-dependency.

[3] More details are in Bill Moyers’ January 13, 2012 interview, “Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson on Engineered Inequality,” vimeo and transcript both available at http://billmoyers.com/segment/jacob-hacker-paul-pierson-on-engineered-inequality/.  See also “America the Third-World Nation in Just 4 Easy Steps,” 10 November 2012 By Thom Hartmann and Sam Sacks, The Daily Take | at http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/12664-america-the-third-world-nation-in-just-4-easy-steps.

Proposed Demands for Occupy Wall Street: Jobs for All, Medicare for All, MORE Social Security

January 30, 2012

In a helpful review and constructive critique of the current status of the Occupy movement, Ismael Hossein-Zadeh makes several good suggestions.  And I’ve seen some other comments more recently that seem worth sharing with you, in case you haven’t seen them.  Hossein-Zadeh focuses on proposing demands for the movement, and as I generally agree with that approach, that discussion makes up the bulk of this entry.  But I also cite and quote some other commentaries here, to present a broader set of views to help you make your own assessment.

Here’s how Hossein-Zadeh sums up OWS’ achievement thus far:

Occupy Wall Street (OWS), giving vent to the pent up anger of the 99%, has inspired the people in the United States and other parts of the world to expose capitalism for what it is: a profit-driven system that tends to enrich and empower a tiny minority at the expense of everyone else. The movement has successfully shown how the two-party machine of the US politico-electoral system has increasingly become a charade, as the moneyed 1% is essentially in charge of the government. Regardless of its shortcomings and how it would evolve henceforth, the movement’s achievements have already been truly historical, as it signifies an auspicious awakening of the people and a new spirit to fight the injustice.”  http://www.counterpunch.org/2012/01/20/occupy-wall-street-at-the-crossroads/ 

It would be hard to deny the second observation, that the movement has focused public attention on how the two major parties and the government have come to be dominated by the rich.  But I have some reservations about whether the maldistribution of wealth and power can be attributed to capitalism as such.  It also appears that not all participants in the Occupy movements are against capitalism.  And finally, I’m not sure that replacing capitalism with some other form of economic organization is either possible, or necessary to address the problems raised by the movement.  I’ll expand on those reservations further below.

Commentators, mainstream and otherwise, have proposed that the movement formulate specific demands, or criticized it for not doing so.  Among those defending the absence of specific demands, one of the more thoughtful appeared in this past weekend’s Financial Times:

“The most prevalent criticism of the Occupy movement in the media is that it lacks a clear agenda or programme.  This misses the point.  What Ocupy is doing primarily is opening up a space – which you might call the space of deliberative democracy – as a necessary counterpoint to the often over-managed and media-controlled routines of official politics.  What will fill that space cannot, by definition, be decided in advance.”  Harry Eyres, “A Vital Space to Occupy,” FT January 28/29, 2012, Life & Arts p. 22, which I think you can access without a subscription at http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/2/fa644c86-428a-11e1-97b1-00144feab49a.html#axzz1ktEmml8C.

On the other hand, just a few days earlier, three members of the economics working group at Occupy London in fact suggested several issue areas to focus on:  Tax policy, the housing shortage, and income inequality.  See their discussion at http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/89d242b0-4687-11e1-89a8-00144feabdc0.html#axzz1ktEmml8C (David Dewhurst, Peter Dombi, and Naomi Colvin, “How Hayek helped us to find capitalism’s flaws,” FT, January 25, 2012).

And, there are several useful pieces in the February 2012 issue of Z Magazine, including this comment from Kevin Zeese  of Occupy Washington, DC on a major tactical issue that has bedeviled the movement:

“When we were organizing Occupy Washington, DC before Wall Street began, we were in conversations with movements around the world.  The Spanish indignados told us that an occupation should last no more than two weeks.  After that it becomes a diversion from the political objectives.  This has been experienced by occupiers around the country.

“Occupying for a short time accomplishes many of the objectives of holding public space – the political dialogue is affected, people are mobilized, and people can see that fellow citizens can effectively challenge the corporate state.  Staying for a lengthy period continues to deepen these goals, but the impacts are more limited and the costs get higher.”

As a subscriber, I’ve just read Kevin’s article on the goal of Occupy and several others, including one by Andy Kroll on how the 99% won a major victory in Ohio, and another by Frederick Nagel on electoral politics and OWS, in my hard copy of the February 2012 issue, but I believe selected articles from that issue will soon become available online.  Check at http://zcommunications.org/zmag.

Because I think the organizing impact of Occupy is its most important achievement so far, I repeat here my own assessment, from my December 2011 blog entry:

“To me, the most profound gift and achievement of Occupy Wall Street thus far is that it has catalyzed organizing for a better world.  Organizing is, after all, most fundamentally the development of common understandings and relationships of trust that enable people to act collectively to further their common interests.  From this perspective, OWS is already a success (if still only a beginning), in that it has changed the terms of popular discourse, and developed common understandings and relationships of trust, both by its actions and by the success of those actions in shining a spotlight that couldn’t be ignored on the maldistribution of wealth, income and power in our country.  And I think such organizing is not only critically important but perhaps the only possible answer to the seemingly intractable problems of our time.  We apparently face simultaneous climate change, resource depletion, and economic collapse, together with elites of wealth and power in control of a political and propaganda apparatus that makes addressing any of these problems, or even recognizing them, even more difficult than it would otherwise be.  I have worried that the situation could degenerate into chaos, a war of each against all.  The Occupy movement(s) can’t solve all of these problems, but perhaps by bringing back an emphasis and focus on the common good, they can contribute very substantially to easing the transition out of the world we know to the one that is emerging.  Maybe we can face the future helping one another, and producing and sharing the means of survival and community, in the spirit of the Occupations, rather than fighting over scraps that are inadequate, in any event, to go around.”

In the context of the all but hopeless situation we seemingly faced last fall, these achievements are truly monumental.  But to build on this beginning, where does the movement go from here?

Hossein-Zadeh discusses three major criticisms that have been made of OWS: (1) the vagueness of its demands and lack of a program for change; (2) lack or insufficient mobilization of working people; and (3) reluctance to organize and coordinate nationally.  After a very informative and useful discussion of these points, he concludes,

“The Occupy movement seems to be at a crossroads. It may continue with the self-imposed policy of ‘no leadership,’ ‘no program,’ ‘no organization’; limit itself to sporadic protest and occupation activities around general goals such as peace, democracy and social justice—and quite likely witness its gradual decline. Or it could grow and become a true vehicle for meaningful changes in favor of the 99% by making specific winnable demands, by communicating with and organizing the broader layers of the working people around such demands, and by building a nationwide political organization of, by and for the 99% with its own candidates for public office.”

Specific, Winnable Demands:  Jobs for All, Medicare for All, MORE & BETTER Social Security

As the collection of articles in Z and the piece in FT by Occupy London participants indicate, at least some Occupiers are willing to formulate demands, and are not averse to involvement in electoral politics.  My focus here is what the most useful demands might be in the context of US politics, society and culture, both for their own sake and as organizing vehicles.  As daunting as the task may seem, I think Hossein-Zadeh has come up with a very promising and simple program, with which I generally agree, in suggesting that the movement demand “jobs for all,” “Medicare for All,” and “no cuts in Social Security.”  At one point he formulates the healthcare demand, as “affordable healthcare for all.”  And his third demand is to “save Social Security.”  Since how we formulate or phrase things matters, I propose that we stick with “Medicare for all” as the healthcare demand, and that we work to INCREASE AND EXPAND rather than merely “save” Social Security.

I understand these demands “are more radical than the Democrats can stomach, but make some Occupiers yawn.”  Shamus Cooke, “Reform vs. Revolution Within Occupy,” http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=28196.  I have the summer and fall issues of Adbusters.  (If you don’t, you may want to get them:  http://www.adbusters.org/.  Adbusters is the Canadian magazine that has been credited with catalyzing the initial Occupation of Wall Street last fall).  I know that underlying some of the motivation to Occupy Wall Street is a profound disillusionment with consumerism and other attitudes and ways of life that have become dominant or at least widespread in our culture, but that not only fail to satisfy but indeed frustrate our ultimate and deepest needs and desires, and are destroying the biosphere, and with it the possibility of continuing life in any form remotely similar to what we now have, or have known.  It is to the resumption of that debt-driven consumerist way of life that the actions of the Obama administration  and the Fed are directed.  And I believe that the resurrection of that way of life, if it can be effected (though I don’t think it can), would renew and speed up that process of destruction, which has been slowed somewhat by the economic crisis.  So there are many who say we need more than “just” jobs, healthcare, and a good social safety net.  And they’re right.

And yet, “only a truly mass movement of working people has the potential to achieve the various [as yet inchoate] demands of the Occupy movement.”  [Shamus Cook’s article, above.]  To me, anything that buys time, by forestalling the dissolution of existing institutions – the good with the bad – and the possible descent into chaos, has the potential to broaden the base of resistance and allow time and room for creation of the conditions for continuing civility and civilized life, of community.  So the demands that may bore some people – jobs, Medicare, and MORE Social Security – which provides not only retirement security but aid to younger people with disabilities, by the way  – are eminently sensible and appealing to me.  A people that has united and mobilized to achieve such demands would be better informed and empowered and in a better position to achieve more fundamental change, while people who are struggling for the means of sustenance can’t even think about such things.  And if we add to my trio the demand that these things be paid for by taxing Wall Street, large corporations and the rich and substantially dismantling the war machine, we have the makings of a comprehensive program with enormous appeal to, if not the entire 99%, at least substantial majorities for each component and for the program as a whole.  So with that prelude, let’s take a look at Hossein-Zadeh’s suggestions in more detail.

“Jobs for all” speaks for itself and is pretty hard to misinterpret or confuse, and we have ample historical examples and precedent in the Works Progress Administration, Civilian Conservation Corps, and other New Deal programs.

I would shy away from formulating a demand as “affordable healthcare for all,” though, because the opposition and even many people in favor of the general idea may argue that there are many ways in which it might be fulfilled.  Some even argue that we already have affordable healthcare for all (based on the availability of emergency rooms).  Okay, I know that’s crazy, and cruel, but it’s what some people think, and argue.  And it’s important to Simplify, Simplify, and – did I mention the importance of simplicity?  Partly because there are devils waiting in the wings to kill any good social program with details, and anyway, in simplicity there is clarity.  So I would demand “Medicare for all,” because that demand is based on a specific, existing program, and expanding it to include everyone is the simplest way to meet the demand without risking confusion over the details, which are already practiced by the existing Medicare program.

Similarly, I would not formulate the third demand as “save Social Security,” because there are many ways in which that might be done, including by cutting benefits and increasing the eligibility age, both of which have been proposed by people whose real goal is ultimately to gut the program.  I would formulate the third demand as, “MORE Social Security,” by which I mean, EXPAND the program to lower the retirement age and increase benefits.  This would not only directly help a great many people, but would be a useful stimulant to the macro-economy.  More detail is available from Steven Hill, “Don’t Cut Social Security, DOUBLE It,” http://archive.truthout.org/dont-cut-social-security-double-it64139 and Joshua Holland, “We’re Being Conned on Social Security – How We Could Easily Raise Benefits or Allow People to Retire Earlier,” http://www.alternet.org/story/148082/we%27re_being_conned_on_social_security_–_how_we_could_easily_raise_benefits_or_allow_people_to_retire_earlier?page=entire.   Demanding MORE Social Security also has the advantage of seizing the initiative, playing offense instead of defense, and combining clarity with simplicity.

Why the Resistance from Occupy Wall Street?

Hossein-Zadeh gives an example of an effort to have a practical demand adopted by OWN.  On December 18, 2011, the “Demands Working Group” proposed the following demand to the New York City General Assembly:

“JOBS FOR ALL—A Massive Public Works and Public Service Program:

“We demand a democratically-controlled public works and public service program, with direct government employment, to create 25 million new jobs at good union wages. The new jobs will go to meeting the needs of the 99%, including education, healthcare, housing, mass transit, and clean energy. The program will be funded by raising taxes on the rich and corporations and by ending all U.S. wars. Employment in the program will be open to all, regardless of immigration status or criminal record” [6. “Proposal for Sunday, 12/18, General Assembly: Jobs for All – Demands Working Group”: http://www.nycga.net/2011/12/18/proposal-for-saturday-1217-general-assemblyjobs-for-all-demands-working-group/].

Hossein-Zadeh reports that this Proposal did not pass the General Assembly.  I don’t know how I could determine why it didn’t, and in any case have not had time to try, but the fact certainly gives one pause.  I suggested above some reasons why the demands I’m advocating here might make some Occupiers yawn, and reflect a bit further here on some of the possibilities.  These thoughts go not just to rejection of the above Proposal by the General Assembly in NYC, but also to some other issues my proposed demands might raise.

I can only speculate, but perhaps OWS might be reluctant to endorse demands favoring Medicare or Social Security in part because of the relative youth of many of its participants.  Although I know it’s something of an obsession even for many young people now, and catastrophic medical problems can certainly strike at any age, at least in my own early twenties I was not terribly concerned about medical insurance, let alone retirement income, and many young people (and others of all ages) have been deceived (by a very well organized propaganda campaign) into thinking that Social Security can’t possibly last, and won’t be available to them in their later years.  And it’s understandable that people concerned about getting a job in this impossible market and putting food on the table, and perhaps paying off student loans in the process, would have a hard time focusing on their retirement income.  All I can say is that as organizing tools, and as practical and realistic demands, I respectfully recommend the three-part focus on jobs, healthcare, and security in old age, formulated as “Jobs for All,” “Medicare for All,” and “MORE Social Security.”

These three demands, and the demand that they be paid for by taxing Wall Street, large corporations, and the rich, and by dismantling much of the war machine, have several great things in common.  As poll after poll has shown, they are, or have the potential to be, enormously popular with the great mass of the public.  Each would give a much-needed helping hand to millions of people in need, while also stimulating the economy as a whole, so the total benefit would be even greater than the sum of its parts.  And together they would promote both the reality of the common good and the underlying idea that we should care about and for one another, that we have interests in common that we can and should address collectively, through government as well as other forms of social organization. That we need not and should not be engaged in a perpetual war of each against all. That core idea, along with the living standards of the 99%, has been under relentless attack for several decades now, and each of the proposed demands is a blockbuster defense.  Simply by demanding that Social Security be DOUBLED, OWS could transform the debate on that subject, putting advocates of cuts on the defensive and focusing attention on the benefits of the program, and the ease of expanding and strengthening it.

Regarding the relentless attack on the common good that has been going on for at least 30 years, a very good overview is in Bill Moyers’ January 13, 2012 interview, “Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson on Engineered Inequality,” vimeo and transcript both available at http://billmoyers.com/segment/jacob-hacker-paul-pierson-on-engineered-inequality/.  I also recommend my Financial & Economic Crisis: An Assessment and Action Plan (http://healingjustice.wordpress.com/the-financial-and-economic-crisis-an-assessment-and-action-plan/), for an analysis of the problem and some rudimentary suggestions as to how we might transition to a new and sustainable economy.

To Vote, or Not To Vote?

So what is to be done in order to implement these demands?  The recent, amazing and successful lobbying effort to stave off repressive regulation of the internet shows that even without taking to the streets, it’s possible for people to mobilize and defeat powerful forces.  And the Occupy movement has shown that taking to the streets can also be effective, at least up to a (very important) point.  But some people who want fundamental, compassionate change, perhaps including many Occupiers, may balk at the idea that we should vote at all, let alone try to run candidates for office and build a political machine or party to do so.  Chris Hedges stands out, at least in my mind, as one of those who argue that the ballot box is useless and nothing but direct action is meaningful in the present crisis.  But as I’ve argued before, and as Noam Chomsky frequently points out,

“[W]e do still have enormous freedom to agitate, organize, protest and struggle for change. The ballot box isn’t useless, it just isn’t being used nearly enough. But we still have it. And for its use to be more effective, we need a great many more people who recognize our real problems and demand that our political structures and players address them. It isn’t yet quite true, as Leonard Cohen said so long ago, that ‘the cities they are broke in half, and the middlemen are gone.’ So ‘let me ask you one more time, O children of the dust: All these hunters who are shrieking now, do they speak for us?’

“But it won’t be enough to ask just one more time. We need to keep asking, nagging, agitating, informing, sharing information and analysis – in a word, organizing – to build a sufficient and sustained opposition to the evils of our time, and to regain and defend the commons and the common good.”  http://healingjustice.wordpress.com/2010/11/

To say that we should mobilize at the ballot box is not to say that a new party needs to be built from scratch.  That is one option, but there are also several organizations working to build alternative political parties – check them out.  There are also organizations working to reform the Democratic Party.  Daunting or perhaps hopeless as that task may appear, I still take some encouragement from the work of Progressive Democrats of America, which works both inside and outside the Democratic Party, and endorses a very limited list of candidates.  For my money – or vote – it would be hard to beat, as a candidate, Elizabeth Warren, now running for the US Senate from Massachusetts.  I mention these details to illustrate the alternatives, but my basic point is, as  Hossein-Zadeh suggests, there is nothing quite so effective to pressure an officeholder as an alternative candidate running or threatening to run against him or her.  So it seems, well, quixotic to eschew the electoral process in favor of exclusively street actions, for the same reasons it seems inadvisable to refrain from formulating any specific demands.

A footnote to the discussion:  What about capitalism?

I understand many participants in OWS consider capitalism as intrinsically flawed, and believe at least some would demand some sort of revolutionary restructuring of our economy and society.  Personally, I’m not sure an economic system has yet been devised which is not in some sense flawed or at least, subject to abuse by those in power.  I understand there are people who think having government do just about anything is “socialism.”  But that deprives the word of useful meaning.  If socialism is defined as public/government ownership of the means of production, I don’t see it as a solution to all the problems created by our current economic system.  I actually think the ultimate answer lies in the direction of decentralized, more walkable communities, with more participatory forms of government than we now have, and that might be more practical on a small-scale, local or regional basis.  But how do we get there from here?  I would favor a nonviolent, incremental or evolutionary approach to a restructured economy, with the details necessarily emerging gradually over time.  I tried to at least hint at some of the directions such a restructuring might take toward the end of my paper on the Financial & Economic Crisis, http://healingjustice.wordpress.com/the-financial-and-economic-crisis-an-assessment-and-action-plan/.

In any case, to me, power is the key variable, and the ultimate problem is its unfair or repressive exercise.  “Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely.”  So I think the fundamental problem we face now arises from the concentration of power and its inevitably repressive exercise, and the failure of the 99% thus far to confront and resist it effectively.  And so the answer, for me, lies in developing and exercising the political will to restructure the economy, and in organizing to make that possible.

On a longer-term, evolutionary basis, greater decentralization seems both desirable and inevitable.  And the more organized we are, the more smoothly that evolution can take place, and the more humane and compassionate the outcome can be.

But to the extent it makes sense to address problems on a national level, I propose that we demand jobs for all, Medicare for all, and MORE Social Security.  And doing so does not require, and need not await, the overthrow of capitalism as such.  In fact, as one who grew up in the Fifties and Sixties of twentieth century US, I think fondly of the so-called “mixed” economy, with a relatively progressive tax structure, a smaller and controllable financial sector, and a limited welfare state, that we had then.  It’s the dismantling of the domestic safety net built by FDR and LBJ and the movements that pressured them that has led us to the present pass, and the deregulation of the financial and other key sectors, by Bill Clinton’s repeal of Glass-Steagall as much as anything else, that have pushed us to, if not quite yet over, the brink.  Interestingly, I find a useful statement on this topic in a recent Financial Times editorial, “Ruling capitalism”:

“By capitalism, we mean well-regulated free-enterprise economies – systems where resources are governed mostly by the responsible choices of private individuals, within ground rules that are clear, consistent and immune from bias in favor of any special interest.  …

“The excesses that drove the bubble and the breakdown that followed happened because leaders forgot that free enterprise requires rules.  When some people benefit not from bringing useful products to market but stopping others from doing so; when some takes risks from which they reap the gains but others face the losses; when many are deprived of opportunities to make their way in the job market – that is not capitalism but an economy captured by cliques.”  FT, January 27, 2012.

Personally I find the FT’s view of capitalism somewhat utopian, or perhaps I should say naïve, in that the editors seem to believe the system can be made to work fairly toward the common good by the adoption of proper rules by the leadership and the exercise of moral values by capitalists themselves.  While Adam Smith certainly recognized and indeed assumed the key role morality should play in an economic system, it seems clear that the control of capitalist excesses requires, in addition, the exercise of political control by an organized people.  But making capitalism function humanely seems to me ultimately to present no more of a problem than we might encounter with any economic system.

So where do we go from here?  National Organization and Coordination?  A Solidarity Social Forum in Olympia

Hossein-Zadeh usefully discusses the promise of national organization and coordination in his article, at pp. 4-6, and I have nothing to add here to that discussion, at  (http://www.counterpunch.org/2012/01/20/occupy-wall-street-at-the-crossroads/).  There are both strengths and weaknesses in a decentralized movement.  But as for what comes next, in case you haven’t already heard, the Alliance for Global Justice, fiscal sponsor of OWS, has announced a Social Forum to be hosted by Occupy Olympia (WA) and held in Olympia this February 18-19.  For details, check in with the Alliance at http://afgj.org/occupy-wall-street-fiscal-sponsorships-the-alliance-for-global-justice, and see http://occupyolympia.org/ossf-2012/.  Then spread the word!

Has Fukushima Radiation Already Killed 14,000 Americans? Will It Kill A Million Japanese?

January 28, 2012

The authors of a study recently published in a peer-reviewed journal assemble evidence suggesting that Fukushima radiation has already killed 14,000 Americans.  Details of their work are reported on Washington’s Blog (December 24, 2011) (copied below), and of course, in the study itself.

But when I recently tried to locate the study using the authors’ names and a few other key words, I discovered that the study has been roundly criticized by a variety of sources.  If you’re interested in those criticisms, you can find them readily enough; just plug “Sherman Mangano Fukushima” into your search engine and let ‘er rip.

My purpose here though is to draw attention again to the fact that the failure of the US, Canadian and other governments to gather and share data continues to make it impossible to have an open scientific debate about what is happening, even as our exposure to radiation from Fukushima continues.  For some of the details of this problem, sources of documentation, and some suggestions for giving yourself and others the limited protection you can, see my blog entries of May and March 2011.  Some of the highlights:

First, there is no safe dose of radiation.  That is absolutely clear.  The National Academy of Sciences recently concluded that the preponderance of scientific evidence shows even very low doses of radiation pose a risk of cancer or other health problems and it is unlikely that a threshold exists below which exposure can be viewed as harmless.  According to Richard R. Monson, chairman of the review panel and a professor of epidemiology at Harvard’s School of Public Health, “The scientific research base shows that there is no threshold of exposure below which low levels of ionized radiation can be demonstrated to be harmless or beneficial.”

Comforting statements about the safety of low radiation are not even accurate for adults.  Small increases in risk per individual have immense consequences in the aggregate.  When low risk is accepted for billions of people, there will be millions of victims.  And our culture is entirely too casual about exposing us to radiation in various forms.  For example, common, low-dose dental x-rays more than double the rate of thyroid cancer.  Those exposed to repeated dental x-rays have an even higher risk of thyroid cancer.  http://healingjustice.wordpress.com/2011/03/.

Besides failing to gather the data that would permit a full-scale scientific analysis, governments downplay the risks of radiation in the very criteria by which they purpose to assess such risk.  As Washington’s Blog notes, “radiation safety standards are set based on the assumption that everyone exposed is a healthy man in his 20s – and that radioactive particles ingested into the body cause no more damage than radiation hitting the outside of the body.

“However – in the real world – radiation affects small children much more than full-grown adults. And small particles of radiation – called ‘internal emitters’ – which get inside the body are much more dangerous than general exposures to radiation.”  Washington’s Blog, December 24, 2011.

Nuclear engineer Arnie Gunderson says that the Japanese will suffer one million cancer deaths from Fukushima, and that we’ll see a statistically meaningful increase in cancer on the West Coast of America and Canada from Fukushima. Gundersen says that – after Japan – the most radioactive areas are the Cascades and Portland.

And in another recent development, French researchers have confirmed that childhood leukemia rates “are shockingly elevated among children living near nuclear power reactors.”  John Laforge, http://www.counterpunch.org/2012/01/26/childhood-leukemia-spikes-near-nuclear-power-plants/ (January 26, 2012).

Washington’s Blog has done a fine job of discussing the reasons the number of deaths we’ve already experienced from the Fukushima disaster is controversial, and one of the ways in which our exposure is continuing.  So to make its findings more conveniently accessible, I copy below the December 24, 2011 and August 14, 2011 entries from Washington’s Blog (http://www.washingtonsblog.com/author/washingtonsblog):

Study: Fukushima Radiation Has Already Killed 14,000 Americans

Posted on December 24, 2011 by WashingtonsBlog

Already 14,000 U.S. Deaths From Fukushima ?

A new study published in the peer-reviewed journal International Journal of Health Services alleges that 14,000 people have already died in the United States due to Fukushima.

Specifically, the authors of the study claim:

An estimated 14,000 excess deaths in the United States are linked to the radioactive fallout from the disaster at the Fukushima nuclear reactors in Japan, according to a major new article in the December 2011 edition of the International Journal of Health Services. This is the first peer-reviewed study published in a medical journal documenting the health hazards of Fukushima.

[The authors] note that their estimate of 14,000 excess U.S. deaths in the 14 weeks after the Fukushima meltdowns is comparable to the 16,500 excess deaths in the 17 weeks after the Chernobyl meltdown in 1986. The rise in reported deaths after Fukushima was largest among U.S. infants under age one. The 2010-2011 increase for infant deaths in the spring was 1.8 percent, compared to a decrease of 8.37 percent in the preceding 14 weeks.

The authors seem – at first glance – to have pretty solid credentials. Janette Sherman, M.D. worked for the Atomic Energy Commission (forerunner of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission) at the University of California in Berkeley, and for the U.S. Navy Radiation Defense Laboratory in San Francisco. She served on the EPA’s advisory board for 6 years, and has been an advisor to the National Cancer Institute on breast cancer. Dr. Sherman specializes in internal medicine and toxicology with an emphasis on chemicals and nuclear radiation.

Joseph J. Mangano is a public health administrator and researcher who has studied the connection between low-dose radiation exposure and subsequent risk of diseases such as cancer and damage to newborns. He has published numerous articles and letters in medical and other journals in addition to books, including Low Level Radiation and Immune System Disorders: An Atomic Era Legacy.

Sherman also claims that a study in British Columbia of infants under 1 year of age allegedly corroborates the increased deaths due to Fukushima:

But a Scientific American blog post and Med Page Today slam the study as being voodoo science. However, Scientific American does admit:

Certainly radiation from Fukushima is dangerous, and could very well lead to negative health effects—even across the Pacific.

What Do Other Experts Say?

Pediatrician Helen Caldicott said recently:

May I say that North America has received quite a large fallout itself.

***

We’re going to see an incredible increase in cancer, leukemia, and — down the time track — genetic disease. Not just in Japan but in the Northern Hemisphere, particularly North America.

Caldicott also wrote in a New York Times Op-Ed:

Children are innately sensitive to the carcinogenic effects of radiation, fetuses even more so. Like Chernobyl, the accident at Fukushima is of global proportions. Unusual levels of radiation have been discovered in British Columbia, along the West Coast and East Coast of the United States and in Europe, and heavy contamination has been found in oceanic waters.

Nuclear engineer Gunderson says that the Japanese will suffer one million cancer deaths from Fukushima, and that we’ll see a statistically meaningful increase in cancer on the West Coast of America and Canada from Fukushima. Gundersen says that – after Japan – the most radioactive areas are the Cascades and Portland.

There is certainly evidence that West Coast residents – especially in Seattle, Portland and other areas near the Cascades – have been hit with some radiation. And there is certainly evidence that radioactive contamination has spread in the United States, and will continue to spread for some time to come.

Why Is The Science So Hotly Debated?

Why is there so much dispute about the number of deaths which Fukushima could cause on the West Coast?

Because radiation safety standards are set based on the assumption that everyone exposed is a healthy man in his 20s – and that radioactive particles ingested into the body cause no more damage than radiation hitting the outside of the body.

However – in the real world – radiation affects small children much more than full-grown adults. And small particles of radiation – called “internal emitters” – which get inside the body are much more dangerous than general exposures to radiation. See this and this.

In addition, American and Canadian authorities have virtually stopped monitoring airborn radiation, and are not testing fish for radiation. (Indeed, the EPA reacted to Fukushima by raising “acceptable” radiation levels.)

So – as in Japan – radiation is usually discovered by citizens and the handful of research scientists with funding to check, and not the government. See this, this, this, this, this and this.

The Japanese government’s entire strategy from day one has been to cover up the severity of the Fukushima accident. This has likely led to unnecessary, additional deaths.

Indeed, the core problem is that all of the world’s nuclear agencies are wholly captured by the nuclear industry … as are virtually all of the supposedly independent health agencies.

So the failure of the American, Canadian and other governments to test for and share results is making it difficult to hold an open scientific debate about what is happening.

Nuclear Expert: Radioactive Rain-Outs Will Continue For a Year – Even In Western U.S. and Canada – Because Japanese Are Burning Radioactive Materials

Posted on August 14, 2011 by WashingtonsBlog

Nuclear expert Arnie Gundersen says in a new interview that the Japanese are burning radioactive materials. The radioactivity originated from Fukushima, but various prefectures are burning radioactive materials in their terroritories.

Gundersen says that this radioactivity ends up not only in neighboring prefectures, but in Hawaii, British Columbia, Oregon, Washington and California.

He notes that radioactive rain-outs were documented recently in British Columbia and Oklahoma with geiger counters.

Gundersen says that we’ll see another year of radioactive rain-outs, as the Japanese continue to burn radioactive materials.

Cover Up By American and Canadian Governments

Gundersen has a high-level contact in the State Department who says that the U.S. government has decided – within various agencies, including the State Department, FDA, and other agencies – to downplay the dangers from Fukushima. Because of this policy decision, the government is not really testing for radiation.

Gundersen is working with scientists who will publish a paper in the near future definitively debunking Canadian and American health officials’ claims that only harmless levels of radiation are being released.

Click here to listen to the interview.

See this for background.

Would Jesus Occupy Wall Street?

December 18, 2011

As I was writing Christmas and Hanukkah cards this evening, I began thinking about Jesus of Nazareth, whose birthday is celebrated at Christmas, and who is said to have been a Jewish carpenter.  Nowadays carpenters are skilled workers who may be reasonably well off, at least when the economy is doing its job.  But in Jesus’ day, artisans like carpenters, along with prostitutes, beggars, and bandits, were among the destitute who had been driven off the land by confiscatory taxation and the commercializing Roman Empire, as practices like the forgiveness of debt were replaced by exploitation and foreclosure.

Perhaps someone has already done this, but in case not, I think it’s time to ask:  If Jesus were with us bodily today and living in the United States, is there any serious question where he would stand on the Occupy Wall Street movement?  And if he were living in your community, what would he say (or do) about Occupy Portland, or Boston, or Chicago, or Eugene, or New York, or any of the scores (hundreds?) of other places people have gathered to protest the obscene maldistribution of wealth, income and political power in our society?  After all, wasn’t Jesus, during his public ministry, among the homeless of his time?  The Son of Man had no place to lay his head.

It might be said that bringing Jesus’ name to bear on contemporary politics trivializes his life and teachings, which are concerned with a “higher” plane of existence.  But having spent much of my spare time for twenty years reading dozens of books about the historical Jesus, I agree with those scholars who say his primary concern was with systemic injustice, with which our economy and political system are rife, and that he stood with the destitute against the empire of his time.  It even appears that he was a (the first?) community organizer.  There is more, of course, but I develop these and related themes in the essay below, first published on the CounterPunch site last Xmas Eve, and invite you to consider these things this Season.

It may be useful first to clarify what I mean by the Occupy Wall Street movement.  Those who have participated in the many occupations through the US have been accused of not having expressed a clear set of goals.  It’s true they have spoken with many voices, but the insistence on a set of specific demands is misplaced, if not disingenuous.   Still, I’d like to be clear about what I have in mind as the meaning of OWS.

To me, the most profound gift and achievement of Occupy Wall Street thus far is that it has catalyzed organizing for a better world.  Organizing is, after all, most fundamentally the development of common understandings and relationships of trust that enable people to act collectively to further their common interests.  From this perspective, OWS is already a success (if still only a beginning), in that it has changed the terms of popular discourse, and developed common understandings and relationships of trust, both by its actions and by the success of those actions in shining a spotlight that couldn’t be ignored on the maldistribution of wealth, income and power in our country.  And I think such organizing is not only critically important but perhaps the only possible answer to the seemingly intractable problems of our time.  We apparently face simultaneous climate change, resource depletion, and economic collapse, together with elites of wealth and power in control of a political and propaganda apparatus that makes addressing any of these problems, or even recognizing them, even more difficult than it would otherwise be.  I have worried that the situation could degenerate into chaos, a war of each against all.  The Occupy movement(s) can’t solve all of these problems, but perhaps by bringing back an emphasis and focus on the common good, they can contribute very substantially to easing the transition out of the world we know to the one that is emerging.  Maybe we can face the future helping one another, and producing and sharing the means of survival and community, in the spirit of the Occupations, rather than fighting over scraps that are inadequate, in any event, to go around.

I’ve written extensively on the financial and economic crisis — and proposed solutions, none of which have been implemented — in previous entries in this blog.  But at times I’ve wondered whether some of my concerns were not a bit overdone, with respect to the possible political consequences of the continuation or worsening of current economic conditions.  Thanks to OWS, some of the most prominent and thoughtful voices in the mainstream media (yes, I think there are a few such) have expressed similar concerns.  For example, Martin Wolf, economics commentator for The Financial Times (London), the world’s premier financial newspaper, wrote recently:  “Darker forms of politics are waiting in the wings:  nationalism, racism.  We do not need to watch this tragedy again.”  (“The big questions raised by anti-capitalist protests,” FT, October 27, 2011).  Paraphrasing Wolf and seconding these concerns, William Pfaff, editorial page columnist for the International Herald Tribune in Paris, wrote a few weeks later that “it was not the hyperinflation Germany experienced after the First World War, but rather the brutal and seemingly interminable Depression and unemployment that followed the crash, that created the conditions in which German democracy collapsed.”  As Pfaff continued, “Its successor, National Socialism, ended the Depression and put the German economy back on its feet.  In case anyone has forgotten.”  And in the same piece, Pfaff observes, “The Occupiers dismiss [the] demand for a program as contrary to the spirit of the Occupation.  There is not and cannot be an agreed-upon program because that is not the nature of the movement, which is against ‘the system.’…How, after all, can ‘the system’ be changed?  Well first, justice could be done.  That is what people want:  justice.”  (“What Occupiers Should Ask For but What They Won’t Get,” November 16, 2011, http://www.williampfaff.com/modules/news/article.php?storyid=547.)

For more elaborate statements on the meaning and import of OWS and our current situation, I’d also suggest to your attention these further commentaries:  “Belittling the Occupy Movement – By Eugene [Oregon] Occupier Samuel Rutledge (November 20, 2011), http://occupyeugenemedia.org/2011/11/20/belittling-the-occupy-movement-by-eugen-occupier-samuel-rutledge/; Mike King, “Occupations and the Fulfillment of Human Need:  The Vacancies of Capitalism” (November 30, 2011), http://www.counterpunch.org/2011/11/30/the-vacancies-of-capitalism/; and incidentally, as a little encouragement for those of us who still hope there might still be hope and that thinking things through might help to produce it, historian Gabriel Kolko’s “Menu for Today’s Tricky Planet:  Use Your Head” (November 17, 2011), http://www.counterpunch.org/2011/11/17/menu-for-today%E2%80%99s-tricky-planet-use-your-head/.

But now on to the main event, my portrait (gleaned almost entirely from the work of others, as cited) of Jesus of Nazareth as a community organizer, whose teachings and values were substantially commensurate with those of Occupy Wall Street:

Up Against the Empire:  Celebrating the Rebel Jesus

Tell me say, What kind of man this Jesus is, my lord?/ He come to my heart, and my heart opened up.

– Buffy Ste.-Marie, “Ananais”

The media distorted parts of Jesus’ message right from the start. The Gospels, and the first generation of Jesus’ followers, effectively altered or hid his more radical teachings, and what has been preached from a million pulpits and that we still get from many today is a gross distortion. Jesus was not preoccupied with individual “sin” but with systemic injustice, in opposition to the commercializing empire of his time. The historical Jesus disclosed by contemporary scholarship appears to be fundamentally the same as the Jesus who is preached and practiced in the Catholic Worker movement, for example. And the parallels between his conflict with Rome and our own with imperial America are striking indeed.

Then as now, the maldistribution of wealth was quite severe, with peasants comprising the bulk of the population. “The term peasant … denotes a relationship of exploitation in which the vast majority who produce the food on which everyone and everything depends are consistently relieved of their surplus, so that a small minority have a huge surplus while most remain at a subsistence level. Simply: a peasant is a systematically exploited farmer.” John Dominic Crossan, The Essential Jesus 4 (1995). Being a Jewish peasant had its saving moments, however, because of “a traditional ideology of land … enshrined in the ancient Pentateuchal laws.” Just as the people were to rest on the seventh or Sabbath Day, so God’s land was to rest on the seventh or Sabbath Year, when Jewish debts were to be remitted and Jewish slaves released. Exodus 23:10-11; Deuteronomy 15:1-3, 12-14,” Id. 5-6. And in the “Jubilee Year, the year after seven sets of Sabbath Years, all expropriated lands and even village houses, though not city ones, were to revert to their original or traditional owners. Leviticus 25:10, 18. “While the Jubilee Year was most likely no longer implemented at all by the first century, the Sabbath Year was probably still more or less enforced.” Id. 6. Those ancient laws “refuse to see debt, slavery, or land expropriation simply as business transactions. The land is a divine possession not a negotiable commodity[:] … ‘The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine; with me you are but aliens and tenants.’” Leviticus 25:23.

By Jesus’ day, however, the Roman Empire was no longer a traditional but a commercialized agrarian empire. To the Roman imperialist, land accumulation was a sensible business practice and debt foreclosure the best and quickest way to accomplish it. Crossan, The Essential Jesus 6. In first century Palestine, the Jewish peasantry was being pushed into debt and displaced from its holdings at unusually high rates, since land became, under the commercialized Roman economy, less an ancestral inheritance never to be abandoned and more an entrepreneurial commodity rapidly to be exploited. As higher rates of imperial and Herodian taxation forced increasing numbers of peasants from their land, there developed a growing class of destitute people with few options. One could become an artisan, a prostitute, a beggar, or a bandit. In this context Jesus of Nazareth appeared, the son of an artisan.

“Repent and believe in the gospel.” But “repentance” is not about a feeling of penitance for individual sins. It means a turning, at a more fundamental level, of the heart and soul to God. Marcus J. Borg, Jesus: A New Vision 122 n. 74, and 163-164 (1987). “The prophets called Israel to repent, which meant to turn or return, and which referred primarily to a change in Israel’s collective life, and not simply to a change in individual lives.” Id., 153 text and n. 13. Belief in the gospel does not mean merely to believe, as a condition of salvation, in certain doctrines or teachings, but to “give one’s heart to” the good news that the Kingdom of God is at hand. See Marcus J. Borg, Meeting Jesus Again For The First Time 137 (1995). And the Kingdom entails both religious and political meanings, in a situation of imperial domination and colonial exploitation. “The phrase evokes an ideal vision of political and religious power, of how this world here below would be run if God, not Caesar, sat on the imperial throne.” John Dominic Crossan, The Essential Jesus 7-8.

In the Kingdom of God, it is not the rich who are favored, but the destitute. As destitute people flocked to Jesus to hear his teaching and to see or be cured by his mighty works, he taught them by the example of his life, as well. Be compassionate as God is compassionate. (Luke 6:36; see Marcus J. Borg, Meeting Jesus Again 46, text and fn. 1.) Judge not, lest you be judged. If you have two coats and your brother has none, give one to your brother. Never refuse alms to one who asks for them. What you do for the least of these, you do for me. Love your neighbor as yourself. And who is my neighbor? A broken stranger lying by the side of the road. Eating and drinking, Jesus practiced open commensality, shared table fellowship, that mirrored many of his stories in their radical egalitarianism. He practiced free healing, declining to set up a brokered healing business that would stay in one place and let his disciples mediate access to him for a fee. Instead, he was always on the move for the next town, personally and directly accessible, and always performed, as it were, free of charge. He didn’t make people dependent on his power: he empowered them.

The stories of Jesus’ interactions with women are remarkable. First century Judaism was deeply patriarchal. Women had few rights; they could not be witnesses in a court of law, or initiate a divorce. They were not to be taught the Torah and were to be separated from men in public life. Respectable women did not go out of the house unescorted by a family member; adult women were to be veiled in public. But Jesus defended the woman who entered an all-male banquet, unveiled and with her hair unbraided, and washed his feet with her hair. While being hosted by Mary and Martha, he affirmed Mary’s choice of the role of disciple. And of course, he spoke to the Samaritan woman at the well. Women were apparently part of the itinerant group traveling with Jesus; the movement itself was financially supported by some wealthy women. And the evidence is compelling that women played leadership roles in the early post-Easter community. Marcus Borg, Meeting Jesus Again For the First Time 57 (1995).

“When you go into any land and walk about in the districts, if they receive you, eat what they will set before you, and heal the sick among them.” Gospel of Thomas 14:2. See also Luke 10:4-11 = Matt 10:8-14 and Mark 6:8-13 = Matt 10:8-10a, 11 = Luke 9:2-6. John Dominic Crossan in a study based in part on the Didache argues persuasively that the itinerants who went out preaching the gospel in the century or so following Jesus’ ministry offered free healing in exchange for a meal, carrying on the practice mentioned, briefly, in the Gospels. Crossan, The Essential Jesus 9-10, and The Birth of Christianity, passim. Crossan speculates that the disciples were sent out two by two because one of them was likely female in many cases, and the two would travel as a couple for the woman’s protection.

The Kingdom movement was thus a form of community organizing, Jesus’ program of empowerment for a peasantry becoming steadily more hard-pressed through insistent taxation, indebtedness, and eventual loss of land, within the commercialized Roman Empire under Augustan peace and a Lower Galilee under Herodian urbanization. “Jesus lived, against the systemic injustice and structural evil of that situation, an alternative open to all who would accept it: a life of [free] healing and shared eating, of radical itinerancy, programmatic homelessness, and fundamental egalitarianism, of human contact without discrimination, and of divine contact without hierarchy. He also died for that alternative.” Crossan, The Essential Jesus 12.

The parallels with contemporary events could scarcely be more clear, or more striking. The form of globalization promoted by the elites of the rich countries and their instruments such as the IMF and the World Bank have driven peasants the world over off their land and into lives and early deaths of destitution. For example, “[p]rior to the 1910 revolution, wealthy landowners had confiscated most of indigenous Mexico’s communal farmland, reducing the campesinos to a state of serfdom. … [L]argely through the struggle of Zapata and his followers … the Mexican constitution of 1917, [in] Article 27, guaranteed the return and protection of communal land to farmers. … [A]lthough land reform [thus] became law in Mexico, it was only partially carried out. However, on January 1, 1994, as a condition of Mexico’s joining the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), Article 27 of the Mexican constitution was abolished. An organization of Mayan Indians from the state of Chiapas, calling themselves the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN), recognized this abolition as a death sentence for Mexico’s rural indigenous population. NAFTA would force farmers who could not compete with foreign investors’ technology and equipment off the land, thus opening up a wealth of cheap land and labor for exploitation by international corporations.” Donald Nollar, “Fighting For Our Lives,” Catholic Agitator (May, 2001), p. 1.

The rest has become part of our recent history, and is still going on. Similar scenarios have played out all across the globe. The rich countries continue to enforce protectionist policies and provide subsidies for their own basic industries, while demanding access to the markets of developing countries. “Free trade” is a euphemism for unfair trade. Protectionism is the only way any country has ever developed a domestic industrial base. The destruction of trade barriers and other mechanisms have, however, opened up many Third World countries to imports from the rich countries, resulting in the devastation of Third World industries, agriculture, and entire economies. Haiti is one of the more heart-rending examples.

And the commercializing empires of the industrialized world seek to reduce everything that was once regarded as personal or unique or holy to the status of interchangeable, salable commodities, demanding that all resources, including human beings, be accessible for exploitation, ostensibly to maximize production and thus promote the common good. But we all know what a rising tide does to those who have no boats, and it’s happening every minute of every day to people throughout the world.

At this point, the very idea of the common good is under relentless attack. That’s what is so evil about the current attacks on Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and the safety net generally, such as it still is. The real animus behind these attacks is hostility to the idea of the common good, the notion that we should care about and for one another, the very idea that we have interests in common that we can and should address collectively, through government as well as other forms of social organization. But caring for one another is our natural state, so a sustained program of propaganda is in place to persuade us to think only of wealth, forgetting all but self.

And what I think we need not only to counter these forces but to build community for its own sake is organizing: the development of common understandings and relationships of trust that will enable enough of us to act collectively, constructively, in coordination, to redeem the commons and serve the common good. Given that the airwaves are saturated with lies, the truth needs to be shared through other means: mind-to-mind, hand-to-hand, person-to-person, sometimes but not necessarily face-to-face and one-on-one. That’s what organizing ultimately is, and it can be accomplished in a variety of ways, including by the written as well as the spoken word.

We are called upon, in the present age, to oppose the forces of injustice and oppression, and to defend the commons, our common humanity, and the common good, and with them our neighbors, including and especially the most vulnerable among us. We are called by our very nature, our needs as human beings for fulfillment through relationship and community. This Season, we also hear the call from the movement to Occupy Wall Street.  And in answering that call, we have the powerful and heroic example of the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth – as Jackson Browne has aptly called him, the rebel Jesus.

All That Used To Be Solid: Obama’s Raw Deal

August 3, 2011

I turn 65 this month and so my primary health insurance shifts from a private policy to Medicare. I also have an appointment this morning to talk with an agent of the Social Security Administration about beginning to claim the benefits that have been piling up since I got my job at one of the first fast-food outlets – New Jersey’s Dutch Hut, which briefly, back in 1963, was competition for the McDonald’s that had just opened up across town. That was after having started work two years earlier, when I was 14 years old and got my working papers, as a caddy at the local country club, a job that didn’t involve contributions to Social Security.

So I paid my dues for over 40 years and am just about to collect. I know the benefits will be there – up to a point – as Social Security isn’t yet quite melting into air. (Though as I begin to re-read Marshall Berman’s excellent book of that title, it’s the phrase that comes most readily to mind.) But Obama’s answer to the New Deal and the Great Society that enacted Social Security and Medicare, respectively, will begin chipping away at these hard-earned benefits, misleadingly – and cynically – labeled “entitlements.”

I owe the phrase Raw Deal, by the way, to Showdown In America, http://showdowninamerica.org/, a “national bank accountability campaign coordinated by National People’s Action (http://npa-us.org/), a network of community power organizations from across the country that work to advance a national economic and racial justice agenda.” Mike Whitney (http://www.counterpunch.org/whitney08012011.html) , Dean Baker (http://www.counterpunch.org/baker07052011.html), Robert Reich (http://robertreich.org/post/8331408301), Paul Krugman and others have pointed out why the Raw Deal is a ripoff as well as terrible economics. For my part, I want to say what I think is so fundamentally, morally and politically wrong about it – and, to be frank why it bothers me so much.

My household needs Social Security and Medicare, but we are not yet living on the edge as so many now are in the increasingly Third World United States. But in addition to the privation it means to inflict on hapless millions, what is so evil about the Raw Deal and the other attacks on Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and the safety net generally – such as it still is – is the real animus behind these attacks: hostility to the idea of the common good, the notion that we should care about and for one another, the very idea that we have interests in common that we can and should address collectively, through government as well as other forms of social organization. That we need not and should not be engaged in a perpetual war of each against all. That core idea is what has been under relentless attack for several decades now, culminating (so far) in Obama’s Raw Deal.

So what is to be done? As Noam Chomsky frequently points out, we do still have enormous freedom to agitate, organize, protest and struggle for change. The ballot box isn’t useless, it just isn’t being used nearly enough. But we still have it. And for its use to be more effective, we need a great many more people who recognize our real problems and demand that our political structures and players address them. It isn’t yet quite true, as Leonard Cohen said so long ago, that “the cities they are broke in half, and the middlemen are gone.” So “let me ask you one more time, O children of the dust: All these hunters who are shrieking now, do they speak for us?”

But it won’t be enough to ask just one more time. We need to keep asking, nagging, agitating, informing, sharing information and analysis – in a word, organizing – to build a sufficient and sustained opposition to the evils of our time, and to regain and defend the commons and the common good. Obama’s “bipartisan, bicameral” Raw Deal should be an excellent organizing vehicle.

Are We Already In the Second Great — Or the Even Greater — Depression?

June 6, 2011

A rash of depressing data on the US economy culminated last week in a terrible report Friday on jobs creation. The best analysis I’ve seen is Mike Whitney’s weekend piece on the CounterPunch site, reproduced below. I differ with Whitney in a key respect: While his analysis speaks in conventional terms of the need for stimulus and the consequences of the government not providing it, I think it matters greatly what form such stimulus might take.

There was a point when anything that stimulated economic activity would have helped. The image is sometimes used of dropping cash from helicopters to stimulate spending. That’s been done, but the helicopters all dropped their loads in the Wall Street area, and now so much has been spent that it would be reckless to have further stimulus that did not take into account the need for sustainability. That topic is covered in my paper (click on the Financial & Economic Crisis report) of May 2009.

There are no jobs because we’ve exported them all (as Paul Craig Roberts analyzed in a lengthy article on CounterPunch this past week) and the wages of what jobs remain have been stagnant for going on thirty years and without money to spend consumers can’t revive the economy. My piece and others have dealt with the deeper issue that we need a new economy and James Howard Kunstler’s commentary week before last had an especially incisive summary of some things that could be done:

One way to think about it is to stop using the word “growth” and substitute the term “economic activity.” There are lots of useful things we can do to rearrange daily life in the USA that would put people to work, but they would tend to defy the status quo. We could recognize that peak oil means that we have to grow our food differently and make local agriculture a more up-front piece of the economy. We could rebuild the railroads so that people don’t have to drive everywhere. We could rebuild our inland ports to move more bulk freight on boats. Notice these are very straightforward activities, unlike the manipulation of financial paper and markets. We’re not interested in focusing on agriculture and transport reform. Business and political interests are arrayed against changing anything. Something’s got to give.

With that qualification, here is Mike Whitney’s excellent summary of the current situation:

Policymakers Have Made Another Depression Unavoidable
Down, Down, Down
By MIKE WHITNEY

Equities markets have been battered all week by bad economic data sending investors piling into “risk free” Treasuries. The Dow Jones slipped 276 points on Wednesday followed by a 41 point loss on Thursday. The benchmark 10-year Treasury has ducked below 3 percent repeatedly signally a slowdown that could lead to another recession.

On Wednesday, the S&P/CaseShiller home price index confirmed that 5-year long housing crash was still gaining pace. Home prices have fallen to their lowest level in 8 years with no end in sight. Meanwhile the Chicago Manufacturing Gauge recorded its biggest decline in 2.5 years while factory orders dropped in April by the most since May, 2010. There was also bad news on the unemployment front where privately-owned businesses hired only 38,000 workers from April to May, nearly 100,000 less jobs than analysts had predicted. Also, consumer confidence fell to its lowest reading in six months.

So, housing, manufacturing, unemployment and consumer confidence are all down, down, down and down.

Friday’s unemployment report was also worse than expected. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that unemployment rose to 9.1 percent while the Labor Force Participation Rate remained stuck at 64.2%, well below the normal rate of 67%. According to Calculated Risk, “The current employment recession is by far the worst recession since WWII in percentage terms…(The BLS report) was well below expectations for payroll jobs, and the unemployment rate was higher than expected.”

So, no new jobs are being created and the economy is quickly decelerating. It’s all bad.

On Friday, the chairman of RIT Capital Partners Jacob Rothschild issued a warning about the fragility of world markets and the bleak prospects for future growth. He said,
“The risks ahead are glaring and global. It is likely that the withdrawal of the fiscal and monetary stimuli which will surely come soon will have an impact on global growth. Indeed there is already evidence of some slowing down.”

Commodities have already been walloped, but the real carnage is yet to come. This is from Bloomberg:
“Commodities plunged yesterday as investors accelerated sales following year-to-date gains through April of more than 23 percent for silver, oil, gasoline and coffee. The Standard & Poor’s GSCI index of 24 commodities sank 6.5 percent in the biggest one-day drop since January 2009, bringing its loss this week to 9.9 percent.
“It was a train wreck waiting to happen,” Michael Mullaney, portfolio manager at Boston-based Fiduciary Trust, said in a telephone interview. Speculation drove commodity prices well above reasonable levels, “and we are going to see it shake out some more before we get back to normal prices,” said Mullaney, who helps manage $9.5 billion.”

Even a whiff of deflation will send commodities tumbling, which is why investors should be worried about the recent data. The economy is quickly losing steam and troubles in China, Japan and the eurozone have only added to the uncertainty. According to Bloomberg:
“A ‘sudden’ slowdown in China may lead commodity prices to fall as much as 75 percent from current levels, Standard & Poor’s said.

“Unexpected shifts in government policies or problems in the banking sector may trigger such a slowdown, S&P said in a report e-mailed today…..”Given the extent to which China has bolstered commodity prices, that’s something that we have to be concerned about,” S&P analyst Scott Sprinzen said by telephone from New York.”…..(Bloomberg)

The fact that 10-year Treasuries have dipped below 3 percent should also be of concern, because it’s an indication that the policy is wrong. This is the real problem. When investors are still so scared that they’re still loading up on “risk free” assets a full 3 years after the crisis began, then something is fundamentally wrong. The 10-year is saying quite clearly, “Whatever you are doing is not working, so stop it.”

The Fed’s bond buying program (QE2) has done nothing to increase activity, lower unemployment, stimulate growth, restore confidence or expand credit. It has been the biggest policy bust in Fed history, and now the economy is slipping back into a coma.

Remember, the economy is not a sentient being. It does not consider whether a policy is good or bad. Like any system it merely responds to input. If spending increases, incomes will increase, demand will increase, employment will increase and the economy will grow.

Conversely, contractionary policies are contractionary. This is something the deficit hawks don’t seem to grasp. If you slash government spending, lay off workers, and trim the deficits, then spending will slow, incomes will shrivel, GDP will wither, and the economy will slip back into recession. In other words, if you take steps to shrink the economy, then the economy will shrink. This is why the economy has lost momentum, because congress and the White House have cut the blood flow of stimulus to the patient, so now we are headed back into ICU.

The Republican mantra, “job killing stimulus” is … idiocy squared. The economy needs stimulus because stimulus IS spending…government spending. And, as we noted earlier, the economy does not care “who spends”; it merely responds to input. And the input that’s needed now is more spending. Government spending will do just fine.

Consumers are still deleveraging from the losses they sustained during the financial crisis, so they’ve cut back on their borrowing and spending. This creates a problem, because consumer spending represents 70% of GDP. So if consumers don’t load up on debt again, there will be no recovery. (Every recovery since WW2 has been the result of a credit expansion.) This is why Fed chairman Bernanke has tried to induce more borrowing by lowering rates to zero and buying US Treasuries from the banks (which, in effect, creates negative interest rates) But it hasn’t worked. Negative rates have not sparked another credit expansion because there are times when people will not borrow regardless of the rates or the inducements. John Maynard Keynes figured this out more than 80 years ago, but Bernanke has “unlearned” the lessons of the past. As a result, we are headed for another slump.

Consumers aren’t spending, businesses aren’t investing, and credit is not expanding. At the same time, state and federal governments are trimming budgets and laying off workers. So, all the main players are cutting, cutting, cutting. Naturally, the economy has responded in kind; housing prices are falling, unemployment is rising, manufacturing is stalling and consumer confidence is dropping.

There’s nothing here that should surprise us. We are headed into a Depression because policymakers have made another Depression unavoidable. A policy-driven Depression is different than a financial crisis. It is a matter of choice. It means that the objectives of the people who control the system are different than our own. There are those who will benefit from another severe downturn, but most of us will only needlessly suffer.

When Will Governments Act to Protect Us, As Fukushima Goes Global?

May 22, 2011

I’m not sure whether what I’ve seen since my last entry is new or not, but it seems worse. I identified the best means of protection against cancer from radiation I was able to find in my two prior entries, Colors of the Sun and Who’ll Stop the Rain? Today I will sum up what seem to be the high points of the latest disclosures and findings.

First, it appears there was a coverup, and that there were one or more meltdowns at the Fukushima site very early on, one of them even before the tsunami hit. Besides confirming the usual about reliability of official sources, a key conclusion to draw from that is that many reactors are even less safe than previously thought. Besides the four on the California Coast plus a number of smaller research reactors in their vicinity, all in line to be damaged by the earthquake and possible tsunami likely to happen sooner or later and possibly any time, there is at least one that was in danger of damage from the Mississippi flooding that just occurred last week.

Second, it seems clearer all the time that we don’t have to wait for one of the reactors in the U.S. to blow to create serious danger and harm. Among the reports I’ve read from or based on comments from nuclear experts not paid by the industry or employed by government sources essentially in league with the industry, one suggests that fuel rods were blown into the air and vaporized by early events at Fukushima, others may or have already melted down through their containment structures and are going who knows where, and massive amounts of radioactive water have been and continue to be released into the ocean. It also appears that far greater harm could yet be done by the Fukushima reactors, and neither TEPCO nor the Japanese Government are up to the task of preventing that. Harvey Wasserman, a longtime activist who edits the nukefree.org website, calls for an international effort to devise and implement a plan to contain the damage to the extent possible.

Third, part of the reason it’s so hard to tell exactly what’s going on is there is an active effort to control the flow of information. The Japanese Government has refused to let Greenpeace conduct testing inside its territorial waters. The Nuclear Regulatory [sic: Marketing and Promotional] Commission has stopped monitoring the situation. The U.S. EPA and the Canadian Government have shut down much of their monitoring. And no one in an official position is talking straight. So we have a combination of independent experts saying the situation is grave and worsening, and official sources refusing not only to disclose what they know but declining to find out the truth. So you get people like me trying to figure out and sum things up instead of the systematic disclosure and analysis we should be getting from official sources.

One thing is crystal clear, and that is that radiation is not safe. There is no such thing as a safe dose. So the figures about readings in excess of legal limits, while they are disturbing, are also misleading in that they imply there are levels below which radiation would not be harmful. I recently found an article that confirms what I had guessed at myself (although, to be clear, I am not a health professional or formally trained in biology or related sciences): The reason there is no safe dose is that cancer begins at the molecular level: “Several lines of evidence convince most cancer biologists that cancer starts its development from ONE genetically abnormal cell.” John W. Gofman and Egan O’Connor, The Causes of Cancer: Is There “Too Much Emphasis on Genes, and Not Enough on the Environment?” How to Avoid Some Mistakes, April 2001, http://www.ratical.org/radiation/CNR/CancerEmphasis.html.

The probability of developing cancer is quantitative, that is, the greater the number and volume of exposures to cancer-causing substances or radiation, the greater the probability that cancer will occur. Conversely, it would seem, the greater the number and volume of protective activities or substances we can accumulate, the lower the probability that the carcinogens we encounter will actually cause cancer to develop. But at the same time, the exposure of large populations to carcinogens is likely to cause a large number of cancers. The threat here is that seawater, seafood, soil, air, and rain can all carry radioactive materials, and apparently are doing so increasingly, with the continual release of radiation from Fukushima, and that these cancer-causing material are reaching the United States. So while the meltdown of a reactor located in the U.S. would cause a quantitatively greater exposure to residents here, we are already being exposed as a result of radiation released by Fukushima.

Although it may seem Quixotic to speak of protecting ourselves in the face of the planetary-level onslaught on our health and wellbeing and indeed, on all life forms on the Earth, that is described in the sources excerpted and cited below, I return to the fact that the risk of cancer is quantitative, that we are exposed to numerous carcinogens on a daily basis, and that it is possible to counteract to some extent their effect, through exercise, nutrition, and by other means. In addition to the information and sources provided in my two immediately prior entries, I have lately found informative and useful another post at Washington’s Blog, with considerable information on the protective effects of antioxidants: http://www.washingtonsblog.com/2011/05/new-inexpensive-blood-test-tells-you.html.

And don’t forget, as noted in that article and elsewhere, both red wine (a glass a day) and dark chocolate (an ounce a day) are among the many protective substances available to us.

There is, of course, a limit to how much red wine, dark chocolate, or even Justice, can heal. It seems clear that massive amounts of irreparable damage are being caused ongoingly by the Fukushima disaster. My purpose in sharing this information and analysis is to inform you of the threat to your own health and that of your children and grandchildren, born, unborn or maybe just hoped for, to give you the tools to do as much as can be done to protect yourself and those you love, and to attempt to motivate you and others to become vocal and otherwise active in advocating that the U.S. Government begin behaving responsibly, first, by monitoring and disclosing accurate information about the situation at Fukushima, the ongoing releases of radiation and where the various radioactive elements are traveling; by cutting off (rather than continuing, as President Obama has proposed) the billions of dollars in subsidies, including the limitations of liability, without which nuclear power could not continue to operate; and by seeing to the shutdown and responsible decommissioning of nuclear reactors in the U.S. and the development of replacement sources of power, including conservation, and excluding biomass incineration, as the governments of Japan and Germany are now beginning to do.

Here then are the best and latest postings I’ve discovered, with their sources so you can go further for more details:

From Nuclear Information and Resource Service, http://www.nirs.org/fukushima/crisis.htm:
UPDATE, 2:30 pm, Friday, May 20, 2011. The world’s media are shocked (shocked, we tell you…) that three Fukushima reactors melted down. Where have they been the past 10 weeks? Where did they think all that radiation was coming from? You know, that radiation that has caused the evacuation/relocation of people as far as 25 miles from the reactor site? Not to mention contamination of food, seawater, etc…..

Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution says that the impact on the world’s oceans by Fukushima exceeds the impact of Chernobyl—in fact, the impact is 10 times higher. Woods Hole has received an emergency grant from the National Science Foundation to set baseline radionuclide levels in both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and to monitor the impact of Fukushima fallout.

Recently released photos of the tsunami hitting Fukushima Daiichi are here [at the NIRS website].

From Harvey Wasserman, “A Nuclear Rapture? Fukushima’s Apocalyptic Threat,” http://www.counterpunch.org/wasserman05202011.html:

Fukushima may be in an apocalyptic downward spiral.

Forget the corporate-induced media coma that says otherwise…or nothing at all.

Lethal radiation is spewing unabated. Emission levels could seriously escalate. There is no end in sight. The potential is many times worse than Chernobyl.

Containing this disaster may be beyond the abilities of Tokyo Electric or the Japanese government.

There is no reason to incur further unnecessary risk. With all needed resources, it’s time for the world’s best scientists and engineers to take charge.

Even then the outcome is unclear.

The New York Times has now reported that critical valve failures that contributed to the Fukushima disaster are likely at numerous US reactors.

There is much more, none of it good.

Japan and Germany have had the good survival sense to abandon future reactor construction, and to shut some existing sites.

But here, the corporate media blackout is virtually complete. Out of sight, out of mind seems the strategy for an industry desperate for federal loan guarantees and continued operation of a rickety fleet of decaying old reactors.

The Obama Administration has ended radiation monitoring of seafood in the Pacific. It does not provide reliable, systematic radiological or medical data on fallout coming to the United States.

Now we must also move ALL the world’s governments beyond denial to focus on somehow bringing Fukushima under control.

After two months of all-out effort, four reactors and at least that many spent fuel pools remain at risk.

Our survival depends on stopping Fukushima from further irradiating us all.

The world community has come together to put a new sarcophagus around Chernobyl.

A parallel, more urgent effort now needs to focus on Fukushima.

Whatever technical, scientific and material resources are available to our species, that’s what needs to go there.

NOW!

From Washington’s Blog, http://www.washingtonsblog.com/2011/05/fuel-rods-most-likely-melted-completely.html:

Thursday, May 19, 2011

“Fuel Rods Most Likely Melt[ed] COMPLETELY at Reactors 1, 2 AND 3 in the Early Hours of the Crisis, Raising the Danger of More Catastrophic Releases”

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is pulling the plug on continuous monitoring of the Japanese nuclear crisis because:
The conditions at the Japanese reactors are slowly stabilizing.

I hope they are stabilizing. But as I noted last month:

The Japanese government and Tepco claim that the nuclear reactors are “stable” and that radiation releases have subsided to low levels.

But world renowned physicist Michio Kaku – who studied under atom bomb developer Edward Teller – told Democracy Now today:

***

The situation is not stable at all. So, you’re looking at basically a ticking time bomb. It appears stable, but the slightest disturbance—a secondary earthquake, a pipe break, evacuation of the crew at Fukushima—could set off a full-scale meltdown at three nuclear power stations, far beyond what we saw at Chernobyl.

***

When the utility says that things are stable, it’s only stable in the sense that you’re dangling from a cliff hanging by your fingernails. And as the time goes by, each fingernail starts to crack. That’s the situation now.

***

TEPCO is like the little Dutch boy. All of a sudden we have cracks in the dike. You put a finger here, you put a finger there. And all of a sudden, new leaks start to occur, and they’re overwhelmed.

The New York Times summarizes the real situation in a single sentence:

Tokyo Electric in recent days has acknowledged that damage at the plant was worse than previously thought, with fuel rods most likely melting completely at Reactors 1, 2 and 3 in the early hours of the crisis, raising the danger of more catastrophic releases of radioactive materials.

From Stephen Lendman, “Fukushima Nuclear Meltdown Confirmed,” May 14, 2011 – http://inteldaily.com/2011/05/fukushima-nuclear-meltdown-confirmed/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+inteldaily%2Ffeeds+%28Inteldaily.com%29:

Visual evidence now confirms what earlier was known: namely, that Tokyo Electric’s (TEPCO) Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station experienced at least one core nuclear meltdown, perhaps much worse than now admitted.

An earlier article explained, accessed through the following link:

http://sjlendman.blogspot.com/2011/04/fukushima-meltdown-confirmed.html

Nuclear expert Karl Grossman calls it the ultimate nuclear nightmare, a real time China Syndrome, portrayed fictionally in the 1979 film by the same name.

On May 12, Hiroshima Peace Institute Professor Robert Jacobs told Russia Today TV that plant conditions “are much more serious than we were told earlier.”

In fact, confirming a coverup, he explained:
“We were not told that for a long time….I have a rule of thumb, which is that anything that is publicly stated is probably around 10 to 20% of what’s true. It will take us years to know the extent of the contamination and the extent of the fuel melting. The best case scenario in this situation is that it will take months to begin to stop leaking radiation from the reactors.”

As a result, plant conditions are extremely serious, perhaps out of control, but don’t expect government or media reports to admit it. Short of that, on May 12, TEPCO said low water levels fully exposed Fukushima’s Unit No. 1, grudgingly confirming a meltdown of nuclear fuel rods.

Visual evidence confirms that “(one Fukushima reactor) did suffer a nuclear meltdown. (TEPCO admitted that) the top five feet or so of (Unit No. 1′s) core 13ft-long fuel rods had been exposed to the air and melted down. Now (it appears likely) that the molten pool of radioactive fuel may have burned a hole through the bottom of the containment, causing” large amounts of contaminated water to leak, posing an extremely serious health hazard to many countries besides Japan.

Moreover, conditions appear to be worsening, not improving. According to Friends of the Earth spokesman Tom Clements:

“TEPCO seems to be going backwards in getting the situation under control and things may well be slowly eroding with all (six) units having problems. At this point, TEPCO still finds itself in unchartered waters and is not able to carry out any plan to get the situation under control.”

Major Media Coverage

Throughout the crisis, they’ve regurgitated official lies, suppressing what’s vital to know about history’s worst ever environmental disaster. Despite the significance of TEPCO’s May 12 announcement, the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune ignored it, while New York Times writers Hiroko Tabuchi and Matthew Wald downplayed it, headlining, “Japanese Reactor Damage Is Worse Than Expected,” saying:
New developments will likely “delay efforts to bring” Fukushima’s crippled reactor “under control, the plant’s operator said Thursday, (admitting) much more damage than originally thought….”

Avoiding the word “meltdown,” Tabuchi and Wald said “exposed fuel has probably melted and slumped to the bottom of the vessel in little pellets….Still the worst fears did not materialize….a nuclear chain reaction (causing) a full meltdown and a catastrophic release of radioactive material.”

In fact, that’s precisely what likely happened, but coverup and denial won’t confirm it, exacerbating an already catastrophic situation, affecting residents as far away as California, Boston, Iceland, Sweden and numerous other countries in the form of contaminated air, water, soil, food, and nuclear rain.

From Vivian Norris, “Deadly Silence on Fukushima,” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/vivian-norris-de-montaigu/deadly-silence-on-fukushi_b_859241.html?view=print (Posted: 05/ 9/11 05:05 AM ET)

The best site I have found for up-to-date information by nuclear industry experts is here. [http://www.fairewinds.com/updates]

Arnie Gundersen was a high-level executive for years and analyzes the information he has been receiving in a calm and scientific way. His latest update is entitled, “Fukushima Groundwater Contamination Worst in Nuclear History.” Gundersen is in touch with senior members of the Japanese nuclear establishment. What is highly disturbing is that the main reason Japan does not appear to be as bad a Chernobyl is that the wind was blowing out to sea and not for the most part towards land. But all this has done is spread the cancers out into the worldwide population as opposed to concentrating it all in Japan. It will be very difficult to tell, as it was in France, Scandinavia and other places, where the Chernobyl cloud traveled in the days following the disaster. I will summarize some of Gunderson’s very disturbing and important information here:

1. There was a hydrogen explosion, and it was a detonation, not a deflagration — in other words the fire burned up not burned down.

2. A frame-by-frame analysis shows a flame that confirms that the fuel pool is burning as a result of an explosion which started as a hydrogen explosion but that could not have lifted the fuel into the air so there must have been a violent explosion at the bottom of the fuel pool. But more data is needed.

3. Gunderson speaks about past criticalities in other nuclear reactors around the world, and I find it odd we are not hearing about these and how they can teach us about what is going on now at Fukushima.

4. Radioactive water is being pumped out and groundwater is contaminated, so there must be a leak or leaks, and this disaster is in no way contained. There will be contamination for a long time to come and this groundwater contamination is moving inland. One town is reporting radioactive sewage sludge from ground water or rainwater.

5. The Greenpeace ship Rainbow water has requested the Japanese government to test the waters near Japan, and Japan has refused this independent data request. The EPA has also shut down all inspection centers and is NOT inspecting fish. (Why the silence?)

Since Gunderson made this latest video, just a day or so ago new photo evidence seems to be showing burning and new fires taking place at Fukushima (from TBS JNN Japan):

Why is this not on the front page of every single newspaper in the world? Why are official agencies not measuring from many places around the world and reporting on what is going on in terms of contamination every single day since this disaster happened? Radioactivity has been being released now for almost two full months! Even small amounts when released continuously, and in fact especially continuous exposure to small amounts of radioactivity, can cause all kinds of increases in cancers.

Colors of the Sun: Getting Some Protection from Ionizing Radiation

May 1, 2011

For some days I have been looking for the time to write up my most recent findings and thoughts about the dangers we face from Fukushima now and ongoingly, and from the nukes at Diablo Canyon and San Onofre potentially, and what we can do to protect ourselves. The short answer is the dangers are very real and serious. Possibly the most moving short statement I’ve seen is from Dr. Helen Caldicott, in a video posted at http://www.infowars.com/helen-caldicott-talks-about-the-horror-of-fukushima/. Dr. Caldicott mentions the NY Academy of Sciences finding that about a million deaths may now be attributed to the nuclear accident at Chernobyl, and separately, that 80% of the newborn babies in Fallujah, Iraq, where the US used depleted uranium as a weapon, have terrible birth defects, and then goes on to discuss the developments at Fukushima.

My initial reaction to all the latest information was little short of panic, in that the manner in which radiation is disseminated makes it impossible to avoid. Even the limited protection available from potassium iodide supplements is effective only if you are alerted to the exposure in advance; and it appears the government, specifically the Environmental Protection Agency, is disclosing its limited findings only after the fact. But regardless, there is ultimately no complete or completely effective defense.

Nevertheless, there are some things we can do to protect ourselves and our loved ones, and the best compilation of that information I have seen is at Washington’s Blog. As I was reviewing the material posted there, it finally dawned on me that everything we do now and have been doing for years to protect ourselves from the tsunami of cancer-causing chemicals in the environment is also protective from the cancer-causing effects of ionizing radiation.

Unfortunately, some things we can do, like eating organically grown foods rather than the products of chemical-intensive industrial agribusiness, have no analog with respect to radiation. We can’t avoid all carcinogens in the environment, but we can limit our exposure.  However, our ability to avoid radiation is at best even more limited, when, for example, the food chain is contaminated.   We can eat a strictly organically grown diet, but we can’t not eat.  See, e.g., “Fukushima radiation taints US milk supplies at levels 300% higher than EPA maximums,” posted at http://www.naturalnews.com/032048_radiation_milk.html. Even organically grown food can be contaminated by radioactive substances that fall in the rain.

But some defense is still available. While I have been looking in vain for the time to sum up what I’ve found along such lines, Washington’s Blog has gone ahead and pulled all the material together. So at this point I will just reproduce the latest entry from Washington’s Blog, and suggest to your attention the articles linked at the bottom, whose titles indicate the information they contain regarding potential protection from vitamin supplements, herbs, and foods that contain and reflect the colors of the sun. My thanks to the author of Washington’s Blog for this extraordinarily useful material.

I must make the same disclaimer, however: I am not a health care professional. And as this blog cannot reproduce the illustrations posted on Washington’s blog, I suggest you look there for the complete article:

How to Help Protect Yourself From Low-Level Radiation (http://www.washingtonsblog.com/2011/04/how-to-help-protect-yourself-from-low.html)

As everyone knows, exposure to high levels of radiation can quickly sicken or kill us. Here’s an illustration from Columbia University: [illustration omitted; see original posted at Washington's Blog]

But as I’ve previously noted, even low level radiation can cause big problems. Columbia provides an illustration: [omitted; see original posting at Washington's Blog]

Radiation can sicken or kill us by directly damaging cells: [illustration omitted]

Or indirectly … by producing free radicals: [illustration omitted]

Indeed, some radiation experts argue that the creation of a lot of free radical creation is the most dangerous mechanism of low level ionizing radiation:

During exposure to low-level doses (LLD) of ionizing radiation (IR), the most of harmful effects are produced indirectly, through radiolysis of water and formation of reactive oxygen species (ROS). The antioxidant enzymes – superoxide dismutase (SOD): manganese SOD (MnSOD) and copper-zinc SOD (CuZnSOD), as well as glutathione (GSH), are the most important intracellular antioxidants in the metabolism of ROS. Overproduction of ROS challenges antioxidant enzymes.

Scientists from the Institute of Nuclear Science claim in the Archive of oncology:

Chronic exposure to low-dose radiation doses could be much more harmful than high, short-term doses because of lipid peroxidation initiated by free radicals.

***

Peroxidation of cell membranes increases with decreasing dose rate (Petkau effect).
(See this [link omitted] for more on the Petkau effect.)

Countering free radicals is therefore one of the most important ways we can help protect ourselves from the effects of low-level radiation from Japan, from Chernobyl and elsewhere.

Now that you know, I invite you to read the following articles to learn how to help counter free radicals:
• Can Vitamins or Herbs Help Protect Us from Radiation? See http://www.washingtonsblog.com/2011/03/how-to-protect-yourself-from-radiation.html.
• What Foods Are Highest in Antioxidants? Some Inexpensive Foods Are Higher In Antioxidants than the Newest Pricey “Superfoods” [link omitted]
• The Compounds Plants Use to Protect Themselves from Damage Also Help to Protect People From Damage [link omitted]
• Electrons as Antioxidants: A Key to Health [link omitted]

Note: The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists reported that one of the best-known scientists of the 20th century – Dr. John Gofman – also believed that chronic low level radiation is more dangerous than acute exposure to high doses. Gofman was a doctor of nuclear and physical chemistry and a medical doctor who worked on the Manhattan Project, co-discovered uranium-232 and -233 and other radioactive isotopes and proved their fissionability, helped discover how to extract plutonium, led the team that discovered and characterized lipoproteins in the causation of heart disease, served as a Professor Emeritus of Molecular and Cell Biology at the University of California Berkeley, served as Associate Director of the Livermore National Laboratory, was asked by the Atomic Energy Commission to undertake a series of long range studies on potential dangers that might arise from the “peaceful uses of the atom”, and wrote four scholarly books on radiation health effects.  [I would add that I have long been an admirer of the late John Gofman, and have benefited enormously from his work, much of it produced jointly with Egan O'Connor, on the health effects of radiation, especially including medical X rays.  This material is available at the site of the Committee for Nuclear Responsibility.  - RR]

But whether or not chronic, low doses of radiation cause more or less damage than acute, higher doses is beyond the scope of this article. The point is that they both can cause damage.

Disclaimer: I am not a health care professional.


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