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Archive for the ‘Public Health’ Category

Thousands of scientists issue bleak ‘second notice’ to humanity

In Climate change, Environment, Politics, Public Health on November 15, 2017 at 9:38 am

By Sarah Kaplan, Washington Post, Speaking of Science, November 13, 2017

In late 1992, 1,700 scientists from around the world issued a dire “warning to humanity.” They said humans had pushed Earth’s ecosystems to their breaking point and were well on the way to ruining the planet. The letter listed environmental impacts like they were biblical plagues — stratospheric ozone depletion, air and water pollution, the collapse of fisheries and loss of soil productivity, deforestation, species loss and catastrophic global climate change caused by the burning of fossil fuels.

“If not checked,” wrote the scientists, led by particle physicist and Union of Concerned Scientists co-founder Henry Kendall, “many of our current practices put at serious risk the future that we wish for human society and the plant and animal kingdoms, and may so alter the living world that it will be unable to sustain life in the manner that we know.”

But things were only going to get worse.

To mark the letter’s 25th anniversary, researchers have issued a bracing follow-up. In a communique published Monday in the journal BioScience, more than 15,000 scientists from 184 countries assess the world’s latest responses to various environmental threats. Once again, they find us sorely wanting

“Humanity has failed to make sufficient progress in generally solving these foreseen environmental challenges, and alarmingly, most of them are getting far worse,” they write.

This letter, spearheaded by Oregon State University ecologist William Ripple, serves as a “second notice,” the authors say: “Soon it will be too late to shift course away from our failing trajectory.”

Global climate change sits atop the new letter’s list of planetary threats. Global average temperatures have risen by more than half a degree Celsius since 1992, and annual carbon dioxide emissions have increased by 62 percent.

The government’s National Climate Assessment released on Nov. 3 cited human influence as the “dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century.” (Patrick Martin/The Washington Post)
But it’s far from the only problem people face. Access to fresh water has declined, as has the amount of forestland and the number of wild-caught fish (a marker of the health of global fisheries). The number of ocean dead zones has increased. The human population grew by a whopping 2 billion, while the populations of all other mammals, reptiles, amphibians and fish have declined by nearly 30 percent.

The lone bright spot exists way up in the stratosphere, where the hole in the planet’s protective ozone layer has shrunk to its smallest size since 1988. Scientists credit that progress to the phasing out of chlorofluorocarbons — chemicals once used in refrigerators, air conditioners and aerosol cans that trigger reactions in the atmosphere to break down ozone.“The rapid global decline in ozone depleting substances shows that we can make positive change when we act decisively,” the letter says.

The authors offer 13 suggestions for reining in our impact on the planet, including establishing nature reserves, reducing food waste, developing green technologies and establishing economic incentives to shift patterns of consumption.

To this end, Ripple and his colleagues have formed a new organization, the Alliance of World Scientists, aimed at providing a science-based perspective on issues affecting the well-being of people and the planet.

“Scientists are in the business of analyzing data and looking at the long-term consequences,” Ripple said in a release. “Those who signed this second warning aren’t just raising a false alarm. They are acknowledging the obvious signs that we are heading down an unsustainable path. We are hoping that our paper will ignite a widespread public debate about the global environment and climate.”

In late 1992, 1,700 scientists from around the world issued a dire “warning to humanity.” They said humans had pushed Earth’s ecosystems to their breaking point and were well on the way to ruining the planet. The letter listed environmental impacts like they were biblical plagues — stratospheric ozone depletion, air and water pollution, the collapse of fisheries and loss of soil productivity, deforestation, species loss and catastrophic global climate change caused by the burning of fossil fuels.

“If not checked,” wrote the scientists, led by particle physicist and Union of Concerned Scientists co-founder Henry Kendall, “many of our current practices put at serious risk the future that we wish for human society and the plant and animal kingdoms, and may so alter the living world that it will be unable to sustain life in the manner that we know.”

But things were only going to get worse.

To mark the letter’s 25th anniversary, researchers have issued a bracing follow-up. In a communique published Monday in the journal BioScience, more than 15,000 scientists from 184 countries assess the world’s latest responses to various environmental threats. Once again, they find us sorely wanting.

“Humanity has failed to make sufficient progress in generally solving these foreseen environmental challenges, and alarmingly, most of them are getting far worse,” they write.

This letter, spearheaded by Oregon State University ecologist William Ripple, serves as a “second notice,” the authors say: “Soon it will be too late to shift course away from our failing trajectory.”

Global climate change sits atop the new letter’s list of planetary threats. Global average temperatures have risen by more than half a degree Celsius since 1992, and annual carbon dioxide emissions have increased by 62 percent.

The government’s National Climate Assessment released on Nov. 3 cited human influence as the “dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century.” (Patrick Martin/The Washington Post)
But it’s far from the only problem people face. Access to fresh water has declined, as has the amount of forestland and the number of wild-caught fish (a marker of the health of global fisheries). The number of ocean dead zones has increased. The human population grew by a whopping 2 billion, while the populations of all other mammals, reptiles, amphibians and fish have declined by nearly 30 percent.

The lone bright spot exists way up in the stratosphere, where the hole in the planet’s protective ozone layer has shrunk to its smallest size since 1988. Scientists credit that progress to the phasing out of chlorofluorocarbons — chemicals once used in refrigerators, air conditioners and aerosol cans that trigger reactions in the atmosphere to break down ozone.“The rapid global decline in ozone depleting substances shows that we can make positive change when we act decisively,” the letter says.

The authors offer 13 suggestions for reining in our impact on the planet, including establishing nature reserves, reducing food waste, developing green technologies and establishing economic incentives to shift patterns of consumption.

To this end, Ripple and his colleagues have formed a new organization, the Alliance of World Scientists, aimed at providing a science-based perspective on issues affecting the well-being of people and the planet.

“Scientists are in the business of analyzing data and looking at the long-term consequences,” Ripple said in a release. “Those who signed this second warning aren’t just raising a false alarm. They are acknowledging the obvious signs that we are heading down an unsustainable path. We are hoping that our paper will ignite a widespread public debate about the global environment and climate.”

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How We Persuaded 122 Countries to Ban Nuclear Weapons

In Democracy, Environment, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, Public Health, War on October 30, 2017 at 9:55 pm

By Beatrice Fihn, Matthew Bolton and Elizabeth Minor
Tuesday, October 24, 2017 at 9:41 AM

On Oct. 6, the Geneva office of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) received a call from the Norwegian Nobel Committee: We had won the 2017 Peace Prize for our “work to draw attention to the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons” and our “ground-breaking efforts to achieve a treaty-based prohibition of such weapons.”

Since its founding in 2007, ICAN has sought to reenergize global advocacy for disarmament. We have jolted governments out of a post-Cold War complacency, which has allowed almost 15,000 nuclear weapons to remain a clear and present danger to the world.

While the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and oft-repeated rhetoric has committed nuclear-armed states to a world free of nuclear weapons, progress towards this goal had stalled.

Over the last decade, we have built a global civil society coalition that, in partnership with states, has changed the game, refocusing global policymakers on the humanitarian, human rights and environmental impacts of nuclear weapons, rather than abstract ideas of deterrence. The result was the negotiation of the legally binding Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW).
Prohibiting nuclear weapons

The TPNW’s Preamble declares nuclear weapons “abhorrent to the principles of humanity,” with catastrophic consequences for people and the environment. It is the first nuclear arms control agreement to frame nuclear weapons as threats to international humanitarian and human rights law. It acknowledges the “disproportionate impact of nuclear-weapon activities on indigenous peoples.”

The Preamble is also far-reaching in its acknowledgement of the gendered dimensions of nuclear weapons. It calls attention to the “disproportionate impact on women and girls, including as a result of ionizing radiation,” as well as the crucial importance of women’s “equal, full and effective participation” in “nuclear disarmament” and “the promotion and attainment of sustainable peace and security….”

The centerpiece of the TPNW is a categorical ban on nuclear weapons (Article 1), which makes them illegal under the same type of international law covering other inhumane weapons like chemical and biological weapons, landmines and cluster munitions.

The Treaty’s negotiators were mindful of the “unacceptable suffering of and harm caused to the victims” and the “grave implications for human survival, the environment, socioeconomic development, the global economy, food security and the health of current and future generations.” As a result, the TPNW is not only a ban on nuclear weapons. It also addresses the ongoing harms caused by nuclear weapons use and testing. Articles 6 and 7 obligate governments to aid victims, remediate contaminated environments and provide international cooperation and assistance to affected states.

On July 7, 122 governments voted to adopt the TPNW, which opened for signature on Sept. 20. While the nuclear-armed and -alliance states boycotted the negotiations, we are finding that it is already having a political impact because of its stigmatizing power.

Changing the Discourse

ICAN’s strategy was primarily a discursive one. We aimed to change the way that people talk, think and feel about nuclear weapons, changing their social meaning from symbols of status to outdated, dangerous machines that have repulsive effects.

Representatives of the nuclear-states often marginalize those calling disarmament by dismissing them as deluded. In her protest outside the room where states were negotiating the TPNW, US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley chided them, saying “we have to be realistic.” However, ICAN campaigners called attention to the discrepancies between these claims to “realism” and the mystification that surrounded these nuclear weapons.

For example, we showed how the claim that nuclear deterrence has prevented war requires ignoring the poor record these weapons have at preventing conflict. We demonstrated the pervasive harm they have caused to to many people living in areas affected by use and testing, undercutting claims that nuclear weapons provide security.

Instead of turning to traditional mechanisms of nuclear arms control, we found a powerful discursive tool in international humanitarian and human rights law. What we sought was less an instrument of surveillance and sanction than a treaty that casts as pariahs those who continue to deploy, stockpile and defend the persistence of nuclear weapons. Building such stigma has been crucial for the process of working towards the elimination other unacceptable weapons.

Drawing out the tensions inherent in states’ presentation of themselves as responsible actors concerned with the protection of civilians, and their willingness to use the most destructive weapons ever invented on towns and cities, involved opening the conversation about nuclear weapons to voices that have been too often excluded.

Opening the Conversation

To change how nuclear weapons were discussed, we brought nuclear weapons into new arenas where humanitarianism, human rights and environmentalism are regular conversations, and to inject these discourses into traditional nuclear forums.

We demanded from states the meaningful participation of survivors, affected communities, medical professionals, faith leaders, humanitarian agencies, activists and academics in the nuclear conversation. We pointed out when forums and panels excluded women, people from the Global South and those who have experienced nuclear weapons’ effects.

This forced states to reckon with other forms of knowledge and expertise than nuclear-armed states have used to legitimate their arsenals. ICAN ensured that people affected by nuclear weapons use and testing were able to testify to the negotiating conference. In her statement to the conference, Hiroshima atomic bomb survivor Setsuko Thurlow reminded delegates that “72 years have passed since my beloved hometown was utterly destroyed by one atomic bomb.” Thurlow said this experience convinced her “that no human being should ever have to experience the inhumanity and unspeakable suffering of nuclear weapons.”

Sue Coleman, who grew up close to the site of British nuclear testing in South Australia, spoke of devastating humanitarian consequences for Aboriginal people, as well as the environmental impact on “animals and plants,” which cannot “speak for themselves and are ignored.”

In her closing comments following the adoption of the TPNW, the conference chair, Ambassador Elayne Whyte Gomez of Costa Rica paid tribute to ‘‘all of the victims who have shared their personal stories with us…and have been an ongoing inspiration for our work.” She thanked them “for not letting us rest.”

We disseminated detailed scientific data on the ongoing harm, record of accidents and history of close calls of nuclear weapons at the three international conferences on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons in Oslo, Nayarit and Vienna from 2013 to 2014. We made it difficult to claim this information was irrelevant to the international nuclear weapons debate. The majority of the world’s states concluded that the prohibition of nuclear weapons is the only morally permissible and legally coherent response to this evidence.

Gumshoe Advocacy

At the core of what we achieved was organizing people and presenting demands to those with the capacity to change law. We cold-called politicians. We pitched stories to journalists. We circulated petitions. We looked at which countries were next on the speakers list at the UN and told them about our talking points. We protested in the streets. There were breakfasts with friendly officials. Lunchtime ‘side event’ panels. Evening receptions. We argued with our opponents. We argued amongst ourselves.

Our approach to the problem of nuclear weapons was often dismissed – but we succeeded in our campaign for a prohibition on nuclear weapons, with or without the initial participation of the nuclear-armed states. Closing a legal loophole (by which nuclear weapons were the only weapons of mass destruction not yet prohibited), and placing prohibitions (such as on assistance with nuclear weapons production, which would cover financing) and positive obligations on states, the treaty can have a normative and practical impact now.

We built strong partnerships between civil society and the states championing the treaty. We drew upon professional networks that had experience banning landmines and cluster munitions and pushing for the Arms Trade Treaty. We leaned on a tight-knit community of humanitarian disarmament advocates who had long-lasting friendships, strong connections to diplomats and well-practiced advocacy tactics.

Reclaiming Agency

ICAN’s success in advocacy for the TPNW shows that ordinary people have agency – we can address seemingly intractable problems in the midst of a deeply hostile political environment. Now that we can ban nuclear weapons, we listen with skepticism to those who use “that’ll never work” as an excuse for passivity. The world, as we learned, is what we make of it. We humans made nuclear weapons. We assigned meaning to them. We have the power to change that meaning. We believe a world free of nuclear weapons is possible. The nuclear weapons ban is a crucial step toward that goal.

Divided Highways

In Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Politics, Public Health on October 18, 2017 at 1:22 am

By Tom Lewis, Delanceyplace.com

In 1963, the U.S. government seriously contemplated using nuclear bombs in the construction of federal highways:

“[The] Interstate [Highway System] … reflected some­thing … about mid-twentieth-century American thinking: engineering hubris. Engineers knew they had the ability to put a highway anywhere, including places where automobiles had never been, and many reveled in the sheer joy of building without attention to the consequences. Forget following the contours of the natural landscape, just pound the road through. Should a mountain prove too high, just blast the top off or tunnel through. Should a ravine prove too deep, just fill it with stone and dirt. No river, lake, or arm of the ocean should be too wide or too deep for a bridge or causeway. For many engineers the structure itself was the goal rather than the structure in relation to the land. Engineers found they were not alone, for many progressive planners regarded the highway, speed, and efficiency to be of primary importance.

“There is, perhaps, no greater example of engineering hubris than one that, thankfully, did not take place in the Bristol Mountains about mid­way between Barstow and Needles, California. In 1963, the Santa Fe Rail­road was seeking a way to shorten its route across the Mojave Desert, and the highway department was looking for a route for Interstate 40. Both the railroad and the highway were hindered by the mountains that rise sharply and suddenly about twelve hundred feet from the desert floor. In mid-1963, engineers decided to consider what they delicately called ‘the nuclear option.’ The engineers’ plan was simple: Bury twenty-two atomic bombs beneath the surface of the mountains and vaporize them. ‘Our main focus was on whether it was feasible and practical and what savings might be realized in building the Interstate,’ Robert Austin, the engineer for the project, recalled. Perhaps because the United States had tested nuclear weapons in the desert before­ though not in this area — Austin paid little attention to the effects the bombs would have had on the environment.

“Since President Kennedy had recently proposed ‘Operation Plow­share,’ an extension of Dwight Eisenhower’s ‘Atoms for Peace’ pro­gram ‘to harness the atom for the benefit of mankind,’ the Atomic Energy Commission was looking for ways to use nuclear weapons peace­fully. It was enthusiastic about the idea. Yes, the twenty-two bombs with their combined force of 1.73 million tons of TNT (133 times greater than the force of the two bombs that obliterated Hiroshima and Nagasaki) would produce a dust cloud that would take several days to dissipate. But engineers were more taken with the idea of moving sixty­-eight million tons of earth and rock with a single blast, almost instantly cutting a channel 325 feet wide and nearly 11,000 feet long. While it would have saved $8 million in construction costs, the explosion also would have contaminated much of the Southwest, especially Kingman, Flagstaff, and Phoenix, Arizona directly east of the site. Knowing that the nuclear explosions would evoke some public interest, Austin scouted out a place for a reviewing stand for the press and VIPs on a ridge about ten miles away from the blast site.

“Fortunately, the plan had posed one question that scientists could not answer: How long would it take for the radiation levels at the immediate blast site to return to a safe level for humans? No one could predict how many weeks or months would elapse after the explosion before it would be safe for workers to build the highway. Unable to get an answer, Austin and the California Highway Department finally abandoned the plan in 1965 and decided to build the Bristol Mountains section of Interstate 40 with conventional blasting for about $20 million. The road opened in 1973. ‘Given what we know today about radiation, it’s a good thing we didn’t do it,’ said Robert Ramey, a civil engineer who worked on the project, adding wistfully, ‘I am kind of disappointed we couldn’t have seen how an experiment of this type would have worked.'”

 

Nobel winner says goal is to make nukes unacceptable

In Democracy, Environment, Justice, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, Public Health, War on October 10, 2017 at 10:48 pm

Associated Press, OCTOBER 09, 2017 , UNITED NATIONS
The head of the anti-nuclear campaign that won this year’s Nobel Peace Prize said Monday its goal is to make nuclear weapons unacceptable in the minds of people in every country — and have all nuclear-armed nations listen to their citizens and give up their arsenals.

Beatrice Fihn, executive director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons known as ICAN, told a news conference that for a long time nuclear weapons have been seen as “an issue of the past” that isn’t relevant.

But she said a potential nuclear arms race with nuclear nations modernizing their weapons and threats by U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un to use nuclear weapons “makes this an urgent issue again.”

“I think that this Nobel Peace Prize can really bring about a much bigger movement against nuclear weapons,” Fihn said. “This gives us an enormous opportunity to reach out to new audiences, and to mobilize people once again.”

ICAN, currently a coalition of 468 organizations in 101 countries, is expecting to expand.

Ray Acheson, an ICAN steering committee member from the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, told reporters that since the Nobel prize announcement on Friday the campaign has received “a lot of new partnership requests.”

The Nobel committee cited Geneva-based ICAN for its work that led to the first-ever Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons that was agreed to by 122 countries at the United Nations in July. It opened for signature on Sept. 20 and already 53 countries have signed and three have ratified.

Fihn said ICAN’s “ambitious goal” is to get the 50 ratifications needed for the treaty to enter into force before the end of 2018.

The United States, which boycotted negotiations along with other nuclear powers, reacted to ICAN’s award saying the treaty “will not make the world more peaceful, will not result in the elimination of a single nuclear weapon, and will not enhance any state’s security.”

Fihn said the U.S. reaction was “quite expected,” but it shows the treaty is having “an impact on them.”

She stressed, however, that the Nobel Peace Prize isn’t going to make Trump give up nuclear weapons.

“But I don’t think that’s really what we’re doing here,” she said. “What we’re trying to do here is to make nuclear weapons unacceptable in the minds of the people, and that’s where civil society has the power. That’s really what is changing things. And in the end, governments have to do what their people say.”

As for North Korea, Fihn said, North Korea won’t disarm as long as it thinks nuclear weapons are acceptable, legitimate and justified.

The nuclear weapon states and those countries under their nuclear umbrella currently maintain they are necessary for security, she said.

“I think that is what this treaty is about — stop allowing them to justify having weapons of mass destruction that are only meant to indiscriminately slaughter hundreds of thousands of civilians,” Fihn said.

She said it’s been during previous times of big crises that “the most progress” has been made toward nuclear disarmament.

Five years after the Cuban missile crisis in 1962, the Treaty of Tlatelolco was signed prohibiting nuclear weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean, and later the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, she said. And during heightened Cold War tensions talks in Reykjavik, Iceland between then U.S. president Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in 1986 resulted in the treaty to eliminate intermediate and shorter-range nuclear and conventional missiles the following year.

Fihn said these crises, and the current escalating U.S.-North Korean tensions, “also bring about public mobilization.”

“I think that that’s where this peace prize is extremely timely, and very urgently needed attention on this issue,” she said.

 

Pope Francis: Causing Climate Change Is a “Sin”

In Climate change, Environment, Politics, Public Health on September 11, 2017 at 6:20 am

 

By TomP , Daily Kos, Wednesday May 21, 2014 · 11:17 AM MDT

I hope this has an impact on people. Pope Francis recently spoke about climate change. Yes, it’s real:

Pope Francis made the religious case for tackling climate change on Wednesday, calling on his fellow Christians to become “Custodians of Creation” and issuing a dire warning about the potentially catastrophic effects of global climate change.
Speaking to a massive crowd in Rome, the first Argentinian pope delivered a short address in which he argued that respect for the “beauty of nature and the grandeur of the cosmos” is a Christian value, noting that failure to care for the planet risks apocalyptic consequences.

“Safeguard Creation,” he said. “Because if we destroy Creation, Creation will destroy us! Never forget this!”

The pope centered his environmentalist theology around the biblical creation story in the book of Genesis, where God is said to have created the world, declared it “good,” and charged humanity with its care. Francis also made reference to his namesake, Saint Francis of Assisi, who was a famous lover of animals, and appeared to tie the ongoing environmental crisis to economic concerns — namely, instances where a wealthy minority exploits the planet at the expense of the poor.

“Creation is not a property, which we can rule over at will; or, even less, is the property of only a few: Creation is a gift, it is a wonderful gift that God has given us, so that we care for it and we use it for the benefit of all, always with great respect and gratitude,” Francis said.

Francis also said that humanity’s destruction of the planet is a sinful act, likening it to self-idolatry.

“But when we exploit Creation we destroy the sign of God’s love for us, in destroying Creation we are saying to God: ‘I don’t like it! This is not good!’ ‘So what do you like?’ ‘I like myself!’ – Here, this is sin! Do you see?”

The Silence of the Good People

In Climate change, Democracy, Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nonviolence, Peace, Poetry, Public Health, Race, War on September 9, 2017 at 12:06 am

By Paul Street

Trutdig, Sept. 6, 2017

Editor’s note: This essay was written before Hurricane Irma emerged in the Caribbean. Irma is another historic superstorm whose fury is significantly fueled by climate change.

I naturally disapprove strongly of the virulent white racists who gathered to violently defend Confederate “slave power” statues in Charlottesville, Va., two weekends ago, but I’ll say one thing for them: At least they seem to care quite a great deal in urgent, if vile, ways about politics and current events.

The older I get, the more I am struck by the bloodless social and political indifference and lethargy of millions upon millions of my fellow Americans.

Tyranny feeds on mass apathy and docility as much as it does on the marshaling of dark and reactionary forces. As Martin Luther King Jr. wrote: “History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people. … In end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

“He who passively accepts evil,” King added, “is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.”

Ecocidal Evil in Power

Look at the rolling national atrocity that is the quasi- and perhaps pre-fascist Donald Trump presidency. Every week, it seems, the orange-tinted beast comes forward with new threats and offenses to basic civilizational decency. Look at recent events: the crazy game of thermonuclear chicken Trump continues to play with Kim Jong Un; the dog-whistling cover Trump gave to the Nazis and other white supremacists in Charlottesville; the president’s threat to “shut down the federal government” if Congress doesn’t pay for his criminally idiotic and racist border wall; his granting of an early, pre-sentencing pardon to diabolical Joe Arpaio, the former longtime racist-fascist sheriff of Arizona’s Maricopa County.

Behind the scenes of “This Week in Trump” (TWIT), the “Insane Clown President” has been effectively advancing a hard-right agenda directly through the nation’s executive branch. The federal bench is being remade in the image of the radically reactionary and arch-regressive Federalist Society. Financial regulations are being rolled back along with environmental, consumer and civil rights protections. Trump is doing everything he can to slash health coverage for poor people short of his failed efforts to repeal Obamacare—this while he angles to pass a plutocratic tax cut for the rich in a nation where the top tenth of the upper 1 percent already has as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent.

The worst and least discussed part of the Trump outrage may be the White House’s climate change-denialist commitment to the deregulation of energy and the dismantling of environmental protections. Humanity stands on the precipice of full-on environmental collapse, with anthropogenic (really capitalogenic) global warming (A/CGW) leading the grave threat to livable ecology. Trump’s radically reckless response is to pull the United States out of the moderate Paris Climate Accords, to remove all references to climate change from federal websites, and to head the Environmental Protection Agency with a fellow petro-capitalist climate change-denier who is dedicated to crippling that federal department.

Trump’s proposed budget calls for a 16 percent cut to the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, which monitors all things climate- and weather-related. The White House wants to slash $513 million from that department’s satellite program.

On Aug. 15, 10 days before Hurricane Harvey hit Texas, Trump signed an executive order repealing the Federal Flood Risk Management Standard, established under Barack Obama in 2015. The standard required the federal government to factor in climate change and sea-level rise when building infrastructure.

Meanwhile, as Houstonians struggle to recover from an epic storm clearly rooted in A/CGW, Trump proposes to lop off $667 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). His budget slashes disaster preparedness and response programs and FEMA’s pre-disaster mitigation program. It would wipe out the agency’s entire national flood insurance analysis program.

This is exterminist, ecocidal madness on steroids.

At the same time, Trump calls for $2.6 billion to finish his big, stupid, racist wall. In Phoenix two weeks ago, he threatened to “shut down the federal government” if it fails to fund that great monument to white-nationalist nativism. All this while advancing major tax breaks for the wealthy few and their giant corporations.

The Destructive Ideology of ‘I Voted’

This is big, existentially dire stuff. Talk about evil. And yet I routinely confront abject indifference and aversion to anything and everything political on the part of ordinary white middle-class Americans. If I were to try to engage people on these topics in downtown Iowa City, Iowa, right now (I am writing on a sunny, football-perfect Saturday afternoon here), people would politely step past me with no more consideration than what they give to a Jehovah’s Witness. “Go Hawks” (short for the Iowa Hawkeyes), they’d tell me. Yes, there is a significant increase in occasional liberal and progressive activism and protest under Trump. But it’s nowhere close to matching the level of dangerous and malicious criminality in Washington.

Millions of “good Americans” go through life in a chilling state of morally idiotic self-obsession and consumerism, chattering endlessly about their vacations, purchases, home repairs, automobiles, ailments, jobs and purely private dramas. The fact that the world’s most powerful state is headed by a racist, sexist and eco-exterminist white-nationalist, nuke-wielding malignant narcissist atop a team of right-wing, arch-plutocratic, planet-killing, science-denying enemies of peace, justice and democracy somehow doesn’t register as worthy of mass civil unrest in most American minds—white minds especially.

Masses of good Americans have other things to worry about. A well-dressed liberal and white-haired white lady I often see downtown is perpetually on her computer planning her and her retired husband’s next flight to some city abroad (today it’s Amsterdam, last month it was Jakarta, Indonesia). I asked her recently if she thinks she makes the world any better by flying around it again and again. She shot me an angry look and said, “I voted. For Hillary.”

It’s one thing to tell a pollster that you think government should work for social justice and common good. It’s another thing to forgo your drunken football tailgate or your next planet-cooking travel adventure in order spend your time and money differently, for movements to bring your purported noble ideals into fruition.

Trump and his noxious cadres of sociopathic ecology-wreckers and plutocratic racists calculate that masses of good Americans are so pervasively indifferent, self-absorbed (often to the point of pathological narcissism), preoccupied, distracted, diverted, disinterested and demobilized that they can get away with just about anything while pounding his ugly and angry white base to make the world yet more precarious and vile.

There’s something else that Trump counts on: mass acceptance of the childish notion that going into a two- [capitalist-] party ballot box for two minutes once every two or four years is a great and glorious exercise in popular self-rule. “Rejoice citizens,” the U.S. wealth- and power-elite and its ubiquitous commercial media tell the people: “You had your input on Election Day.”

Under the American religion of voting, Noam Chomsky told Dan Falcone and Saul Isaacson last year, “Citizenship means every four years you put a mark somewhere and you go home and let other guys run the world. It’s a very destructive ideology … basically, a way of making people passive, submissive objects. … [We] ought to teach kids that elections take place but that’s not politics.”

Remember what Trump tweeted on the second day of his presidency in response to historic, large-scale protests of his inauguration: “Watched protests yesterday but was under the impression that we just had an election! Why didn’t these people vote?”

Beyond the weird assumption that the people who marched against him didn’t vote against him, the real problem with that statement was the notion that a narrow-spectrum, candidate-centered election contest between two capitalist candidates once every 1,460 days grants a serious popular say on the direction the nation should take.

The marches against Trump’s inauguration were historic in scale. They were completely tied in with the election cycle, however. And, all of them (with all due respect for the airport and town hall protests in defense of Muslim travel rights and health care) have been remotely replicated in response to the actual policies—as opposed to the electoral advent—of the openly geocidal, racist and corporate-kleptocratic Trump presidency.

“The really critical thing,” the great radical American historian Howard Zinn once wrote, “isn’t who’s sitting in the White House, but who is sitting in—in the streets, in the cafeterias, in the halls of government, in the factories. Who is protesting, who is occupying offices and demonstrating—those are the things that determine what happens.” As Zinn explained in an essay on the “Election Madness” he saw “mesmerized liberals and radicals alike” as Barack Obama rose toward the White House in the spring of 2008:

The election frenzy seizes the country every four years because we have all been brought up to believe that voting is crucial in determining our destiny, that the most important act a citizen can engage in is to go to the polls and choose one of the two mediocrities who have already been chosen for us. … Would I support one [presidential] candidate against another? Yes, for two minutes—the amount of time it takes to pull the lever down in the voting booth. … But before and after those two minutes, our time, our energy, should be spent in educating, agitating, organizing our fellow citizens in the workplace, in the neighborhood, in the schools. Our objective should be to build, painstakingly, patiently but energetically, a movement that, when it reaches a certain critical mass, would shake whoever is in the White House, into changing national policy on matters of war and social justice.
‘The Real Issue to Be Faced’

But here Zinn was not radical enough. “Changing national [and state and local] policy” (Zinn) is only the tip of the iceberg of the transformation required. Near the end of his life, Dr. King wrote in his final essay that “the real issue to be faced” beyond “superficial” matters (like the color or partisan identity of a U.S. senator or president) was “the radical reconstruction of society itself.” He wrote that the black struggle of his time was “exposing evils that are rooted deeply in the whole structure of our society. It reveals systemic rather than superficial flaws.”

Those sage words ring with even greater relevance today than they did half a century ago. The U.S. didn’t get to its current horrific state simply through the machinations of the Trump campaign and the Republican Party. The real and deeper causes are systemic, institutional, cultural, moral and intellectual-ideological. As Naomi Klein notes in her new book, “No Is Not Enough: Resisting Trump’s Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need,” the shocking Trump ascendancy is “not just [about] an individual or even a group of individuals. … [It’s about the neoliberal capitalist] system that has elevated them to such heights.” A system, writes Klein, under which the “Democratic Party establishment [is] also enmeshed with the billionaire class.”

Hurricane Harvey is no aberration, no freakish fit of nature. It’s another terrible example of the new normal created by U.S-led global petro-capitalism, headquartered to no small degree in the “petro-metro” of Houston itself—the nation’s fourth largest city. As the environmental writer Robert Hunziker noted last Friday:

The human footprint is driving climate change to hyper speed. … Today’s rapidly changing climate is the upshot of the Great Acceleration or post-WWII human footprint into/onto the ecosystem. … Abnormal is now normal. One-hundred-year floods are passé. … Epic floods and historic droughts are the norm. It’s all happened within the past couple of decades. It was only [five] years ago that Hurricane Sandy caused $75B in damages as the second costliest hurricane in U.S. history. In France in 2003, the hottest heat wave in over 500 years killed approximately 15,000, as well as 70,000 throughout Europe. Stifling heat hung in the air for months, no movement, atmospheric troughs of jet streams stood still, likely influenced and altered by global warming, specifically via radical changes in the Arctic, which is losing its bright reflecting ice cap that used to reflect up to 90% of solar radiation back into outer space. … Meanwhile, drought clobbered the Middle East, especially Syria, experiencing its worst-ever drought in 900 years, displacing one-to-two million farmers.
This is the handiwork not of humanity per se but of Homo sapiens under the command of capital—as it has been for just a small slice (roughly half a millennium) of its history. Harvey is yet another deadly reminder that “nature bats clean-up” and will not let Homo sapiens off the hook for letting its capitalist “elite” drive global temperature to deadly extremes with excessive carbon emissions that are a direct consequence of modern capitalism’s lethal addiction to endless accumulation, commodification and quantitative “growth.”

‘The Time Is Always Right to Do Right‘

Those who persist in thinking that we can “wait” for the next election (assuming that Trump doesn’t take action to suspend the next presidential electoral extravaganza)—and then the next one after that and so on—to address the pressing issues of our time might want to read the following passage from a forgotten speech Dr. King gave at Illinois Wesleyan University in 1966:

The great challenge facing the nation today is to get rid of a system that is evil and that is morally wrong. Now, in order to get rid of this system, it will be necessary to develop massive action programs. The problem will not work itself out. In order to develop massive action programs, we’ve got to get rid of one or two myths that are quite prevalent and that we hear a great deal around various communities. One is what I often speak of as the myth of time … the argument that only time can solve the problem of racial injustice. Only time can bring integration into being. And so those who set forth this argument tend to say to the Negro and his allies in the white community, just be nice and just be patient and wait 100 or 200 years and the problem will work itself out.

I think there is an answer to that myth. That is that time is neutral, it can be used either constructively or destructively. And I’m absolutely convinced that in so many instances the forces of ill will in our nation, the extreme righteous of our nation have used time much more effectively than the forces of good will. And it may well be that we will have to repent in this generation, not merely for the vitriolic words and the violent actions of the bad people who would bomb a church in Birmingham, Alabama, but for the appalling silence and indifference of the good people who sit around and say wait on time.

Somewhere we must come to see that human progress never rolls in on the wheels of inevitability. It comes though the tireless efforts and the persistent work of dedicated individuals who are willing to be co-workers with God. And without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the primitive forces of social stagnation. And so it is necessary to help time and to realize that the time is always right to do right.
As I’m sure Dr. King would observe were he alive today (he’d be 88 years old), climate change—the biggest issue of our or any time—is a problem that is not going to “work itself out.”

More to the main point of this essay, we don’t have time to wait for it to do so. The fourth chapter of Klein’s new book is properly titled “The Climate Clock Strikes Midnight.” Tell me, dear reader, when did then-senior Exxon scientist James Black write that “man has a time window of five to ten years before the need to make hard decisions regarding changes in energy strategies might become critical” because of how “mankind is influencing the global climate … through carbon dioxide release from the burning of fossil fuels”? As Klein notes, those words were penned in 1978—the very year, for what it’s worth, when I (a budding young former-juvenile-delinquent-turned-bibliophilic-Marxist) read the great eco-socialist Barry Commoner’s urgent 1971 book “The Closing Circle: Nature, Man, and Technology” and then promptly forgot about the environmental issue for 15 years.

It is one thing to speak the standard “liberal” and “pragmatic” language of gradual, step-by-step progress—the discourse of “not making the perfect the enemy of the good”—when it comes to issues like poverty, inequality, mass incarceration, school funding, health care, taxation and the right to form unions. With these and other problems, Bill McKibben noted seven years ago, it is sometimes acceptable “to split the difference between different positions, make incremental change, and come back in a few years to do some more. It doesn’t get impossibly harder in the meantime—people will suffer for lack of health care, but their suffering won’t make future change impossible.”

Global warming is different for two reasons. First, as McKibben observed, it is “a negotiation between human beings on the one hand and physics and chemistry on their other. This is a tough negotiation, because physics and chemistry don’t compromise. They’ve already laid out their nonnegotiable bottom line: above 350 [carbon] parts per million [ppm in the atmosphere] the planet doesn’t work.” Second, as Klein writes, “Climate change … ha[s] a different relationship to time.” She further says:

With the politics of climate change … we don’t get to try again in four years. Because in four years, the earth will have been radically changed … in the interim, and our chances of averting an irreversible catastrophe will have shrunk. … Lots of social movements have adopted Samuel Beckett’s famous line: “Try again. Fail again. Fail better” as a lighthearted motto. I’ve always liked the attitude; we can’t be perfect, we won’t always win, but we should strive to improve. The trouble is, Beckett’s dictum doesn’t work for climate—not at this stage in the game. If we keep failing to lower emissions … there won’t be more opportunities to fail better.
Talk about what King called “the fierce urgency of now.” And talk about evil: The greenhouse gassing-to-death of life on Earth will make the Nazis, the sadistic Southern U.S. slave owners and the perpetrators of the Belgian genocide in the Congo all look like small-time criminals.

Mother Nature is a harsh and demanding mistress. We are anthrosuicidal fools to ignore her ever more pressing entreaties. 350? We passed 410 ppm earlier this year. We are on a pace for 500 by 2050 [which means so-long Antarctic, which means the end of the planet’s life-support system. As Klein notes, relaying what the world’s leading Earth scientists recently told her, “the window during which there is time to lower emissions sufficiently to avoid truly catastrophic warming is closing rapidly.”

If we are serious about averting environmental catastrophe in the next generation, we cannot take a “letter grades” approach. We are in pass-fail territory—and failing badly—in that policy realm. By all Earth science indications, it’s not about gaining a little bit this year, a little bit next year. We are approaching a chasm: We either take the leap or it’s game over, and, as Chomsky told Occupy Boston five years ago, “everything else we’re talking about won’t matter.” Hence the name of a recently formed Canadian statement platform for socially just, democratic, and environmentally sustainable policy: The Leap Manifesto.

Since Dr. King’s time, the United States has made some shining progress around questions of identity, civil liberties, bigotry and sexuality. It has made zero progress and, in fact, moved backward on economic justice and, most dangerously of all, on the intimately related environmental question, which now hangs over us like a great global Grim Reaper daring us to care about the fate of our own and countless other species.

A recent report on Moyers & Company shows that left-leaning social, political and environmental/climate progressives are the nation’s “new silent majority.” Now would be the time for that silence to find a voice. King’s line from the introduction to this essay bears repeating: “History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.”

 

Paul Street holds a doctorate in U.S. history from Binghamton University. He is former vice president for research and planning of the Chicago Urban League. Street is also the author of numerous books.

The Road to Charlottesville: Reflections on 21st Century U.S. Capitalist Racism

In Human rights, Justice, Politics, Public Health, Race on September 3, 2017 at 7:06 am

by PAUL STREET

 

https://www.counterpunch.org/2017/08/25/the-road-to-charlottesville-reflections-on-21st-century-u-s-capitalist-racism/

 

Racism’s Surface and Deeper Levels

The United States, where median Black household wealth is less than 7 cents on the white household dollar and where the mild slogan “Black lives matter” is considered controversial, is still very much a racist nation. Grasping the nature of this national racism in 21st century means looking at the different levels on which race operates here. One level is at the nation’s discursive and symbolic surface. It is about language, imagery, signs, the color of elite personnel, representation, and, well, symbols.

A different and deeper level is institutional and structural. It’s about how labor markets, the financial sector, the real estate industry, the educational system, the criminal justice complex, the military state, the corporate system, the dominant media, and capitalism more broadly all work to deepen, maintain, and/or reduce racial oppression and inequality.

At the surface and symbolic level, racism has experienced significant defeats in the United States since the rise of the Civil Rights Movement in the middle and late 1950s. Open public bigotry has been largely defeated in the nation’s corporate-crafted public culture. Prejudiced whites face public humiliation when they voice openly racist sentiments in a nation that took “Whites Only” signs down half a century ago. Favorably presented Black faces are visible in high and highly public places across the national media and political landscape. The United States, the land of slavery, put a Black family in the White House in November of 2008.

Even in the South, a racially mixed Black couple now does not generally have to fear white violence and insults as they walk down a city street. The formerly all-white University of Kentucky basketball team now routinely competes for the NCAA championship with nearly all-Black teams before tens of thousands of screaming white fans and white cheerleaders. Black players dominate on the perennial college football champion in the heart of Dixie – the Alabama Crimson Tide. Nightly television news teams are racially mixed across metropolitan America. Images of smart and handsome Black people are standard in commercial advertising, public relations, and human resources programs.

At the deeper institutional and societal level, however, racism is alive and well beneath the public and representational surface. It persists in the more impersonal and the more invisible operation of social and institutional forces and processes in ways that “just happen” to reproduce Black disadvantage. This deeper racism is so ingrained in the social, political, and institutional sinews of capitalist America that it is taken for granted – barely noticed by the mainstream media and other social commentators. It includes widely documented racial bias in real estate sales and rental and home lending; the funding of schools largely on the basis of local property wealth; the excessive use of high-stakes standardized test-based neo-Dickensian “drill” and grill curriculum and related zero-tolerance disciplinary practices in predominantly black public schools; the concentration of black children into over-crowded and hyper-segregated, pre-incarceratory ghetto schools where a highly disproportionate share of the kids are deeply poor; rampant and widely documented racial discrimination in hiring and promotion; the racist “War on Drugs” and the related campaign of racially hyper-disparate mass black arrest, incarceration and criminal marking. The technically color-blind stigma of a prison history and felony record is “the New N word” for millions of Black Americans subject to numerous “new Jim Crow” barriers to employment, housing, educational and other opportunities.

Place and Race

Persistent de facto residential and educational race apartheid/segregation is a very underestimated underpinning of the institutional racism that lives on beneath the “color-blind” mythology supported by the rise of highly successful and publicly visible Black Americans like Oprah Winfrey and the Obamas. This is because place of dwelling is strongly connected to economic status and opportunity. As sociologists Douglas Massey and Nancy Denton noted in their important 1998 book American Apartheid: Segregation and the Making of the Underclass “housing markets…distribute much more than a place to live; they also distribute any good or resource that is correlated with where one lives,.” The relevant goods and resources include jobs, education, safety, access to green spaces, civic community, healthy food, public and social services, and wealth in the form of home equity.

By concentrating poor and working class Black people in a restricted number of geographical places, including “downstate” (in Illinois) and “upstate” (in New York and Michigan) prisons , U.S. de facto race apartheid reinforces Blacks’ persistently disproportionate presence in the lowest socioeconomic places. It also renders Black experience largely invisible to most whites. This makes many Caucasian Americans susceptible to fantastically exaggerated and socially decontextualized media-generated notions of Black success and power (LeBron James, Oprah Winfrey, and Barack Obama) and – on the evening news, often delivered by “good Black” newscasters – to equally inflated images of “bad Black” criminality and “thuggery.”

Slavery Lives

Another critical and underestimated part of the societal racism that lives on beneath the representational and symbolic surface is the steadfast refusal of the white majority nation to acknowledge that the long (multi-century) history of Black chattel slavery – the vicious torture system of mass racist labor exploitation (itself the key to the early rise of American industrial capitalism, as the historian Edward Baptist has shown) that the Confederacy arose to sustain in 1861 and which prevailed across the U.S. South until the Civil War – and its Jim Crow aftermath are intimately related to the nation’s stark racial disparities today. There is something significantly racist about the widespread white assumption that the white majority United States owes Black America nothing really in the way of special, ongoing reparation for the steep and singular Black disadvantages that have resulted from centuries of overt, explicitly racist, and brutal oppression and exploitation. As anyone who studies capitalism in a smart and honest way knows, what economic actors get from the present and future so-called “free market” is very much about what and how much they bring to that market from the past. And what whites and blacks bring from the living past to the supposedly “color-blind” and “equal opportunity” market of the post-Civil Rights present (wherein the dominant neoliberal authorities and ideology purport to have gone beyond “considerations of race”) is still significantly shaped by not-so “ancient” decades and centuries of explicit racial oppression. Given what is well known about the relationship between historically accumulated resources and current and future success, the very distinction between past and present racism ought to be considered part of the ideological superstructure of contemporary white supremacy.

Even if U.S. capitalism was being conducted without racial discrimination – and vast volumes and data demonstrate that it is not (see my own discussion here) there would still be the question of all the poker chips that white America – super-rich white capitalist America in particular – has stacked up on its side of the table over centuries of brutal theft from Black America. Those surplus chips are not quaintly irrelevant hangovers from “days gone by.” They are living, accumulated weapons of racial inequality in the present and future. (For a more detailed discussion of this question, please see my recent Truthdig essay, “A Lesson on Slavery for White America”)

Not Glass Half-Full

It is tempting, perhaps, to see America’s split race decision – anti-racist victory on the surface and doggedly persistent racial disparity and oppression underneath – as a case of glass half-empty versus glass half-full. It’s more dark and complicated than that. For, perversely enough, the deeper level of racism may be deepened by surface-level Civil Rights victories insofar as those victories and achievements have served to encourage the great toxic illusion that, as Derrick Bell once put it, “the indolence of blacks rather than the injustice of whites explains the socioeconomic gaps separating the races.”

It’s hard to blame millions of white people for believing that racism is dead in America when U.S. public life is filled with repeated affirmations of the integration and equality ideals and paeans to the nation’s purported remarkable progress towards achieving it and when we regularly celebrate great American victories over surface-level racism (particularly over the open racial segregation and terror of the South). As the Black law professor Sheryl Cashin noted in 2004, five years before the existence of a first black U.S. president, there are [now] enough examples of successful middle- and upper-class class African-Americans “to make many whites believe that blacks have reached parity…The fact that some blacks now lead powerful mainstream institutions offers evidence to whites that racial barriers have been eliminated; [that] the issue now is individual effort . . . The odd black family on the block or the Oprah effect — examples of stratospheric black success,” Cashin wrote, “feed these misperceptions, even as relatively few whites live among and interact daily with blacks of their own standing.”

One of the many ways in which Barack Obama’s presidency was problematic for the cause of racial justice is the way it proved to be something of a last nail in the coffin for many white Americans’ already weak willingness to acknowledge that racism is still a major problem for Black Americans. This is something that Martin Luther King, Jr. anticipated to some degree. “Many whites hasten to congratulate themselves,” King noted in 1967, “on what little progress [black Americans] have made. I’m sure,” King opined, “that most whites felt that with the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, all race problems were automatically solved. Most white people are so removed from the life of the average Negro,” King added, “there has been little to challenge that assumption” (emphasis added).

Note the importance of segregated experience in King’s reflection half a century ago. The media image of black triumph and equality trumps the reality of persistent racial inequality in white minds so easily thanks in part to the simple fact that whites have little regular contact with actual, ordinary black Americans and little understanding of the very different separate and unequal ways in which most Blacks’ experience life in the United States. This is one of many ways in spatial and residential and school segregation – all still quite pronounced in the U.S. – matters a great deal.

More than just feeding illusions that racism has been overcome, the victories over surface-level racism and the related celebration of Black success in the reigning media-politics culture have helped feed the illusory belief that Blacks are getting more money and power than whites – that Black Americans are unfairly “getting over” on whites thanks to the nefarious actions of “liberal and left elites.” Poor, working-class, and middle-class whites who are struggling to keep their heads above water and not become “surplus Americans” (Charles Derber) in neoliberal New Gilded Age America (where half the population is poor or near-poor and the top tenth of the upper 1 Percent owns as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent while white working class life expectancy has gone into a chilling decline thanks to rampant alcoholism, opiate addiction, and related gun suicide) have shockingly little real-life contact with the nation’s disproportionately poor and struggling Black population. They do, however, regularly view images of wealthy Black celebrities and watch news broadcast by racially mixed and affluent talking heads. To many whites, these surface-level Black victories are no small status insult added to class-based economic injury. As the great Black American Marxist W.E.B. DuBois once noted, racism has long granted the white working-class a false but potent compensatory “psychological wage” of whiteness: the belief that while one may occupy a relatively low and insecure position in capitalist America one was at least more elevated and honored than “them”: that is, than Blacks.

To Defend “the Largest and Most Powerful System of Slavery in the Modern World”

This is essential context for understanding the terrible events in Virginia two Fridays and Saturdays ago. The shameful events there followed the decisions of the liberal University of Virginia-hosting campus down of Charlottesville to take down a statue of the Confederate War General Robert E. Lee and to rename the park in which that statue sits “Emancipation Park.” At the one level, the conflict is symbolic. Make no mistake: many of not most of the virulent racists (including Ku Klux Klan members and neo-Nazis) who showed up the “Unite the Right” rally to protest Charlottesville’s courageous civic decisions would love to see Black chattel slavery re-instituted across the U.S. today. But most white defenders of the southern Confederate symbols claim that they are about “culture,” an appreciation of “history,” and “regional” identity, and a belief in “states’ rights,” not slavery. That’s how the history Confederacy and the Civil War are still taught in most southern U.S high schools to this day.

Falsely taught, I should say, for the simple textbook historical fact of the matter is that the Confederacy was formed to preserve, by any means deemed necessary, the South’s “peculiar institution” – the arch-racist and mass-murderous torture and exploitation regime of Black Chattel Slavery. The Confederacy was a secession government formed among southern states whose ruling elites had determined that the election of Abraham Lincoln spelled the end of their vicious slave system. As the retired University of Virginia historian Edward Ayers told the “P”BS NewsHour last eleven days ago, “even if …individual [Confederate] soldiers were not slaveholders [plenty were- P.S.], they were fighting to defend a nation that was based on slavery… The fact is, had they won, you would have had an independent nation overseeing the largest and most powerful system of slavery in the modern world.”

The Road to Charlottesville

But beneath the historical argument at the symbolic surface, three forces drove the madness of the racist white nationalists who flocked to Charlottesville, including a young man from Ohio, were three basic forces. The first is a deeply fear-based sense that Blacks are “getting over” on them, violating the “psychological wage” and threatening to obliterate good hard-working white Americans with the help of white middle and upper class liberal and left elites. The nationalists tellingly chanted “you will not replace us” – as if Robert E. Lee had been turned down on a job or college application because of affirmative action – as they marched through the University of Virginia campus. Their fear is rooted in the very real and long-running neoliberal global-capitalist assault on working- and middle-class economic security, a persistent racial-spatial apartheid that makes real Black lives largely invisible to most whites, and in an exaggerated celebration of Black advancement and success that oddly combined with an equally exaggerated reporting of Black criminality in the dominant media that provides most whites their main images of Black America. It reflects the underlying and interrelated, racially toxic impacts of capitalist class rule, racial segregation (persistent American race apartheid), and corporate media

The second driving force is the right-wing, fascist, white-supremacist, and “alt-right” (neofascist) political media, from FOX News and talk radio to Alex Jones and Breitbart and the Websites of the shockingly large number of white nationalist and neo-Nazi hate groups themselves (see the Southern Poverty Law Center’s chilling “Hate Map” for a geographical mapping and naming of the nation’s many white hate groups, very disproportionately concentrated in former Confederate states). These virulent manufacturers of “blood and soil” white nationalism fan the flames of white racial sentiment, feeding the paranoid-style conspiratorial sense that a nefarious liberal and Left elite (replete with back-stabbing white “race traitors”) is pushing whites down while elevating people of color – who are slated to out-number white Americans by 2050- above them. The white hate groups have, incidentally, killed significantly more Americans on U.S. soil than any Islamic extremist forces in the post-9/11 era. They are the leading agents of lethal terrorism in the U.S.

The Imperial Wizard in the White House

The third driving force has been the quasi-fascistic Trump phenomenon and presidency. There’s was something naïve about liberal calls for Trump to be more forceful and concerned for national racial healing and unity in his response to the fascist protests and violence in Charlottesville. This is a president, son of a man arrested at a Ku Klux Klan rally, who entered the last presidential sweepstakes by advancing the ultimate racist “blood and soil” argument that Barack Obama wasn’t born in the U.S. As a real estate developer, Trump was heard saying that he didn’t want Black people handling his money (he preferred Jews in that role, he said) and was sued repeatedly for racist housing discrimination. As a presidential candidate, Herr Donald:

+ Refused to disavow the support he received from the former Ku Klux Klan (KKK) Grand Wizard David Duke and otherwise failed to properly distance himself from the Klan.

+ Offered to pay the legal bills of a white man who viciously sucker-punched a black protester at a Trump rally.

+ Responded to the racial turbulence sparked by repeated video-captured police killings of Black Americans and the rise of Black Lives Matter by calling for the “restor[ation of] law and order” to “control our cities” and for a “national stop and frisk law”—that is, for a declaration of national racist martial law.

+ Continued his noxious backing for the malicious racist railroading of the “Central Park Five”—five young black men who were wrongfully convicted (with Trump leading the charge) of raping a white woman in New York City in 1989. (The subsequently exonerated five spent years in prison for a crime they didn’t commit).

+ Gave a commanding position in his campaign to Steve Bannon, the director of Breitbart, an openly white-nationalist, paranoid-style and alt-right (proto-fascistic) website.

+ Absurdly charged without evidence and in so many words that people of color would commit massive voter fraud in the 2016 president election.

As president, Trump appointed one of the nation’s leading elected racists (Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions) as Attorney General (of all things) and kept the white-nationalist “populist” Bannon and Steve Miller on as top political advisors. He appointed the Hungarian fascist Sebastian Gorka, as his top “Counter-Terrorism adviser” and hired Gorka’s anti-Muslim wife Katherine as a top “policy adviser” in the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). He has exhibited a practically psychotic obsession with dismissing anything and everything remotely positive that might be associated with the nation’s first Black president. He has repeated the preposterous, racially loaded voter fraud charge, ridiculously claiming to have won the popular vote but for ballot shenanigans. (The charge turns history on its head, Orwell-style: Trump owned his victory in key battle ground states to the legal and illegal suppression of non-white votes). The Trump administration is actively stripping away civil rights protections and appointing enemies of racial justice and equality to a federal bench that is being made over the image of the right-wing Federalist Society. It is even turning the Orwellian table on race regarding college admissions by “preparing,” the New York Times reports, “to redirect resources of the Justice Department’s civil rights division toward investigating and suing universities over affirmative action admissions policies deemed to discriminate against white applicants.”

Trump has given the white-nationalist movement good reason to think that they have their first real champion in the White House. Of course Trump has failed to properly condemn white supremacy, bigotry and Nazism and cloaked his condemnation of the racist violence in Charlottesville with dog-whistles to the “alt-right.” Trump isn’t merely “reluctant to alienate [white] backlash voters, who are among his most loyal supporters” (E.J. Dionne). He is himself a backlashing white nationalist, albeit an atypically super-wealthy one. Expecting heartfelt moral leadership on racial justice (or anything else) from Donald Trump is like expecting a beagle to write a respectable doctoral thesis on particle physics. It’s like expecting me to become a starting pitcher for the Chicago White Sox.

Towards Truth and Reconciliation

What should be done? Miller and the Gorkas and other vicious racist white nationalists in the White House need to follow Bannon out the door, either voluntarily or not. So does the shameful Orange Beast and Imperial Wizard Donald Trump, who has become a grave nuclear threat to national and global security (the former top national U.S. intelligence official James Clapper is right about that, darkly enough) and who is very possibly now fantasizing about how he can enlist the nation’s vast white police state in the suspension of the 2020 elections on the pretext of a civil emergency or a corrupted voting system. (Recall that Trump would promise to honor the results of the 2016 election only if he won. He would likely refuse to acknowledge the legitimacy of an Electoral College count not in his favor in 2020).

The neo-fascist white right-wing needs to be disarmed, its hate-mongering leaders silenced and placed along with their followers in psychological treatment programs like those run by “Life After Hate”– a highly successful organization run by a recovered former leading white supremacist. Trump’s DHS recently slashed a grant the Obama administration had slated for “Life After Hate.” That grant should be restored and dramatically expanded.

We need to convene a national truth and reconciliation commission on the racist crimes committed against Black people in British colonial North America and in the U.S. from original British settlement through the present day. A key mission behind such a commission would be to educate Americans on the difference between getting a few Black faces in high places and real racial equality and justice. Other key themes would include the living relevance of centuries of Black chattel slavery for understanding contemporary racial inequality; the role of segregation in reducing Black opportunity and making Black experience invisible; and the ways that American racial oppression has harmed ordinary middle and working class white Americans as well as Blacks. It has done so by undermining their ability to join with Blacks in forming powerful grassroots organizations to fight the capitalist elite and by offering them the poison and false-compensatory “psychological wage” of whiteness.

It is long past time to massively de-incarcerate Black America, transferring billions of dollars spent on surveilling, arresting, prosecuting, incarcerating (the racist Trump is an active champion for the private-, for-profit prison industry), and branding Black people into meeting the vast swath of dire social needs that go neglected in contemporary America: schools, housing, health care, green space, and so much more.

We need to begin accelerated racial literacy and empathy programs to bring white Americans into Black and other nonwhite communities to confront the harsh realities of American racial apartheid and disparity – and to make real and un-threatening human, face-face connections with real Black and other nonwhite people. (“Life After Hate” does good work in this vein). This will counter the exaggerated images of Black success and wealth and Black criminality purveyed in the dominant media and to put racially blind whites in contact with real and all to ghettoized and oppressed Black lives.

Beyond just tearing down Confederate (Slave Power) symbols and monuments, we need to litter the nation and especially the South with signs and monuments reminding ordinary Americans of the monumental racist torture regime and holocaust that was Black chattel slavery and its Jim Crow aftermath. Lynching sites should be marked, with the names of victims and the circumstances surrounding their deaths included. Places where Black slaves and neo-slaves were bought, sold, whipped, exploited, worked to death, tortured, raped, and beaten should be gravely commemorated with names and plaques providing basic historical descriptions of what happened there. Done right, such a monument construction project – to be built by racially mixed teams under Black supervision – would create literally thousands of structures across the country and not just in the South.

The commission must be charged among other things with the design of a reasonable and properly targeted and serious program of racial reparations for the monumental injustices imposed by centuries of racial oppression from slavery through Jim Crow oppression, ghettoization, and the age of racist mass incarceration and criminal branding. It is long past time for a monumental payback – paid out of giant taxes on the absurdly rich U.S. financial and corporate elite. The class specificity of the payment us critical. We shouldn’t charge lower- and working-class whites a penny for the sins of slavery. American racial oppression, it should always be remembered, has harmed ordinary middle and working class white Americans as well as Blacks. The point bears repetition and elaboration. From the nation’s colonial origins through the present, the Machiavellian, ruling class-imposed color line (see Edmund Morgan’s truly classic 1976 study American Slavery, American Freedom: The Ordeal of Colonial Virginia) has hurt ordinary whites as well as people of color. Elite-crafted racism has undermined working-class and poor whites’ willingness and ability to join with Blacks and other nonwhites in forming the powerful grassroots alliances and solidarities required to wrest a durably decent living and a democratic society from the Wealthy Few. In the place of these necessities, the pervasive and living culture of racism – so doggedly persistent that (to repeat) the mild phrase “Black lives matter” is somehow controversial more than half a century after the passage of the Civil Rights Act – has offered poor and working-class whites the poison, false-compensatory “psychological wage” of whiteness. The always embattled actual American Left has always said something else: “Black and White Unite and Fight” in solidary against the ruling class masters. That slogan was no small reflection of how the American industrial workers movement was built in the 1930s and 1940s.

Unlikely under capitalism….

Can reparations (due also to Native Americans and nations abroad where untold millions/billions of people have been devastated by U.S. imperialism) be properly and meaningfully introduced under the existing U.S. regime of class rule called capitalism? Almost certainly not – as with the demand for a shift to an ecologically sustainable economy and society. It must therefore be considered a revolutionary demand and be combined with multi-racial working-class struggle to remove the “One Percent” (a catchy euphemism for the capitalist ruling class) not just from its wealth but also and above all from its command of the structuring and purpose of “our” (their) political economy. It must be interwoven with the struggle for the broad redistribution of wealth and power and for peoples’ socialism. This is very different from the reactionary, “divisive,” and zero-sum way in which reparations is advanced by its bourgeois champions both white and Black.

 

Paul Street’s latest book is They Rule: The 1% v. Democracy (Paradigm, 2014)

It’s Official: Nuclear Power Can’t Compete With Renewables

In Climate change, Cost, Nuclear powere, Politics, Public Health on August 6, 2017 at 1:38 am

Nuclear News,August 4, 2017, By Paul Brown, EcoWatch

Nuclear power now is really losing the race against renewables
The nuclear revival the global industry has been hoping for took another hammer blow this week when two reactors under construction in South Carolina were abandoned, only 40 percent complete.
The plan had been to build two Westinghouse AP1000 pressurized water reactors to lead the nuclear revival in the U.S., but cost overruns and delays dogged the project and will have the opposite effect. This is a further humiliation for Westinghouse, the U.S. nuclear giant that earlier this year filed for bankruptcy because of the costs associated with this new design. Hopes that a new generation of reactors could be built in the U.S. and sold to the rest of the world rested on the success of this project, and it has spectacularly failed.
By this week, construction had already cost $9 billion, almost the entire original budget, with years of building still to go. The reactors were originally scheduled to begin producing power in 2018, but this had been put back to 2021. Cost overruns had meant the final cost could be $25 billion. Around 5,000 construction workers have lost their jobs.
Changing context
The two owners of the project who had taken control after the Westinghouse bankruptcy, South Carolina Electric & Gas and Santee Cooper, announced they would halt construction rather than saddle customers with additional costs……..
Nuclear power did find favor in some quarters in the U.S. because it was regarded as a low carbon source of electricity. But President Trump is trying to dismantle legislation that would have helped the industry get credit for this.
The repercussions of the decision to abandon the building of the South Carolina reactors will be felt across the Atlantic in the UK, where three reactors of the same design were due to be built in Cumbria in the northwest of England. NuGen, the UK company that planned to build them, is, like Westinghouse, a subsidiary of the Japanese giant Toshiba. It was already reviewing its plans to build them before this week’s news broke.
Officially this is still the position, but it seems unlikely that the company would gamble on trying to build reactors of a design that could not be completed successfully in the U.S.
All big nuclear companies have new designs being constructed on home turf. Their plan has been to demonstrate how well they work and then export them. But this is currently not working anywhere, most spectacularly in Europe, where the French giant EDF is in deep trouble with its flagship design, the even larger 1,600 megawatt pressurized water reactor.
Rapid delay
Prototypes under construction at Olkiluoto in Finland and Flamanville in France are, like the AP 1000, years late and over budget.
Construction has started on two more at Hinkley Point in Somerset in the West of England, but already, within weeks of the first concrete being poured, a delay has been announced.
Although the British Government still supports the project, it has already been questioned by the UK National Audit Office, which polices government finances. The NAO said consumers will be paying far too much for the electricity even if the project is finished on time, which on the industry’s past record seems extremely unlikely.
With renewables providing more and more cheap power in Europe and across the world, it seems unlikely that any of the new generation of large nuclear plants will ever be able to compete.
Phase-out planned
Japan, still suffering from the after effects of the Fukushima disaster of 2011, is unlikely to be able to resuscitate its nuclear industry, and South Korea, with arguably the most successful nuclear construction record, has a new government which wants to phase out the industry.
Only China and Russia, where what is really happening in their nuclear industries is a closely guarded secret, remain as likely exporters of new nuclear stations.
Both countries offer to supply fuel to countries which buy their reactor models. As well as building them, they offer as part of the package to get rid of the spent fuel and waste, so any country that buys nuclear power from China and Russia is effectively tied to them for a generation or more.
So for Russia and China, selling nuclear power stations is a political decision to extend their influence rather than an economic one—and it could be an expensive option for all concerned. From a purely economic perspective, however, it appears the nuclear industry is reaching the end of the road.

The Harm Caused by Radioactivity

In Human rights, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Nuclear powere, Politics, Public Health, Race, Radiation Standards on August 1, 2017 at 11:38 am

Prepared for the Algonquins of Pikwakanagan

by Gordon Edwards, Ph.D., July 2017.

 

Atoms and Molecules

 

All material things are made up of atoms.  There are 92 different kinds of atoms found in nature, ranging from hydrogen (the lightest) to uranium (the heaviest).

 

Every atom has a tiny but massive core called its nucleus. The nucleus is surrounded by orbiting electrons (one electron for hydrogen, 92 electrons for uranium).

 

Molecules are combinations of atoms.  For example a molecule of water is H2O – two hydrogen atoms bonded together with one oxygen atom.  The bond that holds the atoms together in a molecule is the force of electromagnetic attraction.  That force is the result of atoms sharing their orbiting electrons; it does not affect the nucleus.

 

The cells in our body contain a great many complicated organic molecules, the most important one being the DNA molecule.  DNA carries the genetic instructions that we inherited from our parents. DNA tells our cells how to reproduce properly.

 

All organic molecules have chains of carbon atoms bonded to numerous hydrogen atoms, and other types of atoms too. Such molecules are the building blocks of life.

 

Chemical energy does not involve the nucleus, it only involves the orbiting electrons. Nuclear energy refers to energy that comes directly from the atomic nucleus; it is millions of times more powerful than chemical energy. Science had no knowledge of nuclear energy until the end of the 19th century.

 

Ions and Ionizing Radiation

 

“Ionizing Radiation” refers to any form of energy that is powerful enough to break molecules apart by randomly smashing the bonds holding its atoms together.  The electrically charged fragments of broken molecules are “ions” (or “free radicals”).

 

Ions are unstable. Because they are electrically charged they repel and attract other ions, causing chaotic chemical reactions to take place rapidly. Chaos is unhealthy.

 

The most commonly encountered forms of ionizing radiation are (1) x-rays from an x-ray machine and (2) emissions from the disintegration of radioactive materials.

 

Most other forms of radiation, such as visible light, infrared, microwaves, radio and television waves, are non-ionizing.  They can not break molecular bonds.

 

Biological Effects of Ionizing Radiation

 

Massive doses of ionizing radiation are deadly, killing any human being within days of exposure. So many molecules are destroyed, and so many organs are damaged, that the body cannot survive.  Such damage can be caused by a nuclear explosion.

 

Large but not lethal doses of ionizing radiation can cause nausea, vomiting, hair loss, sterility, eye cataracts, and severe burns that are very difficult to heal. Some of these symptoms are experienced by cancer patients undergoing radiotherapy.  In the case of pregnant women, such exposures to ionizing radiation can lead to the birth of deformed children, including babies with shrunken heads and impaired intelligence.  These effects are all well-documented in the scientific literature.

 

Low doses of ionizing radiation do not cause any immediately perceptible harm, but there is always damage to living cells within the body of the person so exposed.

 

The chaotic disruption caused by ionizing radiation is damaging to any exposed cell, often killing the cell, sometimes damaging it beyond repair. Fortunately, the body can replace such dead or non-functioning cells if the damage is not too extensive.

 

There are mechanisms available within the cell that can sometimes repair the damage done by ionizing radiation, but not always.  When repair fails, a cell crippled by ionizing radiation may go on living and reproducing with damaged DNA instructions.  It then multiplies in an abnormal fashion, yielding a cancer years later.

 

Although very few damaged cells develop into cancers, a wide variety of lethal and non-lethal radiation-caused cancers have been observed in populations exposed to low levels of ionizing radiation.  These are well described in the scientific literature.

 

Under a microscope one can see that blood changes occur even with low doses of ionizing radiation.  The blood cells most easily harmed are those that are needed by the body to fight infections. Thus ionizing radiation weakens the body’s immune system, making the individual more susceptible to a variety of infectious diseases.

 

In experimental animals it has been demonstrated beyond any doubt that even very small doses of ionizing radiation can damage the DNA of reproductive cells (eggs and sperm) of individuals.  Visibly defective offspring eventually result.  H. J. Muller won the Nobel Prize in 1946 for showing that there is no dose of ionizing radiation low enough to prevent harmful mutations from being caused by such exposures.

 

Similar evidence of radiation-induced mutations has not been found in human populations, but it is assumed that harmful mutations probably do occur in humans following exposure of their reproductive organs to ionizing radiation. All other species that have been studied have shown such effects.  This is the main reason that lead aprons are used to cover genitals when people are x-rayed in hospitals.

 

X-Rays – The Discovery of Ionizing Radiation

 

Ionizing radiation was unknown to science until 122 years ago.  Our first notice of ionizing radiation was the discovery of x-rays in 1895 by W. Roentgen in Germany.

 

An x-ray machine is powered by electricity. It can be turned on and off, like a light switch. When the x-ray machine is off it is harmless, but when it’s on it’s dangerous. That’s why, before giving an x-ray to a patient, the technician leaves the room.

 

When the x-ray machine is on, a powerful kind of invisible light – an x-ray – is given off.  While it can penetrate right through soft tissue as if it were made of glass, the   x-ray is blocked by denser material like bones. In this way doctors can examine the images of the bones of a human skeleton by catching their “shadows” cast by the x-rays on photographic paper or on an illuminated viewing screen.

 

The harmful effects of x-rays were discovered almost immediately.  Severe burns, eye cataracts, sterilization of experimental animals, and excess leukemia among radiologists, all caused by x-ray exposures, were recognized by the first decade of the 20th century.  And the ionizing character of x-rays was documented right away.

 

Doctors quickly realized that the destructive effects of x-rays could be used to advantage to fight malignant tumors (cancerous growths) by blasting them with     x-rays.  It works, at least partially.  Ironically, some of those same doctors years later died of cancers that were caused by their own repeated exposures to x-rays.

 

Radioactivity – The Discovery of Nuclear Energy

 

In 1896, just a year after the discovery of x-rays, a scientist in Paris named Henri Becquerel discovered radioactivity. It was an accidental event.

 

Becquerel had a rock containing uranium in a desk drawer.  In that same drawer he had a photographic plate wrapped in black paper to block any light.  But when the photo was developed, there was a blurry image – apparently caused by the rock.

 

This was a stunning discovery. Somehow, the rock was giving off an invisible kind of light, penetrating right through the black paper that blocked all visible light, so as to create an unmistakable image on a photographic plate.  The rock was behaving like a miniature x-ray machine that could not be shut off. How is that possible?

 

Where was this powerful invisible light coming from? There was no external power source – no electricity, no sunlight, no chemical reactions. Over the next few years the mystery was unravelled.  It was discovered that some atoms have an unstable nucleus, and uranium is one of those.  Such unstable atoms are called “radioactive”.  The nucleus of a radioactive atom spontaneously emits ionizing radiation. And it doesn’t stop. It is an ongoing release of nuclear energy that cannot be shut off.

 

Dangers of Radioactivity 1 – Radium

 

In 1898, Marie Curie discovered two new radioactive elements that are much more intensely radioactive than uranium alone. She named them “radium” and “polonium”.  They were found in the same sort of rock that Becquerel had used.

 

Later that year, Becquerel carried a sealed tube of radium in his vest pocket. As a result he got a nasty “radiation burn” on his torso that was painful, very slow to heal, and left an ugly scar. Marie Curie’s hands also suffered painful radiation burns after she handled a thin metal box containing a small tube of radium.

 

Seeing these burns, doctors used radium-filled “needles” to shrink solid tumors. Such a needle inserted into an unwanted growth delivers most of its harmful ionizing radiation to the diseased tissue while minimizing the dose to healthy tissue. Workers preparing the needles, surgeons implanting them, and nurses attending patients often received substantial doses of ionizing radiation themselves.

 

In 1908 a radium-based paint was developed that makes things glow in the dark. The invisible ionizing radiation given off by disintegrating radium atoms is absorbed and converted into visible light by specialized paint molecules. The glow that results needs no battery or other power source, not even exposure to sunlight. It just glows.

 

This soon became big business.  Thousands of teenaged girls were hired to paint the dials of watches and instruments with this wondrous new kind of paint.  By 1914 radium had become the most expensive substance on earth, at $180,000 per gram. It was painstaking work; the girls often used their lips to put a fine tip on their brush.

 

By the 1920s many of the dial painters had developed severe anemia, in some cases fatal. Autopsies of the girls’ bodies revealed ionizing radiation emanating from their bones, spleen and liver, due to tiny amounts of radium deposited in their organs.

 

Many girls also had grave dental problems with teeth breaking and falling out due to bone deterioration, plus rampant bacterial infections. Dentists working on the girls’ teeth found the jaw bones to be soft and porous, even fracturing spontaneously.  Dr. Martland, a forensic pathologist, showed in 1925 that these symptoms (termed “radium jaw”) were caused by tiny amounts of radium that had embrittled the bone.

 

Before long, cases of bone cancer began to be observed among the surviving dial painters. Over 1200 deaths from bone cancer were ultimately recorded in that population. It was crystal clear that ionizing radiation from radium deposited in the girls’ skeletons was the cause. In every case, the lethal amount of radium in any girls’ body was less than a milligram (a milligram is one thousandth of a gram).

 

Years later, several hundred of the remaining dial painters developed head cancers – cancers of the sinus and mastoid – caused by a radioactive gas (radon) produced by disintegration of radium atoms in the bones and carried by the blood to the head.

 

Dangers of Radioactivity 2 – Radon Gas

 

For 400 years, underground miners in the Schneeburg region of Germany suffered from a mysterious lung ailment that killed up to half the mining population.  In the mid-19th century the disease was identified as lung cancer. The cause was unknown.

 

By the 1930s, scientists learned that the miners’ lung cancers were brought about by breathing a radioactive gas called radon. It was pervasive in the underground tunnels. Ionizing radiation given off by the inhaled gas turned lung cells cancerous.

 

Radon gas is one of the most powerful cancer-causing agents known to science. It is invisible, odourless, and tasteless. It is seven times heavier than air, so it stays close to the ground. It cannot be filtered out of the air. And it is continually being created, one atom at a time, by the disintegration of radium atoms.

 

When a radium atom disintegrates it does not disappear, it becomes an atom of radon gas. So radium, a radioactive heavy metal, is gradually transforming itself into a radioactive gas. Indeed, every atom of radon was once an atom of radium.

 

These men were mining for silver and cobalt, but the ore was also rich in uranium.  Wherever uranium is found, there also is radium, as Marie Curie demonstrated in 1898. So there will be radon too – the gas is a so-called “decay product” of radium.

 

Throughout the twentieth century, underground uranium miners around the world suffered excess lung cancers caused by their exposures to radon gas – from the Navajo Indians mining uranium on the Colorado Plateau, to underground miners in Sweden and South Africa, to Canadian miners in the Northwest Territories, Northern Saskatchewan, Elliot Lake Ontario, and Newfoundland – all experienced a dramatically elevated incidence of lung cancer caused by their radon gas exposures.

 

The US Environmental Protection Agency estimates that currently, between 20,000 and 30,000 lung cancer deaths occur every year from American citizens breathing radon gas in their homes.  Radon gas enters homes when the soil has a higher than usual amount of radium, or when radium-contaminated materials are used in the construction of homes, as has happened in many communities.

 

Sometimes radon enters homes in the form of radioactively contaminated water (i.e. water containing dissolved radon).  In such cases high radon exposures often result from showering. Radon gas is the leading cause of lung cancer among non-smokers.

 

Because radium is such a deadly substance, it is now considered too dangerous to use in commercial applications. So radium became a radioactive waste product of uranium mining. Since the mid-20th century, massive piles of radium-bearing wastes – over 200 million tonnes in Canada – have been stored at the surface in the form of a fine sand.  These sandy wastes constantly give off radon gas into the atmosphere.

 

Dangers of Radioactivity 3 – Polonium

 

When uranium atoms disintegrate, they change into about two dozen other radioactive materials – these are the “decay products” of uranium.  Among these decay products are radium, radon, and polonium.  That’s why uranium ore always contains radium and polonium; they are both natural byproducts of uranium.

 

Since the Chalk River Near Surface Disposal Facility is intended to store a very large amount of uranium (1000 tonnes!), there will be always more and more radium, radon and polonium in those wastes as the centuries go by, increasing without end, as more and more uranium atoms disintegrate into their natural decay products.

 

Polonium is a radioactive solid that occurs in nature as a decay product of radon. When an atom of radon disintegrates, it becomes an atom of polonium.  In fact there are 3 different varieties (called “isotopes”) of polonium : polonium-218, polonium-214, and polonium-210. They are all radioactive byproducts of radon gas. And, of course, every atom of radon was once an atom of radium, and every atom of radium was once an atom of uranium, so it’s all happening all the time – a “decay chain”.

 

It so happens that polonium is the deadliest element on earth. Scientists at Los Alamos Laboratory in New Mexico, the place where they developed the explosive mechanism for the first atomic bomb, say polonium-210 is 250 billion times more toxic than cyanide. So whatever amount of cyanide is needed to kill a human being, that same amount of polonium-210 would be enough to kill 250 billion humans.

 

In 2008 a small amount of polonium-210 was dumped into a cup of tea in London, England, to murder an ex-Russian spy named Alexander Litvinenko.  He died an agonizing death as all his internal organs shut down one by one.  Polonium-210 attaches itself to red blood cells and so it spreads all over the body by normal blood circulation. The ionizing radiation given off by disintegrating polonium atoms is particular devastating to living tissue, wherever that tissue may be in the body.

 

When tobacco is grown, radon gas builds up under the thick leaves, and atoms of polonium are produced there. Polonium adheres to the sticky hairs on the leaves, so a very tiny amount ends up in the harvested tobacco. This situation is made worse when radioactive fertilizer is used to promote the growth of the tobacco plants.

 

The American Health Physics Society, specializing in monitoring radiation, estimates that 90 percent of the deaths attributed to cigarette smoking are actually caused by polonium-210 in cigarette smoke. So polonium is killing over 200,000 Americans per year, due to lung cancer, heart attacks and strokes caused by ionizing radiation.

 

Inuit people have more polonium in their bodies than the average Canadian because they eat a lot of caribou meat.  Caribou eat a lot of lichen, and the lichen absorbs the polonium dust that slowly settles out from radon gas atoms disintegrating in the air.

 

Is There a Safe Dose of Ionizing Radiation?

 

Large doses of ionizing radiation can cause death, radiation sickness, hair loss, sterility, radiation burns, cataracts, and many other harmful effects that are apparent within hours, days, or weeks of exposure – within a year, at least.  These are called “prompt effects”; they can all be prevented by lowering the exposure.

 

Low doses of ionizing radiation can cause cancers, leukemias, genetic damage to the DNA of reproductive cells, and a variety of other ailments that will often not become apparent for years or even decades after exposure.  These are called “delayed effects” of ionizing radiation.  (The technical term is “stochastic effects”.) Delayed effects cannot be altogether prevented just by lowering the level of exposure.

 

Many scientific bodies exist to sift through the scientific evidence and determine the truth as they see it.  These include UNSCEAR (United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation), the BEIR Committee of the NAS (National Academy of Sciences Committee on the Biological Effects of Ionizing Radiation), and the ICRP (International Committee on Radiological Protection).  These bodies have issued a series of reports over many years on the subject of ionizing radiation.

 

The scientific consensus of all these committees is that any dose of ionizing radiation, no matter how small, can in principle cause the delayed effects mentioned above: cancer, leukemia, or genetic damage.  But with very low doses of ionizing radiation, the fraction of the exposed population suffering such harm is also low.

 

All these scientific committees have accepted the “linear hypothesis” as the best guide.  The linear hypothesis implies that there is no safe threshold of exposure to ionizing radiation, because harmful effects – including lethal effects – can be experienced by individuals exposed to even low levels. To be more precise the linear hypothesis states that the number of damaged individuals in an exposed population is roughly proportional to the average dose multiplied by the size of the population.

 

It is worth noting that every nuclear regulatory body in the world has formally accepted the linear hypothesis. All radiation limits and standards are based on the linear hypothesis, with no assumed safe threshold.  This means that there is no absolutely safe dose of ionizing radiation, so all exposures should be kept to zero if possible.  The “permissible levels” of radiation exposure are based on the belief that some level of radiation-caused cancers or genetic defects is acceptable in exchange for the benefits of the radiation exposure that caused these harmful effects. It is also well-established that women and children are much more vulnerable than men.

 

When it comes to very long-lived radioactive waste materials that will be around for hundreds of thousands of years, the linear hypothesis becomes very worrisome, because the exposed population is not just those people who are living near the waste right now, but all the future generations of people who will live near the wastes for thousands of years to come.  As the exposed population grows larger and larger with time, the number of cancers and genetic defects becomes incalculable.

 

Radioactive Emissions: Alpha, Beta and Gamma

 

Sooner or later the nucleus of any radioactive atom will disintegrate (i.e. explode). Any emission given off during such a disintegration is called “atomic radiation”.  The half-life of a radioactive element is the time needed for half its atoms to disintegrate

 

Radioactivity is measured by how many disintegrations occur in one second. One disintegration per second is referred to as a “Becquerel” (Bq). A terabecquerel (TBq) is a trillion becquerels, indicating that a million million radioactive disintegrations are taking place every second. Many of the radioactive waste materials to be deposited in the Chalk River Near Surface Disposal Facility, according to authorities, are measured in terabecquerels, sometimes even thousands of terabecquerels.

 

When a nucleus disintegrates, it ejects an electrically charged particle, travelling incredibly fast, that can smash molecular bonds with ease.  There are two types of such particles. An “alpha particle” is positively charged, whereas a  “beta particle” is negatively charged. Almost all radioactive elements can be classified into one of two categories – either as an “alpha-emitter” or as a “beta-emitter”.  For example, polonium is an alpha-emitter, while tritium (radioactive hydrogen) is a beta-emitter.

 

In many cases, a disintegrating nucleus may also give off a burst of pure energy, very similar to an x-ray, but far more powerful. Such emissions are called “gamma rays”.  Any radioactive element that gives off gamma rays is called a “gamma-emitter”.  Technetium-99m, used in hospitals for diagnostic tests, is a gamma-emitter.

 

Since alpha particles, beta particles, and gamma rays all break molecular bonds, they are all classified as “ionizing radiation”.  As such, they are all able to cause any of the adverse effects described earlier as health consequences of ionizing radiation.

 

While alpha particles and beta particles are material projectiles, and not radiation at all, they are sometimes incorrectly referred to as “alpha rays” and “beta rays”. Being particles, however, they are much less penetrating than x-rays or gamma rays.

 

Gamma rays are the most penetrating form of atomic radiation, requiring heavy lead shielding to limit exposures.  Beta particles are much less penetrating. They can travel only a few centimetres in soft tissue, and can be stopped by an aluminum plate.  Alpha particles are the least penetrating, unable to pass through a sheet of writing paper or even a glass window. Despite the differences they’re all dangerous.

 

Due to limited powers of penetration, alpha-emitters and beta-emitters are mainly internal hazards (i.e. they normally must be inside the body to do severe harm). Once inside the body, alpha emitters are much more damaging than beta emitters.  An alpha particle is 7000 times more massive than a beta particle. If a beta particle is thought of as a kind of subatomic bullet, then an alpha particle is a kind of subatomic cannon ball : the cannon ball is less penetrating but more damaging.

Gamma rays, because of their great penetrating power, are external hazards as well as well as internal hazards (i.e. when gamma emitters are ingested or inhaled).

 

Special Dangers of Alpha and Beta Emitters

 

Gamma-emitters are easy to detect with radiation monitoring equipment. Even if a gamma emitter is inside your body it can set off a radiation alarm.  Alpha-emitters and beta-emitters are more difficult to detect even outside the body, and once inside the body they generally escape routine detection altogether. Laboratory analysis of urine or excrement or some other contaminated samples must then be carried out.

 

Canadian nuclear authorities have on occasion failed to detect alpha-emitters and beta-emitters for weeks, even while clean-up crews were being contaminated.

 

During a retubing operation at Pickering in the 1980s, workers were contaminated with a beta-emitting radioactive dust (carbon-14) for weeks. By the time authorities finally identified the danger, workers had been tracking the material to their homes on a regular basis. Bedclothes and some furniture had to be removed from workers’ homes and disposed of as radioactive waste.  Internal contamination of the worker’s bodies by inhalation and ingestion of radioactive carbon dust could not be undone.

 

More recently, during the refurbishment of the Bruce A nuclear reactors in 2009, over 500 contract workers – not regular employees of Bruce Power – inhaled alpha-emitting dust on the job for several weeks before the authorities detected the hazard. Those alpha-emitting radioactive materials are now lodged inside the worker’s lungs and other internal organs, and will be there for years to come.  Long after the job has ended, their bodies will continue to be irradiated from the inside.

 

Both of these episodes could have been avoided if nuclear authorities had tested air samples for radioactive contamination on a daily basis, or if workers had been issued respirators and protective clothing.  But incredible as it may seem, the regulator (CNSC) found none of the managers or inspectors guilty of negligence.

 

It is a fact that alpha-emitters have killed more people during the twentieth century than any other kinds of radioactive materials.  Radium, radon, polonium, and uranium are all alpha-emitters, and they have killed hundreds of thousands.

 

Inside every nuclear reactor, new man-made alpha-emitters are created, such as plutonium, neptunium, americium, and curium. These are among the alpha-emitting radioactive materials that were suspended in the air inside the Bruce reactor building while contract workers without respirators went about their work.

 

The Chalk River Near Surface Disposal Facility is intended to store a significant amount of plutonium and other alpha-emitting material – all of it difficult to detect, all of it highly dangerous even in tiny amounts. The main reason that the Chalk River radioactive waste will remain dangerous for hundreds of thousands of years is that many of the human-made alpha emitters have very long lives. Plutonium-239 has a half-life of 24,000 years, but its decay product has a half-life of 700 million years.

 

Conclusion

 

Here are some statements from various official bodies in Canada and elsewhere:

 

  1. Report to the U.S. Congress by the Comptroller General of the United States

“Nuclear Energy’s Dilemma: Disposing of Nuclear Waste Safely” (Sept 1977)

 

“Radioactive wastes, being highly toxic, can damage or destroy living cells, causing cancer and possibly death depending on the quantity and length of time individuals are exposed to them.  Some radioactive wastes will remain hazardous for hundreds of thousands of years.  Decisions on what to do with these wastes will affect the lives of future generations….”

 

“To safeguard present and future generations, locations must be found to isolate these wastes and their harmful environmental effects.  A program must be developed for present and future waste disposal operations that will not create unwarranted public risk.  Otherwise, nuclear power cannot continue to be a practical source of energy.”

 

  1. Nuclear Policy Review, Background Papers (Report ER81-2E)

Energy Mines and Resources, Government of Canada, 1982

 

“Despite repeated assurances that nuclear waste disposal presents no insoluble scientific, engineering, or environmental problems, the issue remains in the minds of the public and some members of the scientific community as a serious unresolved issue associated with the development of nuclear energy….”

 

“Three general issues can be highlighted.  First, there is a concern that society is imposing a serious burden on future generations by leaving behind a legacy of radioactive wastes which may prove difficult to manage….

 

“This naturally raises a second question.  How can it be proven that waste disposal systems will perform adequately over very long periods of time? ….

 

 “Finally, there is the problem of establishing what the words “perform acceptably” mean.  A clear general statement of overall principles applying to radioactive waste management has yet to be agreed upon within Canada or internationally.”

 

  1. BEIR-VII – 7th Report on the Biological Effects of Ionizing Radiation (2008)

The National Research Council of the US National Academy of Sciences

 

“The scientific research base shows that there is no threshold of exposure below which low levels of ionizing radiation can be demonstrated to be harmless or beneficial. The health risks – particularly the development of solid cancers in organs – rise propor-tionally with exposure. At low doses of radiation, the risk of inducing solid cancers is very small. But as the overall lifetime exposure increases, so does the risk.”

 

Committee Chair Richard R. Monson, Professor of Epidemiology,

Harvard School of Public Health, Boston; Press Release, June 2007

  1. Nuclear Power and the Environment, Sir Brian Flowers (Sept 1976)

Sixth Report of the UK Royal Commission on the Environment

 

 “We must assume that these wastes will remain dangerous, and will need to be isolated from the biosphere, for hundreds of thousands of years.  In considering arrangements for dealing safely with such wastes man is faced with time scales that transcend his experience…. 

 

 “The creation of wastes which will need to be contained for such periods of time, and hence of a legacy of risk and responsibility to our remote descendants, is a matter of great concern to many people.  We think, however, that some continuity must be assumed in human affairs and institutions, and in the ability of future generations to maintain the necessary containment.”

 

 “We are confident that an acceptable solution will be found and we attach great importance to the search; for we are agreed that it would be irresponsible and morally wrong to commit future generations to the consequences of fission power on a massive scale unless it has been demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt that at least one method exists for the safe isolation of these wastes for the indefinite future.”

 

  1. Select Committee on Ontario Hydro Affairs, Ontario Legislature (June 1980)

The Management of Nuclear Fuel Waste, Final Report

 

 “The consensus of the Committee is that communities are not likely to easily accept the siting of what will be perceived as a garbage dump for frightening nuclear poisons.  The waste must be disposed of.  It must be disposed of safely and permanently.  In the Committee’s view, it is most likely that government will ultimately have to choose where the unpopular site will be located….”

 

 “One of the major problems AECL must overcome is the public’s perception that its entire program — from basic research to public information — is biased by its commitment to nuclear power and consequent desire to show that waste disposal is not an insuperable problem.  The Committee’s view is that AECL compounded its credibility problem by its one-sided, overly positive and broadly pro-nuclear presentation of information.”

 

  1. A Race Against Time, Interim Report on Nuclear Power In Ontario (Sept 1978)

Ontario Royal Commission on Electric Power Planning, Arthur Porter

 

“Given the very long life of these toxic materials, no man-made containment system can ever be predicted to give sufficient protection.  All over the world scientists are looking for ways to use nature as a final barrier.”

 

Articles by Dr. Gordon Edwards on the Biological Effects of Ionizing Radiation

 

  Open Letter to Physicists:  http://www.ccnr.org/open_letter.html

     Report for Environmental Advisory Council: http://www.ccnr.org/CEAC_B.html

  Estimating Lung Cancers:  http://www.ccnr.org/lung_cancer_1.html

     Review of Tritium Report:  http://www.ccnr.org/GE_ODWAC_2009_e.pdf

The Republican leadership’s strategy for repealing Obamacare has depended on secrecy.

In Democracy, Human rights, Politics, Public Health on July 27, 2017 at 7:56 am

New York Times, July 26, 2017, David Leonhardt. Op-Ed Columnist

No hearings. Little public debate. Few town-hall meetings. Rushed votes. And, in a depressing spectacle yesterday, a Senate vote to move a bill forward even though neither the senators themselves nor their constituents know which bill is actually under consideration.

“I have covered every health bill in Congress since 1986,” Julie Rovner, the chief Washington correspondent for Kaiser Health News, tweeted this week. “There has NEVER been anything this nuts before in terms of process. Never.”

Let’s be clear about what could happen now: More than 20 million Americans could lose their health insurance. Millions more could see the quality of their insurance deteriorate. If this happens, people would ultimately be denied medical care or receive worse care as a result. A Times editorial has more details.

Is there anything that concerned citizens can do? Yes, there is.

“The next 24 hours are critical. The public blowback must be immediate and overwhelming,” Topher Spiro, a former Congressional aide who opposes the various bills, wrote yesterday.

Remember: The strategy for passing the bill depends on secrecy. Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan and their allies understand that their plans are deeply unpopular. So the best way to prevent them from taking health coverage from people is to call attention to their efforts. On Tuesday night, one Obamacare replacement bill had already failed.

Spiro suggested that people with Democratic senators call them to urge them to fight as hard as possible, by filibustering and offering unlimited amendments. Locking in the tentative no votes from Republican senators Lisa Murkowski (of Alaska) and Susan Collins (of Maine) is also critical.
Meanwhile, people who live in Ohio, Nevada, West Virginia, Arizona, Wisconsin, Kentucky, Kansas, Colorado, Louisiana and Utah are represented by Republican senators who could provide the swing vote.

Senate leadership wants to pass a bill this week, Marianna Sotomayor of NBC reported. One worrisome possibility, as Senator Chris Murphy noted, is the Senate passing a bare-bones bill, under the guise of fixing it during so-called conference negotiations with the House. That would almost certainly lead to massive losses in insurance coverage.

If you were ever tempted to get involved in politics, now would be a good time — to make a phone call or urge friends and relatives to do so. And if you’re a United States senator who is tempted to put Americans’ well-being above partisan loyalty, now would be a really good time.