Sunday, June 17, 2012

Obama Trade Document Leaked, Revealing New Corporate Powers And Broken Campaign Promises

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A critical document from President Barack Obama's free trade negotiations with eight Pacific nations was leaked online early Wednesday morning, revealing that the administration intends to bestow radical new political powers upon multinational corporations, contradicting prior promises.

The leaked document has been posted on the website of Citizens Trade Campaign, a long-time critic of the administration's trade objectives. The new leak follows substantial controversy surrounding the secrecy of the talks, in which some members of Congress have complained they are not being given the same access to trade documents that corporate officials receive.

"The outrageous stuff in this leaked text may well be why U.S. trade officials have been so extremely secretive about these past two years of [trade] negotiations," said Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch in a written statement.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) has been so incensed by the lack of access as to introduce legislation requiring further disclosure. House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) has gone so far as to leak a separate document from the talks on his website. Other Senators are considering writing a letter to Ron Kirk, the top trade negotiator under Obama, demanding more disclosure.

The newly leaked document is one of the most controversial of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact. It addresses a broad sweep of regulations governing international investment and reveals the Obama administration's advocacy for policies that environmental activists, financial reform advocates and labor unions have long rejected for eroding key protections currently in domestic laws.

Under the agreement currently being advocated by the Obama administration, American corporations would continue to be subject to domestic laws and regulations on the environment, banking and other issues. But foreign corporations operating within the U.S. would be permitted to appeal key American legal or regulatory rulings to an international tribunal. That international tribunal would be granted the power to overrule American law and impose trade sanctions on the United States for failing to abide by its rulings.

The terms run contrary to campaign promises issued by Obama and the Democratic Party during the 2008 campaign.

"We will not negotiate bilateral trade agreements that stop the government from protecting the environment, food safety, or the health of its citizens; give greater rights to foreign investors than to U.S. investors; require the privatization of our vital public services; or prevent developing country governments from adopting humanitarian licensing policies to improve access to life-saving medications," reads the campaign document.

Yet nearly all of those vows are violated by the leaked Trans-Pacific document. The one that is not contravened in the present document -- regarding access to life-saving medication -- is in conflict with apreviously leaked document on intellectual property (IP) standards.

"Bush was better than Obama on this," said Judit Rius, U.S. manager of Doctors Without Borders Access to Medicines Campaign, referring to the medication rules.

In a statement provided to HuffPost, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative downplayed the concerns.

"This administration is committed to ensuring strong environmental, public health and safety laws," said USTR spokesperson Nkenge Harmon. "Nothing in our TPP investment proposal could impair our government's ability to pursue legitimate, non-discriminatory public interest regulation, including measures to protect public health, public safety and the environment."

Words like "legitimate" and "nondiscriminatory" can have flexible interpretations among international tribunals, however, which have recently ruled that U.S. dolphin-safe tuna labelling and anti-teen smoking efforts are unfair barriers to trade, according to prior trade pacts. The new investment rules, for instance, extend to government contracting negotiations, eliminating so-called "Buy American" preferences for domestic manufacturers.

USTR has previously stated that it does not comment on the terms of an allegedly leaked document.

The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative insists that while broad standards require many medical patents and IP rules that would increase the price of medications, the U.S. intends to work with countries involved in the Trans-Pacific talks to ensure that the agreement does not restrict access to life-saving drugs.

That statement is belied somewhat by recent American efforts in other international negotiations to establish controversial medical patents that grant companies long-term monopolies on life-saving medications. Those monopolies increase drug prices, which impede access to medications, particularly in developing nations. The World Health Organization and dozens of nonprofit public health groups have objected to the standards sought by the Obama administration. Two United Nations groups recently urged global governments not to agree to trade terms currently being advocated by the Obama administration, on the grounds that such rules would hurt public health.

Such foreign investment standards have also come under fire at home, from both conservative sovereignty purists and progressive activists for the potential to hamper domestic priorities implemented by democratically elected leaders. The North American Free Trade Agreement, passed by Congress in 1993, and a host of subsequent trade pacts granted corporations new powers that had previously been reserved for sovereign nations and that have allowed companies to sue nations directly over issues.

While the current trade deal could pose a challenge to American sovereignty, large corporations headquartered in the U.S. could potentially benefit from it by using the same terms to oppose the laws of foreign governments. If one of the eight Pacific nations involved in the talks passes a new rule to which an American firm objects, that U.S. company could take the country to court directly in international tribunals.

Public Citizen challenged the independence of these international tribunals, noting that "The tribunals would be staffed by private sector lawyers that rotate between acting as 'judges' and as advocates for the investors suing the governments," according to the text of the agreement.

In early June, a tribunal at the World Bank agreed to hear a case involving similar foreign investment standards, in which El Salvador banned cyanide-based gold mining on the basis of objections from the Catholic Church and environmental activists. If the World Bank rules against El Salvador, it could overturn the nation's domestic laws at the behest of a foreign corporation.

Speaking to the environmental concerns raised by the leaked document, Margrete Strand Rangnes, Labor and Trade Director for the Sierra Club, an environmental group said, "Our worst fears about the investment chapter have been confirmed by this leaked text ... This investment chapter would severely undermine attempts to strengthen environmental law and policy."

Basic public health and land-use rules would be subject to challenge before an international tribunal, as would bank regulations at capital levels that might be used to stymie bank runs or financial crises. The IMF has advocated the use of such capital controls, which would be prohibited under the current version of the leaked trade pact. Although several countries have proposed exceptions that would allow them to regulate speculative financial bets, the U.S. has resisted those proposals, according to Public Citizen.

Trans-Pacific negotiations have been taking place throughout the Obama presidency. The deal is strongly supported by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the top lobbying group for American corporations. Obama's Republican opponent in the 2012 presidential elections, Mitt Romney, has urged the U.S. to finalize the deal as soon as possible.

The Chicago Frame-Up: The “War On Terror” Comes Home

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The arrest and prosecution of the five protesters accused of plotting “terrorism” during last month’s NATO summit in Chicago, Illinois is a warning to the entire working class. It marks an ominous step in the escalating use of repressive state powers built up during the “war on terror” against domestic opposition.

This week, the five men appeared in court, though prosecutors have refused to release any information on the charges against them. They have been held now for nearly a month without charges. Even the judge presiding over the case called it “strange” that the prosecution did not present an indictment, which is now expected to be released on July 2.

The hearing’s main aim appears to have been to present the accused, their hands and feet shackled, as dangerous criminals. The conditions under which they are being held, including the extraordinarily high bond of $1.5 million for the three main accused, also contribute to presenting the case as if it were a major issue of national security.

The Illinois state attorney has indicated that the accused will be charged under state anti-terrorism statutes. These laws were passed after the attacks of September 11, 2001, along with a raft of similar legislation in other states and at the federal level. The law in Illinois is particularly sweeping in defining what constitutes “terrorism”—including, for example, any act that “causes substantial damage” to livestock and crops. As one of the attorneys of the accused put it, “You can be charged with terrorism by destroying a beehive.”

At the time of their arrest, the Illinois state attorney, Anita Alvarez, said that three of the five—Jared Chase, Brent Betterly and Brian Church—were trying to make crude Molotov cocktails to target Democratic Party institutions.

The other two men, Sebastian Senakiewicz and Mark Neiweem, face terrorism-related charges for two separate incidents. Senakiewicz allegedly bragged about possessing explosives without having any—resulting in a charge of making false bomb threats. Neiweem allegedly wrote up a list of ingredients for a pipe bomb—resulting in a charge of “attempted possession” of explosives.

What unites the three cases and all five defendants is the involvement of two undercover police informants, “Mo” and “Gloves,” who had infiltrated the Occupy Chicago organization several months before. No physical evidence has been presented or alleged to substantiate the cases. Moreover, any plans for violence appear to have been entirely instigated by the police informants.

The operation that led to the arrests was part of a broader police mobilization during the protests. Police effectively shut down Downtown Chicago for four days, arrested 100 demonstrators, and indiscriminately beat protesters.

The Obama administration’s response to the events in Chicago—including the terrorism frame-up—was to praise the police, which, Obama said, “did a great job under significant pressure and a lot of scrutiny.” In doing so, he made clear that his administration endorses the crackdown.

The resort to methods of police provocation reflects the irreconcilable conflicts tearing at American society. Anger is mounting in the working class at policies to which the two big business parties of America’s sclerotic political establishment are entirely committed: attacks on jobs and social programs, bank bailouts, and endless wars.

This same social dynamic underlies the profound erosion of American democracy in the decade during which the “war on terror” developed, and which began with the theft of the 2000 election. Since the attacks of September 11, the ruling class, first under Bush and now Obama, has vastly expanded the powers of the state. The “war on terror” became the catch-all justification for measures creating the legal framework of a police state in the United States.

With bipartisan support, the Bush administration oversaw the passage of the Patriot Act, which expanded the spying powers of the state, the establishment of the Department of Homeland Security, and the creation of a military command overseeing the United States. It asserted an historically unprecedented expansion of executive power to torture, wage war and spy on the American population. The National Security Agency set up an illegal system to monitor US citizens’ communications.

The policies of the Obama administration have demonstrated the futility and bankruptcy of attempts to fight the move towards police rule in the United States within the confines of the two-party system

The Obama White House has opposed any attempt to investigate, let alone prosecute, its predecessor’s illegal actions, moving instead to treat the United States as one “battlefield” in a global war without any constraints in time or space. It oversaw the passage of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012, which allows for indefinite military detention of US citizens without charges or trial.

Most recently, Obama has asserted the president’s right to assassinate US citizens without any judicial review. Attorney General Eric Holder has argued that the constitutional right to due process, a basic protection against arbitrary rule by the executive, is satisfied by the internal deliberations of the president and his closest advisors. On these grounds, anyone can be killed, or otherwise deprived of basic rights, entirely on the say-so of the president.

These events vindicate the warnings which explained that the main target of the anti-democratic apparatus built during the “war on terror” was the American population itself. Fearful of rising social opposition that can find expression only outside of official politics, the ruling class seeks to stamp it out with intimidation and frame-ups.

E-Mails Detail Obama White House Collusion With Drug Industry

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E-mails and memos recently made public by House Republicans provide new details to substantiate what the WSWS has long maintained: The Obama administration worked closely with the drug companies to draft an overhaul to the health care system favorable to corporate interests. The messages trace negotiations in 2009 between White House officials and Washington lobbyists for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, or PhRMA.

The trail of messages reveals that the drug industry made minimal concessions to fund the health law’s programs in exchange for avoiding policies in the Affordable Care Act that would cut into their profits. The correspondence also shows that a $150 million advertising campaign by supposedly independent groups backing Obama’s health care bill was in fact funded by the drugmakers.

Specifically, the pharmaceutical industry agreed to an estimated $80 billion to $125 billion in taxes, discounts and other contributions to fund the health care bill’s programs in the run-up to the legislation’s passage in March 2010. In exchange for these concessions, PhRMA secured an agreement with the Obama administration that other policies potentially costing the drug industry much more would not be part of the bill, including one that would have allowed importation of cheaper, brand-name drugs.

The negotiations were led by key presidential aides: Rahm Emanuel, Barack Obama’s chief of staff at the time, and his deputy Jim Messina. Also closely involved was Nancy-Ann DeParle, then director of the White House Office of Health Reform. Administration officials sought a direct line of communication with PhRMA, led at the time by Billy Tauzin—the former Louisiana Democratic congressman, turned Republican, turned multimillionaire lobbyist.

A White House staffer wrote in May 2009, “Rahm’s calling Nancy-Ann and knows Billy is going to talk to Nancy-Ann tonight. Rahm will make it clear that PhRMA needs a direct line of communication, separate and apart from any coalition.”

The White House was apparently upset that the drug industry had not agreed to a joint statement supporting the health care legislation. Bryant Hall, PhRMA’s lead Affordable Care Act negotiator, wrote in one e-mail, “Barack Obama is going to announce in his Saturday radio address support for rebating all of D unless we come to a deal.” “D” referred to a change to Medicare Part D financing that would detrimentally affect the industry.

As it turned out, no such public confrontation took place. Hall wrote in an e-mail to Tauzin and Jeffrey Kindler, then CEO of pharmaceutical giant Pfizer: “Latest: the President’s radio…address will not have any mention of Part D. It will contain a reference to ‘negotiating fair drug prices’ or something like that…. No mention of rebates and no mention of part D.”

The message continued: “[White House budget director Peter] Orszag is still pushing hard to have something concrete in an underlying support document—like a Part D rebate. I told Nancy-Ann [DeParle] how problematic this is for us and she knows it. She is working on Messina to call him.”

In September, Hall informed Kindler that an agreement had been reached with the White House. He wrote that Messina “is working on some very explicit language on importation to kill it in health care reform. This has to stay quiet.”

The Medicare concession by the industry was negotiated from $100 billion down to $80 billion. In exchange, the White House agreed to backtrack on allowing drug importation, over the public protestations of some Senate Democrats.

In a show of appreciation for the deal, PhRMA underwrote a $150 million advertising campaign—coordinated with the White House—in support of the health care legislation. This included $70 million to finance two supposedly independent 501(c)(4) groups: Healthy Economy Now and Americans for Stable Quality Care.

One of the recently released memos from PhRMA notes that as part of the deal, “the industry provides the majority of financial support for positive TV ads advocating passage of health reform.” At the time, the Obama administration distanced itself from the ad campaign.

The Republicans are attempting to utilize the information exposed in the e-mails as ammunition against the Obama administration’s re-election bid, as well as to agitate ahead of an impending decision by the U.S. Supreme Court on the constitutionality of the health care legislation.

Commenting on the dealings between the Obama White House and PhRMA, Rep. Michael C. Burgess, Republican of Texas, said, “He said it was going to be the most open and honest and transparent administration ever and lobbyists won’t be drafting the bills. Then when it came time, the door closed, the lobbyists came in and the bills were written.”

That the Republican Party—with lucrative ties to the health care industry lobby—can attempt to strike a populist pose in exposing the dirty dealing behind the scenes between Obama aides and the drug lobbyists is testament to the regressive character of the health care legislation. It has been designed not to improve and expand the quality and accessibility of health services for the vast majority of Americans, but to cut government spending and boost corporate profits.

The reaction of the Obama administration to the release of the e-mails has been predictably cynical. Dan Pfeiffer, White House communications director, commented last Friday, “Throughout his campaign, President Obama was clear that he would bring every stakeholder to the table in order to pass health reform, even longtime opponents like the pharmaceutical industry.”

He added, “He understood correctly that the unwillingness to work with people on both sides of the issue was one of the reasons why it took a century to pass health reform.”

Threat Of War Grows In The Caucasus

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In the Caucasus, where US geopolitical interests collide with those of Russia and Iran, the danger of war between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh is growing.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who visited Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia on June 4-6, poured more oil on the fire.

The territorial dispute over Nagorno-Karabakh, to which both Armenia and Azerbaijan lay claim, goes back more than a hundred years, and broke out again with the collapse of the Soviet Union. Military conflicts have continued since the late 1980s and the independence of both countries. Some 25,000 people were killed in the 1991-1994 war and over a million displaced.

The region, today mostly inhabited by Armenians, belongs to Azerbaijan under international law, and therefore counts as being “occupied” by Armenia; both countries are still officially at war. Since 2010 there have been increasing clashes on the border.

Hillary Clinton’s visit to the region was accompanied by a new escalation of the conflict. Since the beginning of June, twenty Armenians and eight Azerbaijanis, including civilians, have been killed. Many media outlets now speak of a “war situation.”

The United States and the European powers are using the conflict to push back Russian influence in the region, which belonged to the Soviet Union until its dissolution in 1991. But they are not united amongst themselves. While France has supported Armenia, which also has Russian backing, the US works closely with Azerbaijan, Turkey and Georgia and also tries to draw Armenia to its side.

The US has expanded its influence in the region since the 1990s, much to the detriment of Russia and Iran. In particular, the Georgian “Rose Revolution” of 2003, in which they helped the current president Mikhail Saakashvili to power, was a milestone in this regard. Both Georgia and Azerbaijan are close US allies and are armed by Washington militarily. Both countries belong to the so-called “Southern Corridor”, through which existing and planned pipelines bypass Russia delivering oil and gas from the Caspian region to Europe.

The US has tried so far to avoid a renewed military conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, since a war between the two countries might endanger American and European interests and could lead to a major confrontation with Russia and Iran.

During Clinton’s visit to the Caucasus, the New York Times warned: “America and Europe can no longer keep the Nagorno-Karabakh talks on the back burner. Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev faces domestic pressures to act, but Europe and America should caution him about the adverse consequences, notably a broader regional war. Energy investment in Azerbaijan and a major new gas pipeline to Europe, Nabucco, could become casualties.”

Nabucco is an EU pipeline project to deliver gas from Central Asia to Central Europe bypassing Russia. For several months it has been threatened with collapse.

During her visit, Hillary Clinton said that the conflict must be resolved peacefully. The next peace talks are due to take place on June 18 in Paris.

In recent years, the US has focused on building better relations with Armenia, to bring it closer to Turkey, a NATO member state. During her visit, Clinton stressed the importance of developing bilateral relations between the two countries.

Washington is trying to isolate Russia and Iran in the Caucasus, and to win Armenia for Trans-Caspian pipeline projects. Armenia is the last country with which Russia—and to some extent Iran—can assert influence in the region.

The tense relations between Moscow and Washington, as well as US and Israeli war preparations against Iran, threaten a regional war in the Caucasus that could rapidly escalate into a conflict between the great powers.

Russia, which maintains its only military base in the Caucasus in Armenia, has signed a treaty to provide military assistance to Yerevan in case of war. The New York Times reported on June 11 that Russian military aircraft have held numerous exercises over Armenia. Russian colonel Igor Gorbul told the Russian news agency Interfax that Russian pilots were preparing for combat operations.

Iran, too, is expected to stand on Armenia’s side. Russian commentator Andrei Smirnov wrote recently: “Iran will also not allow the loss of Nagorno-Karabakh by ​​Armenia. In the case of such a scenario, it would send troops into the region, because it is also a matter of life and death for Iran. The only open question now, is what will start sooner—war against Iran or in Nagorno-Karabakh.”

The US would likely stand by Azerbaijan. The country is not only an important energy supplier and transit corridor for Central Asian and Caspian gas, but also of great military and strategic importance. Israel and the US have systematically armed its navy and army in preparation for war against Iran. (See: “Growing tensions between Iran and Azerbaijan”)

Baku has already supported the US-led wars in Iraq, Kosovo and Afghanistan. About one third of the NATO troops deployed in Afghanistan pass through the Caspian republic.

During her talks with Azeri President Ilham Aliyev, Hillary Clinton announced a further expansion of military and economic relations between the two countries and praised the participation of Azerbaijan in this year’s NATO summit. This year, for the first time, Baku participated in a summit of the alliance, while Russian President Vladimir Putin refused to attend amid growing tensions with the US and NATO.

Clinton’s visit to Georgia further fuelled tensions with Russia. Since the Rose Revolution of 2003 and the Caucasus war of 2008—which Georgia waged against Russia, with US support, over the regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia—relations between Tbilisi and Moscow have been poor.

At the beginning of the year, Georgia issued so-called “neutral” passports to the residents of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, to replace Russian passports. According to Russian media reports, the passports were issued by the Georgian Interior Ministry, and so are hardly “neutral”. During her visit, Clinton said that Washington would recognize these passports.

The spokesman for the Russian Foreign Ministry Alexander Lukaschewitsch then declared: “Unfortunately, the statements by Mrs. Clinton in Georgia show that Washington has not learnt from the events in the Caucasus in August 2008.”

Fukushima Daiichi - From Nuclear Power Plant to Nuclear Weapon

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“Our world is faced with a crisis that has never before been envisaged in its whole existence… The unleashed power of the atom has changed everything save our modes of thinking, and thus we drift towards unparalleled catastrophe.” Albert Einstein, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, May, 1946

Albert Einstein’s Warning and the Ominous Fate of Fukushima Daiichi

As the bad news gradually spreads that the debacle at Fukushima nuclear power plant #1 is becoming more perilous rather than less so, the words of Albert Einstein come to mind. Recall that the legendary physicist, Einstein, helped to set in motion the Manhattan Project whose personnel designed and built the first atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. In his letter to US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1939 Einstein warned that if the United States did not enter and win the race to harness the destructive potential of atomic weaponry, Germany would almost certainly do so.

The Manhattan Project became a primary prototype for the Research and Development–R and D– partnerships linking the US government and for-profit corporations in what a Dwight D. Eisenhower would later describe as “the military-industrial complex.” Einstein himself did not directly participate in this huge initiative aimed at defeating the Axis powers linking Japan with Germany and Italy. One of the twentieth century’s most iconographic thinkers watched from the sidelines as other physicists and technologists applied many of Einstein’s theories to the building of atomic weaponry.

After Japan lay in ruins, not only from the atomic destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki but also from the massive carpet bombing of Tokyo and several other urban centers, Einstein went public with his fears and anxieties. In famous passages that have been subject to various translations and paraphrasing Einstein observed, “Our world is faced with a crisis that has never before been envisaged in its whole existence… The unleashed power of the atom has changed everything save our modes of thinking, and thus we drift towards unparalleled catastrophe.”

Albert Einstein worried that human ways of thinking could not be made to adapt to the changes brought to the world by the tapping the enormous energy sources emanating from the molecular constitution of inner space.

Japan as Laboratory

There have been many previews of the catastrophe anticipated by Einstein in the period after 1945 and before the March 3, 2011, 3/3/11, the day an earthquake and tsunami set in motion a chain reaction of interconnected crises that ruined Japan’s oldest operating nuclear power plant. The evidence grows every day that this local incident extends to national, regional and global chain reactions that one way or another will end Japan as we have known it and will transform our world in ways that are difficult even to imagine at this early stage of the crisis.

The direction and quality of this transformation depends very much on whether we can transform our way of thinking to adapt to the transformations brought about by our explorers of science and the innovators of technology that travel in their wake. By charting a course heading deep into inner space and tapping the volatile energy sources emanating from matter’s molecular constitution our civilization has been altered in ways that put us face to face with Einstein’s prophecy.

The four-decades-old installation on Japan’s eastern coast was at the moment of Fukushima #1’s destruction a virtual museum of nuclear technology. The design of the six GE Mark I reactors had been lifted from that of the power plant developed in the early 1950s for the US Navy’s first nuclear submarine.

As the tsunami hit, one of these antique GE reactors, number 3, was filled with the newest generation of plutonium-laced Aveda MOX fuel rods. A basic ingredient of nuclear bombs, plutonium isotypes are sprinkled among the 500 or so radionuclides currently being spread into air, ocean and groundwater from the massive explosions that transformed the Fukushima Daiichi power plant into the world’s largest and most menacing nuclear weapon.

In Japanese daiichi means number one. Fukushimi nuclear power plant #2, Fukushima Daini, is also situated on the Pacific coast about seven miles closer to Tokyo than Fukushima #1. Fukushima #2 also incurred major damage on 3/3/11. Presently all 54 nuclear power plants in Japan save one are completely shut down.

There is every reason to suspect that the vital information about the full extent of the nuclear disaster in Japan is still being kept from the public; that the life-threatening damage to Japan’s nuclear infrastructure does not end with Fukushima #1. The lack of public trust in an industry notorious for its lies, secrecy, military underpinnings, and lack of credible regulation is infusing resolve into the growing movement within Japan and around the world demanding that the nuclear power grid in one of the world’s most unstable geological regions should never be switched back on.

The growing evidence of increased frequency and severity of earthquakes in Japan with attending tsunami dangers adds urgency to the argument for the permanent decommissioning of nuclear installations that should never have been built in the first place. Some fundamental shift seems to taken place in the tectonic plates underlying this unstable region.

The Fukushima Debacle is Only in Its Infantcy

The growing realization that the worst of the Fukushima debacle lies in the future rather than in the past puts in sharp relief the pertinence of Einstein’s observation. Indeed, the prophetic nature of Einstein’s warning is starkly reflected in the failure of so many in government, in the media, in the academy, and especially in the richly-funded inner sanctums of the nuclear industry to respond appropriately to the terrifying implications of what is going so terribly wrong at Japan’s spewing Fukushima #1 power plant.

Rooted in old and outmoded motifs of perception, officialdom’s failure to identify the proliferating menaces in this unprecedented convergence of circumstances has extremely grave implications. What is being done and, more importantly, what is not being done at Fukushima nuclear plant #1 tragically illustrates Albert Einstein’s pivotal observation that the unleashed power of the atom has changed everything save our old ways of thinking.

A major obstacle blocking proper perception of the Fukushima debacle’s true nature has its origins in a propaganda meme going back to the 1950s. Initiated by US President Dwight D. Eisenhower with his “Atoms for Peace” speech at the United Nations in late 1953, this propaganda meme seeks to disassociate entirely the dual compartments within the nuclear industry.

While the global public has been fooled into thinking that the supposedly civilian branch of the nuclear industry is totally separate from its dominant military branch, this distinction is really a phantom.From its inception the deployment of nuclear energy to generate electricity was designed to give PR cover to the hugely lucrative and totally immoral business of building nuclear weapons. Indeed, to this day the bomb builders draw some of their ingredients such as tritium for their weapons of mass destruction for the operation of nuclear power plants.

The fa├žade of duality makes it difficult to see what is really transpiring at Fukushima. At Fukushima we are witnessing an installation built for the seemingly benign purpose of generating electric power suddenly transformed into a stationary weapon piled high with fissionable material with far more potential for mass destruction than a vast arsenal of large nuclear bombs.

Radioactivity as a Slow But Sure Weapon of Mass Destruction

In order to face squarely the hard truths of what is transpiring at Fukushima, it is necessary to possess some understanding of the powerful effects that many different forms of nuclear radioactivity have on life’s cyclical renewal. While radiation itself is as old as the universe, the capacity of human beings to generate this force of nature through the power of nuclear technology is something new under the sun.

Humanity’s new means of unleashing energies with godlike agency to alter life’s genetic blueprints, the very DNA of existence, forms by far the most consequential of the changes that Einstein warned us about. The stunning failure of Japanese and international responses so far to Fukushima’s radioactive emissions—emissions that could skyrocket at any moment beyond the wallop of what would be emitted from a full-fledged nuclear war — constitutes a tragic confirmation of Einstein’s worst fears. More than any other crisis to date, the nuclear debacle at Fukushima illustrates the failure of our species, but especially those who put themselves forward as our leaders, to adapt old ways of thinking to the changes ushered in by the splitting of the atom.

The science of measuring and understanding the effects of radioactivity on biological transformations is still in its infancy. Nevertheless since 1945 the tendency has been for promoters of applied nuclear power to deny, negate, or downplay the effects of radioactivity on life’s natural patterns of renewal. This culture of denial has its origins in the official response of US government officials to the radioactive contamination of all people, plants and animals that survived the first wave of destruction from the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This unwillingness to contend with the effects of radioactivity on the public health of large population groups was captured in a headline in The New York Times on September 13, 1945. That headline proclaimed, “No Radioactivity in Hiroshima Ruin.”

Through the decades that followed the inception of the Nuclear Age in the A-bombing by the US government of Japanese civilians, the formal position of officialdom has hardly shifted at all. Again and again we have been reassured that the public health effects of industrially-generated radioactivity are negligible no matter what the source. Again and again public funding has been directed to convincing us that there is no need to fear, for instance, nuclear testing in the atmosphere; the mining, processing and manufacturing of nuclear products including nuclear weapons; the deployment of nuclear energy for the generation of electricity and for the propulsion of ships and submarines.

Not surprisingly this same pattern of disinformation is being tragically repeated in the failure to depict the Fukushima nuclear catastrophe as the true monstrosity of an emergency it really is. The system of professional malfeasance originated in 1945 is being extended to the Fukushima cover-up by nuclear industry officials as well as those in government, media and the academy who have allowed themselves to become their criminal accomplices. What are the legal implications of withholding from the public the information we need to do the best we can to protect ourselves, our families and our communities from potentially lethal assaults on our health?

This ongoing propensity of officialdom to downplay the effects of nuclear contamination is similar to the decades-long history of the tobacco industry’s stonewalling. Who can any longer be blind to the tobacco industry’s efforts to deny the mountains of evidence proving that smoking has major deleterious effects on human health?

A more recent equivalent is the campaign of the old, entrenched and sumptuously-funded lobby of Big Oil to deny that the massive burning of its main product over generations is affecting the global atmosphere. The other side of this same coin involves the suspicion that some of the big backers of the nuclear industry have covertly contributed to overinflating the political balloon of global warming in order to make nuclear power plants look like the green alternative to the fossil fuel industry.

Who Are the Credible Sources?

Although the mainstream media has been largely AWOL on the Fukushima story, a number of conscientious authorities in the field of nuclear energy have come forward to explain the emergency in venues like Russia Today. These learned experts include Arnold Gundersen, Christopher Busby, Helen Caldicott, and Michio Kaku. Other officials, including at least two Japanese ambassadors and the Japanese emperor himself, have added their voices to point out the severity and unremedied character of the ongoing Fukushima crisis. For instance Akio Matsumuru, who regularly represents Japan at UN-sponsored conferences, issued a report dated June 11, 2012. Among the many alarm bells he rings, Matsumuru calls attention to the possibility that the phenomenon known colloquially as the China Syndrome is close at hand if it is not already occurring. Matsumuru observes,

1. In reactors 1, 2 and 3, complete core meltdowns have occurred. Japanese authorities have admitted the possibility that the fuel may have melted through the bottom of the reactor core vessels. It is speculated that this might lead to unintended criticality (resumption of the chain reaction) or a powerful steam explosion – either event could lead to major new releases of radioactivity into the environment.

2. Reactors 1 and 3 are sites of particularly intense penetrating radiation, making those areas unapproachable. As a result, reinforcement repairs have not yet been done since the Fukushima accident. The ability of these structures to withstand a strong aftershock earthquake is uncertain.

This Number 3 hulk at Fukushima #1 has been the site of both a nuclear meltdown and a hydrogen explosion. It is also the installation that was loaded with plutonium-laced nuclear fuel rods on 3/3/11.

While more and more very serious crises are identified every day, the chorus of voices keeps growing pointing to the catastrophe of catastrophes poised to happen at reactor number 4. Mitsuhei Murata, the former Japanese Ambassador to Switzerland, minced no words in pointing out what he considers to be the main impending danger to the UN General Secretary. Murata asserted “It is no exaggeration to say that the fate of Japan and the whole world depends on No. 4 reactor

The three images above are all of structure number 4, the ruin containing one of the 7 damaged cooling pool holding over 4,000 tons of highly radioactive spent nuclear fuel rods at Fukushima #1. This hulk of a structure is not expected to survive another significant earthquake. If the shock of another earthquake results in the spilling of this already-decimated structure’s radioactive cargo into the open air, it is predicted by a number of experts in the field that a radioactive bonfire will ensue that will be the slow-motion equivalent of a major nuclear war. Notice the large round bright yellow structure that appears in all four photographs, including the first one taken of the cooling pool above reactor number 4 before 3/3/11. Consider the obvious design stupidity that situates the cooling pool for spent nuclear fuel rods 100 feet in the air.

The diplomat was commenting on the precarious state of the spent waste pool held 100 feet in the air by a blown-out structure that quite likely would collapse along with many tons of nuclear waste if another earthquake was to occur. The further break up of the already severely damaged “cooling pool” would lead to a huge radioactive fire that would burn for perhaps a century releasing dozens of the most toxic radionuclides known to science into air, ocean and groundwater.

Ron Wyden, a Senator representing the US state of Oregon, echoed similar sentiments after having himself inspected the Fukushima site. He observed,

The scope of damage to the plants and to the surrounding area was far beyond what I expected and the scope of the challenges to the utility owner, the government of Japan, and to the people of the region are daunting. The precarious status of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear units and the risk presented by the enormous inventory of radioactive materials and spent fuel in the event of further earthquake threats should be of concern to all and a focus of greater international support and assistance.

Since the first days of the crisis Alexander Higgins has been one of the most persistent, precise, and attentive bloggers regularly reporting on and interpreting the growing body of evidence that something is worse than rotten is happening in Fukushima #1. One of his headlines reports that the Fukushima catastrophe has already released into air, ocean and groundwater 4023 times the amount of deadly radioactive cesium than the fallout from the Hiroshima attack. Another headline reads, “Fukushima is Continually Blasting All of Us With High Levels of Cesium, Strontium and Plutonium and Will Slowly Kill Millions for Years to Come.”

The assault of radionuclides on human beings includes air-born, alpha-ray emitting nuclear particles that can find their way into our lungs, bones, muscles, and blood. The same forces of nuclear contamination assaulting us is are concurrently attacking our plant and animal relatives, some of whom we eat. The process of bigger creatures eating smaller creatures tends to increase the concentration of toxic contamination, including nuclear contamination, the higher one gets up in the food chain all the way to the lordly place inhabited by human omnivores.

The massive nuclear contamination of the Pacific Ocean is perhaps the wildest of the wild cards being dealt to us by the Fukushima debacle . The aquatic life in the Pacific Ocean has been an especially huge and prolific source of food for some of the most densely-populated zones of human habitation on the planet including Japan, China, Indochina, Australasia, and the Western Hemisphere. The discovery of radioactive tuna and radioactive kelp in California, not to mention weird sickness showing up among seals and walruses in Alaska, is without doubt but a small signal of bigger and badder things to come.

Like so much of the front line work of necessary investigation these days, most of the discovery of the awkward truths on the frontiers of Fukushima’s creeping effects on the ecology of life are being made private citizens rather than government officials. By and large the response to the Fukushima debacle of most governments, including my own Canadian government, has been to shut down monitoring programs and to lower the bar of minimal standards so a false patina of normalcy can be maintained.

The contamination in the oceans is matched by discoveries of traces of radionuclides in milk, eggs, meat, vegetables and fruit products. Even the fall of sweet rains have been contaminated. What happens to our inner sources of spiritual renewal when we can no longer seek without worry the healing forces of cleansing walks in the spring rains or the dawn mists?

Higgins tends to be especially quick to draw attention to those many instances when the Toyko Electric Power Corporation, TEPCO, revises data released in its own previous reports. Almost always these revisions reveal that TEPCO was initially lowballing its assessment of the extent of the interconnected catastrophes.

TEPCO was Fukushima #1’s “owner” prior to the 3/3/11 catastrophe. In spite of all the many well-documented instances of fraud and malfeasance in the lead-up to the Fukushima disaster, TEPCO inexplicably remains in charge of the supposed remedial operations at the devastated facility. So far TEPCO continues to prohibit third-party scientific observers from monitoring on site what is or is not being done. The company will not allow such observers to conduct their own independent studies of the true state of conditions at Fukushima #1.

Significantly Bloomberg News reported shortly after 3/3/11 that TEPCO’s level of liability to citizens and companies effected by the disaster goes only as high as $2.1 billion, a pittance under these horrific circumstances. As it now stands this amount could be reduced to zero if TEPCO can convince a Japanese judge that the debacle arises from an act of God.

As is so often the case when it comes to socializing the risk of dangerous industrial and military activities even as profits are privatized, the unwillingness of insurance companies to cover the corporate operators of nuclear power plants makes the governments and people of the host countries the real carriers of the huge risks accompanying the generation of electricity through nuclear fission.

Scientific Rationality Meets Insane-Asylum Irrationality

In one of Higgins’ early corrections he points out that TEPCO’s estimate that there is 1,760 tons of fresh and spent nuclear fuel at Fukushima is off the mark by over 200%. The subsequent figure released by TEPCO indicates that Fukushima #1 holds 4,277 tons of nuclear fuel rods, most of it nuclear waste stored in 7 cooling pools. All these cooling pools are now damaged and crippled to greater or lesser extents. After the earthquake and tsunami the whole industrial catastrophe at Fukushima #1 started with the breakdown of the systems to pump flows of cooling water through pools of spent fuel rods. Without this procedure these highly radioactive rods overheat, catch on fire, and blow up in a chain reactions of nuclear criticality. These chain reactions are already far advanced and taking place, at least for those of us who are attentive, right before our eyes..

It is the magnitude of the vast pools of nuclear waste stored at Fukushima #1 and at many other nuclear power plants that give these installations the potential to become far more destructive than nuclear weapons. The so-called “pay loads “ of nuclear bombs are tiny compared with the thousands of tons of fissionable material stored not only at Fukushima but at most of the 500 or so nuclear power plants throughout the world. An awareness of the threat to public health– indeed to the health of all living creatures– posed by the release of even miniscule specks of this nuclear waste into air or water requires a genre of understanding that Einstein rightfully predicted would be in tragically short supply in a world where the stuff of human consciousness continues to fall far behind leaps in scientific discovery and technological transformation.

The tight juxtaposition at Fukushima #1 of so many separate facilities for burning nuclear fuel, processing nuclear waste, and storing nuclear waste embodies the weird marriage of scientific rationality and insane-asylum irrationality that is the hallmark of an industry founded in the military drive to expand the industrial frontiers of mass murder.

This convoluted traffic jam of the most dangerous industrial procedures known to humankind is a formula for projecting chain reactions through thresholds of nuclear holocaust. The creation at Fukushima #1 of an environment tailor made for the transformation of small problems into huge problems through chain reactions reflects perhaps the core phenomena on which the nuclear industry is ultimately based. The key to releasing nuclear energy in both bombs or nuclear power plants is to start the proliferation of chain reactions at the molecular level of inner space.

In the the case of the six GE Mark I reactors at Fukushima #1 and at the 23 similar installations in the United States, this insanity extends to putting the devices for burning nuclear fuel literally underneath elevated cooling pools for storing the nuclear waste.

This design concept might make some limited sense in the context of the tight confines of nuclear submarines. In retrospect GE’s decision simply to inflate the basic prototype of the power plant developed in the 1950s for the Nautilus nuclear submarine, and to use this design in land-based stations for the transformation of nuclear power into electrical power, must surely rank as one of the most dubious cost-cutting measures of all time.

The heritage of the Fukushima catastrophe in the technology of nuclear submarines speaks to the constitution of much larger phenomena. So much of what passes for the so-called civilian economy is based on mere industrial spin-offs from the military political economy whose preeminence was entrenched in the course of the Cold War and is now accelerating in the further militarization of society in the name of fighting the all-purpose boogeyman of “terrorism.”

Sadly the thoroughly preventable catastrophe at Fukushima helps clarify the real sources of the most devastating terrors presently facing humankind. The transformation of Fukushima #1 into nuclear weapon #1 does not require a delivery system. The natural currents of the winds and the oceans are disseminating the radioactive toxicity more effectively that any missile, submarine, or secret Star Wars device.

The startling images of the holding pools for nuclear waste at Fukushima #1 lethally exposed to the open atmosphere in the upper levels of the blasted-out hulks of wrecked nuclear containment sheds puts in clear public view the intellectual, technological and ethical poverty of an industry that has become a maniac of unnecessary risk taking. These images can be viewed as a terrifying caricatures of the outlandish extremes of deregulation combined with the privatization of society’s core public utilities. Here is stark evidence to suggest that Einstein may have not gone far enough in anticipating the madness of what would transpire after the genie of nuclear power was released from the lantern.

Nuclear Waste: The “Back End” of the Nuclear Cycle

Spent nuclear fuel rods emerge from the process of generating nuclear power in nuclear reactors. These rods contain thousands of pellets that contain many varieties of radioactive isotypes, some of which continue to be highly radioactive for millions or even billions of years. Among the most toxic and long-lived are some of the isotypes of cesium, strontium, uranium, americium, curium, and neptunium. Clearly there are vast technical problems entailed in isolating such varieties of nuclear waste from life’s fragile ecologies of interaction with earth, air, and water for periods of far longer than all of recorded human history. These problems have combined in ways that have long been recognized as the so-called Achilles heal of the nuclear energy industry. nuclear-fuel-rods-at-4-times-pool-capacity/

There are no valid reasons for using the sites where nuclear power is generated for the long-term storage of nuclear waste, the most dangerous genre of which is spent nuclear fuel rods. Indeed, the terrible catastrophe at Fukushima #1 demonstrates graphically the compelling reasons for not mixing these functions. This practice of combining the different stages in the industrial cycle of nuclear fuel developed not as a result of any properly conceived plan. It evolved, rather, as an ad hoc political expedient derived from the near-inevitable propensity of local inhabitants to mobilize public opinion against the building of facilities for permanent storage of nuclear waste in their regions, communities, and neighborhoods. This pattern gave rise to the development of a short-form term acronym used frequently and with disdain by some officials in the nuclear industry. That term is NIMBY—Not In My Backyard.

In my view there are deeper dimensions to the virtual abandonment by the nuclear industry (except, perhaps, in China) of initiatives to design, locate and build facilities specifically devoted to the task of permanently storing nuclear waste. Almost invariably any mobilization of citizens that starts with a NIMBY approach expands to provide a focus of public education and popular organization aimed at addressing the broader set of dangers connected to virtually every facet of the industry the produces both nuclear weapons and nuclear power plants.

One of the strategies for avoiding the problem of having to deal with an organized opposition of informed citizens has been for the embattled nuclear industry to try to keep a low profile by letting nuclear waste accumulate out of sight and out of the public’s collective mind at nuclear power plants. The lack of enthusiasm within the nuclear industry to find viable and safe ways to dispose of nuclear waste goes back to the origins of the nuclear energy industry as a spin-off of military R and D. As Carol L. Wilson, the first General Manager of the US Atomic Energy Commission observed when he looked back at the beginnings of the industry from the perspective of 1979,

Chemists and chemical engineers were not interested in nuclear waste. It was not glamorous; there were no careers; it was messy; nobody got brownie points for caring about nuclear waste… There was no real interest or profit for dealing with the back end of the fuel cycle.

(Carrol L. Wilson, “Nuclear Energy: What Went Wrong?” Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, Vol. 35, June, 1979, 15)

Extending the Frontiers of Nuclear Energy

This multiplication and compounding of dangers by making the sites of operating nuclear reactors double as storage facilities for nuclear waste, including spent nuclear fuel rods that require constant cooling, finds its epicenter in the United States and particularly in the earthquake/tsunami zone of California. The spewing mess of simmering criticality at Fukushima #1 draws attention to other highly nuclearized jurisdictions like France and Ontario where nuclear power plants also double as storage facilities for the most dangerous varieties of nuclear waste.

The Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant is even older and more antique than the Fukushima #1. Almost 20,000,000 living within a 50 mile radius of the installation makes the installation.

The Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant is even older and more antique than the Fukushima #1. Almost 20,000,000 New Yorkers live within a 50 mile radius of the installation. The nuclear waste stored on the site has been the subject of litigation with significant ramification for the US nuclear industry .

Officials admit to the storage of over 70,000 tons of spent nuclear fuel rods spread among the 104 “civilian” nuclear power plants in the United States. The continuation of this pattern of storing nuclear waste indefinitely at nuclear power plants has been called into question by a recent court ruling in New York. This court case arose from growing public antagonism to the operation of the Indian Point nuclear power plant in the midst of the urban megopolis of surrounding New York City. Almost 20 million people live within a 50-mile radius of this antique nuclear installation that is even older than Fukushima #1.

In the United States especially the military context of the so-called civilian branch of the nuclear industry is very clear. One of the biggest known accumulations of nuclear waste in the world is at the Hanover military reserve in Washington state where the assembly took place of the Fat Man and Little Boy bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The Hanford reservation is the site of the storage facility for at least 53 million gallons of high-level nuclear waste.

The ongoing experimentation with nuclear energy continues by the US Armed Forces and its favoured stable of military contractors. This experimentation and the sometimes secret applications of its outcomes no doubt has large, if largely unacknowledged, consequences for the public health of many populations throughout the world but especially those in Eurasia. Elevated rates of cancer and human deformities imposed on humanity by the incursions of the military branch of the nuclear energy industry are most evident among the victims of depleted uranium attacks in Iraq. The tragedy inflicted on people there and in other afflicted populations will soon be showing up with more regularity as the short and long-term health effects of the Fukushima catastrophe begin to appear with more regularity in Japan, East Asia, North America, throughout the Northern Hemisphere, and across the world.

Some believe that the huge dark budgets directed towards the most covert branches of the national security state have given rise to the discovery of new scientific principles that have not yet been made public. Some of these discoveries may involve new ways of deploying nuclear energy in more targeted and covert ways. These new principles and the applied technologies flowing from them may, for instance, have been a factor in the near-instant transformation of the steel-framed Twin Towers into vapor and fine dust particles on 9/11. The obviously specious official cover story of the events of 9/11 has been instrumental in helping to infuse new life into old alignments of privilege and power that coalesced in the course of the Cold War.

Chernobyl, Fukushima, and the Dissolution of Empires

The nuclear catastrophe at Chernobyl in 1986 was without doubt was a contributing factor to the end of the Cold War. The disaster was one of several factors that contributed significantly to the implosion of public confidence within the Soviet Union to the pretensions of its governors. This loss of confidence and prestige translated into the tarnishing of USSR’s reputation and viability in the international community as well. Moreover, the nuclear explosion at Chernobyl undermined the self-justifying mythology of the Soviet state as a bastion of scientific reason expressing the dialectical materialism that Hegel and Karl Marx had characterized as the principal animating force of human history. The nuclear accident was perceived even within the Soviet government as a telling indictment of the Soviet system.

From the perspective of those who styled themselves as leaders of the “free world” the demise of the Soviet state entailed the sudden disappearance of enemy #1 with its accompanying justifications for the huge power, influence, and affluence of those overseeing the activities of the national security state and its attending military-industrial complex. The official 9/11 cover story quickly returned to old elites all the advantages of a global enemy to manufacture and fight even as it gave new elites the means of transforming local enemies into generic enemies of the so-called “West.”

It is instructive to compare the responses to the destruction of the nuclear power plants at Chernobyl and Fukushima. The mobilization of 800,000 Soviet citizens inside and outside the Armed Forces to put quite literally a lid on the massive devastation done in the heartland the the Ukrainian bread basket stands as one of the Soviet Union’s finest hours. A huge sarcophagus was constructed on the site of maximum radioactivity to put some obstacles in the way of a terrible plague of nuclear sickness, death, and intergenerational deformities that has probably extended to millions even as it is. How many more millions or tens of millions would have been contaminated if the sarcophagus had not been built?

The Soviet reaction to the sudden explosion of a nuclear reactor at Chernobyl in 1986 was monumental. The Soviet state mobilized 800,000 workers inside and outside the Armed Forces to respond to the crisis. Part of the response was the cover the maimed toxic structure with a massive sarcophagus shown here. The  massive effort to contain the huge menace to the public health of hundreds of millions of potential victims contrasts eerily with the tepid response to the nuclear catastrophe in Japan.

The Soviet reaction to the sudden explosion of a nuclear reactor at Chernobyl in 1986 was monumental. The Soviet state mobilized 800,000 workers inside and outside the Armed Forces to respond to the crisis. Part of the response was to cover the maimed toxic structure with a massive sarcophagus shown here. The huge effort to contain the unprecedented menace to the public health of hundreds of millions of potential victims contrasts eerily with the tepid response to the nuclear catastrophe in Japan.

So far the response to the Fukushima debacle has been entirely different. In the days following 3/3/11 the instant diagnosis of the nuclear industry’s spin doctors was that the accident was “more than Three Mile Island but less than Chernobyl.” Another spin was that some “partial meltdowns” might be taking place. I remember thinking that the idea of a partial meltdown made about as much sense as the idea of a partial pregnancy. Mostly the mainstream media swept the Fukushima story to the margins of coverage with many venues parroting the Japanese government’s disinformation that the Fukushima #1 had been put into “cold storage” sometime around December of 2011.

As already noted, in some branches of the alternative media the coverage has been quite solid and quite equal to the magnitude of the Fukushima catastrophe. There the assertions have gradually become more certain and confident that Fukushima’s potential for cataclysmic destruction vastly exceeds the extent of the Chernobyl debacle. Part of what makes the Fukushima crisis so menacing is the puny, incompetent, and frightened approach of those who keep TEPCO in the forefront, at least publically, of the official response to the worsening crisis. This is not to say that there has not been some heroic displays of courage, intelligence, innovation and self-sacrifice on the part of some individuals who tried to hold back the deluge of disaster. It is difficult to even imagine what it would mean to be in the their shoes.

But this ode to the best of the best of the first responders at Fukushima #1 does not in any substantial way mitigate my larger thesis that TEPCO’s corporate response to the crisis manifests the same malfeasance that created the conditions of the disaster in the first place. This unparalleled crisis, however, is about much more than TEPCO’s corporate inadequacies.

Ultimately I am saving my most concerted and targeted criticisms for those at the very top of the US-based nuclear industry, including officials in the US executive branch. These government and corporate officials cynically manoeuvred America’s most obedient formal and then informal colony to accept the nuclear energy spin-offs of American military technology when the Japanese people on their idyllic but earthquake-prone islands should never have been pressured to do so. It is in those circles of imperial power where real responsibility for the cataclysm resides even as it is in these same centres of authority from whence the major initiatives to contain the disaster should emanate.

The contrast between the Soviet response to Chernobly crisis and the corporatist response to the Fukushima crisis is therefore huge, telling and, ultimately, tremendously menacing for the future of human civilization let alone for the future of all life on earth. A small consolation is the lessons one can learn about the extent of the abandonment of any commitment to the public interest and the common good on the part of those who claim to be our leaders.

Does the worsening mess of mayhem and meltdown at Fukushima #1 embody the ailing American Empire’s Chernobyl moment?

Einstein versus Rickover

A major controversy is brewing inside and outside Japan about the decision of the government to transport radioactive debris from the Fukushima area for incineration in all parts of the country. There are several theories about why this is happening. One is that the government sees a great mass of law suits heading its way and is acting now to confound future scientific studies comparing the rates of cancer and the many other diseases in the most effected regions to the rates in less effected regions.

My view is that this irrational decision can be attributed to the entire Japanese society breaking down under the weight of one huge collapse after the next. The people of Japan have been traumatized by natural disasters of great magnitude. We must continually remind ourselves outside Japan of the stresses and strain that the natural disasters have imposed on the entire population. The grave failures of the Japanese government to respond appropriately to the Fukushima catastrophe need to considered through the lens of this consideration.

A big part of the problem is that the response to the Fukushima debacle should be international in scope. Alternatively, the crisis should not be treated as a matter primarily for Japan’s domestic politics. This domestication of control over nuclear power plants, when the effects of what happens in them is so obviously transnational in nature, goes back to Albert Einstein’s fear that most human beings would not be able to adapt proactively to the vast transformations that would come from splitting of the atom.

Like Robert Oppenheimer and many of the other scientists employed by the Manhattan Project, Einstein was of the view that there were too many vast and unknown factors in the unleashing of atomic energy to allow this field of study to take place within the sovereign jurisdiction of individual countries. Einstein envisaged the need for the formation of a new kind of international entity that would closely guard nuclear secrets as well as closely oversee and regulate advances in nuclear science. The Einstein faction was especially adamant that the application of the principles of nuclear science to technological change was especially fraught. Such applications should be strictly prohibited until the the full consequences of every innovation was fully studied and properly understood.

The catastrophe at Fukushima and the lack of any concerted international response is a marker of the preemption of the Einstein faction by its detractors. Admiral Hymen G. Rickover, the US naval engineer who was put in charge of developing a nuclear submarine shortly after the Second World War, was the leader of the anti-Einstein faction. Once he developed the nuclear power plant for the Nautilus submarine Rickover turned his hand to developing land-based nuclear power plants for the generation of electricity.

Between 1954 and 1957 Rickover developed a model “civilian” nuclear energy plant in Shippingport Pennsylvania. He used that site as a teaching platform in a process of what he considered the democratization of knowledge and expertise in tapping the power of the atom. He efforts converged with a propaganda campaign mounted by President Dwight D. Eisenhower. In promoting “Atoms for Peace” Eisenhower sought to ease growing public trepidation on both sides of the Cold War that the escalating process of testing bigger and bigger nuclear weapons in the atmosphere seemed pointed towards nuclear holocaust through nuclear war.

The Atoms for Peace initiative was promoted particularly aggressively in Japan, a country whose people had and still have ample cause to reject anything associated with the atomic power given the attacks they have endured at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. These obstacles were overcome by the frontiersman of both the formal and informal empire of the United States.The US promotion of nuclear energy as a way of generating electricity became deeply integrated into the anti-communism that preoccupied US policy makers and their corporate clients like GE in that era. As planned, Japan was shaped into a bastion of containment to fend of the influences of Chinese Maoism. The presidency of former GE media spokesperson Ronald Reagan and the six GE nuclear reactors at Fukushima #1 were outgrowths of this saga.

Years later Admiral Rickover radically revised his view that nuclear power plants were benign instruments of peace and progress. When asked about the subject at the end of his career the engineer responded

Every Time you produce radiation you produce something that has a certain half-life, in some cases billions of years. I think the human race is going to wreck itself, and it is important to try to get control of this horrible force and try to eliminate it.. I do not believe that nuclear power is worth it if it creates radiation.

Food Stamps Provide Economic Stimulative And Job-Creation Value

Go To Original

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP — formerly the Food Stamp Program) is the cornerstone of the nation’s safety net and nutrition assistance programs. It currently provides about 46 million participants in about 22 million low-income households with debit cards they can use to purchase food each month. Because eligibility generally is not restricted to specific subgroups of people, SNAP serves a wide range of low-income households, including families with children, elderly people, and people with disabilities. Participants include families with adults who work in low-wage jobs, unemployed workers, and people with fixed incomes, such as Social Security. About 75 percent of SNAP recipients live in households with children; more than one-quarter live in households with seniors or people with disabilities.

In recent years SNAP has achieved impressive results in meeting the needs of low-income Americans while maintaining strong program integrity and payment accuracy.

  • SNAP has responded effectively to the recession. SNAP caseloads have increased significantly since late 2007, as the recession and lagging recovery battered the economic circumstances of millions of Americans and dramatically increased the number of low-income households who qualify and apply for help from the program. In addition, the 2009 Recovery Act increased SNAP benefits as a way of delivering economic stimulus. Policymakers deemed SNAP to be effective for this purpose because of its broad reach among low-income populations and its high efficiency. According to the National Academy of Science measures of poverty, which count SNAP as income, SNAP kept about 4 million people out of poverty in 2010 and lessened the severity of poverty for millions of others.
  • The recent growth in SNAP spending is temporary. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) predicts that SNAP spending will fall as a share of GDP in coming years as the economy recovers and the Recovery Act provisions end. By 2022 SNAP is expected to return nearly to pre-recession levels as a share of GDP. Over the long term, SNAP is not growing faster than the overall economy and thus is not contributing to the nation’s long-term fiscal problems.
  • SNAP payment accuracy is at an all-time high. SNAP has one of the most rigorous quality control systems of any public benefit program, and despite the recent growth in caseloads, the share of total SNAP payments that represent overpayments, underpayments, or payments to ineligible households reached a record low in fiscal year 2010.

SNAP Has Responded Quickly and Effectively to Recession

After unemployment insurance, SNAP historically has been the most responsive federal program in assisting families and communities during economic downturns. This downturn has been no exception: national SNAP enrollment is at an all-time high (see Figure 1.)

  • Caseloads have increased in every state. Some of the states that have been hit hardest by the recession have seen the largest caseload increases. For example Nevada, Florida, Idaho, and Utah, the four states with the largest growth in the number of unemployed workers between 2007 and 2011, also had the largest growth in the number of SNAP recipients.
  • The rapid caseload growth primarily reflects the fact that more households are becoming eligible because of the recession. SNAP caseloads can grow for two reasons: because more households are qualifying for the program and enrolling or because a larger share of eligible households are signing up. Both of these occurred in recent years.
    • The number of people eligible for SNAP increased. Poverty increased substantially, from 12.5 percent in 2007 to 14.3 percent in 2009 and 15.1 percent in 2010, allowing more households to qualify for help from the program. In addition, many unemployed childless adults — who typically face a three-month time limit on SNAP benefits — became eligible during and after the recession because states can waive the limit during periods of high unemployment and because the Recovery Act suspended the time limit temporarily in 2009 and 2010.
    • Participation among eligible households also increased. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimates that the SNAP participation rate rose from 65 percent in 2007 to 72 percent in 2009, the most recent year available, accounting for about one-quarter of the increase in the number of SNAP participants over this period. Households that already were poor became poorer during the recession, making them more likely to seek assistance. In addition, states continued efforts begun before the recession to reach more eligible households, particularly working families and senior citizens, by simplifying SNAP policies and procedures.
  • Long-term unemployment has played an important role in increasing caseloads.The record-setting SNAP participation levels are consistent with the extraordinarily deep and prolonged nature of the recession and the weak, lagging recovery. Long-term unemployment reached its highest levels on record in 2010 and has remained at these unprecedented levels ever since. (See Figure 2.) Today, 43 percent of all unemployed workers have been out of work for more than half a year; the previous post-World War II high was 26 percent in 1983.

    • Workers who are unemployed for a long period are more likely to deplete their assets, exhaust unemployment insurance, and turn to SNAP for help, as it is one of the only safety net programs available for many long-term unemployed workers. Other safety net programs, such as cash assistance under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and state General Assistance programs have, in most states, not been responsive to rising need during the recession.[1]
    • The Joint Economic Committee recently reported that more than one in five workers who had been unemployed for over six months received SNAP in 2010.
  • The Recovery Act’s increase in SNAP benefits has eased hardship and boosted the economy. SNAP has not only expanded dramatically to meet rising need during the recession, but has also delivered more than $26 billion (between April 2009 and September 2011) in additional SNAP benefits under the Recovery Act. The Recovery Act provided a temporary, 13.6 percent boost in the maximum SNAP benefit beginning in federal fiscal year 2009. Congress enacted this provision as a fast and effective economic stimulus measure to help push against the rising tide of hardship for low-income Americans. The increase is phasing down and is scheduled to end entirely on October 31, 2013.

Economists consider SNAP one of the most effective forms of economic stimulus. Moody’s Analytics estimates that in a weak economy, every dollar increase in SNAP benefits generates $1.72 in economic activity. Similarly, CBO rated an increase in SNAP benefits as one of the two most cost-effective of all spending and tax options it examined for boosting growth and jobs in a weak economy.

According to the National Academy of Science poverty measures, which count SNAP as income, SNAP kept about 4 million people out of poverty in 2010 and lessened the severity of poverty for millions of others.[2]

  • SNAP is not contributing to the nation’s long-term fiscal problems. While SNAP spending has risen considerably since the recession hit, the increases are expected to be temporary. CBO predicts that SNAP enrollment will fall in coming years as the economy recovers. By 2022, SNAP spending will return nearly to pre-recession levels as a share of GDP. (See Figure 3.)
  • Once the economy has fully recovered, SNAP costs are expected to rise only in response to growth in the size of the low-income population and increases in food prices. Unlike health care programs and Social Security, there are no demographic or programmatic pressures that will cause SNAP costs to grow faster than the overall economy. Thus, SNAP is not contributing to the nation’s long-term fiscal problems.

SNAP Payment Error Rates at All-Time Lows

SNAP has one of the most rigorous payment error measurement systems of any public benefit program. Each year states pull a representative sample (totaling about 50,000 cases nationally) and thoroughly review the accuracy of their eligibility and benefit decisions. Federal officials re-review a subsample of the cases to ensure accuracy in the error rates. States are subject to fiscal penalties if their error rates are persistently higher than the national average.

Despite the recent rapid caseload growth, USDA reports that states achieved a record-low SNAP error rate in fiscal year 2010 (see Figure 4.) Only 3 percent of all SNAP benefits represented overpayments, meaning they either went to ineligible households or went to eligible households but in excessive amounts, and more than 98 percent of SNAP benefits were issued to eligible households.

In addition, the combined error rate — that is, the sum of overpayments and underpayments (see box) reached an all-time low in 2010 of just 3.81 percent. Prior to enactment of major reforms in the 2002 Farm Bill, states with combined error rates below 6 percent qualified for a bonus payment or enhanced funding in recognition of their exemplary performance; the average state has exceeded this standard for seven years running.

In comparison, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) estimates a tax noncompliance rate of 16.9 percent in 2006 (the most recently studied year.) This represents $385 billion lost to the federal government in one year. Underreporting of business income alone cost the federal government $122 billion in 2006, and small businesses report less than half of their income.

Efforts to Curb Other SNAP Abuses Are Extensive and Effective

USDA has cut “trafficking” — the sale of SNAP benefits for cash, which violates federal law — by three-quarters over the past 15 years. USDA has also permanently disqualified thousands of retail stores from the program for not following federal requirements. In fiscal year 2011, USDA convicted 179 retailers and recovered $26.5 million in fraudulent transactions. When cases of SNAP fraud are reported in the news, it is because the offenders have been caught, evidence that states and USDA are aggressively combating fraud.

In addition, SNAP now comes in the form of an electronic debit card –– like the ATM cards that most Americans carry in their wallets — which recipients can use in the supermarket checkout line only to purchase food. This has been a key tool to reduce trafficking. Sophisticated computer programs monitor SNAP transactions for patterns that may suggest abuse. Federal and state law enforcement agencies are then alerted and investigate. Retailers or SNAP recipients who defraud SNAP by trading their benefit cards for money or misrepresenting their circumstances face tough criminal penalties.

Combined Error Rate Does Not Represent Excessive Federal Spending or Fraud

Some critics have attempted to portray SNAP’s com­bined error rate as a measure of excessive federal SNAP expendi­tures due to er­rors. This is incorrect: the combined error rate in­cludes both overpayments, which cost the federal government money, and underpayments,whichrepresent unintentional financial savings to the federal government,” as the Government Accountability Office has noted.

  • The overpayment error rate counts benefits issued to ineligible households or issued to eli­gible households in excess of what federal rules provide­. The underpayment error rate measures errors in which eligible, par­ti­­cipating households received smaller benefits than SNAP rules direct. The combined payment error rate is the sum, not the net, of the overpayment and underpayment error rates.

    In 2010, for example, the overpayment error rate was 3.05 percent and the underpayment rate was 0.75 percent. The combined error rate was thus 3.81 percent. But the net loss to the federal governmentfrom errors was only 2.3 percent.
  • It is important to note that overpayments count toward a state’s error rate even when the state recoups the overpaid benefits from households. In fiscal year 2010, states collec­ted about $290 million in overissued benefits.
  • Relatively few SNAP errors represent dishonesty or fraud by recipi­ents. The overwhelming majority result from honest mistakes by recipients, eligibil­ity wor­kers, data entry clerks, or com­puter program­mers. In recent years, states have reported that almost 60 percent of the dollar value of overpay­ments and more than 90 percent of the dollar value of underpayments were their fault, rather than recipients’ fault. Much of the rest of overpayments resulted from innocent errors by households facing a program with complex rules.
  • States and USDA also measure error rates for cases in which states denied or terminated bene­fits. (The under­pay­ment error rate includes only cases where states gave some benefits, but not as much as the household should have received under program rules. It does not include ac­tions that completely denied SNAP to eligible low-income house­holds.) Nationally, in 8 percent of the instances in which house­holds were denied or terminated from SNAP, the action was found to be in error. Since USDA does not calculate the amount of benefits that these improperly denied households would have received, this “nega­­­tive error rate” is not directly compar­able to the overpayment and underpayment error rates. Nonetheless, improper denials and termi­nations, like under­payments, result in significant (if unintended) savings to the program. In fact, the combined savings from underpayments and improper denials may actually exceed the loss resulting from overpayments of benefits.


In recent years SNAP has succeeded in providing timely food assistance to eligible low-income households while maintaining strong program integrity and payment accuracy.

There nonetheless is room for improvement, both in reaching eligible households and in combating illegal activities on the part of retailers and households. States and USDA are working together to develop policies and procedures that will strengthen program integrity without making it more difficult for eligible households to participate.

For example, Utah has developed a tool that helps eligibility workers conduct data matches across a wide range of state and federal databases (such as Motor Vehicles, State Vital Statistics, Social Security Administration, Child Support, Unemployment Insurance, state tax records, consumer credit checks, and other commercial databases). These databases help states verify the income (and other eligibility factors) that the household reports and detect instances where households may not have reported accurately. Prior to the change, eligibility workers needed to query each database separately, which could involve separate links, user names, and passwords for each match. The new software, known as “eFind,” pools all the matches together for the worker within seconds, reducing processing delays and facilitating cross-program sharing of information — as well as facilitating detection of fraud and errors. Because the state used federal funds to develop the tool, Utah has made it available as “shareware” to other states free of charge.

States and the federal government are developing similar improvements to implement the health care reform law. States and the Administration should look for ways to leverage improvements in health insurance eligibility systems for other programs, such as SNAP.

End Notes:

[1] See Liz Schott and Clare Chu, "General Assistance Programs: Safety Net Weakening Despite Increased Need,” Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, November 11, 2011 and LaDonna Pavetti and Liz Schott, "TANF's Inadequate Response to Recession Highlights Weakness of Block Grant Structure,” Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, July 14, 2011.

[2] Kathleen Short, “The Research Supplemental Poverty Measure: 2010,” U.S. Census Bureau, November 2011.