Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Behind the political warfare in the US: Rising fears of financial collapse, social unrest

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There are growing concerns in US and global financial circles that the rise in the US stock market that accelerated with the election of Donald Trump is heading for a major downturn. These concerns shed a revealing light on some of the underlying forces driving the virtual civil war in the US political establishment.
The growing view among Wall Street speculators and corporate executives is that the “Trump trade”, which sent the Dow Jones and other market indexes to record highs, has run its course, with the president increasingly becoming an economic liability. The tipping point in business sentiment came in the wake of the conflict over the Charlottesville Nazi rampage. Trump’s remarks defending neo-Nazis were seen as undermining the interests of American imperialism internationally and threatening to unleash social and political instability at home.
However, concerns over the instability caused by Trump reflect deeper fears. The American ruling class confronts problems that extend far beyond the current occupant of the White House.
In a comment published yesterday, Ray Dalio, the head of Bridgewater, the world’s largest hedge fund, said that politics was now set to “probably play a greater role than we have experienced before in a manner that is broadly similar to 1937.” Whether the US was able to overcome political conflicts would have a greater effect on the economy than “classic monetary and fiscal policies.”
The reference to 1937 is significant. The first half of that year saw a major downturn in the US economy—the decline took place at an even faster rate than in 1932, in the midst of the Great Depression. The year also saw the eruption of the class struggle in the auto and steel industries.
Dalio wrote that the economic and social divisions in the US are similar to the revolutionary upheavals of this previous period. “During such times conflicts (both internal and external) increase, populism emerges, democracies are threatened and wars can occur.” He added that he could not say how bad it would get, but he was not encouraged. “Conflicts have now intensified to the point that fighting to the death is probably more likely than reconciliation.”
Almost 170 years ago, in his work The Class Struggles in France, Marx noted that the eruption of the class struggle has a major impact on the financial system because it calls into question confidence in the very viability of the economic system over which the ruling class presides.
In his comment, Dalio wrote that, when one looked at average figures, “one might conclude that the United States economy is doing just fine, yet when one looks at the numbers that comprise those averages, it’s clear that some are doing extraordinarily well and others are doing terribly, with gaps in wealth and income being the greatest since the 1930s.”
Dalio and others couch references to the growing social and political divide in terms of “populism,” but their real fear is the emergence of overt class conflict. “The majority of Americans,” he wrote, “appear to be strongly and intransigently in disagreement about our leadership and the direction of our country” and were “more inclined to fight for what they believe in than to try to figure out how to get beyond their disagreements to work productively based on shared principles.”
In other words, the nostrums of the “American dream” and America as the “land of economic opportunity,” which functioned historically as a kind of political glue, have disintegrated. What terrifies the ruling class is that the working class will intervene, under conditions in which all signs point to a collapse of the financial bubble created by the world’s central banks since the financial crisis of 2008.
The complete disintegration of financial markets nine years ago was only prevented by the injection of trillions of dollars into the global financial system—the US Fed alone poured in more than $4 trillion. But the chief effect of these measures has not been to stimulate a significant recovery in the “real” economy—investment rates in the US and other major economies remain at historically low levels—but to facilitate a financial market boom.
The latest expression of the speculative mania is the rise of the crypto currency Bitcoin. After taking more than 3,000 days to reach a level of $2,000, the currency, which is used in Internet trading, went from $2,000 to more than $4,000 in just 85 days. The overall market valuation of Bitcoins has expanded to $140 billion, as major investors, including Goldman Sachs, move in.
This is only one expression of bubbles that have developed in virtually every financial asset.
With the provision of ultra-cheap money by the Fed and other central banks, one of the chief mechanisms by which companies have been able to maintain share values is by using borrowed funds to organise share buybacks. But this process is reaching its limit, as already over-leveraged companies cannot borrow more to sustain their share values.
As the Financial Times noted in a comment yesterday, based on longer term historical valuations, US stocks “appear more expensive than at any time bar the months before the great crash of 1929, and the bursting of the dotcom bubble in 2000.”
Under what were once considered to be “normal” circumstances, money would move into bond markets to take advantage of higher rates of return. However, bond markets are also in a bubble, trading at historical highs, with interest rates (which move in an inverse relationship to the price) at record lows.
In 2008, the American ruling class responded to the financial collapse through political and economic mechanisms. On the one hand, they installed Obama to the US presidency—proclaiming the “audacity of hope” and “change you can believe in”—with the support of the trade union bureaucracy and the various organisations of the privileged middle class, who hailed his election as a “transformative” moment.
On the other, they undertook the greatest injection of money into the financial system seen in economic history to finance an orgy of speculation and organize a massive transfer of wealth from the working class to the rich. Far from resolving the contradictions, these measures have reproduced them at a higher level.
While sections of the ruling class are terrified of the growth of class conflict, they can propose no measures to address the conditions that are leading inexorably toward social explosions. While Trump has pursued a policy of developing an extra-parliamentary movement of the extreme right, his critics within the ruling class are working to reorganize his administration to place it even more firmly under the direction of the military and the financial elite.
A new period of economic and political convulsion is emerging, for which the working class must prepare through the building of a revolutionary leadership, based on an internationalist and socialist program, to resolve the historic crisis of the capitalist profit system in its interests.

Trump’s speech on Afghanistan: The military in command

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Trump’s new policy in Afghanistan, unveiled in a nationally televised address Monday evening, is a declaration of open-ended and unrestrained military violence against a country that has suffered sixteen years of unbroken American aggression.
Since the Bush administration launched the US invasion of Afghanistan in October of 2001, 175,000 people have been killed, according to conservative estimates, and millions more driven from their homes. Under Bush, Obama and now Trump, the US military has carried out countless atrocities and war crimes—from the November 2001 massacre of 800 Taliban prisoners at Mazar-i-Sharif, to the 2002 slaughter of 48 people at a wedding party in Kakarak, the murder of 42 medical personnel and patients at a Doctors Without Borders medical center in Kunduz in 2015, and the dropping of the Massive Ordinance Air Blast bomb, the largest nonnuclear weapon in the US arsenal, in Nangarhar Province this past April.
This violence will be dramatically escalated, with a carte blanche commitment by Trump to provide whatever troops and resources the US military command deems necessary. Trump declared that he will give the military “the necessary tools and rules of engagement” to defeat any resistance. All restrictions on operations “that prevented the secretary of defense and commanders in the field from fully and swiftly waging battle against the enemy” will be lifted.
In other words, the carnage already inflicted on the Afghan people will pale in comparison to what is coming.
Trump’s speech, however, was not simply about Afghanistan. It was, in effect, a declaration of war on the world. Trump threatened Pakistan and sided openly with India amidst mounting conflicts between the two countries and between India and China. The growing tensions between the United States and its nominal allies in Europe were reflected in Trump’s demand that NATO countries contribute more troops and resources to an expanded Afghan war.
The speech was delivered as the administration debates launching a preemptive strike against North Korea. In an ominous warning of what is being planned, Trump proclaimed that under his administration “many billions of dollars more is being spent on our military, and this includes vast amounts being spent on our nuclear arsenal and missile defense.”
Behind all the bombast, a combination of demoralization and fear pervaded Trump’s speech. Everywhere the American ruling class looks it sees current or potential enemies. There is a large element of derangement in the notion that American imperialism can resolve its mounting economic, social and geopolitical crises by dropping more bombs and killing more people.
This very delusion, over the course of 25 years of unending war since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, has produced one debacle after another for the American ruling class—across the Middle East, in North Africa and beyond. This includes Afghanistan, where successive US governments have failed to establish control through bloody violence. Increasingly, American imperialism is directing its focus on larger competitors such as Russia, China and even Germany.
The ruling class is acutely aware that it confronts its greatest enemy within the United States in the form of the American working class.
Trump’s speech was most significant for its assertion of what amounts to a presidential-military dictatorship. The president upheld as a principle the insistence that the American people will be told nothing about what is being planned, how many troops will be sent or how long they will remain. All decisions will be made by the military, without even the pretense of Congressional oversight or approval. Trump delivered his speech not to the American people, but to an audience of soldiers dressed in battle fatigues and subject to military discipline.
The most remarkable passages in Trump’s speech came at the beginning. He delivered a paean to the military as the essential force for controlling a divided nation. The military is an instrument of “absolutely perfect cohesion,” Trump declared. “The soldier understands what we as a nation too often forget,” he said. “The young men and women we send to fight our wars abroad deserve to return to a country that is not at war with itself at home.”
The events in Charlottesville were the immediate context for these statements. Trump’s declaration that the military “transcends every line of race, ethnicity, creed and color” largely adopted the pseudo-democratic comments of the top generals on the fascist rampage in Charlottesville. The military brass, concerned over the consequences of Trump’s open sympathy for the neo-Nazis, felt obliged to distance themselves, the better to prosecute wars of aggression in behalf of the US corporate elite that are invariably presented as wars for “democracy” and “freedom.”
Trump’s statements have profoundly sinister implications. They portray the military as the unifier of a fractured country, a force for structure, discipline—and repression. Under conditions of mounting social and political conflicts within the United States, his speech is a declaration of the central role of the military not only in waging war abroad, but maintaining order at home.
From the beginning of the Trump administration, the military has taken direct control of much of the state apparatus, in the form of retired Gen. James Mattis as secretary of defense, active-duty Gen. H.R. McMaster as national security advisor and retired Gen. John Kelly, first as Department of Homeland Security secretary and now as White House chief of staff.
The Trump administration, however, is not the cause but a symptom of an underlying disease. Unending war and four decades of social counterrevolution have fatally eroded the foundations of democratic forms of rule in the United States. Top generals act as kingmakers. They have developed the closest ties to the financial aristocracy and are universally praised in the media and the political establishment. Terrified of social unrest, the ruling class turns to its bodies of armed men—the military and police—backed by the intelligence agencies.
Far from opposing the influence of the military, it is to Kelly, Mattis and McMaster that Trump’s critics in the Democratic Party have turned in the hope that they will stabilize the Trump administration and compel it to continue and escalate the Obama administration’s policy of confrontation with Russia. Jeh Johnson, Obama’s homeland security secretary, expressed the general sentiment when asked over the weekend if Mattis and Kelly should resign. “Absolutely not… We need people like John Kelly, Jim Mattis, H.R. McMaster to right the ship.”
The outcome of the political warfare in Washington, culminating in the dismissal of Trump’s fascistic chief strategist Stephen Bannon last week, has been to strengthen the direct domination of the military and Wall Street over the Trump administration. Monday’s speech was an acknowledgement on Trump’s part of this shift in political forces.
In their conflict with Trump, the Democrats and their political allies have worked to bury beneath an endless series of diversionary issues—centered on a grossly distorted presentation of the United States as a country torn by irreconcilable racial divisions—the most critical issues: social inequality, poverty, war and the unprecedented growth in the power of the military-industrial-financial complex, which represents the most serious threat to the democratic and social rights of the working class.
In response to Trump’s commitment to ever-greater military violence, a new antiwar movement must be built. The fight against imperialist war must be rooted in the working class, mobilized on an international basis in opposition to all the organizations and institutions of the ruling class and the capitalist system they defend.

Big business, military tighten their grip on Washington

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It is often the case that the outcome of events reveals the essential issues underlying political developments. This is true of the conflicts that erupted within the ruling class over the Nazi rampage in Charlottesville, which culminated in the dismissal Friday of Trump’s chief strategist Stephen Bannon.
The corporate-controlled media has sought to portray the sequence of events entirely in racial terms, with Bannon and other advocates of “white nationalism” now purged, leaving political control of the White House and the Trump administration in steadier and more “moderate” political hands: a group of generals and ex-generals, headed by White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, together with Wall Street financiers such as Gary Cohn, Trump’s chief economic adviser, and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.
The New York Times has led the way, with an editorial Sunday declaring that “Americans accustomed constitutionally and politically to civilian leadership now find themselves relying on three current and former generals—John Kelly, the new White House chief of staff; H. R. McMaster, the national security adviser; and Jim Mattis, the secretary of defense—to stop Mr. Trump from going completely off the rails. Experienced and educated, well-versed in the terrible costs of global confrontation and driven by an impulse toward public service that Mr. Trump doesn’t possess, these three, it is hoped, can counter his worst instincts.”
In the same edition of the Times, a news analysis celebrates what its headline calls “The Moral Voice of Corporate America.” In this account, “a chorus of business leaders rose up this past week to condemn hate groups and espouse tolerance and inclusion.”
Among those named as part of this “chorus” of “moral” leaders are such corporate criminals as Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan Chase, one of those responsible for the 2008 financial collapse; Mary Barra of General Motors, who oversaw the cover-up of an ignition-switch defect that killed hundreds of people; and WalMart CEO Doug McMillon, whose company is a synonym for low-wage exploitation.
The ruling elite saw Trump’s incautious remarks defending the neo-Nazis who rioted in Charlottesville as a serious threat to the interests of American imperialism abroad as well as the maintenance of social and political stability at home. Powerful corporate interests feared the implications for Trump’s agenda of corporate tax cuts, the removal of business regulations, a profit windfall in the guise of infrastructure reform and the gutting of Medicaid and other social programs.
Trump’s self-exposure of his efforts to build an extra-parliamentary fascistic base increased the nervousness in financial circles over the danger of a collapse of the speculative bubble that has been built up since the 2008 Wall Street crash.
The response, laid out most clearly by the Times, has been to increase the grip of the military and corporate America over the government to an extent unprecedented in US history. It is 56 years since President Dwight D. Eisenhower, in his 1961 farewell address, warned of the dangers to democracy posed by the rise of the “military-industrial complex.” He could have no conception of the size, power and degree of dominance exercised by the vast military/intelligence/corporate complex of today.
The first result of this consolidation was the announcement that Trump will deliver a nationwide address tonight, unveiling plans for an expansion of the war in Afghanistan.
What the ruling elite fears above all is the growth of working-class opposition to the Trump administration and the entire political system. Thus, excised from the official narrative promoted by the media is any reference to the reality of social life in America—a country in which 20 individuals control as much wealth as the poorest half of the population—as well as the reactionary agenda of the Trump administration itself. Nor is there any discussion of war and the crimes carried out by “responsible” leaders such as Mattis, who won his appellation “Mad Dog” for his role in destroying the Iraqi city of Fallujah.
This is replaced with a series of diversionary issues, centered on a grossly distorted presentation of the United States as a country seething with racial intolerance and an exaggerated picture of the strength and influence of neo-Nazi and racist forces. Hence one has the apparently contradictory but in fact compatible phenomena, ubiquitous in the Democratic Party-aligned media, of the promotion of identity politics alongside respectful and even admiring portrayals of the white supremacist thugs who demonstrated in Charlottesville.
Typical was a newsletter released Sunday by the New Yorker under the headline, “White Supremacy in America.” In an introduction, David Remnick, author of the hagiographic biography of Obama, The Bridge, proclaims, “Make no mistake: neo-Nazis and white supremacists are now at the forefront of American politics.”
Among the featured articles is one by author Toni Morrison titled “Making America White Again,” which insists that “Unlike any nation in Europe, the United States holds whiteness as the unifying force.” In line with the Democratic Party and its various appendages among the pseudo-left organizations of the privileged middle class, Morrison explains the election of Trump as the product of the racism of “white America”:
On Election Day, how eagerly so many white voters—both the poorly educated and the well educated—embraced the shame and fear sowed by Donald Trump. The candidate whose company has been sued by the Justice Department for not renting apartments to black people. The candidate who questioned whether Barack Obama was born in the United States, and who seemed to condone the beating of a Black Lives Matter protester at a campaign rally. The candidate who kept black workers off the floors of his casinos. The candidate who is beloved by David Duke and endorsed by the Ku Klux Klan.
This effort to portray all whites, and particularly white men, as secret supporters of the KKK is a political fraud. Racism does exist. However, the white supremacists and neo-Nazis who marched in Charlottesville are a tiny minority who are regarded with deep revulsion by the vast majority of working people. A nationwide mobilization could dredge up only a few hundred proponents of this barbaric ideology. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of all races have marched to denounce both Trump and the fascists he defends.
Trump is president today, not because of a mass vote for racism, but because he more successfully appealed to social discontent than the Democratic Party and Hillary Clinton, the personification of the alliance between Wall Street and the military-intelligence apparatus, who did not attempt to conceal her complacent contempt for the plight of tens of millions of working people struggling to survive.
The racialist narrative is being used to demonize large sections of the population, buttress the identity politics of privileged layers of the middle class, provide political cover for a massive transfer of wealth to the rich, rally support for a virtual palace coup by the generals and corporate billionaires, and, above all, divert and suppress an independent movement of the working class.
The overriding threat to democratic rights comes not from a handful of fascist thugs, but from the very alliance of Wall Street and the Pentagon that is being touted as the antidote to the racists in the streets.
As for the Times and the various affiliates of the Democratic Party, they see the real threat coming not from neo-Nazis, but from a movement of the working class.

The Human Carnage From Billionaires Trying to Carve Up the Planet to Build Their Empires Is Astounding

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Raoul Peck, the Haitian filmmaker, opens his new film – Der Junge Karl Marx (2017) – in the forests of Prussia. Peasants gather fallen wood. They look cold and hungry. We hear horses in the distance. The guards and the aristocrats are near. They have come to claim the right to everything in the forest. The peasants run. But they have no energy. They fall. The whips and lances of the aristocrats and the guards strike them. Some of the peasants die. Even fallen wood is not allowed to them.

Young Karl Marx, sitting in Cologne in 1842, is dismayed at the violence against the German peasants. The peasants, he wrote, know the punishment. They are being beaten, even killed. But what they do not know is the crime. For what crime are they being punished?

Peck is clever to open his film with this dilemma, for it is the question that every sensitive person should ask today. What is the crime for which the world’s poor are being punished? Poverty and war produce refugees of hunger and bombardment, but they are denied mobility, denied any exit from their predicament. They know the punishment that they face: starvation, death and indignity. This they know. What they do not know is their crime. What have they done to deserve this?

The Dominican-American writer Junot Diaz visited Haiti after the devastating earthquake of 2010. In a memorable essay titled ‘Apocalypse’, Junot Diaz noted that Haiti warned us of the new ‘zombie stage of capitalism, where entire nations are being rendered through economic alchemy into not-quite alive. In the old days, a zombie was a figure whose life and work had been captured by magical means. Old zombies were expected to work around the clock with no relief. The new zombie cannot expect work of any kind – the new zombie just waits around to die’.

And the new zombie cannot be allowed to forage for food or to seek shelter or medicine. The new zombie, truly, must just wait to die. This is the punishment. But what is the crime?

**

Last week, off the coast of war-torn Yemen, smugglers pushed a boat into the turbulent sea and ‘deliberately drowned’ fifty people. The phrase ‘deliberately drowned’ comes from the staff of the International Organisation of Migration (IOM), the UN’s migration relief agency. IOM teams that walked the beaches of Shabwa (Yemen) found a shallow grave that held 29 of these people - 12 Ethiopian men, 12 Ethiopian women and 5 Somali men. Others were lost at sea. The boat originally carried 180 people. The rest reached the shore by great fortune. What was striking about the IOM’s investigation is that the average age of the migrants on this boat was 16 - young people from Somalia and Ethiopia whose countries have been destroyed by economic collapse and warlordism, by the War on Terror and capitalist overfishing.

Silent catastrophe driven by drought, climate change and economic insecurity wracks Somalia. The situation is so dire that the UN’s humanitarian relief agency - OCHA - notes that there are currently 3.2 million on the verge of famine. There is little emergency food assistance available. Already 102,263 people have been treated for Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM) - a fifty per cent increase since 2016. Exit for the people is simply not available inside Somalia, where political conflict has been unending since the 1990s when the famine of 1991 took the lives of 200,000 people.

The UN Refugees Agency points out that from November 2016 to the end of May 2017, about 739,000 people have been displaced by the drought inside Somalia. More than 480,000 of these drought refugees are under the age of 18. No wonder the average age on the boat to Yemen was 16. Stunningly, 195,000 of these drought refugees are under the age of 5.

The flow of refugees from the Horn of Africa into Yemen is unabated. Last year - despite Saudi Arabia’s brutal war on Yemen that has destroyed that country - 111,500 people crossed from Africa to Yemen’s shores. Many of them are young, desperate to come to the Gulf states in search of miserable employment. Many do not make it, including 42 Somali migrants whose boat was scuttled by a Saudi jet last March.

**

Emblematic in the current war against migrants is the Wall that the US President Donald Trump pledges to build on the US-Mexico border. Data from the US Customs and Border Protection as well as the IOM show that there has been a drastic drop in migration over this border between 2000 and the present. In 2000, 1.6 million migrants were stopped by the US agencies, who only stopped 400,000 people in 2016. But, during this period, deaths on the border remain static: 380 in 2000 to 322 in 2016. Already in the first few months of 2017, the IOM found 239 migrants died in the crossing.  Last month, at least ten people suffocated to death in a truck that was parked in a San Antonio (Texas) parking lot.

The people who attempt to cross the US-Mexico border are not - typically - Mexican but from Central America. The three countries that dispatch a large number of migrants northwards are Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. The most common public explanation for the refugee migration is that these countries are torn by gang warfare fueled by the illegal drug trade. This is of course the case, but it is not the root of the crisis. The causes should be found in the collapse of agriculture in these countries - driven largely by climate change induced drought and flash floods, extreme heat and forest fires.

The UN humanitarian agency finds that in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, there are millions of people at risk of food insecurity. In Honduras alone there are two million people in this situation. They are, in other words, starving. The World Food Program points out that in Guatemala nearly half the children under five suffer from malnutrition - the highest rate in the world. As drought and climate disruption threaten agriculture, farmers shift their crops from rice and beans to biofuels and coffee - cash crops that bring income for some farmers, but that reduce the availability of food for the country. Trump’s Wall will not stop the flow of climate change refugees. It will only make their transit harder. This is why deaths at the border remain static.

**

Thirty million people are currently on the threshold of famine. They would like to flee towards food and away from drought, forest fires and war.

In 2003, in Brazil, the government led by Luiz Inácio Lula de Silva of the Worker’s Party (PT) initiated the Fome Zero (Zero Hunger) program. Fome Hunger provided food for children in low-income areas, pushed for the creation of sustainable irrigation systems in food farming, educated the citizenry about nutrition and provided input support for family farms. Local family farms supplied enriching food to local schools. Fome Hunger not only improved nutrition, it also encouraged small farmers. Within a decade, Brazil’s child mortality rate dropped by 13 per cent, while twenty million people saw their income levels rise above the poverty line.

What Lula’s government did was not replicated around the world - as even the World Bank had felt should be done. The policies of the PT have been slowly reversed by the new government. No-one is talking about Zero Hunger on a global scale. Why feed zombies when they are merely waiting around to die?

Squeezed between the end of livelihood and the refusal to allow migration, the world’s poor experience punishment for a crime that is unknown. What did they do to deserve their fate? Why are they being punished when they have not committed a crime?

Fukushima Plant Is Releasing 770,000 Tons of Radioactive Water Into the Pacific Ocean

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When Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant suffered a triple-core meltdown in March 2011 as the result of devastating earthquake, most people had no idea this was only the beginning of a nuclear disaster that has arguably become the single worst industrial accident in human history.
Keeping the three core meltdowns cool has been an ongoing challenge that has yet to be met. As fresh water is pumped over the cores, it is then stored on site in massive tanks. The Tokyo Electric Power company (TEPCO), the operator of the plant, then has to figure out what to do with that water.
Recently, TEPCO announced that it would dump 770,000 tons of radioactive tritium water into the Pacific Ocean.
The announcement infuriated local fishermen and environmental groups across Japan. According to Mozhgan Savabieasfahani, an environmental toxicologist and winner of the 2015 Rachel Carson prize, their outrage and alarm is not without merit.
"The release of thousands of tons of radioactive tritium by a giant utility company into our aquatic and natural environments is a blood-chilling prospect," Savabieasfahani told Truthout.
She questions why there is not more outrage from those in the Japanese government who are responsible for safeguarding the health and wellbeing of the general public.
"Where are the defenders of our public's health?" she asked. "If they could pull the plug out of their mouth, they could tell us that tritium is a toxic radioactive isotope of hydrogen, and that, once released, tritium cannot be removed from the environment. Let that sink in."
"The Decision Has Already Been Made"
Takashi Kawamura, TEPCO's chairman, when asked about the decision to introduce this vast amount of radioactive water into the ocean, initially responded, "The decision has already been made."
While he quickly softened the statement, he has not stated that the action will not occur.
Meanwhile, the chairman of the Japanese Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA), Shunichi Tanaka, has claimed that tritium is of little danger to humans and supportsTEPCO's plans to dump the water into the ocean.
This claim, however, is vehemently disputed by toxicologists and nuclear experts with more background in toxicology than Tanaka.
M.V. Ramana is the Simons Chair in Disarmament, Global and Human Security at the Liu Institute for Global Issues at the University of British Columbia in Canada, and is also a contributing author to the World Nuclear Industry Status Report for 2016. He is critical of Prime Minister Shinzō Abe's administration's mishandling of Fukushima.
"The proposed release of radioactive, contaminated water from Fukushima against the wishes of the local residents, especially fishermen, represents yet another violation of people's rights to a clean environment and a decent livelihood so as to protect the financial interests of TEPCO," Ramana told Truthout.
Tanaka argued that dumping the radioactive water is safe because that level of tritium is unable to penetrate plastic wrapping. However, Ramana said that justification misses the point.
"NRA Chairman Tanaka is correct when he says that tritium is 'so weak in its radioactivity it won't penetrate plastic wrapping,' but that is irrelevant if the material is ingested," Ramana said. "Because the tritium that is released will be in the form of tritiated water, it can be easily absorbed by the body as it is chemically identical to water."
According to Ramana, a special concern with tritiated water is that, when ingested by pregnant women, it can pass through the placenta and affect the fetus.
"During this stage, the developing organism (the embryo and the fetus) is highly radiosensitive," he added.
And this is only one of the many ways in which tritium is dangerous for humans, at even the lowest levels.
Fukushima Is an "Ongoing Disaster"
Dr. Bruno Chareyron, an expert in radiation effects, won The Nuclear-Free Future Award in 2016. He is the director of the CRIIRAD lab (Commission de Recherche et d’Information Indépendentes sur la RADioactivité), founded in 1986, which not only monitors the environment for radiation contamination, but trains people to investigate radioactivity as well.
Chareyron was blunt with Truthout about what is happening at Fukushima.
"It is important to understand that the Fukushima disaster is actually an ongoing disaster," he said. "The radioactive particles deposited on the ground in March 2011 are still there, and in Japan, millions of people are living on territories that received significant contamination."
According to Chareyron, even territories located more than 200 kilometers away from the damaged nuclear reactors received significant fallout depending on wind direction, rainfall and/or snow.
And it's not just Fukushima prefecture that is affected by radioactive contamination.
"The Japanese authorities have launched a huge program of decontamination on a territory of about 2,400 square kilometers," Chareyron explained. "It is estimated that every day about 15,000 people are involved in this program. The ground and most contaminated tree leaves are removed only in the immediate vicinity of the houses, but a comprehensive decontamination is impossible."
Cesium 137 is a radioactive isotope that is one of the more common byproducts from the formation of Uranium-235 in nuclear reactors.
"Six years later, the radioactive Cesium 137 has decreased by only 14 percent," Chareyron said.
Chareyron said the powerful gamma rays emitted by Cesium 137 could travel dozens of meters in the air. Therefore, the contaminated soil and trees located around the houses, which have not been removed, are still irradiating the inhabitants.
To underscore these points, his lab produced a video that shows the power of gamma radiation emitted from outside a building in Fukushima city in May 2011. That video can be viewed here, as can another clip showing the contamination inside Fukushima city in June 2012.
"In the contaminated territories, people are also exposed to an internal contamination through the ingestion of food and inhalation of radioactive dust suspended by the wind," Chareyron said. "For example the forest fire that lasted several days in April and May 2017 in the contaminated forest of Mont Jûman has dispersed radioactive dust all around."
He also reminded us not to forget the workers in the nuclear plant who were exposed to radiation. This occurred even while managing the radioactive waste that continues to be generated by the disaster, as well as the management of the Fukushima Daiichi damaged reactors.
Chareyron said that, according to TEPCO, in May 2017, 8,862 workers were monitored for radiation exposure at the nuclear plant (of which 7,899 are contractors).
The most elevated individual external dose was 7.36 milliSievert in one month.
By comparison, the annual dose limit for a member of the public is 1 milliSievert per year.
"A Carcinogen, a Teratogen and a Mutagen All Rolled Into One"
Hydrogen is the most abundant element in living cells.
"Once toxic tritium makes it into the environment, it will bind anywhere hydrogen binds," Savabieasfahani said. "Imagine a toxic particle that can freely travel through our cells and bind to every molecule of life in our bodies and cause damage. Tritium is a carcinogen, a teratogen and a mutagen all rolled into one."
According to Savabieasfahani, there is no safe threshold level for tritium, as it can harm living organisms no matter how low its concentrations.
"Tritium can cause tumors, cancer, genetic defects, developmental abnormalities and adverse reproductive effects," she explained. "Tritiated water is associated with significantly decreased weight of brain and genital tract organs in mice and can cause irreversible loss of female germ cells -- eggs -- in both mice and monkeys even at low concentrations. This we know."
Even at very low concentrations, tritium causes cell death, mutations and chromosome breaks. Per dose, it is twice as damaging to our genetic makeup as x-rays and gamma rays  
"Once tritium travels up the food chain it becomes even more dangerous to life," Savabieasfahani said. "When incorporated into animal or plant tissue and digested by humans, tritium can stay in the body for 10 years or more. Internally exposed individuals can expect to be chronically exposed to the toxic impacts of this carcinogen for years to come."
And for infants and growing children, tritium exposure is even more dangerous.
Savabieasfahani explained that qualitative, quantitative, physiological and epidemiological evidence show that the internal uptake of tritium is 10 times more likely to cause cancer and neurological deficit in infants and children than in adults.
"Infants' and children's higher vulnerability to tritium is attributed to their increased gut absorption and their smaller body mass, as well as their heightened sensitivity to radioactive exposures," she added. "We have already observed that childhood cancers and leukemia are 22 percent higher near nuclear reactors, and where tritium has leaked into the environment."
Citing numerous studies -- including research from the University of Florida and the journal Radiation Protection Dosimetry -- Savabieasfahani stated emphatically that it is not enough to store that knowledge in "dusty library stacks."
"That knowledge must be taken down from the shelf and broadcast now, before 777,000 tons of radioactive water hit us in the face," she said.
Surfing in Tritium?
Truthout recently reported on how the Japanese government, by allowing TEPCO to dump tritium and then encouraging people who fled the Fukushima contamination zone to return to their homes, is essentially planning to expose both its own people and 2020 Tokyo Olympians to Fukushima radiation.
Furthermore, the International Olympic Commission is also working to paint conditions as "normal" -- it even has plans for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics to hold baseball and softball games at Fukushima.
Why are so many powerful entities engaging in this bizarre and harmful attempt at normalization?
Chareyron believes that a nuclear disaster like the one affecting the TEPCO nuclear reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi site simply cannot be "handled properly," because highly radioactive material that should usually be kept confined inside the core of nuclear reactors has been dispersed in the environment.
"Therefore, the Japanese government authorities and TEPCO both try to influence the general public and the workers so that a situation of exposure to radiation that would usually be considered as unacceptable becomes progressively 'accepted,'" he said. "For example, the annual dose limit of 1 milliSievert for the public has been changed into 20 milliSievert, the annual dose limit for the workers has been increased to 100 milliSievert for those exposed to 'especially high radiation,' contaminated water is still leaking into the sea, and the authorities are planning to re-use contaminated material for road construction in order to lower the cost of radioactive solid waste management."
Chareyron also said that corium, a highly radioactive material, accumulated at the bottom of reactors one and three and is still to this day has not been precisely located, and nobody yet knows when it will even be possible to dismantle the reactors.
Chareyron believes both the Japanese government and TEPCO face enormous difficulties, because of the fact that it is impossible to properly decontaminate the affected territories. Furthermore, Fukushima prefecture residents are more or less "forced" to come back to their houses while the radiation is still high, since the government announced it will cut housing subsidies that were being provided to any of them not under mandatory evacuation orders.
He also shed light on how this massive dumping of radioactive tritium water is not likely to be the last time this occurs. Chareyron said that TEPCO still must pump out on a daily basis massive amounts of heavily contaminated water that isused to cool the reactor cores, and this water is also already contaminating the water table with radiation. He also expressed concerns around the lack of monitoring of how the general population in the region is being affected by the contaminated water.
Chareyron emphasizes that both the Japanese government and TEPCO have been fundamentally dishonest with the public.
"Since the beginning of the crisis, the Japanese authorities and TEPCO have been lying to the people about the adverse impact of radiation on health and the extension of the disaster," he said.
Savabieasfahani noted that TEPCO has been rewarded with trillions of yen in government subsidies since the 2011 nuclear disaster began. That disaster was preceded by TEPCO's false reporting of technical data to authorities on hundreds of occasions, and by the 2008 shutdown of one of its nuclear power plants following an earthquake.
Instead of doling out future subsidies, Savabieasfahani said, the government should be holding the company accountable.
"A far better outcome would be to force TEPCO's shareholders, starting with the largest, to pay for cleaning up the damage their company has caused," she said. "Let it be a warning to everyone trying to make similar profits, worldwide, from similar nuclear power ventures. The insane alternative of dumping all that radiation into the seas, and letting TEPCO shareholders keep the trillions of yen they have made from poisoning and lying to the public, is simply unspeakable."
Savabieasfahani wonders why so many academics and universities are silent on these matters.
"From Los Angeles to Tokyo, the universities are loaded with environmental scientists, public health researchers, epidemiologists, medical school professors, and soon they will be drinking tritium along with everyone else," she said.
On July 27, the journal Science of the Total Environment published a peer-reviewed article about radioactively hot particles being detected in soil and dust across northern Japan.
The article details the analysis of radioactively hot particles collected in Japan following the Fukushima Daiichi meltdowns.                          

Based on 415 samples of radioactive dust from Japan, the USA and Canada, the study identified a statistically meaningful number of samples that were considerably more radioactive than current radiation models anticipated. If ingested, these more radioactive particles increase the risk of suffering a future health problem.  
However, despite substantial scientific research that demonstrates the ongoing radioactive danger created by the Fukushima disaster, Savabieasfahani notes that -- much like the government and the industry -- most academics have chosen not to speak out about the contamination.
"Don't these academics have anything to teach us, before their fish, seaweed, plants, crops and children are poisoned with 770,000 tons of radioactive water?" Savabieasfahani asked. "The silence of the entire academic world, as these proposals to dump tritium in our laps are being favorably discussed in the media, teaches a very different lesson: to just drink it up and let the shareholders make another buck."