Friday, December 28, 2007

The Jellyfish Revenge

There are a lot of things very, very bad about global warming: sea levels getting higher, land getting submerged, glaciers melting, weird things happening with the weather. But something that really stings is also being caused: an increase in jellyfish.
Now with all due respect to those in the Orient who like to eat jellyfish, I don’t like them at all—to eat (I can’t imagine that) or to swim around.
“Why jellies love global warming,” was the title of a recent article in the British magazine, New Scientist—and it wasn’t talking about blueberry jelly.
It told of how warmer water caused by global warming has been producing an increase in jellyfish, indeed the development of huge swarms of them. It reported on one swarm of these creatures, 20 square miles in area, moving in the Irish Sea and hitting a salmon farm—“killing all 100,000 fish in it,” said the New Scientist.
Also, the increase in jellyfish is also being produced by the increased levels of carbon dioxide being released on the planet causing seawater to become more acidic and harming “small creatures with acid-soluble shells that compete with jellyfish.”
Another causal factor—and another huge folly by man—is overfishing
Removing marine vertebrates that eat jellyfish, said the New Scientist.
The magazine spoke of “a vicious cycle.” It related: “Overfishing means we need more fish farms and it also boosts populations of jellyfish which damage fish farms. As the growing human population needs more food, that exacerbates warming, and…jellyfish prosper. The final irony: small plankton-eating fish, which compete most directly with jellyfish” are especially being “overfished—largely to make fishmeal, the main food for fish farms.”
What a mess.
The Kyoto Accord has been developed to combat global warming—with the U.S. leading a challenge to it. Then there’s overfishing, the myopic practice of many nations.
A bottom line: the jellyfish revenge. Clear reason for changes in course.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Empathy Experience

The year 2007 was a rough one for me—having undergone a terrible fall, skidding on a pebble-strewn brick apron of a driveway and tearing through the quadriceps muscles and tendons of my left leg. I had to have a major operation and then have had what a professor colleague of mine at the State University of New York called an “empathy experience.”
It was more than a month in a wheelchair. I’ve never thought much about the ramps and big buttons that open doors for folks in wheelchairs and other needed “accessibility” provisions now widespread due to the Americans with Disability Act.
Among the most difficult things: getting into bed or, yet more difficult, out, or struggling to take a shower with a plastic leaf bag over the cast and entire leg to keep things dry. I learned the ways disabled people have to traverse: using elevators and ramps. Bannisters, wow are they important to hold on to. And those slopes in sidewalks. When you are in a wheelchair, you look carefully for those slopes. Then I went to crutches and finally a cane.
I’ve been receiving physical therapy at Manual Sports & Physical Therapy, the wonderful place of Sinead FitzGibbon and her protégés, in the community where I live, Sag Harbor, New York. Sinead is a master at getting folks with broken bones and torn muscles and tendons back into shape.
In another lesson in what disabled and sick people face—more emphathy experience—it didn't take long before I was denied further physical therapy by my health insurer, Managed Physical Network. “Your condition,” it asserted in a letter, “has stabilized.”
I couldn't—and still can't—get up and down stairs well. I needed—and still need—more therapy.
After Sinead and I protested, Managed Physical Network gave permission for eight more treatments. After that, there's no commitment for anything more.
Nick Daba, my lead therapist at Manual Sports, had a premonition it could happen. As he treated me three weeks ago in what the health insurer would have had as my last session, he was telling me of the former CEO of United HealthCare receiving a stock option bonus in excess of a billion dollars last year in addition to his multi-million dollar salary. Back home, I confirmed that on Google.
The health insurance companies clearly like to deny people care. How else can their executives rake in millions and more for themselves?
A superb and comprehensive report on the situation has just been done at Sonoma State University: "Practices in Health Care and Disability Insurance: Delay, Diminish, Deny, and Blame" by Peter Phillips and Bridget Thoraton. Check it out at:
The authors note in their announcement of the study that it “shows how health and disability insurance companies are systematically cheating the American public.”
Importantly, it shows why. “As some of the richest most powerful people in America, health care executives dominate health policy with their campaign donations and active lobbying efforts,” Professor Phillips and Ms. Thoraton say. “They spend millions to keep themselves in the health insurance delivery business despite overwhelming evidence that we would all be better off without them. They use these profits to propagandize the American public and influence voters through scare tactics of ‘socialized medicine’ and long delays of service in single-payer systems.”
The report concludes: “Adequate health care for everyone is a human right, acknowledged by the world in the 1948 United Nations’ Declaration of Human Rights. Most Americans pay higher combined taxes, health and disability insurance premiums, co-payments, and various health-related expenses than citizens in common pool, single-payer systems, yet those countries allow all their citizens equal access to services.” (The report, citing a New England Journal of Medicine analysis, relates that spending for administrative costs associated with health care in the U.S. amounts to more than $320 billion a year or 31 percent overall, while the administrative costs in the Canadian national healthcare system totals 16.7 percent.) “When the American people,” says the report, “collectively decide that health care and basic social security is a right which belongs to everyone, the health and disability system can be changed to provide necessary benefits for all.”
The authors declare: “People in the U.S. have a choice. We can continue with a high-cost profit-driven private insurance health care system leaving million to languish without care, and millions more to face the frustrations of systematic delays, diminished care, and denials of promised benefits. Alternatively, we can build a common pool health care system that provides necessary health care goods to everyone—for less than what we are now paying. Let’s find and support the politicians who will provide health care for all outside of corporate fat-cat control.”
My "empathy experience" has been minor compared to the horrific ordeals of millions of Americans under a predatory and thoroughly outrageous "health care" system.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Newest Would-Be Nuclear Power Bail-Out

In the next several weeks, Congress is expected to vote on the newest taxpayer subsidy to the nuclear industry: $50 billion in loan guarantees for the building of new nuclear power plants.
Wall Street is nervous about putting its money up for new nuclear plants. Six of the nation’s largest investment banks—CitiGroup, Credit Suisse, Goldman Sachs, Lehpoman Brothers, Merrill Lynch and Morgan Stanley—recently told the U.S. Department of Energy that the high likelihood of delays and cost overruns in building new nuclear plants were just too much for Wall Street.
The banks' statement continued: “We believe these risks, combined with the higher capital costs and longer construction schedules of nuclear plants as compared to other generation facilities, will make lenders unwilling at present to extend long-term credit.”
That’s why U.S. Senator Peter Domenici of New Mexico, a nuclear power zealot, and the nuclear industry arranged for a provision in an energy bill now before Congress. It would leave taxpayers holding the bag in the event of defaults on new nuclear plants that Domenici, the nuclear industry and the Bush administration want to have built.
This would be the latest taxpayer subsidy for nuclear power. Among other subsidies is a measure that was supposed to be temporary, the Price Anderson Act (which, however, has become seemingly permanent) that limits the liability in the event of a catastrophic nuclear plant accident, like the Chernobyl disaster.
With a nuclear plant disaster in the United States, under the current version of Price Anderson, those who lose loved ones, develop cancer themselves, must evacuate their homes because of radiation—as happened to thousands around Chernobyl—compensation would be limited to a total of $10 billion.
And that’s a fraction of what government studies project as the costs of a nuclear plant disaster to be.
Insurance companies won’t insure for a nuclear plant accident. Try asking your insurance broker for a policy. The answer will be no. Look on your homeowners policy. In the U.S., they all have a “nuclear clause”—saying this policy won’t cover loss or damage caused by radiation.
It leaves one to ask: if nuclear power is so safe, why won’t insurance companies cover it?
If it makes any economic sense, why can’t it stand on its own economically—without taxpayer subsidies?
Safe energy proponents are urging people to call their senators and representatives to urge opposition to the $50 billion taxpayer nuclear bail-out.
Nuclear power is as unviable economically as it is in terms of safety.

Vested Interest. Self-Interest.-- Why Things Happen, or Don't Happen.

Vested interest. Self-interest. This, I’ve found as I’ve gotten older, had an opportunity to travel the world, seems to often be why things happen, or don’t happen, no matter what the nation or its economic or political system.
A government sets up an office, starts a program, and it might turn out to be meaningless, indeed dangerous, but a vested interest is created and it’s hard to end what has been set up. A company sells a product, and it might be poisonous—tobacco, for example—but what a battle to counter corporate self-interest.
Here on Long Island, New York a while back, there was a clear—and laughable and sad—example of this dynamic. It had to do with balloons. Yes, balloons.
Suffolk County Legislator Lynne Nowick received a letter from some elementary school students about helium-filled balloons falling into waterways and being mistaken for jellyfish by sea animals who ingested the balloons and died. They noted that Connecticut, because of this problem, banned mass balloon releases and they suggested the same sort of thing be done on Long Island.
So Nowick got to work, did research, and found what started off as helium-filled balloons represented the most common form of floating garbage within 200 miles from shore and, indeed, regularly kill marine life, especially turtles.
She introduced a bill to in Suffolk to prohibit mass balloon releases. A legislative no-brainer, you’d figure.
But along came something called the Balloon Council. This is a national coalition based on New Jersey of manufacturers, distributors and retailers of balloons.
Go to the group’s website:—and you can find out all you ever wanted to know about balloons. Balloon history. How balloons are made, and so forth.
Also, the Balloon Council has made it its business of trying to defeat what it considers anti-balloon legislation—laws like the one in Connecticut and a dozen states restricting or banning balloon releases. And it went after the Long Island balloon bill.
But the politicians here resisted the Balloon Council and enacted the Nowick bill which prohibits the release of more than 25 balloons filled with helium or containing other lighter-than air gasses.
The release of such balloons, says the bill, has a deleterious effect on the environment when they inevitably deflate and fall in the ocean or the Long Island Sound.
One vested interest was stood up to. There are many others.

U.S. Consumer Protection Board -- Failing on Purpose

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission—it’s the epitome of the approach taken by the Bush administration to public health and safety.
The “Caveat Emptor Commission”—is what the New York Times recently called the commission.
With a staff of 401, half of what it had been just a few years ago, the commission has been “hollowed out,” as the Times put it, hardly the federal watchdog to protect consumers it should be.
The flood of dangerous toys from China became a flood because the Consumer Product Safety Commission just wasn’t there. It has but one inspector charged with inspecting toys. One inspector. For millions upon millions of toys being imported into the United States and produced here.
As shocking, when Congress recently developed a measure that would strengthen the agency, its acting chairman, Nancy Nord, urged Congress not to OK most of the legislation.
As the Times, in a news story, reported: “Ms. Nord opposes provisions that would increase the maximum penalties for safety violations and make it easier for the government to make public reports of faulty products, protect industry whistleblowers and prosecute executives of companies that willfully violate laws.”
“The measure,” the article went on, “is an effort to buttress an agency that has been under siege because of a raft of tainted and dangerous products manufactured both domestically and abroad.”
But, noted the Times story, that opposition of Nord “is consistent with the broadly deregulatory approach of the Bush administration. In a variety of areas, from anti-trust to trucking and working safety, officials appointed by President Bush have sought to reduce the role of regulation and government in the marketplace.”
And it’s all not some sort of anti-government ideology.
As the Washington Post recently reported, the chief of the Consumer Product Safety Commission—Nord—and her predecessor “have taken dozens of trips at the expense of the toy, appliance and children’s furniture industries and others they regulate.”
The Times editorial said that “when greed or inefficiency trumps safety, consumers need a muscular Consumer Product Safety Commission to fight back” and it praised Congress for having “finally begun to recognize” that the present commission “is yet another federal agency that has been stripped of its powers to protect the public.”
Government’s primary role is to protect the citizenry.
In the Consumer Product Safety Commission, it has dismally failed—on purpose.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Plum Island Animal Disease Center: Vulnerable to Terrorist Attack

The main watchdog agency of the U.S. government—the General Accountability Office—is still highly concerned about the Plum Island Animal Disease Center being vulnerable to terrorist attack. And so should we all.
Four years ago, the GAO issued a scathing report: “Combating Terrorism, Actions Needed to Improve Security at Plum Island Animal Disease Center.” The GAO warned that “an adversary might try to steal pathogens” from the center on the island a mile-and-a-half off Orient Point on Long Island, New York and use them against people and/or animals in the U.S.
Recently, the GAO gave a briefing to members of the staffs of U.S. representatives and senators, an update on its 2003 report. We have obtained a copy of the PowerPoint presentation and accompanying document from the office of Senator Charles Schumer. The deficiencies the GAO finds are alarming. Although the GAO said
18 of the recommendations in its earlier report have been implemented, remaining are “four fundamental concerns.”
* “First, Plum Island’s physical security was incomplete and limited.” A continuing problem of to whom the center’s security force reports “to ensure that security- related issues are handled promptly” is cited by the GAO.
* “Second, Plum Island officials had not adequately controlled access to the pathogens.” The GAO said still “there are no name checks or record checks given to contractors and visitors going into the biocontainment area” in which there are virulent disease agents lethal to animal and humans. The GAO tells of access “regardless of citizenship.”
* “Third, Plum Island’s incident response capability had limitations.” The GAO said still required are “exercises with local law enforcement to test the efficiency and effectiveness of Plum Island’s response capability.”
* “Fourth, Plum Island’s security plan did not address all risks and threats.” The GAO said there remains a need to “enhance incident response capability…that includes precise detail about what to do in the event an incident occurs that exceeds the capability of the security system, such as terrorist attack.”
Senator Schumer commented: “Three-fourths safe isn’t nearly safe enough. It’s not enough to be just making progress on measures as basic as background checks on visitors to hazardous areas and contingency plans for a potential attack.”
Michael Christopher Carroll, author of “Lab 257: The Disturbing Story of the Government’s Secret Plum Island Germ Laboratory,” the 2004 best-seller, says “the GAO update confirms what we’ve been saying. We’re on borrowed time with Plum Island. It would be laughable if it weren’t so serious and dangerous.”
“Lab 257” opens with an account of CIA agents and U.S. Army commandos raiding the “terrorist front organization” office and residence of Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood in Afghanistan in 2002 and finding data on disease agents including anthrax and “a dossier” on the Plum Island center. “Why would an associate of Osama bin Laden be so interested in some obscure New York Island?” writes Carroll, an attorney and former law associate of ex-New York Governor Mario Cuomo. “If Plum Island isn’t exactly a household name in America, it apparently holds a prominent place in the minds of people like Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood. And it’s not the sandy beaches and swaying palm trees they’re after.”
Last week, Carroll said “the abysmal track record” at the Plum Island Animal Disease Center “does not earn them the confidence to continue.”
Indeed, the Department of Homeland Security announced in 2005 that it would replace the Plum Island center with a new $450 million National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility elsewhere. But then, three months ago, in a surprise move, James Johnson, the DHS director of national laboratories, said Plum Island, although not among the five finalists, is being considered as a site for that facility.
Not long after, Senator Hillary Clinton and Representative Tim Bishop of New York announced that DHS was signing a $203,000 contract with a Baltimore contracting company as a start in $24 million in “upgrades” at Plum Island. “The research conducted at the Plum Island Animal Disease Center is vital to protecting our food supply and agricultural industries,” announced Senator Clinton.
And what about the millions of people in this population hub of the U.S. living in close proximity to this center with its poor security—on a exposed island that can never be adequately protected with it being on busy waterways easily accessible to terrorists?

China's Anti-Satellite Shot Punctuates Need for New Space Treaty

China's recent successful test of an anti-satellite weapon brought me back to a conference at the United Nations in Geneva in 1999 on "The Prevention of an Arms Race in Outer Space."As a journalist who has written on this issue, I presented on a screen documents starting with the U.S. Space Command's "Vision for 2020," issued the year before, envisioning US space-based laser weapons zapping targets on Earth by the year 2020.
It spoke of the US military "dominating the space dimension of military operations to protect US interests and investment" and "integrating Space Forces into warfighting capabilities across the full spectrum of conflict."This "pushes us--all of us--toward war in the heavens," I said, because "other nations will follow, leading to a new arms race and ultimately war in space. This all must be stopped before it gets completely out of hand."
My kenote address was followed by the first secretary of the Chinese delegation to the UN, Wang Xiaoyu, who declared: "Outer space is the common heritage of human beings. It should be used entirely for peaceful purposes and for the economic, scientific and cultural development of all countries as well as the well-being of mankind. It must not be weaponized and become another arena of the arms race."
The next day, a vote was to be held on a bill advanced by China and Russia -- and our neighbor, Canada--on "banning the test, deployment and use of any weapons, weapons systems, and their components in outer space."
On my way to watch the vote, I came upon a high official of the U.S. delegation to the UN. He had attended the earlier conference and wasn't happy with my remarks. He welcomed the opportunity to provide me with some "background." With limitations on U.S.military power, he explained on the street outside the UN, the U.S. believes "we can project power from space" and this is why the country is moving in this direction.
As to other nations responding in kind, he said the US military had done analyses and determined that China was "30 years behind" in competing with the US militarily in space and Russia "doesn't have the money" for it. I recounted my travels in China, observing its technological strength, and noted China's space prowess. And I pointed to the enormous space capabilities and economic potential of Russia. A huge, potentially catastrophic miscalculation is being made, I said. We parted in disagreement.
A few hours later, a near-unanimous vote was held on the measure to ban weapons in space. The U.S. voted no and, because consensus was required, the measure failed. This was during the Clinton presidency.
Under President George W. Bush the U.S. commitment to space warfare has intensified. As the administration took office, a commission chaired by soon-to-be Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld issued a report proclaiming that "in the coming period the U.S. will conduct operations to, from, in, and through space to support its national interests."
Last October, the administration formally adopted a more aggressive U.S. position in a new US National Space Policy that said the country will "develop and deploy space capabilities that sustain U.S. advantage." It also said the U.S. "will oppose the development of new legal regimes or other restrictions" on its "use of space."
What, in this context, does the Chinese test signify? Was it a demonstration showing that China never deserved to be trusted, its words were mere rhetoric? Or does it signify that China, pushed by the U.S., is indeed starting to respond in kind? Or does it mean, as China is maintaining in the face of international protests, that China is seeking to force the US into negotiations on keeping weapons out of space?
Two things are certain: China is not, as I was told by that US diplomat, "30 years behind" in the military use of space, and there is a very narrow window available for an international agreement keeping space free of weapons.
The template is the Outer Space Treaty of 1967, a visionary pact developed by the U.S., the United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union to prevent what 40 years ago was already feared as the weaponization of space. It bans nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction in space. What China, Russia--and our friend to our north, Canada--have been doing is trying to broaden that to all weapons.
The U.S. has the technology to move into space with weapons. Believing it will end up the only nation up there with arms if it does so is a huge and tragic mistake. China and Russia--and who knows what country next--will follow. And no nation will have an advantage.
Meanwhile, vast amounts of financial resources would be expended for space weaponry by the people of these countries, money desperately needed for medical care, education, the environment, and all the other great needs on Earth.
The U.S. must join with the nations of the world now on an agreement (that includes a system of verification) providing the heavens not become a place for war.

The Move to "Revive" Nuclear Power

There’s again a move on to “revive” nuclear power. Every decade or so those with a vested interest in this deadly dangerous technology have sought to get the public to swallow the nuclear pill—and that’s happening again.
The promotion has consistently been based on falsehoods. For example, in a heavy push years back—during a gasoline shortage that included lines at gas pumps—the claim was that if we had nuclear power somehow this wouldn’t happen. In fact, only 3% of electricity in the United States is generated with oil. Nuclear power has nothing to do with oil or gas.
Currently, the big pitch as the global warming crisis is acknowledged (after years of the vested oil interests denying it): nuclear plants don’t emit greenhouse gasses and contribute to global warming.
In reality, the overall nuclear cycle—which includes uranium mining and milling, enrichment, fuel fabrication to disposal of radioactive waste—has greenhouse gas emissions that play a significant part in global warming.
As Michel Lee of the Council on Intelligent Energy & Conservation Policy notes: “The dirty secret is that nuclear power makes a substantial contribution to global warming.” The claim it doesn’t “is a fiction that has been a prime feature of the nuclear industry’s and Bush administration’s PR campaign.”
As a petition being circulated by the Nuclear Information and Resource Service that numerous environmental and safe-energy groups and thousands of individuals have signed on to declares: “We do not support construction of new nuclear reactors as a means of addressing the climate crisis. Available renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies are faster, cheaper, safer and cleaner strategies for reducing greenhouse emissions than nuclear power.”
The last order for a nuclear plant in the U.S. not subsequently cancelled was in 1973. The 1979 Three Mile Island accident and 1986 Chernobyl disaster gave lie to the nuclear establishment’s claim that a catastrophic mishap was extremely unlikely—despite the PR campaign since trying to deny the impacts of these accidents.
A majority of Americans remain strongly against nuclear power realizing how lethal it is. Indeed, a U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission report, “CRAC-2,” projects consequences of a major accident at each of the 103 nuclear plants now operating in the U.S. estimating “peak early fatalities” as high as 100,000, “peak early injuries” even higher and property damage as much as $300 billion.
Post-9/11, with al-Qaeda acknowledging it has been eying U.S. atomic plants, every one is a target—and potential nuclear weapon for terrorists.
Moreover, “It doesn’t take an accident for a nuclear power plant to release radioactivity into our air, water and soil. All it takes is the plant’s everyday routine operation, and federal regulations permit these radioactive releases,” stresses Kay Drey of Beyond Nuclear of the Nuclear Policy Research Institute.
How would the scores of would-be new nuclear plants be financed? You and other taxpayers are expected to pay heavily. Some $15 billion in taxpayer subsidies have already been arranged and an energy bill now before Congress authorizes $50 billion more in taxpayer subsidies for new nuclear plants.
“Renewables Are Ready” is a title of a 1999 book written by two staffers of the Union of Concerned Scientists. Today, they are more than ready. Wind, solar, hydrogen bio-fuels, geothermal and other safe, clean renewable power can along with energy efficiency easily provide the energy we need.
The resources are vast. Researchers at Stanford University estimate global wind energy potential at 72,000 gigawatts—ten times as much electricity as the world now uses. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory says seven U.S. southwest states could provide more than 7,000 gigawatts of solar power—seven times the existing electric capacity in the U.S. from all sources. And renewable energy technologies are now highly developed—on the shelf and ready to be widely utilized.
But those who push nuclear power would threaten us with losing our lives and money—unnecessarily. They must be stopped.