Saturday, November 7, 2009

Credit Card Company Usury

The behavior of credit card companies in recent months has been unbelievable.

Hysterical that new federal rules are to take effect dealing with their operations, the credit card companies have, among other things, been raising interest rates to levels otherwise only charged by Mafia loan sharks—to 30 and 40 percent.

A definition of usury: “An interest rate that greatly exceeds the bounds of reason or moderation, one that is exorbitant.” Like 30 and 40 percent.

The new rules—provisions of the Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility and Disclosure Act of 2009—include:

· Not allowing an interest rate increase to be applied to an existing balance unless a cardholder is delinquent.
· Notifying cardholders of an interest rate jump 45 days in advance.
· Stopping young people with no income from getting hooked on credit cards; under-21-year-olds would need a co-signer or a job.

Some of the rules are to take effect in February, some in August.

But importantly, there’s no cap in the new rules on interest rates—a gargantuan hole considering the recent behavior, indeed the history of credit card companies.

Did you ever wonder why you mail your payments to credit card companies in states like South Dakota, Utah Delaware? It’s because these states have no or very loose usury laws.

Vermont’s independent Senator Bernie Sanders tried to get a cap set on credit card interest rates of 15 percent in the new rules. With rates of 30 and 40 percent, the credit card companies, he said, weren’t “making credit available. They’re engaging in loan-sharking.”

His effort failed—only 33 senators supported it. The banking lobby is plenty powerful in Washington.

Because of the recent credit card company machinations, there’s a second bill now before Congress, the Expedited Card Reform for Consumers Act of 2009—to make them comply with the new rules starting next month.

Incidentally, folks with solid finances who pay off their credit card bills every month are also being victimized-- with big hikes in fees.

New York’s U.S. Senator Charles Schumer says the “sneaky fees and tricks” of the credit card companies “are ripping off consumers across the country and it’s time to stop them dead in their tracks.”

He’s right, but just expediting the new rules won’t do it. Necessary are tougher rules—including a cap on credit card interest to end credit card company usury.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

No Family History

No Family History: The Environmental Links to Breast Cancer is the title of a just-published book by Sabrina McCormick, who has also produced and directed and accompanying video documentary.

The book and video lay out the case that what must be done about the epidemic of breast cancer is dealing with the toxins in the environment that largely cause it.

Dr. McCormick chose where I’m from–Long Island—as the geographical centerpiece of the book and video because of Long Island’s high rates of breast cancer ranging up to 200 percent over the national average. She is the Robert Wood Johnson Health and Society Scholar at the University of Pennsylvania and an assistant professor of environmental science and sociology at Michigan State University,

The key figure in the video and book is Robin Caslenova, a 44-year-old woman from West Islip, Long Island who was diagnosed with breast cancer without a family history of the disease.
Her ordeal in followed over several years—including the operation she must undergo, chemotherapy and breast reconstruction.

The video is graphic. Indeed, the announcement for the recent New York premiere of it, issued by the Suffolk County Cancer Awareness Task Force and the Huntington, Long Island-based initiative, Prevention is the Cure, noted: “This documentary contains adult material, scenes during and after a real-life surgery and its aftermath, and medical situations and discussions which may not be suitable for children or those with weak stomachs.” No matter how queasy your stomach might get, this is a video and book that are essential viewing and reading. The truth about cancer, its causes and the ordeal it puts people through, must be faced squarely.

In the book, published by Rowman & Littlefield, Dr. McCormick speaks of a “political economy of disease—a vast, powerful group of corporations protected by weak governmental practices that have shaped what we are exposed to every day…It affects everyday lives and deaths.” This “political economy...has caused us to focus on treatment, detection, and cure while missing a more difficult and political piece of the puzzle—how to prevent breast cancer.” These “institutions often prioritize major corporate interests instead of the public’s health and well-being.”

In the book and video, Dr. McCormick details how cancer-causing chemicals “permeate the planet.” Meanwhile, in 1964 one in 20 women was afflicted with breast cancer and by 2006 it “reached one in eight.” Few have a family history. Breast cancer has become “the most common killer of middle-aged women in the United States, Canada and northern Europe.”

“We exercise. We get mammograms. We also walk, shop, and race for a cure. We know what pink stands for. It means breast cancer. It means raising money. It means finding a cure. The fact is that we are missing the boat,” she writes.

She is especially critical of corporations that promote treatment and donate to cancer research while manufacturing cancer-causing toxins. For more information on her documentary and book, visit

Mrs. Caslenova, with her supportive husband and their three children, were at the premiere of the video, at which Mrs. Caslenova also spoke. Buoyant despite her travails, she told of having “a great family that lifted me up" and she declared that “prevention is so minimal” in how cancer is being challenged.

This must change as a matter of life and death.

Friday, August 14, 2009

FAA--Forget About Administration

Published on, August 14, 2009

FAA—Forget About Administration. That should be the official name of the Federal Aviation Administration for it is a toothless government agency long in bed with the industry it is supposed to regulate.

The recent fatal collision between an airplane and sighteeing helicopter over the Hudson River is yet another episode involving a regulatory agency with little interest in regulation. The busy Hudson River corridor adjacent to the skyscrapers of Manhattan is, because of FAA inaction, “unregulated” airspace.

“It is unconscionable that the FAA permits unregulated flights in a crowded airspace in a major metropolitan area,” declared Congressman Jerrold Nadler this week. “The Hudson River flight corridor must not continue to be the Wild West.”

But that’s the FAA—which prefers to let industry do its thing.

To the east of where that tragedy occurred, the people of Long Island have gotten a lesson on this in recent times as they’ve tried to seek action to deal with the racket of helicopters ferrying people between Manhattan and the Hamptons.

Despite the economic downturn, the helicopter traffic to and from the Hamptons, a warm-weather vacation mecca, is booming allowing the well-heeled to avoid traffic jams below—at the cost of peace for residents of the highly-populated island also below.

In the island’s largest county, Suffolk County, a law was proposed seeking to quell the noise. “Low flying helicopters have become a public nuisance in Suffolk County,” it declared. It continued: the FAA “has failed to regulate the operation” of the helicopters. Thus, it held, it was necessary for the county to step in.

“The operation of helicopters at low altitudes is presumed to be a hazard to persons and property on the surface and constitutes careless and reckless operation,” said the bill authored by Suffolk County Legislator Edward Romaine.

Standing with the helicopter industry against the measure was…yes, the FAA.

FAA Regional Executive Manager Diane Crean came before the legislature last year and declared that the FAA has “supreme” power over air traffic. The proposed law was “pre-empted” by the FAA, she insisted.

Romaine countered that the FAA insists “we control” helicopter traffic but, in fact, “doesn’t control it” and will allow the Hamptons choppers to fly at any altitude and without any plans. The FAA policy, he said, is: “Essentially, you’re on your own.”

Despite the FAA opposition, Suffolk County legislation to attempt to din the chopper racket passed and was signed into law in June. And it has teeth: “up to $1,000 and/or one year in prison per offense.”

FAA inaction is a national problem. The New York Times in a front-page article August 14 detailed the agency’s inaction when it came to recommendations of the National Transportation Safety Board. “Fatal Collision Above the Hudson Bares a Longtime Rift Over Air Safety,” declared a headline for the piece. It related: “The safety board and the FAA have a long history of being frustrated with each other in matters involving major airliners or crashes of commercial jetliners, and there are various theories about why. On the one hand, the safety board sometimes proposes fixes that require technological advances or are viewed as too costly. On the other, the FAA is sometimes criticized as working too closely and protectively with the airline industry.”

The FAA website declares: “Our continuing mission is to provide the safest, most efficient aerospace system in the world…Safety is our passion…Integrity is our character. We do the right thing, even when no one is looking.” Can a government agency be charged with false advertising? (The FAA, not too incidentally, has an annual budget of more than $14 billion.)

Appearing with Congressman Nadler along the Hudson August 10, near where the airplane-helicopter crash took place, New York State Assemblyman Richard Gottfried said: “It’s obvious the FAA’s policy of leaving pilots to fend for themselves endangers people in the area and the rest of us down below. That’s got to change.”

Change must come—including complete reform of the FAA.

Monday, August 10, 2009

The "Freedom" to Be Given Cancer

The link between tanning beds and cancer, in particular that deadly skin cancer, melanoma, has been known for years. It’s the reason that laws have been passed across the United States to deal with tanning salons—despite intense lobbying by the tanning industry.

Now, the basis for those laws has been thoroughly confirmed by a comprehensive report of the World Health Organization
putting tanning beds into the top cancer risk category—deeming them as deadly as arsenic and mustard gas.

Younger people were found to be the biggest victims: Said the report: “The risk of skin melanoma is increased 75 percent when use of tanning devices starts before 30 years of age.”

The International Tanning Association and other segments of the tanning industry are, meanwhile, trying to refute the study.

Where I live, in Suffolk County, Long Island, early on there was a move to regulate tanning salons. Suffolk County Legislator Vivian Viloria-Fisher in early 2005 introduced a bill requiring young people between 14 and 18 only be allowed to get toasted in a tanning salon if accompanied by a parent.

She was inspired by her experience as a high school teacher when, she recalls, “I saw students coming to school in the winter months with tans,” especially girls and not from vacations but from going to tanning salons. “I would lecture the students about what they were doing to their skin…the health dangers involved.”

Ms. Viloria-Fisher's bill faced “tremendous resistance” from the tanning industry and became stuck in committee.

It’s amazing how vested interests—entities seeking to perpetuate themselves and their dubious doings—have the power all over the United States to stop sensible governmental action. (Consider currently the insurance industry and health care.)

The Indoor Tanning Association proclaims on its website ( “Promoting Responsible Sun Care.” It stresses that it “represents thousands of indoor tanning manufacturers, distributors, facility owners and members from other support industries. The professional indoor tanning industry employs more than 160,000 people and generates an economic impact of more than $5 billion annually.” It was “founded to protect the freedom of individuals to acquire a suntan.” Its claims include how the “sunshine vitamin may make you brighter…may help older people stay mentally fit.”

A major break on the tanning salon issue in Suffolk came, recounts Ms. Viloria-Fisher, when she attended a meeting the Suffolk County executive was holding with environmentalists and health advocates and met Colette Coyne “and got to talk to her.” Ms. Coyne and her husband, Patrick, of New Hyde Park, Long Island, founded the Colette Coyne Melanoma Awareness Campaign ( after their daughter, also named Colette, died at 29 of melanoma.

Ms. Viloria-Fisher re-introduced her bill, this time calling it the “Colette Melanoma Awareness Act” later in 2005. And, despite continued industry opposition, this time the measure passed the legislature, unanimously, and was signed into law by the county executive.

With the WHO report, Ms. Viloria-Fisher has just introduced a new bill to flatly ban those under 18 from using tanning salons.

Reflecting on her experience with the issue, Ms. Viloria-Fisher speaks of how “very nasty” the situation became when she first introduced her bill. But she says she knew she was correct from the research then done—by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, National Institutes of Health and Centers for Disease Control—cited in her bill. She also received personal advice from “a very good friend, a plastic surgeon, who told me, ‘It’s about time. I get young people coming to me who have actually scarred themselves on tanning beds.’”

As to those who fought her initiative, “There’s no interest like self-interest. Bt my job is as a policy maker to look at this dispassionately because I don’t have a vested interest, to look at this in terms of the public health and public good, to look at the bigger interest.” The WHO report “confirms what we’ve been reading.”

She hopes pending New York State legislation barring those under 18 from using tanning salons might now pass. The Indoor Tanning Association, on its website, lists the New York measure and other bills in the U.S. on tanning salons and urges their defeat. After all, it says, “All human activity presents risk.”

How vested interests can twist the truth and damage and destroy life.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Deadly Gamble: Nuclear Power and You

Ten Big Lies!
Deadly Gamble: Nuclear Power and You
Hustler, October 2009

By Karl Grossman
Advocates in government and the private sector are engaged in a massive drive to “revive” nuclear power. Here are ten big lies they’re using to promote their deadly agenda:
1. No one in the United States has died as a result of nuclear power…and only
4,000 will die due to Chernobyl
. People died and are still dying in the United States from this country’s biggest nuclear plant disaster: the partial meltdown at Unit 2 of the Three Mile Island facility in Pennsylvania. Lung cancer and leukemia rates downwind of the reactor were found to be two to ten times higher in years after the 1979 accident, according to research by Dr. Steven Wing, professor of epidemiology at the University of North Carolina School of Public Health.
The Radiation and Public Health Project ( has calculated tens of thousands of cancer deaths caused by the radioactivity released during the meltdown. “The accident had a devastating effect…especially for those who were infants and young children at the time,” says Joseph Mangano, the organization’s executive director.
In the book Killing Our Own: The Disaster of America’s Experience with Atomic Radiation, its authors—including energy expert Harvey Wasserman and former high U.S. Department of Energy official Robert Alvarez—declare “People died at Three Mile Island.”
My television documentary, Three Mile Island Revisited ( reveals how the plant’s owner has quietly paid out millions of dollars to area residents for health impacts they and their loved ones suffered.
The 1986 explosion at Ukraine’s Chernobyl plant was the worst nuclear disaster in the world. It probably shouldn’t be a big surprise that the Chernobyl Forum—a group led by the International Atomic Energy Agency, an entity set up by the United Nations to promote nuclear power—reported in 2005 that only 56 people had died as a result of that accident. The final death toll, the Chernobyl Forum said, can be expected to reach no more than 4,000.
However, reporting in 2006 that “at least 500,000 people have already died” from the Chernobyl disaster was Nikolai Omelyanets, deputy head of the National Commission for Radiation Protection in Ukraine. Dr. Alexey Yablokov, environmental advisor to former Russian President Boris Yeltsin and now president of the Center for Russian Environmental Policy, calculates a death toll of 300,000.
In my television interview The Truth About Chernobyl, Dr. Vladimir Chernousenko—the nuclear physicist in charge of the clean-up—estimated that a million people will die due to the accident. (Our conversation can be viewed at
It doesn’t take an accident for radioactivity to be emitted from a nuclear power plant. Because nuclear plants are not sealed, there are “routine releases” of krypton, xenon, tritium and other radioactive poisons. The Radiation and Public Health Project has documented rates of cancer being significantly higher “for distances of up to 40 miles” around nuclear plants due to such emissions.
2. Nuclear plants can’t explode. Then how come Chernobyl’s Unit 4 exploded? And although the U.S. has a different design for its nuclear plants, they can explode, too. Nuclear physicist Dr. Richard E. Webb is the world expert on the problem. Indeed, the cover of his book The Accident Hazards of Nuclear Power Plants features an official U.S. government photo of a scaled-down nuclear plant exploding. This happened in the 1950s when the government conducted tests in Idaho on the explosive potential of nuclear plants.
We’ve been told that a meltdown or “China syndrome” accident is the worst mishap that can occur at a nuclear plant. It is caused by a stoppage in the massive amounts of water a nuclear plant needs to keep atom-splitting (or fission) in check. In fact, the worst-case scenario involves a control rod malfunction. There are approximately 200 control rods in a nuclear plant. A single control rod malfunction can trigger an exponential increase in the rate of fission, causing coolant water to flash to steam. A steam explosion will blow apart a plant’s containment dome. That’s what was tested for in Idaho.
Dr. Edward Teller, the scientist who led the development of the hydrogen bomb, warned then that because of the threat of such a reactor explosion, nuclear plants must be built underground. They weren’t.
In 1961 in Idaho a reactor named the SL-1—built to generate power at remote military installations—underwent a steam explosion and meltdown, killing three servicemen. The propelled control rod in this accident flew into the groin of one of the operators, pinning him, like a butterfly, to the ceiling of the reactor. His body was recovered but it was so hot with radioactivity, he was buried in a lead-lined coffin at Arlington National Cemetery.
But forget steam explosions. Dr. Webb has written extensively about how plutonium breeder reactors can generate a cataclysmic atomic explosion.
3. A nuclear plant can withstand the impact of an incoming aircraft used as a missile. Concerns about nuclear plants being terrorist targets have existed for years. This concern was heightened after 9/11 when American Airlines Flight 11 flew over the two Indian Point nuclear plants just above New York City before crashing into the World Trade Center. Then came the revelation that al-Qaeda had been considering targeting nuclear plants. It still is.
The nuclear industry once insisted its plants were “robust” and could withstand such a hit. Earlier this year the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) stopped accepting this claim, ordering the builders of all new nuclear plants in the U.S. do a “design-specific assessment of the effects of the impact of a large commercial aircraft.” The industry would have to “avoid or mitigate to the extent practical” damage caused by a 9/11-like strike. But what about the existing 104 nuclear plants? They would be left as is—essentially “pre-deployed weapons of mass destruction,” says Paul Gunter, director of the Reactor Oversight Program of the organization Beyond Nuclear ( “Public documents within the NRC confirm that these plants were never designed or constructed for aircraft impact, particularly explosion and fire.”
4. Uranium fuel is abundant. Raw materials containing substantial amounts of high-grade uranium-235 are not abundant. “Startingly, there are only a few decades left of the proven high-grade uranium ore it [nuclear power] needs for fuel,” says Andrew Simms, policy director of the New Economics Foundation (
The foundation stated in its 2005 report “Mirage and Oasis” that by one estimate “uranium reserves will be depleted in around four decades…Even the International Atomic Energy Agency…estimates ‘enough to last only another 85 years.’”
This limit is why the nuclear establishment has long believed nuclear energy will need to be based on man-made plutonium. But plutonium-fueled breeder reactors can explode like atomic bombs. Kay Drey, a board member of Beyond Nuclear, notes that “every” 1,000-megawatt uranium-fueled nuclear plant “generates enough plutonium every year to create at least 40 atomic bombs.
5. The “peaceful” atom. There has never been a “peaceful” atom. Any country with a uclear facility has the materiel—the plutonium built up in a uranium reactor—to make nuclear weapons. Look at India. In 1974 it received a “civilian” reactor from Canada and training from the U.S. Presto: India had nuclear weapons.
6. France’s nuclear “success” story. The French nuclear power program is a health and economic mess. A Beyond Nuclear report—“Nuclear Power and France: Setting the Record Straight”—discloses leukemia clusters in communities around France’s La Hague nuclear reprocessing center. It notes that the facility discharges 100 million gallons of radioactive liquid waste yearly into the English Channel. Waters off La Hague have been “measured as 17 million times more radioactive than normal sea water,” and this contamination has affected waters as far as the Arctic Circle.
French nuclear plant mishaps in 2008 included a radioactive leak from a plant near Avignon polluting two rivers. People were warned not to drink water, swim or eat fish from the waterways. “There is no French love affair with nuclear energy, but rather a deep mistrust of this most secretive of industries,” says Linda Gunter, a co-founder of Beyond Nuclear. A majority in France want nuclear power phased out, polling shows. There have been massive protests against construction of new nuclear plants.
In 2008, Global Chance (, a French research organization, issued a report declaring “France today has no industrial solution for all its long-term radioactive wastes,” It concludes that nuclear power in France is an “undemocratic choice.”
7. Nuclear power is inexpensive. It’s extremely expensive: $12 billion just to build a plant. “No private money anywhere in the world is being used to build new nuclear plants,” says Michael Mariotte, executive director of the Nuclear Information & Resource Service ( “They are all being built with some sort of government subsidy.”
In 2008, with Wall Street unwilling to finance new nuclear plants, U.S. Senators Joseph Lieberman and John Warner advanced legislation to provide $544 billion for new nuclear plant development. (See my article, “Half-Trillion Dollars for Nukes,” at That didn’t pass, but the nuclear establishment is still pushing to get your tax dollars.
Physicist Amory Lovins, cofounder and chairman of the Rocky Mountain Institute (, says, “It [nuclear power] costs about three times as much as wind power, which is booming.”
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Department of Department of Energy’s Sandia National Laboratories conducted a report titled “Calculation of Reactor Accident Consequences for U.S. Nuclear Plants” (acronymed CRAC-2). Every nuclear plant in the U.S. is evaluated as to “early fatalities” in the event of a meltdown with breach of containment. “Property damage” costs are estimated as high as $314 billion for a single accident. And that’s in 1980 dollars, which would be tripled today. Deaths are estimated at up to 100,000.
Meanwhile, the 1957 the Price-Anderson Act was passed to shield the nuclear industry from having to pay for those damages. That was made necessary because insurance companies refused to insure nuclear plants. It was supposed to be only temporary, but the act has been extended and extended.
Based on the Price-Anderson Act, all the nuclear industry would have to pay to compensate people for deaths, injuries and property damages in the event of a nuclear plant accident would be $10 billion—even though that’s just a fraction of what CRAC-2 estimates would be the costs. (For more about CRAC-2, see
8. Nuclear Power “Doesn’t Contribute” to Global Warming. This claim is part of the current push to “revive” nuclear power. What you’re not supposed to know is that the overall nuclear “chain” or “cycle”—including uranium mining and milling, enrichment and fuel fabrication—generates significant greenhouse gas emissions.
In its report “Nuclear Power Can’t Stop Climate Change,” the Nuclear Information & Resource Service notes: “The nuclear industry conveniently omits [that] the emissions related to nukes are caused by the fossil fuel-intensive processes involved in uranium mining, conversion, enrichment, transport and construction. As a result nuclear power produces direct and indirect emissions of 73 to 230 grams of carbon dioxide per kilowatt hour of electricity produced. Wind and solar, by comparison, are virtually greenhouse-gas free, recouping construction emissions in the first years of operation.”
“Nuclear power makes a substantial contribution to global warming,” says Michel Lee, chair of the Council on Intelligent Energy & Conservation Policy.
9. Nuclear power is needed. In fact, there’s absolutely no need to undergo the life-threatening dangers of nuclear power. In a 2008 edition on safe, renewable energy technologies, the prestigious British magazine New Scientist pointed to a United Nations report declaring that “renewable energy that can already be harnessed economically would supply the world’s electricity needs”
From solar to wind (now the fastest-growing and cheapest new energy technology) to wave-power to tidal-power to bio-fuels to small hydropower to co-generation (combining the generation of heat and electricity) and on and on, a renewable energy windfall is here today.
Consider the breakthrough at the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in Golden, Colorado, regarding the use of solar power to break down water into oxygen and hydrogen, with the hydrogen then usable as a fuel. “It’s the forever fuel,” Dr. John Turner, senior scientist at NREL told me. “This uses our two most abundant natural resources—sunlight and water—to give us an energy supply that is inexhaustible.”
10. New designs are inherently safe. The nuclear industry is touting its “new and improved” nuclear plant models as “inherently safe.” They’re not. They, like all nuclear plants, are “inherently dangerous,” stresses Paul Gunter. They are subject to catastrophic accidents, they have “routine emissions” of radioactivity, and they produce nuclear waste which must somehow be isolated from the human environment for millions of years. Moreover, says Gunter, the new plants “may be even more risky, more dangerous, because they are using less concrete,” and the manufacturers are “papering over a lot of the risk.”
Says Michael Mariotte of the Nuclear Information & Resource Service, the purportedly “inherently safe” new nuclear plants “do not exist.”
Admiral Hyman Rickover made the same ominous observation. The “father” o the nuclear Navy, he also supervised the construction of the Shippingport (Pennsylvania) Atomic Power Station, this country’s first commercial nuclear plant, which began operating in 1957. Rickover testified in his farewell address to a Congressional committee in 1982: “I’ll be philosophical. Until about 2 billion years ago, it was impossible to have any life on Earth; you couldn’t have any life—fish or anything. Gradually, about 2 billion years ago, the amount of radiation on this planet…reduced making it possible for some form of life to begin…Now, when we go back to using nuclear power, we are creating something which nature tried to destroy to make life possible…I think there the human race is going to wreck itself.” Finally, Rickover declared that we must “outlaw nuclear reactors.”

Sunday, July 19, 2009

A Sensible Alternative -- The New Prius Hybrid

We just bought a new Prius hybrid car—and it is sensational.What can you say about getting an average of 55 miles per gallon? And, overall, the Prius works superbly.

I’d love to have been patriotic and bought an American car, but the closest American hybrid is the Ford Fusion getting 41 miles per gallon.

The 2010 Prius is the kind of car that should be produced by a U.S. manufacturer. Just out, it’s selling like hotcakes, not just here but in Japan, where it is made. With its release in recent weeks, it’s become the Number 1 selling car Japan. It quickly edged out the earlier released Honda Insight hybrid.

An Internet piece on this, headed “Battle of the Hybrids” notes: “Toyota now has released its all-new 2010 Prius hybrid in Japan…and it looks like there was lots of pent-up demand even in these difficult economic times.” As to the competition among hybrids for being the best-seller, it adds: “Notice a trend here.”

Surely, this is the direction that the U.S. auto manufacturers should have gone in. Why didn’t they?

The Economist magazine, in an caustic editorial about the Detroit auto-makers last month—“Detroitosaurus wrecks” was the title—spoke about how the problem has not been “the arrival of better, smaller, lighter Japanese cars.” It focused on General Motors’ “failure to respond in kind.” It said: “Rather than hitting back with superior products,” GM tried to limit the imports while producing “squadrons of SUV’s.”

Said The Economist: “If Detroit had spent less time lobbying for government protection and more on improving its products, it might have fared better.”

Now there has been a big exception: the Saturn. This was an attempt by GM to produce a well-made, fuel-efficient American car. We have one, a 1995 Saturn station wagon, which now has 165,000 miles on it, gets gas mileage in the mid-30s.

Not only were Saturns produced differently, with more quality, in a special factory GM set up in Tennessee, but the attitude of Saturn dealers, when you bought one or went for service, was extraordinarily user-friendly.

Then GM downsized and scuttled the Saturn initiative. In recent times, as the company got into big trouble, it sold off what was indeed its answer to Toyota, Honda and so on.

Detroit lost its way.

And like many, I’ve had to move to a sensible alternative.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Health Insurance Mess

Eastern Long Island, where I live, is a microcosm of the health insurance mess in the United States.

In recent days, residents have been receiving a draconian notice from Empire BlueCross BlueShield, the area’s largest health insurer and a division of the biggest health insurer in the nation. “Important Hospital Termination Notice,” it’s headed.

It advises Empire Plan members that unless an “agreement” is reached with the three hospitals that serve eastern Suffolk County, “effective August 1, 2009” each of the hospitals “will no longer be a participating provider with Empire BlueCross BlueShield.”

Empire members would have to pay “out of network” at Southampton Hospital, Peconic Bay Medical Center in Riverhead and Eastern Long Island Hospital in Greenport, except for a few categories including “cases of emergency.”

The Empire letter gives a list of “alternate hospitals”—many miles to the west—including Good Samaritan Hospital in West Islip, Huntington Hospital, St. Catherine of Siena Hospital in Smithtown and Southside Hospital in Bay Shore. Consider the trips of many miles from Montauk or East Hampton or Southampton or Shelter Island or Riverhead to and from these hospitals, especially for the sick.

Importantly, Stony Brook University Medical Center—the tertiary care hospital for Suffolk, the place where the most serious and complex medical care is provided—is not on the list. That’s because Empire hasn’t settled on rates with it either, so Empire is getting set to cut off Stony Brook also on August 1.

It’s a health care outrage. People and businesses and government entities are paying great amounts of money for Empire Plan insurance. Hospitals are struggling. Meanwhile, health insurers are making huge profits. The Empire plan is no longer that non-profit mainstay of health insurance in New York State. Five years ago, it was gobbled up by a for-profit company based in Indianpolis, Indiana called WellPoint.

WellPoint, notes Paul Connor, president and chief executive officer of Eastern Long Island Hospital, reported profits last year of $2.5 billion.

Connor, chairman of the East End Health Alliance—a grouping of the three East End hospitals—said the three simply “want to negotiate fair rates” from Empire. There’s a “mismatch,” said O’Connor, in the combination of non-profit hospitals and the for-profit health insurers. It’s a mismatch that has become the basic health care combination in the U.S.

(The other major health insurance entities in this region, GHI and HIP, also switched to becoming profit-making entities in recent years joining into EmblemHealth.)

Kevin Dahill, head of the Nassau-Suffolk Hospital Council, which represents 24 hospitals, said what is happening to the three eastern Suffolk hospitals and Stony Brook is “not an isolated event.”

The health insurers should function as “someone in the middle to broker” between health care providers and employers who buy health insurance for their employees or the employees themselves. But that’s not the case as health insurers have “risen to a level of dominance.” He said: “It’s like you selling your house and the person who walks away with most of the money is the real estate agent.”

“It’s an absurd business,” said Dahill.

It is, yes, wholly absurd—and life-threatening. The health and lives of millions upon millions of Americans are at stake as the private health insurers grab 30 to 40 percent of the money they receive—and on eastern Long Island and elsewhere focus on short-changing hospitals, doctors and patients to get their profits higher. (In comparison, non-profit Medicare has 5 percent overhead.)

The “termination” which Empire is threatening the hospitals should instead be what happens to Empire. It and the for-profit health insurance companies that have become central to health care in recent years should be eliminated.

The sensible solution now being debated nationally is for the U.S. government to create a single-payer or “Medicare for-all” national non-profit health care program. Polls show a large majority of Americans, and their doctors, support this. Meanwhile, the for-profit health insurance industry is fighting back—while undercutting health care here and everywhere else in America.

Getting in touch with your representatives in Congress and offering your view would be important.

Monday, July 13, 2009

"Naming Rights" Goes Wild

What’s this with naming rights?

All over the U.S., financially-pressed governments especially have been selling what are called “naming rights”—rights sold to a corporation to have a building or road or a park named after it.

Last week’s funeral for Michael Jackson at the Staples Center is an example of how a corporation can really get its name out there by buying naming rights.

Staples, the office supply company, spent $100 million – yes, $100 million—to have the Los Angeles arena carry its name for 20 years.

Here on Long Island, Suffolk County has a 10-year $2.3 million naming rights deal under which the arena the Long Island Ducks call home is called Citibank Park.

And in New York City, last month the Metropolitan Transportation Authority began selling the naming rights to subway stations. Yes, subway stations.

The MTA approved a $4 million deal with Barclay’s Bank to have its name added to the the Atlantic Avenue/Pacific Street station in Brooklyn.

An WNBC-TV report asked: What’s next? Coca-Cola 59th Street-Lex? Pepsi Fifth Avenue—53rd?

In Nassau County, earlier, an $86 million, 20-year deal was reached with Clear Channel Communications to let it place 65 digital signs outside six Nassau County parks.

And Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy in March launched a pilot program that he said could lead to a wider effort to make county buildings and properties available for advertising. He stressed targeting advertising. He said it would be “more productive" for a Petco or Coleman "to have a Petco [county] dog run or a Coleman campground” rather than they having to “haphazardly” place ads.

At the same time, the Suffolk County Legislature passed a bill to have the county sell “naming rights” to “suitable county facilities” including roads and parks.

The bill declared that Suffolk County has “experienced budget shortfalls due to a weak economy, requiring budget adjustment measures, and therefore must actively pursue other sources of revenue.”

Environmental groups expressed concern about selling “naming rights” to parks. Said Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment: “It gives a commercial or corporate image to something that is supposed to be public space.”

And Legislator Jay Schneiderman of Montauk said that although the county “needs every dollar…the county shouldn’t be for sale to the highest bidder.”

That’s quite right as the “naming rights” push gets pretty wild.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Extended Auto Warranty Scam

It came in the mail last week—and looked very official.

In bold print it said: “Request for Immediate Action—Time Sensitive Material.” Then: “18 U.S. Code: Warning: $2,000 Fine, 5 Years Imprisonment, or both, for any person interfering or obstructing with delivery of this letter.”

Then, the notice that this “is to inform you that your factory warranty may have expired or is about to expire. You may have an opportunity to extend your coverage on your vehicle.”

In small letters on the bottom though were a tip-off. The sender of the notice
“is not affiliated with any dealer or manufacturer.”

What I received was a phony pitch.

I’ve also—and I suspect you, too—have gotten phone calls along the same lines.

New York Senator Charles Schumer has been hollering about what’s been going on, speaking about U.S. consumers being “bombarded” with millions of “robocalls” for phony extended auto warranties. He’s called on the Federal Trade Commission to take action. It has agreed.

Says Schumer: “Many Americans have been fleeced by these companies….I look forward to these calls being stopped and the ill-gotten gains returned to their victims.”

Attorney generals around the nation have also been investigating.

I had an interesting experience with agents from one of these outfits a few weeks ago. First, I got a robo or automated call advising me that my car’s warranty was about to expire and I should press one to speak to a representative. I did that and then a woman, seemingly reading from a script, advised that I probably was entitled for an extended full service 100,000-mile warranty—covering the engine, the transmission, the air conditioner, everything.

But, I said, I didn’t think I had a warranty to begin with, considering I bought the car used on Craigslist with 85,000 miles on it. And now the old Honda has well over 100,000 miles. Are you sure it can be warrantied for another 100,000?

She said she’d pass me on to another agent. In broken English, he said his supervisor would make a decision.

“Congratulations,” said the supervisor. I could get the deal.

But I asked for it to be put in writing and mailed to me. He said that could only be done if I put a deposit down with a credit card. I don’t think so, I said.

What a huge scam. It should be stopped before any more people are hurt.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Public's Right to Know

As a journalist all my working life, I am completely committed to the public’s right to know.

Thus I was outraged recently hearing about Roger Corbin, a member of Long Island’s Nassau County Legislature, its former deputy presiding officer, bringing a lawsuit against News12 and Newsday for broadcasting and publishing images of him in handcuffs.

Corbin was arrested last month on charges that he didn’t report several hundred thousand dollars he received from a developer in his district. He was accused of income tax evasion and lying about the money he got.

U.S. District Court Judge Arthur Spatt ruled in the case that "the court is simply without authority to censor the press" or "to instruct the press as to what" it could air or publish.

A News12 spokeswoman, Deborah Koller-Feeney, said afterwards: “We are pleased with the judge’s decision, and are gratified that the public’s right to know will not be compromised.”

We have, after all, freedom of the press in the United States. Or should have.

There’s an interesting website: Photography is Not a Crime: It’s a First Amendment Right.

It’s run by Carlos Miller and it looks at various attempts in the U.S. to suppress—yes, photography.

It turns out that Miller, a journalist, was arrested by police down in Miami after taking some photos of five police officers standing inside a construction zone along Biscayne Boulevard.

No big deal, but it was against the wishes of the police, he relates, even though taking a photo in a public area is supposed to be legal in America.

Since then, he started the website ( to focus, he says, on “First Amendment violations against other photographers throughout the country, which occur on a shockingly regular basis.”

Of course, the situation is far worse in other nations.

What a scene last month airing on CNN: Chinese intelligence agents running around with umbrellas to try to block CNN reporter John Vause from being seen on-camera as he reported, on Tianneman Square, about the bloody suppression there 20 years before.

CNN anchor Tony Harris exclaimed that the cover-up, literally, that was happening, "looks absolutely ridiculous. "

Harris said the Chinese agents apparently "don’t care what the rest of the world thinks."
Still, he noted, "the story gets out. "

Only feebly, really. In China the anniversary of the Tianneman Square massacre was suppressed in all Chinese media.


Monday, June 15, 2009

'No Peaceful Nuclear Power' The whole planet must be declared a nuclear-free zone

Published in the Manhattan Jewish Sentinel and Long Island Jewish World
Issue of June 12-18, 2009

President Barack Obama’s declaration last week in his speech in Cairo that “any nation — including Iran — should have the right to access peaceful nuclear power” ignores a central issue. There is no “peaceful nuclear power.” Nuclear weapons and nuclear power are two sides of the same coin.

Physicist Amory Lovins and attorney L. Hunter Lovins wrote in their seminal book, Energy/War: Breaking the Nuclear Link: “All nuclear fission technologies both use and produce fissionable materials that are or can be concentrated. Unavoidably latent in those technologies, therefore, is a potential for nuclear violence and coercion which may be exploited by governments, factions.

“Little strategic material is needed to make a weapon of mass destruction. A Nagasaki-yield bomb can be made from a few kilograms of plutonium, a piece the size of a tennis ball.

“A large power reactor,” they note, “annually produces…hundreds of kilograms of plutonium.” Civilian nuclear power technology, they conclude, provides the way to make nuclear weapons, furnishing the material and the trained personnel.

Indeed, that’s how India got The Bomb in 1974. Canada supplied a nuclear reactor to be used for “peaceful purposes” and the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission trained Indian engineers. And lo and behold, India had nuclear weapons.

“Human society is too diverse, national passion too strong, human aggressiveness too deep-seated for the peaceful and warlike atom to stay divorced for long,” oceanographer Jacques Cousteau emphasized. “We cannot embrace one while abhorring the other; we must learn, if we want to live at all, to live without both.”

The organization Beyond Nuclear (, on whose board I sit, focuses on this connection. The organization warns that the “insistence on supplying the technology, materials and know-how for civilian nuclear programs perpetuates the danger that nuclear weapons may also be developed—with speculation over Iran a case in point.”

“The ‘unofficial’ nuclear weapons states all developed weapons from civilian nuclear programs,” it notes. “At least 32 additional countries could do the same using uranium and plutonium from their civilian programs.”

The only real way to end the threat of nuclear weapons spreading throughout the world is by putting an end to nuclear technology. Such a move might seem radical but consider the even more radical alternative: a world in which scores of nations have nuclear weapons. There are parts of the earth designated “nuclear-free zones.” If we are to have a world free of the terrible threat of nuclear weapons, this designation should be extended to the entire planet: no nuclear weapons, no nuclear power.

To keep using carrots and sticks, by trying to juggle through the 2lst Century to prevent nuclear proliferation, we are on the road to inevitable nuclear disaster. A nuclear-free world is the only way humanity will be free of the specter of nuclear war.

Is it possible to put the atomic genie back into the bottle? Anything people have done, other people can undo. And the prospect of massive loss of life from nuclear destruction offers the best of reasons for doing so.

In Prague in April, Obama, in a remarkable declaration, said: “As the only nuclear power to have used a nuclear weapon, the United States has a moral responsibility to act. So today, I state clearly and with conviction America’s commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.”

That’s only half of what needs to be done. There needs to be a world, too, without the nuclear power plants that provide the means for any nation — or terrorist group — to get nuclear weapons.

There are well-grounded concerns that a nuclear-armed Iran might attack Israel. A nuclear counter-attack would follow. There would be atomic devastation of a major area of the world. Would zealots in Iran invite such self-destruction? This might have seemed illogical until the 9/11 terrorists demonstrated suicide as a desirable form of martyrdom. Thousands of suicide bombings have further illustrated the phenomenon.

As Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic earlier this year: “You don’t want a messianic apocalyptic cult controlling atomic bombs. When the wide-eyed believer gets hold of the reins of power and the weapons of mass death, then the entire world should start worrying, and that is what is happening in Iran.”

What about controls of the International Atomic Energy Agency? The IAEA was formed as a result of President Dwight Eisenhower’s “Atoms for Peace” speech before the UN in 1953. He proposed an international agency to promote civilian atomic energy and, at the same time, to control the use of fissionable material — a dual role paralleling that of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission. In 1974, the AEC was abolished after Congress concluded that the two roles were a conflict of interest. But the IAEA — set up in the AEC’s image and riddled with the same conflict of interest — continues to operate.

With its mission “to accelerate and enlarge the contribution of atomic energy,” it unabashedly boosts nuclear power at the same time it tries to police that same power.

In the last several months, I’ve been a guest by phone on Tehran radio programs on which Iranians have insisted that nuclear power represents “progress” to which their nation is entitled. I’ve argued that it is not progress but vested interests that are the driving force behind nuclear power.

At the end of World War II, the scientists, bureaucrats and corporate contractors involved in the Manhattan Project viewed their future with anxiety. The program, created after Albert Einstein wrote President Franklin Roosevelt calling on the U.S. to develop atomic technology before the Nazis did, led to the construction of four atomic bombs, two of which were dropped on Japan. The program would continue to build nuclear weapons, but bombs don’t lend themselves to commercial spin-offs. Schemes were concocted to keep jobs and contracts, despite the enormous dangers involved with nuclear technology. These included nuclear-powered airplanes, using radiation to zap food so it could last for years, and setting off atomic devices as a substitute for TNT. And there was the scheme to use the heat of nuclear reactors to boil water and generate electricity.

In Russia, where I’ve also researched and spoken, I found similar links, this time between the vested interest of the Soviet military nuclear establishment and its civilian atomic program.

In this country, some on the inside would eventually recognize the terrible mistake.

Admiral Hyman Rickover, “father” of the U.S. nuclear navy, stated in a farewell address before a committee of Congress in 1982 that the world must “outlaw nuclear reactors.” He said, “Until about 2 billion years ago, it was impossible to have any life on earth: that is, there was so much radiation on earth you couldn’t have any life — fish or anything. Gradually, about 2 billion years ago, the amount of radiation on this planet and probably in the entire system reduced and made it possible for some for some form of life to begin.

“Now,” he went on, “when we go back to using nuclear power, we are creating something which nature tried to destroy to make life possible. … Every time you produce radiation, you produce something that has life, in some cases for billions of years, and I think there the human race is going to wreck itself, and it’s far more important that we get control of this horrible force and try to eliminate it.”

As for nuclear weaponry, the “lesson of history,” he said, is that in war nations “will use whatever weaponry they have.”

Meanwhile, today, safe, clean, renewable energy technologies render nuclear power unnecessary. These technologies include solar (for which Iran is abundantly endowed), wind (now the fastest-growing and cheapest new energy form), geothermal, hydrogen, tidal-power, wave-power, bio-fuels, hydropower and co-generation.

On Iranian radio, too, I’ve stressed that if Iran gets nuclear plants, pushing nuclear power in response will be Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Syria and other Arab nations, and, considering the neighborhood’s volatility, atomic conflict would happen sooner than later. The Mideast is an especially wrong place for nuclear power.

There were some excellent points in Obama’s speech. “Tomorrow,” he said, “I will visit Buchenwald…part of a network of camps where Jews were enslaved, tortured, shot and gassed to death by the Third Reich. Six million Jews were killed—more than the entire Jewish population of Israel today. Denying that fact is baseless, ignorant and hateful. Threatening Israel with destruction… is deeply wrong.” But his support for “peaceful nuclear power” — an oxymoron — was something else.

In the end, Einstein regretted the letter he sent in 1939 to President Roosevelt. “If I had known that the Germans would not succeed in constructing the atom bomb, I never would have moved a finger,” he wrote in Out of My Later Years. He described atomic energy as “a menace.”

How horrific it would be if a technology that came about because of the Nazis (fission was discovered in Berlin in 1938) is used by Iran for what could be a Second Holocaust.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Shoreham Turning Point--30 Years Later

A demonstration 30 years ago involving 15,000 people, the largest protest ever held here on Long Island, New York, coupled with nearly 600 people being arrested for non-violent civil disobedience, was a turning point in the battle against the Shoreham nuclear power plant.

Importantly, not only would Shoreham be stopped but so would the Long Island Lighting Company’s scheme to build seven to 11 nuclear plants. In all the official filings for Shoreham, it was Shoreham Nuclear Power Station 1. LILCO planned two more nuclear plants at Shoreham. Four more were slated to the east, at Jamesport. And LILCO wanted to construct several more, also along the Long Island Sound, between Shoreham and Jamesport. This is why the book I wrote on the situation was titled Power Crazy.

Long Island would have been turned into a “nuclear park,” a term the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission used to denote areas slated for intense nuclear power development when Shoreham l was first advanced in 1966.

The key to the protest at Shoreham on June 3, 1979 was the partial core-meltdown at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant in Pennsylvania in March. Proponents of nuclear power had insisted that the chances of a catastrophic accident were infinitesimal. The TMI accident and, even more seriously, the Chernobyl nuclear plant accident seven years later, showed that to be baloney.

Also a factor: what became known as the Shoreham “dump documents.” In May, a person who refinishes furniture, scavenging in the Southold Town dump, came upon a box of documents from Shoreham each headed “Engineering & Design Coordination Report.” The reports, brought to me, included 416 labeled as citing “nuclear safety related” problems in the building of Shoreham. The documents had apparently been dispatched to the dump after the TMI accident.

“A lemon grows on Long Island!” declared Dr. Michio Kaku, a nuclear physicist and professor at the City University of New York, at the June 3 demonstration. I had given Dr. Kaku copies of the reports to evaluate. He has gone on to become a well-known scientist globally—and remains solidly against nuclear power.

Nobel Prize-winner biologist Dr. George Wald also spoke declaring: “Not only is nuclear power anti-life” but despite “constant industry and government propaganda…it’s an economic disaster and the whole game now is to lay all its major costs on the people.”

Thirty years later, this is even more severe. These days, “no private money anywhere in the world is being used to build new nuclear plants,” notes Michael Mariotte, executive director of the Nuclear Information & Resource Service. And although the price of Shoreham ended up at $6.5 billion—in contrast to the “$65-$75 million range” LILCO spoke of when it announced Shoreham—today nuclear plants are projected to cost $12 billion each.

With Wall Street unwilling to providing financing, U.S. Senators Joseph Lieberman and John Warner last year pushed legislation to give $544 billion in taxpayer subsidies to build new nuclear plants. That didn’t pass, but the nuclear industry and its friends in the federal government are still pushing hard for your tax dollars.

No new nuclear plant has been ordered and built in the U.S. since 1973—and Shoreham was an element in this. As U.S. Energy Secretary Donald Herrington said at the height of the Shoreham fight: “The Shoreham plant must open! If it doesn’t, the signals will be the low point in this [nuclear] industry’s history.”

As was the case 30 years ago, the pro-nuclear propaganda remains intense. In their current drive to “revive” nuclear power, the nuclear promoters are trying to latch on to the global warming issue by saying nuclear plants don’t emit greenhouse gases. What we’re not supposed to know is that the overall nuclear “chain” or “cycle”—including uranium mining and milling, enrichment, fuel fabrication—has significant greenhouse gas emissions.

Meanwhile, the great advances since 1979 in safe, clean renewable energy technologies mean they can provide all the power we need—without endangering life. Nuclear power not only remains outrageously expensive and terribly dangerous but is--ever more clearly—unnecessary.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

On Billionaires Becoming Politicians

Not that there’s anything necessarily wrong with billionaires becoming politicians.

But in this day with slick TV commercials being the key determinant of many a political contest, one has to be concerned with billionaire New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s way of doing politics.

Not that there’s anything wrong with how Bloomberg has run New York City.

He’s been OK compared to many a mayor.

Bloomberg was elected in 2001 after blitzing New York with millions upon millions of dollars in TV spots.

He got re-elected in 2005 with the help of more millions upon millions of dollars in TV commercials.

Bloomberg spent $77.8 million to get re-elected in 2005, according to Newsday, much of this for TV spots. This comes, it said, to $103 for each vote he got. It was 12 percent over his 2001 spending.

And although term limits were supposed to limit Bloomberg to two terms, with arm twisting he got the New York City Council to alter the term limit law for hizzoner—and let him run for a third term.

And now he’s running again with again the heavy use of TV commercials.

The New York Times has just reported that Bloomberg “has poured $7.5 million into the campaign so far.” And the election is six months away. He is, said the paper, “shattering—once again—records for spending in a New York City election.”

The Times said “the TV ad wars have started in the New York City mayor’s race and, so far, it’s a study in asymmetrical combat.” Bloomberg, it said, is “running financial laps around his challengers.”

The "ads showcase," the Times said, Bloomberg’s “staggering financial advantage.”

There are calls to limiting political advertising in New York City, “to level the playing field,” because of the Bloomberg drown-‘em-with TV commercials strategy.

The Bloomberg camp responds that its simply “exploiting a financial advantage.”

Meanwhile, you can’t sit down in front of the screen in the New York Metropolitan Area these days without seeing Mayor Mike. Over and over again.

“Strong, independent leadership to keep New York City working,” the ads say. And big money to keep Madison Avenue’s TV commercial-makers working.

Meanwhile, as the New York Observer reports, Bloomberg is “still not taking questions at campaign events.”

Apparently he prefers being packaged in TV spots.

Is this the way a sensible democracy is supposed to function?

I don’t think so.

Friday, April 17, 2009

A Radioactive Extension for Aging Nuclear Plants

For 10 years now, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has been busily extending the operating license of nuclear power plants—designed to run for 40 years—another 20 years.

Imagine driving down a highway in a 60-year-old car.

But safety concerns are minimized by the NRC, a lapdog of the nuclear industry. Just as the NRC has never denied a construction or operating license for a nuclear plant anywhere, anytime in the U.S., it has rubber-stamped every application for a 20-year extension for now 52 nuclear plants.

That’s half the 104 nuclear plants in the U.S. and, as the 40-year licenses of the rest get set to expire, watch the NRC extend their licenses to run for another 20 years, too.

And it may end up to be more than 20 years. The New York Times in a report April 2 on the NRC extending the operating license to 60 years of the oldest nuclear plant in the U.S., Oyster Creek in New Jersey, noted that “some commission officials have even discussed the possibility of a second round of extensions that would allow reactors to operate for up to 80 years.”

Imagine driving down a highway in an 80-year-old car.

Consider how trustworthy that 1929 antique would be racing down the interstate.

“This decision is radioactive. To keep open the nation’s oldest nuclear power plant for another 20 years is just going to lead to a disaster,” said Jeff Tittel of the Sierra Club. “We could easily replace the plant with 200 windmills that will not pose a danger.”

At the NRC hearings on the re-licensing of Oyster Creek, evidence was presented that the critical drywell liner—the shell that encases the reactor and is supposed to suppress radioactive steam during an accident—is too corroded to deal with a mishap. Major deterioration was also found in other areas of the plant 60 miles south of New York City.

Even an avid nuclear power booster, William Tucker, who recently published a pro-nuclear book, is calling for no operating license extensions for Oyster Creek and the Indian Point nuclear plants, 28 miles north of New York City which the NRC is also soon to rule on re-licensing. “Veterans of the nuclear industry I talk to say they are very concerned that relying on aging reactors like Oyster Creek and Indian Point is eventually going to lead to an accident which will kill nuclear power in this country forever,” said Tucker in a statement last week.

But many, many people would be killed, too.

The NRC working with Sandia National Laboratories did an analysis in the 1980s on the consequences of a meltdown with breach of containment at every nuclear plant in the United States—including Oyster Creek and the two operating Indian Point plants.

Calculation of Reactor Accident Consequences for U.S. Nuclear Plants (acronymed CRAC-2) projected, for Oyster Creek: 16,000 “peak early fatalities;” 10,000 “peak early injuries;” 23,000 “peak cancer deaths;” and $79.8 billion in “scaled costs” in terms of property damage—and that was in 1980 dollars. For Indian Point 2, in a more densely populated area with more valuable real estate that would be rendered uninhabitable for millennia, it would be: 46,000 “peak early fatalities;” 141,000 “peak early injuries;” 13,000 “peak cancer deaths” and $274 billion in “scaled costs.” And for the slightly larger Indian Point 3 plant, it would be 50,000 “peak early fatalities;” 167,000 “peak early injuries;” 14,000 “peak cancer deaths;” and $314 billion in “scaled costs.” Again, those are 1980 dollars; it would be triple that today.

The World Nuclear Organization notes how “most of today’s nuclear plants…were originally designed for 30 or 40-year operating lives…Some components simply wear out, corrode or degrade to a low efficiency…The properties of materials may degrade with age, particularly with heat and neutron irradiation.”

But operators of nuclear power plants want to wring out as much from their investments as they can—and not only do they want them to operate beyond their expected lifetimes, they are seeking to run them hotter and harder in order to generate more power. And the NRC has been obliging the industry on this, too.

The first nuclear facilities the NRC gave permission to operate another 20 years were the Calvert Cliffs nuclear plants in Maryland 45 miles southeast of Washington, D.C. That was in 1999.

“The public has been closed out of the process,” said Paul Gunter, then with the Nuclear Information & Resource Service. He added: “The whole term ‘nuclear safety’ is an oxymoron. It’s an inherently dangerous process and an inherently dangerous industry that has been aging.”

Last week Gunter, now director of the Reactor Oversight Program of the organization Beyond Nuclear, said the NRC re-licensing program is “blind to how these machines are breaking apart at the molecular level…they embrittle, crack and corrode.” The agency in its “rigged game” is driving the nation toward a nuclear disaster, he said.

Can the NRC be stopped before disaster occurs?

The U.S. Congress finally became so disgusted with the Atomic Energy Commission and its nuclear boosterism—it, too, never denied a construction or operating license for a nuclear plant anywhere, anytime in the U.S..—that it abolished the AEC in 1974. Congress then created the NRC to ostensibly properly regulate the nuclear industry.

That has never happened.

It’s time that the NRC be abolished, too, along with the toxic technology that it promotes—nuclear power—before it is too late. Safe, clean renewable energy technologies are here today making dangerous nuclear power unnecessary.

Meanwhile, by extending the licenses of nuclear plants by 20 and now perhaps 40 years, the NRC has gone beyond tempting fate. It is asking for it, the it being an atomic catastrophe which would kill tens of thousands and render a part of the United States a dead zone.

(Published on CounterPunch April 13, 2009)

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Damage Not Done By W

One of the things we must be thankful for during this time of economic instability is that former President George W. Bush never got his way in privatizing social security. Bush had wanted social security accounts transferred from the government to the stock market.

If millions upon millions of Americans today had had their social security accounts invested in the stock market, consider the situation.

The distress of folks has been intense enough seeing their 401(k) retirement accounts—heavily based on stocks—lose a good part of their value with the decline of Wall Street. Imagine if this had happened to their social security accounts.

This privatization of social security was not some incidental issue for the Bush administration. Bush built is second-term domestic policy agenda around it.

There were critics of the scheme. It was a “lethal plan,” insisted Edith Weller of the Economic Policy Institute. She wrote that social security under the Bush proposal “would no longer be a social insurance program providing a guarantee of…lifelong retirement income. Instead,” peoples “core retirement income would be put at risk.”

She said “social security is too important a source of income for America’s families to be left to the uncertainties of the stock market.”

And this was well before the stock market demonstrated something beyond uncertainties—it had a meltdown, as it has every few decades in U.S. history.

The AARP campaigned against the Bush plan and was part of the coalition that successfully stopped it in Congress.

Importantly, polls showed that a majority of Americans were dead-set against it—although that often doesn’t deter politicians.

The AARP noted that Bush’s line was that with privatization, Americans would have “a chance to make money in the stock market.” It emphasized that it “and other critics contend that private accounts carved out of social security funds add an element of risk to retirement savings.”

Bush was on social security privatization—as he was on so many issues—as stubborn as could be. Even as he saw his plan failing, he insisted he was “confident that eventually the will would be there to make it a reality.”

It’s a new day today. This and so many of Bush’s bad calls—from environmental protection to regulatory issues to health matters and on and on—are gone, thank the democratic process.

Friday, March 6, 2009

We All Live, More Or Less, In Illinois

The antics of now thankfully former Governor Rod Blagojevich—and the jailing of his predecessor and two other former Illinois governors for corruption—resulted in the perception that Illinois is the most corrupt state.

As an FBI agent commented when the infamous tapes of Blagojevich were presented: “If it is not the most corrupt state in the United States, Illinois is certainly one hell of a competitor.”

Following that, the New York Times devoted nearly a full page to listings of comparative corruption among states.

One chart was based on local, state and federal officials convicted of federal corruption charges between 1996 and 2007. Florida topped the list followed by New York and Texas. As for my neighboring state of Connecticut—sometimes called Corrupticut after the jailing for corruption of former Governor John Rowland—it was smack in the middle, 26.

Then there was a chart based on convicted public officials per one million constituents. This was described as “perhaps a better measure”—crookedness based on one-person, one vote.

Well, North Dakota topped that list, with Alaska second—you betcha.

Then there was a chart based on the views of journalists who cover state governments. In their minds, Rhode Island, which also not long ago had a governor jailed for corruption, was Number One. Louisiana, Two. New York was pretty well down on that list—16, even below Connecticut, 12.

Back to Illinois, Chicago and that long-corrupt county in which the windy city sits, Cook County. There was a kind of contest as last year ended, on the website on Cook County’s Most Corrupt Activities of 2008.

Among the top were, of course, Blagojevich’s attempted sale of now President Obama’s Senate seat.

Also on the list was the enactment of a hefty sales tax increase—giving Cook County the highest sales tax in the country: 10.25%. Ouch.

Yeah, we pay for corruption in many ways.

Which takes us to Wall Street’s now fallen financial lions, the failed bank tycoons, the other corporate crooks in the tradition of Enron, etc.

Corrupt politicians. Corrupt financial titans.

It’s like comparing typhoid and malaria.

Both must be eradicated.

If there’s to be a civilized society there needs to be integrity and honesty.

At this point, we all live, more or less, in Illinois.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Cold War Atomic Craziness

On Long Island, where I live, a bill was recently passed by the Suffolk County Legislature providing for prisoner labor to sort metal which has piled up at the former BOMARC base in Westhampton.

The legislature’s presiding officer said that Suffolk County could make millions of dollars by selling the metal as scrap.

The base was transferred to the county after its closing and has been used as a firing range for police, an impoundment yard for vehicles and for storage of old equipment and county records. .

To get some background on the BOMARC base, I went to Google, putting in the words BOMARC and Suffolk. Among the first websites listed was that of the New York State Military Museum which related: “BOMARC, the missile site in Westhampton was operated by the 6th Air Defense Missile Squadron of the USAF Air Defense Command. It was operational with the first version of the BOMARC missile, the BOMARC A, from 1959 through 1964. The base has 56 missile shelters. Each missile was armed with a 10-kiloton nuclear warhead.”

What was that? “Each missile was armed with a 10-kiloton nuclear warhead.” The atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima had the TNT equivalent of 13 kilotons.

There were further details on other websites. They told of how the mission of the BOMARC base in Westhampton—and BOMARC bases set up all over the nation—was to blast Soviet bombers from the sky. Why use nuclear-tipped missiles? That way a direct hit need not be made. Once a BOMARC missile came close to the Soviet bombers, the atomic weapon on its tip would be detonated and destroy not one but part of a formation of bombers.

A November 21, 1958 front-page article in the New York Times (downloadable from the New York Times’ online archive) was headlined: “Riverhead Missile Base to Get Bomarcs With Nuclear Warheads by ’60.” It began: “The Suffolk Bomarc Base, ninety miles east of New York City, will be equipped with anti-aircraft missiles carrying nuclear warheads. The missiles, which have a range up to 250 miles, will be launchable from the site near Riverhead, L.I.” There would be 56 Bomarc missiles “at the ready.” The article spoke of there being, a day earlier, a “press conference by Army and civilian engineers” and “Air Force and Boeing Airplane Company specialists” at which these “experts confirmed that the Bomarc base would soon be fully operational atomically.” The story further noted: “No special provisions have been made for atomic hazards; they are not needed, the engineers said.”

Curiosity led me to information on the Nike bases I knew were set up on Long Island around the same time. BOMARC was an Air Force project and its acronym combined the names of its developers: BO for Boeing and MARC for Michigan Aerospace Research Center. Nike was an Army missile program and named for the mythical Greek goddess of victory.

There are numerous websites about the Nike bases established on Long Island and elsewhere in the U.S. and how the Nike Hercules model was nuclear-tipped—with bases on Long Island armed with nuclear-tipped Nikes including those in Rocky Point, Amityville, Lido Beach, Oyster Bay and Lloyd Harbor. While a main reason for the BOMARC base in Westhampton was to intercept Soviet bombers headed to New York City, the Nike bases were primarily set up to defend facilities on Long Island considered strategic, among them, according to the New York State Military Museum website, Brookhaven National Laboratory and military industrial facilities including the then Grumman Corp. and Republic Aviation factories.

There were three types of Nike nuclear tips: “low-yield” 3-kiloton; “medium yield” 20-kiloton; and “high yield” 30-kiloton

I put together an article for Long Island newspapers on the metal scavenging project at the ex-BOMARC base and referred to some of the history of nuclear-tipped missiles on Long Island. Editors inquired: how could this be? If these nuclear-tipped missiles were detonated over and around Long Island, wouldn’t there be impacts to people on the ground? Absolutely. We would have had warheads with vast explosive power—comparable to and greater than the Hiroshima atomic bomb—detonating all around us, spreading deadly radioactive fall-out.

With all the violence of recent years—and our concerns of violence ahead—we should give thanks that somehow we got through this Cold War atomic nightmare.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Killer Tobacco

It’s high time the U.S. government regulate tobacco for what it is—a dangerous drug.

There’s a bill that’s been in Congress that would empower the Food and Drug Administration to regulate the content and marketing of tobacco products.

The FDA would not be able to ban tobacco products outright under the bill, or to eliminate in them nicotine—that ingredient which hooks smokers, narcotic like.

But the FDA would be able to mandate a reduction in levels of nicotine and other harmful ingredients—cancer-causing ingredients—in cigarettes. And it would be able to restrict tobacco advertising.

The legislation has been strongly endorsed by the American Cancer Society, the American Lung Association, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free kids, and other organizations around the country.

In the Senate, Democrat Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts and John Cornyn, a Texas Republican, are the sponsors. In the House, Democrat Henry Waxman of California and Republican Tom Davis of Virginia are the sponsors, all of identical, bipartisan measures.

No surprise, the administration of George W. Bush was against the legislation.

President Barak Obama is for it.

The New York Times, in an editorial, has described the legislation as “the culmination of more than a decade of struggle to bring the renegade tobacco industry under regulatory control.”

The tobacco industry has been out of control for many decades.

Its liars-for-hire denied the connection between tobacco smoking and lung cancer. Its advertising in newspapers led to a press silence on the smoking-cancer link, broken only decades-ago by independent investigative reporter George Seldes. It plied politicians with money to fend off government action.

And the tobacco industry and its products kill.

In a recent report, the federal Centers for Disease Control determined that nationwide, tobacco use kills more than 443,000 persons a year. That’s nearly a half million people a year—dying because of smoking.

The number of non-smokers who die each year from exposure to second-hand smoke: 50,000.

The related health care costs: enormous, more than $100 billion annually.

Tobacco use is the leading cause of death in the United States that’s preventable.

But the huge problem has been the powerful tobacco industry—compromising government and the press, peddling its cancer-sticks with abandon, addicting millions of people and lying about the harm of its deadly products.

There’s been litigation against tobacco companies and huge financial judgments.

There needs to be far more action—and now.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Not Just Peanuts

It’s being charged that the Peanut Corporation of America knowingly sold peanuts tainted with salmonella in 2007 and 2008.

The Food and Drug Administration, which made the allegation, has, meanwhile, asked retailers and consumers to throw out every product made with peanuts processed by the corporation’s plant in Blakeley, Georgia. It has produced peanut butter, paste and granules used in products including cookies and ice cream.

FDA officials said four different strains of salmonella have been detected at the plant at which, in 14 inspections made in January, it found unsanitary conditions, including dead roaches and gaps where rodents could enter.

The situation has been linked to a salmonella outbreak in 43 states in which nine people have died, 500 have become ill.

Officials of the Peanut Corporation of America have a lot of answering to do and that might be in criminal court. Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut has called on the Justice Department to open a criminal investigation.

But, meanwhile, what about the FDA—which is supposed to protect us from bad food?

Until its 14 inspections after the salmonella outbreak happened, the last time the FDA inspected the Blakeley plant was in 2001.

Representative John Dingell of Michigan has said the Peanut Corporation of America situation demonstrates that the FDA “can’t and doesn’t do its job, and American lives are at risk. We’re killing Americans.”

This is a very old story: about those who are supposed to protect us from tainted food and other poisons failing to do so, and that’s often because of a coziness with those they’re supposed to be regulating.

I wrote a book about this in which I told the tale of Dr. Harvey Washington Wiley, regarded as the father of the FDA. Indeed, there’s even a postage stamp in his honor. As chief chemist of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, he played a large part in getting the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 passed and the FDA created.

But in 1912, as a matter of conscience, Dr. Wiley resigned from the government and wrote a book, The History of a Crime Against the Food Law, about how the landmark Pure Food and Drug Act was not being properly enforced because of power of those it was supposed to police.

President Barak Obama has an opportunity to do something about a century of failure by U.S. regulatory agencies—especially the FDA. It’s a matter of life and death.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Solar Bonanza

It’s amazing—I’m seeing our electric meter going backwards.

We’ve just gotten solar panels installed on the roof of our house and they harvest all the electricity we need. And under the net metering program of our region’s utility, the Long Island Power Authority, that means LIPA is to send us a check for the excess electricity fed back into the grid. Also, we’ve put up panels on the roof that heat water. Even on cold days, as long as the sun is shining water comes down from those panels at 100 to 120 degrees.

You can do the same thing. And with federal and state tax credits and with LIPA, a big rebate, you can do it with an astonishing financial break.

You can now get 70 percent—yes, 70 percent—off the cost of a solar photovoltaic installation.

I’ve reported on solar power for decades—but it took doing a TV documentary this summer, “Renewable Energy Is More Than Ready,” for WVVH-TV, to see the reality of the feasibility of solar energy.

To see the program, go to YouTube:
WVVH-TV Renewable Energy is More Than Ready (Part 1)
WVVH-TV Renewable Energy is More than Ready (Part 2)

A main figure in the program is Gordian Raacke of Renewable Energy Long Island. We went to his home where solar photovotaic panels produce all the electricity he and his wife need. And solar thermal panels furnish hot water.

So we arranged to have photovoltaic and hot water panels installed on our roof. The work was done by Majestic Son and Sons of Patchogue, New York. If the Obama administration is looking for infrastructure projects that produce jobs and have a grand energy pay-off, solar energy is Number One.

A swarm of Majestic workers, including the company’s president, Dean Hapshe, and two of his sons, were all over our roof merrily installing panels.

For Hapshe, it’s far more than a business. He’s a pioneer in solar power installing solar systems for 29 years. He says of solar: “It’s limitless. And free.” And, with global warming, vital .

As noted, the final price is a bonanza. A 3,000-watt photovoltaic system (what the Raackes have) costs $27,000. But then reduce that by 70 percent. And you, too, can watch electric meter go backward.

Imagine if all over the United States, houses and businesses were equipped with solar panels. Energy independence—courtesy of the sun. Just great.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

The Military-Industrial-Scientific Complex

Twenty-eight years ago, Dwight Eisenhower gave what has often been described as the most memorable farewell address by any U.S. president since George Washington. He warned in the speech about the “military-industrial complex.”

But in the original draft, as historian Douglas Brinkley has noted in an article on the address in the September 2001 issue of American Heritage magazine, Eisenhower was to warn not only of a “military-industrial complex” but of a “military-industrial-scientific complex.” (

Brinkley writes that because of the plea of Eisenhower’s science advisor, James Killian, was the word “scientific” eliminated.

The “military-industrial-scientific complex” was the far more accurate description of the complex of vested interests manipulating the U.S. then—and now.

Eisenhower in the 1961 address declared: “In the council of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence…by the military-industrial complex.” And although allowing the removal of “scientific,” he then went on with other words on this issue. He said, “Today, the solitary inventor, tinkering in his shop, has been overshadowed by task forces of scientists and laboratories” and people must be “alert” that “public policy could…become the captive of a scientific technological elite.”

The system of U.S. national laboratories which grew out of the crash program of World War II to build atomic bombs, the Manhattan Project, was—and is—the base for much of the scientific establishment about which Eisenhower was concerned.

With the war over, the scientists, engineers and corporate contractors, notably General Electric and Westinghouse, at the facilities which sprung up during the war continued to build nuclear weapons, thousands of them. But atomic weapons don’t lend themselves to commercial spin-off. What else could be done, they asked, with nuclear technology to perpetuate the jobs and contracts which began with the Manhattan Project?

After the war’s end, the Manhattan Project was turned into the Atomic Energy Commission. Under it, and at the former Manhattan Project laboratories which the commission took over and at the new laboratories it built, the push was on for all sorts of other things atomic: nuclear power plants, food irradiation, nuclear-powered airplanes and spacecraft, atomic devices for excavation—anything to bring more activity and money to the vested interests established during the war.

As President, Barack Obama draws from the federal scientific establishment for appointments and it continues to shape U.S. policy, notably energy policy, Eisenhower’s warning needs to be sounded again.

And we need to reduce the awesome political power of the government’s scientific complex.

Making Our Tax System Progressive Again

Taxes have quite a history in the United States. At its start, the federal government was supported by taxes on whiskey, carriages, sugar, tobacco and snuff.

In 1817, Congress moved to have the government rely instead on tariffs on imported goods.

Then, in 1862, to pay to fight the Civil War, the nation’s first income tax law was passed. It was made the mainstay of our tax system in 1916 with the idea that it would be what’s called progressive. The more people make, the more they pay.

That worked fine until Ronald Reagan and what was called the Reagan Revolution, a revolution but one involving the richest in the U.S. Their tax rate was halved. More recently, there were more huge tax breaks given to the rich under the tenure of George W. Bush.

So increasingly, those in the middle and lower classes ended up carrying a greater and greater proportional tax load.

On a state level, this has what’s been happening, too.

In the last three decades, New York State, where I live, has also cut its tax rate for the richest by 50 percent—so now someone making $4 million a year pays the same as someone earning $40,000 a year in New York.

Over in Connecticut, the income tax situation is also disproportionally tougher on working families.

On this side of the Long Island Sound, folks have joined together to challenge the unfair tax structure—pressing their case recently in a special lobby day in Albany.

Of great concern, New York State seeking to deal with an anticipated $15 billion deficit by placing even more of a burden on working people.

And not just working people. In an especially nasty would-be rip-off, Governor David Paterson’s proposed state budget would have 90% of the money raised by a tuition hike imposed on State University students go to the state’s general fund instead of SUNY.

Paying the deficit off the backs of students. Disproportioinally taxing the middle and lower classes. This is not progressive.

Meanwhile, in Washington, President Obama is preparing a new federal budget—which includes ending the enormous tax breaks the rich have received. As he said in his speech to the nation last week, people earning less than $250,000 would see a tax break, those above an increase. The Obama administration would try to make our tax system progressive again.

It’s about time.