Monday, December 9, 2013

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Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Political TV Commercial as a Pivotal Component in American Presidential Politics and National Leadership by Q Score

            Ever since Madison Avenue advertising man Rosser Reeves convinced Dwight Eisenhower to use him and TV commercials to run for the presidency in 1952, the political TV commercial has become a pivotal component in American presidential politics.
Four years earlier Reeves tried to interest the then Republican candidate, Thomas Dewey, in the approach. But Dewey “did not buy the idea of lowering himself to the commercial environment of a toothpaste ad,” related Robert Spero in his 1980 book The Duping of the American Voter, Dishonesty & Deception in Presidential Television Advertising.
The Eisenhower commercials were coordinated with the campaign’s slogan—“I Like Ike.” 
Indeed, one spot featured a song especially written by Irving Berlin titled “I Like Ike.”  
            There was an early understanding by Reeves that television best communicates feeling and emotion, not information. TV, as media theorists later described it, is a “non-cognitive medium.” Thus the Eisenhower ads—stressing Eisenhower’s likeability – involved feeling and emotion, making the strongest use of the TV medium.
I recall, as a kid, seeing the TV image of Eisenhower back then, grinning.
The intellectual Democrat candidate, Adlai Stevenson, tried to counter the blitz of 15-second Eisenhower spots. Stevenson embarked on a series of half-hour TV presentations, reiterating and expanding on themes he struck in his convention acceptance speech. These lectures, essentially, didn’t work.
With television, as Joe McGinniss wrote in his seminal 1969 The Selling of the President, “it matters less” that a politician “does not have ideas. His personality is what the viewers want to share. The TV measured...not against a standard of performance established by two centuries of democracy—but against Mike Douglas. How well does he handle himself? Does he mumble, does he twitch, does he make me laugh?  Do I feel warm inside? Style becomes substance. The medium is the massage and the masseur gets the votes.”
            TV talk show personality Mike Douglas is dead. But the dynamic McGinniss described continues—indeed has expanded politically.
As observed Richard Reeves in a 1980 television report,  “ABC News Closeup: Lights, Cameras...Politics,” realizing TV “transmits feelings and emotion better than it transmits consultants tried to motivate Americans to vote the same way that they were motivated to buy toothpaste: with little entertainments.”
He cited as an early example of this the infamous spot put together in 1964 by Tony Schwartz for Lyndon Johnson.  A little girl plucks petals from a daisy, counting up to nine and then a man’s voice counts down from ten to zero—and suddenly the TV screen fills with the super-scary footage of a hydrogen bomb, and Johnson’s voice states: “The stakes are too high...We must either love each other or we must die.”
Schwartz later wrote in his book The Responsive Chord: “The task of a media specialist is not to reveal a candidate’s stand on issues, so much as to help communicate those personal qualities of a candidate that are likely to win votes.” This spot and the strong emotion it was designed to impart were aimed at leaving the viewer feeling that Lyndon Johnson was a person of responsibility, and his opponent, Barry Goldwater, something else.
Further, with this spot, the TV political attack ad, the emotionally-laden negative political TV commercial, had arrived—to become a mainstay of election advertising.
 By the 1980s, Ronald Reagan had become a model for TV-based presidential TV commercials—and politics.  Many voters might have disliked his policies, but a substantial number “liked” Reagan—based on the image he projected through television. 
With the ability to performing on television having become a necessary attribute of a presidential candidate, the Republican Party had chosen an actor to run for president. Reagan had been governor of California but, importantly, Reagan for eight years before that was a TV performer, host of General Electric Theatre, after his Hollywood career hit the skids.
It had come to a point at which Newsday columnist Robert Weimer declared in 1980: “Why bother with the arduous, uncertain and expensive process of casting ballots at all? Why not simply put presidential candidates into a head-to-head, prime-time competition on election night and let the ratings decide the contest....It’s not hard to understand why the candidates have settled on television as their main mode of communication. It reaches the most people with the most impact, even if it does tend to sell only gross attributes. Audience perception of a smile, for example, can determine the outcome of a presidential race...Television is essentially a medium that appeals more to spinal than cerebral receptors. The message that gets through is spare: Ronald Reagan is affable.”
We can now analyze presidential candidate after candidate through the prism of political TV commercials and television performance.
It can be very unsettling. Consider what was widely described as a great problem for Al Gore when he ran against George W. Bush in 2000: most folks would rather, it was said, go out for a beer with Bush than Gore. Gore’s persona as transmitted through TV was said to be wooden, lacking charisma, Bush somehow connected better. And we got Bush.
Our current president, Barack Obama, is a master of performing on television. As Jim VandeHei and Mike Allen complained on Politico this past February, “The president has shut down interviews with many of the White House reporters who know the most and ask the toughest questions. Instead, he spends way more time talking directly to voters via friendly shows and media personalities. Why bother with The New York Times beat reporter when Obama can go on ‘The View.’”
And today, television—and particularly political TV commercials—are vital to the rise and continuance  in office of candidates for, not just for president, but for the U.S. Senate, the House of Representatives, governorships, mayoral positions, and seats in state legislatures and on city councils.
A political era of dueling political TV commercials is firmly here.
Meanwhile, the notion of the “Q Score” or “Q rating” has arrived.
The term “Q Score” was coined in 1963 by Jack Landis who founded a company Marketing Evaluations, Inc. in Roslyn, N.Y. which continues to use the concept as the central measure in its opinion polling and market research work. “Q rating”—defined by Merriam-Webster as a “scale measuring the popularity of a person or thing”—is said by those dictionary people as having its “first known use” in 1977.
They mean roughly the same: they’re measures of likeability. They are the standard for how TV reporters keep their jobs these days, why TV programs are renewed, how products are promoted as well as how would-be holders of the presidency and other offices in the U.S.—and increasingly leaders in nations around the world—are selected.
The basis for “I Like Ike” is now widely applied.
And we are left to wonder what kind of “Q Score” or “Q rating” Abraham Lincoln or Thomas Jefferson might have had?  What have we lost—and what have we gained?



Friday, October 25, 2013

Island of Secrets

             Michael Carroll, author of the best-selling book, “Lab 257: The Disturbing Story of the Government’s Secret Plum Island Germ Laboratory,” was back on the East Coast, vacationing with his family, and amazed over recent developments concerning Plum Island.
Carroll, an attorney from Long Island who worked seven years on “Lab 257” which became a best-seller after its 2004 publication, has since moved to California where he and his wife, a California native, established a law practice.
Back on Long Island, where he is a native, Carroll finds as astonishing Representative Tim Bishop’s fight against the plan of the federal government to shut down its Plum Island Animal Disease Center and shift its operations to a new National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility it would build in Manhattan Kansas. Bishop, of Southampton, is mainly concerned about the loss of 200 federal jobs at the center which is in his eastern Long Island Congressional district.
“It is utter foolishness to try to save 200 jobs at the price of protecting the entire region from this island and the threat it represents,” said Carroll in a recent interview. An outbreak of disease agents worked with on Plum Island—notably those affecting both animals and people—in the heavily populated area off which the island sits could be “devastating.” Plum Island is just off and midway between the New York-Boston megalopolis and its millions of people, Carroll pointed out. The 843-acre island is a mile-and-a-half off Orient Point in Southold Town on the North Fork of Long Island. Connecticut is less than 10 miles to the north.
A spokesperson for Bishop, Oliver Longwell, responded that Bishop’s “position on the island is indistinguishable from every other elected official who represents Southold Town at all levels of government.”
As to the call by a grouping of Long Island environmentalists for preservation of the island as opposed to the federal government’s consideration of having housing developed on it,  Carroll said that making the island a preserve is all that could be done with Plum Island—but, he emphasized, it will need to be a preserve closed to people. “You can’t let anybody on it,” he said.   
“The island is an environmental disaster,” said Carroll. “Every effort to decontaminate Lab 257, the1950s-era germ warfare building on it, has failed,” said Carroll. “They can’t get that building clean.” (Subsequently, a new laboratory building was constructed after the U.S. Department of Agriculture Department took control of the island from the U.S. Army,)
“There is contamination all over the island,” said Carroll. He noted that up until recent years, nothing was ever removed from the island—everything was disposed on it, much of it buried. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) have brought charges through the years in connection with the Plum Island waste, cases cited in his book, he went on. “If this was a private business, it immediately would have been shut down,” said Carroll. But only “nominal” fines were meted out.
As to a shift of Plum Island operations to Kansas, that’s “going out of the frying pan into the fire,” said Carroll. “Is there is no better place to study foreign animal diseases than in the middle of America’s farm belt?”
“What research that needs to be conducted should be done nowhere near a human population center or a food production center,” said Carroll.
As for Plum Island, “There’s no way that island can be made fit for human habitation,” declared Carroll.” The island needs to be “forsaken. It’s very sad.”
The federal government, however, believes Plum Island can be habitable as evidenced by it contemplating housing on it with the center’s closing. And real estate mogul Donald Trump has jumped into the situation by saying he would like to buy the island and, he said last month, develop a “really beautiful, world-class golf course” on it.
Meanwhile, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has written to the General Services Administration, which would manage the planned sale, and the Department of Homeland Security, which after the 9/11 attack took over the island from the Department of Agriculture, calling for a “comprehensive investigation” of Plum Island by the state DEC, and a clean-up plan. This would include “the need to properly close Building 257.” Discussing his letter at a recent appearance at Orient Beach State Park, Cuomo called Plum Island “the island of secrets.”
The Cuomo family is very familiar with Plum Island. Andrew’s father, former New York Governor Mario Cuomo, with whom Carroll worked as a lawyer in New York City, is quoted on the jacket of “Lab 257” as calling the book a “carefully researched, chilling expose of a potential catastrophe.”
Carroll’s “Lab 257” also documents a Nazi connection to the original establishment of a U.S. laboratory on Plum Island. According to the book, Erich Traub, a scientist who worked for the Third Reich doing biological warfare, was the force behind its founding.
During World War II,  “as lab chief of Insel Riems—a secret Nazi biological warfare laboratory on a crescent-shaped island in the Baltic Sea—Traub worked for Adolph Hitler’s second-in-charge, SS Reichsfuhrer Heinrich Himmler, on live germ trials,” states “Lab 257." The mission was to develop biological warfare to be directed against animals in the Soviet Union. This included infecting cattle and reindeer with foot-and-mouth disease.
“Ironically, Traub spent the prewar period of his scientific career on a fellowship at the Rockefeller Institute in Princeton, New Jersey, perfecting his skills in viruses and bacteria under the tutelage of American experts before returning to Nazi Germany on the eve of war,” says “Lab 257.”  While in the U.S. in the 1930s, too, relates the book, Traub was a member of the Amerika-Deutscher Volksbund which was involved in pro-Nazi rallies held weekly in Yaphank on Long Island.
With the end of the war, Traub came back to the United States under Project Paperclip, a U.S. program under which Nazi scientists, such as Wernher von Braun, were brought to America.
“Traub’s detailed explanation of the secret operation on Insel Riems” given to officials at Fort Detrick in Maryland, the Army’s biological warfare headquarters, and to the CIA, “laid the groundwater for Fort Detrick’s offshore germ warfare animal disease lab on Plum Island,” says “Lab 257.” “Traub was a founding father.” And Plum Island’s purpose, says the book, became what Insel Riems had been: to develop biological warfare to be directed against animals in the Soviet Union—now that the Cold War and conflict between the U.S. and the Soviet Union had begun.
The Long Island daily newspaper Newsday earlier documented this biological warfare mission of Plum Island. In a lead story on November 21, 1993, Newsday investigative reporter John McDonald wrote: “A 1950s military plan to cripple the Soviet economy by killing horses, cattle and swine called for making biological warfare weapons out of exotic animal diseases at a Plum Island laboratory, now-declassified Army records reveal.” A facsimile of one of the records, dated 1951, covered the front page of that issue of Newsday.
The article went on: “Documents and interviews disclose for the first time what officials have denied for years: that the mysterious and closely guarded animal lab off the East End of Long Island was originally designed to conduct top-secret research into replicating dangerous viruses that could be used to destroy enemy livestock.”
“Lab 257” has many pages about this based on documents including many that Carroll found in the National Archives.
The book also tells of why suddenly the Army transferred Plum Island to the Department of Agriculture in 1954—the U.S. military became concerned about having to feed millions of people in the Soviet Union if it destroyed their food animals.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff “found that a war with the U.S.S.R. would best be fought with conventional and nuclear means, and biological warfare against humans—not against food animals,” says “Lab 257.” “Destroying the food supply meant having to feed millions of starving Russians after winning a war”
Still, “Lab 257” questions whether there ever was a clean break.
Officials at the Plum Island Animal Disease Center have, however, insisted over the years that the center’s function is to conduct research into foreign animal diseases not found in the U.S.—especially foot-and-mouth disease—and the only biological warfare research done is of a “defensive” kind.
“Lab 257” also maintains that there is a link between the Plum Island center and the emergence of Lyme disease. It “suddenly surfaced” 10 miles from Plum Island “in Old Lyme, Connecticut in 1975.” Carroll cites years of experimentation with ticks on Plum Island and the possibility of an accidental or purposeful release.
“The tick is the perfect germ vector,” says “Lab 257,” “which is why it has long been fancied as a germ weapon by early biowarriors from Nazi Germany and the Empire of Japan to the Soviet Union and the United States."
“A source who worked on Plum Island in the 1950s,” the book states, “recalls that animal handlers and a scientist released ticks outdoors on the island. ‘They called him the Nazi scientist, when they came in, in 1951—they were inoculating these ticks.” “Lab 257” goes on: “Dr. Traub’s World War II handiwork consisted of aerial virus sprays developed on Insel Riems and tested over occupied Russia, and of field work for Heinrich Himmler in Turkey. Indeed, his colleagues conducted bug trials by dropping live beetles from planes. An outdoor tick trial would have been de riguer for Erich Traub.”









Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Nuclear Power Through the Fukushima Perspective

It started this June in California. Speaking about the problems at the troubled San Onofre nuclear plants through the perspective of the Fukushima nuclear complex catastrophe was a panel of Naoto Kan, prime minister of Japan when the disaster began; Gregory Jaczko, chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) at the time; Peter Bradford, an NRC member when the Three Mile Island accident happened; and nuclear engineer and former nuclear industry executive Arnie Gundersen.

This week the same panel of experts on nuclear technology—joined by long-time nuclear opponent Ralph Nader—was on the East Coast, in New York City and Boston, speaking about problems at the problem-riddled Indian Point nuclear plants near New York and the troubled Pilgrim plant near Boston, through the perspective on the Fukushima catastrophe.

Their presentations were powerful.

Kan, at the event Tuesday in Manhattan, told of how he had been a supporter of nuclear power, but after the Fukushima accident, which began on March 11, 2011, “I changed my thinking 180-degrees, completely.” He said that in the first days of the accident it looked like an “area that included Tokyo” and populated by 50 million people might have to be evacuated.

“We do have accidents such as an airplane crash and so on,” said Kan, “but no other accident or disaster” other than a nuclear plant disaster can “affect 50 million other accident could cause such a tragedy.”

All 54 nuclear plants in Japan have now been closed, Kan said. And “without nuclear power plants we can absolutely provide the energy to meet our demands.” Meanwhile, in the two-plus years since the disaster began, Japan has tripled its use of solar energy—a jump in solar power production that is the equivalent of the electricity that would be produced by three nuclear plants, he said. He pointed to Germany as a model in its commitment to shutting down all its nuclear power plants and having “all its power supplied by renewable power” by 2050. The entire world, said Kan, could do this. “If humanity really would work together...we could generate all our energy through renewable energy.”

Jaczko said that the Fukushima disaster exploded several myths about nuclear power including those involving the purported prowess of U.S. nuclear technology. The General Electric technology of the Fukushima nuclear plants “came from the U.S.,” he noted. And, it exploded the myth that “severe accidents wouldn’t happen.” Said the former top nuclear official in the United States: “Severe accidents can and will happen.”

And what the Fukushima accident “is telling us is society does not accept the consequences of these accidents,” said Jaczko, who was pressured out of his position on the NRC after charging that the agency was not considering the “lessons” of the Fukushima disaster.  In monetary cost alone, Jaczko said, the cost of the Fukushima accident is estimated at $500 billion by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.

Nuclear engineer Gundersen, formerly a nuclear industry senior vice president, noted that the NRC “says the chance of a nuclear accident is one in a million,” that an accident would happen “every 2,500 years.” This is predicated, he said, on what the NRC terms a probabilistic  risk assessment or PRA. “I’d like to refer to it as PRAY.” The lesson of “real life,” said Gundersen, is that there have been five nuclear plant meltdowns in the past 35 years—Three Mile Island in 1979, Chernobyl in 1986 and the three at Fukushima Daiichi complex. That breaks down to an accident “every seven years.”

“This is a technology that can have 40 good years that can be wiped out in one bad day,” said Gundersen. He drew a parallel between Fukushima Daiichi “120 miles from Tokyo” and the Indian Point nuclear plant complex “26 miles from New York City.” He said that “in many ways Indian Point is worse than Fukushima was before the accident.”  One element: the Fukushima accident resulted from an earthquake followed by a tsunami. The two operating plants at Indian Point are also adjacent to an earthquake fault, said Gundersen. New York City “faces one bad day like Japan, one sad day.” He also spoke of the “arrogance and hubris” of the nuclear industry and how the NRC has consistently complied with the desires of the industry.

Bradford said that that the “the bubble” that the nuclear industry once termed “the nuclear renaissance” has burst. As to a main nuclear industry claim in this promotion to revive nuclear power—that atomic energy is necessary in “mitigating climate change”—this has been shown to be false. It would take tripling of the 440 total of nuclear plants now in the world to reduce greenhouse gasses by but 10 percent. Other sources of power are here as well as energy efficiency that could combat climate change. Meanwhile, the price of electricity from any new nuclear plants built has gone to a non-competitive 12 to 20 cents per kilowatt hour while “renewables are falling in price.”

Bradford also sharply criticized the agency of which he was once a member, the NRC, charging among other things that it has in recent years discouraged citizen participation. Also, as to Fukushima, the “accident really isn’t over,” said Bradford who, in addition to his role at the NRC has chaired the utility commissions of Maine and New York State.

Nader said that with nuclear power and the radioactivity it produces “we are dealing with a silent cumulative form of violence.” He said nuclear power is “unnecessary, unsafe, and uninsurable...undemocratic.” And constructing new words that begin with “un,” it is also “unevacuatable, unfinanceable, unregulatable.”

Nader said nuclear power is unnecessary because there are many energy alternatives—led by solar and wind. It is unsafe because catastrophic accidents can and will happen. He noted how the former U.S. Atomic Energy Commission in a 1960s report projected that a major nuclear accident could irradiate an area “the size of Pennsylvania.” He asked: “Is this the kind of gamble we want to take to boil water?”

Nuclear power is extremely expensive and thus uneconomic, he went on. It is uninsurable with the original scheme for nuclear power in the U.S. based on the federal Price-Anderson Act which limits a utility’s liability to a “fraction” of the cost of damages from an accident. That law remains, extended by Congress “every ten years or so.”

As for being “unevacuable,” NRC evacuation plans are “fantasy” documents,” said Nader. The U.S. advised Americans within 50 miles of Fukushima to evacuate. Some 20 million people live within 50 miles of the Indian Point plants and New Yorkers “can hardly get out” of the city during a normal rush hour.” Nuclear power is “unfinancable,” he said, depending on government fiscal support through tax dollars. And it is “unregulatable” with the NRC taking a “promotional attitude.”  And, “above all it is undemocratic,” said Nader, “a technology born in secrecy” which continues. Meanwhile, said Nader, “as the orders dry up in developed nations” for nuclear plants, the nuclear industry is pushing to build new plants in the developing world.

Also at the event in New York City, moderated by Riverkeeper President Paul Gallay and held at the 92nd Street Y, a segment of a new video documentary on nuclear power by Adam Salkin was screened. It showed Salkin in a boat going right in front of the Indian Point plants and it taking nearly five hours for a “security” boat from the plant to respond, and Salkin, the next day, in an airplane flying as low as 500 feet above the plants. The segment demonstrated that the nuclear plants on the Hudson are an easy target for terrorists and, it noted, what it showed was what “terrorists already know.”

The San Onofre nuclear power plants were closed permanently three weeks after the June panel event—and after many years of intensive actions by nuclear opponents in California to shut down the plants, situated between San Diego and Los Angeles. The panel’s appearances this week in New York City Tuesday and Boston Wednesday, titled “Fukushima—Ongoing Lessons for New York and Boston,” are aimed at the same outcome occurring on the East Coast.

The forums are online. For links go to



Sunday, September 29, 2013

Video Slot Machines on Long Island and LIPA -- the Quid Pro Quo

            Some Long Island officials are betting that gambling will provide a big financial boost for the fiscally-pressed county governments of Nassau and Suffolk. Are they right or making a bad bet?

In June, in a surprise move, New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo—after months of saying no—suddenly agreed to the call from officials of Nassau and Suffolk to allow the two counties to set up facilities for video slot machines. Each could have a facility with 1,000 video slot machines.

The Cuomo turn-around, according to well-informed sources, was linked to getting the Long Island delegation in the New York State Legislature to support his plan to turn the Long Island Power Authority into a shell and have a private New Jersey utility, Public Service Electric and Gas, be THE utility on Long Island.

Then votes on a bill expanding gambling in the state that included the video slot plan for Long Island and votes on a bill to drastically alter the utility structure on Long Island were taken in the State Assembly and State Senate—and both passed. “The governor horse-traded his support for the slots for votes to pass his LIPA bill,” said one source.

Long Island had not been included in Cuomo’s original gambling expansion bill.  Right up through early June, it would have authorized three gambling casinos and video slot machines but only upstate. “LI NOT IN GAMBLING PLAN,” was the headline of a June 6th Newsday article. It quoted Assemblyman Phil Boyle of Bay Shore saying “he’s ‘disappointed but not deterred’ by the island’s omission in Cuomo’s plan.”

A week earlier, Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano and Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, with the presidents of the two counties’ Off-Track Betting Corporations, had gone to Albany, meeting with state legislators and “doubling down,” said Newsday, in seeking  “potentially lucrative video gaming” on Long Island. But Cuomo still felt this would take away from his desire to assist upstate through gambling.

Then, a week later, his gambling bill was expanded to allow video slot machines on Long Island and was voted upon simultaneous with Cuomo’s bill to drastically change the Long Island utility structure—which had faced stiff resistance from the Long Island delegation. The “opposition to the bill on LIPA fell apart with the addition of Long Island to the gambling plan,” said another source. “The two were linked.”

Is gambling the fiscal rescue some Long Island officials would believe? Consider the Page 1 story in the New York Times last month headlined: “Crowds Return to Las Vegas, but Gamble Less.” It told of a drop in gambling revenue with a “new influx of tourists, younger and less devoted to gambling.”

Or consider a Times piece a month earlier about gambling in decline in Atlantic City. “Revenues have fallen 40 percent since their peak in 2006 as new casinos in neighboring states have taken away gamblers,” it noted.

The video slot terminals in Nassau and Suffolk would be operated by the Nassau and Suffolk OTB Corporations—huge troughs for political patronage in both counties. And they have been in trouble. Suffolk OTB moved to declare bankruptcy last year (New York City OTB filed for bankruptcy in 2009).

The office of New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli in a 2010 report titled “Financial Condition of New York State Regional Off-Track Betting Corporations” spoke of the “financial condition of the state’s five regional OTB Corporations” having “substantially deteriorated.” It said “various factors account for the significant and continuing downturn in handle including a diminished interest in horseracing” and “competition from unregulated internet gambling sites.” This “general decline” in horseracing is “demonstrated by decreased attendance at most state racetracks.”  There are not only now many casinos all over the United States diluting the gambling industry, but “government-sponsored lotteries,” too, noted the report.       

The lure of winning hundreds of millions of dollars in the Powerball lottery, owned and operated by 33 state lotteries, towers over winning the tiniest fraction of that on a video slot machine.

Meanwhile, Congressman Peter King of Seaford, whose district includes parts of both Nassau and Suffolk, introduced a bill in June that would license online gambling at the federal level, further spreading gambling choices.

Is the pot of government gold from video slot machines a mirage? I bet it is.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Fracking Fight Comes to Long Island

(My column in Long Island newspapers this week.)
            The fight over fracking has come to Long Island. Although there are no shale deposits here to exploit for gas by hydraulic fracturing —known as fracking—the ocean off Long Island could be the site of a terminal that opponents charged at a recent public hearing is aimed at sending gas fracked in the U.S. to foreign nations.
             Meanwhile, the powerful documentary Gasland II—which concludes with documents showing the U.S. gas industry seeks to export much of the gas fracked in the U.S.—was screened at the Hamptons International Film Festival. It received a standing ovation from the packed audience at Guild Hall in East Hampton. Afterwards, there was a panel discussion organized and led by actor Alec Baldwin. It included Josh Fox, director, narrator and writer of Gasland II and the earlier documentary, Gasland, which in 2011 was awarded an Emmy and nominated for an Academy Award. I was also on the panel.
The Suffolk Legislature has now passed two bills on fracking: one to block water utilized in the process from being sent to any sewage plant in Suffolk for disposal, and a second barring “the use of hydraulic fracturing brine” on county property or roadways.
Fracking uses massive amounts of water sent under high pressure, along with 700 chemicals, into shale deposits to fracture them and release the gas held in them. Some of the chemicals are “known carcinogens,” notes the first bill. It warns of fracking wastewater being discharged from sewage plants to then “feed into Long Island’s sole source aquifer.”
As to “fracturing brine,” this is also a fracking “waste product,” notes the second bill,  and “some businesses that perform hydraulic fracking would like to dispose of such brine by providing it to local governments as a road de-icing agent for use in the winter.”
The hearing July 9 on the proposed offshore gas terminal was held in Long Beach. A $300 million project of Liberty Natural Gas, it would be set up 19 miles south of Jones Beach. Although the company claims its purpose is to import gas, speakers challenged this at the crowded hearing run by the U.S. Maritime Administration and Coast Guard.
Catskills Citizens for Safe Energy issued a statement declaring that the U.S. gas industry through fracking “is now producing so much gas” that it “plans to export half of it…overseas.” Although the terminal’s “sponsors claim that their facility will be used to import gas,” an amendment was made last year to federal regulations that allows for “export as well as import.” The planned terminal “off Long Island would be perfectly situated to export fracked gas…to Europe and Asia. If that happens, then fracking in Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia will be ramped up, and the pressure to frack New York might prove to be irresistible.” There has been a New York State moratorium that has expired on fracking. Governor Cuomo is considering whether to now permit it. 
Gasland II puts the fracking situation in sharp and comprehensive focus. Josh Fox began investigating fracking after his family got a $100,000 offer to frack on land on which his father built a house in the woods of Pennsylvania. What he uncovered and presented in his first documentary, Gasland, was literally explosive. People all over the U.S. whose property is used for fracking have their well water loaded with gas. What comes out of their water faucets is shown repeatedly in Gasland bursting into flames when lit with a match.
Gasland revealed the identity of the toxic chemicals used in fracking. And it chronicled the serious health impacts to people along with the environmental devastation from fracking.  
I commented on the panel July 5 at Guild Hall that when I heard Mr. Fox was doing Gasland II, I could not see how he could follow his astounding earlier documentary—but that he broadened it “with perfection” and it is as important and powerful as the first film.
In Gasland II, now being aired on HBO, Mr. Fox not only widens his examination of the health and environmental disasters caused by fracking but exposes how governments—led by the Obama administration—have eagerly allowed fracking to happen and expand. Gasland II spotlights fracking as a major contributor to climate change. It reveals the gas industry’s hold on governments. As U.S. Representative Brad Miller of North Carolina says in Gasland II about industry influence over Congress: “Try ownership, really.” It tells how the gas industry’s lead PR firm pushing fracking was a pioneer in claiming cigarettes are safe. It provides expert analysis about fracking being unnecessary—how safe, clean, renewable energy can provide all the power we need. It presents data linking fracking to earthquakes. Gasland II shows again and again peoples’ drinking water on fire. It cites fracking as also releasing radioactive poisons held in the shale. A rape of the planet and an attack on peoples’ health is underway. Gasland and Gasland II—must-see documentaries.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Weiner and Spitzer -- Meshugganah Chutzpah

(Published on The Times of Israel, July 24, 2014)
At the far edges of chutzpah—Anthony Weiner and Eliot Spitzer.
            Even in New York City, a town famed for chutzpah, Weiner’s performance this week was far-out. There he was trying to deflect disclosures that his practice of wholesale sexting didn’t end after he abruptly resigned his seat in the U.S. Congress two years ago when his sending many women naked pictures of himself and raunchy online messages was first revealed.
“I said that other texts and photos were likely to come out and today they have,” declared Weiner at his press conference Tuesday. He sent them for more than a year after he quit Congress vowing to deal with his sexting habit.
 After his short stay out of politics, Weiner came back in full force in May announcing he was running for New York mayor to succeed term-limited Michael Bloomberg. And, in recent weeks, as he campaigned aggressively, he had shot up in the polls and was the front-runner. He insisted Tuesday that he would remain in the race.
Spitzer, who resigned suddenly as New York State’s governor in 2008 for “personal failings”—it was revealed that he was a regular client of a high-priced prostitution ring—announced earlier this month he was running for the Number 3 job in New York City, comptroller.
Lavishly spending from his family’s fortune made in New York real estate, Spitzer has been on a hyper-intense campaign, paralleling Weiner’s, and also, according to the polls, making political headway.
This week, a new Spitzer TV commercial flooded New York TV beginning with Spitzer declaring, “Look, I failed. Big time.” But having as New York attorney general been “sheriff of Wall Street”—taking on wheeler-dealers there—he said he should now be given “a fair shot” to return.
Weiner and Spitzer have become veritable gags in New York City politics—indeed, laughing stocks on the national level.
Andy Borowitz’s humor blog on The New Yorker website Tuesday was headlined, “Weiner Continues Sexting During Apology.” It claimed—in jest, of course—that “Weiner stirred controversy today by continuing to send dirty texts throughout a press conference devoted to apologizing for his behavior. Mr. Weiner was halfway through his apology when reporters noticed him remove a phone from his pocket and aim its camera lens unmistakably in the direction of his pants. After seeing the candidate snap a photo of the pants region and then send a text, reporters bombarded Mr. Weiner with questions, asking him if he had in fact just sexted. ‘Yes, I did, but I swear this was the last time,’ he said. ‘This behavior is now behind me.’ Mr. Weiner then concluded his press conference by removing his shirt and snapping a quick shot of his naked torso.”
            And serious issues about stability are being raised.
            Frank Bruni in his column in The New York Times on July 9 wrote that Weiner was “angling for a gigantic promotion. In the narrative he’s constructed, his mortification has made him a new man, so we’re supposed to give him an extra measure of our trust and hand him the reigns of the most important and most complicated city in the country. I know we like our mayors brash, but we needn’t accept delusional in the bargain.”
            As for Spitzer, Bruni skewered his record as governor charging—accurately—that he “was shaping up to be a self-righteous, self-defeating disaster of a governor.”
            As governor for little over a year, Spitzer proclaimed himself a “steamroller”—and in his dysfunction exhibited the sensitivity of such a machine.
            Commented Dan Janison in a column in Long Island’s Newsday on July 12, “Politics is just one business, of course, where ruthlessness can be a character reference and hypocrisies are inevitable. But a prospective public servant’s ability to act sensibly also is worth considering.”
            Weiner and Spitzer are Democrats. Dr. Kenneth Sherrill, Professor Emeritus of political science at the City University of New York’s Hunter College, has stated that “the two of them, in two different races, may have the effect of pulling each other down” by giving Republicans a chance to present Democrats as morally challenged.
            There has been, however, a history in America in recent years of forgiving scandal-scarred politicians. President Bill Clinton managed to survive his affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky, beat impeachment and now has become an elder statesman of the Democratic Party. South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford abruptly resigned in 2009 after he disappeared for a week and it was disclosed that he was in Argentina pursing an affair with a woman there—but he was elected to a seat in Congress earlier this year.  In an article this month on this, The New York Times related that “all across the country” politicians “tainted by scandal, some of them seemingly mudded beyond saving,” have gone on to survive politically.
            Still, can Weiner and Spitzer make it when their behavior, perhaps forgivable to some, is combined with a lack of stability and an absence of sensibility—and a meshugganah arrogance?

Monday, June 10, 2013

Long Island's Energy Future

(My column In Long Island newspapers this week)

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo seems intent on destroying the dream of public power for Long Island with Long Islanders democratically overseeing their utility and deciding the island’s energy future.

Instead, the governor would greatly expand having a private New Jersey company run the island’s utility operations—a company with a dubious energy history—and continue to keep energy management in the hands of political appointees.

“LIPA was never given a chance,” State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele, Jr. of Sag Harbor, a strong opponent of the governor’s plan, was saying last week. He was referring to the Long Island Power Authority which, when it was created in 1986, “was supposed to be a full-fledged public power company with a board elected by the people of Long Island. But that never happened.”

Rather, a series of private companies, most recently, London, England-based National Grid, has been running much of LIPA’s system. And under Cuomo’s new plan, Newark, New Jersey-based Public Service Electric and Gas (PSEG) would fully operate it.

Moreover, his father, Governor Mario Cuomo, and his successor, George Pataki, killed having Long Islanders vote on a LIPA board. Arranged in its place was having the 15 board members picked by the governor, State Assembly speaker and Senate Majority leader. This would continue, but cut to five appointees in Cuomo’s plan. LIPA would be reduced to a shell.

“It’s a bad plan,” said Thiele last week. “And it is wrong for Governor Cuomo to try to ram this through in a month or so. This is going to affect Long Island for decades and should be subject to a widespread public review.”

The vision of public power for Long Island came as what had been the Long Island Lighting Company sought to build seven to 11 nuclear power plants here. The establishment of LIPA, with the power to eliminate LILCO if it persisted in its drive for the nearly-completed Shoreham nuclear plant and the other plants, was a key in ending this atomic program. But it involved more than that. The idea was to create a democratic entity to manage and plan for power on the island and champion safe, clean, renewable energy.

As Peter Maniscalco of Manorville, a leader in that effort, wrote in a recent letter in Newsday: “According to Albert Einstein, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s LIPA restructuring proposal is crazy. Einstein said that insanity is doing the same thing over again and expecting a different result.” He charged that Cuomo would send energy policy on the island backwards. Also, “Why does the governor keep mentioning that LIPA was originally meant to be a holding company? This is false.”

As to PSEG, which under the Cuomo plan would be Long Island’s utility, it’s been known on Long Island for something rather crazy about which Cuomo might not be familiar.

PSEG a few decades back pushed to have nuclear plants in the Atlantic Ocean off New Jersey, south of Long Island. Company literature proudly related how the notion of floating nuclear plants came to Richard Eckert, its vice president for engineering and construction, while he was taking a shower. He had a revelation of the ocean supplying the massive amounts of water nuclear plants need as coolant.

PSEG convinced Westinghouse to build such floating plants. In 1970, Westinghouse and Tenneco set up Offshore Power Systems to fabricate them at a facility it built off Jacksonville, Florida. The plants were to be towed into position with the first four moored 11 miles northeast of Atlantic City. Costs skyrocketed and in 1984 the scheme was scuttled and Offshore Power Systems was dissolved after many millions of dollars had been wasted.

I wrote about the station set up by the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission and run by Brookhaven National Laboratory along the ocean on Dune Road in Hampton Bays to determine the impact of an accident involving the PSEG floating nuclear plants. Clouds of smoke were set off and boats and aircraft used. It was found that Long Island would be the prime recipient of the radioactivity because of prevailing southwest winds.

It’s not too late for Long Island to return to the vision of energy democracy—having Long Islanders, not English or New Jersey companies, operate our energy system, served by what LIPA should have been all along, a full-fledged public power company, with elected board members providing oversight and shaping Long Island’s energy future.

Friday, June 7, 2013

The End of the San Onofre Nuclear Plant -- An Advance for Safe, Clean, Renewable Energy Technologies

Southern California Edison’s announcement this week that it will close its troubled twin-reactor San Onofre nuclear power plant—along with other recent setbacks for atomic energy in the United States—marks a downward spiral for nuclear power.

And it could—and should—mean a great advance for the implementation of safe, clean, renewable energy technologies. “We have long said that these reactors are too dangerous to operate and now Edison has agreed,” said Erich Pica, president of Friends of the Earth, after the announcement Friday. “The people of California now have the opportunity to move away from the failed promise of dirty and dangerous nuclear power and replace it with safe and clean energy provided by the sun and wind.”

S. David Freeman, former head of the Tennessee Valley Authority and other utilities, at a joint news conference with Pica Friday, said it was a “step in the right direction and another move toward the renewable revolution that’s underway in California.”

Also this week, Warren Buffett’s MidAmerican Energy scrapped plans to build nuclear plants in Iowa. Last month, Dominion Resources announced it was shutting down its Kewaunee nuclear plant in Wisconsin. Also last month, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission ruled that a partnership between Toshiba and NRG Energy to build two nuclear plants in Texas violated a U.S. law barring foreign control of nuclear plants. Further last month, Duke Energy announced it was scuttling plans to build two nuclear plants in North Carolina. This came after Duke’s earlier announcement that it would close its troubled Crystal River nuclear plant in Florida.

From 104, the U.S. in short order has gone to 100 operating nuclear plants—and most of these are also plagued with safety and financial problems. Many also face strong opposition and demands they be shut down.

“This industry is on its final trajectory downward,” said Pica Friday. He said that with these events, the NRC should be renamed the Nuclear Retirement Commission.

At the news conference, Freeman said that having a nuclear power-free and greenhouse gas-free world are the two most needed things to be done to “sustain life…on Earth.”

That nuclear power is a threat to life is not a new issue—it’s been central to the battle against nuclear power even before the first commercial nuclear plant in the U.S., the Shippingport plant in Pennsylvania, opened in 1957.

But new in recent decades have been the great advances in safe, clean, renewable energy technologies led by solar and wind, rendering nuclear power unnecessary. Germany has become a global model in jettisoning nuclear power in the wake of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster and is committed to a goal of 100% of its energy coming from clean, renewable sources.

A few hundred miles from the San Onofre plant, in San Francisco last month, a conference—“Pathways to 100% Renewable Energy”—was held serving as an international organizing and strategy event. It was hosted by the Renewables 100 Policy Institute of San Francisco. Experts in energy and finance, political leaders and renewable energy activists spoke on the feasibility of 100% renewable energy.

Study after study have now determined that renewable technologies can provide all the power the world needs.The Renewables 100 Policy Institute presents many on its website ( including “A Plan to Power 100% of the Planet With Renewables,” a 2009 cover story of Scientific American, a conservative and most careful publication.

The challenge has been converting this understanding to action, particularly considerng how special interests pushing their energy products—nuclear, oil, gas and coal—have a hold on so many governments around the world. At the conference, a “global alliance” was formed to “build political will among a critical mass of decision makers and set a required goal of 100% renewable energies.”

Also a big problem has been the ignorance in much of mainstream media about energy issues—especially concerning nuclear power. For example, at the news conference Friday, Matthew Wald, who covers nuclear power for The New York Times, demanded most defensively of Pica how he squared eliminating “2,400 megawatts of carbon-free energy” that would be generated by the San Onofre nuclear plant. Wald either doesn’t want to acknowledge or doesn’t know that the “nuclear cycle”—the mining, milling, fuel enrichment and other components of nuclear power—emit greenhouse gases and contribute substantially to global warming, and thus the energy from San Onofre was never “carbon-free.”

The San Onofre plant, built along an earthquake fault, has been an obvious threat to anyone traveling along Interstate 5, the major highway linking San Diego and Los Angeles. Its twin domes sit right next to Interstate 5.

“We are now left with one of the largest, most concentrated nuclear waste piles on the planet,” said Ace Hoffman of Carlsbad, California, who has written extensively about the serious safety problems at San Onofre. “This will be an eternal problem, but thankfully it is no longer a growing problem…It will take millions of years—not just days—to be safe, but at least we are headed in the right direction.” As to the employees of San Onofre, said Hoffman Friday: “I hope they all will find jobs in the solar and wind technology energy sectors.”

Two nuclear reactors amid millions of people will now be shut down permanently. The electricity they would have generated can be replaced, said utility veteran Freeman, an engineer, through energy efficiency and with solar and wind power made available on-demand with a variety of energy storage systems.

And, as Damon Moglen, climate and energy director of Friends of the Earth, said at the conference, with San Onofre’s closing “we will see California move even more decisively” on renewable energy and become “one of the largest non-nuclear economies on our planet .”

That’s a big step in the vision of a nuclear power-free world using energy that people can live with—safe, clean renewable energy.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Fundamental Change in the IRS Is Called For

President Barack Obama got it right and wrong Monday when he stated, “If you’ve got the IRS operating in anything less than a neutral and nonpartisan way, then that is outrageous, it is contrary to our traditions.”

He was right in declaring it was “outrageous” for the IRS to target conservative organizations for tough tax treatment. But he was incorrect in saying “it is contrary to our traditions.”

For the U.S. Internal Revenue Service has for decades gone after organizations and individuals that take stands in conflict with the federal government at the time. This has been a tradition, an outrageous tradition.

It is exposed in detail by David Burnham, longtime New York Times investigative reporter, in his 1991 book A Law Unto Itself: The IRS and the Abuse of Power. He relates how President Franklin D. Roosevelt likely “set the stage for the use of the tax agency for political purposes by most subsequent presidents.” Burnham writes about how a former U.S. Treasury Secretary, banker Andrew Mellon, was a special IRS target under FDR. During the presidencies of Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon, he recounts, the focus of the IRS’s efforts “at political control” were civil rights organizations and those against the U.S. engaging in the Vietnam War. Nixon’s “enemies list” and his scheme to use the IRS against those on it is what the current IRS scandal is being most compared.

History Professor John A. Andrew III in his 2002 book Power to Destroy: The Political Uses of the IRS from Kennedy to Nixon—its title drawn from U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall’s dictum “The power to tax is the power to destroy”—focuses further on this tradition. He tells of how John F. Kennedy administration’s “Ideological Organizations Project” investigated, intimidated and challenged the tax-exempt status of right-wing groups including the John Birch Society. Then, with a turn of the White House to the right with Nixon came investigations, he writes, of such entities as the Jerry Rubin Foundation, the Fund for Investigative Journalism and the Center for Corporate Responsibility.

During the Reagan administration, I had my own experience with the IRS—ostensibly because of a book I wrote. Nicaragua: America’s New Vietnam? involved reporting from what was then a war zone in Nicaragua and in Florida—where I interviewed leaders of the contras who were working with the CIA to overthrow Nicaragua’s Sandinista government—and Honduras, being set up as a tarmac for U.S. intervention in Nicaragua. I visited a U.S. military base there. The book warned against a U.S. invasion of Nicaragua (subsequently decided against by the Reagan White House after the Iran-contra scandal). The book was published in 1985 and soon afterwards I was hit with an IRS audit. It would be more, I was informed, than my showing up at an IRS office. The IRS was to come to my house for a “field audit.”

The investigator sat on one side of our dining room table and on the other side was me and my accountant, Peter Berger of Shelter Island. What would be an all-day event started with the investigator asking me to detail how much my family spent on food each week and then, slowly, methodically, going through other expenses. Then he went through income. He obviously was seeking to determine on this fishing expedition whether income exceeded expenses. He went through receipts for business expenses including restaurant receipts, asking who I ate with. He sorted through receipts for office supplies. By mid-afternoon, he had gotten nowhere. At that point, having been hours together, a somewhat weird relationship had been formed. And he began to tell me how his dream in college was to become a journalist. He expanded on that, and then asked: “Have you ever faced retaliation?”

“What do you think this is?” I responded.

He was taken back—insisting my name had come up “at random.”

In the end, all he did was trim some of what was listed as business use of my home phone.

Was I being retaliated against for the book I had written? One would never know. Recently, I ran into accountant Berger, now retired, and he commented about how that day at my house was the strangest IRS audit he had ever been involved in.

The IRS has been beyond reform. Burnham writes in A Law Unto Itself: The IRS and the Abuse of Power that a “political imperative of not messing with the IRS” has become “close to being a law of nature almost as unbending as the force of gravity.” It is “rarely examined by Congress.”

President Obama announced yesterday that the acting commissioner of the IRS was asked and agreed to tender his resignation as a result of the scandal. That’s a small start. Far more important is somehow ending the tradition of IRS political tyranny. Fundamental change in the IRS is called for.

Friday, April 26, 2013


(My column in Long Island papers this week)

By Karl Grossman

Kathleen Furey has been busy on Long Island, New York City and elsewhere in the state challenging what’s become known as GMO — genetic modification or genetic engineering. The technology is used to create “transgenic species” of plants and animals. Through it, genes from one species are introduced into another.

More than 60 countries have enacted laws banning GMO in producing food or requiring the labeling of food that has used it. But in the U.S., because of pressure by the biotechnology industry, there are no such laws.

Crops using GMO were introduced commercially in the United States in 1996. But “Americans are still dining in the dark,” said Ms. Furey of Hampton Bays, education and media director of GMO Free NY, in a recent presentation in Sag Harbor. Ms. Furey is a graduate of Stony Brook University’s Sustainability Studies Department with a degree in environmental humanities. She started her studies with the sustainability program then at Stony Brook Southampton.

Now in the U.S., said Ms. Furey in Sag Harbor, 88 percent of corn, 90 percent of sugar beets and 94 percent of soybeans are grown using GMO. Some 80 percent of “bottled, boxed or canned foods in the U.S.” contain GMO ingredients. And livestock feed “is comprised mostly of GMO corn and soybeans.” GMOs “dominate the agricultural landscape” of America today, she said.

Ms. Furey and her group are working hard presently for passage of a New York State GMO Labeling Bill. People have “the right to make informed choices about what we eat,” she emphasizes. “We have the right to be protected from food health risks and the right to stop being used as guinea pigs.”

The sponsor of the bill in the State Senate is Suffolk’s Kenneth LaValle of Port Jefferson who says: “Consumers have a right to know what’s in their food, especially concerning products for which health and environmental concerns have been raised. My bill was introduced to give consumers the freedom to choose between GMOs and conventional products. Essentially, if a foodstuff is produced using genetic engineering, this must be indicated on its label.”

The biotechnology industry insists GMO technology doesn’t harm people and is useful. It points to how, with genetic modification, plants resistant to some pests have been developed. But GMO opponents hold it is harmful and various uses have backfired. Moreover, they charge that the federal government, notably the Food and Drug Administration, has been acting as a rubber stamp for the biotechnology industry’s bidding. And it’s not that inside of government there isn’t an awareness of the dangers of GMO. Ms. Furey points to “internal memos from FDA scientists citing the risks of GMO safety and toxicity that were disregarded by their superiors.”

On pest resistance through GMO, Ms. Furey speaks of how “superbugs resistant to pest-resistance GMO crops have evolved and are destroying those crops.” Also, “superweeds resistant to herbicides sprayed on GMO crops have evolved and caused farmers to spray more herbicide per acre and resort to the use of even more-toxic herbicides.”

Ms. Furey and GMO Free NY have major allies.

The Institute for Responsible Technology, based in Iowa, describes genetically modified foods as “not safe.” Its literature stresses a report by the American Academy of Environmental Medicine citing studies finding “serious health risks associated” with GMO food including “infertility, immune problems, accelerated aging…and changes to major organs and the gastrointestinal system.”

Food & Water Watch, headquartered in Washington, D.C., is warning on its website about the FDA now “paving the way for genetically engineered salmon,” which it calls “frankenfish.” This, furthermore, “would open the floodgates” for genetically-modified “cows and pigs which biotech companies are waiting in the wings to finally commercialize after years of research and development.”

The power of the biotechnology industry was demonstrated in California in November when a referendum to require GMO labeling failed after a multi-million dollar advertising blitz led by Monsanto. Just last month, the U.S. Congress passed and President Obama approved what GMO foes call the “Monsanto Protection Act” — a measure to last initially six months stripping federal courts of the authority to halt the planting and sale of genetically modified crops if litigation is brought alleging health risks.

“It is incredibly unconstitutional,” says Ms. Furey.

Overall, the biotechnology industry’s drive for GMO has been incredibly undemocratic and the process is quite likely unhealthy. Labeling is a minimum — so people can at least know what food is GMO-modified and choose what’s still GMO-free.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

"Fukushima: Two Years After"

A TV program I host, "Fukushima: Two Years After," is now up on youtube at

The VVH-TV News Special Report is pegged on the symposium co-sponsored by Dr. Helen Caldicott’s Caldicott Foundation and Physicians for Social Responsibility held on March 11-12 at the New York Academy of Medicine.

It is also being broadcast on cable TV by VVH-TV throughout the New York Metropolitan Area as well as over-the-air and on the VVH-TV website

Monday, March 11, 2013

Nuclear Power/Nuclear Weapons -- and A Precarious Future

With the second anniversary of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster this week, with North Korea having just threatened a “pre-emptive nuclear attack” against the United States and a U.S. senator saying this would result in “suicide” for North Korea, with Iran suspected of moving to build nuclear weapons, with the continuing spread of nuclear technology globally, the future looks precarious as to humankind and the atom.

Can humanity at this rate make it through the 21st Century?

We were only able to get through the 20th Century without a major nuclear weapons exchange—without atomic doomsday—by the skin of our teeth.

With more nations having the ability to construct nuclear weapons—and any country with a nuclear power facility has the materiel and trained personnel to make nuclear weapons—the likelihood of this luck running out is high.

The only realistic way to secure a future for the world without nuclear war is for the entire planet to become a nuclear-free zone—no nuclear weapons, no nuclear power.

Radical? Yes, but consider the even more radical alternative: a world where many nations will be able to construct nuclear weaponry because they possess nuclear power technology. The only real way to end the threat of nuclear weapons spreading throughout the world is to abolish nuclear weaponry and eliminate nuclear power. Consider the alternative: trying to keep using carrots and sticks, juggling on the road to inevitable nuclear catastrophe.

There are major parts of the Earth—the entireties of Africa and South America, the South Pacific and others—that are Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zones because of regional treaties recognized by the United Nations. In 1975, the UN General Assembly passed a resolution defining a Nuclear-Weapon Free Zone as an area with the “total absence of nuclear weapons” and establishing “an international system of verification and control…to guarantee compliance with the obligations deriving from [this] statute.”

But if we are truly to have a world free of the horrific threat of nuclear weapons, the goal needs to be more than zones without them. A world free of the other side of the nuclear coin—nuclear power—is also necessary.

Any nuclear power facility can serve as a nuclear bomb factory.

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

Some will say putting the atomic genie back into the bottle is impossible. However, anything people have done other people can undo—especially if the reason is good. And the prospect of massive loss of life from nuclear destruction is the best of reasons.

There’s a precedent in the outlawing of poison gas after World War I when its terrible impacts were tragically demonstrated. Chlorine gas, mustard gas, phosphene gas killed thousands on both sides of the conflict. The Geneva Protocol of 1925 and the Chemicals Weapons Convention of 1933 outlawed chemical warfare and to a large degree the prohibition has held.

As for the connection between purportedly “peaceful” atomic energy and nuclear weapons, physicist Amory Lovins and attorney Hunter Lovins spell it out well in their 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,” they write.

“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,” they note. A large nuclear power plant “annually produces hundreds of kilograms of plutonium; a large fast breeder reactor would contain thousands of kilograms; a large reprocessing plant may separate tens of thousands.”

Civilian nuclear power technology, they emphasize, provides the way to make nuclear weapons, furnishing the materiel and personnel. Nuclear weapons non-proliferation, they say, requires “civil denuclearization.”

As to claims of the energy generated by nuclear power plans being necessary, that’s not true. Safe, clean, renewable energy—led by solar and wind energy technologies—is available to provide all the power the world needs.

Among entities focusing on this is the organization Go 100% which on its website says: “Across the globe—in regions, cities, communities, businesses, and individual lives—people are proving that 100% renewable energy is not a fantasy for someday, but a reality today….The conventional fossil and nuclear energy system has led to multiple convergent existential crises, including climate change, air and water pollution, destruction of the oceans, the threat of mass extinction, water and food shortages, poverty, nuclear radiation problems, nuclear weapons proliferation, fuel depletion, and geopolitical problems.” Go 100% provides details on the abundant research determining that the world can fully power itself with safe, clean, renewable energy, and what’s happening in nations—particularly Germany—now moving toward that goal.

The dangers of nuclear power—in addition to permitting the development of nuclear weapons by any nation that has it—are immense.

As he retired from the navy in 1982, Admiral Hyman Rickover, considered the “father” of the U.S. nuclear navy who was also in charge of building the first U.S. commercial nuclear power plant, in Shippingport, Pennsylvania, told a Congressional committee that inherent in nuclear power is radioactivity which made life impossible on Earth, Until a few billion years ago, Rickover told the panel, “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. “ Then, “gradually, “the amount of radiation on this planet and probably in the entire system reduced and made it possible for some form of life to begin.”

“Now,” he went on, by utilizing nuclear power, “we are creating something which nature tried to destroy to make life possible…Every time you produce radiation,” a “horrible force” is unleashed,“in some cases for billions of years, and I think there the human race is going to wreck itself.”

Having seen the light after decades of being deeply involved in nuclear technology, Rickover said: “I’m talking about humanity—the most important thing we could do is to start in having an international meeting where we first outlaw nuclear weapons to start off with, then we outlaw nuclear reactors, too.”

As for nuclear weapons, he said: “The lesson of history is when a war starts, every nation will ultimately use whatever weapon has been available. That is the lesson learned time and again. Therefore, we must expect, if another war—a serious war—breaks out, we will use nuclear energy in some form” and “we will probably destroy ourselves.”

Planet Earth must be a nuclear-free zone—without nuclear weapons, without nuclear power—if the human race and other life forms are to survive.