Wednesday, April 2, 2014

"G.M. Flaw" and the Deeply Flawed Regulatory System

            “U.S. Agency Knew About G.M. Flaw But Did Not Act,” was the front-page headline of the New York Times this week. The article told of a memo released by the House Energy and Commerce Committee that related how scandalously, shamefully the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration “ignored or dismissed warnings for more than a decade about a faulty ignition switch” in General Motors cars. 
http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/31/business/us-regulators-declined-full-inquiry-into-gm-ignition-flaws-memo-shows.html
            “Federal regulators decided not to open an inquiry on the ignitions of Chevrolet Cobalts and other cars even after their own investigators reported in 2007” knowing about fatal crashes, complaints and reports of a defect in the autos, said the article. It continued that in 2010 the agency “came to the same decision”—not to do anything—“after receiving more reports” about the fatal problem.
A separate article on the front-page of the Times’ business section, “Carmakers’ Close Ties to Regulator Scrutinized,” reported on “former top N.H.T.S.A. officials who now represent companies they were once responsible for regulating, part of a well-established migration from regulator to the regulated in Washington.” The “revolving door between the agency and the automotive industry is once again coming under scrutiny as lawmakers investigate the decade-long failure by General Motors and safety regulators to act more aggressively.” http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/31/business/carmakers-close-ties-to-regulator-scrutinized.html
In fact, the words “G.M. Flaw” could be substituted for by “G.E. Flaw” in its nuclear plants—like the G.E. plants at Fukushima and the dozens of the same fault-plagued model that are still operating in the U.S., or the words could be replaced by “Pollution Caused by Fracking” or “Poisons in Food.”
From national administration to administration, corporations have run roughshod and those who are supposed to protect us from the danger and death these industries cause have regularly not done their jobs. Sometimes the situation is more pronounced as during the Reagan administration—a thoroughly obvious time of foxes guarding henhouses.
I wrote a book about this extreme situation. The book jacket highlighted some of the Reagan foxes: Rita LaValle, a PR person for Aerojet General Corp. involved in hazardous waste-dumping and water pollution, who became director of the “Superfund” program; John Todhunter, an opponent of restrictions on pesticides with the chemical industry-financed American Council on Science and Health, who became assistant administrator for pesticides and toxic substances at EPA; Kathleen Bennett, who as a lobbyist for the paper industry fought the Clean Air Act, named assistant EPA administrator for air pollution control programs and  supervisor of the Clean Air Act; and on and on.
This sort of thing has an early history. In a chapter titled “Why the Supposed Protectors Don’t Protect,” I related the story of Dr. Harvey Washington Wiley, a physician who came to Washington in 1882 to become chief chemist for the Department of Agriculture. The U.S. was undergoing a transition from a rural country to an increasingly industrial society with industries arising that processed food—food commonly doused with dangerous chemicals. Wiley endeavored to do something about this. He was a leader in working for pure food legislation and  between his efforts and those of Progressive Era reformers and the publication of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle came passage of the landmark Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906.
The act, signed into law by President Theodore Roosevelt, defined as adulterated foods those containing “any added poisonous or other added deleterious ingredient which may render such article injurious to health.”  Wiley, who the U.S. government honored in 1956 with a postage stamp picturing him and has described as the “father of food and drug regulation,” tried to enforce the law as head of the Bureau of Chemistry of the Department of Agriculture, predecessor agency to the Food and Drug Administration, but found that all but impossible.
As a matter of conscience, Wiley resigned from the U.S. government in 1912 and wrote a book, The History of a Crime Against the Food Law.” The law intended to protect the health of people was “perverted to protect adulteration of food,” he wrote.
“There is a distinct tendency to put regulations and rules for the enforcement of the law into the hands of industries engaged in food and drug activities,” declared Wiley. “I consider this one of the most pernicious threats to pure food and drugs. Business is making rapid strides in the control of all our affairs. When we permit business in general to regulate the quality and character of our food and drug supplies, we are treading upon very dangerous ground. It is always advisable to consult businessmen and take such advice as they give that is unbiased, because of the intimate knowledge they have of the processes involved. It is never advisable to surrender entirely food and drug control to business interests.”
Throughout the many decades since, government control, regulation, has been surrendered, in part and sometimes entirely, to business interests. This includes not only the food and drug industries but the auto industry, the nuclear industry, now the gas industry for the toxic process called hydraulic fracturing or fracking, and on and on.  
I titled my 1983 book The Poison Conspiracy and began it by writing about how “the world is being poisoned,” lives are being lost and protection “by government is a sham.” Those in government who are “supposed to protect us...do not because of the power of the industries” they are supposed to regulate. “These corporations have been able to warp, distort and neutralize those social mechanisms of protection.”
For example, regarding nuclear power and Fukushima, Gregory Jaczko, chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission when the catastrophe began in 2011, was forced out in 2012 because of nuclear industry pressure after calling for the NRC to apply the “lessons learned” from the disaster. “I cannot support issuing this license as if Fukushima had never happened.” Jaczko stated as the other four NRC commissioners rubber-stamped the construction in Georgia in 2012 of two new nuclear plants. Jaczko, said U.S. Senator Edward Markey of Massachusetts, “led” a “fight” against those in the nuclear industry opposed to “strong, lasting safety regulations.” And he paid the price.http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/2012/0521/NRC-chairman-resigns-amid-battle-over-lessons-from-Fukushima
            And so do we—whether we drive a G.M. Cobalt car or are impacted by the permitted radioactive emissions or accidental discharges from nuclear power plants or water contaminated by the fracking process or food loaded with genetically modified organisms, GMOs, and chemical poisons.
            What’s to be done? Our elected representatives aren’t innocent in this. There are a few good ones, like Senator Markey, but overall those who on the elective level are supposed to watchdog the lame would-be regulators of the bureaucracies have in large measure been captured themselves by the monied corporate interests. “There is a deeply entrenched network” and the challenge to it “will not be easy,” I conclude in The Poison Conspiracy. Most importantly, there needs to be intense grassroots activism to deal with, to remake, a system of government regulation long broken that needs to be, at long last, truly and fundamentally reformed.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

On the Third Anniversary of the Start of the Fukushima Catastrophe

            With the third anniversary of the start of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear catastrophe coming next week, the attempted Giant Lie about the disaster continues—a suppression of information, an effort at dishonesty of historical dimensions.

It involves international entities, especially the International Atomic Energy Agency, national governmental bodies—led in Japan by its current prime minister, the powerful nuclear industry and a “nuclear establishment” of scientists and others with a vested interest in atomic energy.

            Deception was integral to the push for nuclear power from its start. Indeed, I opened my first book on nuclear technology, Cover Up: What You Are Not Supposed to Know About Nuclear Power, with:  “You have not been informed about nuclear power. You have not been told. And that has been done on purpose. Keeping the public in the dark was deemed necessary by the promoters of nuclear power if it was to succeed. Those in government, science and private industry who have been pushing nuclear power realized that if people were given the facts, if they knew the consequences of nuclear power, they would not stand for it.”

            Published in 1980, the book led to my giving many presentations on nuclear power at which I’ve often heard the comment that only when catastrophic nuclear accidents happened would people fully realize the deadliness of atomic energy.

Well, massive nuclear accidents have occurred—the 1986 Chernobyl disaster and the Fukushima catastrophe that began on March 11, 2011 and is ongoing with large discharges of radioactive poisons continuing to spew out into the environment. 

Meanwhile, the posture of the nuclear promoters is denial—insisting the impacts of the Fukushima catastrophe are essentially non-existent. A massive nuclear accident has occurred and they would make believe it hasn’t.

“Fukushima is an eerie replay of the denial and controversy that began with the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki,” wrote Yale University Professor Emeritus Charles Perrow in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists last year. “This is the same nuclear denial that also greeted nuclear bomb tests, plutonium plant disasters at Windscale in northern England and Chelyabinsk in the Ural Mountains, and the nuclear power plant accidents at Three Mile Island in the United States and Chernobyl in what is now Ukraine.”

The difference with Fukushima is the scale of disaster. With Fukushima were multiple meltdowns at the six-nuclear plant site. There’s been continuing pollution of a major part of Japan, with radioactivity going into the air, carried by the winds to fall out around the world, and gigantic amounts of radioactivity going into the Pacific Ocean moving with the currents and carried by marine life that ingests the nuclear toxins.

Leading the Fukushima cover-up globally is the International Atomic Energy Agency, formed by the United Nations in 1957 with the mission to “seek to accelerate and enlarge the contribution of atomic energy to peace, health and prosperity throughout the world.” 

Of the consequences of the Fukushima disaster, “To date no health effects have been reported in any person as a result of radiation exposure from the accident,” declared the IAEA in 2011, a claim it holds to today. 

            Working with the IAEA is the World Health Organization. WHO was captured on issues of radioactivity and nuclear power early on by IAEA. In 1959, the IAEA and WHO, also established by the UN, entered into an agreement—that continues to this day—providing that IAEA and WHO “act in close co-operation with each other” and “whenever either organization proposes to initiate a program or activity on a subject in which the other organization has or may have a substantial interest, the first party shall consult the other with a view to adjusting the matter by mutual agreement.”

            The IAEA-WHO deal has meant that “WHO cannot undertake any research, cannot disseminate any information, cannot come to the assistance of any population without the prior approval of the IAEA...WHO, in practice, in reality, is subservient to the IAEA within the United Nations family,” explained Alison Katz who for 18 years worked for WHO, on Libbe HaLevy’s “Nuclear Hotseat” podcast last year.

On nuclear issues “there has been a very high level, institutional and international cover-up which includes governments, national authorities, but also, regrettably the World Health Organization,” said Katz on the program titled, “The WHO/IAEA—Unholy Alliance and Its Lies About Int’l Nuclear Health Stats.”

            Katz is now with an organization called IndependentWHO which works for “the complete independence of the WHO from the nuclear lobby and in particular from its mouthpiece which is the International Atomic Energy Agency. We are demanding that independence,” she said, “so that the WHO may fulfill its constitutional mandate in the area of radiation and health.”

            “We are absolutely convinced,” said Katz on “Nuclear Hotseat,” “that if the health and environmental consequences of all nuclear activities were known to the public, the debate about nuclear power would end tomorrow. In fact, the public would probably exclude it immediately as an energy option.”

            WHO last year issued a report on the impacts of the Fukushima disaster claiming that “for the general population inside and outside of Japan, the predicted risks are low and no observable increases in cancer rates above baseline rates are anticipated.”

            Then there is the new prime minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe, who last year insisted before
the International Olympic Committee as he successfully pushed to have the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo (180 miles from Fukushima): “There are no health-related problems until now, nor will there be in the future, I make the statement to you in the most emphatic and unequivocal way.”  Abe has been driving hard for a restart of Japan’s 54 nuclear power plants, all shut down in the wake of the Fukushima catastrophe.

            His is a totally different view than that of his predecessor, Naoto Kan, prime minister when the disaster began. Kan told a conference in New York City last year of how he had been a supporter of nuclear power but after the Fukushima accident "I changed my thinking 180-degrees, completely.” He declared that at one point 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," Kan said, "but no other accident or disaster" other than a nuclear plant disaster can "affect 50 million people... no other accident could cause such a tragedy." Moreover, said Kan, “without nuclear power plants we can absolutely provide the energy to meet our demands." Japan since the accident began has tripled its use of solar energy, he said, and pointed to Germany as a model with its post-Fukushima commitment to shutting down all its nuclear power plants and having "all its power supplied by renewable power" by 2050. The entire world could do this, said Kan. "If humanity really would work together... we could generate all our energy through renewable energy."

            A major factor in Abe’s stance is Japan having become a global player in the nuclear industry. General Electric (the manufacturer of the Fukushima plants) and Westinghouse have been the Coke and Pepsi of nuclear power plants worldwide, historically building or designing 80 percent of them. In 2006, Toshiba bought Westinghouse's nuclear division and Hitachi entered into a partnership with GE in its nuclear division. Thus the two major nuclear power plant manufacturers worldwide are now Japanese brands. Abe has been busy traveling the world seeking to peddle Toshiba-Westinghouse and Hitachi-GE nuclear plants to try to lift Japan’s depressed economy.

            As for the nuclear industry, the “Fukushima accident has caused no deaths,” declares the World Nuclear Association in its statement “Safety of Nuclear Power Reactors...Updated October 2013.” The group, “representing the people and organizations of the global nuclear profession,” adds: “The Fukushima accident resulted in some radiation exposure of workers at the plant, but not such as to threaten their health.”

            What will the consequences of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster be?

            It is impossible to know exactly now. But considering the gargantuan amount of radioactive poisons that have been discharged and what will continue to be released, the impacts will inevitably be great. The claim of there being no consequences to life and the prediction that there won’t be in the future from the Fukushima catastrophe is an outrageous falsehood.

That’s because it is now widely understood that there is no “safe” level of radioactivity. Any amount can kill. The more radioactivity, the greater the impacts. As the National Council on Radiation Protection has declared: “Every increment of radiation exposure produces an incremental increase in the risk of cancer.” 

There was once the notion of there being a "threshold dose" of radioactivity below which there would be no harm. That’s because when nuclear technology began and  people were exposed to radioactivity, they didn’t promptly fall down dead. But as the years went by, it was realized that lower levels of radioactivity take time to result in cancer and other illnesses—that there is a five-to-40-year "incubation" period

Projecting a death toll of more than a million from the radioactivity released from Fukushima is Dr. Chris Busby, scientific secretary of the European Committee on Radiation Risk who has been a professor at a number of universities. . “Fukushima is still boiling radionuclides all over Japan,” he said. “Chernobyl went up in one go. So Fukushima is worse.”

Indeed, a report by the Institute for Science in Society, based in the U.K., has concluded: “State-of-the-art analysis based on the most inclusive datasets available reveals that radioactive fallout from the Fukushima meltdown is at least as big as Chernobyl and more global in reach.”

A death toll of up to 600,000 is estimated in a study conducted for the Nordic Probabilistic Safety Assessment Group which is run by the nuclear utilities of Finland and Sweden.

Dr. Helen Caldicott, a founder of Physicians for Social Responsibility, told a symposium on “The Medical Implications of Fukushima” held last year in Japan: “The accident is enormous in its medical implications. It will induce an epidemic of cancer as people inhale the radioactive elements, eat radioactive vegetables, rice and meat, and drink radioactive milk and teas. As radiation from ocean contamination bio-accumulates up the food chain...radioactive fish will be caught thousands of miles from Japanese shores. As they are consumed, they will continue the the cycle of contamination, proving that no matter where you are, all major nuclear accidents become local.”

Dr. Caldicott, whose books on nuclear power include Nuclear Madness, also stated:  “The Fukushima disaster is not over and will never end. The radioactive fallout which remains toxic for hundreds to thousands of years covers large swaths of Japan will never be ‘cleaned up’ and will contaminate food, humans and animals virtually forever.”

Arnie Gundersen, a former nuclear industry senior vice president, has said: “The health impacts to the Japanese will begin to be felt in several years and out to 30 or 40 years from cancers. And I believe we’re going to see as many as a million cancers over the next 30 years because of the Fukushima incident in Japan.”

            At Fukushima, “We have opened a door to hell that cannot be easily closed—if ever,” said Paul Gunter, director of the Reactor Oversight Project at the U.S.-based group Beyond Nuclear last year.

Already an excessive number of cases of thyroid cancers have appeared in Japan, an early sign of the impacts of radioactivity.  A study last year by Joseph Mangano and Dr. Janette Sherman of the Radiation and Public Health Project, and Dr. Chris Busby, determined that radioactive iodine fall-out from Fukushima damaged the thyroid glands of children in California. And the biggest wave of radioactivity in the Pacific Ocean from Fukushima is slated to hit the west coast of North America in the next several months. Meanwhile, every bluefin tuna caught in the waters off California in a Stanford University study was found to be contaminated with cesium-137, a radioactive poison emitted on a large scale by Fukushima. The tuna migrate from off Japan to California waters. Daniel Madigan, who led the study, commented: “The tuna packaged it up [the radiation] and brought it across the world’s largest ocean. We were definitely surprised to see it at all and even more surprised to see it in every one we measured.”

            There is, of course, the enormous damage to property. The Environmental Health Policy Institute of Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR) in its summary of the “Costs and Consequences of the Fukushima Daiichi Disaster” cites estimates of economic loss of between $250 billion and $500 billion. Some 800 square kilometers are “exclusion” zones of “abandoned cities, towns, agricultural land, homes and properties” and from which 159,128 people have been “evicted,” relates PSR senior scientist Steven Starr. Further, “about a month after the disaster, on April 19, 2011, Japan chose to dramatically increase its official ‘safe’ radiation exposure levels from 1 mSv [millisievert, a measure of radiation dose] to 20 mSv per year—20 times higher than the U.S. exposure limit. This allowed the Japanese government to downplay the dangers of the fallout and avoid evacuation of many badly contaminated areas.”

            And last year the Japanese government enacted a new State Secrets Act which can restrict—with a penalty of 10 years in jail—reporting on Fukushima. “”It’s the cancerous mark of a nuclear regime bound to control all knowledge of a lethal global catastrophe now ceaselessly escalating,” wrote Harvey Wasserman, co-author of Killing Our Own, in a piece aptly titled “Japan’s New ‘Fukushima Fascism’.”

            Meanwhile, back in the U.S., the nation’s Nuclear Regulatory Commission has over the past three years consistently refused to apply “lessons learned” from Fukushima. Its chairman, Dr. Gregory Jaczko, was forced out after an assault led by the nuclear industry after trying to press this issue and opposing an NRC licensing of two new nuclear plants in Georgia “as if Fukushima had never happened.”

Rosalie Bertell, a Catholic nun, in her book No Immediate Danger, wrote about the decades of suppression of the impacts of nuclear power and the reason behind it: “Should the public discover the true health cost of nuclear pollution, a cry would rise from all parts of the world and people would refuse to cooperative passively with their own death.”

            Thus the desperate drive—in which a largely compliant mainstream media have been complicit—to deny the Fukushima catastrophe, a disaster deeply affecting life on Earth.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

De Blasio and the Press

            New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio had better get used to the media heat—or he will undermine the ambitious—and important—things he is trying to do.

            Storming out of a press conference last week when pressed on his caravan going through stop signs and speeding, documented by a TV crew, was not smart. After de Blasio refused to answer reporters’ questions and rushed for the door, journalists called out challenges about the new mayor’s promised “transparency.”

            Thus the New York Daily News story began: “Mayor de Blasio blew off tough questions Friday about as fast as he blew past the speed limit.” The caption on the accompanying photo: “Mayor de Blasio didn’t answer questions at a press conference regarding speeding revelations.”
            A week before, de Blasio was refusing to talk about a call he made to a high-ranking New York Police Department official after a political ally was arrested on outstanding warrants after an alleged traffic infraction. “Mayor Won’t Discuss Call,” was the Newsday’s headline.
            De Blasio has called himself a “very progressive guy with very progressive goals;” indeed commentators have been comparing him to Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia. The central theme of the de Blasio campaign was the “tale of two cities”—how New York City has increasingly become a town where only the wealthy can afford to live. He has committed to change that.
            As a result, like the reform-minded LaGuardia, he will be condemned by conservative forces, including those in the press. That has already begun. The Economist magazine last week attacked how “New York’s new mayor, Bill de Blasio, a union-backed Democrat, wants to hobble charters,” referring to charter schools. A caption on a photo accompanying this story: “Down with good schools, says New York’s mayor.” The article’s headline: “Killing the golden goose.”
            De Blasio’s planned efforts to build back public education in New York City, greatly expand affordable housing and similar initiatives will meet resistance—and press criticism. (LaGuardia ran into a lot of this.)
How should de Blasio best handle this?
The best model would be another former New York City Mayor, Ed Koch.
”He was the most open-to-the-press mayor that New York City has ever had,” Arthur Browne, a reporter for the New York Daily News stated on the death of Koch at 88 last year. Browne recalled how Koch conducted no-holds-barred question and answer sessions with the press daily.
And Koch could be feisty—in fact most of the time he was, to great advantage.
I recall when Koch was running for New York State governor in 1982. I was co-anchoring the nightly news on WSNL-TV on Long Island and he came to be interviewed. I pressed him on his being on what was then largely Republican turf seeking votes. “I’m here to rescue you!” he shot back instantly, with a big smile.
Whether about traffic or police matters or substantive political issues involving his visions for changing the city, that’s how de Blasio needs to deal with the press.  He should engage with the media constantly, answering every question thrown at him, coming back with honesty, strength and, when the occasion provides, humor.
Being thin-skinned, a progressive press-hostile Nixonian, will not help de Blasio’s cause.
De Blasio knows how to shovel snow from in front of his house in Brooklyn and making it into a media event. That’s easy. Keeping his cool, using humor, keeping his eyes on the prize of a better city when caught in inevitable conflicts with media, that’s harder—and most necessary if the new mayor is to succeed.                                                    

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

"Fukushima: Lessons for the World"



With the third anniversary of the start of the continuing Fukushima nuclear catastrophe soon here, Part 1 of "Fukushima: Lessons for the World" is now up at http://blip.tv/envirovideo/fukushima-lessons-for-the-world-pt-1-of-5-6722405

An EnviroVIdeo Special, it is the first of five EnviroVideo programs on the important conference held last year on the disaster. Hudson Riverkeeper Paul Gallay moderates, and Part 1 includes a special message from Jean-Michel Cousteau, president of Ocean Futures Society, and then former Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan speaks -- explaining how he has turned "180-degrees" away from a technology he once supported.
                                            

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Chris Christie: The Decline and fall of "Corporate America's Candidate" for President

            I have wondered why much of the U.S. mainstream media had been promoting Chris Christie. Television stresses “likability” in on-air personalities and guests, a high “Q-score.” But there was the governor of our neighboring state of New Jersey—mean-spirited, given to vicious attacks on people—a fixture as a guest on TV, especially on NBC’s Today show. Why were big corporate media boosting, cheerleading for this neo-Nixon?
The U.S. business press can be revealing sometimes and the current issue of Fortune is about Christie with an article headed: “Chris Christie: Can Corporate America’s Candidate Get Out of This Jam?”

            The “Chamber of Commerce wing of the GOP had singled out Christie—a pro-business, pro-Wall Street, tough-on-unions blue-stater—as its best hope for a friend in the White House after eight years in the wilderness,” reports the piece written by Tory Newmyer.
“Until this crucible” known as “Bridgegate,” Christie “had been the beneficiary of a national press corps that celebrated his straight talk shtick...That treatment helped inflate his profile well beyond his home state...”
Will the scandal sink Christie’s pursuit of becoming president of the U.S.? Not for one Christie backer cited in the piece, Dan Lufkin, “co-founder of storied Wall Street firm Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette,” who praises “Christie’s response to the bridge mess.” Lufkin is quoted as saying: “He took quick drastic action...It’s another demonstration of his straightforwardness.” The piece also acknowledges: “When the fuller story of the traffic troubles is revealed, however, that Christie image could wobble badly enough to collapse; his advantage is that he may have time to repair the damage. If he can’t, conversations with party wise men and Wall Street donors suggest a troubling fact for the Garden Stater: Establishment esteem for him runs wide but not particularly deep.”
The Christie explosion isn’t unexpected. “He was a ticking time bomb as a politician. It was only a matter of time before he blew up,” wrote Michael Cohen in the British newspaper The Guardian after Bridgegate began unfolding.  
In 2012 Mitt Romney realized the deep downsides of Christie when he searched for a vice presidential running mate and found Christie lacking, according to the book Double Down.  Among negative things found by the Romney camp in vetting Christie, says the book, were his free-spending habits as a U.S. attorney, problematic clients when he was a lobbyist and a lawsuit for defamation he settled with an apology. These and other matters constituted “a host of potential red flags pertaining to his record,” reported The Washington Post in an article in November headlined: “What Mitt Romney learned about Chris Christie in 2012 and why it matters for 2016.”
Of Bridgegate, “What’s so damaging to Christie about these revelations is that they expose him and his brain trust as breathtakingly venal and vindictive,” stated Joshua Green on Bloomberg Businessweek.
New Jersey native, writer and humorist Marvin Kitman, in his  online “The Christie Chronicles,” has been writing about “The Decline and Fall of the Christie Empire.”  In the installment “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Christie?” Kitman tells how his “progressive friends” have been watching excerpts from the marathon 108-minute Christie press conference “expecting that every time the governor denied knowing anything about the GWB [George Washington Bridge] lane closures, his nose would grow longer, the so-called Pinocchio Effect in jurisprudence.”  Those claims of no knowledge are now unraveling. Kitman predicts that: “Is the governor guilty will be a regular feature on TV news, like the weather and sports, until 2016.” Earlier, in 2011, the sage Kitman declared: “I want Governor Chris Christie to run for president. It’s the best way to get him out of the state.”
Chris Christie will hopefully go down as a hot-tempered, hyper-ambitious politician inflated in importance by a good chunk of U.S. media delighted to promote “Corporate America’s Candidate” for president.  Hopefully, the nasty, ethically-challenged Christie will fade—before doing some huge national, indeed international, damage.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Otis Pike -- and U.S. Intelligence Abuses


            These days it’s the scandal involving widespread surveillance by the National Security Agency. Four decades ago it was the investigation of U.S. intelligence agency abuses by a committee chaired by Congressman Otis G. Pike. The panel’s report, revealing a pattern similar in matters of arrogance and deception to the disclosures in recent times, was suppressed—scandalously—by the full House of Representatives.

Pike, who died last week at 92, was the greatest member of Congress from Long Island I have known in 52 years as a journalist based on the island. He was simply extraordinary.

He was able to win, over and over again as a Democrat in a district far more Republican than it is now. His communications to constituents were a wonder—a constant flow of personal letters. As a speaker he was magnificent—eloquent and what a sense of humor! Indeed, each campaign he would write and sing a funny song, accompanying himself on a ukulele or banjo, about his opponent. He worked tirelessly and creatively for his eastern Long Island district.

With his top political lieutenants, attorney Aaron Donner and educator Joseph Quinn, and his dynamic wife Doris, and his many supporters—including those in Republicans for Pike—he was a trusted, unique governmental institution on Long Island.

And he was a man of complete integrity.  That, indeed, was why, after 18 years, Pike decided to close his career in the House of Representatives.

In 1975, as issues about global U.S. intelligence activities began to surface, Pike became chair of the House Special Select Committee on Intelligence.  A U.S. Marine dive bomber and night fighter pilot in the Pacific during World War II, who with the war’s end went to Princeton and became a lawyer, he embarked with his committee, Donner its chief counsel, into an investigation of the assassinations and coups in which the Central Intelligence Agency was involved. His panel found systematic, unchecked and huge financial pay-offs by the CIA to figures around the world.  And, yes, it found illegal surveillance.

On the Central Intelligence Agency’s website today (https://www.cia.gov/library/center-for-the-study-of-intelligence/csi-publications/csi-studies/studies/winter98_99/art07.htmlwww.cia.gov) 
is an essay by a CIA historian, Gerald K. Haines, which at its top asserts how “the Pike Committee set about examining the CIA’s effectiveness and costs to taxpayers. Unfortunately, Pike, the committee, and its staff never developed a cooperative working relationship with the Agency...”

 A “cooperative working relationship” with the CIA?  Pike’s committee was engaged in a hard-hitting investigation, a probe by the legislative branch of government, into wrongdoing by the executive branch. It was not, in examining the activities of the CIA and the rest of what historian Haines terms the “Intelligence Community,” interested in allying with and being bamboozled by them.

To make matters worse, leading components of the media turned away from what the Pike Committee was doing. Pike told me how James “Scotty” Reston, the powerful columnist and former executive editor of The New York Times, telephoned him to complain: “What are you guys doing down there!”  The Times and other major media began focusing on the counterpart and less aggressive Senate committee on intelligence chaired by Senator Frank Church of Idaho.

Then, in 1976, even though a majority of representatives on the Pike Committee voted to release its report, the full House balloted 246-to-124 not to release it.

What an attempted cover-up! Fortunately, the report was leaked to CBS reporter Daniel Schorr who provided it to The Village Voice which ran it in full.

I still vividly recall sitting with Pike and talking, over drinks in a tavern in his hometown of Riverhead, about the situation. He had done what needed to be done—and then came the suppression. He thought, considering what he experienced, that he might be more effective as a journalist rather than a congressman in getting truth out.

I knew Otis as a reporter and columnist for the daily Long Island Press. Dave Starr, the editor of The Press and national editor of the Newhouse newspaper chain, always thought the world of Pike. Starr and Pike made an arrangement under which Pike would write a column distributed by the Newhouse News Service. Pike didn’t run for re-election for the House of Representatives—and starting in 1979, for the next 20 years, he was a nationally syndicated columnist.

His columns were as brilliant as the speeches he gave as a congressman. They were full of honesty, humor and wisdom—as was the man.

Starr, still with Newhouse Newspapers, commented last week on Pike’s death: “The country has lost a great thinker, a mover and shaker, and a patriot.” Yes.

                                   

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Seedtime -- and the Danger of GMO Seeds


             
            Just out is a brilliant book, highly important and beautifully written, by Scott Chaskey, a Long Island, N.Y. farmer (for 25 years he has run the Peconic Land Trust’s Quail Hill Farm in Amagansett), poet and crusader for local, organic, sustainable agriculture.  Seedtime: On the History, Husbandry, Politics, and Promise of Seeds http://www.rodaleinc.com/products/books/seedtime-history-husbandry-politics-and-promise-seeds is about something humanity has been deeply involved in and dependent upon throughout our time on earth: seeds.
Chaskey, in Seedtime, begins by telling of entering as a farmer into “the realm of seeds...to witness a kind of magical reality.” 
But that “magical reality” is under threat, he declares. “As we face the challenges of climate change and the loss of prime agricultural soils, we need a diverse seed supply to counter the unpredictable and the unknown. Instead, we continue to lose plant species—and the seeds of the future—at an alarming rate.”
“A seed,” he explains, “contains an embryo, a miniature plant awaiting the moment of transition. Seed leaves store food within the endosperm—the seed coat—that will nourish the seedling plant when it emerges.”
“A plant’s coming into being, or maturation is such a quiet progression that we tend to focus on the fruit, the colorful prize of production and the vessel of taste.”
 “Our entire food supply is a gift,” a result of the emergence of flowering plants 140 million years ago, he says, and “our health and food futures are entwined with the way we choose to nurture or manipulate the seeds of that natural revolution.”
“The value of conserving biodiversity cannot be overstated,” he relates. “Biodiversity is the source of our food....Our increasing tendency to homogenize all aspects of our ecosystems limits our ability to adapt.”
 Today the food supply for humanity is endangered—notably by genetic engineering or modification, Chaskey writes. “The altered organism, a GMO [genetically modified organism], is the result of a laboratory process by which a gene (or genes) of one species is inserted into another species. This process is fundamentally different from traditional breeding.”   
In genetic modification, genes of animals, plants, fish, insects, among other life forms, are combined.  A giant in this is Monsanto which synchronizes its production of GMO seeds with the production of pesticides it manufactures.
Also, there is a push to “limit diversity” of seeds which links to, among other things, “consolidation in the seed industry” and “mass marketing considerations.”
Monsanto, further, has been a leader in patenting GMO seeds.
Chaskey provides a detailed history of Monsanto, founded in 1901 by a “self-taught chemist” who named it for his wife whose maiden name was Monsanto, and how it became the leading producer of cancer-causing PCBs and 2,4,5-T, “the basis for Agent Orange,” the poison used as a defoliant in the Vietnam War, as well as DDT.
“Is it at all wise or beneficial for a corporation with a scarred legacy...to control almost one-third of the global seed trade?” asks Chaskey.
And he tells of how the Monsanto GMO seeds have been “developed to perform in tandem with heavy inputs of chemical fertilizers and pesticides.” Indeed, an early GMO seed was “Monsanto’s first ‘Roundup Ready’ soybean, genetically modified to resist the application of Monsanto’s foundational herbicide product, Roundup.”
There is a global challenge to GMOs, notes Chaskey. “The planting of GMO crops is largely banned in the 28-nation European Union,” he relates. In California, individual counties have banned GMO crops and “GMO-Free activists are aggressively campaigning throughout this country and worldwide.” There are now, however, hundreds of millions of acres, “concentrated in the U.S., Canada, Argentina, Brazil and China, planted with GMO crops.
“The health of our fields, the health of our plant communities, and the future of our food supply will depend on whether, as a global culture, we can learn to respect the whole of the biological community, and to accept our role as citizens of it (and to honor those who still retain the connection),” writes Chaskey.
“May we continue to cultivate our fields with the imperishable mystery in mind and to playfully, carefully follow these seeds and nurture them,” he says.
Seedtime is published by Rodale Books, the press that has been central for decades to the organic food movement. Quail Hill Farm in 1988 became the first CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) farm in New York State. Chaskey and the other farmers at Quail Hill are aided by apprentices and volunteers in growing locally organic food—with good seeds.