Thursday, April 30, 2009

Nukes: Not the Answer

As the dire consequences of climate change become apparent to even its most ardent deniers, the need to develop alternate sources of energy is becoming clear. The fact that we have not been working furiously to develop alternative energy for the last 50 years is an example of short-sightedness on the global scale.

There is an exception to the above as one type of alternate energy has received enormous dollars over the years. Unfortunately, that one source is nuclear energy. Trumpeted as unlimited energy at minimal costs the truth is quite the opposite. Nuclear energy is costly and has not proven to lower energy costs.

But forget the costs, let us look at the other two claims made for nuclear energy: safe and clean. Safe, compared to what I always wonder. Even in the nation, France, which seems to have figured out the most efficient way to produce nuclear energy, safety remains a problem. According to a BBC report, France has 59 nuclear plants and produces 75% of its energy with nuclear power. The same report noted that four separate leaks occurred in a two week period in the summer of 2008 and that there had been a ten-fold increase in accidents in the recent past.

Japan is the other nation comparable to France in its reliance on nuclear power. According to a report by Sarah Buckley of the BBC in March of 2006, Japan has 55 reactors that produce one third of its power. Buckley noted that the nuclear industry, despite a national reputation for safety and efficiency, has a very spotty safety record when it came to nuclear power. Three Mile Island, Love Canal and Chernobyl all provide examples of safety problems in other areas of the world.

Any industry that involves human employees is destined to have accidents. With nuclear reactors, the possible risks from accidents simply exceeds the benefits. Even if we could somehow eliminate all human error and all possibility of an accident that would still not guarantee safety. Remember the earthquake that his Japan in July of 2007 which caused leakage of radioactive materials.Throw in deliberate sabotage by terrorists, revolutionaries and others and the safety factor begins to loom as a leviathan.

The other claim made for nuclear power is that it is "clean." Again, by what standard? The spent fuel rods provide a problem for which there is currently no viable solution. Even moving them for disposal creates difficulties that are nearly insurmountable. How about a wrecked truck carrying fuel rods? Plutonium has a half-life of forever. Any efforts to dispose of it must take that into account.

It is true that the planet is in desperate need of solutions for climate change and energy production. Cold analysis of the facts surrounding nuclear power strongly suggests that it is NOT the answer. The call for nuclear power is just more of the same old thinking that created our problems: energy production controlled by private sources paid for with public money. Solutions must not be prioritized based on the potential to generate profit for transnational corporations. That's what the nuclear buzz is really all about.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Merry Earth Day

April 22, Earth Day. This is apparently how we have come to acknowledge the importance of the planet to our lives. We clean up a river, we plant a tree, we go to recycling seminars. Everyone is proud that so many people are conscious of the environment.

The day after, we continue to pollute the river, clear cut old growth forests to mulch up as particle board and continue to consume. Earth Day is becoming like Christmas or Thanksgiving or even the 4th of July. A one day event, with little thought to the reason, celebrated for tradition rather than purpose.

When gas was approaching $5 a gallon the world was abuzz with talk of "green" technology. Now that the price has momentarily receded there seems little focus on sustainability and a change from the paradigm of oil. The current economic crisis is only providing cover to continue the business as usual approach to a fossil fuel based economy and a reckless disregard for pollutants in the environment.

The problems go well beyond CO2 emissions. The problems are well beyond that of particulate matter in the air. It's pharmaceuticals and industrial pollutants in the water supply, it's the accumulation of neurotoxins in individuals and the environment, it's the presence of carcinogens in product after product, it is the slow and deliberate degradation of the wilderness in the name of profit and progress. The bees are dying and the bananas are going extinct. I have yet to mention climate change and its consequences.

The resources of the planet are finite. Treating them as if they are otherwise sets us all on a collision course with disaster. Unless we find a way to live sustainably and stop the damage to our home, we will ultimately run out of resources.

The rhetoric that suggests we cannot change without further damaging the economy misses the point or distorts the truth. It is not that change will be costly, it is that failure to change will be even costlier. Those who remain stuck in the old economy based on oil will be left behind and marginalized. Solving the environmental crisis will solve the economic crisis. Without the natural world there will be no world left in which to have an economy.

Earth Day could come to serve as a one day memorial to the environment. A few days ago I wrote that you can't eat bullets. You also can't eat money. Time to get the priorities in order. Reduce-Reuse-Recycle.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Torture Memos Reveal National Disgrace

The Obama Administration has recently released a number of memos from the Bush Justice Department that portray in painstaking detail the depths to which agents of the U.S. government sunk in their green-lighting of torture against prisoners detained as terror suspects. The memos, released in response to lawsuits filed by the ACLU (you may follow a link on this page to their website to read the memos and to sign a petition requesting a further inquiry of these charges), discuss in great detail the techniques that would be used and seek to provide legal justifications for these actions.

Immediately, the apologists for torture have lambasted the decision to release the memos primarily based on three notions; 1) that terrorists will be better able to prepare against these techniques, 2) that we can't use the techniques again and 3) that they sully the reputation of the United States. All three of these objections are patently absurd. First and foremost, the techniques have been widely discussed and are well known so the idea that terrorists can now better prepare is specious at best. The argument that the release of the memos, really the overt admission of torture, prevents future use of the methods is precisely the point of releasing them and is related to the idea that admitting this somehow sullies the nation's reputation.

It was not admitting to torture that damaged that country, it was ENGAGING IN TORTURE that damaged the nation's reputation. The very reason that we are involved in this ongoing clash is because of our actions. Only by coming clean and admitting to these acts and taking steps to ensure that they will never occur again can there be a way forward.

The complete disgrace revealed by these memos though has been lost in the debate about their release. What these memos really reveal is that the torture had nothing to do with making the nation safe. It has long been recognized that torture is ineffective as a method of gathering intelligence due to the fact that you can't trust the information. Tortured people will tell you anything and try any effort to make the pain stop. In the case of those tortured by CIA operatives and others, it is becoming abundantly clear that information gathered through torture was a complete bust.

In the case of Abu Zubaydah, one of the more infamous torture cases, he had provided a plethora of information prior to being tortured. Once the torture started, he ceased to provide useful and reliable information.

Reading the memos it becomes apparent the sadistic nature of those who plotted, condoned and justified these actions. Abu Zubaydah, for example, was apparently subjected not only to repeated water boarding, but also to sleep deprivation and having his head banged against the wall. When it became known that he was afraid of insects there were plans to put him in a confined space with an insect and make him believe its sting was poisonous. Another prisoner had an artificial leg taken from him so that episodes of prolonged standing would be even more arduous. As I said, sadistic. Sexual humiliation and personal degradation were common elements of the interrogations. It had nothing to do with gathering information it was all about the torture. As Scott Shane reported in the New York Times, senior officials from CIA headquarters were so involved in the micromanagement of the torture that some actually showed up to watch the final water boarding of Abu Zubaydah.

Why everyone seems so shocked now is the big surprise. Cheney has practically bragged about his part in the torture, former detainees have given detailed interviews about their torture and who can forget Donald Rumsfeld rationalizing the techniques years ago when they were first brought into question. The Red Cross, recognized as the arbiter of torture claims, has already filed a report that firmly accused the U.S. of torture. The fact of torture no longer seems disputable.

The national disgrace is that so many knew for so long what was going on. The national disgrace is that so many attempted to rationalize and concoct legal justifications for what was clearly wrong, clearly and indisputably war crimes. The only way to even begin to repair this stain on the nation is by dragging the criminal behavior out into the light of day and holding those responsible accountable.

The greatest national disgrace would be to let those responsible get away with it.

Shortly after posting the above blog, I learned that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was water boarded 183 times in one month. What could the interrogators possibly have learned on the 183rd time that they could not have learned on the 182nd time? This one bit of information demonstrates that the purposes of these actions were not to gather intelligence but simply the infliction of torture.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

What's in a Name?

Once again, a United States Senator from North Carolina rises to the forefront for his bold ideas and proclamations. Like his predecessor, Jesse Helms, this senator stands out not just for the boldness, but also for the utter disconnect he seems to have with reality.

Senator Dick Burr (R-NC) has been recently been quoted in local media as stating that he instructed his wife to go and drain their checking account of as much cash as she could get last year as the banking crisis began to emerge. Burr apparently did not realize that he appeared to infer that he used knowledge he possessed as a Senator to protect himself and his family, but NOT his constituents.

In these actions Burr betrays (now where have I heard that line before) that he does not have confidence in the integrity of the U.S. banking system. When sitting U.S. Senators think that trying to provoke a run on the banks is clever banter, the quality of said senator is called into question.

Today, in the local media he has advocated lower mortgage rates as the solution to the financial crisis. Rates currently being at historically low levels would seem to suggest that this solution has already been tried and has little further it can go. Burr, who crept into office in 2004, appears to be getting desperate for media attention heading into 2010, especially after seeing his compatriot Elizabeth Dole, tossed out on her notoriety.

Burr's other effort to stand out from the crowd must also be detailed herein. Recently, Senator Dick Burr has been known for his efforts to block Tammy Duckworth from an appointment as an Assistant Secretary to the Department of Veterans Affairs. What possibly , other than grandstanding, can be behind the objection to a war hero to an office in the Department of Veterans Affairs? Maybe he ascribes to the theory that there is no such thing as bad publicity. He seems to be trying to get under our skin.

Senator Dick Burr, try not to live up to your name.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

You Can't Eat Bullets

In the last few days I have seen several newspaper headlines that talk about the "gutting" of the defense budget and have listened to a number of politicians in both parties talk with paroxysmal spasms about the destruction of the military and the loss of associated jobs (miraculously right there within their own district).

What they are so upset about is that Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has advocated cutting a total of $1.4 billion from the missile defense program. This act, cutting funding to a program that has been replete with problems and failures, is completely sensible and represents a negligible cut in defense spending.

Or at least it is being portrayed as a cut in defense spending. It is in reality nothing of the kind. The Obama Administration has submitted a Defense Budget request of $534 billion. Compare this to the last Defense Budget submitted by Bush which was for a total of $513 billion. Hopefully, our educational system has not collapsed to the point that we are unable to see that this is an increase of $21 billion, NOT a decrease.

This is but a sad example of how skewed the debate has become around the defense establishment. Cutting one sorry program is decried as damaging the military even when the largest military budget in history has just been proposed. Rather than bemoaning the loss of one spectacularly bad program and trying to manipulate the public through lies that an increase is a cut, the real questions should be about the fact that this is the largest budget in history.

The facts of world military expenditures argue that we are completely off base when it comes to the issue of defense spending. We are not cutting anything, but we certainly should be. Let us look at the figures.

According to CIA- The World Factbook, posted at, the U.S. spent $623 billion dollars on military expenditures in 2008 and the rest of the world combined spent $500 billion. China had expenditures of $65 billion and Russia clocked in at $50 billion. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute put the numbers in 2007 at $547 billion for the U.S. (45% of total) $58.3 billion for China, $35.4 billion for Russia and $59.7 for our ally Britain which was second in total expenditures.

In other words, we spend around half of the total worlds military expenditure dollars. The only two countries with any realistic ability to challenge our military superiority, China and Russia spend only around a tenth of what the U.S. does. Put another way, if we were to cut our expenditures in half and they were to triple their spending we would still outspend each of them by at least $100 billion.

What are we so afraid of? Terrorism? No amount of money on earth can stop a person who is prepared to give up their own life. But the events of 9/11 cannot explain our excessive military buildup. Fighting fanatics is more about intelligence than weapons and soldiers. Geographically the U.S. is one of the most protected nations on earth. Protected by two oceans, we seriously have to question what we are so worried about. Our need to feed the military budget comes close to suggesting a collective paranoia.

In an era where politicians of all stripes are expressing concerns about deficits this is the logical place to start. The U.S. could easily pull $300 billion off the books by beginning a return to a sensible military budget. This won't happen, of course, as Eisenhower's warning of the military industrial complex has become true. Our politicians are not worried about our defense, they are worried about defending their base - the military contractors to whom they are beholden.

They Ought to Form a Band

Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity, they really ought to form a band. After all, they're all singing the same song. They're singing the blues, the song of the down and out, the song of the defeated. Rendered irrelevant by their own hubris, these blundering blowhards are now trying for one last hit before fading into obscurity.

Of course, while they're singing the blues, they will have to do it like an old time gospel band, four microphones, all out front, competing for the lead. What a great band they would make, Rush gobbling the drugs, O'Reilly stalking the groupies, Glenn, the earnest one, and Sean, the Manatee, goo goo ja goob.

Seriously, let's look at their body of work. Marching lockstep as the Bush (mis)Administration systematically destroyed the basic principles of this nation through domestic spying and international renditions and torture, started two botched wars, ruined the economy and polarized the nation, they now step forward because of their "concern" for the nation. Shouting with righteous indignation and weeping to show their tender side, they claim that it's all for the fans. Believing in nothing but ratings, they are now like the aging dinosaurs of rock, giving it their all on the farewell tour, struggling with their impending irrelevancy.

But what should we call this band? "The Dicks," would of course be perfect, but that's already taken. "Rancid" pops to mind, but again, already taken. Now what would be a name that would capture their essence, tell us all what they are really about? I've got it: "The Lunatic Fringe".

Who's Listening Now

The Obama Administration announced yesterday that it intends to extend the Bush (mis)Administration's position on warrantless wiretaps. Further, the protections extend not just to the telecoms that sold out the people, but now to the government. In essence, the Obama Administration is claiming that the government cannot be held accountable for wantonly breaking the law and snooping on citizens. In fact, Obama seems to be claiming some sort of "sovereign immunity" concerning this issue.

The right wing of this country may have let Bush and his flunkies have a free pass when it came to destroying the nation. However, I, and I am sure many others on the left, do not intend to allow Obama to trample over the Constitution in any way. Sovereign immunity is what kings used to protect themselves. The U.S. was founded to get away from such hubris. The days of kings and queens (Elizabeth II notwithstanding) are over.

Obama must immediately reverse this position. The citizens of a free country that claims to adhere to the rule of law cannot let this stand. We did not spend eight years suffering under a fool only to have the same draconian positions shoved down our throats.

As a Constitutional law professor, Obama cannot possibly see that these actions are within line with the Constitution. What can possibly be behind this action?

For a more complete legal exposition of this issue, please check Constitutional law professor Jonathan Turley's website.

British Petroleum Gulf Oil Spill Costs

  • 11 workers killed in initial blast
  • Damage to Ocean Ecosystem
  • 35,000 to 60.000 Barrels of Oil Per Day. That's somewhere between 1,500,000 to 2,500,000 gallons a day or 150 to 300 million gallons already spilled into the ocean as of July 27th by that estimate.
  • Gulf Fisheries Industry
  • Gulf Tourism (ongoing costs)
  • Long Term Health Effects to Humans and Wildlife (to be determined)

Worst Oil Spills

  • Kuwait 1991 - 520 million gallons: Gulf War I
  • Gulf of Mexico 2010 - 206 million gallons: BP Oil
  • Mexico, Bay of Campiche 1979 - 140 million gallons: Pemex Oil
  • Trinidad & Tobago 1979 - 90 million gallons: Greek Oil Tanker Atlantic Empress
  • Russia 1983 - 84 million gallons: Leaky Pipeline collapsed into Kolva River
  • Iran 1983 - 80 million gallons: Tanker collided with Oil Platform
  • South Africa 1983 -79 million gallons:Tanker Castillo de Bellver sank
  • France 1978 - 69 million Gallons: Amoco Cadiz ran aground and broke in half.
  • Angola Coastal Waters (700 miles at sea) 1991 - 51-81 million gallons: ABT Summer exploded at sea.
  • Italy 1991 - 45 million gallons: M/T Haven Oil Tanker exploded.
  • Source: Mother Nature Network. The 13 largest oil spills in history. by Laura Moss. Friday July 16, 2010.

Nuclear Accidents (Under Construction)

  • 1957 Windscale, UK
  • 1961 Idaho Falls, Idaho, US
  • 1979 Three Mile Island, Pennsylvania, US
  • 1984 Athens, Alabama, US
  • 1985 Athens, Alabama, US
  • 1986 Plymouth, Masachusetts, US
  • 1986 Chernobyl, Ukraine, USSR
  • 1996 Waterford, Connecticut, US
  • 1989 Griefwald, Germany
  • 1999 Ibaraki Prefecture, Japan
  • 2002 Oak Harbor, Ohio, US
  • 2004 Fukui Prefecture, Japan
  • Source: Benjamin Sovacool

Mining Disasters (Under Construction)

  • China 1942 - 1549 deaths
  • France 1906 - 1100 deaths
  • Japan 1963 - 447 deaths
  • Wales 1913 - 438 deaths
  • South Africa 1960 - 437 deaths
  • Source: Epic Disasters Website
  • Note: Do not look at the dates herein and conclue that mining disasters are a things of the past. Every year thousands of miners die worldwide in largely unreported accidents.

OIL IS OVER! - Resources

  • Hibbert's Peak - "The" source that explains why Oil is Over.
  • Tragedy of the Commons -Garrett Hardin
  • The Land Ethic - Aldo Leopold
  • Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight - Thom Hartmann
  • Eco-Defense: A Field Guide to Monkeywrenching


  • The Dirt People - Ray Bawarchi (yes, that's me)
  • The Razor's Edge - Somerset Maugham
  • Demian - Herman Hesse
  • Black Elk Speaks - Black Elk (as told to R. Neimur)
  • The Quiet Don - Mikhail Sholokov
  • Catcher in the Rye - J.D. Salinger
  • Catch-22 - Joseph Heller
  • 1984 - George Orwell
  • Delicious Laughter - Jallahudin Rumi
  • The Sybil - Par Lagerksvitz
  • The Fixer - Bernard Malamud
  • Spirits Rebellious - Khalil Gibran
  • The Quiet American - Graham Greene
  • Midaq Alley - Nagib Mafouz
  • Cat's Cradle - Kurt Vonnegut
  • Slaughterhouse 5 - Kurt Vonnegut
  • Farenheit 451- Ray Bradbury
  • We - Yevgeny Zamyatin


  • John Coltrane - St. John the Divine
  • Patti Smith
  • The Clash - the only band that matters
  • Billy Bragg
  • Yo Mama's Big Fat Booty Band
  • Art Blakey
  • Death - pre-punk visionaries from Detroit
  • PJ Harvey - Polly Jean, Polly Jean
  • Woody Guthrie
  • Michael Franti (Spearhead)
  • Public Enemy
  • Ray Charles - the Genius
  • Bob Dylan
  • Velvet Underground
  • Flaming Lips
  • John Doe & X
  • The Beatles

opiate of the masses

  • God is a comedian, playing to an audience too afraid to laugh. - Voltaire
  • I do not feel obliged to believe that the same god who has endowed us with sense, reason and inellect has intended us to forgo their use. - Galileo Galilei
  • The ink of a scholar is worth far more than the blood of a martyr.- Mohammad
  • If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him. - Sheldon Kopp
  • No one will be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest. - Louisa Mae Alcott
  • When it is a question of money, everyone is of the same religion.- Voltaire
  • If God were alive today, he'd be an athiest. - Kurt Vonnegut
  • The god I worship is not short of cash, Mister. - Bono
  • Jesus died for somebody's sins, but not mine. My sins they only belong to me. - Patti Smith
  • God sure baked a lot of fruitcake baby, when Adam met the Eden lady. - Joe Strummer