Rachel's Democracy & Health News #866
Thursday, August 3, 2006
From: Rachel's Democracy & Health News #866 ..........[This story printer-friendly]
August 3, 2006
PRESIDENT BUSH CLEARS THE WAY FOR A GLOBAL NUCLEAR EXPANSION
[Rachel's introduction: In recent months, President Bush has reversed long-standing U.S. policies, intending to expand nuclear power world- wide. This inevitably expands the threat from nuclear weapons.]
By Peter Montague
President Bush has said many times that nuclear weapons are the greatest threat to U.S. security, particularly nuclear weapons in the hands of hostile groups, like Al Qaeda, or unstable governments.
The tight connection between nuclear weapons and nuclear power plants is well-understood, unmistakable and unavoidable. People who want to build nuclear weapons almost always start by building a nuclear power plant. Israel developed a nuclear arsenal starting with components and know-how provided by a nuclear power plant. India did the same. So did India's chief rival, Pakistan. So did India's other major rival, China. So did North Korea, using reactors provided by China and by Switzerland. Iraq was building the Osiraq nuclear power plant until 1981 when Israel blew it to smithereens to prevent the next logical step, an Iraqi A-bomb. Iran is reportedly heading down this same path now, starting with nuclear reactors provided by our ally, Russia.
Despite the clear, tight connection between nuclear power plants and nuclear weapons, and despite the President's oft-repeated warning that the greatest threat to our national security is an atomic bomb in the wrong hands, the President is now taking very aggressive steps to expand the number of nuclear power plants worldwide.
In February, Mr. Bush announced a major new U.S. program to sell nuclear power plants all around the world. The President's program is called the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP). An important first step in the GNEP is to build many more nuclear power plants in the U.S. -- a "nuclear renaissance," as it is being called in nuclear industry puff pieces, such as this one from the New York Times.
To build more nuclear plants in the U.S., the problem of nuclear waste disposal must be solved and the GNEP offers two ways to do this, a long term solution and a short term solution.
The problem is highly-radioactive reactor fuel. To fuel a reactor, slightly-enriched uranium is formed into pellets, which are then packed into long rods. When these rods are placed close to each other in the core of a reactor, the uranium in the rods undergoes a controlled chain reaction, producing heat plus new "fission products" that are intensely radioactive, including plutonium. Eventually these unwanted fission products "poison" the chain reaction and the fuel must be withdrawn from the reactor and replaced. The poisoned fuel rods become "high level radioactive waste" and they must be held securely for upwards of 240,000 years. Because our species, homo sapiens, has only been on the planet for roughly 100,000 years, we have no experience handling long-lived, highly-dangerous problems of this nature. We are flying blind. Scientists have been working on the nuclear waste problem since 1940; however, after 66 years of intense effort, there is still no satisfactory solution in sight.
The current plan for handling these wastes is to bury them in a hole in the ground beneath the Nevada desert at a place called Yucca Mountain. Unfortunately, the Yucca Mountain waste dump has been mired in problems, including falsification of data by scientists of the U.S. Geological Survey. The Yucca Mountain dump was supposed to open in 1998, but the government now says there is no way to estimate when the site will be opened because of the many problems it has encountered. Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Energy now acknowledges that by 2010 -- 4 years from now -- the existing nuclear power plants in the U.S. will have produced enough high-level waste to fill the Yucca Mountain dump completely. Yucca Mountain will need to be expanded, or a second high-level waste dump will have to be built, and the government has not announced any plans for a second waste dump. Without some solution to this waste problem, nuclear power cannot readily expand in the U.S.
A group of private utilities calling itself Private Fuel Storage (PFS) has devised a solution to the high-level waste problem -- "temporary" storage of up to 100 years on Goshute Indian land in Skull Valley, Utah. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission issued a license to PFS in March, but the State of Utah is not enthusiastic about the project, to put it mildly, and numerous stumbling blocks remain, preventing PFS from accepting any wastes.
So how can the domestic U.S nuclear industry expand?
The long-term solution to the problem of irradiated reactor fuel is embodied in President Bush's GNEP plan -- to develop an entirely new set of machines and processes called an "advanced fuel cycle" to "reprocess" and "recycle" the irradiated reactor fuel, and reduce the volume of waste produced by each nuclear power plant, using complex machines ("fast reactors") and technologies that do not exist today. At a Congressional hearing on the "advanced fuel cycle" in April, members of Congress estimated that the GNEP could cost upwards of $200 billion. "This would put GNEP in the realm of the U.S. space program in terms of long-term cost," said Representative Al Green (D-Tex.). It seems clear that Mr. Bush and his friends at General Electric and Westinghouse -- the only U.S. firms that still manufacture nuclear power plants -- are serious about tapping the taxpayer in a major way to make this global business venture work for them.
Obviously an expensive and experimental program of this nature can expect to encounter significant delays (not to mention cost overruns). Even optimistic estimates have the first test machines starting to operate around 2014 to 2019, so this will not solve the growing high- level waste problem, which is already preventing the U.S. nuclear industry from expanding.
So some other short-term solution is needed.
As luck would have it, the President's GNEP provides the solution. As a first step toward implementing GNEP, President Bush announced July 8 that he has decided to permit "extensive U.S. civilian nuclear cooperation with Russia for the first time... reversing decades of bipartisan policy," the Washington Post reported.
The Post noted that Mr. Bush had resisted such a move for years, insisting that Russia first stop building a nuclear power station for Iran near the Persian Gulf. But the administration has changed its mind, now viewing Mr. Putin, Russia's leader, as a "more constructive partner" in trying to pressure Iran to abandon plans for making A- bombs.
Now here's the important part: The Post pointed out that, a nuclear cooperation agreement would clear the way for Russia to import and store thousands of tons of spent nuclear fuel from U.S.-supplied reactors around the world. The Post says this is a critical component of Mr. Bush's plan to spread civilian nuclear energy to power-hungry countries everywhere on earth because Russia would provide a place to send the used radioactive material. Under this scenario, it doesn't matter if the long-term solution ("fast reactors" and all the rest) ever develops -- Russia will become the world's permanent waste dump.
The Post noted that some people have criticized Russia's plan to turn itself into the world's nuclear waste dump because Russia has a miserable record of nuclear accidents and horrendous widespread contamination from nuclear wastes. Its transportation network is antiquated and inadequate for moving vast quantities of radioactive material. And the country has not fully secured the nuclear facilities it already has against theft or accidents. Not to mention that it has recently been supplying nuclear technology to Iran.
Never mind all that. The Post summarizes: Mr. Bush's new Global Nuclear Energy Partnership envisions promoting civilian nuclear power around the world and eventually finding a way to reprocess spent fuel without the danger of leaving behind material that could be used for bombs. Until such technology is developed, Mr. Bush needs someplace to store the spent fuel from overseas, and Russia is the only volunteer.
So there you have it. Mr. Bush has a grand plan for placing nuclear power plants around the globe in every country that wants one. There used to be a major hurdle blocking such proliferation of A-plants, called the Non-Proliferation Treaty. ("Proliferation" is the official term for spreading A-bomb-making capabilities from country to country.) Countries that want nuclear power plants used to have to sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), promising not to make any nuclear weapons. The NPT was standing in the way of Mr. Bush's grand plan for a nuke in every country that wants one, so earlier this year he quashed the NPT with great fanfare by announcing that he was ignoring it. He signed a deal providing U.S. nuclear power technology to India -- a nation that has pointedly never signed the NPT. As the New York Times observed, the President has turned the NPT "into Swiss cheese." In direct violation of the NPT, India will now receive nuclear fuel from the U.S., freeing India's home-made nuclear fuel for diversion into A-bombs -- the very situation the NPT was designed to avoid.
So the skids are now fully-greased for Mr. Bush's grand global plan for a nuke plant in every garage. The non-proliferation treaty is effectively dead, and the problem of high-level waste has been "solved" by arranging for it all to be sent to Russia. To be sure, some details remain to be worked out, but the outlines of the President's Grand Nuclear Plan are now in place.
Only one major question remains. Why would President Bush want to spread nuclear power plants -- and thus the very real threat of nuclear weapons -- around the world?
As we search for an answer to this perplexing question, rational thought fails us, so we turn instead to dark humor. On July 19, Mike Peters, the Pulitzer prize winning cartoonist for the Dayton Daily News ran a cartoon of three Presidential figures -- Eisenhower, Nixon, and George W. Bush. The banner above the three reads, "Republican Campaign Slogans." On his chest, Mr. Eisenhower has the words, "I like Ike." Mr. Nixon's slogan is, "Four More Years." George Bush's slogan is "WW III."
From: The New York Times (pg. C-1) .......................[This story printer-friendly]
August 2, 2006
ANXIETY RISES AS PAYCHECKS TRAIL INFLATION
[Rachel's introduction: "Since peaking in 2003, the real hourly pay of the median worker has fallen about 2 percent. The decline has been closer to 4 percent for people in the upper-middle part of the wage distribution and for those toward the bottom. In essence, most Americans have not been receiving cost-of-living raises, and the national mood seems to be shifting as a result."]
By David Leonhardt.
Last week, as the Chicago City Council prepared to vote on a bill that would impose a $10 minimum wage on the city's big-box retailers by 2010 and require them to pay health benefits as well, the big guns came out to defeat it.
Mayor Richard M. Daley said the bill was tantamount to redlining, because it would keep stores and jobs out of black neighborhoods. Andrew Young, the 1960's civil rights leader, traveled to Chicago and chided black leaders who supported the bill. Around the city, Chicagoans could see a "Don't Box Us Out!" advertising campaign paid for by Wal-Mart, and editorials in both Chicago newspapers denounced the bill.
But it passed anyway: 35 votes in favor and just 14 against, meaning that even if the mayor uses a veto -- something he's never done since taking office in 1989 -- he may lose.
Meanwhile, in Colorado on Monday, Gov. Bill Owens signed a bill requiring people to prove that they are legal residents of the United States before they can receive government benefits or a professional license. The debate over the law has dominated the news in Colorado for weeks, a good indication that immigration will be a big issue in this year's midterm elections and not just in border states.
The common ingredient in Chicago and Colorado isn't simply populist anger. It's a particular anxiety that people have about their paychecks. Whether the culprit seems to be Wal-Mart's drive for profits or an illegal immigrant who takes someone's else job, many families feel as if they're falling behind, and they're right. While it can be dangerous to make too much of two isolated incidents, these seem like a signal that the politics of the American economy may be coming to a turning point.
Going back to the 1970's, the single best predictor of the nation's mood has been its collective paycheck. For all the other things that affect public opinion, like a war or a scandal, the power of wages jumps out at you when you look at broad polling data over the last 30 years.
When pay has been steadily increasing, as it was in the 1980's and late 90's, optimism has surged. But when pay stagnates, pessimism about the country's future inevitably takes over. As Andrew Kohut, president of the Pew Research Center, says, "When their jobs aren't going anywhere, many people lose their optimism about the country making economic progress."
There have been only three periods since World War II when pay increases have fallen behind inflation. The first came in the 1970's, after decades of healthy raises. The public malaise became so severe at the time that a sitting president was moved to say, "For the first time in the history of our country, the majority of our people believe that the next five years will be worse than the past five years." A year later, that president -- Jimmy Carter -- was unseated by the Reagan revolution.
The second period started at the very end of the 1980's, and it left many Americans convinced that Europe and especially Japan had passed this country by. The worries fueled the fleeting success of presidential campaigns by H. Ross Perot, Pat Buchanan and Jerry Brown and eventually forced the early retirement of the first President Bush and the Democratic leadership in Congress.
The third period of wage stagnation is now. Since peaking in 2003, the real hourly pay of the median worker has fallen about 2 percent. The decline has been closer to 4 percent for people in the upper-middle part of the wage distribution and for those toward the bottom, according to Labor Department data analyzed by the Economic Policy Institute. In essence, most Americans have not been receiving cost-of- living raises, and the national mood seems to be shifting as a result.
In the most recent New York Times/CBS News poll, conducted in late July, people were asked how their children's living standards would one day compare with their own. Only 18 percent said "much better," and 30 percent said "somewhat better." This is the first time in the 12 years that question has been asked that fewer than half of respondents predicted that their children's lives would be better.
This fear, I think, explains a good bit of the desire to legislate higher wages in Chicago and to keep out immigrant labor in Colorado. Right now, Americans' view of the economy is nowhere near as negative as it was in the early 1980's or early 90's, but there is a real anxiety about its direction. Mr. Kohut said his polls showed a big drop in the number of people reporting that they had made progress over the last five years. According to the University of Michigan's consumer poll, a stunning 57 percent of Americans say they expect the next five years to bring periods of widespread unemployment up from 38 percent two years ago.
The obvious analysis is that this will help the Democrats, the party out of power, and to some extent it probably will. Independent voters are now nearly as pessimistic about the economy as Democrats are. But the only solid historical conclusion is that falling wages will bring some kind of political turmoil. Wage stagnation helped elect both Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton, after all.
Moreover, the complex reality of a growing economy that isn't benefiting most workers will tempt both parties in some dangerous ways. Many Democrats have taken to exaggerating the economy's problems in recent years -- overlooking, say, the resurgence of cities, the decline in interest rates and the benefits of technology -- and have ended up out of step with the voting public. "This idea that people are worse off than 20 or 30 years ago is so ludicrous," said Jason Furman, an economist who advised John Kerry's 2004 campaign. "And I've come to appreciate how damaging it is."
President Bush and his advisers, meanwhile, continue to talk about the rise in average income, which is happening almost entirely because of gains at the very top. Among their many attempts to talk up the economy, my favorite was a chart released by the Treasury Department showing that median household income had fallen since 2000 -- but not by as much as it had in the early 90's. That's probably not going to make people feel a lot better. So don't be surprised if the local outbursts of anxiety in Chicago and Colorado soon go national.
From: Los Angeles Times ..................................[This story printer-friendly]
July 27, 2006
CANCER RISK FROM INDUSTRIAL CHEMICAL RISES, STUDY FINDS
[Rachel's introduction: Trichloroethylene, or TCE, is commonly found in drinking water, air, and soil. A new report from the National Research Council says evidence is growing that TCE causes cancer. What are the implications?]
By Ralph Vartabedian
After a detailed study of the most widespread industrial contaminant in U.S. drinking water, the National Research Council will report today that evidence is growing stronger that the chemical causes cancer and other human health problems.
The 379-page report clears a path for federal regulators to formally raise the risk assessment of trichloroethylene, known as TCE, a step that has been tied up by infighting between scientists at the Environmental Protection Agency and the Defense Department.
California has some of the nation's worst TCE contamination, including vast tracts of groundwater in the San Gabriel and San Fernando valleys that are a drinking source for more than 1 million Southern Californians. The state's 67 Superfund sites with TCE contamination are clustered in Los Angeles and Santa Clara counties.
If the risk posed by TCE is significantly higher than previously thought, it could prompt lower limits for TCE in water, as well as stricter cleanups of hundreds of military bases and other polluted facilities. The contamination occurred because TCE, a chemical solvent, was widely dumped into the ground.
Already, some EPA offices are forcing tougher cleanups based on evidence that the chemical poses a greater-than-expected cancer risk.
The EPA attempted to issue a risk assessment in 2001 that found TCE to be two to 40 times more carcinogenic than previously thought, but that action was opposed by the Defense Department, the Energy Department and NASA. The Pentagon has 1,400 properties contaminated with TCE.
The Bush administration sent the matter to the National Research Council for study, based on military assertions that the EPA had overblown the risks. But the new report does not support that criticism.
"The committee found that the evidence on carcinogenic risk and other health hazards from exposure to trichloroethylene has strengthened since 2001," the report said.
The report urged federal agencies to complete their assessment of TCE risks as soon as possible "with currently available data," meaning they should not wait for additional basic research, as suggested by the Defense Department.
The report is to be formally released today by the National Research Council. An early copy was provided to The Times by the Natural Resources News Service, a Washington, D.C., nonprofit that investigates environmental issues. The authors of the study also briefed members of Congress on Wednesday.
"It is the strongest report on TCE that we have had," said Rep. Maurice D. Hinchey (D-N.Y.), whose district includes hundreds of homes that have air filtration systems to eliminate TCE vapors from the ground. "The fact that we have this TCE-laden drinking water used by millions of people is abominable."
Hinchey and others in Congress are demanding stronger cleanup standards and lower limits for the chemical in drinking water. Currently, the EPA allows 5 parts per billion; that could be lowered to as little as 1 part per billion for drinking water if the risk assessment sidetracked in 2001 is adopted, according to an analysis by the Air Force.
It would drive up cleanup costs by billions of dollars but potentially save thousands of lives, scientists say. The report's authors told Congress on Wednesday that they did not think the EPA should throw out its 2001 draft risk assessment and start over. Instead, they hope the TCE analysis can be completed within six months to a year.
Dr. Gina Solomon, an environmental health expert who served on a scientific advisory board that reviewed the original assessment, said the new report could have a profound effect on the issue.
"That is a very strong statement, a ringing endorsement of the EPA's 2001 draft risk assessment," said Solomon, an associate clinical professor of medicine at UC San Francisco and a staff scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Solomon said the report also rejected a key position of the chemical industry and Pentagon environmental experts that TCE was not dangerous at low levels of exposure.
Federal regulators should stick with the current scientific model that the cancer risk posed by TCE is proportional to the level of exposure, the National Research Council said.
In its report, the council found the evidence of TCE risk was greatest for kidney cancer, but not as high for liver cancer. It did not study other diseases that could be connected, including leukemia.
The report found merit in the Pentagon's criticism of EPA methodology on epidemiology, which is the study of how disease is distributed in the population. It called for a new survey of prior research.
The report from the National Research Council has been awaited by communities exposed to TCE across the country.
"We can't afford any more delays," said Jerry Ensminger, a former Marine drill sergeant who served at Camp Lejuene, where drinking water supplies were tainted. His daughter died at age 9 in 1976 from leukemia, which Ensminger blamed on TCE exposure.
Ensminger said he was heartened by the report's conclusions, but remained concerned about whether the government would move quickly to deal with the chemical contamination.
"I want to know why the Bush administration does not err on the side of life when it comes to the environment," he said.
Copyright 2006 Los Angeles Times
From: Liberty Tree (Vol. 1, Issue 1) .....................[This story printer-friendly]
October 1, 2005
TALKING ABOUT A REVOLUTION
Must we know when the revolution starts? Instead of looking, waiting, observing, we should just act and it will gradually become obvious. As John Dewey said: "Don't predict, so you'll know what to do. Do, so you'll know what to predict." -- Howard Zinn
[Rachel's introduction: "A profound and fundamental change in the economic system of this country is a necessary, although not sufficient, requirement for seriously addressing and diminishing racism."]
By David Cobb
David Cobb interviews Howard Zinn.
How did your upbringing in New York affect your view of the world?
I grew up in a working class family, in a working class neighborhood. At the age of 18, I encountered young radicals, and worked at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. I remember reading Upton Sinclair and Charles Dickens as a young teenager, and Marx and Engels later. I went to my first demonstration in Times Square when I was only 17, and I got knocked unconscious by a plainclothes cop.
All those experiences certainly intensified my conviction that something was wrong with this country! And it also intensified my conviction that there was something fundamentally wrong with the entire notion of capitalism. I also began to realize that the claim that the United States was a democracy was -- at least to great extent - a sham. That the rich dominated the country.
You were a decorated air force bombardier during World War II. Can you talk about that experience?
I was an enthusiastic bombardier. I left the Navy Yard to volunteer for the Army Air Corps. I wanted to fight against Fascism! I had read about the totalitarianism of Mussolini and Hitler, and I had read about the fight for liberty and freedom during the Spanish Civil War.
So you were a flag-waving American throughout the war?
Not exactly. There was a fellow I became pretty good friends with who introduced the first jarring note into my certainty that this was a just war. He was the first person I heard who described it as an "Imperialist War." He argued that both sides were actually ruled by powerful economic interests, and claimed that the governments of all the countries were openly hostile to the working people in their own country.
But the truth is that it wasn't until after the war, when I was reflecting on my own experience in bombing a small French village on the Atlantic coast, that I began to put the pieces together. This was only a few weeks before the end of the war, and a totally unnecessary bombing from a military point of view. And the reality is that I dropped napalm on a untold number of Germans and French, including civilians. This lead me to ponder the very nature of war itself.
Reading John Hershey on Hiroshima made me think further. And as I observed the post-war world, and watched the Cold War unfold as two superpowers armed themselves to the teeth with nuclear weapons, it made me wonder about the 50 million people that had "died for democracy." I thought about the huge numbers of civilians that had been killed in the bombings of Germany and Japan.
Don't get me wrong, I was and am still am convinced that Fascism had to be stopped. But I began to wonder if a war with over 50 million dead, leaving the world still in such a dangerous state, with totalitarian states in so many countries in the world, was really the best way to fight fascism.
And over time I simply became convinced that war itself is simply an outmoded and unnecessary solution to whatever problems the world may face. So I was an early and adamant opponent of the war in Vietnam, and against every war since.
That leads me to my next question, Howard. You were an active participant in both the civil rights and anti-Vietnam War movements. What can we learn from those prior struggles?
Well, I learned that when ordinary people resist oppression it is mostly ignored by the contemporary corporate media, and it is definitely ignored by traditional history textbooks. So I think we have a responsibility to future generations to document those struggles.
I also learned that important social change does not come from the initiative of governments, but from the organization and agitation of people's movements. And that lesson is repeatedly corroborated by studying the history of this country.
Throughout your career as a historian you have provided a scathing indictment of many -- if not most -- of the traditional American "heroes." Who are some of the folks you admire?
Granted, it is good to have historical figures we can admire and emulate. And such people certainly exist. But it is just silly to hold up as models the fifty-five rich, white men who drafted the Constitution as a way of establishing a government that would protect the interests of their class -- slaveholders, merchants, bondholders, land speculators.
Our country is full of heroic people who are not presidents or military leaders or Wall Street wizards, but who are doing something to keep alive the spirit of resistance to injustice and war. Today I think of Kathy Kelly and all those other people of Voices in the Wilderness, who, in defiance of federal law, have traveled to Iraq over a dozen times to bring food and medicine to people suffering under the U.S.-imposed sanctions.
I think also of the thousands of students on over a hundred college campuses across the country who are currently protesting the Iraq War or their universities' connection with sweatshop produced apparel. These are the people who give me hope and inspiration.
I've often heard you reference the famous George Orwell observation that "Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past." Could you talk about that.
It is more true today than when Orwell said it! Those in power quite literally control the past because they actually control the writing of the history books. Conscious decisions are made to omit the actions of ordinary people.
Those in power own the media -- print, radio and television -- and they intentionally fail to provide the public with the basic sense of history that would equip the ordinary citizen to understand government policies or how those polices are even made.
By omitting the struggles of people's movements from history, they convey the idea that all we can do as citizens is to vote for a savior in one of the major parties. In short, media is designed to reduce us to passive recipients of whatever action the government wants to take. And of course, that action is always taken at the behest of the rich and powerful.
In light of the incredibly subtle but effective corporate media propaganda machine in this country, what are the implications for today's social change agents?
We must develop our own independent media that can provide news, information and analysis without the corporate filter. And we did that during the Vietnam War. Community newspapers and counter- cultural papers sprang up in high schools and on college campuses. And we also created the independent press associations like the Dispatch News Service, which actually broke the story of the My Lai massacre.
And today we have the Pacific news network, and perhaps 200 truly independent community radio stations. We have Democracy Now! with Amy Goodman. We have David Barsamian and Alternative Radio. We have community cable stations and alternative newspapers. We even have a few radical columnists at mainstream papers.
Howard, this first issue of the Journal raises the question of reform and revolution. What do you see as the tensions and possible synergy between these two approaches to social change?
Putting off revolutionary change to some infinitely distant future and only dealing with "achievable" reforms consigns us to the absolute slowest pace of incremental change. Indeed, the pace can seem so slow that it seems like nothing is changing at all, which drives people into either apathy or cynicism.
On the other hand, disdaining reform and arguing that only radical revolutionary change is meaningful is to alienate the vast majority of our fellow citizens, and to miss the opportunity to help leverage incremental reform into something deeper.
It is a serious question you are raising. How can we make immediate and important reforms -- ending a war, stop racial profiling -- but at the same time to move towards more profound change. How can we work not just to end a war, but to educate people about the real nature of U.S. foreign policy, the history of U.S. expansionism, and the inherent and inescapable connection between capitalism and imperialism.
We must not only oppose racial prejudice, but to point out and remedy the underlying roots of racism. And we have to be willing to point out that any system based on corporate profit will always have an underclass. In fact, such a system requires an underclass.
So the reality is that a profound and fundamental change in the economic system of this country is a necessary, although not sufficient, requirement for seriously addressing and diminishing racism.
Is it possible to pursue both reform and revolution simultaneously, or are they mutually exclusive?
Not only is it possible to pursue reform and revolution simultaneously, as difficult as it is, they must be pursued simultaneously.
Can you expand on this? How does one pursue them simultaneously?
I always encourage people to look around themselves in their community and find an organization that is doing something that they believe in, even if that organization has only five people, or ten people, or twenty people, or a hundred people. And then get involved, especially with those groups that are committed to systemic change. This is an admittedly "reformist" approach.
But if we are not educating people regarding the underlying connections, if we don't create a consciousness of how power operates, we won't be able to create the conditions necessary to help nurture a non-violent revolution.
Is one or the other more appropriate to this particular historical moment?
Clearly we must concentrate on the movement to withdraw U.S. military forces from Iraq. But at the same time we must force our fellow citizens to dig deeper, and confront the reality of the U.S. as a war- making state.
To prepare to stop the next war before it starts, we need to be talking about alternative ways of resolving disputes, and we need to talk about creating a global justice movement so the underlying causes of war are greatly decreased.
We need to be building the global movement that will demand the end to empire, and a commitment that the wealth of the world will be shared fairly and be used to meet human needs.
Howard, is it possible for you to envision a successful and peaceful democratic revolution in the United States? If so, what does that path look like, and what would it take to move down that path?
It's possible to envision that future, although it does take some straining of the imagination and eyesight! I see it as winning victories step-by-step. Stopping a war, reducing the military budget, universal health care, re-creating a more fair and progressive tax system. I imagine us concentrating on each of these until they are won. And when enough victories are won, and if we have been strategic and smart about educating and organizing while we work on these reforms, there will be a sudden realization that systemic change is taking place, and that a democratic revolution is underway.
You have been clear that you do not consider yourself a pacifist, yet you have spent your entire life working for peace. Can you talk about that?
To me, the term "pacifist" suggests being passive -- rather than active -- resistance. This is a profound difference. For example, think of South Africa, where a decision to engage in out-and-out armed struggle would have led to a bloody civil war with huge casualties, most of them black. Instead, the African National Congress decided to put up with apartheid longer, but to wage a strategic and long-term campaign of attrition. That was a very active but non-violent resistance movement that used an incredible array of tactics -- strikes, worker sabotage, economic sanctions, and international pressure. And most importantly for me, it worked.
Is violence ever justified?
I am not an absolute pacifist, because I can't rule out the possibility that under some, carefully defined circumstances, some degree of violence may be justified. For example, if it is focused directly at a great evil. I certainly believe slave revolts are justified. And, if John Brown had really succeeded in arousing such revolts throughout the South, it would have been much preferable to losing 600,000 lives in the Civil War. And it is important to note that the makers of the U.S. Civil War -- unlike slave rebels -- did not have as their first priority the plight of the black slaves. This is sadly proven by the shameful betrayal of black interests after that war. And the Zapatista uprising that has been underway in Chiapas for a decade seems justified to me. But some armed struggles that start for a good cause get out of hand and the ensuing violence becomes indiscriminate.
Each situation has to be evaluated separately, because each one is different. In general, I believe in non-violent direct action, which involves organizing large numbers of people. Far too often, violent uprisings are the product of a small group. If enough people are organized, violence can be minimized in bringing about social change.
What historical revolutionary movements inspire your political vision and practice?
I am inspired by the Paris Commune, by the anarchists of Catalonia during the Spanish Civil War. I am inspired by the workers councils in the Soviet Union before the Bolsheviks seized power. I am inspired by the Hungarian uprising of 1956. I am inspired by the Cuban revolution in part -- deeply opposing the concentration of power, the jailing of dissidents -- but honoring the profound systemic improvements in education, health and culture.
What historical reformist movements inspire your political vision and practice?
Well, there is the abolitionist movement, the labor movement, the women's movement, the civil rights movement, the anti-Vietnam War movement.
Howard, the reality is that U.S. elections have never been very democratic. What changes would it take to make U.S elections really meaningful and democratic?
We need to change the rules in the various states so that third parties have a chance to compete. Third parties must have access to the ballot and to debates. We need to change our voting system away from the "winner-take-all" system and move to proportional representation. We need to equalize campaign expenditures. A system of publicly funded elections would be a start.
Were the 2000 and 2004 elections merely "business as usual" or something more?
I agree with you that every U.S. election is flawed as a result of the monopolization of the electoral process by the two major parties. But the last two elections definitely introduced a special corruption because of the position of the United States in the world.
Thank you for speaking with us, Howard.
About Howard Zinn
Howard Zinn was raised in a working-class family in Brooklyn, and flew bombing missions for the United States in World War II, an experience he now points to in shaping his opposition to war. In 1956, he became a professor at Spelman College in Atlanta, a school for black women, where he soon became involved in the Civil rights movement, which he participated in as an adviser to the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and chronicled, in his book SNCC: The New Abolitionists. Zinn collaborated with historian Staughton Lynd and mentored a young student named Alice Walker. When he was fired in 1963 for insubordination related to his protest work, he moved to Boston University, where he became a leading critic of the Vietnam War. He is perhaps best known for A People's History of the United States, which presents American history through the eyes of those he feels are outside of the political and economic establishment.
About David Cobb
David Cobb was the 2004 Green Party nominee for President of the United States. He served as General Counsel for the national Green Party until declaring his candidacy in 2003. His legal career is dedicated to challenging illegitimate corporate power and to creating democracy. In addition to his service as a Democratizing Elections Fellow with Liberty Tree, David is a member of the Democracy Unlimited of Humboldt County Steering Committee, a co-founder and member of the Board of Directors for the Green Institute, and a member of the Sierra Club's national Corporate Accountability Committee.
From: Nature ..............................................[This story printer-friendly]
July 20, 2006
EDITORIAL: SAFETY CATCH
[Rachel's introduction: The White House is working overtime to roll- back, ignore, and grid-lock environmental regulation in the U.S. Risk assessment is the center piece of the plan.]
A bulletin issued earlier this year by the White House Office of Management and Budget contains a number of recommendations on how the different parts of the US federal government should go about assessing risk. (See related story.) The document, when it is finalized, will have an important bearing on how regulatory decisions such as environmental rules are made.
The topic of risk assessment sounds arcane but is of vital importance, especially to the United States' poorest communities. The poor have no say in setting the rules but bear the brunt of most environmental threats, including dirty water, polluted air and chemicals left behind on industrial sites.They will suffer the consequences if the balance of risk assessment is shifted in favour of the polluter. And if the current draft is implemented, that's exactly what will happen.
The United States has pioneered the use of quantitative risk assessments, which are now widely used around the world. The National Academies has played a central role in setting the agenda for how such assessments should be conducted and their outcomes incorporated into the related sphere of 'risk management', whereby regulators and other agencies take action in response to an identified risk.
The proposed bulletin would increase the range of circumstances in which formal risk assessment would be required before government agencies could take action or set regulations. It would also put in place firm guidelines on how these assessments are conducted.
This effort echoes the legislation on risk assessment and cost-benefit analysis that the Republican-led Congress attempted to pass in the late 1990s. That legislation failed, opposed by moderate Republicans such as Sherwood Boehlert, now chair of the House science committee, who rightly saw it as an attempt to stifle the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Food and Drug Administration and other regulators.
That legislation was, at least, a relatively transparent attempt to roll back regulation, which at the time was an important element in the Republicans' political agenda. The call for government to get off the backs of companies and individuals had considerable resonance then, and indeed it still has. But it is an argument that has lost some of its political appeal, and it is certainly not being made in public to support the White House's proposed risk-assessment bulletin.
Some risk assessments done by government agencies do fall short of reasonable standards. Only last week, a National Academies panel criticized an assessment by the EPA into the chemical dioxin. But these shortfalls could be addressed without tying up the whole government in a set of rules to be administered from the centre by a small, heavily politicized office with few technical staff -- the OMB's Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs.
It is not the first time the OMB has sought to reform the regulatory environment through this office, whose recently departed director, John Graham, was a former head of the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis. When it proposed a strict definition of how the science behind regulatory decisions should be peer-reviewed, the National Academies cried foul, and the definition was relaxed.
This time, the OMB has asked the National Academies to review the proposed bulletin, confident that such a review will endorse its technical content. But the bulletin's technical content is not being disputed: what is at issue is its scope, suitability for purpose, cost and the effort that might be wasted in enforcing compliance.
The motivation of Graham, his mooted successor Susan Dudley of George Mason University in Virginia, and indeed of President Bush himself, is not really in doubt. What they want is not better regulation, but less regulation. They should admit as much, instead of hiding their agenda behind the mantra of 'sound science'.
Copyright 2006 Nature Publishing Group
From: Liberty Tree (Vol. 1, Issue 2) .....................[This story printer-friendly]
May 1, 2006
[Rachel's introduction: The movement to avoid catastrophic climate change will include a clean energy revolution -- greatly improved energy efficiency and energy conservation. We need a new democracy movement to make it possible for governments, local and national, to take corrective action on climate change.]
By Ted Glick
Since about the time that the worldwide Kyoto Protocol officially went into effect on Feb. 16th, 2005, there has been a marked upsurge in activism on the climate crisis. This is a very positive development, given that global warming is real, it is having destructive impacts now, as in Hurricane Katrina, and it is accelerating.
A January 29th article on the front page of the Washington Post put it this way:
Now that most scientists agree human activity is causing Earth to warm, the central debate has shifted to whether climate change is progressing so rapidly that, within decades, humans may be helpless to slow or reverse the trend.
Others, like Stephen Byers, a top aide to Tony Blair, think it is not decades but years. In early 2005, a task force he co-chaired concluded that we could reach "the point of no return in a decade." Leading scientists, journalists and others in the USA and worldwide agree. As author Bill McKibben recently wrote in an article for the Boston Globe, referring to the works and views of NASA's Goddard Space Institute Director James Hansen:
... so we go on burning ever more fossil fuel, and the earth keeps getting warmer--as Hansen's monthly monitoring of 10,000 temperature gauges around the planet makes depressingly clear. But the new high temperature record isn't the real reason Hansen is so agitated right now, nor the reason the Bush administration would like to silence him. Instead, it's the messages about future change that his computer climate models keep spitting out. Those models reveal a miserable situation at present, but a dire one in the years ahead. In his December speech to the Geophysical Union, [Hansen] noted that carbon dioxide emissions are 'now surging well above' the point where damage to the planet might be limited. Speaking to a reporter from The Washington Post, he put it bluntly: Having raised the earth's temperature 1 degree Fahrenheit in the last three decades, we're facing another increase of 4 degrees over the next century. That would 'imply changes that constitute practically a different planet.' The technical terms for those changes include drought, famine, pestilence, and flood. 'It's not something we can adapt to,' he continued. 'We can't let it go on another 10 years like this.' And that's what makes him so dangerous now. He's not just saying that the world is warming. He's not just saying we're the cause. He's saying: We have to stop it now. Not wait a few decades while Exxon Mobil keeps making record profits. Not wait a few decades until there's some painless new technology like hydrogen cars that lets us drive blithely into the future. Not even wait a few years until the current administration can cut and run from Washington. We are literally in a race against time. It is the responsibility of all conscious people living today to take up this issue with all the energy and determination that we can gather. Present and future generations of not just the human race but all life forms on this planet are depending on us.
What To Do
Climate activists are pretty much in agreement that there are three primary tasks which must continue to be supported and much more seriously undertaken if we are to have a chance of avoiding this truly apocalyptic future.
One is energy conservation: the insulation of homes and buildings; switching to compact fluorescent (CFC) light bulbs; using low-energy appliances; setting thermostat temperatures low in the winter and, where air conditioning is used, high in the summer; using hybrid, electric or other high mpg vehicles; recycling; and other actions.
A second is energy efficiency: Tightening up the way energy is produced, distributed and used in industry, business and other institutions. Estimates for how much energy could be saved in this way range from 30 to 70 percent.
The third is a clean energy revolution: The substitution of wind, solar, clean biomass, tides, geo-thermal and hydrogen for the oil, coal and natural gas that are now being used.
There are differences, however, among environmentalists on certain major issues. One point is over the question of nuclear energy. Some of the more compromise-oriented environmental groups are willing to accept nuclear power, even if unenthusiastically. Most groups reject nuclear power as a viable alternative.
A second point of divergence has to do with the Kyoto Protocol. Although most US environmental groups are supportive in general, very few actively promote it. Many seem intimidated by one Senate vote in 1997. In the words of Wikipedia:
On July 25th of that year, before the Kyoto Protocol was to be negotiated, the US Senate unanimously passed by a 95-0 vote the Byrd- Hagel Resolution (S. Res. 98), which stated the sense of the Senate was that the United States should not be a signatory to any protocol that did not include binding targets and timetables for developing as well as industrialized nations or "would result in serious harm to the economy of the United States."
This bi-partisan dismissal of Kyoto was reflected more recently during the 2004 Presidential campaign when Bush campaigned against it and the Democrats consciously left it off of their platform. Other, more radical environmental groups are critical of the Kyoto Protocol because "carbon trading" is a main element of the agreement. Carbon trading is distinct from "carbon reduction" in that the latter focuses on penalizing those countries that do not meet their emission reduction targets. These groups are also critical of carbon trading from an environmental justice perspective because implementation in the South has sometimes exacerbated economic injustice while gaining only questionable positive impacts as far as greenhouse gas reductions.
The year 2005 witnessed the emergence of a new group, the Climate Crisis Coalition (CCC), which openly organized support for the Kyoto Protocol even as they articulated in their Kyoto and Beyond petition (www.kyotoandbeyond.org) that "we recognize the current goals of the Protocol are too low -- and its timetable too long -- to effectively halt the escalating instability of the global climate." It went on to say, however, that "the Kyoto Protocol is the only existing diplomatic framework through which the entire global community can address this unprecedented challenge."
Over the course of 2005, particularly in relationship to organizing toward the December United Nations Climate Conference in Montreal, there was a growing number of primarily local, grassroots organizations that adopted the CCC position and circulated its petition.
There is a much larger issue, of course, that is not just for the organized environmental groups, but for everyone within the progressive movement. That is the issue of corporate power.
The heating up of the earth began with the industrial revolution and the burning of fossil fuels--coal and, later in history, oil and natural gas. As economies have developed around the world, all of them have relied upon one or more of these energy sources to fuel that development. This has been true whether a country's economic structure is capitalist or socialist.
At the same time, there is no question that the growing dominance of transnational corporate power, backed up by military force over the course of the last century, has led to the enshrining of corporate profit as a societal objective irrespective of the impact upon increasingly fragile ecosystems. Powerful energy corporations like ExxonMobil and Chevron have used their wealth and power to buy politicians who do their bidding, mainly, but not only, Republicans.
Is it possible to slow, stop and reverse global warming as long as corporate power persists in its present form?
From a strategic perspective, should the global survival movement, the movement for a clean energy revolution, become more explicitly an anti-corporate movement?
Prior to my active involvement on this issue over the last couple of years, I would have been quick to say yes, without question. However, I have learned that, as with many other things in life, it is not so simple. The fact is that there are a growing number of corporations who are not just speaking out about the need to curb greenhouse gas emissions but are actually taking action to reduce their own. The entire insurance industry is very concerned, for understandable reasons, about the long-term threat to their profitability and even their existence as global warming leads to more Category 4 and 5 hurricanes, major droughts and storms. Magazines like Fortune and Business Week are carrying stories sympathetic to those calling for government action to reduce emissions.
Of course, it is difficult to envision the overall corporate world -- the super-rich of the United States and the world -- being willing to participate in the kind of fundamental social and economic transformation necessary, and urgently necessary, if we are to halt before that "point of no return." Corporate globalization is a highly energy intensive process with the transportation costs involved in shipping goods around the world. There is no question that we need to move as rapidly as possible to decentralize and localize economic and social life to reduce our need for oil and gas. Besides their clean and renewable nature, an additional advantage to wind and solar power is that their use allows people to get off the energy grid of utility corporations and be more self-sufficient. This is absolutely necessary for survival, an essential direction.
It is completely on target for climate activists to be explicit about these issues, and to call into question the corporate system itself. To the extent that this helps to build a stronger independent progressive movement operating outside of the corporate-dominated, two-party system, that is a good thing. But it is also consistent to demand immediate action on climate change by individual corporations and banks. There have to be many approaches to succeeding in the life- and-death struggle to stabilize our climate.
Urgent Action, Grassroots Organizing
It seems to me that the urgency of our situation calls for two approaches right now.
One is the organization of a visible political movement. This means demonstrations in the streets. It means hunger strikes, nonviolent civil disobedience, actions that underline the urgency of our situation.
Sooner or later it has to mean a massive march on Washington, perhaps combined with a mass nonviolent direct action.
The other approach is widespread and ongoing local grassroots organizing, educating our communities about this crisis, linking it to the need for more democracy, pointing out, for example, that a clean energy revolution can create millions of jobs. We should be doing this in 2006 in relationship to the upcoming Congressional elections, demanding that candidates for office support a strong platform of action to address this crisis and supporting those who already have the right positions. We need to get more local governments to make energy conservation, efficiency and a clean energy transition central to how they govern. And we need a new democracy movement to make it possible for governments -- local and national -- to take corrective action on climate change.
No single issue is more important than this one.
Ted Glick is a co-founder and leader of the Climate Crisis Coalition: http://www.climatecrisiscoalition.org
He is also acting coordinator of the Independent Progressive Politics Network: http://www.ippn.org
From: U.S. Climate Emergency Council .....................[This story printer-friendly]
July 27, 2006
PROTEST AND RALLY DEMANDING CLIMATE JUSTICE -- AUG. 26
[Rachel's introduction: A protest and rally demanding climate justice will occur Saturday August 26, 2006 in the Washington D.C area. Organized by the Climate Emergency Council and the Chesapeake Climate Action Network]
WHAT: Protest and Rally Demanding Climate Justice and Truth Telling from the NOAA Leadership
WHERE: 1305 East-West Hwy, Silver Spring, MD 20910
WHEN: Noon -- 3pm, Saturday August 26
WHO: U.S. Climate Emergency Council and the Chesapeake Climate Action Network
Below and attached is information about an important action a month from now in the Washington, D.C. area. The climate action movement cannot let the first anniversary of Hurricane Katrina pass without visible action in solidarity with Katrina survivors and for action on global warming!
We are looking for many more groups to endorse this action and help to build it in whatever ways you can. Please let us hear from you!
One year after Hurricane Katrina
Demonstrate August 26 in the D.C. Area at NOAA's National Headquarters
Join Us As We Demand:
** Justice for Katrina Survivors!
** NOAA Leadership, Stop the Global Warming Cover-Up!
Katrina survivors and noted national leaders will speak. Activists will read aloud the names of hundreds of people still missing from Katrina.
Hurricane Katrina caused over 1500 deaths. On Saturday, August 26, at 12 noon, outside the headquarters of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in Silver Spring, Md., let's join together to remember and mourn for those who died while we demand action on the greatest source of future Katrina-like disasters: global warming. We will call for jobs, housing, health care, environmental cleanup and justice for Katrina survivors. We will demand that our government get serious about cutting the global warming pollution that is creating stronger and more frequent Category 4 and 5 hurricanes, according to scientists
Instead of protecting Americans, NOAA's leadership, in direct violation of the agency's mission to warn the nation about "dangerous weather" and "improve our understanding and stewardship of the environment," is steadfastly ignoring or distorting the growing number of scientific studies linking major hurricanes to global warming. Their actions are placing tens of millions of coastal Americans at greater risk of experiencing, over the coming years and decades, the kind of catastrophic impacts we saw in 2005 when Hurricane Katrina killed over 1500 people, displaced two million others and inflicted $200 billion in damages.
If NOAA's leadership continues to violate NOAA's mission, it's time for new leadership.
It's Time to Stand Up for Justice and Truth-Telling!
Initiated by the U.S. Climate Emergency Council,
www.climateemergency.org, 973-338-5398, 301-891-6844, firstname.lastname@example.org
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