In the News

In the News, December 2016

More FOX News Dirt from Megyn Kelly.  In her new book “Settle for More,” Kelly unloads about what goes on at FOX, the Republican “news” cable channel run for years by CEO Roger Ailes.  Ailes, former top consultant for Nixon, Reagan, Bush, and Giuliani, apparently sexually harassed her for years.  Meanwhile, Trump and Ailes were in constant contact about how to present Trump favorably on FOX.  Aisles instructed all programs to mention at least four times per hour (A) Hillary’s emails; (B) Benghazi.  Trump disliked Kelly and was alarmed that she would interview him.  On the night of the TV debate, Ailes sent a limo for Kelly and the driver insisted they stop for coffee.  An hour later,  Kelly suddenly became violently ill and was throwing up.  Now she is claiming that they drugged her.

Fake News on Google and Facebook.  Speaking of fake news, critics have lashed out at other “news” sources such as Google and Facebook.  They claim that both of them carried phony news in an attempt to sway the election.  Facebook “news” for example spread a false story about Donald Trump being endorsed by the Pope.  

Your cellphone number compromises your privacy.  Information mining companies (banks, social networks) are now storing (and selling) information about you based on your cellphone number.

Is it OK to Eat Food Off the Floor?    A doctor says yes.    Microbiologists have studied bacteria on all kinds of surfaces and discovered for example that the floor is actually cleaner than the average kitchen counter.  Refrigerator handles are twice as contaminated.  Three times worse is the faucet handle but that is nothing compared to the toilet flush handle.  What’s really bad? The cell phones of health care workers which are right up there with dollar bills.  And then there are gas pump handles, ATM buttons, remote controls, and computer keyboards.  But you have to read the article to see what is the dirtiest of all with 20 million colonies per square inch.

Gene La Rocque, Decorated Veteran Who Condemned Waste of War, Dies at 98.  Admiral LaRocque was a much decorated Navy veteran who spoke out against the wastes of war.  He founded the Center for Defense Information which performed informed opinion about the Pentagon, worked toward averting nuclear war,  and attempted to scrutinize the military-industrial complex.  He will be missed.

Are Supplements Beneficial?  The Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 allows the diet supplement industry to market anything they want without evidence that these products are safe or effective.  The result?  A $30 billion dollar a year industry.  Unfortunately, studies show little benefit.

Letters to the Editor: Children and the Trump Effect

To the Editor:

On Tuesday at the drinking fountain, my 10-year-old biracial son overheard a white student taunt an Asian student, “If Trump wins today, you’ll be going back to China.” He wasn’t even Chinese. The day before, at my 15-year-old daughter’s school, a cafeteria table full of girls started chanting, “Build the wall!” as she and her African-American and Muslim friends sat silently staring.

Many students have taken to social media with similar language, like “send the minorities back.” I live in New York, not a Southern or rust belt state. I’m not a historian, but this is a very scary moment in time.    MICHELLE CAIOLA,  Mamaroneck, N.Y.

 

To the Editor:

My 10-year-old daughter learned a lot during the election campaign: that most of the time it’s O.K. to lie; that not paying your debts and taxes is just fine; that people who are different are suspect; that having a stranger grope you is no big deal; that reading and preparedness are overrated and that science is a hoax. Also, that it’s O.K. never to admit mistakes; that bullying pays off; and that ugliness, hatred and violence are appropriate responses to disagreement.

This is apparently how more than 60 million Americans feel: enough to elect Donald Trump president. Nevertheless, I will do my best to counter these twisted beliefs and encourage my daughter to treat all people fairly and to choose only leaders who respect the law, embrace difference and give more than they take.  CHRIS BELDEN,   Ridgefield, Conn.

Russian Meddling.  Remember back in July when Trump asked Russia to hack into Hillary’s emails?  Apparently they did so.  The Kremlin also launched a barrage of fake negative news about Hillary.  The Director Homeland Security and the director of national intelligence both said they were confident of Russian interference.  Both the NYT and the LAT recently featured lead editorials about this, but only Democrats are asking for an investigation.  Apparently Pres. Obama knew about this long ago but was reluctant to do anything because it might make it appear that he was trying to help Hillary.  Other U.S. officials may want to play this down for fear that they would look incompetent.  Or perhaps they don’t want anyone remembering  how U.S. intelligence was deeply involved in setting up (and tearing down) dictators in other countries.  Nevertheless, the thought of Russia being able to throw the U.S. election is deeply disturbing.  Why can’t anyone hack the emails of the Trump family? Or Chris Christie, Jeff Sessions, Rudy Giuliani, Newt Gingrich, Steve Bannon, etc.  Can you imagine what vile things would come to light?

Hate Crimes Rise After Trump Election.  A few weeks after the election, the Denver Post featured a front page banner headline Anxious In America .  It described the sudden increase in hate crimes against people of color, gays, Muslims, and even women.  Apparently this is a national trend as racists and their like felt vindicated by the election and viewed it as a green light to engage in hate crimes.  Governor Hickenlooper called for calm and urged Trump and his followers to take steps to soothe fears.

Obama Hands a Gift to Trump.  During the election campaign, Trump repeatedly called the economy a disaster and blamed it on Obama and the Democrats.  Low information Trump supporters actually believed this lie.  Everyone (except Trump supporters) knows that President George W. Bush had the worst economic record of any president since Hoover. He holds the worst performance for GDP growth, stock market performance and job creation of any president of at least the most recent 11 presidents, and is near the bottom of the lists for most other measures. President Bush left office with the S&P 500 being worth 1/3 less than it was when he entered office. The Republicans left the country in a downward spiral and handed Obama a horrible economic record.  Fortunately, Obama was able to turn it around.  See the front page of the NYT Dec. 3:  President Obama is Handing a Strong Economy to his Successor 

Trump Makes the World Tilt.  Also during the election campaign, Donald Trump expressed his admiration for Putin and openly encouraged Putin to meddle in the election (which Putin did).  Putin was overjoyed when Trump expressed a desire to weaken the 28 country NATO alliance, the cornerstone of American security and foreign policy efforts since 1949.  The world is getting the message that under Trump the United States will no longer be a great leader.  In the Far East, Vietnam, Malaysia, Thailand, and the Philippines are starting to tilt toward China.  And the recent election in France indicates that Europe is tilting toward Russia French Election Hints at European Tilt Toward Russia (NYT Nov. 30)      Meanwhile, Trump breaches diplomatic protocol and goes out of his way to insult China  or you could read this analysis from Nov. 29 called The End of the Anglo-American World  (Trump is not even in office yet and he is already turning the world upside down.  How much serious damage can he do to our country and the world in 4 (or 8) years?  If you want to spoil your holidays (and maybe the remainder of this century), read Harvard Professor Yascha Mounk’s in the forthcoming issue of the journal Democracy.  He concludes that democracies are not as secure as people think.  According to him, “The warning signs are flashing red.”  Will Trump provide the dynamite to blow up the free world? 

What Does ‘Alt-Right’ Really Mean?  When Trump appointed Steve Bannon, champion of white supremacists, to become the chief White House strategist,  the term ‘Alt-Right’ began to appear with alarming frequency.  The term was coined in 2010 by white supremacist leader Richard Spenser as a euphemism for hate groups (Nazis, anti-Semites, anti-Muslim, anti-gay, racists, and even some women haters).  Now there is a backlash and a dispute in the main stream media over what to call this movement.  A raging debate broke out in the Washington Post recently illustrated by this reader who wrote:  “Stop calling them ‘Alt-Right!’  They are racists, white supremicists, and Nazis!”  See: News Outlets Rethink the Usage of ‘Alt-Right” NYT Nov. 29.

H.L Mencken Comments on Donald Trump.  How is that possible?? Mencken died in 1956! Thanks to Lois Rothschild for this gem:

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Court Reopens Dispute Over Who Pays for Edison’s Blunders.  The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals will review the controversial decision by the CPUC to soak taxpayers for the failed San Onofre steam generators.  Citizens’ Oversight has sued to block the decision to have ratepayers charged for 70% of the $4.7 billion costs.  Jeff McDonald wrote a good summer which appeared as a big spread in both the LATimes and the San Diego U-T.   Meanwhile, the WIPP (Waste Isolation Pilot Plant) in New Mexico has still not reopened after fires and explosions there on Feb. 14, 2014.  The tab is over $2 billion and still running making it one of the most expensive nuclear disasters in the U.S. (about the same as the Three Mile Island disaster in 1979).  Think about this when someone says that nuclear is cheap! (They don’t count disasters.)  WIPP is the nation’s only underground nuclear waste repository.  More worrisome is the talk about sticking it to Nevada and forcing the reopening of Yucca Mountain even though Nevada produces no nuclear waste and has been irradiated upside down and backwards by nuclear weapons testing. Republicans are hoping that Trump will get revenge on Harry Reid who is leaving office.  The Yucca  Mountain project was terminated because scientists concluded that there was no way to prevent deep underground radioactive contamination of the water tables (it is too small to hold the nation’s nuclear waste).

Choice Letters to the Editor

FILLING THE SWAMP, LAT Dec. 3

To the editor: Congratulations to those of you who voted for President-elect Donald Trump or failed to vote because you weren’t happy with the choices. (“Trump to preside over the richest Cabinet in U.S. history,” Dec. 1)

You didn’t get Hillary Clinton, but here’s what we all got:

  • Possibly the loss of health insurance for more than 20 million people and the loss of Medicare or Medicaid benefits to millions of the poor or elderly.
  •  A potential Environmental Protection Agency administrator who doesn’t believe in climate change.
  •  A billionaire who has never attended a public school as the next Education secretary.
  • A former Wall Street banker as the next Treasury secretary.
  • Another billionaire affectionately known as the “king of bankruptcy” as the next Commerce secretary.

But don’t worry. Trump said he wouldn’t be controlled by Wall Street or special interests. He said he owes no favors to anyone. Still, we know he will never fully separate himself or his family from the wealth he has amassed. We know that he will continue to profit from his overseas holdings, whether directly or into the pockets of his children. We know that his own interests could put our country in danger.

How do we know? Because about the only truth Trump has ever uttered is that winning at any cost is all that matters to him. And now that he has been elected, to hell with the rest of us.

 

Terrie McKinley, Aliso Viejo

SORE WINNERS,  NYT, Nov. 29

To the Editor:

We all know sore losers, but President-elect Donald Trump has reflected an unusual form of behavior, that of a sore winner. We try to teach our children to accept defeat with dignity as well as disappointment, and I wonder what they think of our future leader who cannot even bring himself to be gracious in victory.

DAVID NOCHIMSON

Santa Monica, Calif.

 

 

 

 

 

In the News November 2016

Hillary Easily Wins the Election  In the popular vote, the one used by most democratic countries, Hillary easily beat Trump by millions of votes.  Congratulations, Hillary!  Unfortunately, we don’t have a modern democratic system but rather an 18th century version which assures that mere voters cannot determine the outcome of a presidential election.  When George Bush was appointed President (another recent “President” who lost the popular vote) there was a huge outcry and widespread demand to eliminate the outmoded electoral system.  Now this is coming up yet again, but chances are slim.  Why?  It would need a Constitutional amendment which has to be approved by the states.  There are about 13 states where anyone voting gets more than one vote.  How will they ever agree to give up their undemocratic supervoting status?

News in Brief.   Scientists have discovered that lots of small quakes (200 recently in the Salton Sea area) tend to raise the risk of larger ones.  They have revised the chances of a 7.0 or greater quake near the San Andreas fault from 1 in 6000 to 1 in 100….Did you know that the seldom used third stanza of the Star Spangled Banner contains racist language?  Francis Scott Key was angry at slaves who joined the British in return for a promise of freedom….A 600 year old oak tree in Basking Ridge, NJ, perhaps the oldest in the country, finally died.  I was alive when Christopher “discovered” America.  George Washington was said to have picnicked under it….The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced that the Earth’s record breaking heat streak is over.  For 16 months in a row the temperature was the hottest in recorded history. But September broke the strek because it was only the second hottest on record – by a few hundredths of a degree….Carrie Tolstedt, the Wells Fargo executive who oversaw the program where 5,300 employees scammed customers with fraudulent bank accounts, retired with a $124,6 golden parachute….In the year 2000, 32.8 million people lived in poverty.  In 2015 the figure was 43.1 million.

Where Did Humans Come From?  Scientists recently published in the journal Nature the results of a study using genetic sequencing of DNA from people all over the world. We now know that the human race originated in Africa about 200,000 years ago and began to migrate out of Africa about 50-80,000 years ago.  All modern humans no matter where they live trace their ancestry to Africa.  What about the universe and its origins?  NASA recently announced that the Hubble space telescope found 10 times more galaxies than previously thought.  Scientists now estimate about 2 trillion galaxies in the universe.  Some galaxies contain a trillion stars, but our puny Milky Way has only about 300 billion.  You do the math to find the number of stars:  two trillion X one trillion, and then multiply times the number of planets around each star (they now say there is a newly discovered planet in our own solar system).  After digesting this, contemplate the importance of Earth in the greater scheme of things.

Chapman University Survey of Fears 2016.  In case you wondered how many people really believe in conspiracy theories, consider this random sample of 1,511 Americans nationwide.  Here is the percent of those who believe that the government is concealing what they know about alien encounters (42.6%), Obama’s birth certificate (30.2%), the 911 attacks (54.3%), the plans for a one world government (32.9%), and the death of supreme court justice Antonin Scalia (27.8%).  Only 26% disagreed with all 9 most popular conspiracy theories. Those most likely to believe in conspiracy theories tended to be Republican, Catholic (or Biblical literalist), and those with a low education level. Those who believed in a lot of conspiracies tended to distrust others, fear Obamacare (57.3%), were more likely to buy guns, and believed that the world would end during their lifetime.

Laos War Exposed.  You don’t have to be a conspiracy theorist to know that some government lies are real.  Remember the war on Laos that never happened?  President Obama recently declared that it was time to acknowledge what was concealed at the time of the Vietnam War.  The U.S. dropped over 2 million tons of bombs on Laos, more than all the munitions dropped on Germany and Japan in World War II. Turns out that Laos is the most heavily bombed country in the history of the planet.  

Do Gun Control Laws Reduce Violence?  Yes.  Although denied by the gun lobby, research now shows the benefits of gun control legislation.

Does the ‘Trump Effect’ Teach Prejudice?  Are children adopting some of the negative attitudes and prejudices espoused by Donald Trump?  A developmental psychologist says that children are cultural sponges.  Research shows that by the time they reach kindergarten they can adopt implicit racial attitudes and attribute positive or negative values based on gender, race, or wealth.

Teacher Pension Rip-Offs.  The NYT has been running a series about how teachers get ripped off by bad pension plans that have hidden high commissions.  Look up Tara Siegel Bernard and check out one of her recent posts.

Did You Make the Trump Insult List?  On Oct. 24, the NYT ran a double page spread in tiny print of the 282  “people, places, and things” that Trump insulted in the last few months.  Check to see if you made the list.

14 Reasons Not to Vote for Trump.  The New York Daily News has a marvelous expose on the Trump campaign. Thanks to Chuck Reutter for this gem.

Judge Rules in Favor of Citizens Oversight.  San Diego superior court judge Joel Wohlfeil ruled in favor of Ray Lutz and Citizens Oversight Projects (COPs) in their lawsuit against San Diego County Registrar Michael Vu, et al. The ruling finds that ALL Vote-By-Mail ballots must be included in the 1% manual tally audit, a move that will help insure election integrity.  Congratulations, Ray!

 

 

 

In the News, October 2016

 

First the Bad News.  We are now just finding out that the sugar industry paid medical doctors back in 1967 to publish deceptive research intended to shift blame for heart disease on fat rather than on its own sugar….Adblock Plus started out as a way to avoid intrusive ads online and is now used on 100 million devices. But with deceptive stealth it now rakes in tons of money doing the opposite: allowing ads in….American Airlines, Southwest, United, and Alaska Airlines were fined by the FAA for deliberately deceiving passengers about their rights after they got bumped from flights….Apple has been dodging taxes not only from the U.S. but from the European Union (they are technically “located” in Ireland) which is demanding $14.5 billion in back taxes. A law professor comments that U.S. companies are the grandmasters of tax avoidance….Speaking of tax cheats, we are now hearing the Republican ritual of demanding an end to the estate tax (which Republicans call the “death tax”).  “No family will have to pay the death tax. We will repeal it,” said Trump in Detroit. This tax kicks in only for estates of more than $10.9 million. It benefits no one but the super rich one-percenters like Trump who want more of the pie for themselves….Who is king of tax avoidance?  Here is the NYT front page headline for Sept. 18: “Trump Built His Empire As King of the Tax Break”….  Cancer has now replaced heart disease as the number one killer in California….Your worst nightmare of mergers: Bayer is taking over Monsanto….Exxon Mobile quietly researched global warming but they did not like the results which found it was real.  They suppressed the science and instead funded global warming deniers….And finally the brazen sham at Wells Fargo.  Thousands of employees were pressured to open millions of illegal phony bank accounts without customer knowledge or permission.  When the scam was revealed, CEO John Stumpf “took responsibility” by firing the low-level employees and rewarding those who managed the program (the executive who ran the program departed with a $124.6 million bonus).  And now JPMorgan Chase is being investigated for bribery. Reports are that the bank made special efforts to hire the children of China’s ruling elites.  Are there any honest banks out there?

Football and Conformity.  Remember the familiar expression, “When everyone thinks alike, no one thinks at all.”  It is amazing how many people were upset when a professional athlete chose to protest  by not saluting the flag.  Too many people conflate patriotism with flag waving rituals (or militarism).  Here is what a stockbroker had to say.  And if you haven’t seen the movie Snoden, go have a look and think about whether he should be vilified as a criminal or celebrated as a hero.

Fox News Exposed.  It is not just the sexual harassment at Fox which is now revealed but also lengths to which they go to distort the news.  Now we learn that their broadcasters were ordered to repeat four times an hour “news” about Benghazi and Clinton’s email.  Roger Ailes discovered long ago that if you repeat lies over and over that eventually people will believe them (Trump learned from Ailes and uses the same tactic).  But now there is blowback even by conservative Republicans.  Fox is partly responsible for promoting Trump uncritically and the result may be the destruction of the Republican Party.

False Equivalence.  There are some who argue that the earth is flat, the holocaust never happened, and climate change is a hoax.  Should their views be covered and promoted equally by the media so they can claim that they cover both sides of an issue?  Those who seek to minimize the enormous number of lies told by Trump argue that Clinton is just the same (equivalent) because of her emails.   The press buys into this and the result is that both candidates are seen by many as equally flawed.   In the Clinton vs. Donald race (which the media call Hillary vs. Trump) the media carry much responsibility for the sorry state of affairs in this election.

Letter to the Editor of the Month

To the Editor:

After reading Roger Cohen’s column about Donald Trump’s appeal in coal country, my reaction was: What makes them think they’re special? Since 2014, almost 200,000 Americans have lost their oil industry jobs. Dell, Cisco, IBM and other tech giants have each laid off thousands; one Wall Street analyst says more than 350,000 tech industry jobs could be lost this year alone. Even Walmart announced 16,000 job cuts.

I cannot think of any job that hasn’t changed dramatically or been eliminated in the last 20 years, including my own. Somehow a certain portion of underemployed Americans blame President Obama and think Donald Trump can fix their lives. Perhaps if close to 40 percent of newspaper journalists hadn’t also lost their jobs in the last decade, we might have a more realistic, better informed public.

SHEILA SORVARI

Austin, Tex.

 

In the News, September 2016

Tax Breaks for Corporations.  Many have seen the CBS Reports sting operation in which a fake corrupt billionaire from Africa made the rounds of NYC lawyers to seek their help for illegal tax evasion.  Most were eager to teach him how to create fake anonymous shell companies. Now the story breaks that European regulators want Apple Inc. to cough up $14.5 billion in back taxes.  This is because Apple made a deal with Ireland that it would move subsidiaries there in return for paying no taxes. So from 2003 to 2014, Apple paid almost no taxes at all ($50 taxes for every $1 million in profit).  Starbucks, Amazon, and McDonalds are doing the same thing.  But don’t feel sorry for Apple.  They made $230 billion last year.  USC law school professor Edward Kleinbard observes that US companies are the grandmasters of tax avoidance. He says that they put as much energy into tax avoidance policies as they did into industrial design. 

 

NFL Stadiums a rip-off for Vegas and San Diego.  Michael Hiltzik writes that corporate welfare is on full display as obscenely rich corporations squeeze the public for free handouts.  Case in point: Sheldon Adelson net worth $28.7 billion partnered with the Oakland Raiders and wants to raise taxes  to pay for moving the team to a public-financed stadium in Las Vegas. Meanwhile, billionaire Alex Spanos wants San Diego to do the same thing to and give his Chargers a new stadium.  The issue will be a ballot measure in November.

 

The Disaster at Fukushima Gets Worse.  Just as we are about to start building the San Onofre Nuclear Waste Dump (also called the Darrell Issa Nuclear Waste Dump),  news trickles out about the failure of the $320 million high tech ice wall at Fukushima which was supposed to contain 800,000 tons of radioactive water.  The one mile long ice dam 100 feet deep consumes enormous amounts of power, uses a highly corrosive brine solution which can crack/break the cooling pipes, and sections switched on 4 months ago have yet to freeze. The system also does not contain Tritium (radioactive hydrogen) and TEPCO has no idea what to do about water contaminated with tritium.  40,000 gallons of ground water continue to pour into the contaminated reactors every day with nowhere to go (just like San Onofre nuclear waste has nowhere to go).  Five robots have been sent into the reactor buildings and all failed to return.  The government is in panic mode because Prime Minister Abe promised that Fukushima contamination will be under control by 2020 when Japan hosts the Olympics.

 

Nuclear Disasters Here in the US.   Turning to our own nuclear disasters, the LAT recently ran a front page lead story about the fires and explosions at the nation’s only nuclear waste repository.   The deep underground explosions from plutonium drums at the WIPP (Waste Isolation Pilot Plant) in Carlsbad, NM on Feb. 14, 2014 caused massive long term damage to the facility.  The DOE initially trivialized the incident but what is now leaking out (in addition to radiation) is that the accident was much worse than previously disclosed. This follows the same pattern of lies about every nuclear incident (Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, Fukushima, etc.).  The WIPP incident is among the most costly nuclear accident in US history.  The current tab is $ 2 billion and still running.  The facility is crucial for the military because it is the final resting place for nuclear weapons waste going back to World War II.  It was supposed to be accepting 277,000 drums of nuclear waste from Hanford and the Idaho National Laboratory but now it cannot do so.  It costs about $200 million/year to operate the dump but it was never designed to operate in a contaminated state.  Designers assumed there would never be an accident. Spokesmen have suggested that the dump might never be able to resume full operations.  This mirrors the current plight of civilian nuclear waste from nuclear power plants:  it is all in temporary storage on site with no place to take it.

 

Don’t Forget Old Nuclear Disasters.  A few months ago the NYT rehashed the Jan 17, 1966 refueling accident which caused a B-52 bomber to drop 4 H-bomb on a Spanish town.  They did not explode but they covered the countryside with plutonium dust.  The US rushed 1600 airmen in to dig up and cart away the contaminated soil.  The US denied there was a nuclear accident and lied about the radiation dangers not only to the villagers but also to the airmen.  They did not want the airmen to use protective gear because that might lead people to think that something was dangerous.  They forced the soldiers to eat tomatoes from the contaminated farms to prove that there was nothing to worry about.  They delayed an investigation, then botched it and destroyed evidence, then cancelled a program to treat the soldiers that got cancer.  As more and more of them die of cancer, the US still refuses to treat them claiming lack of evidence.  The official way to deal with radiation disasters remains simple:  lie about it. The public was routinely deceived about the atomic bomb tests, the downwinders,  the Human Radiation Experiments, Three Mile Island and contamination at hundreds of places like Rocky Flats, Santa Susana, Uravan, Rancho Seco and Hanford.   It is pretty clear that all future radiation disasters will be handled the same way.

 

Does Living Near a Nuclear Power Plant Increase Cancer Risks?  We may never know.  The Nuclear Regulatory Commission recently blocked a scientific research study that the National Academy of Sciences wanted to do in the 31 mile radius around San Onofre.  For details about this, go back to In the News for Summer of 2016.  To protest, sign the petition to restart this research.

 

How Do the Chinese Deal with Radioactive Threats?  Here is a modern morality play, a truly inspirational saga coming from Lianyungang, China, a coastal town north of Shanghai.  In two reports in August, the NYT covered the massive protests that went on as citizens took to the streets to oppose a nuclear waste plant that the government wanted to build with Areva.  Thousands of residents including families and children confronted police and gathered  at the city center chanting “Oppose Nuclear Waste” and “Defend Our Home.”  A survey of 1,616 residents found that 84% said they “worried about improper handling of nuclear waste.” Officials warned that the government will strike hard against lawbreakers and those spreading rumors about the dangers of nuclear waste. Citizens protested not only in person but on the internet with symbols such as the radiation sign with a red X across it.  “The people of Lianyungnag don’t want radiation!”

Guess what?  After days of passionate street protests, the government backed down and announced on Aug. 10 that it will halt any plans to build a nuclear plant in Lianyungage. Put this in perspective: The residents of this Chinese town are very well-informed about nuclear issues. They strongly oppose nuclear waste plants.  They are willing to engage in massive protests in the streets. They stand up to authority.

Now compare this with cities and towns in Orange and San Diego counties where most people are ill-informed about nuclear waste, show little interest or concern, and are quite willing to accept what they are told by the government and the nuclear industry.  Except for a relatively small number of activists, most people are compliant and would never think of protesting.  The net result:  A huge nuclear waste dump (several thousand tons of uranium and plutonium) is now being crammed down the throat of the residents of southern California. The Chinese would never stand for this but apparently the Americans will.

Protests against nuke waste in China:

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/09/world/asia/china-nuclear-waste-protest-lianyungang.html

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/11/world/asia/china-nuclear-fuel-lianyungang.html

Summer 2016

Does Living Near a Nuclear Power Plant Increase the Risk of Cancer?

 The NRC has terminated an important cancer study so we may never find out

 Roger Johnson, PhD

About 47 million Americans live within 31 miles of a nuclear power plant (NPP) and 112 million live within 50 miles.  About 2.5 million live within 31 miles of San Onofre.  The 31 mile (50 km) radius starts at Huntington Beach, Newport Beach, Santa Ana, and Irvine in the north and circles around all of Camp Pendleton to Temecula, Vista, San Marcos, Escondido all the way to Encinitas and Solana Beach to the south.

Why the 31 mile radius?  That was the area chosen by scientists from the prestigious National Academy of Science (NAS) to be included in a study of cancer risks for people living near San Onofre.  The purpose was to see if just living near a nuclear power plant (NPP) may increase the risk of cancer, especially in children.  Why San Onofre? The NAS research scientists proposed a nationwide pilot study and picked San Onofre as one of six NPP in the United States to be included.  It was the only one selected west of the Mississippi River.

This study is not related to issues like accidents, radiation leaks, equipment failures, human error,  earthquakes, the possibility of a terrorist attacks, or the current plan to store for the indefinite future almost 2,000 tons of radioactive spent fuel waste consisting of plutonium, uranium, and their radioactive fission products. Rather it is because San Onofre (like all NPP), regularly releases low-level radiation into the atmosphere and ocean.  The NAS wanted to find out if there are health consequences for residents regularly exposed to radiation. The NRC (Nuclear Regulatory Commission) bases its guidelines for allowable radiation exposure on the standard adult male.  This ignores the fact that women are much more vulnerable to radiation than men, and children are even more vulnerable.  By far the largest radiation risk is for the human fetus which is 50 times more vulnerable than the adult male.  Because of the special risk to children, the proposed NAS study features a particular emphasis on risks for children.  Previous studies of radiation exposure from NPP in the U.S. failed to focus on women, children, and the unborn.

Radiation and Cancer

The issue is controversial worldwide but not widely recognized in the U.S. There are many causes of cancer, most of them environmental, but it is not known what levels of radiation cause cancer and if the radiation released from NPP can cause cancer.  There is no question that radiation can adversely affect cell DNA and lead to a host of medical problems which may not show up for decades.   According to the American Cancer Society, about one out of four deaths in California are caused by cancer.  Cancer kills more children under 14 than any other disease and about 1.5 million living residents of California have a history of cancer.  In 2016 it is predicted that there will be 173,200 new cases of cancer in California and 59,000 are expected to die.

There are many sources of radiation, but not all radiation is harmful.  What is harmful is ionizing radiation, a type of radiation at the high-energy end of the electromagnetic spectrum.  X-rays are a good example: a type of radiation that passes right through your body.  Everyone knows that X-rays can be dangerous to living tissue which is why you wear a shield in the dentist office (and why the technicians flee the room).  The opposite end of the electromagnetic spectrum includes radio and TV waves, microwave radiation, and the spectrum of visible light.

High levels of ionizing radiation are extremely dangerous but less is known about low levels of ionizing radiation such as what is released at NPPs.  The nuclear industry promotes the view that radiation below certain levels is harmless.  Many scientists disagree.  The most definitive analysis of this issue comes from a volume entitled Biological Effects of Ionizing Radiation VII, better known as the BEIR-7 Report (http://www.nap.edu/read/11340/chapter/2#2).  The report was carried out by scientists at the National Research Council who state in their summary that “radiation is one of the most thoroughly studied potential hazards to humans.” They concluded that there is no threshold below which radiation is harmless.  In addition, their research emphasizes that the effects of radiation are cumulative.  This means that a single exposure might not be harmful, but each exposure adds to all previous exposures.   Nuclear proponents like to trivialize radiation and cite how little radiation there is in single exposures like eating a banana or flying at high altitude to Denver.  But since every exposure is cumulative, doctors warn us to avoid repeated, unnecessary, and excessive exposures.

Radiation Releases from San Onofre

What can exposure do over a lifetime?  San Onofre has been releasing radiation into the environment since 1968.  Southern California Edison (SCE) claims that their releases are allowable under guidelines created by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).  The NRC makes NPP operators follow a regulation named after the aspirational acronym ALARA which means permitting radiation releases “As Low As Reasonably Achievable.”  They are careful to refer to these releases as “permissible” rather than “safe.”

The effluent releases are unannounced and carried out on a regular basis.  Air ejectors blast radioactive gaseous effluents into the atmosphere and prevailing winds usually carry this eastward over populated areas.  San Onofre also has huge pipes 18 ft. in diameter where radioactive liquid effluents are added to water pumped into the ocean at a million gallons per minute.   Plant operators are required to file quarterly averages about these discharges according to federal regulations 10 CFR 50.36a.

Summaries of averages mean that a few days of heavy releases are averaged with many days of low level releases or no releases, thus producing low average readings.  The dates of the releases are kept secret so surfers at San Onofre State Beach have no way of knowing if they are in the water near the pipes on a release date.  Some releases go on continuously for more than 24 hours.  Records reveal, for example, that in 2012 (when the reactors were not operating) there were 335.1 hours of liquid effluent releases. The longest one went on continuously for 28 hours and discharged 1.031 billion gallons into the ocean.

Is Low-Level Radiation Harmless?

The view that low-level radiation is harmless often stems from a study by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) conducted a quarter of a century ago.  By today’s standards, this research is heavily flawed and is now considered outdated.  The NCI studied only cancer deaths, not cancer incidence, and it studied only where people died, not where they lived or worked. It also averaged people living very near a NPP with those who lived far away.  For example, marines or their families living in Carlsbad were averaged with those living near the Mexican border because all were in San Diego County.  The health records of residents of San Clemente were considered the same as those living in Fullerton 40 miles away merely because available health records were organized by county.

The main takeaway from this study is that it failed to find a link between cancer and emissions from NPP.  The study did not establish, as some in the nuclear industry have implied, that NPP emissions are harmless.  A basic fact in scientific research is that the failure to find an effect never proves there is no effect.  A more parsimonious explanation is that failure to find an effect means poor methodology and that better studies are needed.

Unfortunately, it is very difficult to conduct this kind of research. For example, in addition to man-made radiation there are many natural sources of radiation.  When people get cancer, it is extremely difficult to discover the source of their cancer.  In addition, accurate health records are hard to obtain and they are not organized in concentric circles around NPP. People move in and out and may work far from where they live. All of these issues are well-known.  Decades ago the research was not able to deal with these problems but newer scientific methodology is better at controlling these variables. This is why it is important to conduct new research using the latest techniques. Still another problem is that adverse health effects like cancer are sometimes not manifested for years or even decades.  In Japan, an estimated 2,000 people continue to die every year, not from old age, but from medical complications caused by the radiation they received as children in August of 1945 when they lived near Hiroshima or Nagasaki.

In recent years important scientific studies have been done in Europe using far better methodology than the 1990 National Cancer Institute study done in the U.S.  One study in France and another in Germany both revealed that children living near a nuclear power plant had twice the risk of child leukemia.  Another report in the British Medical Journal in 2015  (http://www.bmj.com/content/351/bmj.h5359 ) examined cancer in 407,391 workers at nuclear plants in 15 countries. They reported an excess risk of cancer. The International Agency for Research on Cancer stated that this study strengthens the evidence of a causal relationship between solid cancers and exposure to low doses of ionizing radiation. It went on to add that the findings are important not only for the protection of workers in the nuclear industry but also for the general public.

The National Academy of Sciences Research is Terminated by the NRC

Unfortunately there have been almost no recent studies done in the United States.  In 2010 the NRC finally decided not to conduct actual research on this issue but rather to study whether to study the problem. The result was a 412 page volume published two years later entitled Analysis of Cancer Risks in Populations Near Nuclear Facilities (http://www.nap.edu/catalog/18968/analysis-of-cancer-risks-in-populations-near-nuclear-facilities-phase).  The report summarized what is known and not known and recommended a pilot study to see whether a full study should be done.  The NAS enlisted leading scientific experts headed by epidemiologist Dr. Jon Samet, Professor of Preventative Medicine at USC Keck School of Medicine.  The research team came up with another report and submitted it to the NRC in Dec. of 2014.  It concluded that the research can be done, should be done, and it made a detailed research proposal on exactly how it should be done.

The NRC sat on this report for 10 months.  After five years of studying whether to study the problem the NRC refused to fund any actual research and instead terminated the project.   It suggested that nothing new would be learned and that it could not afford the $8 million out of its over $1 billion budget.  It was very clear that the nuclear industry did not want this research done.  To date, no other government agency has shown interest in funding this study leading some to believe that the nuclear industry has enormous clout with the entire government.

Does the NRC Protect People or Protect the Nuclear Industry?

It is easy to see why there is now a clash of opinions about the danger of low-level radiation.  The existence of the entire nuclear industry depends on convincing the public that that low-level radiation is harmless.  The NRC, the NEI (the Nuclear Energy Institute which is the powerful lobbying arm for the nuclear industry), and the utilities which profit are understandably reluctant to engage in research about the safety of the radiation. Theoretically, the purpose of the NRC is to protect the public. Their logo proudly states:  “Protecting People and the Environment,” but some wonder if the objective of the NRC is to protect the nuclear industry and its profits.  It is no secret that the NRC receives over 90% of its funding not from the government but from the very industry that it is supposed to regulate.  Officially it is a regulatory agency of the U.S. Government but many consider it the poster boy of a “captured” agency.  Its commissioners are vetted by the nuclear industry and ousted if they do not follow the nuclear industry agenda. The NRC generally acts in the interest of the industry rather than in the interests of the public it is supposed to protect.

Dr. Ourania Kosti, the National Academy of Sciences project director, says that the research project is still ready to go if Congress or another government agency provides the funding.  No one knows whether the study will ever be done.  The NRC continues to rely on the flawed 1990 NCI study which provides the results it likes.  Vice President Biden and President Obama hype a multi-billion dollar “Moon Shot” war against cancer but they make no effort to fund this NAS research on cancer.  In the meantime, about 584,800 Americans are expected to die this year from cancer (about 1,500 per day) yet the government refuses to fund basic cancer research which may shed light on its causes.

 

 

 

In the News, May 2016

Update on the LAT and Orange Country Register Update.   Gannett, a media conglomerate with over 100 newspapers including USA Today, tried to take over the Tribune Publishing Co. but the Tribune rejected the offers.  As for the OCR, it is still unclear what the new owners plan to do.  Some say they will try to flip it after a year or two.  Will there be a change in their editorial right wing slant?  On Sunday April 24 the opinion editor of the OCR (Brian Calle) wrote a long editorial which was circulated to PSOC stating that the “new” OCR was not beholden to any political party and would strive for diversity of opinion which represents the community.  The OCR has never shown diversity of opinion and has always been closely affiliated with right wing Republican positions even though about 2/3 of voters today are either Democrats or Independents.  Only one out of 17 of their OpEd commentators is liberal (Erwin Chemerinsky).  On Sat., April 30, all 6 LTE in the OCR addressed his editorial.  Five of the six praised the OCR for its balance, objectivity, and its current slant.  This seemed to suggest that the “new” OCR plans to stay the same as the old OCR.  Perhaps there are few people who dislike the OCR, or perhaps the OCR is determined not to change no matter what the public wants.  If you have any opinions, please write bcalle@ocregister.com.  On the same day the supporting letters were published, the only Op-Ed was by Mark Landsbaum who criticized Pres. Obama, praised Ted Cruz, praised Ronald Reagan, advocated tax cuts, advocated government spending cuts, and advocated more use of fossil fuels.  In following days, the OCR editorials argued against efforts to lower drug prices, argued in favor of keeping secret the donor lists for the right-wing Americans for Prosperity, and argued against raising minimum wages. Topics for Op-Ed pieces?  Again a strong argument for keeping worker wages as low as possible, a favorite theme of the OCR.…Another Op-Ed wants to cut the laws on water use regulation….George Will argued that those worried about climate change are authoritarian because they want to force their views on others….Next, the terrible things that will happen if Hillary gets elected….Then why Republicans like Ted Cruz followed by why California taxpayers should not support the Univ. of California because the university allow unions….More on how California is being ruined by high taxes plus a tirade of letters opposing UCI Law School Dean Chemerinsky because he argues that Pres. Obama should be able to nominate a new supreme court justice.  This is the OCR version of diversity of informed opinion representing Orange County. How can a newspaper succeed if it refuses to change with the times?

Mother Jones is a great magazine, well worth a subscription.  The current May-June issue is especially packed with goodies.  On the cover is a photo of a cute chicken and inside is an expose of the chicken factory farm business.  Did you know that almost all factory farms heavily dose chickens with antibiotics which are partly to blame the drug-resistant superbugs which sicken 2 million Americans every year?  The main big producer of chickens which does not use antibiotics is Perdue (because they can charge more and can increase profits)…. “Freshly Loaded” provides 10 pages of data on the ten largest corporations in the gun business including how many guns they make, what types they sell, and their global revenue.  Take #2 Remington Outdoor, the maker of the Bushmaster XM-15 used in the Newton, CT massacre.  In 2014 they made 1.47 million guns and their global revenue was $939 million.  Three of their top executives were given the NRA Golden Ring of Freedom award for donating over $1 million to the NRA.  Every resident of Alabama pays $14 to subsidize their Huntsville factory….The Truth about Tipping on p 77 tells the origins of the practice, how it has been abused to exploit restaurant workers (especially women), and how black servers are tipped less. And remember that when a waiter touches you it is because of a study done years ago showing that people tip more when they are touched….Next is an expose on California billionaires Lynda and Stewart Resnick who own the largest flower delivery service, Fiji water, PomWonderful pomegranate juice, Cuties and Halo oranges, lots of pistachio and almond farms, 140 square miles or orchards, and American’s second largest produce company.  They also diversified into the water business and now own the Kern Water Bank, an underground reservoir of 488 billion gallons.  The Resnicks use about 440 billion gallons of water per year, more than all the homes in Los Angles combined. They have carefully cultivated politicians and Hollywood stars,  and as good Democrats they gave huge contributions to Gov. Brown (and previous Gov. Schwarzenegger) to get business done. This story is a real eye-opener on how things work in CA….Other articles concern Flint, police violence, Kansas’ war on judges, judge Scalia’s legacy, and finally a delicate piece by Peggy Orenstein (author of Girls and Sex) about the waxing business.

Lamborghinis in the News.  China’s rapid economic rise has turned peasants into billionaires.  The new one per cent crowd in China likes to flaunt its wealth and look for ways to get their money out of the country.  Many of them send their kids to Canada with a blank check to spend as much as they want.  A favorite hobby is to collect Ferraris and Lamborghinis and there are now over 2500 cars in Vancouver valued at over $150,000.  “In Vancouver there are lots of kids of corrupt Chinese officials” said the Shi Yi, owner of Luxury Motor which caters to affluent Chinese.  Connecting the dots, all the stuff in Walmarts and other stores has transferred wealth from the American middle class to the new Chinese billionaires.

Anti-Muslim Bigotry Spreads.  Last month in Laguna Beach 7 women were ordered to leave the Urth Café because they wore head scarves.  They were accused of being “visibly Muslim.”  The women are suing the owner who in turn filed a countersuit against them.  Meanwhile a UC Berkeley student from Iraq traveling on Southwest Airlines called his father and conversed with him in Arabic.  Southwest ordered him removed from the plane.

Greed, cont.  How much did CBS pay CEO Leslie Moonves in 2015?  Answer: $56.8 million.  Meanwhile, United Airlines CEO Jeff Smisek resigned amid a federal corruption investigation. His reward?  A free car, free flights for his lifetime, and $37 million in “compensation”….McDonald’s profits rose 35% last year but the company will not share its wealth with workers other than to offer them a measly $1 over minimum wages.  Workers cannot make ends meet, and it is estimated that the public pays $1.2 billion a year in public aid to those who work at McDonalds….CVS took over the pharmacy of Target and promptly raised drug prices….Quaker Oats claims to be 100% natural, but chemical analysis has found trades of glyphosate (RoundUp)…. A top VW executive made a powerpoint presentation way back in 2006 explaining how to cheat on emissions tests.  Meanwhile, Mitsubishi now admits that it lied about the fuel economy of 620,000 cars it produced….As Congress begins to investigate gouging in health care, the industry responded with a flurry of deals ($40 billion worth of deals announced last week) aimed at more monopoly of products to insure higher prices….

In Brief…. PEW Research continues to study public approval of the political parties.  The approval rating of the Democratic party remains unchanged but the approval rating of the Republican party continues to decline and is now at its lowest point in the last quarter century.  The biggest increase in Republican party disapproval comes from Republicans themselves.  Last week Senate Democrats proposed a bill which would have blocked airlines from further reducing the “size, width, padding, and pitch” of passenger seats.  Voting on party lines, the bill was killed by Republicans….Mormon university Brigham Young has a student “Moral Code” which espouses moral virtues such as chastity but it uses the code against victims of sex crimes.  Recently a 20 year old coed was held captive and raped.  When  she complained, the university responded by suspending her for violation of the “Honor Code:” On the upbeat,  kudos for Colette Bourlier who received her PhD at age 90. Finally, April 28 was designated Ed Balls day in the UK in honor of the member of Parliament who smashed records when he tweeted his own name.

 

In the News, April 2016

Poll Madness.  Polling has become big business, and the media love polls.  They can generate “new” news almost every day with no effort and make fake news sound like real news.  It is far easier to cover elections by reporting the horse race (every new poll) than it is to do substantive reporting.  But polls have evolved from wildly inaccurate to accurate back to inaccurate.  Remember when a Literary Digest poll in 1936 predicted Alf Landon over FDR?  The problem was that it was a telephone poll, so they disproportionately sampled the rich people (Republicans) because they had more telephones. Later in the 20th century, telephone polls worked pretty well because almost everyone had a land line and they actually answered their phones and talked to people.  Today, polling is a witchcraft.  Many people dropped their landlines for cell phones, and their phone number may not be where they live.  They screen calls, don’t answer, hangup quickly, and use social media to communicate.  So count on polls being increasingly inaccurate, and count on the media to keep reporting them as if they are accurate.

US lags behind Scandanavia.  The World Economic Forum recently ranked gender gap in health, education, and economic opportunity (i.e., pay).  Let’s see, if you are a woman living in Yemen you are considered half of a witness in court cases and you cannot leave the house without the permission of a husband.  One-third of the women in the world experience some kind of sexual or partner violence.  Where do women fare best?  The top four countries are Iceland, Norway, Finland, and Sweden.  USA rah-rah comes in 28th.  What about schools?  Fulbright scholar William Doyle says that Finland has the best schools because it lets teachers teach and kids play.  I can attest to this since years ago both of our kids attended public schools there. 

Supreme Court in the News. The conservative Republican attack on the U.S. Government now extends to the highest court in the land, supposedly the bedrock of truth and integrity.  They have been doing this for years internally with the help of #1 buffoon Clarence Thomas who finally asked a question, his first in 10 years.  He was angry about a man from Maine who lost his gun permit merely because he was convicted of domestic violence.  Now the Republicans have violated the Constitution and turned the Supreme Court into a political football by blocking consideration of any nominee of a President they do not like.  Meanwhile they lionize Antonin Scalia who disgraced the court with his judicial activism.  He helped appoint George Bush as President (he was never elected) and said with a straight face that allowing Florida to count all the ballots was unacceptable because it would cause  “irreparable harm” to Bush. Scalia would make outrageous claims about “originalism” such as claiming that the framers of the Constitution believed in free speech for corporations even though corporations barely existed in the 18th century.  When it suited his political bias, he would ignore the Constitution. His legendary tirades and insults were often personal and might make Donald Trump blush.  He flaunted court ethics accepting favors from deep pocketed pals who benefited from his decisions. He attacked the Voting Rights Act and called it “racial entitlement.”  And of course he did the entire political process lasting harm with his support for Citizens’ United which made the government up for sale to the rich and powerful.

Will a new court reverse Citizens United?   Mark Schmitt argues that the horrendous Citizens United decision is largely symbolic and that reversing it by a more liberal court will have only a minor impact.  It may be futile to restrict the way the “billionaire class” (Sanders terminology) can influence politics because they have so many ways to do it with or without this decision.   Will a Liberal Supreme Court Limit Money in Politics?

The Saga of the OC Register ends (or begins?). The Tribune Company, owner of the LATimes and San Diego U-T, won the bid for the bankrupt OCR.  However at the last minute the US Dept. of Justice stepped in and said they would block the sale to prevent a newspaper monopoly in southern CA.  So the default eventual winner was Digital Media (which also owns a lot of newspapers in CA). Digital has a reputation for skimping in order to increase profits so it remains to be seen what will happen to the OCR.  The big question of course is what will happen to the Editorial Page, business as usual or significant changes?  (The OCR has become a fairly good paper except for the Editorial Dept. which no longer represents the makeup of Orange County.)  Business as usual means the right wing Libertarian line: anti-government, anti-teacher, anti-labor, anti-science,  anti-health care (esp. for women), anti-environment, and anti-minorities/immigrants.  But there are also a few things it loves:  guns, corporations, big money and the gospel of wealth.  Digital’s southern CA publisher is Ron Hasse.  If you can figure out how to contact him, spread the word so everyone can flood them with demands that they moderate and balance their editorials, Op-Eds, and Letters to the Editor. The new owners promptly fired 70 OCR staff members including Editor Rob Curley.

Greed, cont.  Despite slumping fuel costs (gas price in Venezuela is now 8 cents/gal) and soaring profits,  Southwest, United, Delta, and American airlines raised fares for the third time this year….Walmart’s imports from China displaced 400,000 American workers (the Walton family which owns Walmart is the richest family in America with a net worth equal to 40% of all Americans)….The 100 largest CEO retirement packages of Fortune 500 companies equal the retirement savings of 50 million American families….As Congress finalized its tax and spending bill of 2000 pages, lobbyists swooped in and added 54 words providing loopholes for Wall Street, hotel, restaurant, and gambling interests resulting in $1 billion loss in tax revenue (that the rest of us will have to subsidize)….The House of Representatives allowed Monsanto to insert one paragraph into a chemical safety bill which would shield Monsanto from hundreds of millions of dollars of liability over cleanup of their PCB contamination of rivers….A lead story in the NYT describes how the richest families in America hire an army of lobbyists to mold tax laws in their favor.  Tax rates for the ultra rich continue to decline, and according to a UCSD professor we no longer have progressive taxation but rather one tax system for the rich, another for wage earners….Wall Streeters (average salary $404,800) are complaining about lower bonuses for 2015.  Junior level employees a few years out of college will get bonuses of only 100-150,000 while managers and VP level types will get only about a million in bonuses.

More bad news.  Over 2000 police shootings in Southern CA since 2004 and only one officer has been prosecuted….Almost 200,000 Americans have been killed by guns and another 400,000 injured between 2009-2014 according to the Centers for Disease Control….North Korea conducts more missile tests, claims to have an H-bomb, and shows videos of a nuclear strike on Washington, D.C. (the missiles already can reach California). Another video released warns North Koreans to except a famine and they may have to eat grass to survive….Japan is unable to contain the 800,000 gallons of contaminated water in temporary tanks.  It is leaking into the ocean, so the government now proposes to spend $312 million to build a deep underground ice dam…. Meanwhile, the police in Belgium discovered terrorist plans to attack nuclear power plants (note that there has not been a single question in the presidential debates over nuclear power safety)….MSNBC cancels the Melissa Harris-Perry show in order to have wall-to-wall primary campaign coverage (less news, more polls, the same trend on every network).

How to control sex-crazed males, plus other gems from the world of Science.  Jan Hoffman writes for the NYT:  “She’s exhausted, but her male partner wants sex.  And besides, she still has to get up for those middle of the night feedings.”  What to do?  Scientists have discovered a new female weapon to zap fathers with an anti-aphrodisiac, a chemical pheromone which also motivates males to help with child care.  Seems to work pretty well for beetles.  Now if they could only bottle and sell the stuff. Click here if you want to see beetles copulating.

Did you know that your large intestine contains about 40 trillion bacterial cells?  (NYT Feb. 16) or that TV may be bad for your brain?     And that those who are bilingual have superior social skills? Finally there is a breakthrough on what has been keeping all of us awake at night: How did fish learn to walk?

How smart are you about Donald Trump?  The media-Trump love affair continues.  He gets the publicity, the media get the ratings (read: money).  But it makes for fun reading:  Donald the Dangerous, Only Trump Can Trump Trump,  The GOP Monster in the Mirror, Trump Unfit to be President, Carson Endorses the Demagogue, etc.  How about this:  Trump popularity highly correlates with mobile home ownership, no high school diploma, history of voting segregationist, being an evangelical Christian (NYT March 15).  But how much do you really know about him?  Did he say “no one has done so much for equality as I have” because his $100,000 membership club Mar-a-Lago is open to everybody?   Did Trump’s son Eric say that torture is justified because it is no different than what happens in frat houses every weekend?  Join the fun and take the Trump Quiz.   How about this LTE in the LAT March 6:

To the editor: We in America need to get used to the reality that a great many of our fellow citizens are just fine with racism, sexism, coarseness, vulgarity, reckless braggadocio, childish temperament and utter lack of qualification — and these people are thrilled finally to have found a candidate who represents them. (“Donald Trump defiant as GOP leaders fight to stop him,” March 6)  It’s sad and so telling that the Republican establishment isn’t opposed to Donald Trump because of these obvious disqualifications, but because he isn’t sufficiently conservative. If he toed the party line, it’d be thrilled with him.  If Trump wins the presidency, he won’t drown the government in a bathtub, as some top Republicans have said they want. But he won’t have to: The government will die of sheer humiliation.

~Barbara Carlton,  El Cajon

In the News, March 2016

Showtime.  What’s happening in entertainment?  On the front page of the LAT California section last week was the headline: “The Greatest Show in Politics.”  Steve Lopez summarizes the parade of presidential wannabes this way: A Jewish socialist the age of Moses has locked up the youth vote.  The only remaining female candidate has trouble getting support from women.  An African American doctor believes that the pyramids were actually grain elevators.  The whitest male candidate speaks better Spanish than the two Latino candidates (one of whom cooks bacon on the barrel of an AR-15).  Low income evangelicals in rural Iowa are in love with a billionaire Manhattan playboy in the casino business. No wonder there is a media feeding frenzy.  Our own meeting on March 8 will attempt to provide some clarification when we compare the views of the only two sane candidates.

Orange County and maybe the country are tilting to the Left.  Martin Wisckol, our PSOC speaker last month, had a new piece in the Orange County Register reporting that in Irvine (like most other large cities in Orange County), Democrats now outnumber Republicans.  Orange County Democratic chairman Henry Vandermeir speculates that this might have more to do with the poor performance of the current crop of Republican candidates rather than with anything the Democrats have done.  This is a reflection on what is happening to politics nationwide:  winning elections is no longer about getting opponents to switch sides or even about appealing to independents.  It is about how many in your own base you can turn out.  If the debates are any indicator, there may be a lot of Republicans that sit out this election.

Is the entire country tilting to the Left?  Mitt Romney’s former chief campaign strategist argues that this is going on right now.

Orange County Register on the auction block.  Speaking of the OCR, bids are now being received to get the OCR out of bankruptcy.  The most likely bidder is Tribune Publishing which owns the LATimes and San Diego U-T.  That could be interesting if they consolidate the major newspapers in Southern California, especially if they took the radical step of changing the right wing libertarian slant of the OCR.

Greed of the month.  Morgan Stanley ($800 billion in assets and $38 billion annual revenue) recently agreed to pay a settlement of $3.2 billion for its illegal activities.  So what else is new?  In recent history, Morgan Stanley has been fined every year since 2003 (except 2013) for illegal activity. But the current settlement is small compared to the settlement reached with Bank of America ($16.6 billion).  Now we await the settlement with Goldman Sachs which should be about $ 20 billion.  Just business as usual, part of the cost of doing business and no one goes to jail.  Meanwhile, airlines enjoyed windfall bonanza profits last year but what did passengers get?   Four airlines raised their prices three times in the past year but two of them brought back free snacks!  Hence the NYT headline:  Record Profits for Airlines and Passengers Get Peanuts.  But now and then there is justice in the world.  The Warner Music Group has been extracting money for years with the claim that they own rights to “Happy Birthday to You,” a tune written by a Kentucky kindergarten teacher in 1893. District Court Judge George King overruled.  He ordered Warner to pay back $14 million.  So now you can feel free to sing Happy Birthday without fear of being sued.

Finally, a few days ago a shareholder advocacy group issued a report called “The Top 100 Most Overpaid CEOs.”  Let’s see, Discovery Communications pays David Zaslav $156 million, Oracle pays Safra Catz $75 million, CBS pays Leslie Moonves $57 million, Chipotle Mexican Grill pays Steve Elis $57 million.  Check out the other 96.

How to dodge taxes.  In recent years, three dozen American companies have used tax loopholes to change their nationalities, a process known as “inverting.”  They merged with a small company abroad and slashed hundreds of millions of dollars off their U.S. tax bill.  But they remain American with their headquarters in the U.S. and their executives remain in the U.S.  The recent examples are Pfizer and Johnson Controls, a big auto parts supplier. The American taxpayers paid $80 billion in the auto industry bailout and Johnson Controls got $149 million in tax breaks from Michigan alone. Now it will pass itself off as Irish and cut its U.S. taxes by $150 million.  Republicans in Congress know about this and are blocking corporate tax reform to close such loopholes.

Another big tax dodger is none other than Karl Rove.  He bamboozled the IRS to classify his dark-money machine Crossroads GPS as a “tax exempt social welfare organization.”  That means he can continue to keep secret the names of his rich campaign donors.

Your replaceable brain.  Computer scientists at the Univ. of Washington have developed software which can pass an SAT test as well as 11th graders. Robots can perform brain surgery on a fruit fly better than graduate students.  Computer voices can now be programmed for personality.   There is even speculation that computer robots might replace lawyers.

Colleges and Universities in the News.  The University of Texas Austin recently adopted policies that favor animals over people.  President Gregory Fenves announced that students can now carry concealed handguns in dormitories, dining halls, and lounges but they may not carry them in laboratories housing animals.  Florida State University was thoroughly disgraced back in 2012 when its star quarterback Jameis Winston was charged with raping a coed.  The university covered up the incident, refused to investigate it thoroughly, and waited two years before even approaching the victim.  It gets worse.  Now, four years later, the university agreed to a settlement with the student and even grudgingly agreed to take steps to prevent sexual abuse on campus.  But university president John Thrasher (former chairman of the Florida Republican Party) refused to apologize, lashed out at her lawyers, and claimed that the real victim was the university, not the student who was raped.  Jameis Winston also has a record of shoplifting, violating campus gun laws, and publically yelling vulgar remarks about the rape victim.  He was never prosecuted for the rape and now plays for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

On the progressive side, Amherst College, founded in 1821 in the town of Amherst, Massachusetts, announced that they have banned all references to the traditional campus mascot, the “Lord Jeffs.”  Turns out the colonial era military commander Lord Jeffrey Amherst is better known as a champion of white oppression. In 1763 he wrote, “You will do well to try to inoculate the Indians by means of blankets, as well as to try every other method that can serve to extirpate this execrable race.”  It took almost 200 years but they finally got it right (welcome news to me because I used to teach at Amherst College).  Now if we could only get rid of the holiday named after that rascal Christopher Columbus who chopped off the hands of Indians 600 years ago if they didn’t give him enough silver.

How do you feel about being part Neanderthal?  If you are of Asian or European descent, 2% of your genome is Neanderthal.

The 199 people and places insulted by Donald Trump.  Speaking of Neanderthals, who did Trump call “dumb as a rock,” “a crude dope,”  “low-level degenerate,” or “a total embarrassment to himself and his family?”  See if you made the list!  

Change coming to China.  We know that the Chinese are becoming big fans of French wine, but the latest big fad in China is ice hockey.  Unfortunately they don’t know anything about it so they are sending droves of students to top U.S. prep schools like Phillips Andover and Exeter to learn the sport.  Meanwhile, China is becoming so westernized that the thriving business of Rent-A-Foreigner is slowing down.  Foreigners used to charge about $200/hour to be dressed up and put in a commercial or sit at a conference.

The Minister of Happiness.  The UAE recently came up with the novel idea of forming a Ministry of Happiness with the mission of creating social good and satisfaction.  There will also be a Minister of Tolerance.   The UAE now ranks 20th on the World Happiness scale above Britain but below Belgium.  USA #1 is not number 1: that title goes to Switzerland.  The USA ranks 15th on the Happiness Scale.  One more thing the Republicans can use to blame Obama.

In the News, February 2016

 

What happened to politics as usual?  Remember when the bosses decided in back room deals who the candidates would be?  The reform was supposed to be primaries.  But then along came Jimmy Carter, peanut farmer who wanted to be President.  No one paid attention to him so he set up a big field staff in Iowa, a state the other candidates ignored.  The media moved in and made him a major candidate. Ever since then Iowa has shaped the race and provided a path forward for the most unlikely of candidates.  What is amazing is that there are people who actually pay attention to commercials or believe what candidates say in a primary race (notice the record number of lies being tossed around this year).  A year ago, people would have laughed at the possibility of President Trump, President Cruz, or President Sanders.  They are not laughing any more, and some pundits like conservative David Brooks still maintain that they are all doomed.

Remember when people voted according to their own economic interests?  Now you have blue collar union workers raving about billionaire Republicans who want to destroy unions.  Times have changed. Many now identify with cultural ideology or ethnic affiliations (and prejudices).  The media profit from conflict, and demagogues find it easy to motivate extremists by enraging and manipulating the masses.  Some say it reminds them of Germany in the 1930s.  Eduardo Porter writes about how America’s best days may be over and how politics are becoming galvanized over racial hostility here  and here. There is abundant evidence that racial attitudes now play a significant role in politics.

Science in the News.  This has been a big month for science.  How about the new planet they just discovered in our solar system?  Planet 9 is bigger than the Earth, 4.6 billion miles away, and orbits the sun once every 10-20,000 years. A long wait until summertime.  Here is another big discovery:  scientists are figuring out synaptic pruning, a major cause of schizophrenia.   On a darker note, anthropologists are questioning past assumptions about whether violence an integral part of the human race.  They recently discovered fossil remains in Kenya showing torture and mass brutality going back 10,000 years.  Most scholars previously thought that warfare began with the ownership of resources and complex social systems but these findings suggest otherwise. Some say these results indicate that humans are inherently violent. Others say that this simplistic analysis ignores the formation of cultural values created to minimize violence.

What’s going on in Russia?  Never a dull moment.  The Russian economy is in shambles and the rubble has hit an all-time low.  Meanwhile, a British court found that Russian President Putin was probably directly involved in radioactive polonium 210 poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko in London in 2006.  Litvinenko defected to the UK and claimed he had evidence of high level corruption in Russia plus a film proving that Putin is a pedophile.  Putin made his alleged killer a member of Parliament.  Meantime, the NYT ran a big story about how Putin created a huge government investment fund and then directed payments to companies that benefited officials in the Kremlin.   Now for the really juicy news:  Inmates in Russian prisons are no longer allowed to swear.

Al Jezerra America cable TV network closes after lack of support from viewers and advertisers.  If you are one who is less than enamored of our media empires,  Al Jezerra was refreshing.  It covered news that the corporate media would not touch.  Its coverage was at least as objective if not more so.  So much for media diversity.

Bad news about things nuclear.  On Jan. 6, North Korea announced that it had had exploded an H-bomb (1000 times more powerful than the atom bomb).  The US response was not to worry because it probably was not an H-bomb, and besides they can’t miniaturize their weapons enough to put them on a missile. (The Koreans also claim that they have a 3 stage missile that can hit California.)  But they don’t need a big weapon because the uranium and plutonium is already right here: almost 2,000 tons of it sitting above ground a few hundred feet from I-5 in San Onofre.  Meanwhile, a lead front page story in the NYT describes how the US wants to build a new class of “small” maneuverable nuclear bombs to provide more options for those who see small nuclear war as an option when they don’t want to start a large nuclear war. (The US is one of the few countries that refuses to sign a “no first use” pledge.)  The assumption is that enemies would accept a small nuclear attack and not retaliate with large weapons, the only kind most countries have (for the moment).  This new option makes the use of nuclear weapons more attractive to commanders (and people like Donald Trump) who think we can bomb out way through issues abroad.  Now you can all feel safer.  Would the US (and other countries) target population zones?  You bet.  The National Archives just released a detailed target list for US bombers carrying nuclear weapons during the cold war.  The 800 page document gives the code names for each target and makes it clear that the purpose was total annihilation of entire cities (179 nuclear bombs were to be dropped on Moscow alone). The idea was that mass killing of civilians would lower enemy morale and lead to a shorter war.  This is the same theory used by the US in World War II when the purpose was to carpet bomb (or atom bomb) populated areas and kill as many civilians as possible:

Turning to nuclear power plants, a new study by the Nuclear Threat Initiative reports that nuclear material stored in 20 countries is an easy target for cyberattacks.  Most nuclear power plants have a modest security force intended to defend against physical forces such as a small number of armed intruders.  They have no defense against high explosives, missiles, drones, truck bombs and according to the report many are not defended against cyber attacks like the Stuxnet worm that the US and Israel used against Iran.    And now the energy department is talking about building many smaller nuclear power plants that could be placed closer to population centers where electric demand is high.

Greed, Inc.  When we hear about economic inequality, references are often made to celebrities like Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, Donald Trump, and Sheldon Adelson.  But Stanford economics professor Nicholas Bloom recently published a paper analyzing the gains of hundreds of thousands of corporate executives who represent 0.25% of the work force.  In this rarified circle, their pay has skyrocketed 140% compared to a 5% drop for the rest of the employees in their company.    JP Morgan Chase decided to that their CEO Jamie Dimon was not being paid enough so they raised his compensation to $27 million, a 35% raise over 2015. Anyone else get a 35% raise?  DuPont continues its decades-long effort to hide the dangers of obscure chemicals and bamboozle regulators into permitting toxic pollution of perfluorooctanoic acid which it dumps into rivers.  Meanwhile, DuPont is firing 1,700 workers in anticipation of its merger with Dow Chemical.

In California, the utilities (esp. PG&E)  are lobbying furiously with the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) to discourage people from installing solar energy.  The CPUC, supposedly representing the interests of the public, has begun siding with the industry against the public and against the goal of providing more clean energy for California.  The CPUC is also being sued because it refuses to disclose 65 emails to the governor’s office with regard to the settlement over who pays for the costs of the San Onofre failure (the settlement ended up letting Edison off the hook while soaking rate-payers for 70% of the costs).  Meanwhile, prosecutors have charged PG&E with 28 felony counts of pipeline safety code violations and obstruction of justice with regard to the San Bruno pipeline explosion which killed 8 people and destroyed 38 homes. And what about the “mini-Chernobyl” methane gas leak at Porter Ranch?  And what will the governor of Michigan do about everyone who has permanent brain damage from lead in Flint, Michigan drinking water?  And now we have the yogurt wars: Chobani says that Dannon and Yoplait are putting unhealthy sucralose and potassium sorbate in their diet yogurts and misleading customers into thinking that they are actually health food.

Recipe. By popular demand, there have been numerous requests for the recipe of White Chocolate Cranberry Bread Pudding which was generously contributed to our pot-luck holiday party in December. So here goes:

1 loaf of Texas toast (or Italian Pantone or Irish soda bread in which case you omit the sugar)
1 cup of fresh whole cranberries, rinsed, no chopping
1- 12 oz. bag of white chocolate chips
3 eggs
1 cup of whole milk plus 1 cup of heavy cream
½ cup sugar
Cube the bread, combine with cranberries, chocolate chips and sugar

In the News, January 2016

Is America Moving to the Left?  The Republicans own Congress and the state houses and the “center” of the party has moved far to the right.  But is the country moving to the left?  Steve Bell writes that the Atlantic makes a persuasive case that this is really what is going on.

And what about Orange County?  We will hear more about that at our Feb. 9 meeting.  Republican registration peaked in 1990 but is now down to below 40%. Chapman University professor Fred Smoller predicts that Hillary will be not only the first woman President but she will also be the first Democratic candidate to sweep Orange County since FDR in 1936.

The US Navy says that Edison has contaminated 135 acres of San Onofre.  Without much public mention, Camp Pendleton and the US Navy have been clashing with Edison for several years over what the Navy claims is radioactively contaminated soil, asphalt, and concrete.  Apparently Edison shipped off 390 drums of contaminated waste but there is no disclosure on where they were dumped. The NRC has done nothing and Edison hides behind the claim that the waste is within “allowable limits.”  This does not mean safe limits but rather levels that the NRC allows.  It is also claimed that Edison follows the nuclear industry practice of mixing in unexposed dirt with contaminated waste in order to get an average reading that is “allowable.”  It this has been going on for years on a small scale, what will happen when they demo the domes and bulldoze acres of rubble? 

Violence in the Military.  Everyone has been reading a lot about violence among police officers but recently a scandal emerged at West Point.  The long tradition of pillow fighting has now been banned by superintendent Lt. Gen Robert L. Caslen, Jr.  Apparently they put hard objects in the pillow cases which causes a rash of broken bones.    A more serious story was reported recently on the front page of the NYT about Navy Seals torturing and killing Afghan prisoners

Consistent eye witness accounts confirmed what happened but the Navy brass badgered the witnesses into changing their testimony.  Navy Captain Robert Smith overruled the accusations and exonerated those who were guilty. Who disciplines Robert Smith?  Apparently nobody.

Walmart’s Imports from China displace 400,00 jobs in the U.S.   Nuff said.

Rights of women around the world.  Did you know that the U.S. ranks 75th out of 189 countries for the percentage of women in government?  Want to know more about income and education gaps, where there is property rights discrimination against women, or where rape is legal?  These data and graphs are an eye-opener.

Equal Justice for all.  Just as the recent tax and spending bill was about to be voted upon, lobbyists swooped in and added 54 words that preserved a loophole sought by hotel, restaurant, gambling, and Wall Street interests.  Just like that, a billion dollars vanished from tax revenues, money that the rest of us will end up paying.    Meanwhile, the richest Americans have financed a sophisticated and effective apparatus for shielding their fortunes from taxes.  The “Income Defense Industry” employs a phalanx of lawyers, estate planners, lobbyists, and anti-tax activists who devise huge tax breaks unavailable to anyone else.   Here is another way of stacking the decks of justice:  Lawyers for corporations have orchestrated language into consumer credit and employment contracts which bar people from joining class action lawsuits, probably the only means ordinary citizens have to fight illegal or deceitful practices.  The purpose is to circumvent the courts and force complainers into private arbitration.  They know that private arbitration heavily favors big business against consumers.  They have effectively privatized the justice system in their favor.

Toxic contaminants in everyday use.  Two major medical organizations recently issued warnings about widespread exposure to toxic but unregulated chemicals.  The International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics warned that every pregnant woman in America has at least 43 chemical contaminants in her body and that many babies are born “pre-polluted.”  Many of these are endocrine disrupters which are found in all kinds of consumer products ranging from shampoos to cash register receipts.  Of the 80,000 chemicals in global commerce today, only a tiny fraction has been screened for safety.  The powerful chemical lobby has adopted the play book from the tobacco industry: attack science and oppose government regulation.  Last year they spent $120,000 per member of Congress to advance their agenda at the expense of the health of everyone.

 

 

 

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