In the News
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.
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
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.
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
1 cup of whole milk plus 1 cup of heavy cream
½ cup sugar
Cube the bread, combine with cranberries, chocolate chips and sugar
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.
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.
The Elephant Not In the Room: The Shrinking Orange County Republican Party. In the OCRegister Dec. 10, Martin Wisckol has a front page story about the decline of the Republican Party in Orange County . In the last century, Republicans held about 55% of voter registrations but now it has shrunk to below 40% for the first time ever and is now only about 7% higher than Democratic registrations. The exception is South OC which remains a Republican stronghold….
Congress continues to block research on gun violence. Did you know that decades ago the gun lobby pressured Congress to forbid any research on gun violence? The NRA funds those who champion guns and more guns. They continues to threaten defeat for any member of Congress who votes against their wishes. As you know, they pretty much have Congress on a leash to the point where Democrats are reluctant to challenge them. But according to the Washington Post this week, a group of doctors joined some Democrats in presenting a petition to Congress signed by 2,000 medical doctors asking that the ban on gun violence research be rescinded. They pointed out that there has been an average of one mass shooting per day in the U.S. in 2015. And guess what? This happened just before the mass murders in San Bernardino. And guess what? Congress continues to do nothing because their number one priority (as usual) is going along with whatever big money lobbyists tell them to do.
The Shrinking Middle Class in Orange County. Everyone knows that the gap between the rich and poor is growing nationwide (and worldwide) but did you know that it is happening right here in OC? Read Teri Sforza in the OC Register on Dec. 3 “Gap between haves, have-nots grows in OC,”
What Contaminants are in Your Body? In recent weeks, two major medical organizations have issued warnings about toxic chemicals linked to breast and prostate cancer, obesity, and diabetes. The current chemical industry is the new tobacco industry which spends $121,000 per member of Congress lobbying to block regulation of their products. There are now over 80,000 chemicals in common use which have not been studied for detrimental health effects. Endocrine disrupters are found in plastics, shampoos, pesticides, food can linings, cash register receipts, and more. Every pregnant American woman has at least 43 different chemical contaminants in her body. Read all about it here.
Utilities Spend Heavily to Influence CA Politics. Teri Sforza does it again. The biggest political spenders are PS&E, Kaiser Permanente, Blue Cross/Blue Shield, SDG&E, Edison, WalMart, Disney.
Solution to Bachelor Glut in China: Share Wives. By 2020, China will have 20 million bachelors called guanggun (“bare branches”). The one child policy since 1979 led to decades of sex-selection abortions of females so there is now a shortage of women. Read all about it here.
Government for Sale. Just in time for our November meeting about money in politics, the New York Times recently reported recently that just 158 families have provided half of the cash for the 2016 presidential race. They also named names and even provided a map to show where they live. No wonder it is often said that the purpose of government is to benefit the rich. Contributing so lavishly seems to be a cheap way for the rich to make sure that more and more money is diverted to the interests of the 1%. Partly thanks to Citizens United, indications suggest that we are headed toward a plutocracy: Government of the Rich, By the Rich, and For the Rich.
Media Coverage OD. Are you overdosed on debates? Sick and tired hearing about Benghazi or Hillary’s emails (as Bernie Sanders said)? We can thank the media for this, and we can thank the media for one other obsession: their fascination with polls. Rather than cover any substance or policy issues, they harp over and over about the horse race. With great excitement every night their main story is who is ahead and who is behind. Who cares. Here is the LTE of the week:
A republic that prefers to be amused more than informed and engaged on the issues that touch its national life, its future and its role in the world is not only “amusing ourselves to death,” as the critic and educator Neil Postman once put it, but forfeiting its place of leadership among the community of nations.
Our candidates for high office tweet sophomoric insults at one another and yuk it up on late-night talk shows while Syria burns, thousands of refugees pour into Europe, students are gunned down on our campuses and the economy continues to stagnate.
Ours is a culture in crisis, yet the Fourth Estate is more committed to its corporate profitability than to its civic responsibility. The news media did not create the current crisis, but they have failed for too long to cover it seriously and chosen instead to profit from the culture of shallow amusement. We have the media and the political leadership we deserve.
ROY ALDEN ATWOOD West Frankfort, Ill.
Corporate Welfare. Tired of hearing all the sniveling by right-wingers who hate social security, medicare, and all programs that assist the poor or middle class? They are not against public welfare. They are only against all welfare that does not go to the rich. Read Joe Nocera on Corporate Welfare for the Kochs.
The San Onofre Saga Continues. More bad news this month. In Fukushima the bad news gets worse. On Oct. 15, the medical journal Epidemiology reported the results of thyroid scans done on 298,527 Japanese children exposed to radiation. They found a 30 fold increase in thyroid cancer. Meanwhile they still have found no way to contain the radioactive waste. They now have over 580,000 deteriorating black plastic 1,000 liter bags with nowhere to go. Many washed into rivers and the ocean after a recent heavy rain. The government says nothing to worry about and is forcing people to move back into Fukushima (by denying their compensation payments if they don’t). And they are starting to open previously closed reactors again telling everyone: nothing to worry about.
A new study published in the British Medical Journal examined 407,391 nuclear industry workers in 15 countries. On Oct. 21, the International Agency for Research on Cancer summarized the results: “This study strengthens the evidence of a causal relationship between solid cancers and exposure to low doses of ionizing radiation.” The authors state that ionizing radiation is one of the most ubiquitous carcinogens in the environment. Science now has considerable evidence that even low-level radiation is dangerous but our nuclear industry continues to deny this and even argues that a little radiation is good for you.
Our own NRC has actually been very active on this issue. They have two novel solutions. The first is not to reduce radioactive contamination but rather to increase the allowable limits that the human population can be exposed to. The EPA recommends a limit of 0.5 mSv exposure and the NRC plans to raise this to 100 mSv, a huge increase. This will allow them to state that everyone is in safe limits of exposure. If you object to this, better hurry and contact the NRC. The deadline for public comment is Nov. 19.
What about the possible cancer links for those living near nuclear power plants? The solution proposed by the NRC is simple: the less the public knows, the less they will worry. The National Academy of Science has been working for 5 years on a new study to find out if the public is in danger. The research was all set to begin, but on Sept. 8 the NRC blocked the project. The nuclear industry does not want this research done. If you want to read my commentary on this in the Voice of Orange County, please click the link in the archives of this page or click here.
Evolution is back in the news! Finally some interesting news. On Oct. 19 the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences announced all kinds of new discoveries. For example, new DNA testing found that domesticated dogs actually originated in Central Asia (about 15,000 years ago). If you are not excited by that, consider another discovery of 47 human teeth found in a Chinese cave. This indicates that Homo Sapiens arrived in China 80,000 years ago, about 40,000 years before they arrived in Europe. And long before they settled in either place they (i.e., we) thrived in central Africa as long ago as 190,000 years ago.
Pushing the boundaries way back, the journal also reported that there has been life on Earth 300 million years earlier than previously estimated. So the Earth formed about 4.5 billion years ago and in a mere 300 million years, voila, there is life! More importantly, this suggests that life is more plentiful in the universe because it starts up so quickly. It reminds us of the Nobel Prize research by chemist Harold Urey in 1953 when he created “life” in a lab. He duplicated the conditions of primordial Earth (hydrogen, methane, and ammonia) and bombarded the soup with ultraviolet radiation (fake sun) and in a week he produced amino acids, the basic building blocks of life. All you need is a few protons and a lot of time and the result is life. Of course, this does not explain where the proton generator came from.
But that is only life on Earth. Boring. How many more planets are there like Earth? NASA’s Kepler spacecraft has now identified a planet outside our solar system which is pretty much just like Earth. It has also found 4,696 planets so far (called exoplanets) in the habitable Goldilocks Zone in a tiny part of our galaxy. This means that there are about 14 billion exoplanets in the rest of our own galaxy. But there are at least 100 billion galaxies. You do the math and then think about the grand scheme of things and how trivial Earth is by comparison.
Einstein is wrong about spooky action. Wait, there is one more good story in the news. A raging debate for more than a half a century in astrophysics has been whether objects at great distances can influence each other. Could a particle on one edge of the universe instantly influence a particle on the opposite side of the universe? Einstein called this “spooky action” and insisted this was nonsense. But two guys (Bas Hensen and Ronald Hanson) at Delft University in the Netherlands performed an ingenious experiment and proved Einstein was wrong. It can happen. Now if only quantum mechanics can figure out how it happens.
Originally posted on the the voiceofoc.org
Do the regular radioactive emissions from nuclear power plants (NPP) increase the risk of cancer? No one knows for sure whether living near a NPP can cause cancer, but on Sept. 8 the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) terminated a study designed to find out. It would have been carried out by the prestigious National Academy of Sciences which spent 5 years planning the study.
One of the six locations chosen for study was our own San Onofre. The medical records of everyone living within 31 miles of San Onofre (a circle from Huntington Beach around to Solana Beach) would have been part of the study. The research proposal is entitled Analysis of Cancer Risks in Populations near Nuclear Facilities.
The NRC logo is “Protecting People and the Environment” but many wonder if it should read “Protecting the Nuclear Industry and Its Profits.”
The NRC said it could not afford the $8 million, but no one swallows this since the NRC has an annual budget of over $1 billion (90 percent of which comes from the industry it is supposed to be regulating).
The NRC also said that it already knows the answer: low-level radiation coming from NPP is harmless. It continues to cite a now thoroughly discredited study by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) which examined this issue a quarter of a century ago and failed to find cancer streaks. The nuclear industry prefers this study because it likes the results.
We now know that the NCI study failed because it studied only cancer deaths, not 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. Also worrisome are recent studies in Europe which discovered that children who live near a NPP double their risk of cancer. The NAS is well-aware of this and designed part of the study to focus on children.
Instead of treating cancer as a scientific issue, the nuclear industry treats it as a PR challenge. Frequent attempts are made to trivialize the dangers of radiation. Often this involves the Radiation- Is-Everywhere tactic complete with ludicrous examples (“It’s just like eating a banana,” or “It’s just like flying to Denver”). They like to show how little radiation is in an average X-ray but they are careful not to mention that radioactive exposure is cumulative: every dose adds. Since Edison has been ejecting radiation into the atmosphere and ocean regularly for almost a half-century, the total accumulation of even low-level radiation could be a serious health hazard.
The idea that there are thresholds below which radiation is harmless was put to rest by the 2007 report of the National Research Council entitledBiological Effects of Ionizing Radiation (better known as the BEIR VII Report). It concluded that there is a linear relationship between radiation dose and cancer-causing cell damage and that there is no such thing as a threshold below which radiation is harmless. This Linear No Threshold model is now settled science.
Do people in California get cancer? According to the California Dept. of Public Health, 1.3 million Californians today have a history of cancer. In 2013, there were 144,800 new cases and 55,485 cancer deaths. About one out of four deaths in California are caused by cancer (about 152 per day) and cancer is the leading cause of death in children.
Radiation is known to adversely affect cell DNA and can lead to a host of medical problems. But causation is difficult to prove because there are many causes of cancer and health effects may not be manifested for years or even decades. In Japan, thousands of 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 outside of Hiroshima or Nagasaki.
The dirty little secret of the nuclear industry is that all NPP regularly discharge radiation into the environment. Nuclear power plants cannot operate without these discharges, and the NRC sets standards for what is allowable. They have instituted a motivational and aspirational standard called ALARA which means: As Low as Reasonably Achievable. They set limits of discharge based on estimates of how much radiation can be tolerated by the average statistical adult male even though we know that women, children, and the human fetus are far more vulnerable. Their regulations carefully state what is allowable, not what is safe. The real question should be what is safe, not what is permissible by the NRC. No one knows for sure what is safe which is why the cancer study was proposed in the first place.
San Onofre has been ejecting gaseous radionuclides into the atmosphere since 1968. They have also pumped large quantities of low-level effluent radioactive waste into the ocean through their giant pipes 18 ft. in diameter (normal flow rate is a million gallons/minute). Many do not realize that these emissions continue even after the reactors were shut down in January of 2012. In 2012 (after shutdown), 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. Those who enjoyed the ocean that day will never know because discharge days are kept secret.
What’s next? Unless another agency such as the EPA rescues the study, the research will never be conducted. Although there have been howls of protest across the country, people are up against a nuclear industry which is rich, powerful, and politically connected. Even the media in this area are afraid to cover the story with the exception of excellent reporting by Teri Sforza of the Orange County Register. Those who are concerned should immediately contact their representatives in Congress and demand that the National Academy of Science study be rescued, perhaps by another government agency such as the EPA.
Meanwhile, the Coastal Commission just approved Edison’s plan to begin construction of a massive concrete graveyard for high-level nuclear waste. They will bury thousands of tons of high-level radioactive waste in thin canisters that are guaranteed for only 10 years. The site will be a bluff on the edge of the Pacific Ocean a few hundred feet from I-5 half-way between the Los Angeles and San Diego metropolitan areas where over 8 million people live.
The nuclear industry likes to call this “spent fuel” which actually means that the profitability of the fuel is spent. This uranium and plutonium will remain lethal for millions of years. It has the radioactive equivalent of thousands of nuclear weapons. The entire venture is experimental in nature and is not based on proven technology. Instead, it relies on “vaporware” which means technology they hope to develop in the future. For example, there is no current technology to detect radiation leaks before they occur and no known way to fix them after they occur. The “plan” calls for these casks to remain at San Onofre until 2049 when they hope the government will take them away. There is currently no place for the casks and no plan to take them anywhere. Due to the corrosive salt environment they may become too fragile to move even if a place is found where the locals are willing to accept it. Opposition in this area is ignored because those who lived here in the 1960s agreed to the facility.
It is pretty clear why Edison and the NRC keep harping on their PR mantra that safety is their number one priority. What else can you do when all your plans are really risky? But actions speak louder than words. The push by the nuclear industry to block cancer research demonstrates their true colors. The plan to store tons of high-level nuclear waste in a densely populated area vulnerable to earthquakes, tsunamis, and terrorist attacks makes a mockery out of the logo: “Protecting People and the Environment.”
The author is a retired neuroscience professor living in San Clemente.
Voice of OC is interested in hearing different perspectives and voices. If you want to weigh in on this issue please contact Voice of OC Engagement Editor Julie Gallego at email@example.com.
In the News, October 2015
Update on San Onofre
The NRC has killed the cancer streak study which would have been carried out in the 31 mile area surrounding San Onofre. The National Academy of Sciences has been working on this for 5 years, but on Sept. 8 the NRC terminated the study just as it was about to begin collecting data. Read about it here: http://www.ocregister.com/articles/nuclear-682289-nrc-cancer.html or see what yours truly wrote about it in the Oct. 8 issue of the San Clemente Times. The link is not yet on line but below is the text:
Guest Opinion, San Clemente Times, Oct. 8-14, 2015
Does Living Near San Onofre Increase Cancer Risks?
Roger Johnson, PhD
Cancer is a serious health issue everywhere, and this is especially true in San Clemente where we all live near a nuclear power plant. Is living near a nuclear power plant (NPP) increase the risk of cancer? We may never know because on Sept. 8 the Nuclear Regulatory Commission terminated research designed to answer this question.
The National Academy of Sciences has been working on this for 5 years. Last December, they released a report entitled Analysis of Cancer Risks in Populations Near Nuclear Facilities (http://www.nap.edu/download.php?record_id=18968). The study would have been conducted near 6 NPP including our own San Onofre. If you lived within 31 miles of San Onofre, you would be in the study. The research would have focused on children who (along with woman and the human fetus) are far more vulnerable to radiation.
Studying this issue is difficult because there are many sources of radiation and many causes of cancer. We do know that radiation effects are cumulative and the National Academy of Sciences has reported that even low levels of radiation can be harmful. Edison has been regularly discharging low-level radiation into the ocean and into our air since 1968. Recent studies in Europe have reported that just living near a NPP can double the risks of cancer in children.
The current study was proposed because the nuclear industry has been relying on an old and discredited study by the National Cancer Institute done a quarter of a century ago. The NRC likes this study because it was unable to find cancer streaks. But this study examined cancer deaths, not cancer incidence, and it studied where people died rather than where they lived or worked. Even worse, it averaged people who lived near a NPP with those who lived far away. No wonder it failed to find an effect. Scientists know that failure to find an effect is never proof that there is no effect. Nevertheless, the nuclear industry has used this study to mislead the public and suggest that radiation is harmless. Trivializing radiation dangers is a common PR tactic for the industry.
According to the California Dept. of Public Health, 1.3 million Californians today have a history of cancer. In 2013, there were 144,800 new cases and 55,485 cancer deaths. About one out of four deaths in CA are caused by cancer (about 152 per day) and cancer is the leading cause of death in children.
Cancer is not one disease but rather a large group of diseases characterized by uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells. Cancer-causing radiation can easily penetrate living tissue which is why technicians hide behind lead shielding every time you get an Xray. Radiation is known to adversely affect cell DNA, but exact causation is difficult to prove because health effects are sometimes not manifested for years or even decades. In Japan, thousands of 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.
The NRC sets standards on what is allowable based on estimates of risk to the average adult male. They state what is permissible, not what is safe. San Onofre’s environmental emissions continue even after reactors were shut down in January of 2012. For example, in 2012 (after shutdown), there were 335.1 hours of liquid effluent release of radionuclides. The longest one went on continuously for 28 hours discharging 1.03 billion gallons into the ocean. Were you in the ocean that day? You will never know because discharge days are secret.
The public should be outraged that the nuclear industry has blocked cancer research.
Anyone concerned should contact their representatives in Congress and demand that the study be rescued by the EPA or some other government agency. For more background, read http://www.ocregister.com/articles/nuclear-682289-nrc-cancer.html Everyone should be concerned, especially since the current plan is to store thousands of tons of uranium and plutonium indefinitely a few miles from here. There is no known technology for storing this material safely for decades or centuries. It represents a major threat not only to San Clemente but to all of Southern California.
The author is a retired neuroscience professor living in San Clemente.
The Coastal Commission approves constructing a nuclear waste dump at San Onofre. In a shocking unanimous vote on Oct. 6, the CA Coastal Commission gave Edison the go-ahead to start building a huge nuclear storage facility next to the beach in San Onofre. The nuclear industry likes to call this “spent fuel” but that euphemism only means that the profitability is spent. The thousands of tons of uranium and plutonium will remain lethal for hundreds of thousands of years. This waste has the same radioactive potential as thousands of nuclear weapons.
The nuclear waste storage facility is officially located in San Clemente (where Edison has a mailbox). Edison would like everyone to believe that the Dept. of Energy will remove the waste in 2049 but this is unlikely to happen. There is no plan to move it, and it is likely to remain here for the rest of the century or perhaps many centuries. The thin canisters in which the waste will be stored are fragile and deteriorate over time. There are safer canisters available, but Edison refuses to consider them. The salt water environment causes corrosion and cracking and they are guaranteed for only 10 years. Decades from now they may become too fragile to move even if there is a repository. With current technology there is no way to inspect internally for leaks and no way to fix leaks if they are detected. For more details, see SanOnofreSafety.Org and see an excellent letter by Mike Aguire in the current issue of San Clemente Times. If you are concerned about this, immediately write to your representatives in Congress and demand that Congress supports the National Academy of Sciences cancer study. Demand that the EPA rescue the study. As for the nuclear waste dump, write to CA officials at all levels from Jerry Brown to your city council members.
Corporate behavior is like weather: everyone talks about it but no one does anything about it. Maybe it is like airplane crashes: it happens regularly and goes unreported until there is a big story and then the media pile on. Many see disturbing trends from irresponsibility to downright criminal behavior. Some corporate behavior as the root cause of income inequality (http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/09/opinion/sunday/capitalists-arise-we-need-to-deal-with-income-inequality.html). The productivity of American workers has increased by 80% in the last 4 decades but real wages continue to be flat except for the very rich. Most gains go to shareholders and top management, not to workers. Top executives focus on short-term profits which benefit themselves. Making America great again has come to mean transferring more money to the rich at the expense of everyone else.
While income of top executives continues to skyrocket, so does corporate irresponsibility. Let’s start with the big one: Volkswagen/Audi admitted that they deliberately rigged millions of cars with electronic defeat devices to pollute the planet except when the engines were being tested for emissions. CEO Martin Winterkorn resigned of course, but with a smile on his face because he walks away rewarded with a $67 million golden parachute. It remains to be seen if other automakers did the same thing or something else illegal to defy safety regulations. One analyst said that the death toll is about the same as that caused by the ignition defect that GM lied about for years (http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/29/upshot/how-many-deaths-did-volkswagens-deception-cause-in-us.html). Another described how it is common practice for the industry cheat on safety regulations (http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/29/world/europe/volkswagen-scandal-highlights-european-stalling-on-new-emissions-tests.html). Meanwhile, VW spent $165 million advertising its diesel cars as clean and fun to drive. And the Senate Finance Committee is now investigating millions in tax credits VW asked for because it claimed fuel-efficient cars. As for GM, there was not a single indictment of a GM employee. Top Federal prosecutor Preet Bharara explained that is it very difficult to prosecute industry executives for what their companies do that harms the public. Could this have anything to do with the top two priorities of one particular political party? (Tax breaks for the rich and cutting government regulations, in case you didn’t guess.)
True, a peanut farmer in Georgia was sentenced to 28 years in jail for salmonella poisoning (see Revenge of the Jetta by Peter Conniff, NYT Sept. 27 or Of Peanuts and Prosecutions the day before by Joe Nocera). But what about all the other cases? On Sept. 25, Paul Krugman commented on how the political class and their lobbyists have declared war on regulations. The argument is that business can do no wrong and that government has no role in limiting corporate misbehavior. His column was called Dewey, Cheatem & Howe and he is not talking about the Car Talk guys (http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/25/opinion/dewey-cheatem-howe.html). He mentions Turing Pharmaceuticals which bought rights to a drug for treating parasitic infections. They promptly jacked up the price from $13 to $750 a tablet. You probably heard about the new class of cholesterol drugs that work far better than statins but have no side effects. The only problem is that the drug companies charge $14,000/year.
When Hillary Clinton released a plan to limit drug prices, Republicans promptly launched into a knee-jerk opposition to all regulations. Jeb Bush wrote an Op-Ed in the Wall Street Journal last week denouncing “creativity-crushing” and “job-killing” government regulations. Bush wants to eliminate regulations on coal ash which is full of deadly mercury. He doesn’t want any regulations on internet providers (in Europe, internet providers are regulated and the result is cheaper and faster service). Bush goes on calling for a rollback of financial regulations which could allow banks to run wild again.
Speaking of corruption in banking, how about the six brokers who rigged the Libor rates (http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/07/business/dealbook/trial-opens-for-6-brokers-accused-of-rigging-libor.html?_r=0). They gave themselves colorful names like “Lord Libor” and “Big Nose.” They succeeded in manipulating the Libor, an index which determines many mortgage rates. The Libor rate affects trillions of dollars in borrow costs.
What about the hypocrisy of Bush when it is big corporations who are some of the biggest job killers. One of the most unprincipled acts of corporations is to misuse the H1B visa program to fire American workers. This has been going on for some time but the NYT decided to make it a front page story Sept. 30: Special visas help copycats take US jobs: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/30/us/toys-r-us-brings-temporary-foreign-workers-to-us-to-move-jobs-overseas.html?_r=0 The program was supposed to bring in highly skilled technical workers from abroad (meaning India) to help corporations that are stuck with less qualified Americans. In practice it is just the opposite. The corporations (ToysRUs, Disney, etc.) bring in unskilled novices from India, have the highly-skilled Americans train them to do their own jobs, then they fire the Americans. It is demeaning and insulting to have American tech people train their own replacement, but they are forced to do so (and have to sign non-disclosure agreements) or they will lose their severance package.
How about the old paragon of corporate decency, Johnson & Johnson? They got caught lying about the serious medical consequences of their off-label drug Risperdol. Nicholas Kristof wrote a piece called When Crime Pays. He found that the man behind the drug promotion was none other than CEO Alex Gorsky whose salary is $25 million. (http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/17/opinion/nicholas-kristof-when-crime-pays-jjs-drug-risperdal.html). Or read what Huffington Post calls America’s Most Admired Lawbreaker (http://highline.huffingtonpost.com/miracleindustry/americas-most-admired-lawbreaker/). J & J brushed off the billions it is costing them to settle 4,200 lawsuits. “Just the cost of doing business,” quipped one J&J lawyer. A cost of course built into the price of every J&J product you buy.
And what about Coca-Cola? Turns out that have a program to lavishly fund any scientist who is willing to shift focus away from soda as a major factor in obesity. Even the American Academy of Pediatrics got sucked into this and praised Coca Cola for its commitment to the cause of children’s health. Let’s see, a can of coke has over 9 teaspoons of sugar in it and a 20 oz. Coke contains about 16 tsp. At least it no longer contains cocaine.
Moving closer to home, how about the California utilities who are very annoyed that people are turning to clean and green solar power. They see it as a threat to their profits and they are now heavily lobbying the Public Utilities Commission for new fees to discourage people from turning to solar power (http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-solar-net-metering-20150927-story.html).
New Book about the Clintons
Remember back in 1998 when the First Lady went public in defense of Bill by claiming that there was a “vast right-wing conspiracy” to bring down the Clintons? The issue keeps resurfacing and it now appears that Hillary was right. On Fox News, the new Speaker of the House-to-be Kevin McCarthy blundered into admitting that the purpose of the Benghazi hearings was not to clarify what happened in Benghazi but rather to get Clinton and lower her poll ratings. A few days earlier on CNN, husband Bill defended Hillary and said that the Email issue was part of the same attacks that go way back to the phony Whitewater charges of 1992.
Now there is a new book out Killing the Messenger: The Right-Wing Plot to Derail Hillary and Hijack Your Government. It was written by none other than David Brock who used to be part of the conspiracy but switched sides and now does a tell-all about how the movement to destroy the Clintons has matured into a well-funded conglomerate not only by the Republican establishment but also by FOX News and various command headquarters on K Street. Here is a review: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/27/books/review/david-brocks-killing-the-messenger.html
Like all Shakespeare plays, one has to end with an uplifting note no matter how grim things are. Go see He Named Me Malala about the teenage high school girl from Pakistan who was shot in the head by Taliban gunmen trying to prevent girls from becoming educated. Perhaps you saw Jon Stewart devote an entire program to a conversation with her. She is intelligent, articulate, and outspoken. Recently she scolded the world by observing that a few days of military spending could pay for the education of all kids in the world. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/27/opinion/sunday/nicholas-kristof-malala-yousafzais-fight-continues.html By the way, if you want an entertaining movie, go see A Walk in the Woods about two old farts (Robert Redford and Nick Nolte) who find meaning in life by hiking the Appalachian Trail.