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:

Readers React

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.  

 

 

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