Sunday, June 10, 2012

PNN Backgrounder 6/10/12

PNN 6/10/12

7:05 - 7:20 Ellis Robinson (Ruth's List)
7:22- 7:35pm - Dr. Lynn Ringenberg - coal ash issues
7:36 - 7:47 - Drew Martin - Sierra Club training on population
7:48 - 7:57 - Ann Fonfa
1. With the continued erosion of civil liberties that began in the Bush years and has expanded in the Obama administration, it was hopeful that a federal judge struck down one of the most chilling laws in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA): the right of the government to suspend habeas corpus and indefinitely detain US citizens under military authority.
What is habeas corpus? One dictionary definition is "a writ requiring a person to be brought before a judge or court, especially for investigation of a restraint of the person's liberty, used as a protection against illegal imprisonment." In short, under the NDAA, a president or his/her proxy could have you apprehended and detained without any legal process. This is what happened to people in the Soviet Union, in Nazi Germany, and countries such as Argentina during the dirty wars. It is the elimination of a key constitutional guarantee that distinguishes a democracy based on civil liberties from fascism and tyranny.
According to,
Tuesday's decision by a New York federal judge halts a key terror-fighting feature of the 2011 National Defense Authorization Act and is a blow to the Obama administration. The government urged U.S. District Judge Katherine B. Forrest not to adopt a nationwide ban on the measure, saying the move would be "extraordinary" and "unwarranted."
But the judge, ruling in a case brought by journalists and political activists, said the law was too vague and did not provide clear guidance on whom the government could indefinitely detain.
Last month when Judge Forrest granted standing to the plaintiffs based on their fears of being detained for their writing and political activism, she wrote that, "Before anyone should be subjected to the possibility of indefinite military detention, the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment requires that individuals be able to understand what conduct might cause him or her to run afoul of" the statute.
In short, Judge Forrest said that the clause allowing indefinite detention, bypassing the judicial process, was far too vague in its potential application, warning that a US citizen could violate the law without even knowing it.
The Obama administration wanted the ruling to apply only to the plaintiffs in the case, including noted pro-democracy journalist Chris Hedges. But the federal judge said her striking of the provision applied to all US citizens.
Given that we now have a president who one day a week sits down and goes over an assassination list, where he - Roman rule style - gives a thumbs up or thumbs down to who will be killed in the "war on terror," the ruling is a hopeful sign.
How did we get a constitutional lawyer as president who supports violating the Constitution?
At least some judges, despite Congress and the White House, value the nation's founding document and the protections of due process granted to US citizens contained therein.

2. When I see reports of drones hitting wedding parties, mosques and other civilian collateral damage, I have to question whether being so detached from these attacks allows us to lose our humanity over the loss of lives.
So with the caveat of my conflicted feelings on the use of drones, the framing of this particular article in The Daily Beast really struck me as very odd.
[State Dept. legal adviser Harold] Koh, perhaps the most forceful advocate of human rights law in the Obama administration, was preparing a speech in defense of targeted killing, and wanted to do his homework; he wasn’t going to put his reputation in jeopardy without knowing the drone strike program and its protocols inside and out. He spent hours at Langley grilling agency lawyers and operators. The operators were naturally suspicious of Koh—a wariness only fueled by Koh’s blunt demeanor. “I hear you guys have a PlayStation mentality,” he said.
The operators of the unmanned drones were civilians, but most were ex-Air Force pilots who took umbrage at the idea that they were “cubicle warriors” morally detached from killing. The lead operator lit into Koh. “I used to fly my own air missions,” he began defensively. “I dropped bombs, hit my target load, but had no idea who I hit. Here I can look at their faces. I watch them for hours, see these guys playing with their kids and wives. When I get them alone, I have no compunction about blowing them to bits. But I wouldn’t touch them with civilians around. After the strike, I see the bodies being carried out of the house. I see the women weeping and in positions of mourning. That’s not PlayStation; that’s real. My job is to watch after the strike too. I count the bodies and watch the funerals. I don’t let others clean up the mess.”

The conversation must have proved persuasive; Koh gave his speech, defending the legal underpinning of the job the drone operator and his colleagues do.
So what am I supposed to take from this? That drone operators have feelings, too? That their ability to watch the grieving widows carry the bodies out of the house somehow ameliorates the disingenuousness of how "surgical" these strikes are supposed to be? And while the Obama administration may want to contain how much we consider the civilian casualties, there's fairly good arguments that this kind of self-delusion is significantly hurting our long-term interests.

By: Heather Taylor-Miesle NRDC Action Fund Saturday June 9, 2012 7:00 pm

Photo: eutrophication&hypoxia
You may have heard about the recent kerfluffle surrounding the Obama campaign’s late addition of “clean coal” to the list of energy priorities listed on its website. This has me wondering why so many Dirty Energy politicians are so excited about “clean coal.”
The premise behind “clean coal” is presumably that coal is inherently dirty, but that if you do enough to deal with all that filth, you can make it clean. Many would argue that coal can never be clean. But, watching the polluter posse’s votes in congress and listening to their rhetoric on the campaign trail, you’d think that coal isn’t even dirty.
Here is just a selection of the recent times when Members of Congress had the chance to go on the record in support of cleaning up coal:
In April 2011, an amendment in the Senate to strip EPA of its ability to reduce the carbon pollution received 50 votes. Since coal fired power plants are a large source of carbon pollution, this was presumed to be part of EPA’s “War on Coal.” The House version of the bill had passed in a vote of 255 to 172.
In October, the House voted on and passed a bill that would prohibit the EPA from setting strict rules on how to dispose of toxic coal ash, which is filled with arsenic, lead and mercury. It passed with 267 votes. The Senate companion already has 13 cosponsors. Pro-coal members are now trying to tuck a version of this bill into the transportation bill, since it is unlikely to be signed into law by President Obama.
In November, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul offered a resolution that would have stopped lifesaving new protections to reduce smog and soot pollution. It garnered 41 votes and fell short of passing.
And now, Senator Jim Inhofe has filed a new resolution to void long-overdue limits on mercury pollution from coal-fired power plants.
There doesn’t seem to be nearly enough support for “clean coal” when I look at this record. Instead, I see politicians who want to ensure that coal never has to get cleaner. From mercury that damages the brains of unborn children to the devastation of mountaintop removal mining to nasty spills of coal waste, some clean coal advocates seem almost eager to look the other way.
Surely some of these clean coal proponents will claim that the coal should be cleaned up, but that coal companies and power plants just need more time to do it. Don’t be fooled. The special resolutions being used to try to stop many of these pollution rules would stop EPA from ever issuing a similar rule again. That likely means that if Senator Inhofe gets his way, mercury at these power plants would spew forth into our families and our environment, without limits, forever.
Montana Senate candidate Denny Rehberg says he wants to make clean coal “safer and more efficient.” Yet, he’s supported each of the efforts above. What does clean coal mean to him?
Pennsylvania Senate candidate Tom Smith is bankrolling his own candidacy with funds he earned as an executive in the coal industry. He sees clean coal as a tremendous opportunity. Do you think he’ll support any of the efforts to actually make coal cleaner?
It’s time to stop the greenwashing. Rebranding dirty old coal as “clean coal” doesn’t magically make the filth disappear. Next time you hear a candidate propound the virtues of clean coal, I urge you to ask whether they see “clean coal” as a real aspiration for improving public health and the environment or just the vessel of another empty promise.

4. Cheap and stable electricity is vital. If all the reactors that previously provided 30% of Japan's electricity supply are halted, or kept idle, Japanese society cannot survive," Mr Noda said.
He added that some companies could possibly move production out of Japan, losing vital jobs as a result.
"It is my decision that Ohi reactors No 3 and No 4 should be restarted to protect the people's livelihoods," he said.
Controversial move
Mr Noda and members of his cabinet could make a formal decision by next week if the governor of Fukui prefecture, where the reactors are located, agrees.
But the move is extremely controversial, reports the BBC's Roland Buerk.
Earlier this week, a third of governing party members of parliament petitioned Mr Noda, urging him to exercise "greater caution" over the issue.
Protests met the prime minister's announcement in central Tokyo, with people waving placards stating, "We oppose restarts".
His statement was made only a few hours after the former president of the Fukushima plant operator testified before a high-profile investigative panel appointed by parliament.
Masataka Shimizu said that he did not consider a pullout of the plant's workers during the height of the crisis as had been alleged.
In April, the government set stricter safety guidelines for nuclear plants in a bid to win public confidence for restarts. These include the installation of filtered vents and a device to prevent hydrogen explosions.
Last month, the government asked businesses and households in parts of the country to cut electricity usage by up to 15% to avoid possible blackouts.

5. New MIT Study on Radiation Risks and Protective Action Guidelines
A new study from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) scientists suggests that the guidelines governments use to determine when to evacuate people following a nuclear accident may be too conservative.

The study, led by Bevin Engelward and Jacquelyn Yanch and published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, found that when mice were exposed to radiation doses about 400 times greater than background levels for five weeks, no DNA damage could be detected.

Read the press release here. Read the journal article here.

BACKGROUND: In the event of a nuclear accident, people are exposed to elevated levels of continuous low dose-rate radiation. Nevertheless, most of the literature describes the biological effects of acute radiation. Our major aim is to reveal potential genotoxic effects of low dose-rate radiation.
OBJECTIVES: DNA damage and mutations are well established for their carcinogenic effects. Here, we assessed several key markers of DNA damage and DNA damage responses in mice exposed to low dose-rate radiation.
METHODS: We studied low dose-rate radiation using a variable low dose-rate irradiator consisting of flood phantoms filled with 125Iodine-containing buffer. Mice were exposed to 0.0002 cGy/min (~400X background radiation) continuously over the course of 5 weeks. We assessed base lesions, micronuclei, homologous recombination (using fluorescent yellow direct repeat [FYDR] mice), and transcript levels for several radiation-sensitive genes.
RESULTS: Under low dose-rate conditions, we did not observe any changes in the levels of the DNA nucleobase damage products hypoxanthine, 8-oxo-7,8-dihydroguanine, 1,N6-ethenoadenine or 3,N4-ethenocytosine above background. The micronucleus assay revealed no evidence that low dose-rate radiation induced DNA fragmentation. Furthermore, there was no evidence of double strand break-induced homologous recombination. Finally, low dose-rate radiation did not induce Cdkn1a, Gadd45a, Mdm2, Atm, or Dbd2. Importantly, the same total dose, when delivered acutely, induced micronuclei and transcriptional responses.
CONCLUSIONS: Together, these results demonstrate in an in vivo animal model that lowering the dose-rate suppresses the potentially deleterious impact of radiation, and calls attention to the need for a deeper understanding of the biological impact of low dose-rate radiation.

6. Fukushima forum: Dr. John Apsley says U.S. is feeling the effects of radiation
Dr. John Apsley appeared on the Fukushima forum on Coast to Coast AM on Saturday, June 9, 2012. For more than 30 years Dr. Apsley, author of “Fukushima Meltdown & Modern Radiation: Protecting Ourselves and Our Future Generations” has specialized in cell regeneration and accelerated wound repair. He appeared on the show to deliver his findings on the effects of Fukushima radioactive fall-out on the Japanese people, as well as Americans.
Dr. Apsely started off by making a few comparisons between Fukushima and Chernobyl. According to Apsely, the fuel pools at Fukushima contained 7 times the amount of nuclear waste as the fuel pools at Chernobyl. There were also 6 times the number of people in the area surrounding Fukushima and the west coast of the United States as there were in the area around Chernobyl.
With these figures in mind, Apsely says we're looking at a catastrophe that can be anywhere from seven to forty-two times worse than Chernobyl. Initial estimates at Chernobyl indicated that only about 64 deaths were related to the incident. That number has since grown to more than 1 million, and if you also include the number of people who were crippled or maimed the number skyrockets to more than 8 million over the 20-year period since the meltdown.
Apsley says the Japanese people and the American people are not being told the truth. The Japanese government, in order to avoid panic, is lowering the acceptable levels of radiation in food. However, there is no safe level of radiation. Radiation stays in our system for up to 250-300 years and whether it's one rad or 20, it's still radiation.
Apsley also says researchers are working off false comparisons to the A-bombs dropped on Nagasaki when calculating the potential effects and losses. The A-bomb is a clean bomb, meaning that it had a more perfect energy conversion, releasing few radioactive particles into the atmosphere. The meltdown at Fukushima is releasing far more radiation into the atmosphere and if unit 4 were to tumble, it would have the same effect as 1,100 A-bombs.
According to Apsley much more radiation than we've been led to believe has made its way to the American shores. Because of the prevailing winds at the time of the Fukushima incident, the west coast of the United States has been exposed to serious levels of radioactive fall-out. Hardest hit were Colorado and Wyoming. Surprisingly, Jacksonville, Florida falls into this category, too, due to wind currents.
But one of the hardest hit states in the nation is Pennsylvania because of the intense rainfall they had in the area approximately 3 weeks after the explosion. This rainfall carried tremendous amounts of radiation into the area.
According to Apsley, there has been a 48% increase in infant death rates in the Philidelphia area as a direct result of radiation. Vancouver, Canada has also experienced a 60% increase in infant death rates.
Apsley estimates the United States will see 5-15% damage to their overall health compared to what the people in Japan will experience. He's predicting 5-7 million deaths over the next 20 years in Japan and another 8-25 million people will be maimed over that same time span. Most will be newborns who will suffer because of their parent's exposure to the radiation.
The radiation that's made its way to North America is settling into the ground and being absorbed into the food we eat. Apsley advises that we eat super-foods which, when absorbed into our bodies, can help eliminate the radiation. Super-foods include mushrooms, whey products, fruits and vegetables that wake up our immune system.
In the course of his research, Apsley discovered two hospitals located in Hiroshima. After the A-bomb was dropped one hospital had an almost 100% mortality rate while the other was exactly the opposite. The second hospital had almost a 100% recovery rate and it was because the were using a special food diet to help stimulate patients' immune systems to help flush out radioactivity.
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