Sunday, January 12, 2014

PNN - 1/12/14

RWS - 
ED Buckner President of American Atheists (Author)
Rob Boston Communications Director Americans United for the Separation of Church and State
Joe Beck Founder of Treasure Coast Humanist Association 
Greg Wilson Unitarian Universalist Minister

1.No Water for you - just say NO WATER to 300,000 plus
On Thursday,  an estimated 300,000 residents of nine counties in West Virginia were told they could not use or drink their tap water after a chemical used to wash coal of impurities spilled from a holding tank into the Elk River. The spill prompted Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin to declare a state of emergency, and 9-1-1 received  more than 1,000 calls in the hours after a spill, with  four or five people transported to the hospital by ambulance. According to the  National Library of Medicine, repeated or prolonged exposure to the chemical, 4-Methylcyclohexane Methanol, can “cause headaches, irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat, and can also cause a skin rash.

2. No one knows when the leak started or how much has leaked into the Elk River. It was complaints of an odor coming from communities near the river that triggered city and county officials to investigate. They found the source of the spill at 4 p.m. Thursday, but had no way of knowing how long the chemical had been leaking. McIntyre also said he didn’t think the chemical was still leaking, but didn’t know the current status of the spill for sure. According to a  Department of Environmental Protection spokesman, the state is “confident that no more than 5,000 gallons escaped,” but only knows that “a certain amount of that got into the river. Some of that was contained.”

3. The water company has had no contact with Freedom Industries, the company that manufactures the spilled chemical. According to McIntyre, the company provided no notice of the spill and hasn’t been in communication with the water company since.

4. There is no standard process for testing the toxicity of the spilled chemical in water. When the water company found out about the spill, it was originally told it was a different chemical than the 4-Methylcyclohexane Methanol, that had spilled into the water. But even when the company found out what the chemical was, it couldn’t answer many questions about it. “This not a chemical that’s typical to be in water treatment process,” McIntyre said during the press conference. 

Almost exactly two years after national protests defeated the so-called Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and one year after information activist Aaron Swartz took his own life, Washington is in the midst of another fight about democratic freedoms, the free flow of information, civil liberties and limits on government power.

In this debate about reforming the National Security Administration, the Beltway is (in typical fashion) busy talking primarily to itself, as if nobody else matters. Dominating the conversation are loyal NSA defenders, who are now ramping up their efforts to shield the agency from any accountability whatsoever. Meanwhile, there are signs that White House officials are hostile to the most minimal reform proposals, even the ones from its own NSA panel.


    1. Visit

    2. Sign up to indicate that you’ll participate and receive updates

    3. Sign up to install widgets on websites encouraging its visitors to fight back against surveillance.

    4. Use social media tools on the site to announce your participation

    5. Develop memes, tools, websites, and do whatever else you can to participate and encourage others to do so.

A hermetically sealed D.C. echo chamber, a public left out of anti-democratic policies being made in its name — this is what led up to the explosive SOPA protests, and if key players in the anti-SOPA coalition are successful, it will now be the story of early 2014. With a hard-hitting new film about Swartz set to release at the Sundance Film Festival, and with tech firms suddenly scrambling to recast themselves as critics of mass spying, those anti-SOPA activists this morning announced a major grassroots mobilization against NSA surveillance on February 11th.

Dubbing it “The Day We Fight Back,” the coalition includes Access, Demand Progress, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Fight for the Future, Free Press, BoingBoing, Reddit, Mozilla and ThoughtWorks. According to the press release about the February 11th mobilization, the groups aim to “bring pressure to bear against American lawmakers and the National Security Agency, to demand an end to mass surveillance of Americans and the citizens of the whole world.” Here’s the coalition’s specific call to action:

3. Rove says - "bridge-gate make christie more presidential" 
Republican strategist Karl Rove asserted on Sunday that New Jersey's Gov. Chris Christie's (R) handling of the George Washington Bridge Scandal showed he had the right qualities to be president of the United States.

During a panel segment on Fox News Sunday, host John Roberts pointed out that many Republicans were praising Christie for firing one of his top aides after a newspaper exposed his administration's role in closing part of the busiest bridge in the world as part of political retribution plot, but President Barack Obama had not fired anyone over the health care reform law.


The framers of the Constitution were wise to  include Congress  in the process of framing and approving trade agreements made by presidents. That authority to provide advice and consent should, the wisest legislators have always argued, be zealously guarded.

Unfortunately, in recent decades, Congress has frequently surrendered its authority when it comes to the shaping of trade agreements. By granting so-called "fast-track authority" to the White House, Congress opts itself out of the process at the critical stage when an agreement is being struck and retains only the ability to say "yes" or "no" to a done deal.

The result has been a framing of US trade agreements that is great for multinational corporations but lousy for workers, communities and the environment. Instead of benefitting the great mass of people in the United States and countries with which it trades, deals such as the North American Free Trade Agreement and the permanent normalization of trade relations agreement with China de-emphasize worker rights, human rights, environmental and democracy concerns and clear the way for a race to the bottom.

Candidate Barack Obama recognized this. In 2008, he told Pennsylvania labor activists...

    "The current Fast Track process does not mandate that agreements include binding labor and environmental protections nor does it give an adequate role to Congress in the selection and design of agreements. I will work with Congressional leaders to ensure that any new TPA authority fix these basic failings and open up the process to the American people for their participation and scrutiny."

That reference to opening up the process to the American people is key. When members of the House and Senate are engaged with the negotiation process, they can bring the concerns of citizens -- not just those of corporations with powerful lobbyists and connections -- to the fore. That's how representative democracy is supposed to work, and this is especially vital when it comes to debates about economic policy.

Now, however, President Obama is seeking "fast-track" authority that activists and trade specialists say does not guarantee the sort of congressional oversight and citizen involvement that candidate Obama recognized as essential. And on Thursday, Obama's choice to become the US ambassador to China, Senate Finance Committee chairman Max Baucus, D-Montana, joined with House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp, R-Michigan, to introduced legislation to clear the way for the president and his aides to negotiate sweeping new trade deals, such as the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, with limited congressional oversight.

“For nearly four years, the U.S. Trade Representative and TPP negotiators have purposely restricted participation and information, keeping members of Congress and citizen groups, unions, environmental and consumer organizations in the dark," said Communications Workers of America President Larry Cohen. "There has been no opportunity for public interest groups to meaningfully participate in the negotiations, and under fast track authority, there will be no opportunity for our elected representatives to amend the deal and make it better for Americans."

Said Charles Chamberlain, Executive Director, Democracy for America, "The Trans-Pacific Partnership would be an unmitigated disaster for everything from the environment to internet freedom and working families."

He added, "Let's be clear: A vote for fast track authority on the TPP is a vote for a deal that will hurt hardworking Americans and haunt every single member of Congress, Republican or Democrat, who votes for it.". 

5. faux news expose - 
Gabriel Sherman's new book on Roger Ailes - "the loudest voices in the room"

6. Fracking we don't need to worry about franking
    — Pennsylvania has confirmed at least 106 water-well contamination cases since 2005, out of more than 5,000 new wells. There were five confirmed cases of water-well contamination in the first nine months of 2012, 18 in all of 2011 and 29 in 2010. The Environmental Department said more complete data may be available in several months.

    — Ohio had 37 complaints in 2010 and no confirmed contamination of water supplies; 54 complaints in 2011 and two confirmed cases of contamination; 59 complaints in 2012 and two confirmed contaminations; and 40 complaints for the first 11 months of 2013, with two confirmed contaminations and 14 still under investigation, Department of Natural Resources spokesman Mark Bruce said in an email. None of the six confirmed cases of contamination was related to fracking, Bruce said.

    — West Virginia has had about 122 complaints that drilling contaminated water wells over the past four years, and in four cases the evidence was strong enough that the driller agreed to take corrective action, officials said.

    — A Texas spreadsheet contains more than 2,000 complaints, and 62 of those allege possible well-water contamination from oil and gas activity, said Ramona Nye, a spokeswoman for the Railroad Commission of Texas, which oversees drilling. Texas regulators haven't confirmed a single case of drilling-related water-well contamination in the past 10 years, she said.

7. from Patrick Murphy - his non-answer on does he support FAST TRACK

As your Congressional representative, I am greatly concerned about the impact of unbalanced trade on Florida's economy.  Done wrong, trade can cost talented and hardworking employees to lose their jobs.  We agree that American workers and farmers should not have to compete with countries like China that pay little or no attention to environmental and labor standards.  I have been working to shift the conversations surrounding the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations towards leveling the playing field for America workers and address currency manipulation.  I strongly believe that American workers can compete against workers across the globe so long as the competition is fair.  America boasts the most educated and most productive workforce with an innovative and entrepreneurial spirit unmatched worldwide.  Done right, trade ought to mean exporting U.S. products - not U.S. jobs.

In order for the millions of small business owners across the country to compete in the global economy, our trade policy should promote the ingenuity and superior craftsmanship of American businesses large and small.  That is why I support legislation to promote American manufacturing and infrastructure development.  In fact, the first bill I introduced as a Member of Congress would boost small businesses' manufacturing capability by promoting the use of clean, high-tech, and efficient processes.  I continue to believe that free trade that is fair will mean more jobs for Americans, and I will continue to fight efforts to ship U.S. jobs overseas.

8. Why TPP must be stopped
from crooks and liars - joshua holland

The post-NAFTA era has been marked by growing inequality, declining job security and new leverage for corporations to attack government regulations enacted in the public interest.

But it wasn’t supposed to be that way. Back in 1986, when the leaders of the US, Canada and Mexico began talks on a regional trade deal that eight years later would culminate in the signing of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), they sold the pact to the public as an economic win-win for all parties involved.

On signing the treaty in 1994, then-President Bill Clinton said, “NAFTA means jobs. American jobs, and good-paying American jobs. If I didn’t believe that, I wouldn’t support this agreement.” He promised that NAFTA would result in “an export boom to Mexico,” and claimed that such trade deals “transcend ideology” because support for them “is so uniform that it unites people in both parties.”

Twenty years later, we can test how those claims panned out in the real world. And Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch did just that, releasing a comprehensive study of NAFTA’s impacts.

Last week, Global Trade Watch Director Lori Wallach spoke to Moyers & Company about NAFTA at age 20, and what it portends for other trade treaties like the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Below is a transcript of the conversation, edited for clarity.

Joshua Holland: Last Wednesday was the twentieth anniversary of NAFTA going into effect. Has it at least led to an increase in the trade of goods and services between the US, Canada and Mexico?

Lori Wallach: That is the only measure where you can show that the promises of NAFTA’s proponents were met. The flow of goods has increased. Unfortunately, that flow has been a huge surge of imports into the United States, from Mexico, and, interestingly, from Canada, so that we’ve seen the displacement of one million jobs on net because of the huge increase — a 450 percent increase — in our trade deficit in the 20 years since NAFTA went into effect.

Holland: They said that it would be a net job winner. At the time, the conventional wisdom was that there would be some job displacement but the vast majority of us would be winners in this.

What about Canada and Mexico? I know Mexico’s agricultural labor market was devastated by NAFTA, as subsidized corn and other products flooded into the country, and it certainly spurred a huge wave of immigration from the south, as all those agricultural workers lost their jobs. But in terms of employment in other sectors, did it end up a net winner or loser for them?

Wallach: Mexico is probably the saddest story ofNAFTA’s effect because, 20 years into the agreement, the level of employment in manufacturing there is actually down relative to its pre-NAFTA economy.

Part of that is the result of NAFTA having wiped out a lot of the small and medium size production: food processing and small textile and apparel plants, and other plants that were supplying the independent mom and pop stores which were devastated by the invasion of the Wal-Marts and other big US chains. There’s a whole movement called El Barz√≥n of folks who had been the owners of those factories or of those small retail stores, who had been for NAFTA in the beginning but are now very strong NAFTA opponents.

Also, if you look at Mexico, the level of poverty has stayed the same, but income inequality has increased, and industrial wages are actually down in real terms.

One statistic that really shows the failure of the free trade model is that the price paid to Mexico’s farmers for their corn dropped 80 percent within the first three years of NAFTA, as a huge flood of subsidized US corn started flowing in. But the price Mexicans pay for tortillas—a staple food—has increased almost 300 percent. Under free trade theory, some folks lose — those corn farmers lose — but everyone is supposed to get richer because prices go down. That is the theory of free trade — the consumer benefits, and the producer who loses should be compensated — and the tortilla shows how that promise has been proven false.

There are many reasons for this. NAFTA wasn’t just about trade. It set up all these rules that, for instance, allowed Archer Daniels to buy up not only the processing plants for corn, but also to buy a stake in one of the biggest tortilla makers, Bimbo, which is sort of the Wonder Bread of Mexico. And as a result, you have Archer Daniels and other companies selling to themselves, and marking up the profit margin each time. So with this “competition” that free trade is supposed to create, with all these corporate rights to acquire and basically monopolize sectors, the consumer is the loser.

Holland: Let’s return to the United States. We were told before NAFTA — and we hear this with every single trade deal — that this is all about opening overseas markets for our exports. But we’ve seen the opposite of that in the NAFTA context – as you mentioned, our trade deficit has exploded.

Is it because our trading partners don’t like our products, or is this evidence that US multinationals move their production overseas to save on labor costs and regulations but then just re-import the products for sale right here at home?

Wallach: That is what’s happening. Shortly after NAFTA, we did a very detailed dig to find all the promises of US producers who made very specific claims before the treaty was signed that ‘if NAFTA passes, we will add X number of jobs.’ So we went and looked at the federal government’s Trade Adjustment Assistance database and we found that company after company — big US manufacturers like Chrysler, GE, Caterpillar — that promised to create specific numbers of US jobs instead were offshoring thousands and thousands of US jobs to Mexico, and then they were bringing the product back into the country and selling it. It was still their US brand name, but made with much lower wages in Mexico.

The trade data are very telling. The year before NAFTA, the United States had a small trade deficit with Canada — about $20 billion dollars — and a slight surplus of $2 billion dollars with Mexico. Now, 20 years later, we have almost a $200 billion dollar trade deficit with those countries. So the surplus with Mexico turned into a huge, huge deficit, as all those companies relocated there to produce goods with lower wages.

And this Trade Adjustment Assistance database is really fascinating. There are 845,000 specific US workers who are certified under just this one narrow program as having lost their jobs since NAFTA to trade with Mexico and Canada. And you’d be surprised at the kinds of companies you see. In the beginning it was a huge wipeout of the auto sector, textiles and apparel, and appliances. But now it’s computers, it’s clean manufacturing of computer chips, high-end electronics, aircraft – these are high-end, high-tech, well-trained, well-paid jobs. The so-called jobs of the future are all being offshored.

Even if you didn’t lose a job, what we’ve found with this study, and, more importantly, what economists, including those who supported NAFTA originally, found is that shifting a million well-paying jobs out has an effect economy-wide on wage levels and on income inequality.

The statistic that is most important is what happens when those folks whose jobs were lost are reemployed. According to the Department of Labor, they lost more than 20 percent of their previous wages. So when we say that wages in real terms are flat—we’re at 1979 levels of median income, but we’re obviously not at 1979 prices — it is in large part the result of the downward pressure of this kind of trade on all of our wages.

What was really different with NAFTA is that it had a whole chapter that included investor protections — special rights and privileges for companies that relocate production.

Before NAFTA they wouldn’t go. They were afraid that they might get expropriated. They were afraid that they might end up with some new policy that they’d have to adjust to. And they were afraid of having to rely on the Mexican courts. But under NAFTA’s investor rules, the famous Chapter 11, there is “a minimum standard of guaranteed treatment” for any investor who moves to another country. It guaranteed compensation for regulatory changes and costs, and it created a system of tribunals, with corporate lawyers as the so-called judges. So they can easily dodge domestic courts.

It was an incentive to relocate that production, make it for those low wages, then slap on the US brand and sell it back here. That’s the NAFTA trade deficit.

Holland: Those investor-state tribunals are what many critics say is the most anti-democratic aspect of these trade deals. Can you tell us a little bit about their record in these first two decades of NAFTA?

Wallach: Over the 20 years of NAFTA, $400 million dollars have been paid out in these investor-state lawsuits. In these cases, corporations have directly sued governments, dragging them in front of extrajudicial tribunals presided over by corporate lawyers who are empowered to order any amount of damages. There is no outside appeal


10. Fukushima News

    … Tokyo Electric Power Company says it detected 300,000 bequerels of iodine-131 per 1 cubic centimeter, or 7.5 million times higher than the legal limit in samples taken around the water intake of the No. 2 reactor at 11:50 AM on Saturday.

    It also found 200,000 bequerels or 5 million times higher than the limit in samples taken at 9AM on Monday.

    Monday’s sample also shows 1.1 million times higher than the national limit of cesium-137 whose half-life is 30 years. …

11. Japanese Media
Asahi Shimbun, Jan. 10, 2014 (emphasis added): [TEPCO] withheld 140 measurements of radioactive strontium levels taken in groundwater and the port of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant between June and November last year. [...] strontium levels exceeded the all-beta readings in some instances, leading the utility to decide they were “wrong” and to withhold them from public releases, TEPCO officials said Jan. 8. Previously, TEPCO officials said they had not released the data because the numbers were not confirmed. Company officials on Jan. 8 insisted the utility had no intention to conceal information. [...]

NHK, Jan. 10, 2014 (emphasis added): Nuclear regulators will discuss measures to prevent the increase of radiation levels around the crippled Fukushima Daiichi plant. The level of radiation at the plant’s border rose to more than 8 milisieverts in annualized figures in December, from less than 1 milisievert in March in the same year. The regulators say that’s due to the increasing number of storage tanks for radioactive water at the plant [...] They explained that the water basically emits beta-rays, which are too weak to penetrate the steel tanks. But they say, when beta-rays hit metals, stronger X-rays come out of the tanks [...] On Friday, the regulators are holding a meeting of experts to discuss measures against the increase. The officials say they have been aware of the problem for a certain period of time, but could not deal with it as they were occupied with the issue of contaminated water. [...]

Asahi Shimbun, Jan 10, 2014 (emphasis added): Radiation levels around the boundary of the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant have risen to eight times the government standard of 1 millisievert per year [TEPCO] said. The Nuclear Regulation Authority is scheduled to hold a meeting Jan. 10 to discuss countermeasures [...] Beta rays released from radioactive strontium and other substances in the water reacted with iron and other elements in the storage tank containers to generate the X-rays, the officials said. [...] With a succession of high radiation levels reported on the plant premises and elsewhere, the NRA set up radiation monitoring devices at an additional 400 locations [...]

12. radiation on the rise
Nuclear radiation at the boundaries of the stricken Fukushima power plant has now reached 8 times government safety guidelines, TEPCO has said. The firm has been struggling to contain radioactive leaks at Fukushima since the onset over the crisis in 2011.

The levels of nuclear radiation around Fukushima’s No. 1 plant have risen to 8 millisieverts per year, surpassing the government standard of 1 milliseviert per year, reports news site Asahi Shimbun citing Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO).

The Nuclear Regulation Authority held a meeting on Friday aimed at curbing the rising levels of radiation to the south of the plant, which has long been a problem area.

TEPCO told press that the predominant reason behind the sharp increase in radiation at the plant was X-rays coming from storage tanks holding radioactive water that has been leaking from the Fukushima facility.

The water in the tanks contains traces of radioactive strontium along with other substances that react with the materials the tank is composed of, producing X-rays, said officials.

Strontium-90 is a radioactive isotope of strontium produced by nuclear fission with a half-life of 28.8 years.

Radioactive water leaking from the nuclear site at Fukushima has been a pressing concern to the international community, as well as the Japanese population since the outbreak of the crisis in March 2011.

After the discovery of water leaks from the Fukushima plant’s underwater tanks, TEPCO has been siphoning off the contaminated liquid and storing it in tanks.

In an attempt to neutralize the stored water, TEPCO is using a system known as the Advanced Liquid Processing System, or ALPS. The system itself is composed of 14 steel cylinders through which the radioactive water is filtered. The radioactive sludge left behind after the water is cleaned is then transferred to high-integrity containers which are in turn transported to a secure storage facility.

TEPCO plans to clean up all of the tainted water through ALPS by the end of March 2015, but the operation has already run into some difficulties. On Tuesday the crane that lifts the containers to and from the ALPS system stopped working for several days before resuming on Friday.

The Japanese government has so far shelled out $473 million to contain the fallout from the beleaguered plant. Officials have also criticized TEPCO’s “whack-a-mole” to dealing with the nuclear crisis.

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party has put forward the idea of divided the contamination operation between TEPCO and the government. Under the proposal TEPCO would hand over the water purifying operation and the decommissioning of the reactors to a government-affiliated organization, thus allowing the electric power company to concentrate on its management and compensation payments.
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