Rebecca & Subash
Please intro us as
Rebecca Wakefield from SEIU Local 1991
and Subhash Kateel from OneMiami,
here to bring us the SEIU Tallahassee Update.
Meredith Ockman our very special guest host
1. GRASSROOOT BEACH DATA
Scientists have crowdsourced a network of volunteers taking water samples at beaches along the West Coast in hopes of capturing a detailed look at low levels of radiation drifting across the ocean since the 2011 tsunami that devastated a nuclear power plant in Japan.
With the risk to public health extremely low, the effort is more about perfecting computer models that will better predict chemical and radiation spills in the future than bracing for a threat, researchers say.
Federal agencies are not sampling at the beach. Washington also doesn't test ocean water for radiation, said Washington Department of Health spokesman Donn Moyer. The state of Oregon is sampling, but looking for higher radiation levels closer to federal health standards, said state health physicist Daryl Leon.
The March 2011 tsunami off Japan flooded the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear plant, causing radiation-contaminated water to spill into the Pacific. Airborne radiation was detected in milk and rainwater in the U.S. soon afterward. But things move much more slowly in the ocean.
”We know there's contaminated water coming out of there, even today,” Ken Buesseler, a senior scientist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, said in a video appealing for volunteers and contributions.
In fact, it is the biggest pulse of radioactive liquid dropped in the ocean ever, he said.
”What we don't really know is how fast and how much is being transported across the Pacific,” he added. “Yes, the models tell us it will be safe. Yes, the levels we expect off the coast of the U.S. and Canada are expected to be low. But we need measurements, especially now as the plume begins to arrive along the West Coast.”
In an email from Japan, Buesseler said he hopes the sampling will go on every two or three months for the next two to three years.
Two different models have been published in peer-reviewed scientific journals predicting the spread of radioactive isotopes of cesium and iodine from Fukushima. One, known as Rossi et al, shows the leading edge of the plume hitting the West Coast from southeast Alaska to Southern California by April. The other, known as Behrens et all, shows the plume hitting Southeast Alaska, British Columbia and Washington by March 2016.
The isotopes have been detected at very low levels at a Canadian sampling point far out to sea earlier than the models predicted, but not yet reported at the beach, said Kathryn A. Higley, head of the Department of Nuclear Engineering and Radiation Health Physics at Oregon State University. The Rossi model predicts levels a little higher than the fallout from nuclear weapons testing in the 1960s. The Behrens model predicts lower levels like those seen in the ocean in the 1990s, after the radiation had decayed and dissipated.
The models predict levels of Cesium 137 between 30 and 2 Becquerels per cubic meter of seawater by the time the plume reaches the West Coast, Higley said.
The federal drinking water health standard is 7,400 Becquerels per cubic meter, Leon said.
Becquerels are a measure of radioactivity.
The crowdsourcing raised $29,945 from 225 people, enough to establish about 30 sampling sites in Alaska, British Columbia, Washington and California, according to Woods Hole. The website so far has not reported any radiation.
Sara Gamble of Renton, Wash., the mother of a young child, raised $500 because she thinks it is important to know what is really going on. Woods Hole sent her a bucket, a funnel, a clipboard, a UPS shipping label, instructions and a big red plastic container for her sample. She went to Ocean Shores, Wash., a couple of weeks ago, collected her sample and shipped it off. No results have come back yet. To do another sample, she will have to raise another $500.
”I got lots of strange looks at the beach and the UPS Store, because it's labeled 'Center for Marine and Environmental Radioactivity,' and it's a big red bin,” she said. “But it's funny; nobody would ask me anything out on the beach. I was like, 'Aren't you curious? Don't you want to ask?”'
Taking the sample has allayed her initial fears, but she still thinks it is important to know “because it affects our ecosystems, kids love to play in the water at the beach, and I want to know what's there.”
On the Web: Details on radiation project: www.ourradioactiveocean.org
Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution FAQ on Fukushima radiation: http://bit.ly/KoFvKk
Video of crowdsource appeal: http://bit.ly/1krSzLH
AP Writer Phuong Le contributed to this story from Seattle.
Follow Jeff Barnard at https://twitter.com/JeffBarnardAP
2. UNSKILLED NOT OVERQUALIFIED FOR FUKUSHIMA
The unskilled and destitute are being targeted to finish the clean-up job at Fukushima nuclear plant.
The Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, which claimed the lives of 15,884 people, caused a catastrophic nuclear meltdown at the plant in 2011.
Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco), the operator of the nuclear plant, has come under intense scrutiny for leaving the hazardous decommissioning work to unqualified staff while pouring resources into another plant, Kashiwazaki-Kariwa, according to the New York Times.
Now experts fear that as qualified engineers are forced to quit the site because they have reached the legal limits for radiation exposure, only poorly skilled labourers are being brought in.
"There is a crisis of manpower at the plant," said Yukiteru Naka, founder of Tohoku Enterprise, a contractor and former plant engineer for General Electric.
"We are forced to do more with less, like firemen being told to use less water even though the fire's still burning."
But recruitment agents were desperate to keep the 3,000 workers at the plant, regardless of their level of skill.
One online advert reads: "Out of work? Nowhere to live? Nowhere to go? Nothing to eat? Come to Fukushima."
Another job advert for radiation monitoring says: "You must have common sense, and be able to carry out a conversation."
It has also been widely reported that some homeless people were recruited by subcontractors to work at the plant.
Hiroyuki Watanbe, a city council member in nearby Iwaki, said: "We're talking people who are living hand-to-mouth."
Tepco refused to comment on claims that untrained workers had ignored alarm warnings of an overflow of contaminated water from one of the tanks.
Toyoshi Fuketa, a commissioner at the Nuclear Regulation Authority, said: "It's an extremely elementary mistake. If a fire alarm went off in your house you'd be worried, let alone a nuclear power plant."
Tepco's deputy nuclear chief, Masayuki Ono, admitted: "It did not occur to us to actually go to the scene to check."
Tepco has been accused of being more interested into putting more workers at Kashiwazaki-Kariwa as part of the government's push to return to nuclear energy three years after the world's second-worst nuclear disaster rather than concentrating on a proper clean-up of Fukushima.
3. Scalia Licks His Chops: Upcoming SCOTUS Case
May Be Even Worse than Citizens United
May Be Even Worse than Citizens United
March 19, 2014 |
Sometime in the next three months – perhaps as early as next week – the Supreme Court will issue its next big campaign finance decision, a ruling that reformers worry will further open floodgates of one-percenter campaign cash. The case, McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, concerns a challenge by the RNC and conservative CEO Shaun McCutcheon to the federal laws restricting how much one person can donate to candidates and party committees each cycle.
“Really what’s at stake here is whether there’s just a few hundred or a few thousand people who can dominate the entire election process in the U.S.,” warned attorney Adam Lioz, a counsel for the progressive think tank Demos and co-author of the amicus brief filed by groups including the NAACP, the Sierra Club and the American Federation of Teachers. In a Monday interview, Lioz responded to arguments from Mitch McConnell, Antonin Scalia and First Amendment attorney Floyd Abrams; discussed why neither side is satisfied with a 1976 precedent; and argued the legitimacy of America’s political process was under threat. A condensed version of our conversation follows.
What is the worst-case scenario in this case?
The worst-case scenario would be that the Court not only strikes down the aggregate limits, but does so in a way that calls into question contribution limits more generally, and puts them in the crosshairs…
The Court for decades has viewed spending limits under a standard known as strict scrutiny…but has been more deferential…with regard to contribution limits…
If the Court were to change the legal standard that they use to review contribution limits…it could also engage the courts in a very sticky game of judging the levels of different contribution limits, and sort of trying to take a scalpel to the work of the legislative branch…
We have a Supreme Court who no longer contains any members that have had political experience, getting involved in substituting its own judgment for those who actually have experience running for office, and know how these laws operate in practice…
So the worst case-scenario is to jeopardize contribution limits generally, which would be a radical departure from four decades of campaign finance law, where the Court has been very clear again and again that the legislative branch has the discretion to set reasonable contribution limits and make sure that the integrity of our democracy is not threatened.
When you say “the integrity of our democracy,” what is the nature of the threat there?
The Court has for years said that we can pass laws to fight corruption or its appearance. Obviously the prospect of contributors, wealthy contributors, giving large donations directly to political candidates raises that prospect of corruption or its appearance — and fairly directly. And then there’s also the more general sort of broader threat to the integrity of our democracy, when the citizens of a democracy accurately perceive that a very small number of wealthy donors calls the tune, and that practically speaking the size of one’s wallet determines the strength of her voice in our democracy. This is a direct threat to citizens’ participation, and to the legitimacy of the laws and policies that come out of our political process at the end of the day.
What, if anything, stood out to you in the oral argument on this case?
Some of the justices seem to really understand what’s at play here… There was one reference to [how] under 500 people could fund the whole shooting match…
We already have a situation where candidates know that they have to appeal to the donor class, a very small percentage of the overall populace, in order to get in the game and run effectively. This decision, if it comes out badly, could put that phenomenon on steroids. And now all of the sudden, instead of thousands of people who are members of that donor class, we could have a few hundred people who are really playing this gatekeeper role across the country, where candidates are forced to make a pilgrimage to certain wealthy donors and make sure they get their stamp of approval in order to really be viable…
So that’s I think really what’s at stake here, is whether there’s just a few hundred or a few thousand people who can dominate the entire election process in the U.S. Which would not only open up new doors to direct types of corruption — because it would return us to the old soft money system, where individual office-holders could solicit large checks for their party and their fellow candidates. But it would also really concentrate control over our political system and undermine people’s faith in our democracy…
When you ask the very wealthy what their priorities are, they have the exact opposite priorities as the general public.
Justice Scalia said in [oral] argument that it was “fanciful to think that the sense of gratitude that an individual” elected official feels “because of a substantial contribution” to the RNC or DNC is “any greater” than for a massive contribution to a PAC trying to re-elect them that would already be legal. Is he wrong?
Well, I think Justice Scalia’s statement demonstrates the fallacy at the heart of Citizens United — in that what he’s pointing to is the very real phenomenon that when wealthy contributors make million-dollar contributions to outside groups like super PACs, that there is certainly a level of gratitude and appreciation generated amongst the folks they’re aiming to support.
But these things are also a matter of degree… If the Court strikes the aggregate limit, they’d be creating a situation where the candidate him- or herself could directly solicit million-dollar checks on behalf of his or her party and/or fellow candidates, through the phenomenon of joint fundraising committees…
That increases the nexus, and puts candidates into more direct contact with the donors in terms of the multimillion-dollar checks…
The contributions that large donors can make to candidates often take place early in the election cycle, in the primary campaigns, or even when people are deciding whether to run for office in the first place… Big money acts as a filter, determining who runs and who wins…
In that very important way, [those] kinds of big checks to candidates have a more profound effect on the system as a whole than outside spending. And so therefore it is reasonable there be greater protection against those kinds of big checks to candidates…
[Also] the majority of outside spending tends to be concentrated in a handful of races that are highly competitive, and so therefore already expensive. And so the marginal value of each dollar spent by a super PAC in a, you know, $50 million race is going to be much less than the marginal value of a dollar that a big donor can give to a candidate earlier in the process.
Senator McConnell’s brief in this case argues that the government’s arguments reveal that “The real concern is with the raw amount of money a single individual could contribute,” and that the “attempt to justify the aggregate limit as a naked restraint on too much individual speech is an affront to the First Amendment.” Why do you disagree?
The government’s argument — and the argument that should win the day in this case — is that allowing one person to give an unlimited amount into federal elections presents two concrete problems. Number one: It facilitates the circumvention of the…base contributions limit, the limit [on cash] that goes directly to a candidate, because it gives more opportunities for candidates, and parties especially, to pass around money and to aggregate sums…
And then…it puts individual candidates back in the business of soliciting huge checks from individual donors, so [it] essentially revives the soft money system that Congress acted in…McCain-Feingold to end…
In terms of the broader argument…the government has a responsibility to fight the appearance of corruption, and to protect the integrity of our democracy. And when individuals are giving millions of dollars into the system — that, again, are skewing the priorities of our elected officials, are distracting our elected officials from pursuing the objectives of the general public, and essentially making our elected officials more responsive to the donor class than to their constituents — then that is another compelling reason for the government to limit large contributions to candidates and to the parties.
Debating Citizens United, the First Amendment attorney Floyd Abrams wrote, at The Nation, “People who would enthusiastically defend the free speech rights of Nazis, pornographers and distributors of videos of animals being tortured or killed were appalled that corporations and unions should be permitted to weigh in on who should be elected president.” And he specifically warned that in the arguments over Citizens United,“the assistant solicitor general defending the constitutionality of the statute was forced to concede that the same logic that the government used to defend the statute would, as well, permit the government to criminalize the publication of a book by a corporation urging people to vote for a candidate.” What do you make of those arguments?
When it comes to the relationship between money and speech, there is a fundamental difference between content and amplification… I do not support the government being able to discriminate and regulate based on the content of anyone’s speech, or based on the ideas that are being put forth. What we’re talking about here is about whether a wealthy individual or a corporation that accumulates wealth in the economic sphere should be able to use that economic might to purchase political power by amplifying its voice — using essentially a million-dollar megaphone…drowning out the rest of us in a sea of campaign cash. And that is a fundamentally different question than whether it’s appropriate to silence certain ideas because of the content of that speech…
Ultimately, what we’re talking about is the relationship between economic capitalism and political democracy… One of the universal values that we hold in our political sphere is that we all come to the political table as equals, to make decisions together. And if we allow people who are successful — or even just lucky — in the economic sphere to use that economic might to purchase political power, then we threaten the core of our democratic values. And so the concept of preventing for-profit corporations from purchasing political power by intervening directly into elections has everything to do with how we as society want to balance the relationship between ourselves as political equals and separately as economic players.
SCOTUSblog’s Amy Howe counts at least three conservative justices who’ve indicated that the 1976 decision Buckley v. Valeo should be overturned, leading to fewer restrictions. But activists who favor campaign finance regulation have also taken issue with Buckley v. Valeo from the other side, for accepting the premise that contributions are speech. Do you see Buckley as a precedent that is worth saving?
No. But we need to overturn Buckley in the correct way…
Buckley has given us a lot of problems over the years… It introduced this concept of money as speech, and it was not at all sensitive to the idea that money is primarily used in our system to amplify speech, as opposed to create speech initially…
[And] Buckley is the first place where we got this flawed concept…that only corruption or its appearance are acceptable reasons for [regulating] money in politics. And that has caused lots of problems over the years.
What we need to do is to make room for other core American values to be at play in this debate. So, for example: the core value of political equality. Core values of participation in our democracy…
We definitely need to look at — to be transforming — the Court’s entire approach to money in politics. We need to go back to Buckley, start over, and get it right
Who is the justice to watch here? Does this ultimately come down to how far to the right John Roberts wants to go on this?
I think John Roberts is an important justice to watch, because while he has been skeptical of campaign finance reform throughout his tenure on the court, he’s also been sensitive to the status and reputation of the court…
The American people…are watching the Court very closely for this McCutcheon case. There are people who are ready to take action in its wake…
A radical decision from the Court, that jeopardizes contribution limits in general, will really do a significant amount of harm to the Court’s stature. Because the public does not believe that corporations are people. The public does not believe that money is speech. And the public does not believe that one person should be able to dump $3.5 million into an election and drown out their fellow citizens, threatening the integrity of our democracy.
4. Criticizing For No Press Freedom
For the first time, Reporters Without Borders have added the U.S. and U.K to their annual press freedom index of countries - including longtime favorites like Iran, Cuba, North Korea and Saudi Arabia - that repress online speech and use the internet to conduct domestic surveillance. They specifically call out the hypocrisy of abuses by government agencies within supposed democracies - cue the NSA - that have "hacked into the very heart of the Internet...(and) turned it into a weapon in the service of special interests." With interactive, scary graphics.
"The mass surveillance methods employed in these countries...are all the more intolerable because they will be used and indeed are already being used by authoritarians countries such as Iran, China, Turkmenistan, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain to justify their own violations of freedom of information. How will so-called democratic countries will able to press for the protection of journalists if they adopt the very practices they are criticizing authoritarian regimes for?"
5. Breaking: North Carolina Regulators Take Legal Action Against Duke Energy for Coal Ash Dumping
Oh, maybe thats not good?
North Carolina environmental regulators have cited Duke Energy for violating the conditions of a wastewater permit after it illegally dumped an estimated 61 million gallons of coal ash wastewater into a Cape Fear River tributary, according to Waterkeeper Alliance.
The state’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) issued the citation on Thursday for the permit violations after state officials discovered the dumping during a March 11 inspection at Duke Energy’s Cape Fear Steam Electric Plant.
Regulators said the wastewater was flushed from two large, confined lagoons and into the on-site canal that empties in an unnamed tributary, which connects with the Cape Fear River. The state agency calculated its estimate based on log books Duke Energy maintained for the pumping activities.
Waterkeeper Alliance released aerial surveillance photos taken from a fixed-wing aircraft last week catching Duke Energy workers in the act of pumping the wastewater.
“After more than a week of indecisiveness, DENR conceded that Duke’s secret pumping was indeed illegal, but yet again, DENR’s action only came after Waterkeeper Alliance and the Cape Fear Riverkeeper caught Duke in the act with aerial surveillance photos,” said Donna Lisenby, Waterkeeper Alliance’s global coal campaign coordinator. “Once again, citizens and shrewd investigative reporters had to work overtime to pick up the slack because DENR had failed to notice this egregious dumping for several months.”
The pumps and attached hoses were set up in the pair of coal ash lagoons but were not in use when state officials visited the plant last week. The pumping equipment has since been removed.
The March 11 visit to the Cape Fear plant was part of DENR’s inspections of all Duke Energy’s facilities with coal ash lagoons.
The inspections were announced in the wake of the Feb. 2 coal ash spill at the Dan River plant. The detailed information the state is gathering about each facility will factor into the state’s future decision-making with regard to all of North Carolina’s coal ash lagoons.
“Duke says it is ‘accepting full responsibility’ for the Dan River spill,” said Cape Fear Riverkeeper Kemp Burdette. ”How are we to believe them when they have been deliberately pumping their toxic waste into the Cape Fear River, including on the very same day millions more gallons of sludge were also spilling into the Dan River as a result of Duke’s carelessness.”
State officials have notified cities downstream of the findings at the Cape Fear plant.
None of the downstream municipalities have reported problems meeting U.S. Environmental Protection Agency drinking water standards. However, DENR officials are collecting water samples in the Cape Fear River downstream from the plant to determine if surface water meets state water quality standards.
Duke Energy is permitted by the state to discharge treated wastewater from the ash ponds into the canal through vertical spillway pipes, known as risers. The coal ash lagoons and risers at the Cape Fear plant provide physical treatment that allows heavier, more concentrated ash residuals to settle to the bottom of the lagoons over time.
Yet the state’s investigation revealed that the pumping activities bypassed the riser structures and accelerated the drawing down of the lagoons so much that they no longer properly functioned as treatment systems.
According to Duke Energy, the company was using a temporary pumping system to lower water levels in two basins at the Cape Fear plant to perform upcoming maintenance.
“We were notified by phone in August that Duke Energy intended to conduct routine maintenance work at these ash ponds,” said Tom Reeder, director of the NC Division of Water Resources. “The state’s investigation revealed that the pumping activities ongoing at this plant far exceeded what would reasonably be considered routine maintenance.”
Prior to the March 11 inspection, staff with the Division of Water Resources inspected the Cape Fear plant on Dec. 6. During that visit, the state inspector noticed parts of disconnected pumping equipment on the berm next to one of the lagoons, but its levels did not appear to be lower.
Duke Energy did not mention to the inspector during the Dec. 6 inspection that pumping had been on-going in the months prior to the inspection.
By law, the state agency can issue civil penalties for violations of state environmental laws but is required to give the company 10 days to respond to the notice of violation.
“Duke Energy has had such a cozy relationship with NC regulators and legislators for so long they don’t even think twice about breaking the law with respect to their poisonous coal ash pollution,” said Waterkeeper Alliance attorney Peter Harrison.
6. Notice of Meeting/Workshop Hearing
DEPARTMENT OF ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION
The Dept. of Environmental Protection, Big Cypress Swamp Advisory Committee announces a public meeting to which all persons are invited.
DATE AND TIME: Monday, March 31, 2014, 10:30 a.m.
PLACE: Board of County Commissioners Chambers, 3rd Floor, Collier County Government Center, Bldg. F, 3299 Tamiami Trail East, Naples, Florida 34112
GENERAL SUBJECT MATTER TO BE CONSIDERED: To evaluate a pending application in Department file 1353-H, submitted by Dan A. Hughes Company, L.P., to drill in the Big Cypress watershed and explore for hydrocarbons. A copy of the pending application may be obtained at
A copy of the agenda may be obtained by contacting: Betsy Gingery, Department of Environmental Protection, Office of General Counsel, 3900 Commonwealth Blvd., MS 35, Tallahassee, Florida 32399-3000, telephone number: (850)245-2284 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Pursuant to the provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act, any person requiring special accommodations to participate in this workshop/meeting is asked to advise the agency at least 2 days before the workshop/meeting by contacting: Betsy Gingery at the address, email or telephone number above. If you are hearing or speech impaired, please contact the agency using the Florida Relay Service, 1(800)955-8771 (TDD) or 1(800)955-8770 (Voice).
For more information, you may contact: Betsy Gingery at the address, email or telephone number above. Written materials may be provided to Ms. Gingery as well.
Children have been experiencing health effects already. As Paul said, it’s important not to jump to conclusions. But it’s hard to understand why, for example, that a teacher I personally know witnessed 50% of his class with noses bleeding at the same time. And this is a recurring thing that we hear, that children’s noses are bleeding a lot.
There have been respiration problems and immune system problems reported by some teachers and many families. This is coming from lots of different areas.
“Radiation leaks could still be occurring” at WIPP — Locals worried since “no one knows anything” — Workers to use “military-like tactics… ready to risk everything” — “Event has changed WIPP” — “Life as we knew it is going to be different
New York Times, Mar. 20, 2014: “The event that has happened has changed WIPP,” [Jose R. Franco, manager of the Department of Energy's Carlsbad field office] said, using the popular nickname for the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant. “But we need it to reopen.” […] “Did we ever think it could happen? No, but it did,” [Rick Fuentes, president of the local chapter of the United Steelworkers union] said. “So everybody has to come to terms with the reality that life as we knew it at WIPP is going to be different now.”
Indian Country Today, Mar. 20, 2014: Local Carlsbad residents, even those who work there or are dependent on WIPP’s economic benefits, are worried because “no one knows anything.” They are glad that the EPA has come in to investigate as well, because they don’t know if they can trust what WIPP officials have to say about the leak and any radiation contamination. […] “no one knows anything” — explanations are criticized and officials are mistrusted.
Carlsbad Current Argus, Mar. 22, 2014: Department of Energy and Nuclear Waste Partnership has spent weeks training for the day when teams are sent below ground to investigate the transuranic nuclear waste drums […] the military-like tactics will consist of a balance of risks according to Re-entry Team Leader Wes Bryan. […] A myriad of factors play a role in the underground investigation process and any mistake has the possibility of derailing the task. […] Bryan has prepped his mine rescue team how to respond to any and all “worst case scenarios.” […] Bryan said, if the closed air circuit for a rescue team member fails, that person should remove their helmet because suffocation poses a greater and more immediate threat of death than breathing in radioactive particles underground. […] inherent risks and dangers cannot be overlooked and the mine rescue team is ready to risk everything to ensure the safety of the Carlsbad and surrounding communities.
Don Hancock, director of the Nuclear Waste Safety Program at the Southwest Research and Information Center, Mar. 22, 2014: “A month after the fact, we still don’t know what happened because no humans or robots have been underground. Radiation leaks could still be occurring. On top of that, the amount of radioactivity released into the atmosphere may be unknowable forever. […] What we are certain of is that plutonium and americium are very dangerous and typically cause fatal lung cancer when inhaled. Yet, if you believe the Department of Energy, these employees face no health risks whatsoever. […] There are 170,000 total containers buried at this site, with many holding contaminated plutonium waste from making nuclear bombs. [...] The release of radioactive material wasn’t supposed to happen for 15,000 years, yet WIPP had its first catastrophe in 15 years.”