March 29, 2013
I Got Depressed
By: Aaron Datesman
The Three Mile Island disaster occurred thirty-four years ago yesterday. (I intended to publish this post, with somewhat different material, on March 28th. I was stymied because the EPA radiation monitoring network was off-line, which I don't find very comforting.) In one of those coincidences that means either nothing or a great deal for how the powers that be intend my personal life to evolve, March 28th would also have been the ninety-first birthday of my grandmother.
I stopped writing about nuclear power and radiation issues some time ago, but not for a useful reason. I continue to believe that the Fukushima disaster is the most important issue we ought to be discussing, and I never ran out of things to say about it. The truth is that I got depressed. I can even point to the cause of my depression, dated September 6, 2011:
Former Minister of METI Banri Kaieda . . .disclosed TEPCO was planning to abandon Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Energy Plant.
I didn't know then and don't know now whether this is true - I don't have the knowledge of Japanese culture or politics necessary to evaluate the claim. The idea that it might be true, however, was more than I could bear. (To be honest, there were also radioactive spiders involved.)
Of all the information available about the Three Mile Island disaster, my favorite describes an exhibit displayed by the Smithsonian National Museum of American History in 2004. Its title is "Three Mile Island: The Inside Story". The site contains a great deal of incorrect information*, but starting on page 5 it recounts a very interesting story about the cleanup effort in the years after the accident. Although a bit technical, it's worth reading. This tidbit from the timeline at the end might be surprising to many people:
1987: Recognition that about half the fuel in TMI-2 reactor had melted
1989: Recognition that molten fuel had poured into bottom of reactor vessel
I recommend the document despite its terrific flaws because it describes very clearly and strongly that the reactor operators a) had no idea what had happened inside the TMI-2 reactor, b) had a very difficult time getting any information about the state of the reactor even years after the accident, and c) were culturally quite incapable of understanding what had occurred. After all, apparently it took TEN YEARS after the accident to gain even the most basic understanding of what had actually transpired on that unfortunate cool spring morning on the Susquehanna River in 1979.
It is worthwhile to keep the experience of TMI in our minds because today, in Japan, two years after the far more severe accident at Fukushima Daiichi no one can even locate the cores of the four nuclear reactors that melted down.
I think I may still be depressed.
* For instance, this passage on page 4 is so vastly incorrect that it can't even qualify as propaganda. Alas for the credibility of the Smithsonian Institution and everyone involved…..
There are, in fact, no releases of radioactivity that constitute a danger to public health. Alarm about reported releases of radioactive gases soon after the accident arose from misunderstandings. And later concern about the possibility of dangerous releases arose from a mistaken conclusion that hydrogen gas accumulated in the reactor vessel could explode.
— Aaron Datesman
Bernard Chazelle and Bach
If you like Bach, be sure not to miss Bernard Chazelle's many old Bach-themed posts here:
March 28, 2013
It Really Is About Serving
April 16, 2011, before David Petraeus was nominated to be head of the CIA and then forced to resign, he met privately with Fox News contributor Kathleen T. McFarland in Afghanistan:
Petraeus: I’m not out to go out and make money. The offers are unbelievable.
McFarland: No, you would’ve done that before now.
Petraeus: I would have done it long ago. So it really is about serving.
But that was then, and this is now:
Mr. Petraeus has received offers from the financial community and has taken trips to New York to explore what one of his associates called “long-term opportunities.” He has been asked to serve as a consultant to major companies...
March 27, 2013
From Yves Smith:
Do you ever hear Carlos Slim or Rupert Murdoch or the Koch Brothers described as oligarchs?...Top executives have operated in a manner that is less obviously thuggish than the violent ways of some of Russia’s richest, but the hollowing out of labor and shortened job tenures have come with high costs across broad swathes of society.
March 19, 2013
We Will Find and Kill All of You
The first U.S. soldier killed in combat in Iraq, Jose Gutierrez, actually was not a U.S. citizen; he was Guatemalan:
Marine Lance Corporal Jose Gutierrez was shot in the chest as his unit took heavy fire in the Iraqi port of Umm Qasr. Everyone believed he was 22. But his true age is part of a story of epic persistence that took him from Guatemala to Los Angeles, from the life of an orphan to the life of a Marine. In 1997, the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service picked up a baby-faced young man. Gutierrez claimed he was only 16 and eligible for asylum. The usually unbending INS believed him and let him stay. It had been a lie, but it was hardly the most extreme thing Gutierrez had done in his life. He had been born in Guatemala in 1974 but his parents died while he was very young during the country's brutal civil war. His sister Engracia, just four years his senior, was his only remaining family and he lived on the streets of the capital, Guatemala City. In 1982, at the age of eight, social workers took him to live at a home for orphaned boys, Casa Alianza, the Latin American arm of the New York-based Covenant House. He spent more than 10 years there, receiving good grades studying technical drawing. Says Casa Alianza executive director Bruce Harris: "The kids who have lived on the street and have survived are real go getters."
After a fight with a teacher at Casa Alianza when he was 16, he ran away, spending another 18 months on the streets where, says Harris, he would get high sniffing glue to try and forget how hungry and lonely he was….
In 1996, he set off on a 2,000 mile journey north, through Mexico on foot and by hitchhking rides and catching freight trains until he reached California.
After Gutierrez was granted asylum he was placed with a foster family and eventually joined the Marines in hopes of being granted U.S. citizenship.
I've tried and failed to locate people who knew Gutierrez in Guatemala and the U.S., so I haven't been able to find out any details about the deaths of Gutierrez's parents beyond what's appeared in the news. But given that they were poor and killed during the early eighties, it's almost certain they were murdered by the Guatemalan dictatorship, then enthusiastically backed by the Reagan administration. This is a news story from December 8, 1982, when Gutierrez was eight; Rios Montt is now being tried by Guatemalan courts for genocide:
In what seems like an invented detail from an unsubtle novel, Gutierrez wasn't killed by Iraqis, but by friendly fire from U.S. soliders.
If you're poor, there is nowhere for you and your family to hide from the United States of America.
March 17, 2013
A Rich Heritage
The New York Times ran a huge cover story today by Ben Ehrenreich about the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh. Here's the attitude of nearby Israeli settlers to four years of weekly protests from Palestinians who live in the village:
From most south-facing windows in Nabi Saleh, you can see the red roofs of Halamish, the Israeli settlement on the hilltop across the valley…
I first met Shifra Blass, the spokeswoman for Halamish, in 2010...When I visited her again last month, she was not eager to talk to me about the conflict over the spring and the lands surrounding it. “We want to live our lives and not spend time on it,” Blass said. She dismissed the weekly demonstrations as the creation of “outside agitators who come here and stir the pot — internationalists, anarchists, whatever.” It was all a show, she said, theater for a gullible news media.
As the article mentions, Shifra Blass emigrated to Israel from the U.S. So I assume she's aware of the rich heritage of the phrase "outside agitators" and wants to lay claim to it. This is George Wallace, then governor of Alabama, on April 14, 1964:
…we have never had a problem here in the South except in a very few isolated instances and these have been the result of outside agitators.
Contrary to reports of many of the national news media and the propaganda distributed by various organizations, our efforts here in the South are not against the Negro citizen. We fight for the betterment of all citizens in our State.
This is Sheriff Jim Clark on January 18, 1965 in Selma, Mississippi:
"John Lewis, you are an outside agitator. You are the lowest form of humanity."
This is an editorial in the Jackson Daily News ("Mississippi's Greatest Newspaper") on August, 18, 1965:
[Jo Freeman] is currently, or until very recently, a member of the team of outside agitators stirring up racial turmoil in Grenada…She has been closely allied with racial incidents created by Dr. Martin Luther King and his aides.
And this is Martin Luther King's perspective on this in "Letter from a Birmingham Jail":
I am further convinced that if our white brothers dismiss as "rabble rousers" and "outside agitators" those of us who employ nonviolent direct action, and if they refuse to support our nonviolent efforts, millions of Negroes will, out of frustration and despair, seek solace and security in black nationalist ideologies – a development that would inevitably lead to a frightening racial nightmare.
Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever.
I could go on, but you get the point. I think if I were in charge of PR for the Israeli settler movement I'd try to muzzle Shirfra as quickly as possible. But since she's one of the people in charge of it, I guess she'll just keep on talking.
P.S. This problem of outside agitators stirring up the normally happy and docile Palestinians is a long-standing one, as explained by Ronald Reagan in 1988 during the first intifada:
REAGAN: There's every evidence that these riots are not just spontaneous and homegrown...We have had intimations that there have been certain people suspected of being terrorists, outsiders, coming in not only with weapons but stirring up and encouraging the trouble in those areas.
March 16, 2013
Ten Years Later, David Frum Can't Get the Most Basic Facts About Iraq Right
Okay, so everything the Bush administration said about Iraq and weapons of mass destruction was wrong. But you can't blame them! It's hard to know what's going on inside a secretive dictatorship!
So we invaded Iraq, and spent several billion dollars investigating the subject of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, with the CIA producing a gigantic report that's available to anyone on earth with an internet connection.
And yet ten years later, David Frum, the former Bush speechwriter who coined the term "axis of evil," still cannot get the most basic fucking facts right about this:
The main reason that Saddam Hussein’s nuclear program dwindled away after 1996 was that Saddam had run short of money with oil prices falling to $20 a barrel and less.
Here's what the CIA says on its website:
Saddam Husayn ended the nuclear program in 1991 following the Gulf war. ISG found no evidence to suggest concerted efforts to restart the program...
Iraq did not possess a nuclear device, nor had it tried to reconstitute a capability to produce nuclear weapons after 1991...
What I appreciate most about this is that Frum isn't just wrong. If you read the rest of that paragraph about Iraq and nuclear weapons, you'll see he takes his wrong foundation and then, totally confident in his sophisticated knowledge of this subject, builds an entire mansion of wrong self-justification on top of it.
Cheney Spent "Long Hours" Discussing Iraq as Delicious "Additional Source of Oil"
This is from a new article by David Frum, the Bush administration speechwriter who coined the term "axis of evil":
I was less impressed by Chalabi than were some others in the Bush administration. However, since one of those “others” was Vice President Cheney, it didn’t matter what I thought. In 2002, Chalabi joined the annual summer retreat of the American Enterprise Institute near Vail, Colorado. He and Cheney spent long hours together, contemplating the possibilities of a Western-oriented Iraq: an additional source of oil, an alternative to U.S. dependency on an unstable-looking Saudi Arabia....
Over the past 10 years, there have been few days when the war in Iraq was absent from my thoughts. People often ask me whether I have regrets. It seems absurdly presumptuous to answer the question. I could have set myself on fire in protest on the White House lawn and the war would have proceeded without me.
Yeah, there's no way that somebody like Frum could have changed anything if he'd revealed Cheney's deep interest in Iraqi oil. Poor David was utterly powerless.
This was Dennis Kucinich and Richard Perle on Meet the Press, February 23, 2003:
MR. RUSSERT: Congressman, you made a very strong charge against the administration and let me show you what you said on January 19. "Why is the Administration targeting Iraq? Oil." What do you base that on?
REP. KUCINICH: I base that on the fact that there is $5 trillion worth of oil above and in the ground in Iraq, that individuals involved in the administration have been involved in the oil industry, that the oil industry certainly would benefit from having the administration control Iraq, and that the fact is that, since no other case has been made to go to war against Iraq, for this nation to go to war against Iraq, oil represents the strongest incentive...
MR. PERLE: It is a lie, Congressman. It is an out and out lie.
And here's Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen soon afterwards explaining that Kucinich was an "indomitable demagogue":
"Liar" is a word rarely used in Washington...So it was particularly shocking, not to mention refreshing, to hear Richard Perle on Sunday call Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) a liar to his face...
Kucinich himself seemed only momentarily fazed by Perle's sharp right to his integrity and went on, indomitable demagogue that he seems to be, to maintain that the coming war with Iraq will be fought to control that nation's oil...How did this fool get on "Meet the Press"?
P.S. In 2004, David Frum co-authored a book with Richard Perle called An End to Evil: How to Win the War on Terror.
March 11, 2013
It Would Be Polite If Americans Who Criticize Hugo Chavez and Venezuela Would Shut Up
Wow, who doesn't sympathize with this righteous, blistering critique of Bush's foreign policy from 2006?
Bush is not spreading human rights...Instead, he is spreading secret prisons everywhere, practicing mean torture in Baghram, Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo.
Well, me, actually. Because that criticism was coming from al Qaeda's second-in-command, Ayman al-Zawahiri.
There aren't many Americans who disliked Bush more than I did. Yet when I hear him being criticized by Zawahiri, it doesn't really…speak to me. To start with, it's hard to take seriously the indignation of someone who would himself set up secret prisons and torture people the second he had the chance. But more importantly, al Qaeda itself helped create the political conditions that allowed Bush to torture people around the world. Sure, maybe in his heart of hearts Bush always wanted to, but he would have had many fewer opportunities if Zawahiri and his pals hadn't plotted to fly airplanes into the World Trade Center.
So I appreciate that Zawahiri wanted to both (1) get to kill 3,000 Americans in lower Manhattan and (2) get all outraged when this empowered members of the Bush administration to attack civil liberties. But you really are only allowed to choose one.
Similarly, the U.S. media has taken the opportunity of Hugo Chavez's death to be OUTRAGED by the violation of civil liberties in Venezuela. And I feel just the same listening to them as I do to Zawahiri.
I have no idea how much of the criticism of the Venezuela government is legitimate, and I'm not going to take the time to find out unless someone pays me to do it. (Given the general crappiness of any coverage of our official enemies, if I had to guess I'd assume it's about 15% accurate.)
But as with Zawahiri, the more important point is that U.S. policy has done nothing but empower any people within the Venezuelan government who are inclined to crack down on freedom of the press, an independent judiciary, etc. It's not just that the U.S. attempted to overthrow the Venezuelan government in 2002; we also overthrew the Aristide government in Haiti in 2004; assisted in the overthrow of the Honduran government in 2009; and have a previous century's worth of meddling in Latin America.
And when countries are under attack, the space for civil liberties closes. Sometimes that's for legitimate reasons, and sometimes it's not and is opportunistic on the part of would-be authoritarians. But it's essentially a law of nature; it always happens. Therefore, if you choose to attack another country, you are making certain the people of that country will have fewer civil liberties.
So if you're a member of al Qaeda and you're OUTRAGED by the violation of civil liberties by the U.S., the most effective way you can spend your time is trying to stop your friends from blowing up something else in America. And if you're an American and you're OUTRAGED by a diminishment of civil liberties in Venezuela, the best way to spend your time is trying to stop the U.S. from intervening any more in Venezuela. In both cases, you'll create breathing room for the people fighting for civil liberties.
But failing that, it would be much more effective and polite if you could just shut up.
P.S. Did the Japanese government get OUTRAGED about Japanese in the U.S. getting sent to internment camps? Yes they did.
March 05, 2013
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March 03, 2013
Stanley McChrystal Becomes "Something of a Leftist"
In the new Israeli documentary The Gatekeepers, one of the former heads of the Shin Bet says that for people like him who've seen Israeli foreign policy up close, "when you retire, you become something of a leftist."
According to a new interview with Stanley McChrystal, it looks like that's happening to him too:
MCCHRYSTAL: ...although to the United States, a drone strike seems to have very little risk and very little pain, at the receiving end, it feels like war. Americans have got to understand that. If we were to use our technological capabilities carelessly – I don’t think we do, but there’s always the danger that you will – then we should not be upset when someone responds with their equivalent, which is a suicide bomb in Central Park, because that’s what they can respond with.
Moreover, this is similar to what Colin Powell said in his autobiography in 1996 after he retired from the U.S. military:
McFarlane, now in Beirut, persuaded the President to have the battleship U.S.S. New Jersey start hurling 16-inch shells into the mountains above Beirut, in World War II style, as if we were softening up the beaches on some Pacific atoll prior to an invasion. What we tend to overlook in such situations is that other people will react much as we would... And since they could not reach the battleship, they found a more vulnerable target, the exposed Marines at the airport.
Who knows, at this rate John Brennan – who while in power can only hem and haw about how "al-Qaeda is just determined to carry out attacks here against the homeland" – may be saying this seven minutes after he retires from running the CIA.
Of course, McChrystal left out some pretty important things:
1. We already had the attempted car bombing in Times Square by Faisal Shahzad, which Shahzad explicitly claimed was revenge for "the drone strikes in Somalia and Yemen and in Pakistan" (plus other U.S. foreign policy).
2. Manhattan has already experienced some suicide attacks, though they were about five miles south of Central Park. It would be interesting to find out whether McChrystal believes there was some connection between those attacks and U.S. foreign policy. If so, he'd be more than just something of a leftist.
March 01, 2013
Sean Wilentz: Even Grosser Than I Thought
Last week I was trying to figure out why Princeton historian Sean Wilentz was so maddened by The Untold History of the United States, the new book and documentary series by Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick. And I came across something pretty gross Wilentz was saying in October, 2001: that the U.S. had just been attacked because "To the terrorists, America's crime – its real crime – is to be America."
Still, that was only a month after 9/11, when, if the wind was blowing right, my whole New York City neighborhood still smelled like dead bodies. If he had later walked that back, I could certainly forgive him for getting caught up in the emotion of the moment.
But as Donald Johnson points out, Wilentz did just the opposite. Four years later in 2005 he was saying exactly the same thing and engaging in score-settling about this with, of all people, Christopher Hitchens. Here's how weirdly obsessive Wilentz is:
1. On September 13, 2001, Hitchens wrote this:
With cellphones still bleeping piteously from under the rubble, it probably seems indecent to most people to ask if the United States has ever done anything to attract such awful hatred. Indeed, the very thought, for the present, is taboo. Some senators and congressmen have spoken of the loathing felt by certain unnamed and sinister elements for the freedom and prosperity of America, as if it were only natural that such a happy and successful country should inspire envy and jealousy. But that is the limit of permissible thought.
In general, the motive and character of the perpetrators is shrouded by rhetoric about their "cowardice" and their "shadowy" character, almost as if they had not volunteered to immolate themselves in the broadest of broad blue daylight. On the campus where I am writing this, there are a few students and professors willing to venture points about United States foreign policy. But they do so very guardedly, and it would sound like profane apologetics if transmitted live. So the analytical moment, if there is to be one, has been indefinitely postponed.
Of course, seventeen seconds later Hitchens forgot he'd written this and never mentioned it again.
2. In 2003, Hitchens gave an interview in which he said this about himself on September 11, 2001: "Here we are then, I was thinking, in a war to the finish between everything I love and everything I hate. Fine. We will win and they will lose."
3. WAIT JUST A MINUTE THERE, MR. HITCHENS, said Wilentz (in 2005, two years later after the Hitchens interview). YOU'RE CONVENIENTLY OMITTING THE SEVENTEEN SECONDS DURING WHICH YOU HATED AMERICA:
Mr. Hitchens was thinking nothing of the sort, and he knows it. He was thinking, in standard, knee-jerk anti-American terms, that America was largely to blame for bringing on the attacks. And he said so, in a particularly sickening column for the Guardian...
I am glad to see that Mr. Hitchens has since changed his mind about the dangers posed by Osama Bin Laden and about the imperatives of American power. But he has falsified history. Twenty-four hours after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon – barely two years ago – Hitchens fiddled on about the evil Americans and their taboos and their refusal to reckon with their wickedness.
We used to have priests to police the boundaries of "permissible thought" (as the 9/13/01 Hitchens put it) and cast out heretics. Now we have the Washington Post editorial page and Sean Wilentz. If you're hired to be an Ivy League history professor, your job is really to do the opposite of thinking.