A demonstration that in space, as on Earth, solar is an alternative to dangerous nuclear power is to come this week when a solar-powered spacecraft called Rosetta will rendezvous with a comet at 375 million miles from the Sun.
The Rosetta space probe, energized with solar power, is to meet up Wednesday with Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. It will begin making observations, relaying back to Earth high-resolution images and information from its sensors of the two-and-a-half mile wide comet. Rosetta will subsequently send a lander down to the comet that will drill into it and perform a variety of experiments. For a year, Rosetta will fly alongside the comet, named after the two Ukranian astronomers who discovered it in 1969.
For decades, the U.S. and the Soviet Union, and now Russia, stressed the use of atomic energy as a source of power in space—and there have been accidents as a result.
The most serious were the falls back to Earth of a U.S. satellite with a SNAP-9A plutonium-238 radioisotope thermal generator on board in 1964, disintegrating as it fell, dispersing plutonium worldwide, and of the Soviet Cosmos Satellite 954 in 1978, with an atomic reactor on board, also breaking up, and spreading nuclear debris for hundreds of miles across the Northwest Territories of Canada.
The late Dr. John Gofman, professor of medical physics at the University of California at Berkeley, long connected the SNAP-9A accident and its dispersal of plutonium with a global increase in lung cancer. Canada demanded compensation for the Cosmos-954 accident which the Soviet Union eventually paid, in part.
Now all satellites are solar-powered as is the International Space Station. But there has been a push to continue to use nuclear power on space probes with NASA and formerly Soviet and now Russian space authorities insisting that solar power cannot be harvested far from the Sun.
However, the European Space Agency (ESA) declares on its website:
The solar cells in Rosetta’s solar panels are based on a completely new technology, so-called Low-intensity Low Temperature Cells. Thanks to them, Rosetta is the first space mission to journey beyond the main asteroid belt relying solely on solar cells for power generation. Previous deep-space missions used nuclear RTGs, radioisotope thermal generators. The new solar cells allow Rosetta to operate over 800 million kilometres from the Sun, where levels of sunlight are only 4% those on Earth. The technology will be available for future deep-space, such as ESA’s upcoming Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer.
ESA notes: “ESA has not developed RTG i.e. nuclear technology, so the agency decided to develop solar cells that could fill the same function.”
Rosetta, launched in 2004, “relies entirely on the energy provided by its innovative solar panels for all onboard instruments and subsystems,” says ESA.
NASA has begun to follow ESA’s lead. It went with solar power for its Juno mission to Jupiter that is now underway. Launched in 2011, energized by solar power, the Juno space probe is to arrive at Jupiter in 2016.
At the distance at which Rosetta will encounter Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko or at which Juno will be doing experiments involving Jupiter or ESA’s Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer will work, energy from the Sun is but a small fraction of what it is on Earth. Still, it can be effectively utilized. (NASA’s last space probe mission to Jupiter, Galileo, launched in 1989, was plutonium-powered and NASA officials insisted, including in sworn testimony countering a challenge to Galileo in federal court, that this was the only energy choice. There were numerous protests against Galileo and have been to subsequent nuclear space shots led by the Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space.)
Rosetta is named after the Rosetta Stone, a slab of basalt found in Egypt in 1799 with inscriptions carved on it that enabled the deciphering of hieroglyphics, the ancient language of Egypt. “As a result of this breakthrough, scholars were able to piece together the history of a lost culture,” notes ESA.
Likewise, “Rosetta’s prime objective is to help understand the origin and evolution of the Solar System,” says ESA. “The comet’s composition reflects the composition of the pre-solar nebula out of which the Sun and the planets of the Solar System formed, more than 4.6 billion years ago. Therefore, an in-depth analysis of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko by Rosetta and its lander will provide essential information to understand how the Solar System formed.”
ESA adds, “There is convincing evidence that comets played a key role in the evolution of the planets, because cometary impacts are known to have been much more common in the early Solar System than today. Comets, for example, probably brought much of the water in today’s ocean. They could even have provided the complex organic molecules that may have played a crucial role in the evolution of life on Earth.”
Rosetta “will be undertaking several ‘firsts’ in space exploration,” says ESA. “It will be the first mission to orbit and land on a comet.” And, Rosetta will be “the first spacecraft to witness, at close proximity” the changes in a comet as it approaches the Sun. Rosetta’s lander “will obtain the first images from a comet’s surface and make the first in-situ subsurface analysis of its composition.”
The Rosetta lander, given the name Philea, is to touch down on the comet’s surface in November and “remain operational through the end of 2015 . . . A drilling system will obtain samples down to 23 cm below the surface and will feed these to the spectrometers for analysis, such as to determine the chemical composition. Other instruments will measure properties such as near-surface strength, density, texture, porosity, ice phases and thermal properties . . . In addition, instruments on the lander will study how the comet changes during the day-night cycle, and while it approaches the Sun.”
The lander is being called Philea for Philea Island in the Nile where an obelisk was found that supplemented the use of the Rosetta Stone in the deciphering of hieroglyphics.
The cost of the mission is 1.3 billion Euros ($1.75 billion at current exchange rates) and ESA asks the question: “Why spend such a huge amount of public money on studying remote stones in space?”
ESA responds: “ESA’s task is to explore the unknown. In the case of Rosetta, scientists will be learning about comets, objects that have fascinated mankind for millennia” and “are thought to be the most primitive objects in the Solar System, the building blocks from which the planets were made. So Rosetta will provide exciting new insights into how the planets, including Earth, were born and how life began.”
There can be things that can still go wrong on the mission. Gases from the comet could affect Rosetta flying with it. Philea could fail to get hooked to the comet, although a “harpoon” system has been devised for it to anchor itself to the comet’s surface.
But if the Rosetta mission is a success it will be a superb example of a space mission that represents no nuclear threat to life on Earth and of a quest with the highest of purposes—exploring the mysteries of the Solar System and the origins of life.
Karl Grossman, professor of journalism at the State University of New York / College at Old Westbury, is the author of The Wrong Stuff: The Space Program’s Nuclear Threat to Our Planet and narrator and writer of the television documentary Nukes in Space: The Nuclearization and Weaponization of the Heavens (EnviroVideo).
Folly Beach. Yes, there really is such a place. It’s a poster child for the folly of dumping sand on the shoreline in the expensive and fruitless attempt to try to hold back the ocean and protect beach houses.
In the Long Island, New York village of Quogue, Concerned Citizens of Quogue have included a current article about this beach in South Carolina in their current online newsletter and the group asks the question: “Quogue’s Own ‘Folly’ Beach?”
Happening in Quogue is a conflict emblematic of the struggle involving the coast that’s been going on for decades on Long Island, heightened by the impacts of Superstorm Sandy. There’s a proposal for $14 million in taxpayer-funded sand dumping along the Quogue shoreline.
Meanwhile, down south comes this news on the Concerned Citizens website.
“Folly Beach–Huge waves kicked up by Friday’s storm scoured and swept away newly poured sands on the east end of this island,” begins the article from The Post and Courier of South Carolina published last month.
And it wasn’t an encore of Sandy that did it, just another blow.
The cost to Folly Beach: some $30 million in dumped sand–gone with the sea.
“In little more than a month,” The Post and Courier says, Folly Beach homeowners “have lost much of the sand” dumped just a month earlier on the shore fronting their places.
Some $30 million in sand placed on the Folly Beach shoreline. A month later, it’s all gone.
The newspaper quoted the manager of the Army Corps of Engineers’ Folly Beach project as saying that placing sand on the shore “doesn’t stop erosion. It protects properties. We put the required amount of sand out there. The sand didn’t hold up.”
And this was not the first time in recent years that loads of sand have been dumped on Folly Beach. It has been done again and again, at huge taxpayer cost. “The last time the work was done, in 2005, the cost was $12 million,” about “a third of the current cost,” notes The Post and Courier.
This rise in price for coastal sand-dumping is “mirroring the soaring cost of beach nourishment across the country,” comments Concerns Citizens of Quogue.
The organization in its current newsletter also brings attention to a letter from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) that summarizes comments it has received on the $14 million plan to dump 1.1 million cubic yards of sand on the Quogue oceanfront.
And there is my favorite statement: “The current development pattern on the barrier island in Quogue is unwise and unsustainable. The very large, very expensive, permanent homes which now exist on the oceanfront engender in the owners the understandable desire to protect them, at almost any cost, against the forces of nature, to the detriment of the beach and dunes. In the not so distant past, many people contented themselves with much smaller, less permanent, less valuable beach cottages, structures which they could afford to lose and/or replace if they were damaged by erosion or storms.”
The DEC called on Quogue village’s “agent” on the sand-dumping project, First Coastal Corporation, to “review this letter” and comments “with the mayor and other village officials” and provide “responses to the issues raised.”
The Quogue proposal is overshadowed by the plan of the Army Corps of Engineers to dump sand from Fire Island to Montauk Point, first advanced nearly 60 years ago but failing to occur because of the folly it has always represented. Post-Sandy, however, beachfront homeowners and some politicians are pushing for it anew. A recent cost estimate for the sand-dumping along this 83-mile stretch of Long Island’s south shore: $700 million in taxpayer dollars.
Fifty years ago this week, the New York World’s Fair opened — and by the end of the week, I was fired for writing about demonstrations on its opening day protesting racism.
“Mr. Moses called and is very upset with you,” Wilson Stringer, vice president of the Sunrise Press newspapers, told me. “You’re fired.”
Robert Moses had been the public works czar of the New York area for decades. He ran to be the state’s governor in 1934, and suffered a then record two-to-one defeat. So he amassed power instead by creating state commissions and authorities which he ran.
He pushed the building of parks, a good thing, but also the unbridled construction of bridges, tunnels and highways — highways that shattered traditional neighborhoods and tied up the New York area with loops of roads like the Long Island Expressway, often dubbed the world’s longest parking lot, at the cost of a balanced system of mass transportation. Moses loved the automobile.
It was a road project that Moses announced in 1962 that first caused me to tangle with him. He unveiled a scheme to build a four-lane highway on Fire Island which would have paved over much of the nature and communities on the narrow 32-mile-long ribbon of sand east of New York City. He claimed the highway would “anchor” Fire Island and protect it from storms.
It was my first week on my first job as a reporter for the Babylon Town Leader, a newspaper in the village where Moses lived. He had just announced the Fire Island project.
The Leader, for decades, had challenged Moses and his projects — quite unlike most of the daily papers in New York City which Moses, as notes the Pulitzer Prize-winning book on him, The Power Broker by Robert Caro, long had in his pocket.
I began writing story after story in the Leader about the impacts of the proposed Moses highway on Fire Island. We pointed out, too, how the highway Moses built to the west, along Jones Beach, rather than anchoring the beach needed to be regularly bolstered with sand pushed along its edges by bulldozers working at night.
Moses had so much power in New York State he seemed unstoppable. So those endeavoring to save Fire Island turned to the federal government — a Citizens Committee for a Fire Island National Seashore was started. U.S. Interior Secretary Stewart Udall visited Fire Island and embraced the seashore idea.
Also, conservation-oriented Laurance Rockefeller, brother of New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller, became chairman of the state Council of Parks in 1963 and liked the seashore concept.
Moses was furious. He confronted the governor insisting that the Fire Island highway must happen and that Rockefeller put a lid on his brother — or he would resign his commission and authority posts. Seemingly he thought New York State would fall apart without him. In this collision, Moses quit his various public positions.
A Fire Island National Seashore, happily, was established in 1964.
Moses, meanwhile, remained in charge of the 1964-1965 New York World’s Fair.
In 1964, the Babylon Town Leader was bought by the Sunrise Press newspaper chain.
At the Leader, I also covered the civil rights struggle then happening on Long Island. I went to the World’s Fair opening day to report on protests led by the then leading activist civil rights organization in the region, the Congress of Racial Equality, protesting racism in hiring by the Fair and racism in general in the New York area.
All the Sunrise Press newspapers ran as a front-page piece the article I wrote about the demonstrators and their being bludgeoned by the Fair’s Pinkerton officers. My photos on this accompanied the piece.
But no longer did I have the protection when it came to Moses which I had with the Leader under its former management. Moses complained and I was promptly fired.
I placed ads beginning: “Reporter fired because of Robert Moses.” I got another job, at the daily Long Island Press. Moses’ power over much of the area’s press was reconfirmed on my first day there. An editor told me: “Now you understand you’re never to write a story about Moses or any agency he headed.” I was hired to cover police and courts and asked what was to be done if there is a fatal auto accident on one of the highways managed by one of Moses’ former agencies. “Have another reporter write it,” he advised.
Moses is dead. Fire Island has been preserved. The New York World’s Fair is a memory — most of it quickly bulldozed down after it closed.
“U.S. Agency Knew About G.M. Flaw But Did Not Act,” was the front-page headline of the New York Times this week. The article told of a memo released by the House Energy and Commerce Committee that related how scandalously, shamefully the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration “ignored or dismissed warnings for more than a decade about a faulty ignition switch” in General Motors cars.
“Federal regulators decided not to open an inquiry on the ignitions of Chevrolet Cobalts and other cars even after their own investigators reported in 2007 “knowing about fatal crashes, complaints and reports of a defect in the autos, said the article. It continued that in 2010 the agency “came to the same decision” — not to do anything — “after receiving more reports” about the fatal problem.
A separate article on the front-page of the Times’ business section, “Carmakers’ Close Ties to Regulator Scrutinized,” reported on “former top N.H.T.S.A. officials who now represent companies they were once responsible for regulating, part of a well-established migration from regulator to the regulated in Washington.” The “revolving door between the agency and the automotive industry is once again coming under scrutiny as lawmakers investigate the decade-long failure by General Motors and safety regulators to act more aggressively.”
In fact, the words “G.M. Flaw” could be substituted for by “G.E. Flaw” in its nuclear plants — like the G.E. plants at Fukushima and the dozens of the same fault-plagued model that are still operating in the U.S., or the words could be replaced by “Pollution Caused by Fracking” or “Poisons in Food.”
From national administration to administration, corporations have run roughshod and those who are supposed to protect us from the danger and death these industries cause have regularly not done their jobs. Sometimes the situation is more pronounced as during the Reagan administration — a thoroughly obvious time of foxes guarding henhouses.
I wrote a book about this extreme situation. The book jacket highlighted some of the Reagan foxes: Rita LaValle, a PR person for Aerojet General Corp. involved in hazardous waste-dumping and water pollution, who became director of the “Superfund” program; John Todhunter, an opponent of restrictions on pesticides with the chemical industry-financed American Council on Science and Health, who became assistant administrator for pesticides and toxic substances at EPA; Kathleen Bennett, who as a lobbyist for the paper industry fought the Clean Air Act, named assistant EPA administrator for air pollution control programs and supervisor of the Clean Air Act; and on and on.
This sort of thing has an early history. In a chapter titled “Why the Supposed Protectors Don’t Protect,” I related the story of Dr. Harvey Washington Wiley, a physician who came to Washington in 1882 to become chief chemist for the Department of Agriculture. The U.S. was undergoing a transition from a rural country to an increasingly industrial society with industries arising that processed food — food commonly doused with dangerous chemicals. Wiley endeavored to do something about this. He was a leader in working for pure food legislation and between his efforts and those of Progressive Era reformers and the publication of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle came passage of the landmark Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906.
The act, signed into law by President Theodore Roosevelt, defined as adulterated foods those containing “any added poisonous or other added deleterious ingredient which may render such article injurious to health.” Wiley, who the U.S. government honored in 1956 with a postage stamp picturing him and has described as the “father of food and drug regulation,” tried to enforce the law as head of the Bureau of Chemistry of the Department of Agriculture, predecessor agency to the Food and Drug Administration, but found that all but impossible.
As a matter of conscience, Wiley resigned from the U.S. government in 1912 and wrote a book, The History of a Crime Against the Food Law.” The law intended to protect the health of people was “perverted to protect adulteration of food,” he wrote.
“There is a distinct tendency to put regulations and rules for the enforcement of the law into the hands of industries engaged in food and drug activities,” declared Wiley. “I consider this one of the most pernicious threats to pure food and drugs. Business is making rapid strides in the control of all our affairs. When we permit business in general to regulate the quality and character of our food and drug supplies, we are treading upon very dangerous ground. It is always advisable to consult businessmen and take such advice as they give that is unbiased, because of the intimate knowledge they have of the processes involved. It is never advisable to surrender entirely food and drug control to business interests.”
Throughout the many decades since, government control, regulation, has been surrendered, in part and sometimes entirely, to business interests. This includes not only the food and drug industries but the auto industry, the nuclear industry, now the gas industry for the toxic process called hydraulic fracturing or fracking, and on and on.
I titled my 1983 book The Poison Conspiracy and began it by writing about how “the world is being poisoned,” lives are being lost and protection “by government is a sham.” Those in government who are “supposed to protect us…do not because of the power of the industries” they are supposed to regulate. “These corporations have been able to warp, distort and neutralize those social mechanisms of protection.”
For example, regarding nuclear power and Fukushima, Gregory Jaczko, chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission when the catastrophe began in 2011, was forced out in 2012 because of nuclear industry pressure after calling for the NRC to apply the “lessons learned” from the disaster. “I cannot support issuing this license as if Fukushima had never happened.” Jaczko stated as the other four NRC commissioners rubber-stamped the construction in Georgia in 2012 of two new nuclear plants. Jaczko, said U.S. Senator Edward Markey of Massachusetts, “led” a “fight” against those in the nuclear industry opposed to “strong, lasting safety regulations.” And he paid the price.
And so do we — whether we drive a G.M. Cobalt car or are impacted by the permitted radioactive emissions or accidental discharges from nuclear power plants or water contaminated by the fracking process or food loaded with genetically modified organisms, GMOs, and chemical poisons.
What’s to be done? Our elected representatives aren’t innocent in this. There are a few good ones, like Senator Markey, but overall those who on the elective level are supposed to watchdog the lame would-be regulators of the bureaucracies have in large measure been captured themselves by the monied corporate interests. “There is a deeply entrenched network” and the challenge to it “will not be easy,” I conclude in The Poison Conspiracy. Most importantly, there needs to be intense grassroots activism to deal with, to remake, a system of government regulation long broken that needs to be, at long last, truly and fundamentally reformed.
A group of New York area Jewish newspapers is challenging whether the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) can be “trusted to ensure” that Iran does not develop nuclear weapons.
“We think not,” declared an editorial in the Manhattan Jewish Sentinel, Long Island Jewish World and The Jewish Tribune which is appearing this week.
The editorial in the newspapers begins with noting an article I wrote that appeared in them two weeks ago about how the IAEA, set up by the United Nations to promote nuclear power, has been in the lead in a cover-up of the impacts of the ongoing Fukushima Daiichi nuclear catastrophe. My piece cited the IAEA declaring in 2011, “To date no health effects have been reported in any person as a result of radiation exposure from the accident,” a claim it holds to today.
“This leads us to Iran,” said the editorial. “The key agency charged with monitoring whether the purpose of the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program is to produce atomic weaponry, and not, as its leaders claim, as a source of energy, is this very same IAEA. And that should be ringing some pretty loud alarm bells.”
It continued: “The IAEA was created by the UN after President Dwight Eisenhower appeared before the General Assembly, in 1953, to tout the value of nuclear technology as an energy source while ensuring that it was not misused. The idea was for the IAEA to promote Eisenhower’s vision worldwide, just as the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) was doing here at home.”
But, the editorial related, in 1974 “the AEC was abolished after the U.S. Congress concluded that its dual role of promoting and simultaneously regulating nuclear technology constituted a clear conflict of interest.”
“The IAEA plays that same dual role. Yet it continues to be a critical player on the world scene,” stated the newspapers, their long-time publisher and editor-in-chief Jerome Wm. Lippman.
The editorial spoke of the “nuclear boosters” who have run the IAEA including “Hans Blix, who became the agency’s director general after leading a campaign in his native Sweden against efforts to close nuclear power plants there….Blix’s long-time second-in-command was Morris Rosen, who previously was employed by the defunct AEC and, before that, the nuclear division of General Electric. After the disaster at the nuclear plant in Chernobyl, in the former Soviet Union, Rosen opined, ‘There is very little doubt that nuclear power is a rather benign industrial enterprise, and we may have to expect catastrophic accidents from time to time.’”
The editorial cited the 1981 book, The Islamic Bomb: The Nuclear Threat to Israel and the Middle East by Steven Weissman and Herbert Krosny, and how it “addressed the inherent contradiction of having the IAEA serve as a watchdog to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons.” The editorial noted that they wrote: “The conflict is obvious. As major promoters of nuclear power, IAEA officials do not like to hear about the dangers of civilian nuclear technology … IAEA officials often sound as if they are more concerned [with making] the world safe for nuclear power than safe from nuclear weapons.”
“Given these troublesome circumstances and the IAEA’s involvement in covering up the true extent of the Fukushima catastrophe,” the editorial concluded, “can it be trusted to ensure that Iran’s intentions are peaceful? We think not.”
In my article I also described how the IAEA captured another UN-founded agency, the World Health Organization (WHO), when it comes to nuclear issues.
The IAEA and WHO, I wrote, in 1959 entered into an agreement—that continues to this day—providing that IAEA and WHO “act in close co-operation with each other” and “whenever either organization proposes to initiate a program or activity on a subject in which the other organization has or may have a substantial interest, the first party shall consult the other with a view to adjusting the matter by mutual agreement.”
I quoted Alison Katz who for 18 years worked for WHO, speaking on Libbe HaLevy’s “Nuclear Hotseat” podcast last year, that the IAEA-WHO deal has meant that “WHO cannot undertake any research, cannot disseminate any information, cannot come to the assistance of any population without the prior approval of the IAEA…WHO, in practice, in reality, is subservient to the IAEA within the United Nations family.”
On nuclear issues “there has been a very high level, institutional and international cover-up which includes governments, national authorities, but also, regrettably the World Health Organization,” said Katz on the program titled “The WHO/IAEA—Unholy Alliance and Its Lies About Int’l Nuclear Health Stats.”
Katz is now with an organization called IndependentWHO which works for “the complete independence of the WHO from the nuclear lobby and in particular from its mouthpiece which is the International Atomic Energy Agency. We are demanding that independence,” she said, “so that the WHO may fulfill its constitutional mandate in the area of radiation and health.”
“We are absolutely convinced,” said Katz on “Nuclear Hotseat,” “that if the health and environmental consequences of all nuclear activities were known to the public, the debate about nuclear power would end tomorrow. In fact, the public would probably exclude it immediately as an energy option.”
WHO last year issued a report on the impacts of the Fukushima disaster claiming that “for the general population inside and outside of Japan, the predicted risks are low and no observable increases in cancer rates above baseline rates are anticipated.”
It is impossible to know now the health impacts of the Fukushima disaster but considering the gargantuan amount of radioactive poisons that have been discharged and continue to be released at the stricken six-nuclear plant site, the impacts will inevitably be great. The claim of there being no consequences to life and the prediction that there won’t be in the future from the Fukushima catastrophe is, I stated, an outrageous falsehood.
I noted the projection of Dr. Chris Busy, scientific secretary of the European Committee on Radiation Risk, of a death toll of more than a million from the radioactivity released.
Dr. Helen Caldicott, a founder of Physicians for Social Responsibility, told a symposium, I reported, on “The Medical Implications of Fukushima” in Japan that: “The accident is enormous in its medical implications. It will induce an epidemic of cancer as people inhale the radioactive elements, eat radioactive vegetables, rice and meat, and drink radioactive milk and teas. As radiation from ocean contamination bio-accumulates up the food chain…radioactive fish will be caught thousands of miles from Japanese shores. As they are consumed, they will continue the the cycle of contamination, proving that no matter where you are, all major nuclear accidents become local.”
I cited the analysis of Arnie Gundersen, a former U.S. nuclear industry senior vice president, that “we’re going to see as many as a million cancers” from the Fukushima releases of radioactivity.
Already an excessive number of cases of thyroid cancers have appeared in Japan, an early sign of the impacts of radioactivity. A study last year determined that radioactive iodine fall-out from Fukushima has damaged the thyroid glands of children in California. And the biggest wave of radioactivity in the Pacific Ocean from Fukushima is slated to hit the west coast of North America in coming months. Meanwhile, every bluefin tuna caught in the waters off California in a Stanford University study was found to contain cesium-137, a radioactive poison emitted on a large scale by Fukushima.
The claim of no health impacts from Fukushima, I said in my article, is an attempted Giant Lie—a suppression of information, an effort at dishonesty of historical dimensions—with the IAEA in the middle of it.
The title of the editorial in the Manhattan Jewish Sentinel, Long Island Jewish World and The Jewish Tribune is: “The IAEA in Iran: Wrong watchdog in the wrong place.”
These days it’s the scandal involving widespread surveillance by the National Security Administration. Four decades ago it was the investigation of U.S. intelligence agency abuses by a committee chaired by Congressman Otis G. Pike. The panel’s report, revealing a pattern similar in matters of arrogance and deception to the disclosures in recent times, was suppressed — scandalously –by the full House of Representatives.
Pike, who died last week at 92, was the greatest member of Congress from Long Island I have known in 52 years as a journalist based on the island. He was simply extraordinary.
He was able to win, over and over again as a Democrat in a district far more Republican than it is now. His communications to constituents were a wonderfully constant flow of personal letters. As a speaker he was magnificent and eloquent — and what a sense of humor! Indeed, each campaign he would write and sing a funny song, accompanying himself on a ukulele or banjo, about his opponent. He worked tirelessly and creatively for his eastern Long Island district.
With his top political lieutenants, attorney Aaron Donner and educator Joseph Quinn, and his dynamic wife Doris, and his many supporters — including those in Republicans for Pike — he was a trusted, unique governmental institution on Long Island.
And he was a man of complete integrity. That, indeed, was why, after 18 years, Pike decided to close his career in the House of Representatives.
In 1975, as issues about global U.S. intelligence activities began to surface, Pike became chair of the House Special Select Committee on Intelligence. A U.S. Marine dive bomber and night fighter pilot in the Pacific during World War II, who with the war’s end went to Princeton and became a lawyer, he embarked with his committee, Donner its chief counsel, into an investigation of the assassinations and coups in which the Central Intelligence Agency was involved. His panel found systematic, unchecked and huge financial pay-offs by the CIA to figures around the world. And, yes, it found illegal surveillance.
On the Central Intelligence Agency’s website today is an essay by a CIA historian Gerald K. Haines, which at its top asserts how “the Pike Committee set about examining the CIA’s effectiveness and costs to taxpayers. Unfortunately, Pike, the committee, and its staff never developed a cooperative working relationship with the Agency.”
A “cooperative working relationship” with the CIA? Pike’s committee was engaged in a hard-hitting investigation, a probe by the legislative branch of government, into wrongdoing by the executive branch. It was not, in examining the activities of the CIA and the rest of what historian Haines terms the “Intelligence Community,” interested in allying with and being bamboozled by them.
To make matters worse, leading components of the media turned away from what the Pike Committee was doing. Pike told me how James “Scotty” Reston, the powerful columnist and former executive editor of The New York Times, telephoned him to complain: “What are you guys doing down there!” The Times and other major media began focusing on the counterpart and less aggressive Senate committee on intelligence chaired by Senator Frank Church of Idaho.
Then, in 1976, even though a majority of representatives on the Pike Committee voted to release its report, the full House balloted 246-to-124 not to release it.
What an attempted cover-up! Fortunately, the report was leaked to CBS reporter Daniel Schorr who provided it to The Village Voice which ran it in full.
I still vividly recall sitting with Pike and talking, over drinks in a tavern in his hometown of Riverhead, about the situation. He had done what needed to be done and then came the suppression. He thought, considering what he experienced, that he might be more effective as a journalist rather than a congressman in getting truth out.
I knew Otis as a reporter and columnist for the daily Long Island Press. Dave Starr, the editor of The Press and national editor of the Newhouse newspaper chain, always thought the world of Pike. Starr and Pike made an arrangement under which Pike would write a column distributed by the Newhouse News Service. Pike didn’t run for re-election for the House of Representatives — and starting in 1979, for the next 20 years, he was a nationally syndicated columnist.
His columns were as brilliant as the speeches he gave as a congressman. They were full of honesty, humor and wisdom, as was the man.
Starr, still with Newhouse Newspapers, commented last week on Pike’s death: “The country has lost a great thinker, a mover and shaker, and a patriot.”
Ever since Madison Avenue advertising man Rosser Reeves convinced Dwight Eisenhower to use him and TV commercials to run for the presidency in 1952, the political TV commercial has become a pivotal component in American presidential politics.
Four years earlier Reeves tried to interest the then Republican candidate, Thomas Dewey, in the approach. But Dewey “did not buy the idea of lowering himself to the commercial environment of a toothpaste ad,” related Robert Spero in his 1980 book The Duping of the American Voter, Dishonesty & Deception in Presidential Television Advertising.
The Eisenhower commercials were coordinated with the campaign’s slogan — “I Like
Ike.” Indeed, one spot featured a song especially written by Irving Berlin titled “I Like Ike.”
There was an early understanding by Reeves that television best communicates feeling and emotion, not information. TV, as media theorists later described it, is a “non-cognitive medium.” Thus the Eisenhower ads — stressing Eisenhower’s likeability — involved feeling and emotion, making the strongest use of the TV medium.
I recall, as a kid, seeing the TV image of Eisenhower back then, grinning.
The intellectual Democrat candidate, Adlai Stevenson, tried to counter the blitz of 15-second Eisenhower spots. Stevenson embarked on a series of half-hour TV presentations, reiterating and expanding on themes he struck in his convention acceptance speech. These lectures, essentially, didn’t work.
With television, as Joe McGinniss wrote in his seminal 1969 The Selling of the President, “it matters less” that a politician “does not have ideas. His personality is what the viewers want to share. The TV candidate… is measured… not against a standard of performance established by two centuries of democracy — but against Mike Douglas. How well does he handle himself? Does he mumble, does he twitch, does he make me laugh? Do I feel warm inside? Style becomes substance. The medium is the massage and the masseur gets the votes.”
TV talk show personality Mike Douglas is dead. But the dynamic McGinniss described continues — indeed has expanded politically.
As observed Richard Reeves in a 1980 television report, “ABC News Closeup: Lights, Cameras… Politics,” realizing TV “transmits feelings and emotion better than it transmits information… media consultants tried to motivate Americans to vote the same way that they were motivated to buy toothpaste: with little entertainments.”
He cited as an early example of this the infamous spot put together in 1964 by Tony Schwartz for Lyndon Johnson. A little girl plucks petals from a daisy, counting up to nine and then a man’s voice counts down from ten to zero — and suddenly the TV screen fills with the super-scary footage of a hydrogen bomb, and Johnson’s voice states: “The stakes are too high… We must either love each other or we must die.”
Schwartz later wrote in his book The Responsive Chord: “The task of a media specialist is not to reveal a candidate’s stand on issues, so much as to help communicate those personal qualities of a candidate that are likely to win votes.” This spot and the strong emotion it was designed to impart were aimed at leaving the viewer feeling that Lyndon Johnson was a person of responsibility, and his opponent, Barry Goldwater, something else.
Further, with this spot, the TV political attack ad, the emotionally-laden negative political TV commercial, had arrived — to become a mainstay of election advertising.
By the 1980s, Ronald Reagan had become a model for TV-based presidential TV commercials — and politics. Many voters might have disliked his policies, but a substantial number “liked” Reagan — based on the image he projected through television.
With the ability to perform on television having become a necessary attribute of a presidential candidate, the Republican Party had chosen an actor to run for president. Reagan had been governor of California but, importantly, Reagan for eight years before that was a TV performer, host of General Electric Theatre, after his Hollywood career hit the skids.
It had come to a point at which Newsday columnist Robert Weimer declared in 1980:
“Why bother with the arduous, uncertain and expensive process of casting ballots at all? Why not simply put presidential candidates into a head-to-head, prime-time competition on election night and let the ratings decide the contest… It’s not hard to understand why the candidates have settled on television as their main mode of communication. It reaches the most people with the most impact, even if it does tend to sell only gross attributes. Audience perception of a smile, for example, can determine the outcome of a presidential race…Television is essentially a medium that appeals more to spinal than cerebral receptors. The message that gets through is spare: Ronald Reagan is affable.”
We can now analyze presidential candidate after candidate through the prism of political TV commercials and television performance.
It can be very unsettling. Consider what was widely described as a great problem for Al Gore when he ran against George W. Bush in 2000: most folks would rather, it was said, go out for a beer with Bush than Gore. Gore’s persona as transmitted through TV was said to be wooden, lacking charisma, Bush somehow connected better. And we got Bush.
Our current president, Barack Obama, is a master of performing on television. As Jim VandeHei and Mike Allen complained on Politico this past February, “The president has shut down interviews with many of the White House reporters who know the most and ask the toughest questions. Instead, he spends way more time talking directly to voters via friendly shows and media personalities. Why bother with the New York Times beat reporter when Obama can go on ‘The View.'”
And today, television — and particularly political TV commercials — are vital to the rise and continuance in office of candidates for, not just president, but for the U.S. Senate, the House of Representatives, governorships, mayoral positions, and seats in state legislatures and on city councils.
A political era of dueling political TV commercials is firmly here.
Meanwhile, the notion of the “Q Score” or “Q rating” has arrived.
The term “Q Score” was coined in 1963 by Jack Landis who founded a company Marketing Evaluations, Inc. in Roslyn, N.Y. which continues to use the concept as the central measure in its opinion polling and market research work.
“Q rating” — defined by Merriam-Webster as a “scale measuring the popularity of a person or thing” — is said by those dictionary people as having its “first known use” in 1977.
They mean roughly the same: they’re measures of likeability. They are the standard for how TV reporters keep their jobs these days, why TV programs are renewed, how products are promoted as well as how would-be holders of the presidency and other offices in the U.S. — and increasingly leaders in nations around the world — are selected.
The basis for “I Like Ike” is now widely applied.
And we are left to wonder what kind of “Q Score” or “Q rating” Abraham Lincoln or Thomas Jefferson might have had? What have we lost — and what have we gained?
Michael Carroll, author of the best-selling book, “Lab 257: The Disturbing Story of the Government’s Secret Plum Island Germ Laboratory,” was back on the East Coast, vacationing with his family, and amazed over recent developments concerning Plum Island.
Carroll, an attorney from Long Island who worked seven years on “Lab 257” which became a best-seller after its 2004 publication, has since moved to California where he and his wife, a California native, established a law practice.
Back on Long Island, where he is a native, Carroll finds as astonishing Representative Tim Bishop’s fight against the plan of the federal government to shut down its Plum Island Animal Disease Center and shift its operations to a new National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility it would build in Manhattan Kansas. Bishop, of Southampton, is mainly concerned about the loss of 200 federal jobs at the center which is in his eastern Long Island Congressional district.
“It is utter foolishness to try to save 200 jobs at the price of protecting the entire region from this island and the threat it represents,” said Carroll in a recent interview. An outbreak of disease agents worked with on Plum Islandnotably those affecting both animals and peoplein the heavily populated area off which the island sits could be “devastating.” Plum Island is just off and midway between the New York-Boston megalopolis and its millions of people, Carroll pointed out. The 843-acre island is a mile-and-a-half off Orient Point in Southold Town on the North Fork of Long Island. Connecticut is less than 10 miles to the north.
A spokesperson for Bishop, Oliver Longwell, responded that Bishop’s “position on the island is indistinguishable from every other elected official who represents Southold Town at all levels of government.”
As to the call by a grouping of Long Island environmentalists for preservation of the island as opposed to the federal government’s consideration of having housing developed on it, Carroll said that making the island a preserve is all that could be done with Plum Islandbut, he emphasized, it will need to be a preserve closed to people. “You can’t let anybody on it,” he said.
“The island is an environmental disaster,” said Carroll. “Every effort to decontaminate Lab 257, the1950s-era germ warfare building on it, has failed,” said Carroll. “They can’t get that building clean.” (Subsequently, a new laboratory building was constructed after the U.S. Department of Agriculture Department took control of the island from the U.S. Army.)
“There is contamination all over the island,” said Carroll. He noted that up until recent years, nothing was ever removed from the islandeverything was disposed on it, much of it buried. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) have brought charges through the years in connection with the Plum Island waste, cases cited in his book, he went on. “If this was a private business, it immediately would have been shut down,” said Carroll. But only “nominal” fines were meted out.
As to a shift of Plum Island operations to Kansas, that’s “going out of the frying pan into the fire,” said Carroll. “Is there is no better place to study foreign animal diseases than in the middle of America’s farm belt?”
“What research that needs to be conducted should be done nowhere near a human population center or a food production center,” said Carroll.
As for Plum Island, “There’s no way that island can be made fit for human habitation,” declared Carroll.” The island needs to be “forsaken. It’s very sad.”
The federal government, however, believes Plum Island can be habitable as evidenced by it contemplating housing on it with the center’s closing. And real estate mogul Donald Trump has jumped into the situation by saying he would like to buy the island and, he said last month, develop a “really beautiful, world-class golf course” on it.
Meanwhile, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has written to the General Services Administration, which would manage the planned sale, and the Department of Homeland Security, which after the 9/11 attack took over the island from the Department of Agriculture, calling for a “comprehensive investigation” of Plum Island by the state DEC, and a clean-up plan. This would include “the need to properly close Building 257.” Discussing his letter at a recent appearance at Orient Beach State Park, Cuomo called Plum Island “the island of secrets.”
The Cuomo family is very familiar with Plum Island. Andrew’s father, former New York Governor Mario Cuomo, with whom Carroll worked as a lawyer in New York City, is quoted on the jacket of “Lab 257” as calling the book a “carefully researched, chilling expose of a potential catastrophe.”
Carroll’s “Lab 257” also documents a Nazi connection to the original establishment of a U.S. laboratory on Plum Island. According to the book, Erich Traub, a scientist who worked for the Third Reich doing biological warfare, was the force behind its founding.
During World War II, “as lab chief of Insel Riemsa secret Nazi biological warfare laboratory on a crescent-shaped island in the Baltic SeaTraub worked for Adolph Hitler’s second-in-charge, SS Reichsfuhrer Heinrich Himmler, on live germ trials,” states “Lab 257.
The mission was to develop biological warfare to be directed against animals in the Soviet Union. This included infecting cattle and reindeer with foot-and-mouth disease.
“Ironically, Traub spent the prewar period of his scientific career on a fellowship at the Rockefeller Institute in Princeton, New Jersey, perfecting his skills in viruses and bacteria under the tutelage of American experts before returning to Nazi Germany on the eve of war,” says “Lab 257.” While in the U.S. in the 1930s, too, relates the book, Traub was a member of the Amerika-Deutscher Volksbund which was involved in pro-Nazi rallies held weekly in Yaphank on Long Island.
With the end of the war, Traub came back to the United States under Project Paperclip, a U.S. program under which Nazi scientists, such as Wernher von Braun, were brought to America.
“Traub’s detailed explanation of the secret operation on Insel Riems” given to officials at Fort Detrick in Maryland, the Army’s biological warfare headquarters, and to the CIA, “laid the groundwater for Fort Detrick’s offshore germ warfare animal disease lab on Plum Island,” says “Lab 257.” “Traub was a founding father.” And Plum Island’s purpose, says the book, became what Insel Riems had been: to develop biological warfare to be directed against animals in the Soviet Unionnow that the Cold War and conflict between the U.S. and the Soviet Union had begun.
The Long Island daily newspaper Newsday earlier documented this biological warfare mission of Plum Island. In a lead story on November 21, 1993, Newsday investigative reporter John McDonald wrote: “A 1950s military plan to cripple the Soviet economy by killing horses, cattle and swine called for making biological warfare weapons out of exotic animal diseases at a Plum Island laboratory, now-declassified Army records reveal.” A facsimile of one of the records, dated 1951, covered the front page of that issue of Newsday.
The article went on: “Documents and interviews disclose for the first time what officials have denied for years: that the mysterious and closely guarded animal lab off the East End of Long Island was originally designed to conduct top-secret research into replicating dangerous viruses that could be used to destroy enemy livestock.”
“Lab 257” has many pages about this based on documents including many that Carroll found in the National Archives.
The book also tells of why suddenly the Army transferred Plum Island to the Department of Agriculture in 1954the U.S. military became concerned about having to feed millions of people in the Soviet Union if it destroyed their food animals.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff “found that a war with the U.S.S.R. would best be fought with conventional and nuclear means, and biological warfare against humansnot against food animals,” says “Lab 257.” “Destroying the food supply meant having to feed millions of starving Russians after winning a war”
Still, “Lab 257” questions whether there ever was a clean break.
Officials at the Plum Island Animal Disease Center have, however, insisted over the years that the center’s function is to conduct research into foreign animal diseases not found in the U.S.especially foot-and-mouth diseaseand the only biological warfare research done is of a “defensive” kind.
“Lab 257” also maintains that there is a link between the Plum Island center and the emergence of Lyme disease. It “suddenly surfaced” 10 miles from Plum Island “in Old Lyme, Connecticut in 1975.” Carroll cites years of experimentation with ticks on Plum Island and the possibility of an accidental or purposeful release.
“The tick is the perfect germ vector,” says “Lab 257,” “which is why it has long been fancied as a germ weapon by early biowarriors from Nazi Germany and the Empire of Japan to the Soviet Union and the United States.”
“A source who worked on Plum Island in the 1950s,” the book states, “recalls that animal handlers and a scientist released ticks outdoors on the island. ‘They called him the Nazi scientist, when they came in, in 1951 they were inoculating these ticks.” “Lab 257” goes on: “Dr. Traub’s World War II handiwork consisted of aerial virus sprays developed on Insel Riems and tested over occupied Russia, and of field work for Heinrich Himmler in Turkey. Indeed, his colleagues conducted bug trials by dropping live beetles from planes. An outdoor tick trial would have been de riguer for Erich Traub.”
Karl Grossman, professor of journalism at the State University of New York/College of New York, is the author of the book, The Wrong Stuff: The Space’s Program’s Nuclear Threat to Our Planet. Grossman is an associate of the media watch group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR). He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion.
I gave a presentation on “Judaism and Investigative Journalism” at Friday evening services last week at Temple Adas Israel in Sag Harbor, New York. For 50 years I’ve practiced this specific branch of journalism and have taught it for the past 35 years as a professor at the State University of New York College at Old Westbury.
It’s a form of journalism, called muckraking a century ago in the United States, that goes beyond answering the basic questions reporters are supposed to ask—who, what, when, where, why and how. It’s digging deep.
A definition and I think a good one for investigative reporting comes from Paul Williams, author of Investigative Reporting and Editing, a basic book on the subject, and a founder of the organization Investigative Reporters & Editors. He wrote it is “to tell how things really work.” Not how some government official or corporate executive might claim but what you, the journalist, uncovers through intensive investigation. Truth with a capital T. You then write or air an expose. This sometimes takes the form of a journalistic crusade.
It’s a form of journalism, I said, highly compatible with Judaism. As Isaiah said: “Seek justice, defend the oppressed.” Further, investigative reporting fits perfectly with the Jewish tradition of always questioning…and of challenging authority.
It’s a branch of journalism, I noted, loaded with Jews.
It wasn’t happenstance, I said, that Joseph Pulitzer, a Jew from Hungary, was one of the two major publishers in the mainstream press whose papers engaged in muckraking in what was called the Muckraking Era in the U.S. between 1900 and 1914.
George Seldes, from a Jewish utopian agricultural community in New Jersey, who lived through most of the 20th century passing away at 104, is regarded as the father of contemporary independent investigative journalism.
And Seymour Hersh; I.F. Stone; Carl Bernstein; David Halberstam; Fred Friendly, Don Hewitt, creator of 60 Minutes, long the leading investigative TV program in America;Mike Wallace; Daniel Schorr—Schorr wrote, “We Jews are searchers for truth, sometimes called investigative reporting”— Gloria Steinem; Lowell Bergman; Eric Nadler; Bob Simon…
The list goes on.
It’s interesting today, how Jill Abramson, with a background in investigative reporting and now the top editor at The New York Times, the first woman to hold that post, is directing The Times to do more investigative reporting. Still not enough, but more.
Arguably, I said, the most important work of Theodor Herzl could be considered investigative journalism. Writing about the Dreyfus affair in France and virulent anti-Semitism there and elsewhere in Europe, the truth became clear to him as a journalist about how things really worked for Jews in Europe. He concluded that Jews must remove themselves from Europe. And his mighty crusade was for Jews to create their own state.
I spoke about how I got into investigative reporting, in college doing an internship at the Cleveland Press. It was the first newspaper started by E.W. Scripps, the other major mainstream press figure highly active during the Muckraking Era. The culture Scripps created was still very much present at the Cleveland Press in 1960. Every few days it ran an expose. Scripps wasn’t Jewish but in his views could have been. As he declared: “Whatever is—is wrong.” And must be changed. The title of his autobiography: I Protest. Above the entrance to the paper, etched in stone, were a lighthouse and the words: “Give Light and the People Will Find Their Own Way.”
And every day I saw this happening. The term investigative reporting wasn’t yet used. It came a few years later. But there was a group of reporters at the Cleveland Press who did this. I was a copyboy and working at night, nearly alone in the city room, when there was a phone call advising the paper about some event in Shaker Heights, for example, you passed on a note to the suburban desk. A call about something happening in the city—the note went to the city desk. But if someone called with a horror story, a tale of injustice, inequity, danger—you gave it to this group of investigative reporters.
And the amazing thing to me, an 18-year-old from New York City, was seeing how when the information was documented by one of these investigative reporters and published—half the time the situation was resolved. This was just the neatest thing, I thought, so I headed back east to become an investigative reporter.
My first big story was as a reporter for the Babylon Town Leader and involved New York public works czar Robert Moses’ plan for a four-lane highway on Fire Island. I wrote about how the Moses road would devastate the human and natural communities on the fragile 32-mile long barrier beach. The paper crusaded for a Fire Island National Seashore as a way to stop Moses. The highway was stopped and the seashore created.
I went to the daily Long Island Press, got promoted to doing investigative reporting there and, over the years, investigated corruption involving public officials, exposed a huge Long Island sand-mining operation in the guise of construction of a deepwater port, broke the story of the oil industry seeking to drill in the Atlantic and probed the consequences of spillage.
After The Press ceased publication, I accepted an offer from the College at Old Westbury to be a professor. I’ve taught investigative reporting there every semester, and I’ve continued to do.it. A major story has involved the use of nuclear power in space. This started with my learning that the next mission of the ill-fated Challenger space shuttle involved lofting a space probe containing plutonium fuel. My book on this: The Wrong Stuff. This led me to investigate Ronald Reagan’s Star Wars program which, I found, was predicated on orbiting battle platforms with onboard nuclear power systems providing the energy for hypervelocity guns and laser and particle beam weapons. My book on this: Weapons in Space.
As to terrestrial nuclear power, my first book was Cover Up: What You Are Not Supposed to Know About Nuclear Power. Regarding Long Island, for years I investigated the Shoreham nuclear power plant which was to be the first of seven to 11 nuclear plants on Long Island. My book on this: Power Crazy. Many others were involved—pressing politically, utilizing civil disobedience, among other strategies, but I did much investigative journalism on the scheme, and Shoreham was stopped from operating and the plan for many nuclear plants on Long Island ended.
I’ve done, too, much investigative reporting on TV. For nearly 25 years I’ve hosted the TV program Enviro Close-Up aired through the U.S. I’m the chief investigative reporter for WVVH-TV on Long Island. And in recent years, with the arrival of the Internet, I’ve done extensive investigative reporting on the Web.
At the synagogue Friday evening, I spoke of how I’m still amazed about how the process of investigative reporting works—how the exposure of injustice, inequity and danger works to resolves the situation about half the time. And if there is no immediate resolution, you keep at it. I noted the Talmudic injunction that “it is not incumbent on thee to complete the task” but “thou must not…cease from pursuing it.”
The big problem has been getting air or ink considering the dysfunction of much of media. A course I developed at SUNY Old Westbury is Politics of Media. But the Internet has made a great contribution to investigative reporting—suddenly there is this enormously powerful instrument to, so far freely, communicate information globally.
As to deciding on what I investigate and report on, there are so many horror stories out there, I said, that I need to handle what I select through a kind of journalistic triage. I focus on stories involving life-threatening issues. That’s also, I said, about what Jews hold dearest: l’chayim—to life.
President Barack Obama got it right and wrong Monday when he stated, “If you’ve got the IRS operating in anything less than a neutral and nonpartisan way, then that is outrageous, it is contrary to our traditions.”
He was right in declaring it was “outrageous” for the IRS to target conservative organizations for tough tax treatment. But he was incorrect in saying “it is contrary to our traditions.”
For the U.S. Internal Revenue Service has for decades gone after organizations and individuals that take stands in conflict with the federal government at the time. This has been a tradition, an outrageous tradition.
It is exposed in detail by David Burnham, longtime New York Times investigative reporter, in his 1991 book A Law Unto Itself: The IRS and the Abuse of Power. He relates how President Franklin D. Roosevelt likely “set the stage for the use of the tax agency for political purposes by most subsequent presidents.” Burnham writes about how a former U.S. Treasury Secretary, banker Andrew Mellon, was a special IRS target under FDR. During the presidencies of Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon, he recounts, the focus of the IRS’s efforts “at political control” were civil rights organizations and those against the U.S. engaging in the Vietnam War. Nixon’s “enemies list” and his scheme to use the IRS against those on it is what the current IRS scandal is being most compared.
History Professor John A. Andrew III in his 2002 book Power to Destroy: The Political Uses of the IRS from Kennedy to Nixon—its title drawn from U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall’s dictum “The power to tax is the power to destroy”—focuses further on this tradition. He tells of how John F. Kennedy administration’s “Ideological Organizations Project” investigated, intimidated and challenged the tax-exempt status of right-wing groups including the John Birch Society. Then, with a turn of the White House to the right with Nixon came investigations, he writes, of such entities as the Jerry Rubin Foundation, the Fund for Investigative Journalism and the Center for Corporate Responsibility.
During the Reagan administration, I had my own experience with the IRS—ostensibly
because of a book I wrote. Nicaragua: America’s New Vietnam? involved reporting from what was then a war zone in Nicaragua and in Florida—where I interviewed leaders of the contras who were working with the CIA to overthrow Nicaragua’s Sandinista government—and Honduras, being set up as a tarmac for U.S. intervention in Nicaragua. I visited a U.S. military base there. The book warned against a U.S. invasion of Nicaragua (subsequently decided against by the Reagan White House after the Iran-contra scandal). The book was published in 1985 and soon afterwards I was hit with an IRS audit. It would be more, I was informed, than my showing up at an IRS office. The IRS was to come to my house for a “field audit.”
The investigator sat on one side of our dining room table and on the other side was me and my accountant, Peter Berger of Shelter Island. What would be an all-day event started with the investigator asking me to detail how much my family spent on food each week and then, slowly, methodically, going through other expenses. Then he went through income. He obviously was seeking to determine on this fishing expedition whether income exceeded expenses. He went through receipts for business expenses including restaurant receipts, asking who I ate with. He sorted through receipts for office supplies. By mid-afternoon, he had gotten nowhere. At that point, having been hours together, a somewhat weird relationship had been formed. And he began to tell me how his dream in college was to become a journalist. He expanded on that, and then asked: “Have you ever faced retaliation?”
“What do you think this is?” I responded.
He was taken back—insisting my name had come up “at random.”
In the end, all he did was trim some of what was listed as business use of my home phone.
Was I being retaliated against for the book I had written? One would never know. Recently, I ran into accountant Berger, now retired, and he commented about how that day at my house was the strangest IRS audit he had ever been involved in.
The IRS has been beyond reform. Burnham writes in A Law Unto Itself: The IRS and the Abuse of Power that a “political imperative of not messing with the IRS” has become “close to being a law of nature almost as unbending as the force of gravity.” It is “rarely examined by Congress.”
President Obama announced yesterday that the acting commissioner of the IRS was asked and agreed to tender his resignation as a result of the scandal. That’s a small start. Far more important is somehow ending the tradition of IRS political tyranny. Fundamental change in the IRS is called for.
Karl Grossman, professor of journalism at the State University of New York/College of New York, is the author of the book, The Wrong Stuff: The Space’s Program’s Nuclear Threat to Our Planet. Grossman is an associate of the media watch group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR). He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion.
Fracking for gas not only uses toxic chemicals that can contaminate drinking water and groundwater — it also releases substantial quantities of radioactive poison from the ground that will remain hot and deadly for thousands of years.
Issuing a report recently, exposing major radioactive impacts of hydraulic fracturing — known as fracking — was Grassroots Environmental Education, an organization in New York, where extensive fracking is proposed.
The Marcellus Shale region, which covers much of upstate New York, is seen as loaded with gas that can be released through the fracking process. It involves injecting fluid and chemicals under high pressure to fracture shale formations and release the gas captured in them.
But also released, notes the report, is radioactive material in the shale — including Radium-226 with a half-life of 1,600 years. A half-life is how long it takes for a radioactive substance to lose half its radiation. It is multiplied by between 10 and 20 to determine the “hazardous lifetime” of a radioactive material, how long it takes for it to lose its radioactivity. Thus Radium-226 remains radioactive for between 16,000 and 32,000 years.
“Horizontal hydrofracking for natural gas in the Marcellus Shale region of New York State has the potential to result in the production of large amounts of waste materials containing Radium-226 and Radium-228 in both solid and liquid mediums,” states the report by E. Ivan White. For 30 years he was a staff scientist for the Congressionally-chartered National Council on Radiation Protection.
“Importantly, the type of radioactive material found in the Marcellus Shale and brought to the surface by horizontal hydrofracking is the type that is particularly long-lived, and could easily bio-accumulate over time and deliver a dangerous radiation dose to potentially millions of people long after the drilling is over,” the report goes on.
“Radioactivity in the environment, especially the presence of the known carcinogen radium, poses a potentially significant threat to human health,” it says. “Therefore, any activity that has the potential to increase that exposure must be carefully analyzed prior to its commencement so that the risks can be fully understood.”
The report lays out “potential pathways of the radiation” through the air, water and soil. Through soil it would get into crops and animals eaten by people.
Examined in the report are a 1999 study done by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation “assisted by representatives from 16 oil and gas companies” on hydrofracking and radioactivity and a 2011 Environmental Impact Statement the agency did on the issue. It says both present a “cavalier attitude toward human exposure to radioactive material.”
Radium causes cancer in people largely because it is treated as calcium by the body and becomes deposited in bones. It can mutate bones cells causing cancer and also impact on bone marrow. It can cause aplastic anemia — an inability of bone marrow to produce sufficient new cells to replenish blood cells. Marie Curie, who discovered radium in 1893 and felt comfortable physically handling it, died of aplastic anemia.
Once radium was used in self-luminous paint for watch dials and even as an additive in products such as toothpaste and hair creams for purported “curative powers.”
There are “no specific treatments for radium poisoning,” advises the Delaware Health and Social Services Division of Public Health in its information sheet on radium. When first discovered, “no one knew that it was dangerous,” it mentions.
White’s report, entitled “Consideration of Radiation in Hazardous Waste Produced from Horizontal Hydrofracking,” notes that “radioactive materials and chemical wastes do not just go away when they are released into the environment. They remain active and potentially lethal, and can show up years later in unexpected places. They bio-accumulate in the food chain, eventually reaching humans.”
Under the fracking plan for New York State, “there are insufficient precautions for monitoring potential pathways or to even know what is being released into the environment,” it states.
The Department of Environmental Conservation “has not proposed sufficient regulations for tracking radioactive waste from horizontal hydrofracking,” it says. “Neither New York State nor the Nuclear Regulatory Commission would permit a nuclear power plant to handle radioactive material in this manner.”
Doug Wood, associate director of Grassroots Environmental Education, which is based in Port Washington, N.Y., and also editor of the report, commented as it was issued:
“Once radioactive material comes out of the ground along with the gas, the problem is what to do with it. The radioactivity lasts for thousands of years, and it is virtually impossible to eliminate or mitigate. Sooner or later, it’s going to end up in our environment and eventually our food chain. It’s a problem with no good solution — and the DEC is unequipped to handle it.”
As for “various disposal methods.. .contemplated” by the agency “for the thousands of tons of radioactive waste expected to be produced by fracking,” Wood said that:
“none…adequately protect New Yorkers from eventual exposure to this radioactive material. Spread it on the ground and it will become airborne with dust or wash off into surface waters; dilute it before discharge into rivers and it will raise radiation levels in those rivers for everyone downstream; bury it underground and it will eventually find its way into someone’s drinking water. No matter how hard you try, you can’t put the radioactive genie back into the bottle.”
Furthermore, said Wood in an interview, in releasing radioactive radium from the ground, “a terrible burden would be placed on everybody that comes after us. As a moral issue, we must not burden future generations with this. We must say no to fracking — and implement the use of sustainable forms of energy that don’t kill.”
The prospects of unleashing, through fracking, radium, a silvery-white metal, has a parallel in the mining of uranium on the Navajo Nation.
The mining began on the Navajo Nation, which encompasses parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah, during World War II as the Manhattan Project, the American crash program to build atomic weapons, sought uranium to fuel them. The Navajos weren’t told that mining the uranium, yellow in color, could lead to lung cancer. And lung cancer became epidemic among the miners and then spread across the Navajo Nation from piles of contaminated uranium tailings and other remnants of the mining.
The Navajos gave the uranium a name: “leetso,” which literally means “yellow earth” and connotes “monster.”
Left in the ground, it would do no harm. But taken from the earth, it has caused disease. That is why the Navajo Nation outlawed uranium mining in 2005. “This legislation just chopped the legs off the uranium monster,” Norman Brown, a Navajo leader, said.
Similarly, radium, a silvery-white monster, must be left in the earth, not unleashed with fracking to inflict disease on people today and many, many generations into the future.