Fukushima radiation -- free at your doorstep from TEPCO

                                     Cartoon  of "Our Friend the Atom" from the 1950s  
                                           Disneyland television show

I don't know if anyone has ever done the math, but it's an interesting question whether or not nuclear power would ever have paid its way as a domestic energy source if one had counted all of the costs involved in its creation including research & development, construction, liability insurance, accident clean ups, radioactive waste disposal, decommissioning aged reactors, etc.  And as Helen Caldicott has argued over the years, one also needs to count the enormous burden of human costs in illness, disability and death, along with the economic burdens of caring for people stricken with diseases caused by radioactivity emitted by the plants and their malfunctions.  

Of course the genius of modern capitalism is to avoid all costs of this kind.  Privatize the profits, pass the bills on to someone else, "externalities" as those amusing economists call these things.  In the wake of the ongoing calamities of the Fukushima nuclear disaster, the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) now argues that radioactive isotopes released from plant are no longer its property.  Evidently, they're giving away the deadly particles, free of charge, to anyone (mis)fortunate enough to have them arrive on their property or in their bodies.  In the spirit of the holidays, think of them as gifts that keep on giving.  

One of the earliest victims of this insidious policy is a Japanese golf course.  Here's a report from The Australian newspaper.

In defending a lawsuit from a Fukushima Prefecture golf club, lawyers said the radioactive cesium that had blighted the Sunfield Nihonmatsu golf course's fairways and greens was the club's problem. The utility has taken a similarly hard line defending claims from ryokan (inn) and onsen (spa) owners.

TEPCO's lawyers used the arcane legal principle of res nullius to argue the emissions that escaped after the tsunami and earthquake triggered a meltdown were no longer its responsibility. "Radioactive materials (such as cesium) that scattered and fell from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant belong to individual landowners, not TEPCO," the utility told Tokyo District Court.
The chief operating officer of the prestigious golf course, Tsutomo Yamane, told The Australian that he and his staff were stunned: "I couldn't believe my ears. I told my employees, 'TEPCO is saying the radiation doesn't belong to them', and they said 'I beg your pardon'."

The court rejected TEPCO's argument, but ruled it was the responsibility of local, prefectural and national governments to clean it up.

The case - and the club's bid for $160 million in clean-up costs - has proceeded to the High Court amid fears the ruling could result in some local governments being bankrupted.

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By the way, I'm wondering who will pay for the damages to the world's seafood industry from the radioactive debris now floating away from the shores of Fukushima and into the Pacific Ocean.  Certainly, it won't be TEPCO.  Will shoppers and restaurants need to take geiger counters to seafood markets?   How much do those things cost?

Ready for everyday torture of Occupy protesters?

                         From Gizmodo, sketch of a "riot shield" now in the laboratory

The use of tear gas, pepper spray, billy clubs, other weapons are now commonplace in efforts by America’s local police officers to dispatch those involved in Occupy Wall Street demonstrations.  As protesters make use of constitutionally protected rights of free speech and assembly, they are confronted by increasingly potent varieties of “crowd control,” including forms of violence that cross the line between civilized law enforcement and practices of torture.  Our newly militarized “riot” squads carry an impressive array of high tech instruments that city and campus cops now wield with little sense of restraint.  The boys and their toys are ready for whatever expressions of freedom you have in mind.

Among the more insidious devices deployed or under development are ones that attack demonstrators  with high intensity sound waves.  These include the LRAD sound cannon used in police crackdowns against Occupy Oakland and in the political cleansing of Zuccotti park.  According to a report in Gizmodo:

The LRAD corporation says that anyone within a 100 meters of the device's sound path will experience extreme pain. The version generally utilized by police department  (the LRAD 500X) is designed to communicate at up to 2000 meters during ideal conditions. In a typical outdoor environment, the device can be heard for 650 meters. The 500x is also capable of short bursts of directed sound that casuse severe headaches in anyone within a 300-meter range. Anyone within 15 meters of the device's audio path can experience permanent hearing loss. 

Evidently, the cannon is just the beginning of an ongoing process of "innovation" in this field of engineering and marketing.  Google Patents contains a patent application for a dandy item, the "Man-Portable Non-Lethal Pressure Shield," submitted in December 2010 by James H. Bostick and now, according to Gizmodo, patented to Raytheon, Inc., The "non-lethal pressure shield creates a pulsed pressure wave that resonates the upper respiratory tract of a human, hindering breathing and eventually incapacitating the target." 
I find it appalling that there is not widespread public outcry about the development and use of these technologies against citizens who are simply exercising their basic constitutional and human rights.  The purpose of sound cannons and the new riot shields is to cause injury, perhaps permanent injury, to the ears and internal organs to persons who receive their blasts.  Thus, the summary judgments of police result in what amounts to immediate, extreme physical punishment without arrest, presentation of evidence or judgment in a court of law.  Injure now, ask questions later!

How is lawless conduct of this kind justified?  Or have we reached a point at which questions of  justification are beside the point?  Having grown accustomed to the "enhanced interrogation" of those suspected of “terrorism,” the American populace may be ready for swift, mundane torture of their neighbors who are simply marching in the streets, holding signs, chanting slogans, and camping in Occupy parks.

Confronting Tyranny and Stupidity -- recent updates

It's been a little over four years since I delivered a brief talk -- "Confronting Tyranny and Stupidity: What Works?" -- for a teach-in on democracy at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.  The occasion was the abolition of the Faculty Senate at the university.  Much has happened since then, including this, this, and this from recent days. The natives are restless.  My talk was basically about the varieties of oligarchy that have afflicted many world societies and, alas, some contemporary American institutions as well.  (The YouTube video of the first part of the talk streams above.  Part II and Part III can be found here.) 

Dan Froomkin's essay in Nieman Watchdog describes the some of the broader patterns of oligarchy in the country right now, noting the forces now arrayed against the Occupy Wall Street movement.  Quoting political scientist Stanley Winters, he comments:

What this means, Winters says, "is that although U.S. democracy is founded on one-person-one-vote, each oligarch can bring to the political table the dollar impact of 20,000 Americans.  Decisions like Citizens United open the flood gate for oligarchs and their minions in the wealth defense industry to flex the maximum political muscle money can buy.  And that's just in the context of electoral campaigns.  No one is even talking about how the wealth defense industry silently and invisibly benefits American oligarchs every day, year-round."

By contrast, he says: "Anybody who wants to challenge the wealthy, they've got to get rained on, and eventually snowed on, and it means they have to stop whatever they're doing. Ordinary citizens actually have to join organizations and physically be there and participate, to the exclusion of anything else they might do. And that is at tremendous burden."

His conclusion: "This is one of the reasons a very small number of ultra-wealthy Americans can distort democracy in their favor against tens of millions of ordinary citizens."

My talk concludes with some reflections on Barbara Tuchman's wonderful book, The March of Folly, a work that grows in relevance each day.  Here is her optimistic vision of how citizens, leaders and whole societies might begin to dissolve the follies in which they are enmeshed:

"If the mind is open enough to perceive that a given policy is harming rather than serving self-interest, and self-confident enough to acknowledge it, and wise enough to reverse it, that is the summit of the art of government."