Friday, June 1, 2012

Chagas: Is tropical disease really the new AIDS? Overblown Hype? Somewhere in Between?

By Dylan Stableford | The Lookout – Thu, May 31, 2012



Chagas, a tropical disease spread by insects, is causing some fresh concern following an editorial—published earlier this week in a medical journal—that called it "the new AIDS of the Americas."

More than 8 million people have been infected by Chagas, most of them in Latin and Central America. But more than 300,000 live in the United States.

The editorial, published by the Public Library of Science's Neglected Tropical Diseases, said the spread of the disease is reminiscent of the early years of HIV.

"There are a number of striking similarities between people living with Chagas disease and people living with HIV/AIDS," the authors wrote, "particularly for those with HIV/AIDS who contracted the disease in the first two decades of the HIV/AIDS epidemic."
 
Both diseases disproportionately affect people living in poverty, both are chronic conditions requiring prolonged, expensive treatment, and as with patients in the first two decades of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, "most patients with Chagas disease do not have access to health care facilities."

Unlike HIV, Chagas is not a sexually-transmitted disease: it's "caused by parasites transmitted to humans by blood-sucking insects," as the New York Times put it.

"It likes to bite you on the face," CNN reported. "It's called Triatominae, the kissing bug, conenose bugs, assassin bugs or triatomines. When it ingests your blood, it excretes the parasite at the same time. When you wake up and scratch the itch, the parasite moves into the wound and you're infected."







"Gaaah," Cassie Murdoch wrote on Jezebel.com, summing up the sentiment of everyone who read the journal's report.
 
Chagas, also known as American trypanosomiasis, kills about 20,000 people per year, the journal said.

And while just 20 percent of those infected with Chagas develop a life-threatening form of the disease, Chagas is "hard or impossible to cure," the Times reports:
The disease can be transmitted from mother to child or by blood transfusion. About a quarter of its victims eventually will develop enlarged hearts or intestines, which can fail or burst, causing sudden death. Treatment involves harsh drugs taken for up to three months and works only if the disease is caught early.
"The problem is once the heart symptoms start, which is the most dreaded complication—the Chagas cardiomyopathy—the medicines no longer work very well," Dr. Peter Hotez, a researcher at Baylor College of Medicine and one of the editorial's authors, told CNN. "Problem No. 2: the medicines are extremely toxic."

And 11 percent of pregnant women in Latin America are infected with Chagas, the journal said.

3-D Printing’s Legal Morass

By Clive Thompson - WIRED Design
05.30.12




Last winter, Thomas Valenty bought a MakerBot — an inexpensive 3-D printer that lets you quickly create plastic objects. His brother had some Imperial Guards from the tabletop game Warhammer, so Valenty decided to design a couple of his own Warhammer-style figurines: a two-legged war mecha and a tank.

He tweaked the designs for a week until he was happy. “I put a lot of work into them,” he says. Then he posted the files for free downloading on Thingiverse, a site that lets you share instructions for printing 3-D objects. Soon other fans were outputting their own copies.

Until the lawyers showed up.

Games Workshop, the UK-based firm that makes Warhammer, noticed Valenty’s work and sent Thingiverse a takedown notice, citing the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

Thingiverse removed the files, and Valenty suddenly became an unwilling combatant in the next digital war: the fight over copying physical objects.

“The DMCA knocked the wind out of me,” he wrote in an e-mail to me. “I haven’t uploaded many of my printable models since it happened.”

When I first heard about 3-D printers, I figured the trend wouldn’t go mainstream for decades, if ever. Oops. Companies now offer 3-D printers for just over $1,000, and prices are dropping rapidly.

Observers predict that in a few years we’ll see printers that integrate scanning capability — so your kid can toss in a Warhammer figurine, hit Copy, and get a new one. The machine will become a photocopier of stuff.

This has all the makings of an epic and surreal legal battle. You thought Hollywood and record labels were powerful lobbyists, crushing Napster and suing file-sharers? Wait until you see what the manufacturing industry can do. The American Chamber of Commerce is the single largest lobbyist on Capitol Hill, spending $60 million a year.

“Printing in 3-D is a disruptive technology that raises a lot of intellectual property issues,” says Michael Weinberg, a senior staff attorney with Public Knowledge, a group that advocates for consumers’ digital rights.

But there’s one big difference in this clash: The legal situation might actually favor the amateurs.

That’s because, as Weinberg points out, disputes over copies of physical objects are often fought using patent law, which is far less strict than copyright. For example, patents last only 20 years, which means many cool everyday objects (Lego bricks!) are long out of patent. What’s more, patent law generally governs only a complete assembled product, so creating replacement parts — a thriving pastime among hobbyists — is probably legal.

What 3-D printing hobbyists mostly have to watch out for, Weinberg argues, is copying artistic patterns or designs on an object. That violates copyright. But if you stick to reproducing or modeling the basic physical nature of something — particularly if you’re rejiggering a physical concept into a new form — you’re probably safe. (Indeed, Weinberg isn’t even sure Valenty infringed on Warhammer’s copyrighted designs, because Games Workshop is accusing him of creating figurines in the style of the game, and you can’t copyright style.)

So really, the longer-term danger here is that manufacturers will decide the laws aren’t powerful enough. Once kids start merrily copying toys, manufacturers will push to hobble 3-D printing with laws similar to the Stop Online Piracy Act. “You’ll have people going to Washington and saying we need new rights,” Weinberg frets. Imagine laws that keep 3-D printers from outputting anything but objects “authorized” by megacorporations — DRM for the physical world. To stave this off, Weinberg is trying to educate legislators now.

3-D printers aren’t just about copying. They’re a powerful new tool for experimenting with the design of the physical world, for thinking, for generating new culture, for stretching our imaginations.


An Analysis of Blaster Fire in Star Wars


By Rhett Allain  - WIRED Science - May 24, 2012 




You have no idea how long I have been planning to look at the blasters in Star Wars. No idea. Finally, the 35th Anniversary of Star Wars has motivated me to complete my study (which I haven’t actually started). Here is the deal: What are these blasters? How fast are the blaster bolts? Do the blasters from the spacecraft travel at about the same speed as the handheld blasters? Why do people still think these are lasers?

Lasers, They Are Not
I am almost certain (almost) that nowhere in the Star Wars movies (even in Episode I) does a character refer to these as “lasers.” Really, there isn’t much to talk about here that hasn’t been discussed a thousand times before. In short, there are two things. First, if they were lasers, you wouldn’t be able to see them from the side very well. You have a red laser pointer, right? You don’t really see the beam unless it is going through something like chalk dust. I am sure some geek out there has a great explanation for why you could still see the beam (like non-Earth-like atmospheres or maybe all the scenes really take place underwater). However, it doesn’t matter. See the next point.

The second point is that lasers travel at the speed of light. Yet clearly, you can see that these beams have some speed that is much smaller than the speed of light. How much smaller? I don’t know — but I am going to find out.

How Do You Find the Speed of a Blaster Bolt?
I don’t think there is one answer to this question. I think the answer depends on the scene. Well, let’s get started then. Here is the first blaster fired in Star Wars:

A new Hope.mp 4

How do you get the speed of this bolt? First, how big is this smaller spaceship? How far away is it from the Star Destroyer that is chasing it? Is perspective a big problem? In this case, I am just going to make some wild estimates. Let me just go to the Starship Dimensions page — which sort of feels like cheating, but oh well. If you haven’t been to this site, I highly recommend you go there now.

Here is the Rebel Blockade Runner listed at 150 meters long.


Blockaderunner 1

Great, but how far apart is the Star Destroyer from the Blockade Runner?


Dd


Perspective and camera angle are a big problem here. I am just going to go with a distance of 10 +/- 3 Blockade lengths. In meters, maybe I could say 1,500 +/- 500 meters (which is a different estimate). That seems pretty far, but oh well. Now for the analysis. Of course I will use Tracker Video even if just to get the times for these blaster bolts. Surprisingly, for a few shots I was able to capture the position in three different frames. This doesn’t mean too much since I didn’t account for perspective, but here is a plot.

Jkkjk


Even though I fit a line, let me just look at the time of flight — about 0.08 seconds. If I use the distance above, I can say the bolt speed is about 1.807 x 105 m/s with an uncertainty of about +/- 6,000 m/s. Here I assumed the uncertainty in the time was sufficiently small to be ignored (compared to the uncertainty in the distance). Also, I am using the “Crank Three Times” method for estimating the uncertainty — just because it is easier.

What about non-space shots? Here is the very next shot fired in the movie:


stroom


I know it is a poor frame, but I want to be complete. This shows a Storm Trooper busting into the Blockade Runner and showing the Rebels who’s boss. The analysis of this shot is a little different. The camera seems to be far enough away that maybe I could try a real video analysis. Here, I assumed the distance from the Storm Trooper’s belt to top of his head was 0.71 meters (based on measurements of a full standing Storm Trooper — assumed height of 1.78 meters). Here is the plot from Tracker.

Stormshot 1


In this case, the slope of the position-time graph should be a fairly good approximation to the blaster bolt speed. This gives about 15 m/s. For uncertainty, let me say that there is an uncertainty in the distance of +/- 0.2 meters (an estimate). This would put the blaster bolt with a speed of 15 +/- 2 m/s. Already you can see a possible problem. The space bolts are way faster than the handheld bolts. Well, maybe this isn’t a problem so much as further evidence that they are not lasers. Lasers would all travel at the same speed.

Now, For More Data
Ok, that was just two examples. But there are many, many shots fired in Star Wars (I am leaving off the Episode IV: A New Hope part). Let me see if I can get more data from the rest of the shots.

After going through the whole movie, I would estimate that I have data on about 10 to 15 percent of all the shots. These would turn out to be complete guesses — especially the ones that were moving toward or away from the camera. So, what I have are 91 shots with data. 19 of these shots are “space” shots.

Here is the first plot. This is simply a histogram of all the non-space shots.

Blasterground.png

I didn’t include the space shots. You will see why after this histogram for just the space shots (except for the Death Star shot).

Spcashot 1.png

The blaster shots from spacecraft are just in a whole different speed range than the ground-based shots. There is one way to show them together — it is sort of a cheat. If I take the natural log of the speeds, you can see all the velocities in one histogram.

Drawings Summer 12.key 1

The red circle shows the data from the Death Star Shot. Yes, there is some overlap in speeds for the space and ground shots. Why? Well, there are a couple of far-away ground shots and a couple of close-up space shots (like when they show R2 in the X-wing fighter with shots whizzing past). But it still seems clear that these ground and space shots are different.

One other quick point: Why are there green blaster bolts in space, but for handheld weapons, they all fire red blaster bolts?

Special Case: The Death Star
I am not sure if this shoots “blaster fire” or not, but I analyzed it anyway. If the Death Star has a diameter of 160 km, then I can get a rough estimate for the speed of these things coming out as it destroys Alderaan (which is a peaceful planet without weapons). Here is a plot of the stuff before it combines into one beam.

Deathstar 1

The units here are in kilometers. So, this part would be about 6 x 105 m/s. Once the beams combine, I get a speed of 9.8 x 105 m/s. Oh. You have no idea what I am talking about here? Here is a shot:

Ds Beam 1

Here is the odd part: In the next shot, the beam is shown to travel toward Alderaan (a peaceful planet). It takes about 0.2 seconds for this shot to reach the planet. If the speed of the shot is constant, this would make Alderaan (a peaceful planet) only 196 km away from the Death Star. I’m not sure how big Alderaan (a peaceful planet) is, but the space station is about 300 km away from the surface of the Earth … so….

Why Different Speeds?
Don’t worry, I am not completely delusional. I know that Star Wars is just a movie. I know that Han’s blaster doesn’t really shoot anything except maybe blanks. Human beings have to actually draw these blaster bolts on the screen. Humans tend to draw things consistently on the frame independent of the setting.

OK. I should have done this the first time I went through these scenes, but let me make a plot of blaster speeds according to their angular speed on the screen. I will just assume the width of the video is 1 unit. Here is what I get.

Overlap.png

Essentially no difference in the two distributions.

Making It Work
Fine. So, the artists in Star Wars are just humans making human mistakes. Yes, but is there any way to fix this?

First, let me comment on the ground base’s blaster shots. The average for these things is just 34.9 m/s (78 mph). This is in the ballpark of a baseball pitch. Compare this to the speed of a Nerf gun bullet at about 10 m/s. This means two things:
  • A Jedi deflecting blaster bolts with a lightsaber is about the same as a baseball player hitting a pitched ball.
  • Playing with Nerf guns and plastic lightsabers in the backyard isn’t too terribly different than the movie.

Actually, it wouldn’t be all too terribly difficult for any normal person to dodge one of these blaster bolts — especially if it were fired from so far away. Maybe this explains why the Storm Troopers suck so bad and shooting. They don’t suck, it’s just that Han, Chewie, and Luke can easily dodge these bolts when far enough away. The Storm Trooper, on the other hand, can’t dodge. Why? Because those blasted helmets block their vision. You can’t dodge what you can’t see (well, except for Luke).

What about the discrepancy between space bolts and handheld bolts? I think this is mostly OK. They aren’t the same weapons, are they? Then they don’t have to have the same speeds. Simple. Really, the only thing you would need to fix is to make the speeds of these space blaster bolts consistently around the same speed. That means no more scenes showing shots flying past R2 at close range. The shots would just be too fast to see.

The other change would be to increase the speed of the blaster bolts from handheld weapons. If you wanted bullet-like speeds of around 500 m/s, what would change in the movie? Well, first thing is that there probably wouldn’t be any two consecutive frames where you see the same bolt. Really, that could be a simple change. If you see the gun firing, then don’t show the bolt. If you want to show “whizzing by” bolts, just show one. That way, a blogger like me wouldn’t really have a very good method for determining the speed of bolt. Problem solved.

One more thing. What is a blaster bolt anyway? It isn’t a laser, right? My guess has always been that it is some sort of super-hot thing. Maybe gas so hot it is a plasma. The problem with the gas is air drag. If the bolt has a low mass, I suspect that it wouldn’t get too far (especially at those low speeds). Perhaps the gas is so hot that it ionizes the air in front of it. Or maybe it is some type of really small, hot bullet. Honestly, I am not sure.

Preemptive Comments
You know what happens when you talk about Star Wars? Geekplosions. So, since I likely won’t be able to up with the comments — let me go ahead and preemptively answer some of them. Please don’t be offended by these fake comments, I am just trying to be funny.
  • “Seriously? You wasted all this time analyzing something that was clearly not real?” I am not sure that this is actually a question, but yes — it is true. I could say the same thing about you though. Seriously? You just spent 8 hours playing a videogame? It isn’t even real.
  • “What about the other Star Wars movies? Do the speeds change in those?” Great question. My original plan was to look at all the blaster shots in the three real Star Wars movies. Alas, this data collection took a bit longer than I anticipated.
  • “You must have no life. Why don’t you get out and do something?” This is essentially the same as the first comment.
  • “You actually get paid to waste your time like this?” I am not sure I get actually paid for this actual analysis. But, I really do think this is a worthwhile post. It shows how to take data from something (even if that something is obviously fake) and analyze it.
  • “You said that the Death Star is 160 km in diameter. Actually, the original Death Star plans had it at 180 km diameter but it was changed to 160 km in order to finish on time to destroy the Rebel base on Yavin 4.” OK.
  • “How can you hear the blaster bolts in space?” If you use The Force, you can hear them.
  • “How much energy is in each blaster bolt?” Another great question. You could estimate the volume of a bolt and assume it is gas at a certain temperature. You would have to guess at the density — but that would be one way to get a value for the energy.
  • “I kind of thought you would do more with the uncertainty in the speeds of these bolts.” Me too.
OK. I can’t think of any other preemptive comments.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Minimum Wage Not Enough for a 2-Bedroom Unit in Any State (Unless You Work Way More Than a 40-Hr Week)

By Staff, AlterNet
Posted on May 29, 2012

Minimum wage is not enough to pay for a two-bedroom unit (at fair market rent) in any state, at least not if you are working a 40-hour week. In fact, in many states, you'd have to work at least double that to get a place big enough for a single parent and one child to each have their own rooms.
Fair Market Rent is determined by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

Perhaps minimum wage is too low?


Fukushima and the Japan Tsunami: Neverending Disasters (3 articles)

Tuesday, May 29, 2012 by Common Dreams 
Fukushima Radiation Found in Tuna Off California
 
Detectable amounts of cesium-137 and cesium-134 were found in bluefin tuna caught off the coast of California about four months after the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan, US scientists reported on Monday.

The timing is important because it shows that migrating fish carried radiation much further and faster than either wind or ocean currents. In addition, of course, the bluefin are a highly prized edible fish found in sushi restaurants all over the world.

Without making a definitive judgment on the safety of the fish, lead author Daniel Madigan of Stanford University's Hopkins Marine Station told Reuters that the amount of radioactive material detected was far less than the Japanese safety limit. 
 
"I wouldn't tell anyone what's safe to eat or what's not safe to eat," she said. "It's become clear that some people feel that any amount of radioactivity, in their minds, is bad and they'd like to avoid it."
*  *  *
Reuters reports:
There was about five times the background amount of cesium 137 in the bluefin tuna they tested, but that is still a tiny quantity, Madigan said: 5 becquerels instead of 1 becquerel. (It takes 37 billion becquerels to equal 1 curie; for context, a pound of uranium-238 has 0.00015 curies of radioactivity, so one becquerel would be a truly miniscule proportion.)
The researchers figured that the elevated levels of cesium 137 and all of the cesium 134 they detected came from Fukushima because of the way bluefin tuna migrate across the Pacific.
Bluefin tuna spawn only in the western Pacific, off the coasts of Japan and the Philippines. As young fish, some migrate east to the California coast, where upwelling ocean water brings lots of food for them and their prey. They get to these waters as juveniles or adolescents, and remain there, fattening up.
Judging by the size of the bluefin tuna they sampled - they averaged about 15 pounds (6 kg) - the researchers knew these were young fish that had left Japanese water about a month after the accident.
Most of the radiation was released over a few days in April 2011, and unlike some other compounds, radioactive cesium does not quickly sink to the sea bottom but remains dispersed in the water column, from the surface to the ocean floor.
Fish can swim right through it, ingesting it through their gills, by taking in seawater or by eating organisms that have already taken it in, Madigan said.
*  *  *
The Guardian adds:
The results "are unequivocal. Fukushima was the source", said Ken Buesseler of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, who played no part in the research.
Japan's chief cabinet secretary, Osamu Fujimura, conceded that the findings suggested the monitoring of radiation levels in fish outside Japanese waters may have to be stepped up. [...]
"We were frankly kind of startled," said Nicholas Fisher, an expert at Stony Brook University in New York who took part in the study. "That's a big ocean. To swim across it and still retain these radionuclides is pretty amazing."
The operator of the Fukushima Daiichi plant, Tokyo Electric Power, estimates that 18,000 terabecquerels of radioactive materials flowed into the Pacific after the accident, either in the form of fallout, or through mixing with water that leaked from the facility. A terabecquerel is equal to 1tn becquerels.


* * *

Monday, May 28, 2012 by Common Dreams
Growing Fear Over Fukushima Fuel Pool 4 as Wall Bulge Detected
TEPCO admits a bulge detected in the walls of Unit 4, stoking fears over the building’s stability



A new bulge in the walls of the Fukushima Unit 4 nuclear plant has driven growing new fears over in Japan.

The No. 4 reactor building at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant in Okuma, Fukushima Prefecture, Japan, Saturday, May 26, 2012. New concerns have risen after its operator reported a bulging of the building's wall. (Toshiaki Shimizu/Japan Pool) [Yellow reactor containment dome at left background.] Attention has focused on Unit 4’s spent fuel pool because of the large number of assemblies filled with rods that are stored high above the ground at that severly damaged reactor building. Three other reactor buildings at the site are also badly damaged, but their pools hold fewer used assemblies.

On Saturday Japan’s government sent Environment and Nuclear Minister Goshi Hosonoto to inspect Unit 4.

Mr Hosono said the government accepted the Tokyo Electric Power Company's assurances that reinforcement work had shored up the building.

But many Japanese have scoffed at such assurances and point out that the pool's cooling system has malfunctioned several times.

''The No. 4 reactor is visibly damaged and in a fragile state, down to the floor that holds the spent fuel pool,'' said Hiroaki Koide, an assistant professor at Kyoto University's Research Reactor Institute. ''Any radioactive release could be huge and go directly into the environment.''
* * *
The New York Times reports:

What passes for normal at the Fukushima Daiichi plant today would have caused shudders among even the most sanguine of experts before an earthquake and tsunami set off the world’s second most serious nuclear crisis after Chernobyl.

Fourteen months after the accident, a pool brimming with used fuel rods and filled with vast quantities of radioactive cesium still sits on the top floor of a heavily damaged reactor building, covered only with plastic.

The public’s fears about the pool have grown in recent months as some scientists have warned that it has the most potential for setting off a new catastrophe, now that the three nuclear reactors that suffered meltdowns are in a more stable state, and as frequent quakes continue to rattle the region.

Senator Wyden, whose state could lie in the path of any new radioactive plumes, is among those pushing for faster action. After his recent visit to the ravaged plant, he said the pool at No. 4 poses “an extraordinary and continuing risk” and the retrieval of spent fuel “should be a priority, given the possibility of further earthquakes.”The worries picked up new traction in recent days after the operator of the plant, Tokyo Electric Power Company, or Tepco, said it had found a slight bulge in one of the walls of the reactor building, stoking fears over the building’s safety.

To try to quell such worries, the government sent the environment and nuclear minister to the plant on Saturday, where he climbed a makeshift staircase in protective garb to look at the structure supporting the pool, which he said appeared sound. The minister, Goshi Hosono, added that although the government accepted Tepco’s assurances that reinforcement work had shored up the building, it ordered the company to conduct further studies because of the bulge. [...]

“The No. 4 reactor is visibly damaged and in a fragile state, down to the floor that holds the spent fuel pool,” said Hiroaki Koide, an assistant professor at Kyoto University’s Research Reactor Institute and one of the experts raising concerns. “Any radioactive release could be huge and go directly into the environment.”

Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, expressed similar concerns during a trip to Japan last month.

The fears over the pool at Reactor No. 4 are helping to undermine assurances by Tepco and the Japanese government that the Fukushima plant has been stabilized, and are highlighting how complicated the cleanup of the site, expected to take decades, will be. The concerns are also raising questions about whether Japan’s all-out effort to convince its citizens that nuclear power is safe kept the authorities from exploring other — and some say safer — options for storing used fuel rods.

“It was taboo to raise questions about the spent fuel that was piling up,” said Hideo Kimura, who worked as a nuclear fuel engineer at the Fukushima Daiichi plant in the 1990s. “But it was clear that there was nowhere for the spent fuel to go.”

The worst-case situations for Reactor No. 4 would be for the pool to run dry if there is another problem with the cooling system and the rods catch fire, releasing enormous amounts of radioactive material, or for fission to restart if the metal panels that separate the rods are knocked over in a quake. That would be especially bad because the pool, unlike reactors, lacks containment vessels to hold in radioactive materials. (Even the roof that used to exist would be no match if the rods caught fire, for instance.)

Senator Wyden, whose state could lie in the path of any new radioactive plumes and who has studied nuclear waste issues, is among those pushing for faster action. After his recent visit to the ravaged plant, he said the pool at No. 4 poses “an extraordinary and continuing risk” and the retrieval of spent fuel “should be a priority, given the possibility of further earthquakes.”
Attention has focused on No. 4’s spent fuel pool because of the large number of assemblies filled with rods that are stored at that reactor building. Three other reactor buildings at the site are also badly damaged, but their pools hold fewer used assemblies.

According to Tepco, the pool at the No. 4 reactor, which was not operating at the time of the accident, holds 1,331 spent fuel assemblies, which each contain dozens of rods. Several thousand rods were removed from the core just three months before so the vessel could be inspected. Those rods, which were not fully used up, could more easily support chain reactions than the fully spent fuel.
* * *
 

The damaged No. 4 reactor building stands at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant in Okuma, Fukushima prefecture, Japan, Saturday, May 26, 2012. Japanese Environment and Nuclear Minister Goshi Hosono, accompanied by the media, has visited the crippled Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant to inspect a reactor building and its spent fuel pool at the center of safety concerns. (Tomohiro Ohsumi, Pool)

 

Goshi Hosono, Japan's environment and nuclear minister, third from left, wearing a red helmet, along with members of the media, walks on the No. 4 reactor building at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s (TEPCO) Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant in Okuma, Fukushima prefecture, Japan, Saturday, May 26, 2012. Japan's environment and nuclear minister Hosono visited the tsunami-crippled nuclear power plant Saturday to inspect a spent fuel pool at the center of safety concerns. [Yellow reactor containment dome at left background.] (Tomohiro Ohsumi, Pool)
 

Workers walk in front of the No. 4 reactor building at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s tsunami-crippled Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear power plant in Okuma town, Fukushima prefecture, Japan, Saturday, May 26, 2012. (Tomohiro Ohsumi, Pool)

 

Japan's Environment and Nuclear Minister Goshi Hosono, second from left, inspects a pool containing spent fuel rods inside the No. 4 reactor building at Tokyo Electric Power Co. 's tsunami-crippled Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant in Okuma, Fukushima Prefecture, Japan, Saturday, May 26, 2012. The pool, located at the top of the building above the reactor, remains one of the plant's biggest risks due to its vulnerability to earthquakes. (Toshiaki Shimizu, Japan Pool)

 
A pool for spent fuel rods is seen inside the No. 4 reactor building of Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s tsunami-crippled Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant in Okuma, Fukushima prefecture, Japan, Saturday, May 26, 2012. The pool, located at the top of the building above the reactor, remains one of the plant's biggest risks due to its vulnerability to earthquakes. (Toshiaki Shimizu, Japan Pool)
 
Goshi Hosono, Japan's environment and nuclear minister, inspects the No. 4 reactor building at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant in Okuma, Fukushima Prefecture, Japan, Saturday, May 26, 2012. The visit by Hosono, apparently aimed at demonstrating the safety of the facility, came amid renewed concerns about conditions at the plant's No. 4 reactor after its operator reported a bulging of the building's wall. (Toshiaki Shimizu, Japan Pool) [Yellow reactor containment dome at center background.]

* * *


Monday, May 28, 2012 by Common Dreams
Japan's Toxic Tsunami Debris Heads Towards North America
Chris Pallister of the Gulf of Alaska Keeper Organization: "This is more hazardous than oil"

As the heavier debris from the March 2011 tsunami that struck Japan makes its way across the Pacific Ocean, scientists warn of the ecological threat of toxic, chemical debris headed towards North America's western coast.

Chemical contamination "could be a real threat," Dr. M. Sanjayan, the lead scientist at conservation group the Nature Conservancy, tells CBC News. (screenshot from CNN video below) Chemical contamination "could be a real threat," Dr. M. Sanjayan, the lead scientist at conservation group the Nature Conservancy, tells CBC News. "Finding one drum of, say, paint thinner, or something you might find in your garage, it's not hugely toxic. But if you find 50 of them all washed up on a rocky shore and then breaking and leaking, then you have some problems."

"This is more hazardous than oil," Chris Pallister of the Gulf of Alaska Keeper Organization warns the Homer Tribune. "Entire communities went into the ocean — industrial, household chemicals, anything you can think of in your garage — and it's all coming here. This is like a great big toxic spill that is widely dispersed."

Chris Pallister, who's been cleaning marine debris on Alaska's Montague Island for 15 years, told CNN, "The influx of tsunami debris really concerns us mostly because of the amount of Styrofoam that's coming with it and also the toxic chemicals that are coming. We think they're going to have a really detrimental impact on the environment out here long term."

* * *

CBC News: Chemicals in tsunami debris could pose coastal threat
The spill and spread of industrial chemicals across the coastline of British Columbia is a possibility as slower-moving tsunami debris from Japan approaches the west coast, according to experts observing its movements.
The risk of chemical contamination is sizable, especially considering that many of the tsunami-affected areas on the Japanese coast were industrial and used many different types of toxic chemicals in manufacturing operations.
"[Chemical contamination] could be a real threat," said Dr. M. Sanjayan, the lead scientist at conservation group the Nature Conservancy. "For example, it's very hard to imagine how 50 drums [filled] with something could all show up at the same time, unless it's an event like this. That's where it can be a little dangerous. [...]
Dianna Parker of the NOAA notes that the majority of the debris is heavier and slower-moving than the more buoyant items that have been found on coastlines in recent months. Objects that ride high, such as plastic containers, bottles and buoys, travel much faster than intact and possibly dangerous industrial chemical containers. The bulk of the debris pulled out to sea by the tsunami is still suspended north of the main Hawaiian Islands in the Pacific. [...]
The Nature Conservancy and the NOAA believe that publicity surrounding the debris field will bring attention to the fact that ocean-going debris from the tsunami merely added to an ever-growing pile of junk accumulating in the Pacific and on shorelines. The estimated five million tonnes of debris from the Japanese tsunami represents less than one per cent of what's already out there in the Pacific.
* * *
NOAA map as of May 15, 2012 of tsunami debris


Mother Nature Network: Japan tsunami debris looms off U.S. coasts
The Pacific Ocean is no stranger to litter, thanks to a big maritime mess known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. But for the past 14 months, a different type of debris has been sailing around the Pacific — not the familiar bits of plastic found in the garbage patch, but some 5 million tons of detritus that washed offshore after the deadly Japanese earthquake and tsunami of March 2011. [...]
While it pales in comparison to the disaster that sent it there, some worry all this debris could pose environmental dangers for the U.S. and Canada, possibly even on par with an oil spill. "This is more hazardous than oil," Chris Pallister of the Gulf of Alaska Keeper Organization tells the Homer Tribune. "Entire communities went into the ocean — industrial, household chemicals, anything you can think of in your garage — and it's all coming here. This is like a great big toxic spill that is widely dispersed." [...]
Nonetheless, many people from Alaska to California say tsunami debris is already flooding in, and they want immediate action. "The time for talk is over," Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, said in a recent statement. "The prospect of debris coming to our shorelines is not just a theory, it is here." Begich and other lawmakers have pushed the Obama administration to allocate emergency funds to study the tsunami debris, and to reconsider a planned budget cut for NOAA's Marine Debris Program.

“Militants”: Media Propaganda

Monday, May 28, 2012
To avoid counting civilian deaths, Obama re-defined "militant" to mean "all military-age males in a strike zone"
By Glenn Greenwald


Virtually every time the U.S. fires a missile from a drone and ends the lives of Muslims, American media outlets dutifully trumpet in headlines that the dead were ”militants” – even though those media outlets literally do not have the slightest idea of who was actually killed. They simply cite always-unnamed “officials” claiming that the dead were “militants.” It’s the most obvious and inexcusable form of rank propaganda: media outlets continuously propagating a vital claim without having the slightest idea if it’s true.

This practice continues even though key Obama officials have been caught lying, a term used advisedly, about how many civilians they’re killing. I’ve written and said many times before that in American media discourse, the definition of “militant” is any human being whose life is extinguished when an American missile or bomb detonates (that term was even used when Anwar Awlaki’s 16-year-old American son, Abdulrahman, was killed by a U.S. drone in Yemen two weeks after a drone killed his father, even though nobody claims the teenager was anything but completely innocent: “Another U.S. Drone Strike Kills Militants in Yemen”).

This morning, the New York Times has a very lengthy and detailed article about President Obama’s counter-Terrorism policies based on interviews with “three dozen of his current and former advisers.” I’m writing separately about the numerous revelations contained in that article, but want specifically to highlight this one vital passage about how the Obama administration determines who is a “militant.” The article explains that Obama’s rhetorical emphasis on avoiding civilian deaths “did not significantly change” the drone program, because Obama himself simply expanded the definition of a “militant” to ensure that it includes virtually everyone killed by his drone strikes. Just read this remarkable passage:
Mr. Obama embraced a disputed method for counting civilian casualties that did little to box him in. It in effect counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants, according to several administration officials, unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent.
Counterterrorism officials insist this approach is one of simple logic: people in an area of known terrorist activity, or found with a top Qaeda operative, are probably up to no good. “Al Qaeda is an insular, paranoid organization — innocent neighbors don’t hitchhike rides in the back of trucks headed for the border with guns and bombs,” said one official, who requested anonymity to speak about what is still a classified program.
This counting method may partly explain the official claims of extraordinarily low collateral deaths. In a speech last year Mr. Brennan, Mr. Obama’s trusted adviser, said that not a single noncombatant had been killed in a year of strikes. And in a recent interview, a senior administration official said that the number of civilians killed in drone strikes in Pakistan under Mr. Obama was in the “single digits” — and that independent counts of scores or hundreds of civilian deaths unwittingly draw on false propaganda claims by militants.
But in interviews, three former senior intelligence officials expressed disbelief that the number could be so low. The C.I.A. accounting has so troubled some administration officials outside the agency that they have brought their concerns to the White House. One called it “guilt by association” that has led to “deceptive” estimates of civilian casualties.
“It bothers me when they say there were seven guys, so they must all be militants,” the official said. “They count the corpses and they’re not really sure who they are.”
For the moment, leave the ethical issues to the side that arise from viewing “all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants”; that’s nothing less than sociopathic, a term I use advisedly, but I discuss that in the separate, longer piece I’ve written. For now, consider what this means for American media outlets. Any of them which use the term “militants” to describe those killed by U.S. strikes are knowingly disseminating a false and misleading term of propaganda. By “militant,” the Obama administration literally means nothing more than: any military-age male whom we kill, even when we know nothing else about them. They have no idea whether the person killed is really a militant: if they’re male and of a certain age they just call them one in order to whitewash their behavior and propagandize the citizenry (unless conclusive evidence somehow later emerges proving their innocence).

What kind of self-respecting media outlet would be party to this practice? Here’s the New York Times documenting that this is what the term “militant” means when used by government officials. Any media outlet that continues using it while knowing this is explicitly choosing to be an instrument for state propaganda — not that that’s anything new, but this makes this clearer than it’s ever been.

How the "Job Creators" REALLY Spend Their Money


by Paul Buchheit
 
In his "Gospel of Wealth," Andrew Carnegie argued that average Americans should welcome the concentration of wealth in the hands of a few, because the "superior wisdom, experience, and ability" of the rich would ensure benefits for all of us. More recently, Edward Conard, the author of "Unintended Consequences: Why Everything You've Been Told About the Economy Is Wrong, said: "As a society, we're not offering our talented few large enough rewards. We're underpaying our 'risk takers.'"

Does wealthy America have a point, that giving them all the money will ensure it's disbursed properly, and that it will create jobs and stimulate small business investment while ultimately benefiting society? Big business CEOs certainly think so, claiming in a letter to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner that an increase in the capital gains tax would reduce investment "when we need capital formation here in America to create jobs and expand our economy."

They don't cite evidence for their claims, because the evidence proves them wrong. Here are the facts:

The Very Rich Don't Like Making Risky Investments

Marketwatch estimates that over 90% of the assets owned by millionaires are held in a combination of low-risk investments (bonds and cash), the stock market, and real estate. According to economist Richard Wolff, about half of the assets of the richest 1% are held in unincorporated business equity (personal business accounts). The Wall Street Journal notes that over three-quarters of individuals worth over $20 million are invested in hedge funds.

Angel investing (capital provided by affluent individuals for business start-ups) accounted for less than 1% of the investable assets of high net worth individuals in North America in 2011.

The Mendelsohn Affluent Survey confirmed that the very rich spend less than two percent of their money on new business startups. The last thing most of them want, apparently, is the risky business of hiring people for new innovation.

The Very Rich Don't Like Taking On Risky Jobs

CEOs, upper management, and financial professionals made up about 60 percent of the richest 1% of Americans in 2005. Only 3 percent were entrepreneurs. A recent study found that less than 1 percent of all entrepreneurs came from very rich or very poor backgrounds.The biggest investment by corporations is overseas, where they keep 57 percent of their cash and fill their factories with low-wage workers. Commerce Department figures show that U.S. companies cut their work forces by 2.9 million from 2000 to 2009 while increasing overseas employment by 2.4 million.

In fact, the very rich may not care about U.S. jobs in any form. Surveys reveal that 60 percent of investors worth $25 million or more are investing up to a third of their total assets overseas. Back home, the extra wealth created by the Bush tax cuts led to "worst track record" for jobs in recorded history. The true American job creator, as venture capitalist Nick Hanauer would agree, is the middle-class consumer.

The Very Rich Corporations Don't Like Spending On America

How do corporations spend their money? To a good extent, they don't. According to Moody's, cash holdings for U.S. non-financial firms rose 3 percent to $1.24 trillion in 2011. The corporate cash-to-assets ratio nearly tripled between 1980 and 2010. It has been estimated that the corporate stash of cash reserves held in America could employ 3.5 million more people for five years at an annual salary of $40,000.

The top holders of cash, including Apple and Google and Intel and Coca Cola and Chevron, are spending their money on stock buybacks (which increase stock option prices), dividends to investors, and subsidiary acquisitions. According to Bloomberg, share repurchasing is at one of its highest levels in 25 years.

Apple claims to have added 500,000 jobs to the economy, but that includes app-building tech enthusiasts and Fedex drivers delivering iPhones. The company actually has 47,000 U.S. employees, about one-tenth of General Motors' workforce in the 1990s.

The biggest investment by corporations is overseas, where they keep 57 percent of their cash and fill their factories with low-wage workers. Commerce Department figures show that U.S. companies cut their work forces by 2.9 million from 2000 to 2009 while increasing overseas employment by 2.4 million. They also tap into a "brain drain" of foreign entrepreneurs, scientists, and medical professionals rather than supporting education in America.

One last way corporations see fit to spend their money: executive bonuses. Especially at the banks, where the extra stipends are often paid for with zero interest loans from the Federal Reserve.

The richest individuals and corporations are really good at building up fortunes. They're even better at building up their "job creator" myth.

Toxic Time Bombs

by STEVEN HIGGS
 
The pernicious impact of toxic chemicals in the body, from suspected roles in autism to human response to everyday stress, can manifest themselves in future generations, according to a new study from researchers at the University of Texas (UT) and Washington State University (WSU).

Published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the animal study found DNA changes wrought by a common fungicide are passed down from parents to offspring, according to a May 22, 2012, UT news release. The researchers studied how the animals respond to stress.

“The ancestral exposure of your great-grandmother alters your brain development to then respond to stress differently,” said WSU professor Michael Skinner.

Along with UT’s David Crews, Skinner and colleagues exposed gestating female rats to the popular fruit and vegetable fungicide vinclozolin and monitored for “epigenetic changes,” which can be passed on to subsequent generations.

Crews and Skinner subjected the exposed rats’ third generation of offspring to a variety of behavioral tests and found them to be more anxious and sensitive to stress. They also had greater activity in stress-related regions of the brain than descendants of unexposed rats.

“We are now in the third human generation since the start of the chemical revolution, since humans have been exposed to these kinds of chemicals,” Crews said in the release. “This is the animal model of that.”

Crews, whose contributions to the paper focused on the neuroscience, behavior and stress aspects, said increases in disorders like autism and bipolar disorder may be connected to the kind of “two-hit” exposure that the experiment is modeling.

“It’s more than just a change in diagnostics,” he said of the documented increases in mental disorders in recent decades. “The question is: Why? Is it because we are living in a more frantic world, or because we are living in a more frantic world and are responding to that in a different way because we, or our ancestors, have been exposed to environmental contaminants. I favor the latter.”
***
The stress study is the second that Crews and UT colleague Andrea Gore have authored on vinclozolin in five years. In 2007 they found exposure to the toxin can affect mate choice in later generations.


Also published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal, the study found that female rats avoid males whose great-grandmothers were exposed to the fungicide and preferred males whose ancestors were uncontaminated, according to a March 27, 2007, UT news release.

“Even across generations, your attractiveness as a mate is decreased if your great-grandmother has been exposed to environmental chemicals,” said Gore. “That will have an impact on your ability to reproduce and could take you out of the gene pool.”

Vinclozolin is also linked early onset of cancer and kidney disease in males, they said.
Crews and Gore studied the early onset of disease in rats caused by initial exposure to vinclozolin and found it was passed down generation to generation through the males.

“The female is able to detect which male is likely to get early onset disease and which male is not before they show any manifestation of disease,” Crews said.

Gore added, “The female rats can sense something is wrong, although they can’t see it.”
Males exhibited no preference for female type and generally move on to other populations to mate, the release said. So the effect of vinclozolin exposure in the natural setting would not only span generations but could also reach other populations of animals through male migrations.

“Males disperse, and if they were to mate, it would be at times that they aren’t manifesting signs of disease,” said Crews. “They are literally time bombs.”

***

Crews and Gore write blogs on the Huffington Post and on March 19, 2012, penned a joint column titled “Our Contaminated World” that focused on the Food & Drug Administration’s (FDA) pending decision to allow the toxic chemical bisphenol-A (BPA) in food packaging like coated metal cans and plastic wraps.

“There is a long scientific history showing a link between exposure to endocrine disruptors and reproductive disorders such as infertility and early puberty.” - Professors David Crews and Lauren Gore, University of Texas

“Epidemiological evidence in humans shows associations between BPA and cardiovascular disease, metabolic disorders and reproductive impairments,” they wrote. “Beyond BPA, endocrine disruptors are linked to cancer, obesity, reproductive disorders and mood disorders like anxiety and depression.”

Endocrine disruptors, according to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), are chemicals that interfere with the endocrine or hormone system and can produce “adverse developmental, reproductive, neurological, and immune effects in both humans and wildlife.”

In response to a complaint from the Natural Resources Defense Council, the FDA decided to continue allowing BPA in food packaging, Huffington Post blogger Lynne Peeples reported on March 20, 2012.

Chemicals like vinclozolin and BPA are undeniably useful, protecting grapes from fungus, leafy greens from pests and children from fire ants and flammable pajamas, Crews and Gore wrote the day before the FDA decision on BPA.

They’re also in us, and transforming our bodies and minds,” they said. “There is a long scientific history showing a link between exposure to endocrine disruptors and reproductive disorders such as infertility and early puberty. Furthermore, the evidence is growing that the damage is much more widespread.”

Chemicals have been shown to increase the risk of various cancers, to contribute to obesity and to influence the activity of neurotransmitters in the brain, they continued.

“In fact, there are even hints that exposure to the chemicals may have something to do with the dramatic rise in autism and mental disorders over the past few decades,” they said.

With geneticists beginning to appreciate the fundamental role of the environment in shaping who humans are, the question is no longer simply “nature or nurture?”

“We know that nature (the environment) has been changed by contamination, and this leads to changes in how organisms are nurtured,” Crews and Gore wrote.

Bankers and Forgiveness

by ANN ROBERTSON and BILL LEUMER
 
When homeowners have fallen behind in their mortgage payments, whether because of a job loss or because the interest rates just shot up, the bankers have responded coldly. Led by their economic interests, they set their robo-signers working overtime on foreclosures, forcing millions of people out of their homes. Back during the height of this current economic crisis, when Congress considered passing legislation that would have allowed judges to lower home loans in order to prevent these foreclosures, the banks lobbied furiously and killed the legislation.

But when the bankers themselves commit their own transgressions — not innocent and unavoidable transgressions like not paying back a loan because you lost your job thanks to the bankers’ recession — but actually breaking the law, the government not only forgives them, it virtually becomes an accomplice in their crimes.

Robo-signing, for example, is a crime. It occurred when bank employees signed thousands of documents, claiming they were accurate, without bothering to verify their claim. Yet no one went to jail.

In a recent New York Times article, Jesse Eisinger pointed out that the JPMorgan scandal has raised an array of questions:
 “What did Jamie Dimon, JPMorgan’s chief executive, and Doug Braunstein, the chief financial officer, know, and when did they know it? Were the bank’s first-quarter earnings accurate? Were top JPMorgan officials misleading when they discussed the chief investment office’s investments? … The first question on everyone’s mind should be whether any existing laws were broken.” (May 17, 2012).
However, Eisinger was quick to point out in relation to the last question: “That it hasn’t been asked shows how little true accountability there has been since the financial crisis. No top-tier banker has gone to prison for the many bank failures, the deceptive sales practices or the misrepresentations of the books.”

The laws for the 1 percent are treated by the government as if they were humble requests — nothing to be seriously enforced if the 1 percent decline to accept. The laws for the 99 percent are brutally enforced, not to mention the prevalent police brutality that occurs without any legal justification.

Back in 2011, Gretchen Morgenson and Louise Story, in another New York Times article (July 7, 2011), reported federal prosecutors adopted a gentler code for bankers:
“Federal prosecutors officially adopted new guidelines about charging corporations with crimes — a softer approach that, longtime white-collar lawyers and former federal prosecutors say, helps explain the dearth of criminal cases despite a raft of inquiries into the financial crisis. … The guidelines left open a possibility other than guilty or not guilty, giving leniency often if companies investigated and reported their own wrongdoing. In return, the government could enter into agreements to delay or cancel the prosecution if the companies promised to change their behavior.”
More recently, Gretchen Morgenson has reported that a prominent Wall Street analyst and others suspect that “insider trading can and does occur regularly at many Wall Street firms. In their view it has become institutionalized…. Those in the know can get rich before the rest of us know what happened.” (The New York Times, May 20, 2012).

And this failure of the Securities and Exchange Commission (S.E.C.) to prosecute these cases comes on the heels of its spectacular failure to indict Bernard Madoff, even after being presented with overwhelming evidence of his guilt.

Although the financial industry is the recipient of the bulk of the government mercy, perhaps because it is responsible for the bulk of the crimes, the corporate world in general is a lucrative beneficiary. In the wake of the recent Wal-Mart Mexican bribery scandal, The New York Times (April 27, 2012), reported that, even though bribery of foreign officials is a crime, if past practice is any indication, no one will be prosecuted.

The prominent example of past practice mentioned in the article was Tyson Foods. After listing a series of crimes committed by Tyson executives, the article concluded:
“It’s axiomatic that people, not corporations, commit crimes. So what happened to the Tyson executives involved? Not only did the Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission take no action against them, but the executives involved weren’t even named.” (The New York Times, April 27, 2012).
Why is the government so intent on pursuing a double standard when it comes to enforcing the law on the 1 percent and on the rest of us? In part this mundane corruption is due to the cozy relation that has been cultivated between the politicians and the corporate world. If a politician or regulator plays the game and pleases the corporations, they can look forward to a financially rewarding career in the private sector after they leave office. Politicians, for example, routinely become lobbyists.

The corruption is also due to this fact: “At least two-thirds of the U.S. senators drafting new financial regulations hold stock in banks or other companies affected by the legislation, such as Citigroup Inc. and Wells Fargo & Co., disclosure statements show.” (Bloomberg, June 16, 2010).

But the final explanation is that politicians have acquired the automatic habit of prostrating themselves before those with vast sums of money. And this is one more of the many toxic byproducts of the growing inequality in wealth: a sense of community is increasingly destroyed, along with the moral values that hold it together. We are left with two opposing classes that inhabit two opposing worlds, and their clash is inevitable.

Countering the Israel Lobby’s Dominance

by ALAN NASSER
 “We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant.”
Elie Wiesel, From the Kingdom of Memory: Reminiscences
“My loyalty to my people, to our people, and to Israel comes first and prevents me from saying anything critical of Israel outside Israel… As a Jew I see my role as a melitz yosher, a defender of Israel: I defend even her mistakes… I must identify with whatever Israel does – even with her errors.”
Elie Wiesel, Against Silence (AS)
In the end, whether Israel’s penchant for serial atrocities encounters an effective obstacle will hinge on two types of resistance, elicited not from the fictitious “international community”, but from the active opponents of Israel’s ongoing projects, and from the withdrawal of moral and financial support for the ongoing reproduction of Israel as an apartheid Zionist State.

Among the first type of response are the increasingly visible efforts, which gained momentum in the wake of the May 2010 flotilla murders, to promote sanctions, boycott and divestiture. A broad range of individuals and groups  -rock stars Elvis Costello and The Pixies, the actor Meg Ryan, Britain’s largest union, Unite, the United Methodist Church, the cosmetics firm Lush, the University of London Union, Deutsche Bahn, the German railway operator, large supermarket chains in Italy, dockworkers in many cities around the world refusing to unload Israli cargo-  has either actively called for or effectively engaged in actions in support of boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel’s occupation and in support of Palestinian resistance. (For an up to date list of such actions see www.bdsmovement.net.)

The second kind of response includes refusals to any longer make excuses for Israeli abominations, willingness finally to speak out in public protest, and the cessation of financial support for the rogue State. An especially powerful development would be the readiness of American Jews to announce loud and clear that Israel does not speak for them, to distance themselves from the agenda of the politically powerful Israel lobby, and to cross over into solidarity with the Palestinian people. None of this, I will suggest below, is as far-fetched as it might have seemed fifteen years ago.

Among the key habits of thought, feeling and action that must be defeated is what we might call the Wiesel Doctrine, as expressed in the second passage at the head of this article, which pledges to “defend even [Israel’s] mistakes… [to] identify with whatever Israel does – even with her errors.” The Doctrine saturates the political consciousness of too many older (an important qualifier)  liberal American Jews. These are the Jews most likely to contribute to AIPAC and for whom their perception of a given Senate, House or presidential candidate’s friendliness to Israeli policy is sufficient to determine support.

The Doctrine’s stalwarts have been marinating in a political-ethnic milieu largely formed since the early 1950s by the self-promotional and political-marketing zeal of Elie Wiesel, the world’s leading holocaust entrepreneur. The man has been adroit in milking Western guilt over the holocaust in the service of making it virtually impossible for soi disant humanitarians to dissent from Israeli propaganda. He has also helped to create an atmosphere in which the likes of Alan Dershowitz can thrive, and the jobs and reputations of both politicians and university professors who challenge the Israeli line can be jeopardized on the spurious grounds that they peddle anti-semitism. Wiesel has contributed hugely to the mystified ideological settlement that invites a well heeled and ardently motivated entity like AIPAC to win enviable gains for Israel on Capitol Hill and to prevent critical issues from being raised in the US media, even as these same issues are put forward and contested in the more democratic Israeli press.

Wiesel and his Doctrine are to the typical American Jewish apologist for Israel as the standard meter is to the meter stick in your workshop. Wiesel is the Platonic Form made flesh in every Zionist apologist. Listen to the argumentss of your Zionist friends. They channel the teachings of St. Elie.

It beehooves us, then, to review what Wiesel is about.

Wiesel as Archetype of the Soul of Zionism 
Elie Wiesel is in a class by himself. Take his word for it. The man promotes himself with unflagging persistence as the living embodiment of Jewish humanitarianism. This makes him, he’d have us believe, the  -not ‘a’, but ‘the’- humble representative and wounded spokesman of the community of holocaust survivors, the preeminent guardian of Jewish memory and witness to Jewish suffering. What this comes to is granting Israel carte blanche to treat Palestinians as it chooses and to habitually lie about its political intentions.

In Wiesel’s stance we find a paradigmatic expression of the apologetics that has become the party line for so many older American Jews for whom nothing  Israel does warrants open opposition.

Wiesel pulls no punches. In the second citation at the head of this article he announces that facts and evidence are irrelevant to his assessment of Israel’s behavior. Thus, Wiesel misled when he remarked, regarding his assessment of Israel’s May 2010 flotilla raid, “I don’t know enough. ..For me to say anything now would be irresponsible.” (June 2, 2010) We are to believe that Wiesel is open to evidence of Israeli wrongdoing. But he has made it clear that he is not. When pushed to the wall on Israeli misbehavior, Wiesel’s tactic is patented: he changes the subject to the holocaust. Moments after the above remark Wiesel whimpered “Holocaust denial today – what it does to the children of survivors,” he said. “I believe Holocaust denial should be illegal.” There followed a philosophical debate on freedom of thought and the limits of censorship. Mission accomplished: the original issue, the assessment of Israel’s murders of noncombatants in international waters, has been forgotten.

It is essential to Wiesel’s agenda that he depict his categorical refusal to criticize Israel as more than a merely individual decision. He is merely acknowledging a moral obligation binding everyone, everywhere, to eternal silence regarding Israel’s abominations. That’s the Wiesel Doctrine: “The nations that kept silent during the Holocaust ought to keep silent now as well. The world that then condemned itself by its silence has lost all rights to judge Israel now.” (AS, 2, 191.)

The holocaust is made into political plastic carrying an unlimited line of exculpatory credit.
In his speech to the United Nations last September Benjamin Netanyahu began by conflating Nazi Germany, contemporary Iran, al Qaeda (a Sunni tendency foreign to Shiite Iran), and global terrorism. The word ‘Nazi’ appeared five times in the first thirty paragraphs. This kind of nonsense is made possible and certified by the Wiesel Doctrine.

The Doctrine also rules out solidarity with the Palestinian people. As a holocaust survivor, Wiesel must accept whatever claims Israel makes about its relation to Palestinians: “Do not ask me, a traumatized Jew, to be pro-Palestinian. I totally identify with Israel and cannot go along with leftist intellectuals who reject it.” ( AS, 1, 223) These two sentences are packed with Israel-serving dogma: the fact of the holocaust permits open season on Palestinians, speaking the truth about Israel is an inherently “leftist” prejudice, and criticizing Israeli policy is the same as “reject”ing Israel, whatever that may mean.

Wiesel As Terrorist and The Requirement of Hypocrisy 
In his essay “To a Young Palestinian Arab” (1979) Wiesel intones “I feel responsible for your sorrow, but not for the way you use it, for in its name you have massacred innocent children, slaughtered children.” (‘sorrow’ is a favorite word of Wiesel’s, which he deploys almost as frequently as you and I use ‘the’) Wiesel’s claim to feel “responsible” for Palestinian “sorrow” (Why not refer to Palestinian deaths? Why not indeed.) is disingenuous. He refuses to acknowledge the death and destruction visited upon Palestinians by Israel except in the context of blaming Palestinians. He acknowledges no responsibility to do anything as an expression of his professed responsibility, nor does he acknowledge that this responsibility stems from wrongdoing by Israel. And he has repeatedly refused to acknowledge the occupation as a political matter, preferring “sorrow” as the required non-political “moral” attitude.

Wiesel goes on to anticipate the young Palestinian’s response that these acts were performed by “extremists”, not typical Palestinians. He rejoins that “they acted on your behalf, with your approval, since you did not raise your voice to reason with them. You will tell me that it is your tragedy which incited them to murder. By murdering, they debased that tragedy, they betrayed it.” Wiesel goes on to contrast Palestinians’ insidious political response to their suffering to holocaust survivors’ humanistic “moral” response to their brutalization. Here we have a typical case of the hypocrisy that is a leitmotif in Wiesel’s repertoire.

Wiesel is surely not ignorant of European Zionists’ response to persecution by pioneering innovations in the art of terrorism. Zionists crusading in Palestine prior to the establishment of Israel created a range of modern terrorist tactics. In 1938 the Zionist terror outfit Irgun executed attacks against Arab civilians, including placing bombs in milk cans in a Haifa market, killing twenty three Arab shoppers.  In 1947 the Zionist group the Stern Gang was the first to use letter bombs, mailed to British Cabinet members. The Gang assassinated high-level British diplomats and the chief UN mediator attempting to negotiate a two-state solution for Palestine.

Irgun, then under the leadership of Menachim Begin, planted bombs in Arab East Jerusalem, killing civilians in an effort to drive Palestinians out. As the British mandate was coming to an end in April 1948 and a civil war between Arabs and Zionists was beginning, Irgun and the Stern Gang attacked the village of Deir Yassin, killing over a hundred unarmed villagers, including women and children. The villagers had not been involved in any violence prior to the attack. In 1954 Israel became the first country to hijack an airplane for political purposes, seizing a Syrian civilian plane in a botched effort to trade hostages for Mossad intelligence agents captured by the Syrians.

When the Deir Yassin occurred Wiesel was on the payroll of Irgun’s newspaper Zion in Kampf, having offered his services as a translator in Paris. This makes Wiesel, by his own standards, a terrorist. Accordingly, he has never denounced these massacres. Might not a Deir Yassin survivor charge Wiesel with his own words: “they acted on your behalf, with your approval, since you did not raise your voice to reason with them. You will tell me that it is your tragedy which incited them to murder. By murdering, they debased that tragedy, they betrayed it.”

Zionist terrorist attacks against Palestinians and others, which intensified between 1945 and 1949, including the kidnappings and hanging of British soldiers in 1947, were accomplished for political purposes. But the Wiesel Doctrine requires that Palestine never be understood in political terms. In 2003 Pope John Paul II proposed that “what the Middle East needs is bridges, not walls.” Wiesel’s attack immediately followed: “From the leader of one of the largest and most important religions in the world, I expected something very different, namely a statement condemning terror and the killing of innocents, without mixing in political considerations and above all comparing these things to a work of pure self-defense. To politicize terrorism like that is wrong.” (The New York Times, 11/17/2003) Wiesel no doubt associates the political in this context with the culpable exercise of power by the powerful against the powerless. This kind of thing, Wiesel seems to concur, would require action in resistance, including the exercise of counter-power by the oppressed. But for Wiesel, Israel must never be blamed, nor must any actions, such as boycott, sanctions and divestment, much less forceful resistance by Palestinians, be taken against Israeli power. Hence, Israeli policy must not be seen as political. At most, Wiesel permits a moral response, typically expressed as “sorrow” and never requiring one to get off his political ass. Consistency was never this gasbag’s forte.

Mirror, Mirror On the Wall, Who is the Zionest of Them All? Wiesel As Co-Recipient of Requited Self Love 
Wiesel moved to New York in 1955, where he continued to work as a correspondent for the Israeli newspaper Yediot Ah’ronot. In was then that he set upon the task of establishing himself as the self-appointed spokesperson for all holocaust victims and survivors (the latter group treated erroneously by Wiesel as monolithic and homogenous). In 1956 he was struck by a taxi near Times Square. Given to grandiose self-description by nature, he later claimed: “I flew an entire block. I was hit at 45th Street and the ambulance picked me up at 44th. It sounds crazy. But I was totally messed up.”  (NYT, March 5, 1997) The story is preposterous, but Wiesel has covered himself: “Some events do take place but are not true; others are true although they never occurred.” (Legends of Our Time, viii.) Telling a “true lie” in the name of making a legend of oneself is, as one says nowadays, “no problem” for Wiesel.

In this story Wiesel appears to possess superhuman powers, much like a cartoon Superhero. He’s hit by a taxi and bo-o-o-oing! he flies through the air, landing a city block away. Wiesel’s megalomania takes many forms. He has criticized every notable holocaust survivor/commentator, notably the Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal, as less authentic and profound than he. His case is characteristically self serving. Rival commentators are rejected on the grounds that they are among “the intellectuals”. What’s wrong with that? Intellectuals analyze, they bring intellectual discourse to bear on our comprehension of the holocaust. But Wiesel insists that the holocaust is a sacred and spiritual phenomenon, and hence a mystery.

As such it transcends mundane, normal boundaries of language and conceptualization. It’s like A Kantian noumenon – it’s “out there” but none of our human categories are remotely adequate to capturing its reality. The best we can do is to exhibit the kind of doleful, agonized visage Wiesel sports 24/7. If someone points to our countenance and asks “What’s that?”, we just say “sorrow”.

Note that this puts Wiesel beyond challenge. Critical analysis is expressed in language, and is analytical in form. But language and analysis are foreign to the mystical nature of Jewish suffering. As Wittgenstein once remarked, “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.” That suits Wiesel just fine. Like Israel, Wiesel is unassailable.

The fact is that many Jewish liberals have ingested and digested this political serving. Little wonder that they cannot be counted on to call a Zionist spade a spade. But strong evidence indicates that this may be changing. As Israeli Jews are moving ever rightward, young American Jews are moving in the opposite direction. Let’s have a look at this.

Decline of Nationalist Zionism Among Young American Jews 
There is ample evidence that younger American Jews are decreasingly identifying with the Zionist State. A number of independent studies indicate that younger Jews are less likely to experience criticism of Israel as an assault on their identity. Peter Beinart has recently discussed a number of important studies confirming younger Jews’ indifference to criticism of Israel. His essay and book (2) also issue a call to moral arms to American Jews.

Several surveys have revealed, as Steven Cohen of Hebrew Union College and and Ari Kelman of the University of California at Davis report, that “non-Orthodox younger Jews, on the whole, feel much less attached to Israel than their elders,” with many professing “a near-total absence of positive feelings.” Although the majority of American Jews of all ages continue to identify as “pro-Israel,” those under 35 are less likely to identify as “Zionist.” Over 40% of American Jews under 35 believe that “Israel occupies land belonging to someone else,” and over 30% report sometimes feeling “ashamed” of Israel’s actions. A paradigm case is the 2008 rejection by the student senate at Brandeis University  -the only nonsectarian Jewish sponsored university in America-  of a resolution commemorating the sixtieth anniversity of the Jewish State. (3)

This development has been troubling prominent members of the Jewish establishment since the mid-1990s. In 2003 several of them  commissioned the pollster Frank Luntz to find out what younger Jews thought about Israel. The underlying aim of the poll was to explain why Jewish college students are not on the whole inclined to defend Israel against campus critics.

Luntz’s findings were distressing to his employers. “Six times we have brought Jewish youth together as a group to talk about their Jewishness and connection to Israel,” he reported, and “Six times the topic of Israel did not come up until it was prompted. Six times these Jewish youth used the word ‘they’ rather than ‘us’ to describe the situation.”

The attitudes Luntz found most consistently expressed were a resistance to the kind of “group-think” the young Jews saw as suppressing “open and frank” discussion of Israel, a “desperate” desire for peace and, in some cases, empathy with the plight of the Palestinians. The students come across as broadly “liberal” in the sense in which American Jews have always been perceived as liberal. The “trouble” with these students was that their liberalism is traditionally Jewish, and consistent: if Israeli policy contravenes basic canons of liberalism, then so much the worse for Israeli policy.

Among American Jews there are plenty of liberals and plenty of Zionists. What these studies indicate is that these two groups share fewer and fewer members. Younger Jewish  Zionists are decreasingly likely to be liberal, and younger Jewish liberals decreasingly likely to be Zionists. This portends the American Jewish establishment’s further movement to the right. As Beinart observes, “As secular Jews drift away from America’s Zionist institutions, their orthodox counterparts will likely step into the breach.” Thus, the distance between largely secular American Jews and the Zionist establishment is likely to widen. But this will weaken the political power of the Israel lobby  -inextricably linked, of course, to the Jewish establishment-   only if American Jews as a whole are prepared to announce unambiguously their antipathy to their soi disant representatives. The political and moral responsibility this places on American Jewish liberals cannot be overestimated.

Intensification of Zionist Nationalism in Israel
American Jewish liberals and Zionism in Israel are moving in opposite directions. While the studies mentioned above indicate that a decreasing percentage of American Jews will feel sympathetic attachment to Israeli Zionism, some of the most unsavory forms of Zionism are growing in Israel.

A 2008 survey reported in the Israeli newspaper Yediot Ah’ronot found that 40 percent of Jewish Israelis would deny the vote to Arab Israelis. More recent surveys found 56 percent of Jewish Israeli high school students sharing this sentiment. A survey conducted by Professor Camil Fuchs from the Statistics Department of Tel Aviv University found that half of Israeli teens don’t want Arab students in their class. Most Israeli teens aged fifteen to eighteen don’t think Arabs enjoy equal rights in Israel, and most of those don’t think Arabs deserve equal rights. The survey also revealed that 96 percent of the respondents want Israel to be a Jewish and democratic state, but 27 percent believe that those who object should be tried in court, and 41 percent support stripping them of their citizenship. In answer to a question whether they would be willing to learn in a classroom with one or more students with special needs, 32 percent answered in the negative. When the question was asked regarding Arab students, 50 percent of respondents answered in the negative. In addition, 23 percent said that they wouldn’t want gays or lesbians in their class.

These findings are disturbingly consistent with the Netanyahu coalition government’s reflection of the worst elements among contemporary Israelis: the growing extreme-Orthodox population, the increasingly radical settler movement, which has come to occupy an increasing percentage of both the Israeli political establishment and the army, and the conspicuously anti-Arab Russian immigrant community.

Netanyahu himself is a Palestinian-State denier. In his 1993 book A Place Among the Nations he explicitly repudiates the notion of a Palestinian State. Like Golda Meier he denies that there are Palestinians, and he argues that to support Palestinian statehood is equivalent to endorsing…. you guessed it, Nazism! His Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman would revoke the citizenship of Israeli Arabs who refuse to swear loyalty to the Jewish State, deny citizenship to Arab nationals of other countries who marry Arab citizens of Israel, execute Arab Knesset members who meet with Hamas representatives and imprison Arabs who dare to publicly mourn on Israeli Independence Day. Holy Moses.

Beinart’s reflections on these abominations are a lamentation of the refusal of the “leading institutions of American Jewry” to openly challenge Israel’s treatment of its Arab citizens. (The NYR essay was written three weeks before, and published two weeks after, the May 31 attack on the Mavi Marmara.) And Beinart is no one-stater. “Saving liberal Zionism in the United States,” he writes, “so that American Jews can help save liberal Zionism in Israel, is the great American Jewish challenge of our age.”

Bienart sees that as an American Jew he bears a special responsibility to act on the words, hypocritically penned by Elie Wiesel, cited at the head of this article: “We must always take sides…. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere.” I say he’s right.


(1) AS is a three-volume collection of the most representative of Wiesel’s lectures, articles, op-eds, letters, etc.)
(2) See “The Failure of the American Jewish Establishment”, The New York Review, June 10, 2010, further developed in his book The Crisis of Zionism, Henry Holt, 2012.
(3) See Cohen and Kelman’s “Beyond Distancing: Young Adult American Jews and Their Alienation from Israel” at http://www.acbp.net/About/PDF/Beyond%20Distancing.pdf.