Monthly Archives: January, 2012

Who’s the Captain now?

Fortunately, and evidenced by this spicy retort from Sarah Jones, the dumbing down of America isn’t working across the board. When Republicans compared President Obama to the “Chicken of the Sea”, the cowardly Captain of the Costa Concordia, she threw the truth in their faces like a pepper jelly pie. Hopefully, it’ll stick and sting long enough to do some good.

GOP Fail: Republicans Not Obama Have Abandoned Ship Like An Italian Captain

Whither Anonymous?

Last Sunday my family and I made a visit to the newly opened ‘Spy Museum’ in Washington D.C. It was what you might imagine, over priced glamorization of some choice episodes from the OSS and the CIA’s long and checkered history. We saw the lipstick pistol, very small electronic bugs buried in dung, a hidden communication device disguised as a tree stump on the outskirts of a Russian air base and so forth. Fascinating stuff that decorated a carefully sculptured history (no mention of the MK Ultra program, for example, nor Contra Aid for that matter). At the very end was the tour de force, an elaborate room whose ceiling and walls flashed ominous images of devastation wrought by the next big threat upon which the CIA has set its laser like focus: cyber terrorism. Ill defined and thus even more frightening, the Spy Museum included everything from simple hacks into government websites along with devastating attacks on the electrical grid under the rubric of ‘cyber terrorism’. As if in confirmation of such dire threats, just last Thursday, January 19th, a group of hacktivists known collectively as Anonymous made headlines by taking down the FBI’s website, the Justice Department’s website and they attempted to take down the White House’s website. They also dropped Universal Music Group, RIAA, Motion Picture Association of America and the Warner Music Group.

Barrett Brown who has made something of a name for himself translating Anonymous’ various communications noted to RT online that “It was in retaliation for Megaupload,” a massive file sharing site with about 50 million daily users, a playground for cyber geeks and the hacker community. When the federal agents raided Megaupload’s site and arrested four people linked to Megaupload in New Zealand they did the equivalent of putting their hands into a beehive. Mere hours after the arrest were made, the Department of Justice site went down and next the Universal sites.

In addition, they also ‘doxed’ or released personal information about former senator Christopher Dodd and his family on public sites, presumably for chairing the MPAA, a major supporter of both PIPA (Protect IP Act) and SOPA (Stop Online Privacy Act) legislation. Finally, Brown promised that Anonymous-aligned hacktivists were pursuing a joint effort with others to “damage campaign raising abilities of remaining Democrats who support SOPA.”

Startling information to be sure, and the kind of digital muscle flexing that makes every Network Administrator East (or West) of the Mississippi sit up and take notice. But is Anonymous a true danger to our culture in the egregious manner that the Spy Museum would have us believe? Or is Anonymous doing mostly positive work (after all, stopping SOPA is a net good thing in most progressive’s view) but using less than stellar methods?

Like the CIA, Anonymous has its own checkered history. Their first true widespread notoriety probably began with their outing of a Tom Cruise Scientology Video on YouTube in 2008.

According to Wikipedia, “On January 14, 2008, a video produced by the Church featuring an interview with Tom Cruise was leaked to the Internet and uploaded to YouTube. The Church of Scientology issued a copyright violation claim against YouTube requesting the removal of the video. In response to this, Anonymous formulated Project Chanology. Calling the action by the Church of Scientology a form of Internet censorship, members of Project Chanology organized a series of denial-of-service attacks against Scientology websites, prank calls, and black faxes to Scientology centers.”

Project Chanology offers in a nutshell the basic ‘working ethos’ of Anonymous. Freeing information and punishing those who would ‘restrict’ the flow of information through cyber attacks of one stripe or another.

From 2008 to the present this basic pattern is repeated over and over again. But to suggest that Anonymous is without a conscience or are simply kids playing grown up games would also be a mistake. In 2010 and 2011, Anonymous carried out Operation Paypack which successfully punished PayPal and major credit card vendors for refusing payment to the Wikileaks site after the famous Cablegate release. They also came out in support of Bradley Manning and threatened “to disrupt activities at Quantico by cyber-attacking communications, exposing private information about personnel, and other harassment methods .”

Most famously, Anonymous is reputed to have had a hand in the ‘Arab Spring’ of 2011. The websites of the government of Tunisia were targeted by Anonymous due to censorship of the WikiLeaks documents and the Tunisian Revolution. “Anonymous also released the names and passwords of the email addresses of Middle Eastern governmental officials, in support of the Arab Spring. Countries targeted included officials from Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, and Morocco.”

Finally, Anonymous, along with Ad Busters of Canada have been associated with the original Occupy Wall Street Movement that has grown to include every major city in the United States.


In an effort to ferret out the good from the bad and to try to work through what we are to make of Anonymous (if anything), I’ve included an extended discussion below that I had this week with a series of APV members and friends online. The kickoff for the discussion is the article on Anonymous’s latest round of attacks against the government and Universal sites on Thursday.

Mike: [In the RT article] Brown, adds that “more is coming” and Anonymous-aligned hacktivists are pursuing a joint effort with others to “damage campaign raising abilities of remaining Democrats who support SOPA.” So we trade one kind of paternalism for another in a process of absolutes? Maybe Anonymous knows what’s best for you and me, but I’m not ready to condone the sabotaging of elections. This is repressive by any other name, just like the bill it seeks to defeat.

M. L.: Since it’s a collective group of individuals who do not always agree on things, crowd-sourced hacktivist actions only work if there is majority support among enough participants to have impact. I find it interesting that Barrett Brown has been tapped to be their spokesman, not by the group but by media forces who cannot cope with a leaderless assemblage. It would be far more accurate to call him a translator – his statements are reported as if he’s speaking for the group, but what he’s doing is just reporting, in English sentences, what he’s understanding out of what’s being discussed in extremely geeky language by clusters of randomly affiliated interested parties. They’ve doxed Dodd – wish they’d leave the kids out when they do that.

Jack: I think Mike is right, but with a few caveats. Hackers and hacktivists are really two separate terms and two separate entities. Hacktivists at least nominally engage in socially relevant activities. Hackers are just hackers, mostly lone geeks who get off on controlling their e-environment. Hacktivist ostensibly take it to the next level and direct their fun and games at socially relevant targets.

I remain largely ambivalent about their activities, but I would suggest without them, Wikileaks would have long ago been shut down (they forced Paypal et al, to give up their payments to Wikileaks in a very Robin Hoodesque swarm). This merits consideration. And I think there’s a kind of false equivalence involved in suggesting they are as ‘repressive’ as legislation that would shut down ISPs that link to ‘pirated’ material. Thus far, their actions are largely symbolic. No one has been ‘permanently’ taken down and words like ‘repressive’ are over blown, what might be more accurate is inconvenient.

And THAT, alone, is fine by me. A day or two of inconvenience in the lopsided war that is being waged between profit driven industries (music, movie) who have countless millions for lobbying efforts and who mean to permanently take down anyone who has links to pirated material against all the rest of us who depend on the internet for the only decent information flow available strikes me as a somewhat minor inconvenience. My main concern is their activity will engender an over reaction and escalation of ‘security’ type activity which slows down things for everyone. Thus I think Mike’s right, but it’s not that they’re equally ‘repressive’ , it’s that their hacktivist activities in this case could result in some serious blowback and escalation that everyone is going to regret. It could even strengthen the proponents of SOPA’s hand, which would be really tragic.

Mike: I consider shutting down web sites and limiting access to information more than inconvenient. It’s repressive. And paternalistic. At this point it may not match the threat of SOPA, but the potential for “hacktivism” to bring a kind of anarchy is, I believe, a real concern. I’m not willing to accept repression in the name of fighting repression, particularly in this instance when we have a small group of people, answerable to no one, making unilateral decisions that affect us all. The fight should be joined WITH information, not its suppression.

M. L.: Without Anonymous intervention, we wouldn’t still have Wikileaks, so we’d have less information.

Jack: It’s a good point, M. L.  I’m still a little curious about this sweeping use of the term ‘repression’. If I were to saw down a bulletin board advertising child porn, would that be repressive? (Anonymous has done the equivalent, digitally) If I were to throw a blanket over a billboard promising ‘no interest loans’–which we know inevitably result in ballooning rates after a set period, would that be repressive? Or better, if I were to simply mark up that billboard with a paint brush and write something like ‘this is a lie!’…would that be repressive? I think a bit more nuance is needed.

M. L.: I’m conflicted, Jack, as a free-speech advocate, I’m in favor of all of those things, in theory. Actions always have unintended consequences, though, so I’d be less than thrilled with property destruction; please don’t saw it down. The temporary, non-destructive methods that Anonymous uses are pretty effective. I don’t like doxing because of the potential for violent repercussions against homes and families.

Jack: ‎M.L. – I’m still muddling through the questions myself, but I agree that the whole doxing thing is a bridge too far. It’s mean-spirited and dangerous besides.

Donna: I don’t know enough about Anonymous – because of its secrecy – to be able to say much about it. But it’s represented globally, so their objectives are more broadly considered than what would necessarily be considered from a national prospective. Maybe that’s good, but I’m not comfortable with a powerful, secret, global organization making decisions, such as to shut down government sites for the American people, or as Mike said, sabotaging elections. That’s my only point. Everything they do falls under that premise whether it’s considered helpful, repressive, or whatever. Unbridled power never ends well. I’m not denying that they have chosen some seemingly helpful things to do. I’m just mindful of the danger they could at some point present.

Mike: A billboard advertising child porn would be illegal, as determined by the laws of our society, therefore taking it down wouldn’t, in my view, be repressive. However, I think covering a sign that advertised low-interest loans would be, even if those loans hold some hidden dangers. To continue with Jack’s example, better to erect a sign next to the original pointing out the dangers. Another analogy might consider a book in a library whose philosophy you disagree with. Would it be o.k. to simply remove the book? I don’t believe so. I’d prefer to be the one who decides what’s good and bad for me, what’s perilous or not. Not some faceless collection of hackers who answer to no one.

Jack: ‎Mike – Thanks for the response–good discussion.

This is unfair, I know, but I just couldn’t resist the observation: ” a small group of people, answerable to no one, making unilateral decisions that affect us all”…you mean like… corporate CEOs and higher finance moguls that control 90% of our media output (digitally and otherwise)? That small group of people? 🙂

Actually, in a more serious vein, your point is taken. Arbitrary actions by a small group of self designated vigilantes or CEOs can lead to bad results. And as Donna has pointed out, concentrated power like this tends toward corruption. So there’s certainly a cause for concern. But perhaps the difference lies in terms of the practical effects of the hacktivists. We know with almost 100% certainty that SOPA will have a negative, repressive effect on the free flow of information on the web. The discussion would be around how catastrophic. I don’t think we can say that with any certainty about hacktivists’ activities–they are free agents–there will be times when their activities have lousy consequences, but other times, they can actually have positive outcomes (Wikileaks, stopping child porn, etc). They are wild cards, to be sure, and inherently anarchic. I’m just not convinced that a certain level of anarchy is not necessary at this juncture in time of the Empire’s growth. And by Empire I mean the consolidated power inherent in that small group of corporate, political and financial elites that drive much of our media and financial world (the ultimate small group of people, answerable to no one). Empire, in other words, as [Antonio] Negri might have used it.

By one view, marginalized actors like Anonymous are yeast in a heavy bread, their tyranny or ability to ‘repress’ will necessarily be temporary, and fleeting. They are outlaws, after all. But so was Robin Hood, so was Che Guevara. No one is saying lineup behind Anonymous, no one really can say that, anyhow. So your response to their activities is absolutely reasonable, but it misses the larger point that Anonymous by and large are playful jokers. I think we’re talking about a very youthful (in spirit, if not in age) collective of free agents who are expressing their ‘power’ within a legally conquered geography. In this context, the book analogy is not really accurate. They are not stealing the book, they are temporarily hiding it and tweaking the noses of those who wrote the book in the first place. The reason people tend to like Anonymous at some level is because they are transgressive, they do break rules and they don’t want the calm desperation of what the people who wrote the book say should be the limits of our discourse. Is this out of legal bounds? Sure. That’s the point. You would not be reading the disturbing and sometimes sadly hilarious exchanges of diplomats around the world if Anonymous hadn’t ‘repressed’ PayPal for a short, but deeply instructive period. Could this get out of hand? Certainly. Again, that’s the point. In the old TV show Get Smart there were two agencies pitted against each other: Chaos and Control. In high falutin’ literary terms we would say it’s the tension between Apollo and Dionysus. Civilization has always had these two rails. You really can’t eliminate either rail, and, in some ways, digitally, Anonymous may be a ‘necessary’ aberration, that bit of a digital crack that let’s the light in.

What I fear, as I mentioned earlier, isn’t Anonymous’ activities. I fear the blowback that might be caused by what amounts to their larks. The security types around government agencies are incredibly paranoid and would think nothing of locking down much of the web in order to maintain their sense of ‘control’. They tend to overplay most threats, and their efforts to ‘remove’ the threats or ‘control’ them usually lead to truly bad outcomes. Our so-called global war on terror is an example of a hideously overblown response by ‘security’ minded individuals. Also, if you take a look at Anonymous’ actual activities they have ‘freed’ much more information than they have ever removed from the public domain, and have been mostly Robin Hoodesque in their activities.

If I were to identify an archetype to associate with Anonymous, it would be the Joker or Trickster (in Indian lore, it would be the Coyote). The Trickster breaks the rules of the gods or nature, sometimes maliciously–true– but usually with positive effects. It’s not a matter of saying Anonymous shouldn’t do this or that, or they should follow such and such rules. Rules are their playgrounds, after all. Breaking the rules is their raison d’être. As good progressives, they present a quandary, to be sure, but one important example of a trickster I would mention in their defense is Prometheus, in Greek mythology, who stole fire from the gods to give it to man.

Mike: ‎”Legally conquered?” That’s quite a euphemism. Will we be willing to settle for calling the hackers “legal conquerors” if the bank accounts raided or the web sites vandalized are our own? Or “tricksters?” I am concerned about the consequences of Anonymous’ actions–in the example of the SOPA & PIPA controversy their attempts to suppress the speech and political activity of those who supported the bill, which after all has at its core a legitimate concern about copyright violation. And particularly their way of operating without consensus in administering a kind of vigilante justice. That cabal you speak of that “games” the economy in this country, and inordinately influences elections, is a real threat, one that has recently been spotlighted by the Occupy Movement. But one of the most important, and I would say successful, aspects of the Occupy Movement has been the understanding that a consensus is critical to decision-making. The idea, which accompanies the actions of Anonymous–that it’s o.k. for a small group of people, or even one disgruntled individual, not accountable in any way, to decide what’s appropriate regarding National security, or to sabotage the campaign (maybe rig an election?) of someone they don’t consider to be on the right side of an issue–is, the way I see it, a dangerous lean towards chaos. My advocacy is for more direct and open action in the fight for transparency and financial justice in this country. The Occupy movement has shown that can be effective. Anyway, Jack, as always, a good discussion. I appreciate your take on the subject(s.)

Mike: ‎…and you too, M. L. I enjoyed the exchange.

Jack: ‎Mike -good discussion back atcha! I just wanted to quickly clarify a point that I don’t think I communicated clearly. When I talk about a ‘collective of free agents who are expressing their power within a legally conquered geography’, I mean that the ‘legally conquered geography’ is the digital universe in which they operate–not that they are ‘legally operating’ but the exact opposite. The digital universe is legally defined by entities (copyright holders, governments, corporations) with far more power and ‘repressive capability’ than anything Anonymous could hope for. Hence the term ‘legally conquered’; I think this is close to the way Anonymous sees themselves as well –as digital ‘liberators’ of information that is ‘repressed’ by larger quasi legal entities–whether those entities are governments, corporations, law firms, etc….So they would never call themselves ‘legal conquerors’ –that wouldn’t even makes sense to them, but more like ‘legal liberators’…Again, this is by way of clarification, not that I necessarily agree or even advocate this kind of activity.

M. L.: I think the Trickster is an apt archetype. One truth is that Anonymous is not an organization. The way any “op” goes down is that someone or ones is persuasive enough in their argument, has enough information to take action and a plan. They ask for assistance and if their plan has “merit” with others then it is acted on. If the plan doesn’t convince others to participate, then there aren’t enough players to cause impact and it doesn’t proceed. At any point along the way, folks can and do get up and walk away from the keyboard. Others might hear of it and join in. Still others might disagree and act to thwart that plan. It would be extremely difficult to corrupt that process, since the participants can change at any moment…. These are certainly interesting times.

Donna:  That’s true. And I would guess more “hacktivism” is probably coming our way. You can call them tricksters, but their power is just as corruptible as all power, and their potential just as ominous. Like actions of solidarity in other forms, it depends on whether you agree with what they’re doing at the time. Because it’s a diverse group of individual, global thinkers, we can’t depend on or trust that they will always act in our interest, or the country’s. They don’t create solutions – their talent is to disrupt, and what “they” decide to disrupt is not of or by the people – it’s only for the people as Anonymous perceives our needs. Do we need Anonymous at this time in our country? World? Again, that depends on what you think. If the answer is yes, we have them. If the answer is no, we have them anyway.

American Pie

If you don’t want apple pie, quit giving apples to the baker.

Sixteen of Americas intelligence agencies have reaffirmed that Iran has no nuclear weapons program, and yet the chest-beating war mongers in the media and congress are all but counting their money from betting against efforts to work toward peace and diplomacy with a nation full of innocent people who are probably as baffled by some of their state policies as I am with ours.

The American people pay dearly so our leaders can afford to have a smart, effective, representative State Department, foreign policy and military equipped to make friends with the people of other nations, promote peace and defend the American people against … whatever, and somewhere in that mix, somebody is responsible for strategy. So, what’s going on with our policy toward Iran and why aren’t we being consistent in our war against terrorism?

Stipulating for the point, say the Iranian government, not the people, but the state – is doing something that could result in killing people and that’s what we don’t want them to do – kill people. That’s the bottom line, right? Say we also know that there are terrorists in Iran, non-state actors, angry and itching to kill Americans and Israelis. Now say somebody, not America, starts murdering scientists in Iran and the Iranians think we’re involved in that terrorism. What’s the best strategy for our war on terror to protect and defend Americans, and prevent another war … or … terrorist attack involving the people of the Middle East?

Posing here with his young son is Mostafa Ahmadi-Roshan, a scientist, an Iranian university professor and chemical engineer who worked on procurement for the uranium enrichment plant at Natanz. He was 32 years old and buried recently after having been murdered by a terrorist.

Although the United States claims to be looking for terrorists, all we’ve done about this is to deny our involvement in these concerted attacks – several in the last years killing Iranian scientists. We didn’t so much as send a flower arrangement for the funeral service, let alone a diplomat to convey our condolences and assure the Iranian people that we are striving to end this sort of terrorism around the world. That is what we’re doing, right?

The Iranian people, who obviously need international cooperation to find these terrorists, just as we would if it were happening here, have had no help from the U.S. nor have we used our influence to garner support for them among other nations. When their Human Rights Secretary-General wrote to the U.N. asking for help, he was told that these illegal “extrajudicial executions” must be investigated by Iran. And here’s what U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said: “We have some ideas as to who might be involved. But we don’t know exactly who was involved.”

That’s the level of interest and concern we’re showing for terrorism while leading a global war on terrorism. Rather than seizing an opportunity to help, win friends, or influence the Iranian people in our fight against these murderers, here’s what happened instead:
[“Death to America! Death to Israel!” roared the crowd streaming away from weekly prayers at Tehran University, where the dead man was hailed as a martyr in the tradition of Imam Hussein, a revered figure for Iran’s Shi’ite branch of Islam.

“Nuclear energy is our absolute right!” young men chanted.]

If the people in Iran held anti-American sentiments before this funeral, how do you think they’re feeling now?

But furthermore, what danger to the people in America and around the world has been exacerbated by our apparent strategy to exclude the people of Iran from our otherwise hell-bent war on terror? The answer to the first question is easy: Not illogically under the circumstances, we’ve been branded as the terrorist.

Whatever our strategy in the war on terror, it would seem we need to stand against terrorism. Wherever it happens, we should treat the people of nations the way we were treated after 9/11, with compassion and support.

If we’re not standing against the senselessness of reacting to state policy by murdering innocent people who live in the country, what are we doing?

Knowing everything our government knows about terrorism (and I’m sure it’s a boatload whether the intelligence is right or wrong), they seem to be unmindful of the danger of further enraging an already enraged populace that supposedly includes elements of non-state acting crazy people who want to kill us – and who now, if not before, probably have the ear of some very capable scientists.

That serious consideration has been analyzed by CSIS, a Foreign Policy think tank that informs Washington with strategic analyses on security issues. While we often think of 9/11 as the type of attack we could face again, these assessments involve attacks that require less organization and expense, and focus on the broad spectrum of our population. Our media never calls attention to the very real possibility of our being the recipients of a weapons grade “hazard” that spreads uncontrollably across America, but I think the possibility increases with time and strategy that creates enemies of state and non-state players rather than allies.

Click pictures to enlarge. (CBR = Chemical, Biological and Radiological Hazards, N = Nuclear)

Personally, I don’t think we’re headed for war with Iran, but that wouldn’t mean the coast is clear. There are people in Iran who believe, and with good reason, that their nation is under attack, that their people are in danger, and that either we are part of it, or protecting the culprits. And while we may have some control over the actions of the Iranian government and their military, we will never have control over all their people, or other people around the world who think our “war on terror” is evil.

Any good strategy to provide for the safety of Americans would not include the callous indifference we’ve shown to the people who live in Iran while they have been under attack. Looking the other way while our “allies” are murdering innocent citizens of another nation is clearly a breach in our stated objective. It shows our intentions are without integrity and attracts the ire of would-be terrorists world-wide.

Knowing the whereabouts and intentions of all non-state actors is impossible. All our surveillance, black ops and intelligence gathering is of little use against even one really enraged scientist who would unleash a chemical, biological or other uncontrollable weapon to spread across our country. George W. Bush said it: They only have to be right once. Ironically, and regardless of why he said it, that’s the best reason I know of for the sort of diplomacy and foreign policy that he was not recommending – one that embraces and helps the people of other nations.

9/11 should have taught us that, and how to treat our global neighbors. Instead, we continue to push our luck in every conceivable way. Our reputation around the world gets worse with every drone that drops a bomb in a neighborhood killing innocent bystanders. Our military does that with impunity, including in nations we’re not even at war with. Under those circumstances, we should all be able to understand anti-American sentiment.

War is political failure, not success. And it’s always the people, not the state, who pay the price for that failure whether it’s here, there, or somewhere else. When I look out my front door and think about my neighbors and my community, especially when I think about the stealth involved with chemical and biological weapons, I know that any foreign policy that attracts terrorism is dangerous and not a strategy designed to defend or protect the people. Americans are as divided on this as they are about everything else, which stands to inhibit the public outrage necessary to change it. But one thing’s for sure, if we keep giving apples to the baker, we’re just begging for apple pie, and it’ll find its way over here sooner or later.

(all photos in Iran – Atta Kenare/AFP/Getty Image)
(all graphics – CSIS,

Unveiling nuclear safety

Energy news can be really exciting these days, or frustrating and scary. But as the ole’ mother of invention kicks in, people around the world are creating solutions and designing power options to help us shake rattle and roll off our addiction to dangerous, destructive sources and practices we’ve been stuck with for too long. Some ideas are better than others, but as we brainstorm through this process it gets clearer all the time that we’re making good headway. We’re doing it! Maybe the trick is to stay focused on the beauty and benefits of a green future. Check this out!

On the other hand, we’re still facing critical safety and environmental issues that surround fossil fuel, including the acquisition of oil, the obvious dangers associated with fracking, and destructive coal mining practices. With all the information available on the down side, I can’t even imagine voting to reelect a representative who isn’t working to help end our national obsession with filthy dangerous energy sources. Obviously, the Keystone pipeline project and ending bans on uranium mining would lead us in the wrong direction.

One of our most imminent threats, as the people of Japan know well, is the safety and regulation needed to continue nuclear power production until it can be effectively phased out.

In that vein, this should be an interesting meeting this morning. The operators of our nuclear power plants have a deal for us: They’ll do what they want to improve safety, and that’s the end of it.

The industry is seeking assurances from the NRC that it won’t face additional requirements on the same safety issues later if it moves forward voluntarily now.

“This is just something that we believe we should be doing,” said Adrian Heymer, who is in charge of the Institute’s Fukushima regulatory response team. “But we want to get some credit for it.”

Credit? They’ve known all along what could happen to us if the power goes out like it did in Japan, and they’ve done nothing to solve that problem for decades. They’ve been playing the odds, gambling with our safety – and now they want credit for being proactive?

“Heymer said the new backup systems could keep nuclear fuel cool for three days or more.”

A key feature, yes. But understanding that without this feature “the plants can only cope for 4 to 8 hours” means that they have been ignoring a key feature – a feature standing between life and death to the people and environments surrounding 104 U.S. reactors.

“The proposal is likely to face scrutiny from nuclear watchdogs, in part because it involves portable equipment that wouldn’t be subject to the strictest NRC standards and wouldn’t be installed as part of a mandatory NRC rule.”

That’s true for now, but the NRC is getting ready to impose new regulations on nuclear facilities because the industry operators have failed to do it. If these operators are seeking to show us how proactively they improve safety – they’re too late. They’ve already shown us that until the NRC is on the verge of regulating, they don’t invest in the people’s safety.

The equipment used for severe accident mitigation after 9/11, – guidelines “which had been adopted voluntarily by the nuclear industry and thus not subject to commission rules”, were found to be problematic in nearly a third of our nations reactors.

So, here we go again with a new safety plan being unveiled today, voluntarily, just before they get hit with regulations they have to abide by, subject to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

“Heymer said the industry’s proposal would be implemented by 2015, but predicted a formal rule would take longer to finalize.

So what’s the deal? We’ll know more after the meeting, but so far it looks like we’re supposed to let these operators dawdle around for three more years developing their own safety requirements and quality controls, only allowing us to set standards and inspect equipment. In exchange for this magnanimous offer, they want us to agree that we won’t require anything else of them regarding these safety issues – that’s what they’re calling “credit”.

That’s not a deal; it’s another attempt to avoid NRC regulations that have teeth, cost more money, make the people safer and operators accountable.

We will continue to pay for their liability insurance until 2025 via the Price-Anderson Act. It’s high-dollar insurance paid for by taxpayers but given “free” to for-profit nuclear plant operators. Of course, it’s not adequate enough to cover victims of accidents, but it indemnifies the operators for accidents even if they cause one by willful misconduct or gross negligence. It’s socialism for the rich. So, I say we should crack down on the NRC, get the regulations finalized tout suite, and let these operators know who’s boss.

They should spend all the money it takes to implement reasonable, preventative safety features and to have supplies and procedures in place to protect and evacuate the public affected by a nuclear event, and not just within a pat 50 mile radius, but also downwind as far as the scientists estimate the affected public resides. And they shouldn’t be allowed to pass the cost on to us. This is one industry that won’t shut down and go elsewhere for cheap labor. They’re completely dependent on the American consumer, and they should show some appreciation for us while they’re still around.

We’ll see what happens. The meeting is from 9 -12, and I hope the NRC, not at all known for their vicious bite, can find the gumption to work in the interest of safety instead of placating the corporations.

Becoming a lobbyist for progressive values in the Virginia General Assembly

Becoming a lobbyist for progressive values in the Virginia General Assembly

My first day January 11, 2011

I have never lobbied legislators before and felt rather unsure about whether or not I can make any contribution doing this sort of thing. Basically I thought anything important probably took place out of sight—you know the cigar-smoke-filled-room image of how government “really” works. After a day guided by APV’s Public Policy Director Scott Price, I am ready to change my mind. Lobbying for progressive values can make a difference.

I took a bus to Capitol Square and arrived early about 8:30. Good thing because I tried to start my lobbying at the wrong building. Legislators meet in the Capital Building so that’s the obvious place to lobby—right? Well no. A call to Scott set me straight. About a block toward Broad Street from the Capital Building is an entrance with big letters GENERAL ASSEMBLY BUILDING. I entered by going through a metal detector (didn’t have to take off my shoes), found Scott, and started the orientation—coat room, elevators, rest rooms—all important stuff.

I was immediately struck by how open and accessible the GA Building is. No sign in sheets, finger prints, eye scans, SS numbers, credit cards—nothing. An accessible dress code too—a black or dark blue suit. I was told the building had Wi-Fi throughout and several people carried computers, smart or dumb phones, even cameras. Everyone looked busy and serious but not intimidating.

Most of the GA building’s floors contain GA members’ suites with an exterior window, small interior rooms for staffers and shared receptionists who moderate access. The lower floors contain Senators with House members above them. The 6th floor has a cafeteria. The basement contains public computers to check bills—tracking is computerized and accessible online–and a documents center to get copies. The first floor has committee meeting rooms nicely labeled A B C D with smaller caucus rooms throughout the building. Given how government gets tagged as wasteful and inefficient, I ended up being impressed by the thoroughly modern efficiency projected by this building and by extension what takes place in it.

Scott started showing Lisa Taranto and myself around by introducing us to legislators and staff he either knew or felt would be receptive to APV aims. Basically Scott would start with a receptionist to find out if the person was available. If so we’d be introduced, exchange contact information, Scott would explain APV and then pass the power to Lisa and myself. I’d guess I shook hands with three legislators and 15 staff on my first day. All seemed to be receptive to whatever support APV could give, while admitting that in this 2012 GA session progressives will be in rear-guard mode—more about opposing regressive legislation rather than promoting progressive actions. Vigilance would be needed.

We ended by watching the Senate opening on a large video screen. Again the openness of all this impressed me. We just walked into the room, sat down and watched. From press reports I gather that eventually interactions got testy as Republicans asserted dominance in the 20-20 split Senate, but what we saw was pure Virginia cordiality including jokes about ham with a double entendre about pork on the cash-and-carry honor system luncheon buffet.

These are my first impressions. None of this is meant to minimize what APV needs to do to have an impact: many bills to follow through committees and subcommittees; many terse and focused position papers; spending time to get the word out; and calls to mobilize when needed. I expect that the pace will be fast. I hope my experience encourages more APV members to join the effort to make legislators understand that treading on progressive values will have consequences they cannot ignore.

Ralph R. Sell

Ralph is one of APV’s citizen lobbyist for this year’s General Assembly session in Richmond. We encourage our members to get involved and to attend APV’s Lobby Day, January 24th. Details to come. Contact us at

Go ahead, put us on the Bradley Manning list.

In case our friends in military intelligence didn’t know, APV supports patriotic whistle-blower Bradley Manning.  Go ahead, put us on the list.

The Army is reading your Bradley Manning tweets – Bradley Manning –

Going into 2012

As things settle down after the holidays, we get back into gear by planning for a new year and contemplating the time that’s rushing past us, so I think both of these articles are good.

Why Libertarians Must Deny Climate Change
George Monbiot highlights the dichotomy between the ideology and practice of conservatives dealing with property rights and environmental issues. They can’t have their cake and eat it too. “This is the point at which libertarianism smacks into the wall of gritty reality and crumples like a Coke can.”

In Commemorating Our Soon-to-Be Lost Vernacular, David Sirota thinks of his one-year-old son and considers the loss of a “harrowing 10”. Starting 2012 with a list like this is to say we have our work cut out for us!

Welcome back. I hope your last two weeks were great!

By the way, APV is having a January fund drive to raise $1,000. Click here to see how well we’re doing, and donate if you like!