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Todd Purdum: One Nation, Under Arms

This is an EXCELLENT article in the January Vanity Fair.

He bases it on the work of George Kennon, whose prophecies along with Eisenhower's have come to pass. with Kennon's reaction to the modern MIC. (It was Kennon who wrote this: "Were the Soviet Union to sink tomorrow under the waters of the ocean, the American military-industrial complex would have to remain, substantially unchanged, until some other adversary could be invented."

I tried to pick a few representative paragraphs -- he goes into different aspects of what he calls the "national-security state," the United States today. In addition to the sections represented below, he writes about the "two societies" that have been created in the US due to this overwhelming focus on militarization, national security, etc -- one consisting of the right-wing, "military class," Bible-thumpers, etc and a "civilian class" (I thought the two divisions here were the weaker part of the article); and "A Captive Capital," discussing the "stranglehold" the "national-security state" has on Washington, exemplified in even the dramatic physical changes of the city.

He points out that this overwhelming focus on militarization & security has been to the detriment of everything else in the country -- education, infrastructure, healthcare, etc etc -- and as our national greatness has been greatly diminished, the "increase in national chauvinism and bellicosity" has grown in that right-wing class.

"The National Addiction"


Amid the profusion of paper, a prominent name in the news catches my eye: Warren Buffett. In 1984, Buffett, a trustee of Grinnell College, in Iowa, had prevailed upon Kennan to deliver a pair of lectures there. They are now preserved in Box 284. In one of them, Kennan reflected on a topic that had become something of an obsession for him by his 80th year: the “extreme militarization not only of our thought but of our lives”—a phenomenon that had had a profoundly distorting effect on the entire economy. Military spending had become a national addiction. “We could not now break ourselves of this habit,” Kennan wrote, “without the most serious of withdrawal symptoms. Millions of people, in addition to those other millions that are in uniform, have become accustomed to deriving their livelihood from the military-industrial complex. Thousands of firms have become dependent on it, not to mention labor unions and communities.”


In historic terms, this addiction to military spending—one that dominates the existence of places as diverse as Huntsville and Cedar Rapids, Norfolk and San Diego, El Paso and Colorado Springs—would have been seen as un-American. For generations, the nation’s pattern after each armed conflict was demobilization. In 1918, as World War I ended, France was spending $235 per capita on its military, Great Britain $188, and the U.S. just $68. As late as 1940, on the eve of its entry into World War II, the United States spent just 1.7 percent of gross domestic product on defense. The level today is three times that proportion, on a vastly greater base. American military spending accounts for 43 percent of all defense spending worldwide, 6 times the share of China, 12 times that of Russia. The U.S. Navy is larger than the next 13 navies combined. Overall, defense spending increased about 70 percent under George W. Bush, and it now stands at more than half a trillion dollars annually, roughly $100 billion a year (in inflation-adjusted dollars) above the levels at the height of the Cold War. That does not include what is spent by related agencies, such as the Department of Homeland Security, or by the myriad intelligence services. Despite the winding down of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and recent talk in Washington about reining in military spending, the trend shows every evidence of continuing. Last spring, the Pentagon identified some $178 billion in potential savings and efficiencies through fiscal year 2016, but then proposed to keep $100 billion of it and redirect it to other programs.


And, of course, it is the twisting of national priorities that is the most pernicious ripple effect of this military spending. It has become all but impossible to close any military base (the chore has repeatedly been farmed out to special commissions, insulated from political pressure), and it is always a heavy lift to cancel any weapon system, because some community (or member of Congress) depends on it, economically or politically. It takes only a glance at National Journalor Politico, filled with full-page color advertisements from Lockheed Martin and Raytheon, from Northrup-Grumman and L3 and KBR, to get some indication of where our priorities lie. Great corporate engines once worked to build the U.S. civilian economy and the infrastructure that underlay it; now they are at the service of military power and its projection abroad.

"The Secrecy Industry"


The secret government agencies and scores of private contractors that do some sort of national-security or intelligence work are now so numerous that the officials theoretically in charge of them cannot keep track of their operations. A private company such as S.A.I.C., based in northern Virginia but with personnel worldwide, has its hands in so many secret operations that it is effectively an arm of the government, but without effective oversight. A lengthy investigation by The Washington Post last year found that some 1,300 government organizations and nearly 2,000 private corporations work on some aspect of counterterrorism, homeland security, or foreign intelligence. In the Washington, D.C., area alone, 33 new building complexes related to top-secret intelligence work have been completed since September 11, 2001, or are under construction. In the name of national security, bedrock protections of the American legal system have been eroded, whether through the Bush administration’s refusal to grant habeas corpus rights to suspected terrorist detainees (even if they were American citizens) or through the secret wiretapping by the National Security Agency of Americans and others inside this country without court-ordered warrants. Intrusive new bureaucracies—from the Transportation Security Administration to the Department of Homeland Security itself—have proliferated and expanded. &#8233;Measures undertaken in the fevered climate that followed the 9/11 attacks are now permanent features of American life. No president—Republican or Democrat—willingly gives back new powers once they have been acquired. National security is a ratchet—it turns in one direction only.

I wish I could do it justice with the posting of 4 paragraphs -- I don't think I can. It's well worth going to the link and reading the article.

Kudos to Pres. Obama & his EPA: New EPA mercury rules are a bona fide Big Deal

I'm one of those Democrats who is very disappointed in Obama and I'm not shy about posting my criticisms. But I want to make sure that doesn't blind me to the good things he's done.

This is most certainly one of them! Mercury has been a known toxin for a long time and regulation has been caught up in the usual political machinations. It finally got done!

Paul Krugman alerted me to it -- part of his Christmas day op-ed:

Here’s what I wanted for Christmas: something that would make us both healthier and richer. And since I was just making a wish, why not ask that Americans get smarter, too?

Surprise: I got my wish, in the form of new Environmental Protection Agency standards on mercury and air toxics for power plants. These rules are long overdue: we were supposed to start regulating mercury more than 20 years ago. But the rules are finally here, and will deliver huge benefits at only modest cost.

So, naturally, Republicans are furious. But before I get to the politics, let’s talk about what a good thing the E.P.A. just did.

Link to the rest of Paul's excellent op-ed, which goes into politics more -- I simply wanted to highlight this huge environmental achievement here: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/26/opinion/krugman-springtime-for-toxics.html

From David Roberts at Grist:



But this one is a Big Deal. It's worth lifting our heads out of the news cycle and taking a moment to appreciate that history is being made. Finally controlling mercury and toxics will be an advance on par with getting lead out of gasoline. It will save save tens of thousands of lives every year and prevent birth defects, learning disabilities, and respiratory diseases. It will make America a more decent, just, and humane place to live.


First, remember that the original Clean Air Act "grandfathered" in dozens of existing coal plants back in 1977, on the assumption that they were nearing the end of their lives and would be shut soon anyway. Well, funny story ... they never shut down! There are still dozens of coal plants in the U.S. that don't meet the pollution standards in the original 1970 Clean Air Act, much less the 1990 amendments. These old, filthy jalopies from the early 20th century, mostly along the eastern seaboard and scattered around the Midwest, are responsible for a vastly disproportionate amount of the air pollution generated by the electricity sector in America, including most of the mercury. They have been environmentalists' bête noire for over 30 years now.

Second, mercury rules get directly at these plants in a way no other rules have. There's no trading system for mercury like there is for SO2 (the Bush administration tried to set one up, but the court struck it down). There are no short-cuts either. Every plant that's out of compliance has to install the "maximum available control technology." There is some flexibility -- more than industry admits -- but there's no getting around the fact that this is going to be an expensive rule. It's going to kick off a huge wave of coal-plant retirements and investments in pollution-control technology. That is, despite what conservatives say, a good thing, since the public-health benefits will be far greaterthan the costs. Every country on earth is modernizing its electric fleet. Even China's ahead of us. These crappy old plants are an embarrassment and good riddance to them.


So anyway, this is an historic day and a real step forward for the forces of civilization. It's the beginning of the end of one of the last of the old-school, 20th-century air pollution problems. (Polluters and their rented conservatives will try to kick up dust about this, but check out this letter to Congress [PDF] from a group of health scientists, which says "exposure to mercury in any form places a heavy burden on the biochemical machinery within cells of all living organisms." Long after everyone has forgotten who "won the morning" in the fight over these rules, or what effect they had on Obama's electoral chances, the rule's legacy will live on in a healthier, happier American people.


Here's the health scientists' letter to Obama -- I know Roberts said it was to Congress, but his link led to this letter -- it was probably the same to Congress.


Dec 13th, 2011

President Barack Obama The White House 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue Washington, D.C. 20500
Cc: The Honorable Lisa P. Jackson Administrator Environmental Protection Agency 1200 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W. Washington, D.C. 20460

Re: Broad Scientific Consensus in support for Mercury and Air Toxics Standards

Dear President Obama,

We, the undersigned physicians and scientists studying mercury in our biological and physical environment, write to affirm our belief that the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) will protect the health of thousands of Americans each year.

We assert that it is well-documented that mercury and other air toxics cause serious human,
wildlife and ecosystem health effects. During Congressional hearings the claim was made that there
is no science to back up the health benefits that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
expects to achieve by requiring decreases of air toxics emitted from power plants. As mercury
scientists and physicians, we strongly refute such statements.

Industrial emissions, especially from coal-fired power plants, are the leading source of atmospheric mercury in the U.S. Mercury from power plants can be as much as 95% reactive oxidized mercury which is rapidly deposited on to local soils and surface waters. It is established now that mercury that has recently been deposited from the atmosphere more readily accumulates in fish than other possible sources. The neurological development, particularly brain maturation, of fetus and young children are severely affected by methylmercury, the form of mercury that collects and concentrates in aquatic food chains.

EPA Science Advisory Board’s findings of health benefits from decreasing methylmercury
exposure due to our domestic air pollution as mentioned in the Mercury Risk Assessment report are
based on a strong scientific record. Thus, we believe that there should be no change in the MATS.
We also note that while the neurotoxicity of methylmercury to the young has been widely
acknowledged, the effects on children and adults through exposure to all other forms of mercury
have not been effectively publicized. Appended to this letter is a short list of published studies that
show health effects of all forms of mercury.

Mercury has no biologically beneficial function; indeed, each atom that ends up in the body can be toxic to all types of cells. Mercury is such a potent toxin because it bonds very strongly to functionally important sites of proteins including enzymes, antibodies and nerve growth-cones that keep cells alive, “intelligent” and safe. Target enzymes, organs, or metabolic pathways vulnerable to mercury poisoning may change from cell to cell, person to person and in the same individual over time. Regardless, minimizing all mercury exposure is essential to improving human, wildlife and ecosystem health because exposure to mercury in any form places a heavy burden on the biochemical machinery within cells of all living organisms.

Some of us study effect of mercury compounds on individual enzymes, cells and/or organs, and some of us study how mercury cycles through our waters, soils or atmosphere. We also represent physicians who actually treat patients, including children, with chronic pulmonary, cardiovascular, and neurological diseases caused by air pollution. We work each day to understand environmental hazards and protect the public health. We ask that you protect the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards. Doing so will improve public health and lower health care costs for all.


Tamar Barkay, Ph.D.
Mercury microbiologist
Professor, Department of Biochemistry and Microbiology, Rutgers University

Janina Benoit, Ph.D.
Mercury methylation biochemist
Associate Professor of Chemistry, Wheaton College

Joel D. Blum, Ph.D.
Mercury biogeochemist
John D. MacArthur Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Michigan Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science

Joanna Burger, Ph.D.
Mercury neuro-behavioral and ecological risk expert
Distinguished Professor of Life Sciences, Rutgers University National Academy of Sciences Committee of Endocrine Disruptors

Celia Y. Chen, Ph.D.
Mercury aquatic food web ecologist
Research Professor, Department of Biological Sciences, Dartmouth College

Charles T. Driscoll, Ph.D.
Mercury land and soil biogeochemist
Distinguished Professor, Civil and Environmental Engineering, Syracuse University

Daniel R. Engstrom, Ph.D.
Mercury atmospheric deposition expert
Director, St. Croix Watershed Research Station, Science Museum of Minnesota Adjunct Professor, Department of Earth Sciences, University of Minnesota

David Evers, Ph.D.
Mercury and wildlife health expert
Executive Director and Chief Scientist, Biodiversity Research Institute

William Fitzgerald, Ph.D.
Mercury oceanographer and biogeochemist
Professor, Department of Marine Sciences, University of Connecticut

Michael Gochfeld M.D., Ph.D.
Mercury environmental toxicologist
Professor of Environmental and Occupational Medicine, Robert Wood Johnson Medical School

Chad R. Hammerschmidt, Ph.D.
Mercury oceanographer
Associate Professor, Department of Earth & Environmental Sciences, Wright State University

Mark E. Hines, Ph.D.
Mercury land biogeochemist
Professor, Department of Biological Sciences, University of Massachusetts Lowell

Thomas Holsen, Ph.D.
Mercury transport and cycling expert
Professor, Co-Director Clarkson Center for the Environment, Clarkson University

Dan Jaffe, Ph.D.
Mercury atmospheric biogeochemist
Professor of Science and Technology Professor of Atmospheric Sciences, University of Washington

Kritee, Ph.D.
Mercury biogeochemist and microbiologist
Fellow, Office of Chief Scientist, Environmental Defense Fund

Carl Lamborg, Ph.D.
Mercury oceanographer
Associate Scientist, Marine Chemistry and Geochemistry, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute

Steve Lindberg, Ph.D.
Mercury atmospheric biogeochemist
Corporate Fellow Emeritus, Oak Ridge National Laboratory Adjunct Professor, University of Michigan

Susan M. Miller, Ph.D.
Mercury biochemist
Professor, Department of Pharmaceutical Chemistry, University of California San Francisco

John R. Reinfelder, Ph.D.
Mercury biogeochemist and microbiologist
Professor, Department of Environmental Sciences, Rutgers University

Jeffra K. Schaefer, Ph.D.
Mercury microbiologist
Associate Research Scholar, Department of Geosciences, Princeton University

Kimberly Warner, Ph.D.
Mercury biogeochemist
Senior scientist, OCEANA

Heather Wiatrowski
Mercury microbiologist
Assistant Professor, Lasry Center for the Biosciences, Clark University

Peter Wilk, M. D. Executive Director
Physicians for Social Responsibility


Bravo, Mr. President, bravo! He deserves credit -- it was under his EPA that this finally got done! It could have dragged on for decades more. I hope to hell some idiot ReTHUG doesn't get into office and immediately reverse these kinds of accomplishments!

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